The next few weeks were a whirlwind of activities. I met with Aro several times, went through all the documents he sent over, talked to Jane, and finally met with Garrett. He was supportive although admitted to being disappointed at the fact I wouldn't be working with him in the future. But he agreed it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. I promised to keep him abreast of things and give him plenty of notice before I left. Aro and I had a lot of discussions still ahead of us, but I wanted him to know what I felt was ahead in the future. He shook my hand firmly.
"I have always appreciated your honesty and integrity, Edward. I know we'll work something out between us." Then he chuckled. "You'll have to deal with his quirks now on a daily basis."
I had only grinned. I liked Aro's quirks. His old-fashioned ways and the formal way he had of approaching things was refreshing. I knew I could help further the business with my more modern ways of handling situations, yet I wanted to retain his old world views. It was important to me.
I found the business fascinating. I spent hours poring over his patents and learning his creative process. The way he kept his business small and private yet extremely lucrative. He was generous to his employees and oversaw every aspect of the company. The thought of being part of that process appealed to me.
My parents arrived two days ago. I met them at the airport and took them to the condo where Bella waited, worried and nervous, for us. She insisted I should have a little private time with them and had suggested I take them out before bringing them over, but they were both far too anxious to meet her, and we went directly to the condo, not even stopping at their hotel. She didn't have anything to worry about. My mother loved her already, and my father followed her lead. They both engulfed her in hugs, and an hour after they arrived, it was as if they had known her all her life. When Bella and Mom went into the kitchen to make dinner together, my father looked over at me with a smile.
"She is lovely, Edward. Perfect for you."
"We worried you wouldn't ever settle down."
I chuckled. "It wasn't in my plans, Dad. But once I met her, my plans changed. Everything changed."
"Tell me about this new opportunity you were offered."
I spent the next half hour describing Aro and the company. Dad's eyes widened when he heard the name Volturi. "Damn," he breathed out. "I've always wanted a pair of those sneakers. Can you hook me up?"
I laughed. "I think I can."
Mom came out of the kitchen. "Carlisle, cancel the hotel room, dear. Bella wants us to stay here, so we can spend more time together."
"Um . . ." He glanced my way, a silent question passing between us.
I grinned, not surprised by Bella's request. "Good idea." I nodded. "It'll save time. I have a feeling those two are going to want to spend a lot of time together." A fact I was more than pleased about.
"Are you sure, Edward?" My dad leaned forward. "You just got married."
"We have lots of time to be alone, Dad. If Bella wants you here, then you stay here."
He pulled out his phone. "Okay, then."
I listened to the laughter coming from the kitchen with a smile.
Whatever Bella wanted, she could have. Especially if it made her laugh that way.
The party Aro hosted for us was lavish. We had insisted he wait a while before throwing it so he had a chance to recover. It also gave us time to invite people from out of town. Despite his protestation to the contrary, he went overboard. The restaurant he rented was decorated to overflowing with flowers, candles, and tulle. The live band was from another era, playing beautiful music, and the dance floor was popular. Bella was a vision in a black dress that ended just below her knees. White lace trimmed the entire dress, setting off her shoulders and neck. Her only jewelry were her rings and the anklet I had given her until I stood behind her, slipping on a pair of pearl and diamond earrings that caught the light and shimmered against her pale skin. Her thanks for the small gift had been enthusiastic and passionate, making me wish the night was over and I had her alone. But watching her now, I smiled in utter joy. She was a bright light in the room, her smile wide, and her own happiness evident. She was surrounded by friends and family, some old and some new, safe and secure . . . and mine.
Aro appeared at my elbow. "You are looking at your wife with joyful eyes, Edward."
I smiled at him, shaking his hand. "She makes me happy, Aro." I swept my arm indicating the room. "This is beyond anything I could have imagined. Thank you for hosting such a wonderful event."
He inclined his head. "It was my pleasure. Although the credit goes to Jane. I simply told her my wishes, and she handled it all."
He sighed. "Renata loved events like this. She would have enjoyed this so much." His eyes became damp. "We would have danced all evening."
Bella appeared beside us, a soft smile on her face a she laid her hand on his arm. "I would love to dance with you, Aro. It would be my honor to do so."
He glanced at me, and I had to chuckle. "You don't need my permission to dance with my wife, Aro." Then I winked. "But I am watching you. No funny stuff."
A grin broke out on his face as he laid a hand over his heart. "I shall resist." Then he bowed toward Bella. "A moment, please. I wish to request a special song."
