CHAPTER 24

When Bella and Edward stepped through the front door of The Lantern House they were met by a wall of flowers which covered every flat surface, filled all the main reception rooms and overflowed into the kitchen and even the downstairs loo, although Mrs Cope had drawn a line at the bedrooms and limited them to one large vase each.

Edward looked amused, 'Nothing like a totally over the top gesture. Mrs Cope was complaining she'd had to borrow more vases to put them in.'

Bella didn't look too happy either,' Call me squeamish, but I'm a bit worried about what we've got ourselves into. Are we best friends with some sort of gangster now? I'm a bit worried about what Aro might expect in return.'

'I don't think you need to worry about that. I definitely got a strong impression that Aro's been looking for an excuse to make an example of James for a while.'

'So not that much to do with me, or Carlisle, after all?'

Edward put his arm around her shoulder and stole a kiss. 'I wouldn't say that exactly, but you were more of a catalyst. According to Felix, James has been up to some really shady stuff behind Aro's back and there was no chance he was going to get away with that indefinitely.'

'I'm still a bit dubious. You don't think Aro will want to stay with us every time he comes over here or anything?'

'No, I'm sure that once you've thoroughly thanked him, adding him to our Christmas card list will be enough. Unless you're planning on getting yourself almost killed on a regular basis?'

'Not unless you've got any more homicidal relatives waiting in the wings.'

'Not that I know of, James was more than enough.'

'And James will be properly dealt with? There's no likelihood he'll escape or be let off?'

'No chance. Felix confirmed the Italian police have got him under heavy guard and now he's lost Aro's protection, and Aro's team of lawyers, they'll throw the book at him – theft, extortion, blackmail, imprisonment, drug running, murder, you name it.'

Bella shuddered at the thought of what James could have done to her if Mike hadn't been with him, 'I hope they lock him up and throw away the key.'

'I think that'll be the least of his worries. Now he's been cut loose, he'll always be looking over his shoulder. So can we try and forget about him for a bit? I just want to enjoy having you back home.'

'Me too. Now that I know we can sleep safely in our beds.'

Edward grinned at her suggestively, 'I wasn't thinking of sleeping necessarily… But it's a shame James had already got rid of the necklace. It would have paid for a lot of house repairs if we could have got it back somehow.'

'Oh I don't know. The thought of it still gives me the creeps and it would have felt wrong to sell it when Alice treasured it so much. I'm sure we'll get by, it's not as if you aren't extremely well paid for sitting in your comfy office all day.'

Edward lunged, but Bella grinned and skipped out of his reach before he could catch her.

He smiled in a way that promised to get her back for that later, 'Not well enough paid to say no to a large amount of money I'm afraid. Oh, but that reminds me, as an apology for not dealing with James sooner, apparently Aro has also sent us a gift.'

Sure enough when they walked into the kitchen, a large jiffy bag was lying on the table with the rest of the mail Mrs Cope had left out for them.

Edward went to the dresser drawer to get some scissors and sliced it open. Inside there was another smaller packet containing a slim box thickly covered in bubble wrap.

Edward began to pull that off too, 'Unfortunately much too small and light to contain a wodge of cash.'

Bella's eyes were fixed on his fingers as he deftly removed the last layers of wrapping, 'I hope it's not Alice's necklace after all. I really think it would give me nightmares.'

Edward lifted the lid and removed a final piece of tissue paper, then stared completely dumbstruck at what was inside – his grandfather's watch.

The accompanying card fluttered unnoticed to the floor. In the very bottom corner, in elegant black letters on a stark white ground with no need of any further explanation was written one word: 'Volturi'.

-ooo-

Six months later….

Bella was sitting at the kitchen table early on a Friday afternoon, drinking tea while Mrs Cope read her palm. She'd already been told she'd have a long and happy life, but when Mrs Cope began telling her she'd be surrounded by children, she laughed and pulled her hand away.

'Don't you know I start my teacher training in a week's time? How could I not be surrounded by children?'

