Okay, I wanted to give back to my readers. Something light, fluffy and filled with some citrusy good times (and some drama). I posted something in my Facebook group: Tufano79's Twilight Fanfiction Appreciation and I got some great ideas. Clo came up with an idea that really captured my attention and I think I can finish it in five chapters. So, thank you to everyone who helped me brainstorm or offered me ideas. If I get a chance, I'll work on writing those, too, but they would lend themselves to a longer story. I wanted something short and sweet.
So, originally, I wanted this to be five chapters, but I'm thinking it will be probably six. The next chapter will be the last real chapter (which will post on Christmas Eve) with the epilogue posting on Christmas Day. I'm warning you, the next chapter will come with a tissue warning.
I shrugged out of my coat and walked around the condo. It was everything Bella, wrapped up in a 2200 square foot condo. However, I also saw evidence of her loneliness. She had a lot of books and very few photos around the place, save for a picture of her family on her nightstand. There was a phone on the nightstand, as well. It was blinking with a new message. I shook my head, knowing that she had had a life prior to coming back home. Bella came back into her bedroom and pressed the button to the answering machine. "Hey, Isabella, it's Jake …" She punched erase button quickly.
"Boyfriend?" I asked, trying to be casual, but my heart was stammering in my chest at the implications of Jake.
"More like fuck buddy," she blushed. "I was supposed to go his company's New Year's Eve party tonight, but that isn't happening." She sat down, twisting her watch anxiously. "I … I never had relationships with men, Edward. It was always sex. I didn't want to get attached. I didn't want to be cast aside, like …"
"Like how I acted in high school," I frowned. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault," she said, her eyes shooting up to mine. "I know that now." She patted her bed and I sat down next to her. She took my hand, leaning her cheek against my shoulder. "We have a long way to go … I want this. I want us."
"Me, too, beautiful," I said. "But, your life is here."
"Is it?" she questioned. "I lived here. I did my job. I worked hard, but I only existed. I think you were in the same boat."
"I think we shouldn't be making any decisions. Not tonight. Not until … well, you need focus on your mom and being with her. We're here tonight and I'm not giving this up, giving us up without a fight, Bella," I said. "But, can you fall for a guy who works with his hands? I'll come home, covered in grease."
"I don't care," she said. "I like that you work with your hands. They're rough and they remind me that you're all man. You're a hard worker and you know so much." She looked at me, her eyes twinkling and her lips wet. "Make love to me, Edward. Make me yours. I only ever wanted to be yours."
She slid her fingers up my shirt and moved closer to me. I was still stiff and sore, but I wanted her. I needed her. Stopping her hands, I stared at her and felt my heart stammer against my ribs. I kissed her, barely brushing my lips against hers. "Edward," she breathed. "Stop teasing me."
"I'm not teasing you, love," I purred. "I'm worshipping you." I stood us up and slid my hands underneath her bulky sweater. I moved her sweater up and over her head. She wore a lacy camisole that was so sheer I could see her bare breasts through the cream-colored fabric. "You're so beautiful, Bella." I kissed her lips, moving mouth down her neck and massaging her back.
"Touch me, Edward," she pleaded, her fingers clinging to my shirt. "I want to feel your hands on me, baby." Her hands moved to the buttons and unbuttoned a few of them, kissing my chest. I slid my palms up her ribcage, cupping just below her breasts. She whimpered, begging for more. I removed my hands from her shirt and inched the camisole up and over her head, revealing her bare torso.
"Fucking perfect," I whispered, looking at her. Her lips were swollen, her hair disheveled and her dark pink nipples were hard, begging for my fingers, my tongue. I crashed my mouth against hers, banding my arms around her tiny body. She tugged on my hair, kissing me with fervor. I moved her to the bed, guiding her to the mountain of pillows. I kissed down her neck, cupping her breasts with my hands.
"Edward … I love your hands on me," she gasped. "Harder, baby." I twisted her nipples, moving my mouth to breasts. I lapped her soft skin, reveling in her beautiful body. I nipped at her chest, sucking on her sweet flesh. She moaned, fisting my hair and arching her back up toward me. "God, I can't … you feel so good." I released her breast with a pop, kissing her hungrily. She made quick work of my shirt, pushing it over my shoulders. She stared at me, a frown crossing over her face. She nudged my shoulder and sat up as I fell back onto my knees. Her hand slid down my still bruised ribcage, just underneath my tattoo. "Are you okay? Do you need to stop?"
"No, Bella," I said. "It hurts, but I want to make love to you. I want to show you how I feel. How I've felt since high school … How much those feelings have grown since you've come back in my life." I gently pushed her back, kissing down her body and unbuttoning her jeans, pulling them down her long, lithe limbs. I rubbed her legs, staring at her nearly naked body. She wore nothing but a pair of sheer cream panties. I picked up her leg, kissing up her calf, to her thigh. She whimpered, bucking her hips. I chuckled, repeating the same action to her other leg, only nuzzling where her leg met her torso. I could smell her essence, her arousal.
She hooked her thumbs into her panties and shimmied them down her legs. I shook my head, trying to think what I did to deserve this beautiful creature before me. I'd think about that later. Now? I just wanted to love her. I kissed her belly, licking just beneath her navel. She shifted, spreading her legs further apart. I moved my mouth and spread her lower lips of her pussy with my fingers. I ran my tongue along her slit. Bella groaned loudly. Her succulent flavor exploded on my tongue and I needed more. I wanted to give her more. I wanted to taste her as she came.
