~The future~

~Bella~

"No. This isn't right." Edward tugged on his hair, then waved his hand over the set of prints he was studying.

The architect sighed. "I've done everything you asked, Edward. Can you explain what's wrong?"

Edward shook his head. "I don't know. I just don't know."

I shifted in my chair, my lower back feeling achy. I studied my husband and looked around the large office.

This was the Edward I knew the least. The place I disliked the most. Here in the city he became the Edward I first met. Cool, removed—in control and exact with what he wanted, and how he wanted it.

No one but those closest to him saw the real Edward. Warm, tender and loving. Patient to a fault. Nothing fazed him when it came to our family or our life. He was an amazing father, a good friend and the sexiest, most loving husband a woman could hope for. I had never heard him raise his voice once in all our time together. That man disappeared when his well-tailored, expensive suit was donned and he stepped into this place. Business man Edward appeared and he reminded me too much of the man Edward had been when I met him. The man hiding behind his pain. I knew it was his cover, and the man I married was the real Edward, but still I didn't like coming here.

The day he exploded into my life was one I would never forget. He made me feel things I didn't think I would ever feel again. Seth thought he was the coolest person ever, and Noelle…well, she adored him. She still did. He brought forth a passion I didn't know existed, and I fell for him so hard and fast I didn't know which way was up. The day he left, it was as if the world had lost its light. He couldn't see how special he was, or the gifts he had to offer. He didn't see how he completed us, or made us a family—all he saw, all he thought, was he had nothing to give.

When he showed up at the Inn, bearing too many presents, a beautiful ring and the perfect gift of his heart, it was the best day of my life. I didn't care about his money, his company or anything else associated with Edward Cullen. Only him. When he told me he loved me, my world was complete. That was the Edward I knew and loved.

I was looking forward to our flight home this evening. I hadn't really wanted to come this time, but since finding out I was pregnant, Edward was loath to leave me, no matter how short the trip. He also wanted me to see the plans for the new house. The same architect had done the plans for Edgewater, and Edward had asked him to draw up ideas for our house on the bluff. But nothing seemed to work.

I sat up and sighed quietly, rubbing my back. But it wasn't quiet enough. Edward's head snapped up and he saw what I was doing, immediately hurrying over. In the matter of a few steps, he changed into my Edward. His cool manner melted; his eyes warm and concerned as he dropped to his knees in front of me.

"Hey, darling girl," he murmured, reaching around to rub my sore muscles. "Are you okay?"

"Just a little tired."

He leaned closer, laying his hand on my stomach, stroking it in tender circles. "Are you being kicked everywhere?"

I chuckled. "They're both pretty active."

"We'll be home soon and you'll rest better. I know you don't sleep well here." He stood up, holding out his hand. "Come look at these plans. Maybe you can tell me what's wrong."

He pulled me to my feet and dropped a heavy kiss on my head, leading me to the table. I looked over the plans, which only confirmed what I already expected. I smiled at James, who was looking at me for any clue.

"Do you think you could leave us with these for a bit?"

"Of course. Take your time. Why don't you call me in a few days, Edward?"

Edward huffed out a sigh. "Fine."

James shook our hands and left. Edward stood beside me, frowning.

I traced the design. "I'm surprised you don't see it."

His voice wasn't impatient or upset, only weary. "Don't see what, Bella?"

"Look again, Edward. What are you trying to make here?"

He looked over the drawings. "Your dream house, Bella. A home for us."

I smiled up at him. "We already have that. You're trying to recreate your favorite parts into another house."

He stared at me, then at the plans. "Oh, my God…I am."

I leaned against the table. "Edward, we all love it at the Gables. Why are you insisting we move?"

"Because the bluff was your dream, Bella. I want to give it to you."

"You already gave me my dream, Edward. I have you."

"But the house…the bluff…"

"I have another bluff now. You built me a lovely place to sit and spend time in. You know how much I loved my sun house."

"I wanted to give you this."

I shook my head. "I've been trying to tell you for months, Edward. You already have. I wanted a home, love, and to feel safe. The bluff was my hideaway—it was where I went when I needed to feel centered. I have all that at the Gables. Our home—you—center me. The kids love it there. We have plenty of room; it's easy access to Edgewater or Halifax. You love your office and I enjoy running the cottages…when they're not full of company, that is."

