A/N: Just a little surprise from us :) We know we said we weren't going to post until August 1st, but we wanted to share the story we wrote to help out with flood relief in Nashville. If you received the Fics for Nashville compilation, you may have read this already. We hope you enjoy it!

We, as always, don't own Twilight, but these boys own us.

Edward's POV

With a sigh, I stepped under the shower, my face turned up into the spray for a moment after closing the shower curtain behind me. I knew I had to get ready and get out the door, but I didn't want to - I wasn't looking forward to the family reunion.

It wasn't that I didn't love Emmett's family. I did, but there were just so many of them. Every single one of the McCarty clan would be there, and that was simply too much. Even after being with Emmett for the past six years, I still hadn't gotten used to being part of such a large family - and a boisterous one, at that. Especially when you put them all in the same place for any period of time, which seemed to happen way too often between big events like Charlotte's wedding over the summer and the smaller gatherings like celebrating every single birthday.

I groaned softly at the prospect of seeing everyone - and of spending the weekend up in the mountains. The land the McCarty's owned was beautiful - in truth, the cabins were, too. Even I could give them that, but I was definitely not a nature person. I liked living in the city, the energy that flowed there - like blood pulsing through your veins. I liked the fact that it afforded both anonymity and company all at once.

Seeking a little bit of relaxation for myself, I pushed those thoughts away. I started washing my hair, chuckling softly as my thoughts went back to when Emmett and I first got together. We had both been in our senior year at the University of Michigan, and though I'd known of Emmett for a few years already since he was the outside linebacker for the Wolverines, I had never actually spoken to him. Not that I was particularly interested in doing so at the time - I had no interest in jocks, though I could admit to the occasional ogling during the games - some of them did look mighty fine in those uniforms.

The first time I actually met Emmett - other than seeing him at the games or across campus from time to time - was when he showed up at my place. I had been working on a paper when my computer crashed, and my roommate had told me to call a student-run Geek Squad-type thing called Campus Geek. Emmett was the one they sent over - something that took me by surprise, since I hadn't thought him to be a geek at all.

As he worked, we talked, and I was caught off guard when he suddenly laughed out loud. I asked him what was so funny, and he gave me a shit-eating grin as he said, "You need to do a better job hiding your porn, man."

Before I could even feign innocence, he hit a button. A hardcore picture of two men going at it popped up on my screen, and I wanted to crawl under the carpet.

Emmett laughed and said, "So what? You should see my collection."

I smirked. "No, thanks. I doubt we have the same taste."

He turned back to look at my screen, tilting his head as he said, "Well, the one on the right's a little skinny for me, but I love a good twink."

"A what?" My astonishment was plain in my voice.

Emmett shrugged. "What? You think I must like bears just 'cause I play football?"

"No, I think you must like women."

He snorted. "Seriously? Do you ever unplug and go out? See the real world? Because I was sure the whole fucking campus knew I'm gay."

I could still remember my surprise - it seemed Emmett was full of them. It took him far less than the three hours he ended up staying in my room to fix my computer, but once we started talking, we didn't stop until we were interrupted by another call. Before he left, we had exchanged numbers and he had asked me out on a date. To this day I didn't know what made me say yes; there was just something about him that I couldn't resist. Maybe it was the way he always seemed to smile - and truly looking happy doing so - or his quick wit or general "don't give a fuck what anyone thinks"-attitude.

With memories of Emmett still playing in my mind, I turned around, tilting my head back to rinse the shampoo from my hair. I reached for my soap, taking a few minutes to enjoy the thoughts of our first few months dating - though that was a loose interpretation of the term, to be sure. Neither of us was looking for a relationship since we were graduating in a few months, but I just couldn't stay away from him - and apparently he felt the same way about me.

He picked me up for our first date, joking about going to his place after dinner to check out his collection as we climbed into his car. I laughed at the way he wiggled his eyebrows, but he just shrugged and backed out of his parking place.

We went to The Quarter, where we split a Bistro crab cakes appetizer while we looked over the rest of the menu. Emmett was sitting across from me, and he was either cramped in his side of the booth or he just liked teasing me because he kept brushing his leg against mine. He let it linger, a smirk playing on his lips as he pretended not to notice the way I shifted.

It was then that I knew I was going to be doing a hell of a lot more on this first date than just kissing him.

