Saturday night at the bar she was right there in the front as she always was, smiling that smile for me, her love shining in those expressive, dark eyes for all to see. And for the first time in weeks, I found joy in my music again. I sang the way I wanted, hearing my notes blend and soar the way I intended them to; not watered down or amped up to the point the melody became clouded and unrecognizable. Meeting Bella's gaze, seeing her obvious pride and the glow of pleasure Esme and Carlisle wore, I knew my decision was right.
This was where I belonged. I was home.
We walked from the bar in the dark. The town was peaceful, the only lights behind shaded windows, and street lamps that shone down, highlighting the sheen of Bella's hair. We weren't in a hurry. My guitar was slung over my shoulder, and Bella was tucked beside me. The air was cool, summer fading away fast and the chill of autumn seeping into the days.
I dropped a kiss to her head. "Yes, you are."
She laughed softly, hugging my waist. "Biased, I think."
"No—just speaking the truth."
We strolled along, turning down our street. "Em and I are doing the new roof next week."
"You have time?"
"We made time. We're pulling off the porch next."
"You can't just repair it?"
"It's in bad shape. We want to check the underpinning and make sure the foundation is okay. Em drew up a couple sketches for you to look at. There's one I know you'll want."
"Then just tell him to go ahead."
She gazed up at me, certain. "You know me, Edward. If you think I'll like it, do it."
We paused in front of the house. "It will be bigger." I pointed to the porch, swinging my guitar from my shoulder, setting it beside me. "With a nice railing and steps, and a place for a couple chairs. Em plans on adding some over-the-rail flower baskets for you, too."
"I love it already. We can sit and watch the world go by." She hummed.
I looked down at her, swallowing at the sudden nerves. "We could watch our kids play in the yard."
She squeezed my arm. "Yes, one day."
I turned to face her fully. "Maybe one day soon, Bella?"
"You'd like that?"
"I would. But I'd like something else first."
I slipped a small box from my pocket and pressed it into her hand. "A few months ago Bella, you took a chance on a stranger and brought him to your home. I stood right here and looked at a little house, and knew I had finally found my home too. You showed me more love and support than I've had in years. I never want to be without that. Ever." I sucked in a deep breath, and lowered myself to one knee. "Would you marry me?"
Tears filled her eyes. She stared down at the leather box in her hand.
"It's small, Bella. But it's yours, if you want it. If you want me."
"I don't care if it's a twist tie, Edward. Yes! Yes, I'll marry you!"
Standing, I wrapped her in my arms, swinging her around, laughing in happiness. I set her down, cupped her face and kissed her, pouring all the love I felt into that kiss.
I took the box from her hand and opened the lid, removing the ring and sliding it on her finger. Bending, I kissed her hand. "Mine, Angel. You're mine forever now."
She stared at the ring. It wasn't big or flashy. I couldn't even afford a large diamond, but the emerald ring with tiny diamonds and the matching band of flowing diamonds was pretty and sparkled with lots of fire. It had caught my eye when I went to Newton's Jewelers the day after I got home. I already knew I wanted to ask Bella to marry me and I didn't want to wait. Mr. Newton was thrilled and grateful that Mike was working for Em and I, and he had been very generous with his price. I had a plain band on hold for myself. His wife had assured me some women didn't have a diamond as an engagement stone and I thought Bella would like the emerald since she always told me she loved my eyes. It suited her small hand, the color of the emerald glowing under the street light.
"Do you like it, Bella? Mr. Newton says we can exchange—"
She held up her hand, shaking her head. "It's perfect. I love it, Edward." She clasped her hands over her heart. "I love you." She flung her arms around my neck. "Forever," she whispered.
I held her tight. "Forever."
Sunday, the house buzzed. Bella got her wish of hosting a dinner in the new kitchen, and all day, the house smelled amazing. Everyone was over early, and we watched some games on the TV while our girls cooked, drank wine and laughed in the kitchen. They often came in to see what we were up to—which was basically nothing except the usual male BS of kibitzing, drinking too much beer, and shouting at the TV.
I loved it. Every minute of it.
I could smell the roasting meat, and knew all the side dishes she had planned. Yesterday, while I was working on some small jobs around the house, she had baked pies—far too many for us to eat in one day—but I didn't care. All my favorites were there, and that seemed to be the point of this dinner. This was her way of expressing her happiness.
There had been many congratulations. Esme and Carlisle were the only ones who knew what I had planned, and they brought champagne with them to celebrate. The ring was pronounced beautiful by the women and the men made their usual remarks about being me "whipped", but it was all in fun.
We sat down to a feast. Bella and Esme had outdone themselves, the table practically groaning under the weight of the food. Dishes were passed, everyone complimenting the cooks. I looked around the table, my smile growing wide.