He chuckled. Most of the time, they were filled with personal guests. Mrs. Cope, her husband and family, Billy, and the few friends Edward had, were constant visitors. We only took guests on occasion, and even those were regulars.

He looked at the design. "So you don't want to move?"

"One day. When we're older and the kids are gone and we want a smaller place. Change the design and build it as the honeymoon cottage, Edward. Fill it with people in love. Let that soak into the walls for the next thirty years, and we'll move in and finish our lives there, together." I smiled up at him. "We can even rent it and have dirty weekends when the kids drive us crazy." I nudged him in the ribs. "I know the owner, you know, I can get us a good rate."

He burst out laughing, wrapping his arms around me. "That would work. I can have James keep the private road, and only the people renting the cottage have access. It gives them privacy—then when we're ready— in forty or fifty years"—he cocked an eyebrow at me— "we can make it ours." He glanced back at the design. "A bungalow, two bedrooms, and the back wall all glass so we see the view from every room."

I leaned up on my tiptoes and kissed him. "Perfect."

He pulled me closer, bringing my mouth to his for another kiss. "Yes," he whispered. "You are."

~Edward~

I glanced over at my sleeping wife. She had been so exhausted when we arrived home last night, she hadn't even moved as I lifted her from the passenger seat and carried her inside. The only time she stirred was when I tugged her shirt over her head and tucked her into our big bed. She half smiled at me, attempting to pat my cheek and missing totally, falling right back to sleep.

I should have left her at home when I flew to Toronto. I knew she didn't like the big city—it frightened her still, even with me by her side, but since she had told me she was pregnant, my protectiveness had kicked into high gear. I hated not being close—she seemed to feel the same, and agreed to come with me since it was only for two days.

I rested my hand on her rounded stomach. After we had gotten married that New Year's Eve in front of the fireplace with friends, and had a perfect, but too short, honeymoon, we started our life together.

We went home, moved into the Gables and became a family. After a long discussion, I adopted Noelle and Seth, who surprised me when he told me he would like to be a Cullen as well. Like Noelle, he had never known his father and he felt his mother would be pleased he was part of a new family.

I still got a warm feeling in my chest when I would hear my Little Owl call me Daddy. Seth waffled between calling me Dad and Edward, depending on what he wanted at the time. On the rare occasion "asshole" was muttered, but luckily they were few and far between—he was a great kid and I was proud of him.

I was thrilled the day Bella threw out her birth control pills. It took us a few months before she was pregnant, but we did it well, and now she was expecting twins. My masculine pride knew no bounds, which made Bella laugh.

I slid out of bed, leaving her sleeping, and dragged a T-shirt over my head, heading down to the kitchen. I was still hopeless at making coffee or doing anything else in the kitchen, but Bella kept a Keurig on the counter, just for me, so I made a cup of coffee and carried it over to table, sitting back and enjoying the view. Billy insisted the view on the bluff was the most scenic, but I actually preferred this view. The vast expanse of openness from the bluff was wild and also isolating. This view was tranquil and welcoming. More inland, the water kissed the rocky shore in gentle swells, and at low tide, my Little Owl and I loved to walk together, searching for new treasures. The long pier and more protected cove made it a great place for swimming and boating.

I loved this house. The moment we stepped inside I knew I'd buy it. It was everything we wanted, and together we had made it a home.

Bella was right—I didn't want to move. We were so happy here. The five guest cottages were often occupied with friends and family, but in the busy summer months Bella loved having new faces to introduce to her beloved province. It kept her busy, and with a small smirk, I had to admit, it gave her a break from me. She was an amazing assistant, and worked hard to keep me in line, never taking any of my shit while doing so. I loved working with her, and I had to admit I pouted a little on the days she had "other things" to do.