I flicked my tongue along her clit as I slid two fingers inside of her body. Her pussy was wet, tight and pulsating with each thrust inside her. I lavished her body with my kisses. She rocked against my face, forcing my fingers deeper inside. Her hands were tangled in my hair, holding me closer to her body. I sucked her clit into my mouth and curled my fingers inside her. Her arousal was spilling out of her, coating my hand and covering my tongue. "Edward, I'm so … fuck, I'm going to come, baby." I redoubled my efforts, tasting every inch of her sex and pumping my hand in and out. She groaned, her hands falling to her sides, grasping at the comforter. Her body arched off the bed. I looked up at her, seeing her head thrown back in ecstasy and her mouth open as she babbled incoherently, pleading for more. With a shriek, Bella's body clamped around my fingers and her tangy arousal coated my tongue.
I pressed lazy kisses on her sex, sliding my fingers out of her body. I suckled on her inner thigh and smiled crookedly at the mark on her pale, creamy skin. Sitting up, I hid my grimace as my ribs ached from laying on my stomach for so long. Bella looked up at me, her eyes rheumy and her hands gliding along her breasts. "That's a beautiful picture, Bella," I said.
"Your tongue … holy shit, baby," she purred, sitting up and kissing me, her tongue sliding between my lips and tasting herself on my mouth. She nibbled on my lower lip, humming in pleasure. "I want to make love to you." I blushed, nodding, but I froze. "What, Edward?"
"Condoms, I don't have any," I breathed.
"I'm on birth control," she said. "The implant." She took my hand and pressed it to her bicep. I felt five small tubes under her skin. "I've only ever used condoms to protect against STDs, but I'm clean. I want to feel all of you."
I gulped, staring at her and shocked that she'd even entertain the idea of going bareback with me. "I'm clean, too," I said. "I want to feel …" I kissed her and she reached to my jeans, unbuttoning them deftly and pushing them over my hips, along with my boxer briefs. Once I was free of my jeans, Bella wrapped her fingers around my cock, stroking my length as she kissed me. Slowly, she moved me so I was on my back and she straddled my hips. I looked up at her. Her eyes were shining and she had a soft smile on her face. "I can get condoms … if …"
"No, Edward. I trust you. I only ever wanted to be with you," she whispered, rolling her hips over mine. "Now, we can share this. No barriers." She blinked at me, her eyes shimmering and a tear falling down her cheek. "No regrets. Only love." She grasped my hardness and placed me at her entrance. She slid down my cock, whispering against my lips, "I love you, Edward."
I kissed her back, pouring all the love I felt for her into that kiss. "I love you so much, Bella," I murmured. She cried and we moved together, sharing her body and truly making love, no barriers, no conditions and hopefully a happily ever after. Feeling her without the condom was more than I could ever expect. I felt every contraction of her muscles, and how wet she was. "You feel so fucking amazing, Bella," I whispered against her lips.
"So, do you, Edward," she said, grinding her hips against mine. "Every inch of you is made for me, love." I sat up, holding her tightly against my body and we moved together, coming together in the most intimate of ways. My fingers ran along her back while her hands caressed my face. We stared into each other's eyes and I felt truly at peace, loved and happy. Yes, we had a long way to go before our lives would settle, but as long as I had Bella by my side, I could do anything.
"Bella, I'm … I feel … I'm …" I rambled.
"Come, baby," she said, kissing me and rolling her body sinuously over mine. "Come inside me. Make me yours." At her breathy command, my body twitched and I spilled inside her. She kissed my forehead, my cheeks and sweetly brushed her lips over mine. Her eyes were soft, swirling with love and contentment. "I love you, Edward. Thank you … for saving me, baby, in more ways than one."
"You saved me, too, Bella," I said, brushing her hair back and running my fingers down her spine. "I … I never thought I'd be able to say that I loved you."
"Well, now you can," she breathed. She eased off my body and pushed me back, curling up to my side, being careful of my ribs. "I can, too and I'm going to, as much as possible." Bella looked up at me, smiling brightly. "I love you. I've always loved you. I will always love you."
I kissed her and held her tightly. "I love you, too, beautiful. I'm never letting you go."
We spent the night in Chicago, ringing in the New Year with orgasms. We'd made love several more times and it was more magical than the first time. Feeling him without any sort of barriers was nothing short of amazing. He was big, but gentle when he made love to me. I knew he was hurting from his injuries and his bruises along his torso were a stark reminder of what he was dealing with. So, I pampered him the following morning in my shower and massaged his back, which was still riddled with knots.
After our shower, I emptied the fridge and turned off all the appliances. Edward was lugging my suitcases to the car. I wanted to do it, but he said he was not completely incapable. He kissed my nose and brought my shit down to the garage. When he came back, I locked up my condo and we went down to the office, informing the building manager of my extended absence.
We drove back to Lake Geneva, arriving back at my parents' house just after the sun had set. I went inside, wanting to check on Mom, but she was napping. I went to her room and saw her resting, curled against my father. He smiled sadly at me, holding her tightly.
After the new year, Edward went back to the garage. He worked with Emmett, cleaning up the damages in the garage from his attack. Rosalie, as far I knew, was making herself scarce because of her mouth. She felt guilty for what she'd said to me and was working at the trade school full time. Edward used the money from the creditors to completely overhaul the garage, plus pay back some of his debts. He was still struggling, but it wasn't as bad as before. I still offered to be an investor, but he declined, not wanting to mix up our relationship with his business.
A month passed. Edward moved back into his apartment behind the garage, much to my dismay. However, in that past month, my mother had gotten progressively worse, now needing almost twenty-four-hour care from a nurse. I wanted him to stay, but he was being respectful of my family. So, I moved back into my childhood bedroom and worked with the nurse to care for my mother, who slept more than anything, only having a few moments of lucidity, when the morphine wasn't pumping through her system.