We placed our order and handed the waitress our menus, and then we just...talked. Continuously. It was just as easy as it had been the first time we met, and I loved the way he seemed to know so much about so many different topics - things I hadn't expected him to know, if I were being honest.

His knowledge of modern literature was sorely lacking, though, and I didn't relent until he'd promised to read American Gods. In return, he made me promise to learn what an outside linebacker did.

I rolled my eyes at that, but he set about educating me, both on football and on computers. It turned out that he was working on a degree in Computer Science, and he knew that that was where his future lay. When the waitress returned with my chicken saltimbocca and Emmett's bacon-wrapped filets, we were still deep in conversation.

And I realized that I...liked him.

A lot. Which really kind of sucked, since I was planning to move back to Chicago as soon as I'd graduated, and Emmett was heading home to Tennessee to be close to his family. I pushed the thought away and decided to enjoy the night with him, taking what I could get.

The rest of our meal was filled with flirting and fantastic food, and as we were walking out after Emmett paid the check, I glanced over at him. "So, where to now?"

"My place," he said with confidence. I chuckled...and followed right behind him. I liked how he just was who he was. No airs, no pretending. There were no games, and he was not cautious at all. He gave himself freely, and he took what he wanted - and that was fucking hot.

When we reached his apartment, I stood behind him as he unlocked the door, letting myself really examine him. His shoulders were broad and thick, and he was just generally...bigger...than any other guy I'd been with. There was a reason I had twink porn on my computer, but I had to admit that I was definitely attracted to Emmett - even more so since getting to know him.

The door opened, and he glanced over his shoulder, grinning with those dimples of his showing. "Come on in," he said.

I followed behind, slipping out of my jacket as he did the same. He took them both and led me into the living room, where he threw them over the back of the couch. "Computer's this way," he said.

"You're serious?" I heard the disbelief in my voice, but I was also intrigued. And horny. Emmett's teasing and touches throughout the night, while innocent on the surface, already had me semi-hard and curious. I wanted to know what his big hands would feel like wrapped around me...how tight those muscular arms would hold me - and something about Emmett's easy attitude was giving me the confidence to find out.

I followed him into his bedroom, where an amazing computer desk held his custom-built machine. He pulled his chair out and motioned me toward it, but when I stepped close to him, he murmured, "Hang on."

His eyes were trained on mine, and I felt my lips curve into a small smile as I looked up at him. I was tall - just over six feet - but he stood several inches taller. His hand went to my elbow, guiding me closer. My hands gripped his hips, and I lifted my chin, tilting my head as my eyes closed. I was following Emmett's lead - no pretenses, no hesitation - and a quiet sigh escaped my lips when his mouth captured mine. Our lips were insistent, our tongues brushing, and it ended way too quickly for my liking.

He pulled back just enough so I could see his grin. "Wanted the first kiss to be just for me...not for some twink on the screen." He winked, and then he disappeared, heading back into the living room.

I laughed when he returned with an ottoman, which he placed right beside his desk chair. He insisted I sit in the chair, and then he opened up password-protected folder after folder filled with pictures and videos. It was...insane. I had never seen so many dicks in one place, and I laughed, glancing at Emmett in disbelief.

"Told ya you had to see my collection." He shrugged.

I sat in disbelief that quickly turned to arousal as Emmett clicked his way through some of his favorites. I was fascinated; he let me in on some of his fantasies, on the things that turned him on. I had never done anything like that. Yes, I had watched porn with a guy before, but I'd never had someone let me into his personal collection. It was completely different than picking out one to watch together, and I felt like Emmett was baring himself in front of me.

I was a little in awe of him.

I found myself being more vocal than usual, commenting and agreeing and disagreeing. Then Emmett's hand came to rest on my thigh, and I felt the way his grip tightened and his thumb rubbed my leg when he saw something he really liked...and I wanted that reaction to be in response to me. I understood at once why he'd wanted our first kiss to be before any of this. It meant something more, even though we really weren't supposed to be something more.

I clicked the monitor off and turned to Emmett, just making out his outline in the dim light through the curtains. He reached over and turned on a small desk lamp, smiling up at me from his lower seat.

"Something on your mind, Ed?" he asked, swiveling my chair around so that my legs were settled between his. Both his hands went to my thighs, but he waited for me to make the next move.

Bold, I reminded myself.