A few months ago, these people were all strangers. Now, they were my family. I had been brought up to believe family was strictly blood, but that was wrong. Family was the people you loved, who supported you no matter what. They were your umbrella during a storm, and the brace that helped you get to your feet when you needed one.
My gaze fell on Bella. My Angel.
She was smiling, fussing over everyone, making sure they had what they needed. Her ring caught the light, glimmering on her finger as a sign of the love I had for her. No beginning, and no end. She caught my eye and leaned closer.
"Do you have everything you need?"
I smiled at her. "Yeah, Angel. I do." I kissed her gently. "I have everything."
I shook my head, laughing. "No Jake, you can't turn my song into hip-hop."
He grinned at me, dimples flashing, his teeth brilliant white against his russet skin. "I bet I could."
"Not while I'm breathing."
Bella came in, setting down a platter of sandwiches. Jake beamed at her, putting down his guitar and grabbing one. I thought Emmett could eat. Jake made him look like a light weight. Bella ruffled his hair affectionately and I held out my arm, letting her settle on my knee.
Jake smirked at us. "I guess I won't test the theory, seeing as Bella feeds me so well."
I reached for a sandwich, having to agree with him. Bella was a stupendous cook, and she thoroughly took care of everyone she cared about.
Jake had shown up, early in the new year, with an offer I never saw coming. He told me things had gotten even worse after I left. Victoria and Riley were constantly arguing, and it came to light she had been having an affair with James, which caused another major blowup. Riley fired them both, and found out they had been conspiring behind his back to persuade artists to leave Region and attach themselves to a new label James and Victoria were planning to create.
He shook his head. "The way James and Victoria were treating the new talent was exactly what they did to you. They wanted the artist to get pissed off and leave. Then they would slide in and tell them how they had been fighting with Riley to help them and try to snag them for their own gain."
I wasn't surprised to hear it. Victoria had shown up here about a month after I got back. I refused to see her, and Jasper escorted her from the bar. The local police met her outside the house and did the same, and I changed my cell phone number to stop her incessant calls. She finally gave up, having got the message I wanted nothing to do with her.
Jake had convinced Riley he wanted some new music. He had come here to work with me and buy some of my creations. We had been working together for almost two weeks, and I loved it. It was challenging, enjoyable, and it gave me a chance to stretch my artistic wings so to speak. When Jake asked about me going to B.C. to be part of the production end, I immediately declined, but he shook his head, holding up his hand.
"Hear me out. First off, you'd be paid. It's only for a short time, and you are welcome to bring Bella. Think about it, Edward. You get the best of both worlds. Your music being played, and the chance to make sure it's done right, all while Bella is with you." He sat back and dangled the carrot. "If this goes well, your music would be sought after. It could open up a whole new world for you. One where you are in control this time. You could choose the who and when."
Later, when I talked to Bella and Carlisle, I had to admit it was tempting. What I was being paid for my songs, plus the potential royalties, would make a huge difference to our life. Add in the experience, it was a great opportunity.
Both Carlisle and Bella agreed. Unlike last time, there was no contract, no tearing me away from Bella, or my life. I could set the schedule, make the decisions and be in control.
"Would you like to go to B.C., my Angel?"
I pulled her close. "Then it's settled."
Jake wolfed down the sandwiches. "Man, I am gonna miss this food. You sure you don't want to come on tour with me as my personal chef, Bella?"
I growled at him, holding Bella tight. "No, she wouldn't."
Bella laughed, pressing a kiss to my head. "I can talk, Edward. But, no, thanks anyway, Jake. I'll cook for you when we come for Edward to work on the CD."
"Fair enough. But if you get tired of Daddy Long Legs here, let me know." He stood up and stretched. "I'm gonna go pack."
His footsteps echoed on the hard floors, the heavy thumps overhead.
"I'm gonna miss him."
I dropped a kiss to her cheek. "He adores you."
"He's like a big puppy. All full of energy and mischief. It's never dull when he's around."
"He eats more like a Great Dane."
She laughed. "He'll love dinner tonight. Esme and I have been cooking for days."
"That will tide him over until we go in a couple weeks."
She hummed, curling herself into my embrace.
"Are you excited?"
"I think so."
"It's not like last time, Bella."
"Are you worried about my father?"
I tugged her closer. "Don't be. He has no reason to see me again."
He showed up at the bar on a Saturday night. How he found me I didn't know, but I looked up from my guitar and he was there, sitting at the edge of the bar, glowering. His distaste was evident on his face, and I was immediately both angry and wary.
Why was he there?
Bella saw the look on my face, and glancing around, her gaze found my father. She leaned over and spoke quietly to Carlisle, who turned and met my father's gaze. The disgust on his face became anger when he saw Carlisle as well as his mother Shelly, who was visiting that weekend. Once we had met her, she became a regular visitor to Riverstoke and part of our growing circle of adopted family.