On Valentine's Day, I was sitting with my mom. Dad was out getting her roses. He kept fresh flowers in their room, wanting to surround her with beauty and life. I was reading some smutty romance novel out loud, editing the love scenes. When I replaced the word 'cock' with 'member', my mom snorted. "You and I both know that is not what's written on the page, Bella," she teased.
"I know you picked this, Mom, but I do not feel comfortable saying the word 'cock' in front of you," I snickered, taking her hand and rubbing her bony knuckles.
"I'd rather you be getting some cock from that handsome man of yours," Mom said, her eyes sparkling. "When was the last time you had a date with him?"
"Um, prom?" I replied, wrinkling my nose. "I mean, with you being sick, his attack and him trying to rebuild his garage? Life has been hectic."
"Bella, I love you, but you need to go out with your man," Mom chided. "You can't be my nursemaid until I croak."
"Mom, I don't want …" I whimpered. "I love you and I don't want to waste any time. You're awake and lucid. These moments are few and far between, Mom."
"Okay, let me put it another way. I have a date with your father," Mom said, arching a hairless brow. Her head was covered with downy peach fuzz, white and growing in clumps. "I love you, baby girl, but go out with Edward. I'll have you know that Charlie is on his way, in cahoots with your boyfriend. He's worried. Your father's worried. I'm worried."
"Mom …" I cried. "I can't. I wasn't here for so long and now? I can't leave you."
"I know, love, but you need to have some fun. Forget the medicine and sadness here," she said. "Consider it a request from your dying mother. Please, baby girl?" I pursed my lips, not wanting to go. "Come on. There's a new dress for you in your room. I had Anita help me order it for you. Go shower and curl your hair." She crossed her arms over her chest, daring me to defy her. "You're not going to win, Bella. You're going out."
I sighed, getting up and kissing her cheek. "I'm going, but I'm not happy about it, Mom."
"You may not be, but Edward will be," Mom sang.
I showered, taking my time and shaving everything. When I was done, I blew dried my hair and curled it, tossing it into a low ponytail, hanging over my shoulder. I put on the burgundy dress along with a pair of nude heels. Applying some perfume, I walked over to my mom's room. Dad was there, holding her hand and he smiled brightly when I stepped inside. "Oh, Bells, you look beautiful," he said. "Edward isn't going to know what hit him! What do you think, Rennie?"
"My baby girl is always beautiful," Mom breathed, her voice tired. "Have fun and don't come home. Make love to your handsome man."
"Mom!" I laughed.
"What? I know you're not a virgin," Mom giggled, her eyes drugged and her smile lazy. "You need some cock and I'm not talking about the cock in a book."
"Rennie," Dad choked out, pleading with her to stop. "I don't need to know this." He shook his head, smiling at me "Edward should be here soon, sweetie."
As he said that, the doorbell rang. I squeaked, hugging both of them and darting down the stairs. Anita opened the door and I saw Edward. He was there, dressed in a charcoal gray suit, white shirt and burgundy tie. His hair was cut and he looked like a super model, with chiseled looks and strong jaw. He saw me, blinking slowly and grinning crookedly. I blushed as he walked over to me, taking my hand and kissing my knuckles. Pulling a single rose from behind his back, he kissed me. "Happy Valentine's Day, beautiful."
"Happy Valentine's Day," I breathed. "You look … shit, there aren't words to describe how hot you look, Edward."
"Your dad took me shopping," he laughed, shifting uncomfortably. "I had one suit and it was filled with moth holes and too small."
"Why would he …?" I asked. Then I realized, my mom's funeral. "Never mind."
"It was a couple of reasons," he said, grabbing a coat from the closet and helping me into it. "First off, I'm meeting with some investors to expand the garage. With that money from the mortgage company, I was able to make some headway with my business. Your dad introduced me to a few interested people and I was working with him to build a business plan, describing my expansion plans, which includes possibly moving the garage."
"Where?" I asked. He just smiled and kissed my lips. "Edward? Tell me!"
"I will, when we get to the restaurant," he said, guiding me out of the house and to my repaired car.
"What? How? Edward, when?" I babbled.
"Once we got the garage repaired and I was finally able to look at it, I took the time to really repair it," he said, helping me into the passenger seat.
"I can't drive her?" I pouted as I took his hand, sliding into the leather seat.
"You get to keep her after tonight. I just wanted one more time to drive her," he quipped, jogging to the other side and grinning like a little boy as he turned her over. "So much power in such an amazing car." He expertly shifted into drive and drove us out of my parents' neighborhood. He drove us through town, holding my hand and humming quietly with the music playing on the radio. He pulled up to an expensive Italian restaurant, La Bella Italia. I poked his bicep, arching a brow. "What? Your dad said it was your favorite restaurant growing up because it had your name on it."
"That's true," I giggled. Edward valeted the car and we walked into the restaurant. We were led back to a semi-private table and Edward ordered us a bottle of my favorite wine. "Now, why else did my dad buy you a suit?"
"The first reason was the investors," he said. "I wanted to look the part and not like some scrub. I was willing to put it on my credit card, but Charlie insisted since he was the one who kidnapped me this afternoon." He sipped his wine, taking my hand and his smile faded. "The second reason was Jasper. I've been called to testify against him in March. He's been charged with some pretty significant crimes, including my assault and attack on my business."
"When did you get the subpoena?" I asked. "I'm sorry, Edward. I've been so wrapped up …"
"Bella, I get it," he smiled, kissing my pulse point. "Your mom … she's not doing well. She sleeps more than she's awake and she can't get comfortable." I nodded, a few tears slipping from my eyes. "My mom was the same way toward the end."