I could feel my cheeks heating, but still I reached out to take one of his hands. I drew it slowly up my thigh and pressed his palm against my erection, smiling at his sharp intake of breath.

"Fuck me," he breathed, and then he was out of his seat. He was on his knees between mine, kneading and rubbing me as he kissed me hungrily. His weight against me pushed the chair backwards, and he walked awkwardly on his knees to keep up until he finally muttered, "Fucking shit," and stood up, taking my hand and yanking me toward him.

I kissed him hard, feeling passion like I'd never known before when his toned body molded against mine. We pushed and pulled, tugging each other toward his bed. Hands were making short work of clothes, and he pushed my jeans off my hips just as my leg bumped against the side of his bed. We stopped then, staring at each other in the faint light from the lamp.

His lips were parted, his chest rising and falling as he worked to catch his breath. His brown eyes were warm, filled with fire, as he cupped my cheek and whispered, "You sure?"

My smile was automatic when I breathed, "Fuck yes," and pulled his face back to mine. I pulled his boxers down, my hand wrapping around his cock for the first time, and we both moaned.

"How the fuck do you stand it so cold in here?" Emmett's gravelly voice interrupted my thoughts as a rush of cold air whipped over my skin. He stepped in the shower behind me, and I smiled even as I realized that I'd been "cleaning" my hardening dick a lot longer than necessary.

I felt Emmett press up against me as he wrapped his arms around my waist and rested his chin on my shoulder. He reached out to turn the hot water up higher, and his hand brushed my sensitive head as he settled it back on my waist.

"Mmm..." he murmured. "That for me?"

I smiled, my eyes closing as I let my head fall back against his shoulder. He was so damn warm, his body still so hard, and I felt utter bliss being in his arms. "Always for you, baby."

His voice was playful when he asked, "So what were you thinking about?" He kissed along my neck but then stepped back slightly as he reached for the soap.

I pouted, missing the contact immediately. "Our first date."

Emmett chuckled. "You were such a slut."

I turned around to face him, my eyes narrowing. "I was not! It's not like I did that all the time."

He shrugged. "You were easy enough for me." He winked at the indignant expression on my face as he lifted his arm, bathing himself. "Don't worry. I like you slutty."

"That so?" I lowered my voice, my eyes betraying me to travel all along Emmett's body even as I said, "You know sluts sleep around, right? You trying to tell me something?"

He dropped his arm at once and stepped close to me, one arm wrapping around my hips as he pulled me flush against him. "Fuck, no. You're mine."

He kissed me hard then, and my eyes closed as I returned his kiss hungrily. I couldn't help it. I loved when he got possessive like that, and he knew it. I let my hands drift down his back to cup his ass, shifting so that our hips were aligned. Breaking our kiss, I trailed my lips over his jaw to his ear, where I whispered, "Make me yours right now."

He didn't say anything, but I felt the way his hips thrust just once against mine. His lips went back to my shoulders as he kissed and nibbled, sucking lightly at my skin.

"Please," I begged, my voice breathy and weak. I really did want him, but in the back of my mind, there was also the small hope that we might become so...distracted...that we'd end up spending the weekend in instead of driving out to the mountains. I thought it was working as Emmett spent long minutes kissing me, his lips traveling all over my upper body while his hands rubbed almost innocently along my lower half.

But then he pulled back, giving me an impish grin as he said, "Sorry, babe. We woulda had time, but you wanted to sleep in."

I groaned, muttering a quiet, "Fuck," as I closed my eyes, and my forehead dropped to rest against his shoulder. I felt his chuckle and looked up at him with narrowed eyes. "When the hell did you turn into such a cocktease, Emmett McCarty?"

Stepping back, he just shrugged and resumed washing himself. I shook my head at him and, deciding I was done since he was obviously not going to do anything, got out of the shower before I did something I'd regret. He had already said "no," and my basically molesting him to get my way wouldn't score me any brownie points later. A quiet weekend at home did not include a pissed off Emmett.

Just as I was about to step into the bedroom, Emmett poked his head around the shower curtain with a grin, his eyes twinkling with mischief as he said, "Hey, Ed?"

My hand on the doorknob, I turned to look at him, arching a brow in question.

"Wear one of your forest green shirts today?" His dimples deepened as his smirk grew.

I frowned, my voice betraying the surprise I felt at his question. "Sure...why?"