I ended my set early, stood, and I approached my father, knowing many eyes were on us.
He looked the same as he always did—his posture rigid, shoulders set, and his demeanor cold. I tried to remember warmth or caring, but instead, I only remembered his distance. I was surprised to find the longing for his approval gone, and in its place, complete indifference.
I nodded at him. "Father."
"I see nothing's changed. Still wasting your life chasing a dream."
I shook my head in disagreement. "A lot has changed. You can't be bothered to see it, and frankly, I don't feel like sharing. Why are you here?"
"I am done being patient. It is time for you to return to Vancouver."
I gaped at him. "You can't order me around like an errant little boy. I am not returning to Vancouver. This is my home."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"I think you're being the ridiculous one here. You show up and demand I leave? You have no right."
"I'm your father. Your blood."
"Yes, you are my father. But you threw away any chance of that meaning something when you chose to ignore me for the past months." I crossed my arms, meeting his gaze. "Family is more than blood. It's caring, love, and support."
I sucked in a deep breath. "My family is here. If you can be civil, you are welcome to join us for a drink."
"I will not sit down at a table with those people."
"Then you can leave."
"You would choose them over me?"
I barked out a laugh. "You chose work over me. Strangers meant more to you than I ever did. You ignored me for years, and belittled everything I loved. Your opinion and feelings no longer matter."
He slid off his chair, and stepped forward, his eyes narrowed. "You owe me a great deal of money."
For the first time, I noticed his speech. It wasn't as smooth as usual. As he came closer, I realized he had been drinking. I always hated it when he drank. He was never a violent person, but after he had a few drinks in him, his tongue became exceptionally sharp. I needed him to say what he had to say and leave before he caused a scene.
"Tell me how much and I will repay you as quickly as I can."
"I want it, now."
"I don't have it."
"You never will."
"I will figure it out."
"We'll figure it out together." Bella appeared in front of me. She reached behind, grasping my hand. "I don't like the tone you're speaking to my fiancé in. I would like you to leave."
"Fiancé, now? What a loser. Frankly, you stupid girl, I don't care what you say. He is coming with me, and he can work his debt off. Once he's done, let's see how fast you take him back."
My father reached past Bella to seize my arm. With a gasp, she grabbed his arm, stopping him. His temper erupted and pushed her to the side, causing her to stumble. Carlisle and I grasped for her before she hit the floor, both of us livid.
"You bastard!" I yelled, wrapping her close. All hell broke loose. Emmett had my father in a headlock; Carlisle was standing in front of Bella and I protectively. Jasper cleared the bar in a huge jump, grabbing his phone, ready to call the police. The entire bar watched as my father glared at us, but didn't make another move.
"Let him go, Emmett," Carlisle spoke up, his voice stern. He directed his anger at my father. "You make one more move toward either of them, you'll be sorry."
My father straightened up. "How surprising. One slacker defending another. How the two of you got together, I have no idea, but good riddance. You've obviously had a bad influence on Edward."
Carlisle laughed. "Whatever Ed. Whoever you want to blame, go ahead. God knows you can't blame yourself."
My father pointed a finger at me. "You owe me."
"Leave the boy alone. Whatever it is, I'll pay it. Give me a figure and I'll write you a check," Carlisle spat out.
I gaped at him. So did my father. Then he recovered. "Have friends paying off our debts now, Edward?" He sneered. "I'm not sure you can afford it, Carlisle. He has quite a large debt."
Carlisle laughed. "First off, he is more than a friend. You bloody well know that. Edward is family. We take care of our family here. And I know he's good for it. He's one of the most trustworthy people I know. The fact you can't, or won't, see that in your own son, is just sad." He gave my father a look that spoke volumes. "Shame his"—he raised his hands, making quotation marks in the air—"'real family' refuses to accept or see him for the amazing young man he is." Then he smirked. "As for affording it, I can assure you, I could buy and sell you ten times over, Ed. Trust me on that one."
My father blanched, then shook off the hand Emmett still had on his shoulder. "I'll send you an invoice."
Carlisle nodded. "You do that."
My father looked around the room, and all the unfriendly eyes watching him. "I'm leaving."
Carlisle stepped to the side, gently pushing Bella and I back. "No one is stopping you. In fact, you've interrupted a highly enjoyable evening. Since you're too stubborn to stay and enjoy your son's talent, it's best you do leave."
My father strode by, stopping to glare at me. "Last chance, Edward."
I stared at him, shocked to realize I no longer had any feelings toward him. I was emotionless. "Don't want it."
Relief was the only thing I felt at that moment. I shrugged.
He stormed out.
I pulled Bella into my arms. "Are you all right?"
She nodded against my chest, her arms clutching me hard. "Are you?"
I met Carlisle's gaze. He clapped me on the shoulder and smiled, trying to ease the tension. "What's a night out without some family drama?"
