The Girl with the Sugar Lips - Chapter 20

I'm starting to feel more like my old self. I think the date with Bella was a real boost, and since then, things have been going really well.

Today, I'm taking her on our second date. It's a little over a week since our first, but today is a milestone, I hope. I have an appointment with my doctor this morning, and I'm hopeful he'll give me the all clear to go back to work and start getting on with my life. I know I'll have to take things easy for a while; I still get tired easily, and I get a pain every now and then, especially when I move suddenly. But I don't think it'll be too long until I'm able to go back to the gym. And partake in other physical activities!

I'm taking a risk with our second date. I want to erase her memory of when I picked her up from work soon after she moved to McCarty's. We'd needed to talk, but I'd been nervous and thought it would be best to talk in private, so had picked up a takeout bag from one of my favorite restaurants, planning to have a private picnic. And then, when I saw her, I pounced on her like a man starving in a desert coming across an oasis. In my defense, I had wanted to talk to her, to try and take our relationship out of the dark and make a proper go of it, but looking back now, I can hardly blame her for jumping to the conclusion I was still only after sex. I was also still confused myself. Playing things cautiously rather than letting her know how I felt, still not quite at the point of even admitting all I felt to myself. I think about how far we've come. We've talked so much over the last few weeks, and, apart from our indiscretion on our first date, we've hardly touched each other. That's something I intend to put right soon. But not today. Today, I'll be the gentleman. I have a reservation at a top restaurant, and I intend to let everyone there know I'm in a relationship with this beautiful woman.

She looks a little nervous as she approaches me. I wonder if she's also remembering the last time I picked her up like this, or if she's nervous for the results of my doctor's appointment. Either way, I need to set her mind at rest. I greet her how a man in love should greet his girlfriend: with a full-on display of affection. My lips meet hers, and I melt into her, pulling her close and letting my tongue explore.

It takes us a while, but we eventually come up for air. I look down at her flushed features as I gently run my thumb over her rosy cheek. I keep her close, not yet ready to let her go.

Then I hear a wolf whistle from behind her. What bastard is disrespecting my girl? I look up, ready to do some damage. Oh, fuck. It's Emmett and Rosalie.

"Emmett," I mutter in disapproval of his actions.

Bella breaks loose from my tight hold and turns to face my friends.

"You two make such an adorable couple." Emmett grins at us, and I brace myself for the punchline, which is likely to be at my expense. "Such a pity you're still a broken man and can't take things further. How are the blue balls fairing?" Why do I confide anything in that man? He just cannot be subtle to save his life. I may have mentioned to him in passing that I was a little frustrated and looking forward to being able to take things further with Bella again, but that doesn't give him the right to make jokes like that in front of her. The last thing I want is her to get the idea I'm only here for sex.

I'm about to give him a piece of my mind, but Rosalie beats me to it. "Emmett, you'll be the one with blue balls if you don't learn to shut it."

The smile drops from his face. "Seriously though, man, how's the recovery? What'd the doc say?" I know he's been concerned about me. He revealed the other week that I had really given him a scare.

"He's given me the all clear. I can go back to work, go back to my apartment, and, most importantly, resume all usual activities as I feel able."

Bella turns and looks at me. "Really?" She has a huge grin on her face. Is she looking forward to the resuming of usual activities as much as I am?

"He said to take things slowly and to stop if I feel any pain, but there's no reason I can't get back to my normal life."

"That's fantastic news," says Emmett, stepping forward and clapping me on the shoulder. "So, I'll be seeing you at the gym? You've gotten a little scrawny with all this bedrest."

"Fuck you. I'd still be able to kick your ass any day." It's probably a lie. I know I've lost strength during my recovery, but it won't take me long to build it back up again.

"Challenge accepted." Emmett grins back.

"Now, if you'll excuse us. My girl and I have reservations at a fancy restaurant."

"You treat her right this time, Cullen," says Rosalie, and I get her stink eye that she usually reserves for Emmett when he fucks up. I've been on the receiving end of that eye far too much recently. "If she ends up back here in tears, it'll be more than a case of blue balls you'll have to worry about. Do we have an understanding?"