He chuckled. "Because it plays up your eyes...wouldn't want to disappoint Bella, would you?"

I gaped at him. Bella - Emmett's baby sister, who had just turned sixteen a few weeks ago - had had a crush on me from the day she'd met me. Everybody knew it, and everybody - Emmett most of all - teased both Bella and me relentlessly about it. Half the time I didn't know who to feel sorrier for - Bella or me. Whenever she saw me, she had a tendency to blush a bright crimson and trip over her own feet. That last part didn't help the situation any, given the amount of times I had ended up saving her from hurting herself as she took another nosedive. Needless to say, I always felt very awkward and self-conscious whenever she was around.

Emmett's laughter brought me out of my stupor as he said, "Don't worry, babe. I made sure she knows you're too old for her...and besides, you like to suck my dick."

I stared at him - mouth agape and eyes wide - and stammered, "Good God, Em!"

He raised both eyebrows, that wicked grin still on his face as he leaned against the wall of the shower. "What? You saying it's not true?"

That fucker...

I narrowed my eyes at him, momentarily speechless. Stalking over to him, my eyes never left his as I pulled the shower curtain to the side, exposing Emmett to me fully. I cupped his dick, my fingers slipping beneath his balls, teasing his skin slowly as I leaned in to whisper in his ear, "I'll show you just how true that is if we can stay home instead."

I couldn't help the chuckle that escaped me when it was Emmett's turn to utter, "Fuck." He closed his eyes while I continued to stroke his cock lightly and my other hand sought out his nipples to tease them in turn. He moaned softly as my lips found the crook of his neck, sucking lightly on his skin. Giving his cock a gently squeeze, I murmured, "What do you say, baby?"

He shuddered and, for a moment, I really thought he'd give in. Especially when he pulled back and grabbed my face with both hands and crashed his lips to mine - a kiss I eagerly returned as my hand continued to stroke him. All too soon, though, he stopped - determination in his eyes as he looked into mine. His voice was husky as he spoke. "You are one seductive little devil; you know that?" Taking a deep breath, he shook his head and said, "Not a chance, Edward. We're going."

I muttered under my breath, "Christ, Emmett, you're killing me here..."

He kissed me chastely on the lips before whispering, "Don't worry, babe. I promise I'll make it up to you later, but we really do need to go."

Rolling my eyes, I sighed in defeat. "Alright, alright...green shirt, you say?"

He nodded, grinning widely at me; with one last kiss, I went to get dressed while he finished up in the shower. By the time he was finished, I was already in my light wash blue jeans and the requested forest green button down. I kept the top three buttons open and was rolling up my sleeves when Emmett started rummaging around in the dresser. I could hear him muttering under his breath but couldn't catch the words - not that I needed them. He had a bad habit of not matching his socks and was always and forever trying to find some that matched. I'd long since given up trying to do it for him or to get him to do it himself. It wasn't worth the irritation, so instead we kept separate sock drawers.

At Emmett's "Aha! Gotcha!" I laughed and shook my head as I grabbed my Italian-cut necklace. Turning to him as I put it on, I asked him, "So what's happening this time, Em?"

He sat on the edge of the bed and put on his socks, only briefly casting a glance my way as he asked, "What do you mean?"

I rolled my eyes, taking a seat on my side of the bed as I reached for my bracelet - an open diamond-cut titanium one that Emmett had given me, along with the necklace. "C'mon, Em...you're never this persistent about hauling me to the mountains unless something's going on. We were just at your parents' place for Bella's sweet sixteen and saw nearly everyone then."

Emmett avoided my eyes as he put on the jeans that were lying on the bed. Tilting my head, I watched him closely. "Did Garrett tell you he was proposing to Kate or something?"

He pulled his charcoal long-sleeved t-shirt over his head as he said, "Something like that, yeah."

I frowned as I put my socks on. "They're a little young still; aren't they?"

Garrett had only turned twenty last month, and Kate was barely nineteen. They'd been dating for three years and were definitely in love, but still. Emmett just shrugged as he said, "Dunno about that. Remember Jazz wasn't even twenty when he married Maria...and he's got a five-year-old now."

I nodded. "True...still..."

He gave me a small smile as he reached over and patted my thigh. "Don't worry about it, babe. You ready?"