Edgewater was a booming success. After much thought, and many plans, I changed my mind on the scope of the project. It was still a high-end destination, but not as large as I had originally planned. I kept the main building smaller and added more cottages, catering to both families and couples looking to get away some where private. I used the land to scatter them in different areas, and the place was booked year round already. And heading it up—was none other than Jessica. She had flown down with Shelly one trip, met one of the contractors, fell in love and moved here. While she was here, she showed a remarkable aptitude for running the show. Whereas she failed at taking orders, she was amazing at issuing them, and she ran the guest services to perfection. She also ran Michael, but he seemed to enjoy it. She and Bella got along very well, and had become fast friends. She and I had finally found a plateau we could both function on, and to my surprise we got along very well.

But knowing the magic of this place, nothing should surprise me anymore. It had certainly changed my life—for the better.

The sound of small feet heading my way, made me smile. I turned in my chair, holding out my arms as the feet sped up.

"Daddy, you're home!"

Seconds later, I was holding my Little Owl, being subjected to her usual greeting of wet little kisses all over my face. They were my favorite.

Her teeth were back, her lisp gone, and her vocabulary much larger. Silence was her enemy, but she was still my Noelle. She was also still tiny, her hair still wild and curly, and my knee was still her favorite place to sit.

"Hey, Little Owl. Miss me?"

She giggled. "Yes! Seth is too bossy."

I grinned. Seth was now all grown up, his eyes were on the future. Unlike Bella, he loved going to Toronto with me, and I took him quite often. He had taken a year off after graduating, unsure what he wanted to do, finally coming to me for one of our talks, and telling me he wanted to go to University of Toronto and get his business degree. Then he shyly informed me he would like the chance to work with me. The thought of him by my side, learning from me, had filled me with pride. With only eyes for his Bree, he was thrilled when she decided to follow him to Toronto to study nursing.

So, come the fall he would be leaving us and starting a new life. Granted he had it far easier than most kids his age. I had never sold my condo, using in it when I was in town, so he and Bree would be living there and on occasion when I was in there on business, I would be their guest. I also insisted on paying for his tuition and slyly helped Bree's parents with hers. He'd been through so much at a young age, I wanted to make this easy on him, and her parents struggled just to make ends meet, so I was thrilled to help with a scholarship through my company. Both Bella and I adored Bree and were certain, when the time was right, she would be part of our family too.

We were also both certain, given the love Seth had for the hustle and bustle of the big city, he would remain there. I already envisioned him taking over my company one day, and passing it on to his son or daughter.

Noelle tugged on my arm bringing me back to the present. "Can we go find some shells today?"

I nuzzled her head. "Sure."

"Will Mommy come with us?"

"Probably not. She's pretty tired."

"Maybe we can make her breakfast?"

I grinned. "Maybe lunch would be better." Sandwiches, I was good at, and Bella always had soup in the freezer and I could reheat things really well. "Maybe Seth would be awake by then."

She giggled, leaning back into my chest. "He likes to sleep."

"That he does."

Noelle tilted her head up. "Did you pick a house?" she asked, and for the first time I noticed the lack of excitement in her voice. Bella was right about the whole thing. None of us wanted to move.

I brushed the wild hair back from her forehead and pressed a kiss to the soft skin. "Mommy and I decided we would rather stay here. Is that okay with you?"

Her face lit up, brighter than the sun bouncing off the waves out in the ocean. She bobbed her head, looking excited. "I love my room! And the beach is fun!"

"Good. Then this is where we'll stay."

"Can we make a nursery now?"

I thought of the room at the end of the hall Bella kept wandering in to. She would lean against the wall simply staring, but she had never said a word. She wanted that room as the nursery. She wanted our children in that bright room with the big windows. I just knew it, and I would make sure she had it.

I grinned down at my daughter. "Wanna go do some fun stuff with Daddy?"

She nodded.

"Okay. Go get dressed and we'll go see Alice."

She clapped her hands. She loved Alice.

"Okay!"

~o0o~

Bella was at the table when we got back, her hair damp from her shower. A cup of weak tea was in front of her—it was all she could stomach these days. She smiled at us as we walked in, our hands filled with bags.

"I wondered where the two of you had wandered off to. I was sure you'd be down on the beach, but I checked and you weren't there."

I dropped a warm kiss on her upturned mouth, then sat beside her, resting my hands on her rounded stomach. "My Little Owl and I had things to do."