Mrs Cope laughed too and they helped themselves to another slice of saffron cake, before drifting out into the garden, which was bathed in warm sunshine. Bella shaded her eyes and looked over towards the line of trees, before turning and surveying the house with a sense of satisfaction.

All of them had worked so hard over the last few months and with the remaining profits from Edward's London flat and a small mortgage, without destroying any of its integrity or sense of history, they'd managed to turn The Lantern House into a comfortable and cosy sanctuary, which would always be Bella's favourite place in all the world.

And she could say that with much more confidence now, since Edward had somehow found the money to take her on a low budget trip all round Europe in the summer. And with plans to spend some of her inheritance from Carlisle on a flying visit to America and Canada at Christmas, and the Far East in the Easter holidays next year, she was quickly making up for lost time.

Fallen rose petals littered the path towards Bella's favourite garden seat, which made the ground a little slippery for Mrs Cope, so they changed course and slowly walked across the lawn towards the sundial instead.

Bella ran her hand over the beautifully engraved surface, which was laid out like a mariner's chart of an unknown ocean, with a compass in the middle, surrounded by dolphins and whales and mermaids, and a sailing ship blown on its way by a fat-cheeked cherub.

The whole place felt magical in the calm peacefulness and warmth of the early autumn afternoon and it suddenly seemed like the right time to ask the question Bella had been meaning to ask for ages, 'Do you think there really are such things as ghosts, Mrs Cope?'

Mrs Cope sighed, 'I don't know, dear. But I'm sure Miss Alice will be resting easier now. It must have broken her heart to see Mr Edward struggle all these years. She might just as well have drowned him after all that night. He was lost for so long. Until you came along and put things right.'

Bella tried to deny it, but Mrs Cope smiled at her and affectionately patted her hand.' I knew you'd be good for this family the moment I saw you.'

'I don't think Edward did. It's funny to think that he almost frightened me away that first day and then there was that whole misunderstanding about Lauren. For such a long time I was absolutely determined not to like him either.'

'Well, men are strange creatures. Maybe if you'd just fallen at Mr Edward's feet like all the rest, he never would have realised how much he wanted you. He's had to fight for what he wants for a change and it's done him good. So you two just make sure to be happy together now, we don't want everything all stirred up again in a hurry.'

Bella laughed and gave Mrs Cope a kiss on the cheek and a hug and they walked back inside the house.

-ooo-

With half an hour to spare after Mrs Cope left, Bella decided it would be a shame to waste such a sunny afternoon and soon she was walking through the village and up the hill towards the churchyard.

On her way to visit Carlisle's grave she stepped inside the church for a moment. The first thing she'd done when her inheritance from Carlisle had come through had been to get a new inscription added to Lady Mary's memorial and she hadn't tired of admiring it yet.

When she walked up the aisle the stone crypt was bathed in a pool of sunlight and the gold letters below the original quotation from The Song of Solomon were shining brightly out of the shadows.

Dilectus Meus Mihi at Ego Illi

In Memory of Mary Cullen

1741 - 1766

Beloved Wife of Perceval Cullen

1735 - 1791

Bella traced the letters with her fingers, as she had on her very first visit to the church and hoped that Lady Mary and Perceval approved. From now on there would be no mystery about the identity of the shrouded marble figure and the truth would be proudly proclaimed for everyone to see.

Outside, the sunny churchyard was peaceful and deserted, except for the butterflies which fluttered between the graves and the slight breeze which stirred the leaves on the trees, and after arranging the flowers she'd brought with her from the garden, Bella sat back on the grass beside Carlisle's grave, looked up at the few slowly moving clouds in the sky and let the afternoon sunshine wash over her, with nothing but the cawing of the rooks on the church roof to distract her.

Who would have thought only a year ago that she would ever have been this happy? The faces of the people she'd come to know so well floated into her head, Edward, Carlisle, Emmett, Rosalie, Mrs Cope, Jessica, and even Lady Mary and Alice. When she'd lost her mother she'd been afraid that she might always be alone. But they were her new family now and she'd always be grateful to whatever unexpected stroke of luck had brought her to The Lantern House.