Sighing, I nodded again. I still wasn't looking forward to going, especially not after the reminder of Maria - little Maria, that is. And she wouldn't be the only mini-McCarty running around this weekend. I knew Rose and Royce'd be there with their twins, as well as a couple of cousins with their brood, whose names I could never remember. I didn't have anything against kids per se, but I wasn't very good with them...and they were so...noisy. And for some reason, they always seemed to gravitate to me.

Emmett chuckled, knowing exactly where my thoughts were at that moment. "You'll be just fine," he murmured.

Before too long, we were on the road. Emmett was driving, since we'd taken his Jeep Cherokee, which was better suited to the terrain than my little Vanquish. As the landscape rolled by, my thoughts drifted back to after graduation. It had been hard saying goodbye to him, much harder than I had thought it would be - and it had been the same for him. But, he had a job lined up for him in Tennessee, and I was moving back to Chicago. We promised to keep in touch, to see if we could deal with a long-distance relationship. I was doubtful - and I'm sure he was, too - but I couldn't just let him go.

We'd ended up calling each other at least every other night, racking up our phone bills because we spent hours talking. There were also plenty of webcam sessions, and Emmett had even gone so far as to have Forget-me-nots delivered to me. Since I was staying with my parents for a while, that one had earned me many amused looks from both Mom and Dad.

It didn't take us more than a couple of months - and a long weekend in Nashville, followed not long after by one in Chicago - to figure out that the arrangement wasn't working for either of us. Both of us wanted so much more. It had been Emmett who brought it up first, as we were having dinner at my favorite pub - Brehon Pub - on his last night in Chicago. The waitress had just brought our food, and Emmett was frowning at his Guinness stew.

I watched him silently for a moment as we both took a few bites of our food. He seemed to be thinking hard about something, and I had the feeling that it wasn't his choice of food - though, knowing him, it could've been. When he still hadn't said anything after a couple of minutes, I put my fork down and placed my hand over his, leaning forward a little. "Emmett? What's on your mind?"

He looked up at me with a small smile and sighed, running his fingers through his short curls. "Sorry, I don't mean to be all down and stuff. I was going to talk to you when we got back to my hotel, but..." He sighed again as he flipped his hand over, entwining our fingers. His eyes searched mine as he said softly, "Ed...is this working for you? This long distance shit?"

I felt my eyes tighten a little, but before I could answer, he said, "Because it isn't for me, babe. It's not enough...I want more with you than just phone calls every other night, or webcam sessions, or long weekends when we can make the time...I want every day with you."


He shook his head. "Let me finish?"

I nodded.

He sighed, squeezing my hand lightly. "I've been thinking...maybe I can look into finding a job around here or something...I just..."

This time, I shook my head as I interrupted him. "No, Em, you can't do that. What about your family?"

The one good thing about being apart was that we'd talked - a lot. About what was important to us, what we wanted out of life, where we wanted to be - though up until now, we'd skirted around the "who we wanted to be with" part. Emmett's family was everything to him; they were a very tight-knit group and - excepting college years - they had always lived close to each other. They were each others' support system. While I loved my parents and was close to them in my own way, I knew that living far away from them would be easier for me than for Emmett.

And then there was, of course, the matter of jobs. Emmett was still working for the company that had hired him out of college, doing networking. But he had also started doing some web design and minor programming on his own, wanting to eventually have his own business and quit the other job. For now, though, he was using the time to learn more about the business and gain experience - as well as setting up his portfolio. It made no sense to me for him to start over again.

Me, on the other hand...I could work anywhere. I was writing a book and doing some tutoring on the side for money - something I could do in Tennessee as well as I could in Illinois.

Emmett frowned, swallowing hard as he said, "I don't know, Ed. I'd miss them, for sure, but...I can't take not being able to just hold you whenever I want. I mean it, Edward. I want every day, not just whatever moments we can get away with."

I smiled, my heart warming at the knowledge he was serious - that he wanted me just as much as I wanted him. It had been killing me to be apart, and I had started looking into my options - though I hadn't told him that. I hadn't wanted to put the cart in front of the horse. Lifting our hands to my lips, I placed a small kiss on his knuckles. "Emmett, I love you for wanting to move here, but you don't have to, baby. It's a lot harder for you to find a new job here than it would be for me to write in Tennessee. I want every day, too."

His eyes lit up as they flickered between mine, a huge smile on his lips as he said, "You mean that? You'd move to Springfield?"