I wrap my arm around Bella. We need a show of strength. And I need some protection. "You have my word, Rose. I'll look after her."

Rosalie keeps her eyes locked on mine. I know there will be hell to pay if I mess this up, but I have no intention of messing things up.

Rosalie rearranges her features into a soft smile as she turns to my girl. "Have a great time, Bella. Don't worry if you're late back; I'll cover for you. I know the boss." She winks, then takes Emmett's hand and leads him away.

I turn to my girl. "Miss Swan, are you ready to dine?"

I give her another quick kiss before I help her into the back of the car and climb in behind her.

"So where are you taking me?"

"The Ivory." It's one of the best restaurants in the town. They do a great ravioli dish, and their steaks are to die for. I was there only a few months ago for my father's birthday. I'm not sure if Bella's been before, but either way, she's in for a treat.

"I've always wanted to go there. I nearly did once, with Esme, but then her errant son decided he was free after all."

What? She was going to go to The Ivory with my mother. Her errant son? That's me. Then it all makes sense. My mother trying to fix me up, talking about that girl she thought would be perfect for me. Fuck, that must've been Bella. "Carlisle's birthday?" She confirms with a nod. "Hey, that wasn't my fault. I seem to remember I only became available because I was stood up by a young lady who was supposed to come for a meeting that evening." It seems like a lifetime ago. We've come so far since then. More correctly, I've come so far. Looking back now, I can see I was already falling for her, so hard, but I was fighting it just as hard. Knowing what I know now, I seem like such a fool. Why on earth was I fighting this?

"And it wasn't my fault I stood you up. I was being stalked by Caius …" I cut her off with a kiss. Because I can. Because I love her. Because I never again want to be the man I was back then. And because I don't want to spend my date talking about that man.

"Next birthday, we'll all go together." I'm not sure who's birthday exactly, maybe everyone's.

"I'll look forward to it."

~TMITE~

The office is quiet. I've come in early to catch up on things. It's my first day back. Yesterday, I did a little work from home in the afternoon after a fantastic lunch date with Bella. The venue had been refined, the food delicious, and the company fantastic.

I open up my computer and start to flick through the various files, wondering just where to start, when I see the folder containing my pictures of Lisa. It's been a long time since I've opened it and looked at them. On an impulse, I click on it, and there she is, smiling back at me.

"Hi," I say tentatively. "Long time no see." I smile at her, wondering what she would say to me.

"I've met someone, but I suppose you figured that out. She's wonderful, Lisa. You'd love her. Kind, generous, but fierce and ambitious. She keeps me on my toes. And so damn sexy." I chuckle. "But I suppose that's not really what you'd want to hear about."

I pause, not too sure how to word what I suddenly find I need to tell her. She deserves to be the first to know. "I'm going to marry her. God, she's everything, and I nearly lost her. You'd think that losing you would teach me to seize the day, to not take anything for granted, but it would appear I'm not that quick a study. It took me far too long to realize what she means to me. I hope you approve. I know you always said I needed to move on once you were gone. You'd have been so pissed at me these last few years. But I'm finally waking up. Wherever you are, I hope you're happy that I'm happy again."

I smile ruefully at her picture for a while. I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly. In the movies, there'd be a mysterious breeze or a whispered sound that the leading man would take as a sign of approval. But nothing like that happened. The office stayed quiet, and her picture failed to give me any indication Lisa had heard my words and gave me her blessing. But I found I was at peace all the same. I knew Lisa. I knew she'd be happy for me. The guilt I once felt just wasn't there anymore. I'd moved past it, quietly, while talking into the night on Skype with Bella, and violently when I thought she was going to be snatched away from me with the sound of a gunshot. Lisa was my past, and Bella was my future. It was as simple as that.

I shut down the file and picked up the phone. I needed to say good morning to the woman I loved.