And even more importantly in her eyes, the house had been saved and James would get his just desserts one way or the other, although it was a blessing that Carlisle and Esme had been spared the media circus of James's trial and the appalling revelations which were beginning to emerge.

Somehow James had managed to get himself a decent lawyer, presumably with the proceeds from Alice's necklace, and he'd risked one last throw of the dice in trying to bring down everyone around him, in return for immunity from prosecution.

But in the end the forces ranged against him had been too strong and the gamble had failed. He was a dead man walking now and in the latest newspaper photos he'd looked gaunt and unwell. Someone had already taken a pot shot at him outside the courthouse and it was only a matter of time as to who would get to him first, either inside or outside of jail.

Sometimes Bella wondered how much Carlisle had really known about James and about Aro for that matter, but there was so much she would never know for sure. She'd arrived at the very end of the story, when Alice, Esme and even Carlisle, were already slipping slowly into the past. But perhaps that was how it had always been meant to be.

At least The Lantern House was safe now. It must have been the last straw for Carlisle when he'd heard the rumours that James was planning to pull it down and he must have finally decided to change his will just after Christmas, when Jenks had paid him a visit.

She remembered Edward telling her once that the Cullens had a very deep attachment to their home and it was obvious in his own pride in the place and all the hard work and money he'd poured into lovingly restoring the house and grounds.

And Bella was optimistic that Edward would finally come to terms with what had happened all those years ago. The day after she'd been discharged from hospital she'd sat down with him and told him everything James had admitted to her about Alice. As she'd expected, he'd ranted and raved and tried to blame himself at first, but gradually she'd seen the haunted expression she sometimes caught in his eyes begin to disappear and she was hopeful that with time the old feelings of guilt and remorse would fade.

Overall a lot of cobwebs had been brushed away in the last few months and everything seemed a lot brighter because of it. Although Bella always stopped to say good morning to Lady Mary and Perceval on her way downstairs and ancient memories would always have their place, it felt as if the house had allowed itself to be pulled more firmly into the present and gained a whole new lease of life.

On calm nights when the sea was quiet and the moon was bright, there was still a feeling in the air that anything could happen, but it was a hopeful feeling now with an eye to the future as well as the past.

-ooo-

In contrast to her quiet half hour at the graveside and the sleepy afternoon peacefulness of the village, The Sailor's Rest was a hive of activity, and as soon as Bella stepped through the door she was immediately ambushed by Emmett, who must have been keeping an eye out for her.

'At last, I was beginning to think you'd got lost. Are these the cakes Edward ordered? I've been waiting for a little taste. Rose has banned me from the kitchen and I'm about to starve to death.'

With a greedy look on his face, Emmett tried to swipe the boxes Bella was holding out of her hands, but she clung on, knowing the cavalry was approaching behind his back.

There was a loud crack as Rose whacked him across the shoulder and relieved Bella of the cake boxes herself. 'Emmett, leave Bella alone, you're supposed to be bringing those extra tables and chairs in, then helping Chris and Tom re-organise the snug. I can't do everything on my own.'

Emmett's eyes were still glued to the boxes Bella had just collected from the bakery, 'I was thinking I could sample one quickly, just to make sure they're ok.'

Rose rolled her eyes, 'No, absolutely not, there are some leftover sandwiches behind the bar if you're that hungry.'

Emmett looked disappointed but resigned, as Rose continued to guard the cakes, 'These are getting pride of place on the buffet table and no one's so much as sticking a finger in the icing until everyone's here. So lay off.'

Realising it was a lost cause, Emmett slunk off towards the bar, while Rose asked one of the waitresses to take the cakes to the kitchen, which Emmett had already been barred from for 'sampling' the food.

Rose turned back to Bella smiling, 'He's nothing but a big child sometimes. He's mad if he thinks I'm letting him anywhere near the food before the photographer from the local paper's been. Everything needs to look perfect.'