I raised both eyebrows at that. Springfield was where his family all lived - or close to it, anyway. Emmett worked in Nashville, though, commuting back and forth every day. When I'd gone to see him, he had shown me where he'd grown up, and though it looked very nice and picturesque...it wasn't my cup of tea. I couldn't imagine living in a small town like that. I was used to Chicago, craved city life, and he knew it. He teased me often enough about being a city slicker.

Grinning, I said, "I was thinking more about Nashville? I'm willing to move to be with you, Em, but I'm drawing the line at small town life."

He'd teased me - of course - but the rest of dinner was spent in much higher spirits as we talked about my moving there. We planned things out as best we could during the rest of his stay, and we agreed that he would start looking for a place to rent as soon as he got back. We wanted to rent first, mostly because it was easier, and also because we wanted any home we bought to be something we both liked.

Within a month, I had said my goodbyes to my parents, packed up my things, and moved several states away to be with Emmett. It had been the best decision I had made in my life, and we'd compromised to make sure both of us had our families.

We alternated where we went for the holidays. If one year we spent Thanksgiving with my family, then Christmas would be spent with his - and vice versa. I always insisted that Christmas with my family be spent in Nashville, though. I loved spending a quiet Christmas morning with Emmett too much to give that up. In my opinion, there was no better way to spend the holiday than to wake up to him, make love, have breakfast, open presents, and likely go for round two before having to meet with the family. Sometimes even a round three.

He never quite understood it, and always tried to convince me to go to Chicago, thinking my mom would like it better. Mom and Dad, though, didn't mind one way or the other, as long as we all were able to celebrate the holiday together. Even when I was growing up, Christmas was a quiet event, spent with me playing with my new toys while they disappeared for a while. I never minded.

"Hey, where did you go?" Emmett squeezed my thigh lightly before putting his hand back on the steering wheel.

I grinned at him. "Nowhere in particular. Just reminiscing, I guess."

His eyebrows shot up, and I could see his lips twitch. "What were you thinking about this time?"

Chuckling, I said, "Mmm, my favorite way to spend Christmas?"

He laughed, shaking his head. "You're incorrigible; you know that, right?"

I grinned, placing my hand on his thigh and leaning in, planting a kiss just below his ear as I murmured, "I am, and you fucking love it."

He chuckled. "Alright, alright, sit back and let me drive before we end up in an accident."

I sat back in my seat, watching him as he drove. He looked relaxed, happy, and - I noted with some satisfaction as I saw the semi he was sporting - more turned on than he was admitting. I was fairly certain he was remembering Christmas mornings, too. Sure enough, he began to hum "Twelve Days Of Christmas" under his breath, and I had to bite my lip to stop my laughter. As it was, I couldn't quite keep from letting a soft snicker escape me, and Emmett threw a glare at me - even as he grinned - and said, "Oh, shut up!"

I held my hands up in surrender, laughing outright this time. "I didn't say a word!"

He rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to the road, muttering, "It's your fucking fault..."

I squeezed his thigh lightly as I apologized, though we both knew I wasn't really sorry about it. He shook his head with a chuckle. "Yeah, yeah..."

We sat quietly as we drove the rest of the way to the McCarty resort, as it was fondly called by the whole clan. As soon as we rounded the corner onto the property, I could see that we were some of the last to arrive. Several vehicles were already parked, and there was a bustle of people going back and forth between them and the respective cabins the families would be using.

Steering us toward our usual cabin, Emmett grinned at me as he parked the car. "Ready for this, babe?"

I snorted, rolling my eyes. "Ready as I'll ever be around this lot."

He just laughed and got out to grab our bags while I hurried to open the door to the cabin. I wrinkled my nose at the musty smell and set about opening all the windows to get some air flowing in the place. I was struggling with one of them when I felt something on my leg and looked down to see a wide-eyed Ben staring up at me with a grin, his arms wrapped around my thigh. "Hi, Unca Edwuhd!"

Ruffling his hair, I chuckled. "Hey, Ben! Where's your..?"

"Benjamin Royce! Get back here!"

I grinned and finished, "...mother?"

Ben giggled even as he clung tighter to my leg. Emmett came up behind me, kissing my cheek before kneeling down and prying Ben loose as he said, "Hey there, slugger! You got a hug for your uncle Emmett?"