I slipped my arm around Bella's waist. "Having a good time, love?"
She beamed up at me. "Yes. Are you?"
"I am. But, as soon as I finish making the rounds, you're all mine. No more dances with anyone."
She laughed softly, stretching up on her toes to press her mouth to mine. She had been a popular lady this evening. My father, Charlie, Riley, James, Emmett, Jasper, and many others, all having danced with her. I had been busy too, although not as popular as her. But I made sure to dance with my mother, Rose, Jane, and Alice. Riley wanted to try a fox trot with me, but I refused. He and Emmett tried and failed spectacularly, causing much merriment in the room as they both tumbled to the floor in laughter.
Riley and James had both been in constant conversation with Aro. I knew they would both find him fascinating, and I may have had an ulterior motive in introducing them and telling them of their mutual love of classical music. James was one of the best web designers I knew, and Riley was brilliant with IT. Two key components Aro's business would require with the direction I envisioned the company going. The thought of having two of my best friends close was too much to resist. I knew they were happy in Chicago, but I could be persuasive.
Aro approached Bella, his smile wistful. He extended his hand, with a small formal bow. "Bellissima, if you would honor me by dancing to the song Renata and I danced to on our wedding day, it would please an old man greatly."
I heard Bella's fast inhale, and I knew she would be fighting back tears the entire dance. I brushed a kiss to her head and gently placed her hand in Aro's. He led her to the middle of the dance floor as the strains of a waltz began. I knew Bella wasn't the most confident of dancers, but once they began to twirl, it was a thing of beauty to witness. Aro obviously was a master—he led her around the dance floor, and they looked as if they had been dancing together for years. Their heads were so close, the white of Aro's hair brilliant beside the dark chocolate of Bella's. Her dress flared out as he spun her, catching her back and moving effortlessly. The entire party stopped and watched the two of them alone on the dance floor. My mother stood beside me, her hand on my arm.
"Edward," she breathed. "How lovely."
"I know," I murmured, pride filling my chest. Aro looked so happy—I knew how much he adored Bella, thinking of her like a daughter. She doted on him as well, and it made my heart happy to see them creating such a special memory.
When the music ended, the room exploded in applause. Bella blushed, startled, but Aro lifted her hand with an old-fashioned kiss to the back, then bowed to the crowd and walked her back to me. He placed her hand in mine, his eyes bright. "Thank you, Edward, for the loan of your lovely Bella. It was a joy."
I tucked Bella close and shook his hand. "It was a joy to watch you," I assured him.
He turned to my mother. "If I may be so bold as to ask a dance of you, Esme?"
She held out her hand. "If you hadn't, Aro, I was going to ask you."
He beamed as they moved to the dance floor, the music once again filling the room. Without a word, I escorted Bella to the floor, wrapping her in my arms. "I'm not as good as Aro, but I need to dance with my wife," I whispered, dropping a kiss to her head. "Have I told you how beautiful you are tonight?"
"A few times."
"Have I mentioned I love you?"
"Hmmm. Not lately."
"Remiss of me." I stopped moving, tilting her chin up. "You are the most beautiful woman here, and I love you, Bella Cullen. I'm so proud to be your husband."
The tears already threatening spilled over, sliding down her soft cheek. "I love you," she sniffed. "And I love being your wife."
I pulled her close and started to sway to the music again.
"Good. Because I'm never letting you go. Ever."
Night was descending, the darkness etching out the light. I turned my chair around, studying the encroaching night. The light faded early this time of year. I often took advantage of that fact to head home earlier—especially when Bella wasn't in the office.
She now worked only three days a week. In the months I'd been with Aro's company, a lot of things had changed. Jane had moved and now lived with Aro. He was still coming in but usually only two days a week. He had slowed down some although he was still a brilliant mastermind of business. He no longer could drive, or even walk far, but he was still vital and well-spoken. His favorite day of the week was Wednesday—the day he and Bella spent together. I highly suspected it was her favorite day, as well, although she never said so, in case it hurt my feelings.
Riley and James had moved after I offered them both jobs that exceeded what they did in Chicago, plus the added benefit of a smaller city and a quieter life. We saw them often outside the office—they both loved Bella and her cooking. Jasper and Alice were often over, and the six of us spent many nights at theatres and concerts as a group. Emmett and Rose visited often, and we enjoyed their company when they did. This past year's weekend had included all our spouses, and we had added Jasper and
Alice, renting an even bigger cabin. It was a great weekend and was, I hoped, the start of a new tradition.