'Apart from that, how are things going? Is there anything I can do to help?'

'No, I don't think so. Everything's under control at the moment, apart from my idiot husband of course.' Rose's eyes followed Emmett across the room and the smile on her face betrayed the affection she really felt, although it wasn't like Rose to reveal her feelings if she could help it.

With another eye roll, she turned her attention back to Bella, 'Oh Bella, it's so fantastic to have our own business at last. If it wasn't for Carlisle leaving us the money in his will it would have taken us years more to save up for the rest of the deposit. I know it's going to be hard work, but it feels like a dream come true.'

'Well you've certainly done wonders in a week, it looks fantastic in here.'

'Once the opening night's over, we're going to start trying out a few different menus. It'll be great if we can expand the food side a bit and Em will finally be able to make use of his training as a chef.'

'I hope Jess and Mike's new start will turn out to be just as happy. Where are they by the way? I wanted to let them know one of the cakes is for them.'

'Oh, Mike volunteered to go and collect some extra glasses from the wholesaler. But would you mind keeping Jess occupied for half an hour? She'll be driving everyone mad by now.'

'No problem, I'll let you get back to keeping Emmett in line then, as soon as he's finished all the leftovers.' They both looked over to the bar and watched as Emmett put a whole sandwich in his mouth, then reached for another.

-ooo-

With the promise of a drink, Bella had managed to lure Jess out of the kitchen and into the garden, before she'd managed to confuse too many more staff about what they were supposed to be doing, and for several minutes Bella sat and listened to Jess's thoughts on London, the pub they were about to make an offer on and the latest TV reports on James's trial, before the conversation rather unexpectedly turned to Mike.

Jess looked around to make sure no one was in earshot before whispering loudly, 'I just wanted to thank you again for keeping quiet about James blackmailing him. Although the whole thing was so stupid, of course I've known about his liking for women's clothes for absolutely ages.'

She winked at Bella, 'Not that I even care. Anyone will tell you I'm game for anything in the bedroom department. I remember once…'

Bella was half intrigued and half anxious about what Jessica had been about to reveal, but just then someone walked past on their way to the car park, causing Jess to giggle and shut up for at least thirty seconds.

When she started talking again her thoughts had taken a slightly different track, 'You do know that all that sexist crap he comes out with is just a front don't you?'

Bella stared at her in complete surprise,' I… No…What do you mean?'

'Oh fuck Bella, are you serious? I suppose we're all so used to you, we forget you're a newbie.'

'But I don't understand. What possible excuse is there for Mike behaving like such a moron? And, what, the whole village moans, but just lets him get away with it?'

Jess sighed, 'It's not really his fault and we've always sort of made allowances I suppose.'

Bella was totally bemused,' How can it not be his fault? Don't you even realise the number of customers you must have lost because of his behaviour?'

'Oh Bella, you don't understand what a terrible childhood Mike had. His father was such a bully and a really nasty and violent drunk and of course owning the pub didn't help with that. Mike's mother got the worst of it, but she wouldn't leave, although she ended up in casualty more times than we could count and he almost killed her a couple of times.'

Bella stared at her in shock.

Jess tried to smile. 'I'm sure Mike must have started off blaming himself for not being able to protect her. He always was a bit pathetic and girly you see and he got bullied a lot at secondary school as well. His dad was forever on at him to man up and grow some balls and in the end he created a bit of a monster. But we all know Mike's harmless really.'

'Jess, I'm so sorry I had no idea.'

Jessica sniffed and wiped her eyes with her sleeve, 'It's one of the reasons I wanted to get away from here after his mother died last year. To somewhere no one knew us and he didn't feel he had to pretend all the time. It was so worrying as well when he seemed to be getting so pally with James. It was almost a relief when he told me James had been blackmailing him. And he was so cut up when you got hurt, he went really quiet for weeks.'

'I seem to have done nothing but jump to conclusions ever since I got here.'