I looked at Jasper. "Just give me a moment and I'll start back up."
"Take your time." He jerked his head in the direction of the hall. "My office is empty."
"Carlisle?" I asked quietly.
In the office, I cupped Bella's face. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"I am. I was so scared he would hurt you or say more nasty things."
"His words don't hurt now, Angel. The thought of him hurting you almost did me in."
"He didn't. I'm fine."
"We don't ever have to see him again. He will never get near you again."
I turned to Carlisle. "I will pay you back."
He grinned. "I know. Do I look at all worried?"
"I don't know when…"
"I'm not. We'll figure it all out."
"I don't get why he showed up, or how he found me."
"He showed up to make a point. He was so sure by now you would need him and agree to whatever he wanted." Carlisle winked. "I guess you showed him."
"He won't be back, that's for sure."
"Thank goodness," Bella muttered.
I shook my head. "Can you check Bella out?"
"I'm fine. I didn't hit the floor."
"He touched you."
"Edward, I'm fine."
Just to appease me, Carlisle did a quick check, making sure she was fine. Then he left us alone. I wrapped her in my arms, grateful she was with me.
"Are you okay?" she whispered.
"I am. I'm a little embarrassed by his behavior and pissed off he interrupted our night, but I'm okay."
She studied my face, worry etched in her expression. "We can talk about it later, but really, I'm fine. I am glad he's gone, though."
She smiled. "Then let's go back to our family."
I kissed her gently. "Yeah, Angel. Our family."
I studied her worried face, knowing she was remembering that day. "He won't come near me, Angel. Promise. He has his money, and he has washed his hands of me."
"Okay," she breathed out, still sounding worried.
I grinned at her, wanting to reassure her. "Jake will be with me. Nobody gets past that big dog."
This time she smiled, looking more herself. "Okay."
The wind blew the trees, the branches swaying in the breeze bringing the crisp air of the fall inside. I sat in my favorite chair, my guitar in hand, strumming thoughtlessly.
I spent a lot of time in my little music room these days. My trip to B.C. had been a successful one. So successful I was writing a lot of songs for various artists these days. I spent less time with Emmett and our construction company, but he had brought another friend of ours from Toronto to help. I still pitched in, but my time was more eaten up with the music. The business ran well, and they were still busy. It was good for all of us.
My debts were paid. My music company had a healthy bottom line, and I would never be worried about money again. Thanks to royalties, I would never have to ask for help from my father or anyone else.
We never heard from him again, other than the ridiculously detailed and expensive invoice he sent to Carlisle. My embarrassment reached epic proportions when he showed it to me. It became even more embarrassing when he told me Shelly insisted on paying it, saying my grandfather would have wanted to help me. I, in turn, insisted on paying her back, and we argued for months about it, until she finally agreed.
Bella's soft voice startled me, and I looked up to find her holding a steaming cup of coffee and a plate of her cookies. With a grin, I took both, setting them on the table, then tugged her onto my knee.
"Hey, my Angel."
"I thought you could use a break. You've been up here a while."
"I finished the new one for Jake. Just clearing my mind. That one that had been playing through my head, just won't come out. I can't grasp it."
"I was thinking, it's time for a vacation. I owe you a honeymoon."
We were married in a simple ceremony, during one of my trips to Vancouver. Esme and Carlisle were with us, and we went to city hall and exchanged private vows. When we returned, there was a huge party at the bar, and we celebrated with our friends. It was very us. But I wanted to take her away.
Her smile was wide. "I'd like that."
"I was thinking Hawaii."
"I'll start checking into it."
"We need to go soon. You have work to do when we get back."
"Oh? Got other plans I don't know about?"
"I think we may need to move, or add on an addition."
She inhaled and held my face between her hands, meeting my gaze. Tears glimmered in her deep brown gaze.
"I'm pregnant, Edward. We're going to have a baby."
No words had ever been sweeter. No news more welcome. I wrapped her in my arms, burying my face into her neck. "Bella, Angel… I love you."
A baby. A family. My family. I was going to show this child all the love I had been denied growing up. My child would never doubt how much they meant to me.
I covered her mouth with mine, showing her my joy.
She curled tighter into my lap, and I sat back, holding her, feeling the elation settle into my bones, thinking of my life since that fateful day.
A snowstorm that delayed me.
A protective angel that found me.
A spur of the moment decision that led to a new life.
A love that changed my life, and created a new one.
The elusive song in my head suddenly had a name, and words.
It was what Bella was to me.
My final destination.
Well my friends, that is it. Another one done. Thank you for reading, and for all your reviews. I have a Christmas story that will begin posting tomorrow. One chapter per day for ten days. I will warn you it is sad, and contains subject matter that may be a trigger to some. But there is a HEA as always. I hope you join me!
Many thanks to Midnight Cougar for her work on this story, and my prereaders for their help.