~TGwtSL~

Date three. And to say I'm nervous would be an understatement. And not because I'm on a promise. I reach into my pocket. Still there. I wipe my sweaty palms on my pant legs and ring the bell of her apartment. This is the first time I've been here. If I have my way, she won't be here for much longer. She's still not seen my apartment either. Fuck, how can I even be considering this? We're on our third date and neither of us has even slept over at the other's place. This is ridiculous. Except it's not. I know in my heart it's so right. Third date or three hundredth, I know I want to spend the rest of my life with her. No amount of time will change that.

Bella looks stunning in a strappy little black dress that shows off her legs to perfection.

"Hey, Edward." She sounds a little breathless. Was she rushing to the door?

"Hi, Edward." I hear a chorus from behind her, and I glance over to see Angela and Alice.

"Hi, girls." I briefly acknowledge them before bringing my focus back to where it belongs. "You look stunning, Bella. But I'm afraid you may be a little cold." We'll probably be outside for parts of this evening, and it's still January and pretty cold.

"No problem." She grabs a leather jacket from behind the door, and I help her slip it on. It gives her that perfect mix of innocence and sin that I've always loved about her.

I lean down to whisper into her ear, allowing my fingers to brush along her revealed collarbone. "I like this. You're a combination of sweet innocence and deadly sin. What are you going to be tonight, Isabella? An angel or the devil?"

I know I'm having an effect on her, and I love that I still can. I hope I always will.

"I think we should go," she says as she stares into my eyes.

"Whatever you say, Miss Swan." I take her hand and wave to her friends as I lead her out to my car.

Sam is driving us again tonight for two reasons. The first is it's quite a long ride, and I don't think my body is up to that just yet. The other is I think I may need a drink or two. A little Dutch courage, so to speak. I have the whole evening planned out. Except the crucial bit. I'm really not sure when I'm going to do that. I'm hoping the perfect time will present itself. I've gone over and over in my head what to say—each time it comes out different, and each time, I get a different answer. Fuck, I hope I don't mess this up. I touch the box in my pocket again for the hundredth time, making sure it's still there.

Bella squeezes my fingers that have been rubbing circles absently on the back of her hand between us. "What's up?" she asks. I realize I've not been paying her much attention, just staring out the window and worrying. I resolve to get my head back in the game.

"I'm just hoping you'll enjoy tonight," I lie.

"Where are we going?"

I smile at her. She's going to love it. I know she's going to love it. "I told you. It's a surprise."

She pouts and scowls at me. "Have I ever told you I don't like surprises?"

It breaks my mood and I laugh. "On several occasions, Bella. But, trust me; this one will be worth it. Would it help if I took your mind off the journey?"

"It may."

Challenge accepted. I could do with a little distraction myself. I lean toward her until our lips meet. I keep things gentle, allowing my hand to gently rise up her back to stroke the delicate skin at the back of her neck. She deepens the kiss, grabbing my shirt to pull me closer. I trail my kiss to her ear. Time to tease my Sugar Lips. "Did I tell you I went to the gym the other night? I was checking if I could get full use of my stomach muscles without any pain."

I feel her swallow. "And can you?" Her voice is barely a whisper. She's certainly distracted.

As I talk, I allow my tongue to gently caress her earlobe and my hand to settle on her thigh, inching slowly up under her loose skirt. "Oh, yes, Miss Swan. I'm fully able to use this body. I can do sit-ups, press-ups, abdominal crunches—you know, the kind you do when you thrust your hips forward repeatedly—with no problem."

I leave her in no doubt that I will be taking things further later as my fingers reach the top of her thigh, and I allow them to gently run up over the thin material of her underwear. I'm rewarded with a low moan.

But, unfortunately, it's time to wrap this up. "Bella?"

"Uh, huh?"

"We're here."

She looks past me, out the car window, shocked, and, if I'm not mistaken, a little pissed off. I climb out of the car before she has time to take her frustrations out on me. I've made it around the car before she seems to have composed herself, so I open her door for her and help her to climb out. I love making her like this. I love being in control of her body, but even more, I love just how responsive she is. Tonight is going to be fun. I push any other worries out of my head.

"Where are we?" she asks.