'Luckily the whole James thing was a bit of a wake up call and just in the last few days Mike's agreed that now we're trying to make a new start, getting some help for his problems might be a good idea, which is really brilliant.'

Then completely forgetting her tears Jess suddenly went rattling off in a completely different direction and in no time she was telling Bella about all the fantastic shops she'd discovered and re-living a fight she'd had with another customer over the last pair of sparkly pink shoes in her size.

-ooo-

When Bella arrived home, Edward's car was already parked outside the house. He'd promised to leave work early so they could get to the pub in good time and Bella eventually found him sitting in the garden. He'd moved a table and chairs off the patio and onto the lawn outside the observatory and made himself comfortable with his laptop, a bottle of wine and a book.

He looked up and beamed at her as she walked towards him and started pouring her a drink. 'I assume you've come from the village, how are preparations for the grand opening going?'

'Oh god, I really need that drink. Jessica's just told me all about Mike's awful childhood. Why the hell didn't you say anything?'

Edward wrinkled his brow, 'Oh, I'm sorry. I just thought you already knew I suppose.'

'Well I didn't, but it definitely explains a lot. Trust James to have homed in on all of that, while I didn't have a clue as usual.'

'Poor Jess has had to put up with a lot over the years too and everyone's got their fingers crossed that moving away will help. We'll do our best to give them a good send off anyway. What time are Em and Rose expecting us?'

'About five thirtyish, so we can have a quiet meal together and say goodbye properly, before the whole village turns up for the official pub re-opening.'

Edward looked at his watch. 'Ok, I suppose we'd better go and get changed soon then.'

Bella pulled up a chair next to him, 'I just need to sit down and relax for a few minutes first. You've made yourself very comfortable here in the sun.'

She picked up her drink and stared out across the sea. 'On the way home I was thinking about how much good Carlisle has managed to do with all his bequests. Emmett and Rose are so excited about being able to buy the pub, which has also helped Jess and Mike get their new start and Mrs Cope can afford some help with looking after her husband now. She's never complained, but it must have been hard trying to manage on her own, especially at her age.'

Edward nodded and topped up both their glasses, 'Carlisle's publisher must be ecstatic too, the pre-sales on his memoir have gone through the roof apparently. I've just been reading through it again. Who knew a slim volume entirely in verse would prove to be so popular?'

'Well, when you think of it, there are a lot of people who've also suffered bereavements out there and morbid as it seems, there must be quite a demand for new material that can be read out at funerals, especially when it's something that's so well written and heartfelt.'

'It's fantastic that everyone's rediscovering all his old work too. Esme's charities are going to receive a lot more in royalties than anyone ever expected.'

'And with a bit of luck, the royalties on the memoir will take care of all the running costs and repairs on the house in future.'

'Yes, even with the three way split, the new family trust Carlisle set up should keep the church, the village committee and the house going for years. So The Lantern House won't be too much of a weight around future generations' necks after all.'

Bella smiled when it occurred to her that as the last of the family, only Edward could make sure there actually were any future generations - she hoped that wouldn't be too much of a burden for him.

She glanced at the book Edward had been reading. 'Oh, is that my presentation copy you've pinched? I've barely had time to look at it myself yet, the post only arrived just before I left.'

Edward handed it over and she admired the tooled leather cover and leafed through the pages again to find her favourite lines, before turning to the title page. Suddenly she stopped dead in her tracks and turned a shocked face towards Edward.

'Did you know Carlisle had added a dedication?'

'No, let me see.'

She angled the page towards Edward when he leaned in closer and the letters swam in front of her eyes through a layer of tears, as he read the words aloud:

To Bella

Who laid all our ghosts to rest

Bella tried not to cry, 'Sorry to get all emotional, it was just so unexpected. And it feels so over the top and serious, especially when I've managed to get everything so muddled most of the time. It's a bit like when he asked me to take care of you, when he collapsed that first time and Emmett had to resuscitate him.

Edward laughed, 'Emmett couldn't wait to tell me that. He thought it was the funniest thing ever.'