She laughed. "I figured you'd be together. I just wasn't sure where."

"We had some special things to pick up."

"I see."

"Is Seth in the land of the living yet?"

She nodded as she took a sip of her tea. "Bree came and got him. They went into Halifax to look for some school stuff." She sighed, a sad smile on her face. "I'm going to miss him."

I lifted her chin, smiling into her teary eyes. "You have to let him live his life, my darling girl. And I'll keep an eye on them. He'll be back for Christmas."

"I know," she murmured.

"I'm here, Mommy!" Noelle called out. "I'll help with the babies!"

I scooped her up, sitting her on my knee. "You're gonna be the best sister, ever," I teased her, loving how she spread her tiny fingers across Bella's stomach.

"Are they playing today, Mommy?"

"They were, but I think they are having a nap."

"Ooooh," Noelle whispered. "I'll be quiet."

I grinned against her head. She was still beyond adorable. "Don't you wanna show Mommy what we got?"

She clapped her hands. "Can I, Daddy?"

"Yep."

Bella grinned. "What have the two of you done now?"

"We went shopping!" Noelle crowed.

I met Bella's gaze over Noelle's head. She smiled tenderly at me, shaking her head. "Edward…"

I grinned. "We enlisted Alice's help."

"That's even worse."

I laughed and handed her a bag containing her favorite chocolates. She loved the new outfit Noelle had picked out and chuckled over the multicolored sneakers that lit up when Noelle walked on them. Noelle's sweet laughter drifted down the hall as she ran to hang up her new dress and no doubt stand in front of the mirror, tapping her feet.

When I handed Bella the flat bag, she frowned in curiosity, then gasped in delight at the contents. Alice had found websites with lots of baby furniture and designs and printed them out. She also typed up links for places that carried the hundreds of items it seemed babies needed. Part of taking Bella to Toronto with me had been to take her shopping there, but between work and how exhausted she was, it never happened. Thanks to the internet, though, I could bring the shopping to her. Alice knew her tastes and helped me choose a few sites that carried the sort of items she knew Bella would like.

I leaned forward and kissed my wife softly. "We're staying here in our home, so make up the room at the end of the hall for our children, Bella. Whatever you want for them, is yours. Alice will come help you, if you want, and Emmett and Mike will do any changes you need done and paint it. Okay?"

She cupped my cheek and nodded, her eyes brimming with tears. "Thank you, Edward."

"Thank you, my love, for knowing what was right for our family. For knowing me." I smiled at her, turning my face to press a kiss to her palm. "You're my everything, Bella. I love you."

She smiled—the warm, wonderful smile I so loved to see—the one she had only for me.

"I love you, too."

~o0o~

Thick, white snow swirled outside the windows, the wind ferocious in its intensity. Wet, heavy clumps of drifts surrounded our home; the storm so intense, I couldn't see the ocean and beach that normally greeted me outside our windows. I knew tomorrow I would be using the huge snow blower I owned, and that, once again, I would be grateful for investing in the massive SUV we bought. It was the closest I could get to a minivan without actually having to drive one. Bella still did, but the one big difference being it was new, well serviced and very safe. It held the most precious cargo in the world—my family.

Inside our house, it was warm. Safe and dry. The storm that raged was muted by the heavy building that protected us. My Noelle slept, totally unaware of the storm outside, her wild curls spread on her pillow, making her odd snuffling sounds. I smiled as I tucked her feet back under the covers, knowing ten minutes after I was gone she would have kicked them off again. Leaning down, I brushed a kiss to her forehead and left her room, leaving her door ajar in case she did wake and was frightened.

I passed Seth's room and paused in the doorway. His bed was neatly made up , the room spotless—everything in its place, except for the boy. Happy and busy in Toronto, he loved his new world. Even though we spoke almost daily, Skyped all the time, I missed his cheerful disposition and our easy camaraderie. And I really missed having another male in the house— I was totally outnumbered now.