"Come." I take her by the hand and lead her toward the one story red brick building in front of us. It looks out over the most spectacular valley where the best wine grapes to grace the shores of America grow. But then, being a part owner, I may be a little biased.

Sheila has spotted our arrival, and she comes out to great us. She and her husband George are like an aunt and uncle to me. She's one of those people who live to feed and nourish those she loves. She exudes warmth, and you can't help but love her. She's dressed in her usual style: a long skirt with a blouse that's a riot of color.

"Edward, and this must be Bella." She reaches for both our hands fondly. I only told her about Bella earlier this week when I came up with this idea for tonight, but she kept me on the phone for hours asking all about her and filling me in on the gossip. She welcomes both of use like she's known us her whole life. "Please, come this way. We have everything waiting for you."

As we enter the building, Sheila continues to talk. She's one of those people who is always able to fill a silence. "George has selected some of our best from last year, as well as a couple vintage bottles for you to sample, and you've been lucky with the weather, so I've set you up for later on the veranda with a space heater." Thank goodness Bella brought her jacket, although the veranda is sheltered, and I know the heater can provide a lot of warmth, I don't want her to get cold. Sheila continues, "The views when the moon comes out are spectacular. But then, I don't need to tell you that, do I, Edward?" She looks back with a smile, and I return it. I've visited them often and commented on the lovely views, telling her over the phone how excited I was to share them with Bella, and how lucky we are tonight's a full moon.

She leads us into the building and down a flight of steps into the wine cellar that is perfectly temperature controlled to allow the wine to mature to perfection. George is waiting for us at the bar at the far end. As he sees us, he starts to pour out four glasses.

I suddenly realize I've not made any introductions. I'd better put that right. "Bella, let me introduce George and his wife, Sheila. They own and run this award-winning vineyard and winery."

"Part own," corrects George. "You know very well that if it wasn't for your generous help when Sheila got sick, we'd be out of business by now."

A few years back, Sheila had a stroke. It wasn't life threatening, but it left her needing physical therapy to get her walking again and occupational therapy to help her to do the things around the house and for the business that she used to do. It was a tough time, and her ongoing care required medication, and a lot of George's time and attention, attention they both used to dedicate to the business. The business naturally suffered without the two of them giving it their full attention, just when they needed the income from it the most.

I'd started buying my wine from them about a year prior to this happening and had grown fond of them. When I heard of their difficulties, I, at first, offered to put up the funds to allow them to hire a manager to take some pressure off George, and to pay off their mounting depts. But they weren't happy just taking the money, so we reached an agreement where I became a partner in the business. So, I'm now a part owner—I talked them down to twenty percent—of a vineyard. I'm a silent partner but one who loves to come and taste the wine.

"And you've more than payed me back in great wine since."

"Talking of which," says George, "this is the one that won gold at the Decanter awards." I'd been so happy for them when they called to let me know they'd won the award; it's a real boost for the business as well as a testament to their skills as wine makers.

"A great choice to start with; I hear it's light and fruity and almost fizzes on the tongue," I say.

"This is what they say."

I hand a glass to Bella before picking up my own as George and Sheila pick up theirs.

I raise my glass in a toast. "To great wine and great company."

Taking a sip, I can see why the wine won. It's delicious, and I could drink it all day.

"I'll leave you to it. Give me a call when you're done." I know Sheila is off to make sure our food is ready for later. She's a great cook and insisted on catering for us. As she passes, she gives my arm a small squeeze; I think she's happy to see me with someone.

"So, what do you think, Bella?"

Her eyes go wide. "It's nice?" she asks rather than states. It would appear my girl feels a little out of her depth. But there's no need. All she really needs to know is if she likes it or not.

"In what way, Bella. Give me more."

"I don't know, Edward." She sounds a little cross, and I briefly worry that I shouldn't have pushed her, but I know she has a great way with words. "I've never been wine tasting before. I know I like it. I know it's the sort of wine I could see myself drinking on a warm summer's day with my girlfriends as we put the world to rights. It's fruity, as George said, but has a little buzz to it. It's kind of exciting without being a show off like some fizzy wines."