"The end?" I squeaked. "I need …"
"Bella," he whispered, taking my hand and pulling me into his lap. "I'm sorry."
"I have to be with her," I sobbed. "I've missed so much." He held me, kissing my neck and cradling me close to his muscular body.
"Your mom wanted you to have fun, to forget about her problems," he said. "She saw how much her illness was weighing on you. Bella, she loves you and she wants you to be happy. Seeing us together, that makes her happy. I love you and I want to make this better for you. I'm here for you. Give your mother the solace of you being happy."
"How can I be happy with her gone?" I asked.
"I thought the same thing, Bella. I was lost and empty until I got to know you," he said. "But, you smiled at me. In high school, you talked to me and after your car accident, we built a friendship. I didn't feel alone. I felt something. I wasn't numb. I was happy. And when we went to prom? That was the best night of my life. I had the most beautiful girl on my arm and she was mine. We danced as prom king and queen. It was … everything. I held that memory in my mind. It kept me sane when my life imploded. You were my light in the darkness." He kissed me, pressing his forehead against mine. "Now? It's my turn to be your light, be your rock." He lifted my hand, brushing his lips over my pulse point. "Family isn't determined by blood, but relationships. You're my family now. Just like Emmett is my brother and Rose is my sister."
"Am I a sister?" I quipped, giving him a watery grin.
"Hell no," he snickered. "You're my soul mate, Bella."
I sighed, hugging him close and allowing him to comfort me, but that was short lived. My cell phone rang from my purse and I saw my dad's number. "Hello?"
"I'm sorry, Bella," he said. "I know you and Edward had an evening planned, but you need to come back. Your mom … she's …"
"I'm on my way," I cried. Edward flagged down the waitress and thrust some money into her hands. "Edward … that's too much."
"Bullshit, I don't care. We need to get you home," he said, helping me into my coat and making our way back out to the car.
Edward carefully drove us back to my parents' home and the car barely stopped when I opened the door. I sprinted inside and into my mom's room. My dad was by her side, holding her hand and tears streaming down his face. "Daddy?" I whispered.
He shook his head and looked, despondently at my mom. She wasn't moving. Her body was unnaturally still. Edward stood behind me, catching me as I fell to my knees. "No! No! No!" I cried. He didn't say anything, but he held me as I sobbed, mourning the loss of my mother. Despite the distance I'd admittedly put between us, she was my best friend. "She can't be gone. Daddy!"
He got up from my mom's side and he sat down on the floor with me, holding me as I cried. Both Edward and Charlie held me. We stayed together until there was a ring at the doorbell. My dad got up, kissing my forehead and speaking to Edward. I didn't understand them. I was too upset to even fathom what they'd said. Edward helped me up and walked me to the seat my father was in when I came into their room. I looked at her, seeing how much the disease had ravaged her. "I don't know what to say, Edward." I reached for her hand. "She's still warm. Maybe …"
"She's gone, beautiful," he said, covering her up with a cashmere throw. "I'm sorry, Bella. Your mother loved you so much."
"I loved her, too," I sniffled. He kissed Renee's forehead and turned to leave. "Where are you going?"
"To give you a moment, love," he said. "You need to say good bye."
"Don't go. I can't … I can't do this alone," I murmured. He nodded, picking me up and keeping me on his lap. I began babbling, talking about how much I missed her when I was gone and how much I will miss her now that she was no longer with us. I wanted her to be with me when I got married, have a grandchild, and everything in between.
"She will be, Bella," Edward whispered. "She'll always watch over you. She may not be with you in body, but in your heart, in spirit, she'll be with you. In a way, she brought us together."
"She did," I sniffled. "She was so insistent on me coming home."
"Can I say a few things?" Edward asked. I nodded and he took her hand. "Mrs. Swan … sorry, Renee … I want you to know that I will do everything in my power to make your daughter happy. Right now? She's sad and she's going to miss you. I understand that. I felt the same way when my mother died, but it was Bella who made me smile again. You were a wonderful mother and I love you. You made me feel like I was a part of a family for the first time in a long time. I will never forget that. I will miss you, but I promise to take care of your baby girl. I love her more than my own life." He removed his hand from hers and put something around my wrist. "Your mom gave me this, and insisted that I give it to you tonight."
I looked down and saw beautiful charm bracelet. One of the most prominent charms was a faceted heart with a charm next to it that said, 'More than my own life.' "Edward," I breathed. I'd seen this bracelet on her wrist several times. It was a gift from dad. "But …"
"She wanted you to have it, love," he said, nuzzling me close. "She knew her time was coming to an end. She wanted to know that her little girl was cared for, protected and loved. I may not be a millionaire, but what I lack in funds, I …"
"Thank you," I whispered, kissing him and looking down at my mother's body. She appeared to be smiling and her body at rest. "Both of you, thank you."
"Bella," said Charlie. "These men are here to take your mom to the morgue. I'll make arrangements with the funeral parlor after the issue a death certificate."
"Keep her warm and don't remove the blanket," I said. "It was her favorite."
"We will, miss," said the shorter man. "We'll take excellent care of her." Edward led me out of the room, keeping me in my bedroom as the men loaded up my mom into a waiting ambulance. I cried, clinging to him, not knowing what to do. So, I cried.
Renee's funeral was beautiful, fitting for a loving, wonderful woman. Bella was a mess, barely keeping it together. She wore her mother's wedding ring on her right hand and a black dress, plus the bracelet that Renee had insisted I give to my girl on Valentine's Day. I was one six pall bearers, along with Emmett, Peter, and three cousins from Charlie's side of the family.