I moved down the hall to my intended destination. In the nursery, I checked on my two tiniest daughters. They were both asleep, their little fists curled under their cheeks, the storm not bothering them in the least. I traced my finger over the downy cheek of our eldest twin, Faith. Born ten minutes ahead of her sister Hope, she weighed a whole pound more, and was already the ruler of the nursery and the house. Her cry was distinctive and loud, and her temper rivaled mine. Her younger, tinier sister, rarely cried, seemingly content to let Faith take the lead and make sure they were looked after.

I couldn't stay away from either of them.

Hope's little arm shifted, her fist opening, and she bleated a tiny sound. Without a thought, I scooped her into my arms and sat in the rocking chair, holding her close. She nuzzled into my chest, her warmth seeping into my skin as we rocked. I knew she was fine, but I couldn't resist any opportunity to hold her or her sister. Bella often came in to find me dozing in the chair, both the girls nestled on my chest as I slumbered.

The love I had for these tiny beings was, at times, overwhelming. I didn't think I could love anything or anybody more than I loved my wife, but their birth proved me wrong. It was as if my heart expanded—and the joy and love they brought forth only strengthened and grew the love I was capable of.

A quiet squeak of the floor boards had me look up. Bella was leaning on the door frame, a gentle smile on her face.

"I thought I'd find you in here."

"Just checking on our chicklets, Mommy." I smiled. "Noelle was obviously fighting dragons again, but I tucked her back in. Faith was good, but Hope was a little restless and fussing. I thought I could settle her down."

Bella crossed over. Leaning down, she ran her finger over Hope's fuzzy head. "Edward," she murmured. "We have monitors you know. I heard her, ah, 'fussing.'"

I grinned, not at all upset at being caught.

She shook her head and bent down, brushing her lips over mine. "You're such a good Daddy. But you're going to spoil them."

"I want to spoil them, Bella. I never want them to doubt how much they are loved."

"They never will, Edward. They will never experience the kind of neglect you did. You're too full of love for us to let that happen."

My emotions were dangerously close to the surface tonight. My eyes burned with unshed tears as I gazed at my wife—the woman who had changed my life and shown me how to really live.

Her eyes widened at the sight of my tears, and she slipped my daughter out of my arms and nestled her back into her safe crib. I held out my arms and Bella climbed on my lap, fitting herself to me and drawing my head to her shoulder.

"What is it," she murmured, kissing my forehead.

"Do you know what today is, Bella?"

"Tuesday?"

I chuckled and pressed a kiss to her soft skin. Glancing up, I met her concerned gaze. "Three years ago, I arrived in this province, with one intention—meeting with Billy and buying his property." I smiled up at her. "I walked into the Sleepy Time Inn, and lost my heart instead."

"You got what you came for," she reminded me.

I shook my head. "I got a lot more than I expected. I fell in love with a bossy brunette who thought I was an ath-hole, but loved me anyway."

She giggled at the memory of that first night. "You were rather bossy yourself."

"I was lost."

She cupped my cheek, wiping the small tear that had trickled down my face.

"You gave me everything, Bella. You showed me what true love was. With you I got a new life, a family, and for the first time in my life—I wasn't alone." I touched her mouth with mine. "You are my life. Our family is my life."

"I know."

"I love you."

She sighed and drew my head back to her shoulder. "I love you too, Edward. We all love you."

I held her close.

"You want to go back to bed?" she whispered.

"No."

I felt her smile. "You want to go to the kitchen and have a snack?"

"Yes."

"Noelle and I made your favorites this afternoon."

I smiled at her. "Sugar cookies?"

She returned my smile. "You always feel better once you've had a little sugar."

I captured her mouth with mine; pouring all my emotion into that kiss. The love and wonder I felt for her—the awe she still inspired within me.

I could taste her sweetness. Feel her love.

She was the very best kind of sugar.


So, our story is done. Thank you for reading my little Christmas fic, and for all your wonderful words. Many thanks to my prereaders and to my beta Midnight for her help and work. Her red pen got quite the work out on this one.

However you say it, however you celebrate, I wish you a season of joy, love and peace.

Thank you for being a part of my life, and allowing me to be a small part of yours.

I will see you in the New Year with a new fic called After Hours. It will start posting in January. Hope to see you then!

Until we meet again - be safe!