My parents came to visit frequently, and we travelled to them when we could. We saw a lot of Charlie, and I had finally met Bella's rather scatterbrained mother. She hadn't come to our wedding party since Phil had an accident, and she had stayed home to care for him. She came for a visit a month later and stayed for a few days. She was slightly eccentric although charming. Bella looked a great deal like her but definitely got her temperament from Charlie. Renee insisted on cooking dinner one night, and I would be forever grateful it wasn't an experience I had to relive. She was a horrendous cook, and even Bella had trouble eating the meal she put in front of us. Bella made it up to me after she left—in more ways than one.
I leaned back in my chair, glancing at my watch. Bella would be here soon, and we were going out to dinner. I had wanted to pick her up at home, but she insisted on coming here first. I slid open my drawer and withdrew a small silver-wrapped parcel. It was Bella's birthday and a year since I had met her. So many changes—and all of them good—had occurred since I met her. Moving here had had been the hope for a fresh start with less tension and ended up being the beginning of a new, happier life in every way. All because of a feisty little brunette who'd turned my world upside down with her fumbling, little fingers and a very tight, little skirt.
I ran my finger over the shiny paper. Bella would love her gift, even as she protested I had spent too much money. It was a diamond bracelet: elegant, simple, and perfect—just like her. I liked seeing my tokens of affection on her body. She never took off her wedding rings or her anklet. I had given her a pair of diamond studs for Christmas, and the only time she took them out was to wear the other earrings I gave her. I knew she would never take this off, either. And, it was only one of the gifts. The one she would love the most was the trip I had planned back to our villa where we got married. I had booked it for two weeks this time, and we would be there for our anniversary. She would love it.
My computer pinged, and grinning, I accepted Aro's Skype call.
"Hello, Aro. How's Italy?"
His face was wreathed in smiles. "It is as beautiful as I remembered, Edward. How are you this evening?"
"I am well. Waiting for Bella to get here so I can take her to dinner."
"Did her flowers arrive?"
"They did. She loved them."
"Good. I will make up for being absent for her birthday when I arrive home."
Aro and Jane had gone to Italy for a vacation. It had taken Jane, Bella, and myself to convince Aro to take a break. The company was doing well, I was settled, his health was good, and he deserved it. As reticent as he was to go, after being there for two weeks, he had extended his trip and had been gone now for a month. We kept in close contact, and I knew he was combining business with pleasure, but the fact he was enjoying himself was all that mattered.
"How was your meeting today?"
"Edward!" he crowed. "I have found the most amazing leathers. Patterned, textured . . ." He lifted a swatch up so I could see. "Flowered! Bella will love the shoes I create with this!"
"I may even let you use some of your ideas for the campaigns with these ones." He grinned broadly into the camera and winked. "Jane insists the shoes these leathers make will be"—his voice dropped—"sexy."
My head fell back in laughter. Such an old-fashioned gentleman, to Aro just the word sexy was scandalous.
"I'll make sure they are tasteful."
"I know." He sat back and clapped his hands. "Now. You must depart."
"No, it's fine—I'm waiting for Bella."
"And, she waits for you. You will find her in the boardroom. Have a pleasant evening, Edward." With another smile, he signed off.
Perplexed, I slid Bella's gift into my jacket pocket and stood. I walked down the hall to the boardroom, pushing open the door and stopping at the sight that waited for me.
Standing with her back to me as she stared out the window into the velvet dark of the night was Bella. But it was what she was wearing that made me smile. Her dark hair tumbled over her shoulders, once again long and thick. Brilliant blue leather hugged her torso, and the tightest, sexiest little skirt I had ever seen molded to her perky ass, the glint of the zipper that changed my life catching the light.
"Well, as I live and breathe, my little zipper-tugger," I drawled. "I didn't think that skirt had survived." I stepped in the room, crossing my arms. "Although, I am happy to see that it did."
Bella turned, an impish grin lighting her face. "Emma fixed it. I've been saving it."
"She did a good job. You'd never know it was torn."
She winked at me and pulled at the sides. Small panels of elastic moved as she walked, allowing her far more movement than she had the last time I'd seen the skirt.
"Huh," I mused, moving forward. "No need for the zipper, then."
"Nope. Just for show."
"I just wanted to wear it one last time."
I hoped to see it again, but if she only wanted to wear it one more time, that was fine, too.
I bent low and kissed her soft mouth. "Thank you." I dropped another kiss to her lips. "Happy birthday, my zipper-tugger."
She smiled up at me. "Thank you."
I traced a finger down her cheek. "And, happy anniversary. A year ago today I met you, and my life changed."