Bella scowled, 'I knew he must have overheard. Considering how badly things were going between us at the time, I don't think I've ever been so embarrassed in my whole life.'

'Well I'm glad that Carlisle tried to do his bit, although I always had confidence that you'd come round eventually.' He grinned across at her and her heart flipped.

It was so unfair, he was almost impossible to resist when he smiled like that. 'That's extremely big-headed of you; perhaps I should have had more sense.'

'But seriously, I hope you know you have… you know…made a difference. I have no idea what would have happened to me, or the house, if you hadn't turned up.'

Bella shook her head, 'I'm sure you would have continued to be your usual philandering self, that's all. But I like you better now.'

'Well thank you, Miss Swan, I'm suitably flattered… So, how much do you like me? Enough to marry me for instance?'

'Without a proper proposal? I'd definitely have to see you on your knees before I could make any sort of decision.'

'Well, it's funny you should say that…I was going to do this later, in public, to embarrass you as much as possible. But I can't wait.' He grinned again and produced a ring box from his pocket.

Suddenly his face was solemn and her breath caught as he knelt on one knee on the grass in front of her. A family of crows suddenly flew out of the trees squawking loudly, making them both jump and laugh, and when she looked back at him he'd opened the box and was holding out the most beautiful square-cut diamond ring, in an old fashioned platinum setting.

Her eyes had already filled with tears again, 'Oh Edward, it's so beautiful!'

'My great, great, grandmother's - the one whose fancy dress costume you borrowed. The ring is the only thing of any value that's left from my father's estate. I was determined to hold onto something, but now I've got my grandfather's watch and this would look much better on you anyway.'

'Aren't you forgetting something?' Bella looked at the ground and raised her eyebrows.

'Oh yes… You're not going to turn me down are you?' for a second he looked at her suspiciously, as if he thought she really might.

'Get on with it stupid. I haven't got all day you know.'

He blew out a breath and his eyes showed nothing but longing as he looked up at her, 'Bella Swan, the most gorgeous, the most precious, the kindest, bravest, person I've ever met, will you do me the honour of marrying me?'

'Yes, I…'

Before she could say any more, the ring had gone flying and he'd grabbed her and enthusiastically kissed her, then pulled her down with him onto the grass and kissed her some more, before retrieving the ring and very carefully manoeuvring it onto her finger.

She stretched out her hand to check how well it suited her. And as they both admired the way the diamond flashed in the sunlight, from somewhere close by, Bella was almost sure she heard a faint peal of girlish laughter, followed by a soft sigh of contentment - a final whisper, floating away on the breeze.

Almost dazed with happiness, Bella leant back against Edward's chest as he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her cheek, enjoying the feel of his sun-warmed body against hers and the familiar tingle and buzz of energy flowing between them.

When she turned her head to look at him, she saw his green eyes were glowing with joy and with life, and she wondered if she looked just as blissfully happy and contented. They'd have to rush to get ready for the party now, but she wanted to enjoy this moment for just a little while longer.

Cradled in his arms, she closed her eyes as he unhurriedly kissed a trail of soft kisses down her neck and across her bare shoulder…

All Bella could hear now was the quiet sound of the waves as they gently lapped against the rocks below the house, and she knew that when she opened her eyes the sun would be shining down from a cloudless blue sky, and she smiled.

The End


Thank you all so much for reading right to the end (one year exactly since I posted the first chapter!), especially everyone who's reviewed week in and week out and entertained me with your suggestions, your humour and your very varied points of view - I'm still shocked at some of the ideas about what I should have done to James, you're such a bloodthirsty lot lol! But seriously, you kept me going & vaguely on track, so a very heartfelt thank you for that. Thanks also to Random Rita at Rob Attack and to The Lemonade Stand for the mentions. I love everyone in sight in fact! XXXX Sue

UPDATE - WOO-HOO! JUST WANTED TO SAY THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO VOTED FOR ME IN THE TWIFANFICTIONRECS MAY POLL. NEVER EXPECTED THAT IN A MILLION YEARS!