Charlie was faring better, but he was sad and lost. He felt needed when Bella cried, holding her as she would lose it. If it wasn't him, she clung to me and I felt her heart break, but I understood her pain. I'd lost both of my parents and I know how awful it was, but I vowed I would never abandon her. She pleaded for me to stay with her and I did, falling asleep in a guest room, but waking up when Bella would sneak into bed with me.
A month passed and Bella had started seeing a therapist to deal with her grief. She hated being so lost all the time and so she found a name of a therapist, who specialized in grief counseling. Sometimes she went on her own. Other times, she brought her father with her. He was turning to the bottle and I saw a lot of my father's self-destructive behavior in his actions. I didn't want Bella to be alone in the world like me. So, with both of our pleading, he agreed to go and his drinking slowed down significantly.
The trial for Jasper had been pushed back in light of his mother's passing. He put on a big show about missing the whole thing. The judge took pity on him and allowed him to go to his mother's grave and continued the case. Instead of going to trial in March, it was slated for early May. It still didn't look good for him. No matter how you sliced it, he was going to spend time in a federal lock-up, with his father-in-law as his celly.
When I wasn't with Bella at her parents' home, I was working at my garage and growing my business. Money was rolling in once the repairs were completed to the garage and I was finally able to pay off all my debts. I was also able to hire two recent graduates from the trade school. They worked part-time, acting as apprentices with either me or Emmett, learning on the job and giving Cullen Towing a fresh perspective.
I was working on a car that had been in an accident recently. Word had gotten out how I made Bella's Porsche better than new and I was hot commodity for all of the specialty, foreign cars in the area. My only other competition, Paul's Garage and Towing, they didn't have the expertise or manpower to work on the foreign vehicles, so they came to me. And with those expensive cars came big bills. While I was trying to rebuild the engine in a Jaguar, I heard the distinct sound of heels on my concrete floor. I stood up, wiping my hands on the rag next to me. Bella walked toward me, holding a picnic basket. I smiled crookedly at her. She grinned shyly in response. "Hey, beautiful," I cooed.
"Can you take a break?" she asked. "I made you lunch."
I looked at the clock. The owner of the Jag wouldn't be there until late this afternoon for an update. "I can, my love. Let me just …" I said, wiggling my fingers.
"I'll meet you in the apartment," she said, making her way toward the back.
"Seth?" I called.
"Yeah, boss?" he replied.
"I'm taking my lunch. I'll be back in an hour, man," I said. "Can you handle changing the oil on the Malibu and rotating the tires on the Navigator?"
"Sure, Edward," he said. "What about that beauty?" He pointed to the hunter green Jag I was working on.
"That's mine, kid," I snickered. "Hands off. No drooling on the clear coat."
"Damn," he chuckled. "Understood."
I shook my head, walking to the back and scouring my hands. Bella found a cleanser that could effectively remove all of the grease from my hands and under my nails, without peeling off a layer of skin. The guys gave me shit about it, until they tried it and we bought that shit in gallons. Plus, my hands were soft, like a baby's ass, minus the nasty grease stains. Peeling off my coveralls, I went into my apartment. Bella had set up the table with some plates, antipasto, salad, some pasta and soda. "Wow, beautiful. What's the occasion?" I asked.
"I wanted to surprise you," she smiled. "Besides, we never got to finish our meal at Bella Italia. I've been craving carbs, though, my ass is thinking otherwise."
I pulled her into my arms, arching a brow. "Your ass is perfect, Bella," I growled, kissing her forehead. She pouted and I bent down, pressing my lips to hers. "Better?"
"Always," she said, pushing me into the chair. We made our plates and devoured the meal. It was delicious and decadent. We talked about her morning session with her therapist and the time she spent with Charlie. He was going through Renee's closet, preparing to donate her clothing to Goodwill, but wanted to ask Bella if she wanted anything. We were cleaning up lunch when she slid up on the counter of my galley kitchen. "So, I've been thinking."
"Should I be worried?" I asked, trying to make light of my frantically stammering heart.
"I don't think so," she said, her nose wrinkled. "Here's what I've been thinking about … I want to quit my job with Peter. I love what I do, but I was chained to my desk. I lived and breathed for my job and it made the relationships with my family dwindle to nothing. Yes, part of that was my immaturity and needing to stay from you."
"But, that's all Jasper's fault," she growled. "I know you're starting to get your head above water with the garage. I'm so proud of you for what you're doing."
"Well, your marketing plan helped out. Who knew that having a Facebook page and website would make that big of a difference?" I snickered. She smacked my arm. "Seriously, though, I couldn't have done it without you."
"I'm happy to do it," she smiled. "And, well, I was thinking, that, perhaps … we could start something new. For Dad, being here is too painful for him. He's looking to put the house on the market, possibly by the end of the year. He's looking for a new place to live and he's in love with the Pacific Northwest. It's closer to his side of the family, his cousins and siblings. I want to be close to him, Edward. My dad may have made mistakes, but he's … lonely. He's all I have left of my family." She shook her head. "Anyway, after the trial, I'm planning on going back to work, close out my accounts and start fresh. I'll need to stay in Chicago while that's happening."
"I get what you're saying, but what about the garage?" I asked. "I would hate for me to put in all this work, get out from that mound of debt, only to walk away?"
"I'm thinking a franchise," she smiled. "Emmett can keep working here in the original Cullen Towing and we open up another one where we move. I don't know anything about this, but I know about marketing and advertising. I can help you get it set up, plus opening up my own advertising firm."
"Help? As in financially?" I questioned. "Bella, I told you, I don't want your money."
"No, help you as in spreading the word, like I did with this place," she said. "We've got time. I'm thinking that by next Christmas, we could start looking for a place close to my dad, once he decides where he's going. Consider it?"