I throw my head back and laugh. I knew she'd end up finding the perfect words to describe it in her own perfect way. She really does need to give marketing a go. "Isabella Swan, I love you. You have the most amazing way of looking at things." I turn to George. "Get that on the marketing, George. 'Exciting without being a show off.' I love it."

She looks at me suspiciously, but I don't care. I pull her in for a quick kiss. I love this woman. "You described it perfectly," I tell her as I release her.

Onward and upward. The night is young. I turn to George. "What else have you got for us?"

"Well," says George, turning to Bella with a sparkle in his eye. I think he likes her. "If you liked that one, you should really like this one." He reaches behind him and selects a bottle, making quick work of the cork and pouring some into fresh glasses. "It's a 2005."

"I good year," I add.

"It's a little heavier than the last one but still fruity and refreshing."

George and I take a taste of the wine. You can smell the layers of flavors that burst on your palate, and it has an interesting fruity aftertaste that lingers on the tongue.

I notice Bella isn't drinking. "Are you okay, Bella?" And there goes her blush. I wonder what's bothering her.

"I was just checking I was doing it right. I mean, don't you usually have to do things like swill it around and spit it out?"

I've seen the professionals taste wine, and I know exactly where she's coming from, but in all honesty, I'm just here to enjoy the wine. I really don't know much about it, but I do know what I like, and one thing I don't like is spitting out good wine. I run my thumb across her cheek and attempt to make her feel more at ease. This really isn't going how I'd hoped. I'm beginning to think this may be the worst date on record. And it was all supposed to be so perfect.

"I don't enjoy spitting, and I'm sure you don't either. We're here to enjoy the wine and perhaps find one we really like. I'd love to give you a few bottles to enjoy on that summer day with Alice and Angela, or perhaps we could enjoy a bottle or two together. All you have to worry about is if you like the wine or not. You don't need to know fancy words to describe them or what years are good or bad. That's what George is for."

"Believe me, Bella," adds on George, "you really don't need to be an expert. When Edward first visited us, he didn't know a red from a white. He pretends he knows a little now, but don't let it fool you. He still can't tell the difference between a merlot and a shiraz."

I see her visibly relax. She picks up her glass and takes a sip. I try not to put pressure on her by asking her about it, instead asking George to tell us a little about the wine. He attempts to teach us a little on how the weather in its year of production influenced the grapes, leading to a fantastic crop, as well as a spectacular wine. He is extremely knowledgeable, having worked the vines since he was a boy.

Bella listens with interest to his stories and laughs at his jokes. It's great to see her relaxing. Perhaps the date is back on track. I check the box in my pocket again. Yep, good wine, good company, followed by some good food. We're back on track.

Before I know it, we've selected a few bottles that we both like, and these are collecting at the end of the bar. We've also decided on the one we want to drink tonight, although we're both starting to act a little more relaxed as the wine starts to take effect.

Time to move on with the evening. I escort Bella up the stairs, back to the main house, where we're met by Sheila, who lets us know our food is ready.

She leads us through to a table set up on the covered terrace at the back of the building, overlooking the valley. I help Bella into her chair, and I look across the valley. It looks stunning, just as I'd hoped. The full moon is creating interesting shadows in the vines. I love this place. It's where I come when I need to unwind.

"I'll bring you out here again in the summer. This place seems to almost have a life, the feel of the place changing with each season. At the moment, it's in hibernation, but it comes alive in the summer."

"Thank you for bring me here." She takes my hand in hers and the warmth burns into my heart. "Thank you for sharing this with me."

"I want to share everything with you. You're my everything. My life, my future. I love you." This feels right. Is now the time? God, I hope she says yes. I check for the ring one more time and take a deep breath. Yes, this feels right. I hope she says yes. Yes, I'm fully aware I've already through that! But, fuck, I hope she says yes. "Bella …"

"Spiced potted crab with soda bread."

Fuck! Good timing, Sheila. But maybe it's for the best. I mean, what if she said no, and we'd have to either sit here and make polite conversation during the meal, or make our excuses and offend Sheila. No, this is for the best. I'll do it at the end of the meal. That'll be much better.