"For the better?"
Her eyes glowed. "Yes. In every way."
She tugged me over to the boardroom table. Sitting on the dark wood was a small box. "That's for you," she whispered, sounding shy.
I sat down and pulled her onto my lap. I grinned at her. "Another thing that happened a year ago. I got you on my lap."
I picked up the box. "It's your birthday, love. Why am I getting a gift?"
"It's a special one."
I slid her gift from my pocket and onto the table. "We each get one."
I'd save the trip for later tonight.
I pushed the gift toward her. "You first."
She gasped with delight over the bracelet, her gaze flying to mine as she lifted the sparkling strand from the box. "Edward! It's beautiful!"
I helped her with the clasp, and she held out her arm, twisting her wrist under the lights, making the diamonds shimmer. "I love it," she whispered.
"I love you."
She nudged the square box my way. "Your turn."
I peeled off the paper, revealing a white box. Lifting the lid, I peered inside, confused for a moment. I lifted out the smallest pair of running shoes I had ever seen. They were Aro's work—that much I knew. But far too small to be a prototype. Or even a sample. Only a baby . . .
The word exploded in my head.
She wanted to wear the skirt one last time—because it wouldn't fit next year.
Because she was pregnant. With my—our—child.
My gaze flew to hers. She was watching me with nervous eyes.
"Yeah?" I breathed out, barely able to speak. I swallowed the lump building in my throat. "A baby? My baby?"
I gathered her close. "Bella, love . . ."
"Are you happy?"
I slipped my fingers under her chin. "Happy? Happy doesn't cover it. Ecstatic. Thrilled. They don't even cover it." I shook my head. "We just started trying . . ."
She arched an eyebrow. "I'd say, as usual, you succeeded, Mr. Cullen."
I beamed at her, cupping her face and kissing her deeply. "This is the best gift ever."
I wrapped my arms around her. "Yeah."
"Everything okay?" I murmured.
"It's all good."
"I'll take good care of you."
I chuckled. "No wonder Aro was looking so pleased with himself. He knew."
"He gave me those not long after we got married for 'someday.' I told him when I asked him to get you to the boardroom. I wanted to give you another memory today." She grinned. "I thought the outfit was a good touch."
I fingered the soft leather of the jacket. "I know you hated this outfit, Bella, but I have to tell you, it's one of my favorite ones you have. Every time you wear it, my life gets better."
"Not sure I'll ever get in it once I've had the baby."
"The jacket is good enough." I ran my hand over her flat stomach. "I can hardly wait to see you all rounded with my child."
She sighed. "I'm so short; I'll be pregnant from the nose down, Edward. I probably won't be able to see my feet after a few months. I'll be a beach ball with pegs for legs."
Laughing, I kissed her. Then again. And again. She was far too adorable not to. "I'll carry you. I'll wait on you. And, you'll be beautiful."
She rested her head on my shoulder. "You make me feel beautiful."
We sat for a few moments, then I dropped a kiss to her head. "You ready to go to dinner?"
She tilted her head up. "Can we go home?"
"Home? I was going to take you to dinner to celebrate your day."
She bit her lip. "I made dinner. I just want to go home and be alone with you. That's all I really want for my birthday. Just you, me, and celebrating our little miracle."
My chest warmed. This was the reason I had fallen in love with her. Her simplicity, her honesty, and the way she loved me. And, I'd give her anything she wanted.
I grabbed the boxes, placing them on her lap, then stood, cradling her in my arms. I strode from the room, heading to my office.
"I can walk."
"Nope. Practicing for when your feet disappear."
She curled into me. I rested my chin on her head and smiled. I had my family in my arms. Nothing I ever did in my life, my career, would ever compare to this.
Not even close.
I was going to take her home, celebrate all the wonders of today—her birthday, our child, and us. I wanted to celebrate all of those things, and more, for the rest of our lives.
I looked down at her, smiling when I saw she was staring back, a contented expression on her face.
"I'm going to spoil you now."
"You already do."
"Then I'm going to spoil you more."
"I look forward to it."
In my office, I set her on her feet, cupped her face and kissed her, pouring all the emotion I felt into that kiss.
"So do I."
"Take me home, Edward."
"Okay, love. Home it is."
And that, my friends, is a wrap. Thank you for reading. Thank you for your lovely words, and all your support. I will be away for a while - I am having some pretty major surgery this week, and will not have the use of my right arm for many weeks to come.
I hope to be back with you soon, with another story. Until then, take care, and be safe.