"I'll think about it," I nodded. "But, I want to get over the hurdle of Jasper's trial first. I don't know what they want from me."
She pulled me closer and kissed me, her eyes lighting up, genuinely for the first time since her mother's passing. Her legs wrapped around my waist and she grinned. "I love you and I'll be with you, baby. I promise." She grinned seductively. "Do you have time for a nooner? I miss having you inside me, handsome."
"For you? Anything," I growled, scooping her up and dragging her to my bedroom. We had several 'nooners.' It was fucking fabulous.
I was sitting outside of the courtroom, staring at paperwork but not really seeing the words. Edward was inside testifying against Jasper, my asshole, loser of a brother. Charlie was sitting next to me, glowering at Alice, who was holding a squirming bundle. It was as clear as day that the baby was not Jasper's. My brother, while an asshole, had the same fair skin as me, with blonde hair and blue eyes, taking after my mom's looks. The baby had toffee colored skin with black curls and dark eyes. Alice had fucked around my brother, which was poetic justice, to be perfectly honest.
Alice looked over at me, her eyes narrowed and her face pinched. "This is your fault, Isabella," she hissed.
"Excuse me?" I scoffed. "Jasper's indiscretions are not my fault, Alice. He made his bed and now he has to pay for the consequences. Just like you do … who's going to pay for your baby? Your daddy and husband are going to jail. As far as I know, all of your assets are frozen. You have no right to point fingers, Alice. I'm not even going to continue this conversation. You're not my family."
"This is your nephew," Alice said, "and your first grandchild, Charlie."
"No, he isn't," Dad growled. "You think you can fuck with me, you've got another thing coming, little girl. That baby is not Jasper's and don't even think about trying to ask for help from us. We won't give it to you. When my son decided to … to hurt my daughter by meddling in her life all those years ago and again at Christmas, it was too much." He stood up and smoothed his suit coat. "I'm going to get some coffee. I need to get out of here."
He walked away, sneering at Alice. She looked abashed and put the baby back into the stroller. I just shook my head, reading over some files that Peter had sent over to my condo. It was the last act I'd be doing as the senior vice president of his company. I telecommuted for a couple of weeks, working with my replacement, who was not as 'with it' as me, but would do a fine job. I also spoke with Peter about starting my own advertising firm. He gave me some suggestions since that's how he got his start in corporate America. My degree was in finance, but I also had a minor in graphic design and took many classes during my MBA in advertising, as well. I loved that aspect of my job, the creativity behind it. Building Edward's online presence really ignited that passion for me and the up-tick in his business was a clear indicator that I knew what I was doing.
Dad came back a half hour later. Alice took her child and tried to push him onto my dad, but he had none of it. After that, she left, muttering that she had to feed Charles Jr. Dad sat back, his feet crossed at the ankles. Despite our recent loss of Mom, he looked good, albeit tired. "Is it wrong that I don't care what happens to Jasper?" Dad asked, spinning his wedding band.
"I washed my hands of him a long time ago, Dad. Jasper isn't a good guy. He never was," I replied. "Jasper was sneaky and conniving, always looking for a shortcut."
"That's what the board of directors said to me when they called me in after they'd voted to fire him," Dad sighed, scrubbing his face. "If only you …"
"I don't want it, Dad. Even if I did, I saw how much your job cost you. Your relationship with mom with the long hours, being an absentee father and the never-ending stress – it's too high a cost," I said.
"When did you get to be so smart?" Dad quipped, his mustache twitching.
"I've always been smart, Dad," I snickered. "I get that from you."
"You got the best parts of me and your mother, Bells," he sighed. "I'm proud of you, of what you do, what you are doing and the future you're creating for yourself." He took my hand, holding it between his. "And I can see how much you love Edward. It's to deny the feelings the two of you had. I saw it when you were in high school and I naively believed what Jasper had said, that Edward was with you for your money."
"Edward was my friend, when I needed one. When my friends abandoned me after the car accident because of some stitches and a broken wrist, I should have realized …" I shrugged. "Edward was there for me. He took me to prom and made me feel like a princess. Despite the drama with my 'best friends', we were crowned prom king and queen and it was the best night of my life, until Christmas Eve."
"I don't want to know," Dad groaned as the door opened. Edward walked out, wearing his sleek suit and a burgundy tie. He was speaking with the prosecuting attorney, shaking hands and smiling. We stood up and I ran over to him, hugging him tightly. "How'd it go?" Dad asked, but he looked over to the door as Jasper walked out with an older man.
Jasper's glare was piercing as he looked at us. There was hatred swirling in his eyes, but I twined my fingers with Edward and gave as good as he got. His attorney tugged on him, hissing at him angrily and they walked away, Jasper's posture defeated.
"Well?" I pressed.
"Jasper … he spread rumors about how I swindled people at the garage. That's why my customer base dried up," Edward said. "He also … he tried to convince Paul, the other major garage in town, to help him, but Paul saw him for what he was and he refused to do so."
"With Edward's testimony to his attack, the extortion of Paul and everything else, Jasper is not in a good position," said prosecuting attorney. "Even his father-in-law is realizing his issue and he's cut a deal, testifying on our behalf with corroboration from evidence, receipts and such."
"So, what now?" Dad asked.
"Jasper is going to testify on his own behalf since his character witnesses, his wife and father, both refused to appear," the attorney smirked.
"I thought you couldn't refuse a subpoena," I said, blinking over to dad.
"I said, quite plainly, that I couldn't tell the truth on the stand, and lying about how great my son is, when he's nothing but an entitled, self-serving asshole. I didn't want to be sent to jail for perjury," Dad smirked. "And communications between husband and wife is privileged."
"How did you know that?" Edward asked.
"I've been watching a lot of Law and Order," he snickered.