I look down at my plate. It looks, and smells, delicious.

"Thank you." It's about all I can manage at the moment.

The food is good and Bella tucks in with gusto, making sounds that on any other occasion would get me seriously aroused, but tonight, my mind is in too much turmoil. I take a few bites, but my stomach is in knots. I check the box again. I'm beginning to wonder if tonight is really the best time. It's not like we can't wait. We've got plenty of time. Except, I don't want to wait. I know what I want, and I see no point in delaying letting her know my intentions. But if she's not ready. If I have to, I can wait. But what if it's an outright no? What if she has no intention of ever taking our relationship that far? I know I'm not the easiest person to get on with at times, and I've put her through shit to get to this point. Why on earth would she say yes to me?

I'm broken out of my reverie by a squeeze of my hand. I look up into Bella's eyes. She looks concerned. I must be worrying her. I glance down at my plate and realize I've hardly eaten more than a bite or two, and I don't remember a thing we may have talked about. Have we been talking at all? This is supposed to be a perfect date. Get back in the game, Edward. I try and give her a smile and lock my fingers with hers.

"I love you, Bella. Why have you put up with my bullshit these past few months?"

She smiles, and it looks a lot more genuine than I'm sure mine did. "I love you," she says, like it explains everything. Then her smile gets even wider. "Besides, there were some distinct benefits to putting up with your moody ass. One being the fine ass itself. If I didn't think it would go straight to your head, I'd tell you how much I enjoy the way that ass looks in your suits. But do you know the best thing about your ass? I don't just get to look at it. Oh, no, I get to touch."

I raise my eyebrows at her as I feel her foot start to run up my leg.

"And not just the ass. I get to touch your long muscular legs, I can run my hands through the sexiest hair on any man alive, across that jaw that could cut ice, over your magnificent broad shoulders, down you well-toned chest and abdomen, and then down to my favorite playground." So, this speech is certainly helping to bolster my ego, and the foot, that has now reached its target area, is certainly distracting me from my worries. But Sheila is around somewhere.

"Bella! Sheila has gone to a lot of trouble for us. I'd hate to have to abandon dinner and drag you off to a private place to teach you a lesson about teasing me."

She doesn't stop though. Instead, she increases the pressure, and it feels so good. But I can't do this with Sheila here. "You do realize I'll make you pay for this later, don't you? Later, when I get you back to my apartment and get that tantalizing dress off you. When I'm able to run my hands all over your delectable body. Then I'm going to make you beg. Tonight, Bella, when you come to my place after this date because, make no mistake, you will be coming back with me, I'll have all night to play with you, to tease you. You'll be my little plaything." With that, I remove her foot, letting it fall back to the floor. She's looking as sexy at fuck as she licks her lips, and I know she's thinking about later. Perhaps we should just go back home now?

Saved by Sheila, again.

She gives me a questioning look as she picks up my plate, so I reassure her it was delicious. Then she lays down our next course, baked garlic parmesan chicken. I make an effort to eat more this time. I don't want either of the ladies here tonight worrying about me. I also make more of an effort to engage Bella in conversation. And I only check on the ring once or twice. Well, perhaps three times.

We make it through dessert, and I'm still in two minds. Could I handle her rejection?

As Sheila clears away our plates, I ask if we could take a walk around the vines, and she readily agrees. I need a little time to clear my head.

I'm blabbering on about how the vines are cared for. I'm not sure she's listening. Suddenly, she stops. I turn and look at her, not sure what to expect.

"Are you going to start talking? Because I know there's something wrong. You've been up and down like a yo-yo tonight, and it's starting to worry me. Have I done something? Is there something wrong? Tell me, Edward, or you can take me home now." She's pissed. I need to put this right. I look around at the wonderful scene around us. "It's beautiful here, isn't it?"

"It is," she agrees, but she sounds impatient. I'm going to do this. Now. I know I am. I just need a moment or two more. She lets out a sigh.

"Bear with me, please," I say, squeezing her hands in mine. "You've had a good night?"