"Well, we're adjourned for today. Jasper takes the stand tomorrow morning and then, it's in the hands of the judge since it's a bench trial. I'll call you, Edward, when the verdict is ready." They shook hands and he walked away, leaving us in the rotunda of the courthouse.
"Do you want to go out to eat?" Dad asked. "My treat. I've got a hankering for Lawry's."
"That's because you want to eat your weight in cow," I sighed. "It's not good for your heart, Dad."
"After today, I'll go back on my diet. Let me eat my beef," Dad wheedled. "Besides, Edward wants cow, too, right?"
"Uh, sure," Edward laughed. "Yum." I rolled my eyes, tossing my stuff into my briefcase.
We went to dinner, feeling light and relaxed. There was no stress hanging over Edward's shoulders with his business and I was working my way out of the company. Dad was still sad, missing his wife, but his smiles were more genuine and he really got along well with Edward, who had the same sense of humor as my father. Despite their differences, Edward and Charlie were two sides of the same coin and I could see how much Edward respected my father and my dad loved my boyfriend, becoming a father he needed.
After eating half of a cow, Edward and I went back to my condo, while my dad stayed in his corporate condo he kept in the city, since he was still on the board of directors of his company. Though, after the trial, dad would be tendering his resignation, selling his ownership and walking away for a quieter life, in a location still to be determined, but he'd narrowed it down to a handful of spots in the Pacific Northwest.
Edward and I made love, needing the reassurance of each other from the tumultuous day. We fell asleep, naked and clinging to each other and happy.
Several days had passed since I gave my testimony against Jasper. Things were wrapped up and the attorneys called me, along with Bella and Charlie, to hear the verdict. I was pacing in the rotunda of the courthouse, waiting for court to be adjourned. Bella was sitting, her legs crossed and her foot bobbing anxiously. Charlie was leaning against the doorway, his jaw clenched. The attorneys came and we went into the courtroom. It had been a closed trial, only open to the witnesses and attorneys. The gallery was now going to be filled with my family, Alice and Jasper's son and a handful of reporters.
With Jasper's father-in-law taking a plea and going to jail, testifying against him, the case got a lot of hype. To put it simply, Jasper was fucked.
It was bittersweet.
Bitter for Jasper.
Sweet for me.
And I'm not celebrating … wait, he hasn't been found guilty yet.
"All rise," barked the bailiff. Bella took my hand and the stern judge, Judge Annette Petrovsky, came ambling in. She grunted and we sat back down.
"I've taken the time to review the evidence brought against Jasper Swan. With the testimony from the witnesses, on both sides," she said with derision, shooting a glance at Jasper, "I've come to the following conclusion. Jasper Swan, please rise." He stood up, tugging on his suit and jutting his chin out defiantly, with a smug grin on his face. "I'm not going to belabor the point. Jasper Swan, you're a despicable human being, only thinking of yourself and never of your family, friends and coworkers. Your moral compass is nonexistent and I find you guilty of all charges that were brought against you."
"What?!" Jasper barked.
"You're guilty, Mr. Swan and I'd hate to add a contempt citation on top of that," Judge Petrovsky growled. "Sentencing will be scheduled in a month. The defendant is hereby reminded to Cook County Corrections until sentencing. Court is adjourned!" She banged the gavel, smirking as she got up and disappeared in the back of the courtroom. Jasper began bellowing and his wife started crying, tears streaming down her pale face.
Bella, Charlie and I shook hands with the prosecuting attorney, leaving the courtroom as Jasper was dragged away by the court officers. Shocked, Charlie decided to head back home. I decided to spend the weekend with Bella before I drove back. On Sunday, Bella and I were walking in Millennium Park, doing the touristy thing. She was showing me her city before she'd move back home with Charlie. No decisions were made about whether or not we'd go to the Pacific Northwest with Charlie, or stay in Lake Geneva. The one thing we had was time. Bella had to wrap up things at her job, finish training her replacement and then she'd be free to make whatever decisions she wanted.
I was the hold back.
Two months after Jasper's guilty verdict and subsequent incarceration for the rest of his natural life, Bella put her condo on the market and she moved back to Lake Geneva. Business was going well. So, well, that I was looking to possibly remove the apartment to expand the garage, but I didn't have a place to stay. Well, I could have stayed with Bella, but I didn't want to wear out my welcome. They were in the process of cleaning out the house, preparing it for sale after the first of the year.
"Edward?" called Emmett. "Dude, come here, man." I got up from the desk, making my way to the garage. He was flipping through the mail. "There's a letter from some attorney's office." He handed it to me.
I took it and opened it, pulling out a check and a letter. "Holy shit," I breathed.
"What? You win the lottery?" Emmett snorted.
"Um, pretty damn close to it," I answered. "Jasper Swan was responsible for the downturn of the garage and some civil court judge found him liable to pay me back any loss wages. According to this, I have almost ten years of lost wages, taking inflation and such into account." I continued reading. "This money is from Al Brandon's now dismantled banking empire, paying it back."
"Who's Al Brandon?" Emmett asked.
"The head of Brandon Banking and Jasper's father-in-law," I said. "This certified check is for the rebuilding of my business, expanding it and improving it."
"Dude, you can't expand it any further. I think you should take this money and franchise this place," Emmett smirked. "You said yourself that being here is painful, with the loss of your parents and all of the trauma of what Jasper did with his asshole-like tendencies."
"Felon-like tendencies," I snorted. I looked at the check, shocked at the amount on the check. "I'm going to put this into the bank and think about it. For now? I need you to work on the Range Rover. I've got to finish the body work on that Ferrari."
It was bittersweet. I was putting up Christmas decorations in my dad's house. It was the last thing we'd celebrate, at Mom's insistence from her will, at the house. We'd put the house on the market and Charlie was moving to a small town called Forks in Washington State. Edward and I had yet to make any decisions, but I was looking at homes in Lake Geneva as well as in Port Angeles, a larger town an hour from Forks. I don't think I'd be able live in Forks. It was … yeah … too fucking small.
"Bells, who's coming tonight?" Dad asked. "I know you told me, but I want to make sure I have enough steaks!"
"Edward, Emmett, Rosalie, Seth and his girlfriend, Claire," I answered, lighting some candles and flitting around the house in one of my favorite dresses. I also made sure there was appetizers in the living room. As I was working around the living room, I turned on some holiday music and smiled when I saw headlights flash across the snowy driveway. "They're here, Dad!"
"Good! This place is too quiet with just you," Dad quipped, walking over to me and smacking my arm with a towel.
"I'm not quiet," I giggled.
"Oh, right. You'd have to be home first," Dad teased. "You spend more time at Edward's than here."
"Living with my dad kind of kills my game, Dad," I deadpanned. "Plus, Edward respects you too much to do anything under your roof. And I respect him for that, so I pretty much go to his place so I can …"
"I do not want to know about your sex life, Isabella," Dad growled as he opened the door. "In my mind, you're still a virgin." He smiled at Edward, hugging him tightly. "Son! You clean up good."
"Thanks, Charlie," he said. "And thank you for hosting."
"It was my wife's wish that this house had one more Christmas celebration since the last one was … well, it sucked," Dad said. "We wanted this house to be filled with laughter, celebration and joy, not sadness."
"Agreed," Edward replied. "This is my best friend and business partner, Emmett McCarty, and his fiancée Rosalie Hale."
"A pleasure," Dad beamed, shaking Emmett's hand and kissing Rosalie on the cheek. Emmett handed me a bag and hugged me, picking me up and winked at me. Rosalie stiffly hugged me. We'd never be friends, but we were at least cordial with each other. Her words had hurt me and she was ashamed of how she acted.
"And this is Seth Clearwater and his girlfriend Claire Buchanan," Edward introduced. "Seth started working for us about six months ago."
"I've learned so much," Seth beamed.
"Well, come in! Come in! Do any of you want anything to drink? Beer? Wine?" Dad asked, gesturing them inside. We took their coats, putting them into my dad's office. The guys requested beer while Rose and Claire asked about wine. We decided to open up a bottle of white wine, settling into the living room and chattering about everything, nothing and anything in between. I was sitting next to Edward, practically on his lap. His hands were idly running along my arms and his nose traced my jaw. Every so often, his lips wrapped around my earlobe. "I love you, Bella," he'd whisper. I shuddered against him, the butterflies assaulting my belly. Dad watched us, with a smile on his face and his eyes wistful. I just snuggled closer, threading my fingers with Edward's and enjoying our family Christmas gathering.
It really was true … blood did not make family, relationships did. These people were my family. I loved most of them. Rose, she was okay, but I respected her for wanting to protect Edward, but the way she did it was cruel.
Dad made a delicious meal of steaks. "I love my beef and I know Edward loves his cow, too!" Dad laughed. Though, it was Emmett who devoured two rib eyes, proclaiming it was the best meal he'd had. Ever.
After dinner, Dad shooed us out of the kitchen and said he'd make coffee and pull out the trays of cookies I'd made. Edward took my hand and led me outside, wearing his coat and stepping out into a winter wonderland. "Is there a reason why we're out here?" I asked.
"I wanted a moment alone with my beautiful girl," he said.
"We are going to the guest house," I snickered. "After everyone leaves, of course and then we'll be alone."
"Hmmm, true and I fully plan on enjoying every moment of that," he purred, tugging me into his arms. "But, I wanted to give you your Christmas present."
"Edward, we agreed … no presents," I pouted. Even though, I'd gotten him a new tool kit and several other items, in the form of lingerie and a weekend away in some tropical climate.
"I know that you broke that agreement. It seems only fair that I do the same," he quipped. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box, brightly wrapped in green paper and a red bow. "Merry Christmas, love."
I kissed him, giving him a wry grin. "Thank you, baby," I replied. I unwrapped the box and opened it, seeing two silver charms on a beaded silver chain. One charm was of my initial and the other was … "Mistletoe …" It was silver with pearls acting as the berries.
"Now, I can kiss you anytime I want," he chuckled, taking it off and putting it around my neck.
"You don't need a necklace or mistletoe to kiss me, Edward," I giggled, looking at the necklace and smiling tenderly. "I love it. I love you."
"Love doesn't even come close, Bella," he said, pressing his forehead to mine. "I've made a decision. I'm sorry about … I …"
"Don't apologize, Edward. Whatever you decide, I'm right there with you. I love you and I want to be with you," I said, sliding my arms around his waist.
"I want to take a leap and franchise Cullen Towing. I've spoken to Emmett and he's going to take over this garage while I go with you to Port Angeles? That's the name of the town, right?" I nodded, throwing my arms around his neck. He chuckled. "Are you certain you can handle my grimy hands? Stained clothing?"
"I don't care, Edward. It's not the hands or the clothes that make you the man you are … it's your heart," I said, caressing his jaw. "My sexy mechanic."
"My own personal mistletoe," he beamed, pressing his lips to mine.
A/N: We have one more chapter … the epilogue … with the promise of at least ONE more lemon. Thank you for reading! Oh, and a picture of Bella's necklace is on my blog and on my Facebook page: Tufano79's Twilight Fanfiction Appreciation. Twitter, too: tufano79. Leave me some holiday cheer, folks! Thanks for reading.