"I've had a wonderful night when you've not been distant and distracted."

"I'm sorry about that. I've just been thinking about something. I'm still not convinced I'm doing the right thing. No, that's wrong. I know I'm doing the right thing. I've never been surer about anything. I'm just not convinced the timing is right."

"Will you just spit it out, Edward. I'm going crazy here."

I watch as a look of total shock crosses her face as I slip down to one knee and pull the ring box from my pocket. I hope it's good shock.

"Bella Swan, I love you with all my heart. I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and I think you want the same thing too. I know you're not ready for marriage, and you're probably going to say no, or ask me to wait, and believe me, if you do, I'll wait forever to make you mine. But, please, consider it. We can have as long or short an engagement as you like. Saying yes doesn't mean you have to give anything up. You can still have your career, your independence. I'm not asking you to start knocking out babies and become a 1950's housewife, although I'd love to have kids with you someday. Fuck, this is all too soon, isn't it? We've only been on three dates for fuck's sake. But, Bella, I know what I want, and if being shot and nearly dying has taught me anything, it's that you have to seize life and make the most of every moment. I don't want to wait to ask you; I want you to know how I feel now. I want you to know this is forever for me."

I stop talking, realizing I've been blabbering. I hope it made some sort of sense. I hope she realizes how much she means to me.

"Have you finished?" she asks.

"I think so." Now I just have to wait for her answer. I hope she says yes. The silence stretches. It's killing me. I need an answer. I hope she says yes. "What are you thinking?"

"Was there a question in that speech somewhere?"

I smile. Did I not actually ask her? "I believe I may have skipped that part. Bella Swan, would you do me the honor of agreeing to be my wife? Will you marry me?"

That has to be a good sign, right? If she's asking me to actually ask her? But then she's silent again. She's going to say no. She's going to ask me to wait. I don't think I can take a no.

"I'll wait for you. If you say you're not ready. But, please, don't say no. Say someday."

Her hand caresses my cheek. "Edward, I love you so much. I never dreamed I'd be getting proposed to in a vineyard at this stage of my life, but I also never imagined you'd be part of my life. You're right. I'm not ready to get married; the idea terrifies me, but you're also right that life is for living, not for putting off until tomorrow." She reaches out and takes the ring box from my hand. I notice her hand is shaking slightly. She must be nervous too.

"It was my grandmother's," I tell her. "It may need to be resized, but I thought it was perfect for you." And it is. It's a single emerald surrounded by a row of diamonds.

"It's beautiful," she whispers.

"Just like you." Please say yes.

She slips it onto the fourth finger of her left hand. "It fits perfectly." It certainly does. Does this mean she's saying yes?

"Bella, I'm dying here. I need an answer. Will you marry me?"

She frowns at me and then joins me kneeling on the cold ground between the vines and cradles my face in her hands. "Of course, I'll marry you. I love you."

Thank fuck for that. Before she can take it back, I kiss her and pull her close. If I have my way, I'll never stop kissing this woman. Fuck. She said yes. We're getting married.

As we break apart, I smile at her, and I'm sure the relief is written all over my face. "Thank fuck for that. God, I love you."

Then I kiss her again, and I keep kissing her until she reminds me we're sitting on the dirt in the middle of January. I help her to her feet and take her straight to my car. I need to get her home now. When I first encountered Bella in that elevator, I never imagined the affect she'd have on my life. On me. As we drive home, I think about the future as I hold her hand and feel the ring on her finger. This woman will soon be my wife, my future, my everything, and I couldn't be happier.

The end.


A/N: So that's the end of the main story. I'm working on an Epi, but it may still be a little way off I'm afraid. I hope you've enjoyed reading. I've loved reading your reviews and I want to take the time to thank you all for reading and reviewing. Thanks must also go out to Alice's White Rabbit, who has stuck with me to make sure what I put out is readable. She has been such a help in making this story what it is.

I'm not working on anything new at the moment: time is really not my friend. But I hope to get back into it soon. I have a couple stories bouncing around my head, waiting to burst out. So watch this space and look out for more at some point in the future.