Rosalie walked through the door right as Ben let go and wrapped his arms tightly around Emmett's neck, who stood up, holding the boy in his arms as he said, "Hey, sis."

Rose gave a breathy chuckle, one hand over her extended tummy as she put the other to Emmett's face and pulled it down so she could kiss his cheek. "Hey, yourself. I see this little monkey's found two of his favorite uncles."

She turned around to me, and I pulled her into a hug, receiving a kiss of my own in the process. "Good to see you, Rose. You're looking well."

She huffed, rolling her eyes. "I look like I swallowed a basketball!"

Ben giggled again, hiding his face in Emmett's neck as Rose narrowed her eyes at him. Emmett laughed. "Like you would have it any other way. How long..?"

She sighed. "Halloween...just over a month." She looked at her belly and muttered, "Though I wouldn't mind if he or she decided to come a week or so earlier. Don't get me wrong, I love being pregnant and all, but I'm so ready to have this baby..."

I grinned at her and then looked around with a frown for Ben's twin sister. "Where's Angela? She's never too far away from Ben."

Rosalie motioned for Emmett to hand over Ben, and as he put him down, she took Ben's hand and said, "Royce has her. These two tried to run off, even though they were told to stay put because of the cars. Royce caught her, but as you can see, Ben got away from me."

Emmett knelt down in front of Ben, scowling slightly at the boy, who shuffled behind Rose's leg. He loved Emmett - and for some reason, me - to bits but hated it when either of us got mad at him. "Now, Ben...you've got to be good and listen to your mama, okay? You're supposed to help her and set a good example for Angie, right?"

Ben nodded quietly. Emmett ruffled his hair before leaning closer and whispering something in his ear that made Ben's eyes open wide. Ben nodded furiously and whispered back, though I caught his "Okay." I wondered what was up with that, but I knew better than to ask about it right then.

Rose sighed and said, "Alright, young man, let's go find your father." She looked at us with a smile as she added, "You boys better hurry over to the main cabin. Mama's been asking about you."

"We'll be over in a minute," Emmett assured her.

Once Rose and Ben were gone and Emmett had opened the last window for me, I wrapped my arms around his waist and pulled him close. His arms went around mine as I nuzzled his neck, breathing in his scent - it was comforting, grounding...something I desperately needed in the face of being around everyone for the next few days. We just stood there for a moment, enjoying the quiet and each other, until we were interrupted by a knock on the door and a timid voice saying, "Sorry to interrupt, but Mom's asking for you, Em, and I think Dad needs your help with the grill."

We both looked up to find Bella standing in the doorway, blushing as usual as she glanced at me. Her soft-spoken, "Hi, Edward," caused Emmett to chuckle. I narrowed my eyes at him, nudging his side in a vain attempt to get him to stop even as I turned to Bella. "Hey, Bella."

If possible, her blush deepened even further, and before either Emmett or I could say anything else, she turned on her heel and ran off. We both just stared at the door for a moment before Emmett looked at me with raised eyebrows and said, "Teenagers. Wonder what got into her?"

I grimaced at him. "She probably didn't feel like waiting around for you to come up with some smart ass remark to tease her."

He chuckled and kissed me briefly. "Mmm, probably. C'mon, we'd better go make an appearance before Mom sends in reinforcements."

I shuddered. "Good lord, no..."

He seemed amused, but when I tried to step away so we could get going, he tightened his arms around me. I looked at him questioningly as he smiled softly and said, "Hey..."

Shifting so our bodies were flush against each other once again, I smiled. "Hey..."

He pulled me a little closer still, leaning in until we were nose to nose. "I love you, you know..."

I grinned, tilting my head to close the distance between us, and whispered, "Yeah, I know...I love you, too, Emmett," before kissing him tenderly.

He pulled away much too soon for my liking, an indiscernible look in his eyes as he let me go and grabbed my hand instead. Closing the door behind us, we walked to the main cabin. It wasn't very far at all, but it took us a good half hour to get there as people kept stopping us to say hello. I tried to remember everyone's names as they greeted us but failed a few times, much to everyone's amusement - and my embarrassment. Though mostly the confusion happened with the cousins and their kids.

When we finally made it to our destination, it was to find Emmett's dad Wade and his uncle Daniel fussing with the grills and not having much luck. I could hear Wade grumbling as we walked by, wishing he had never agreed to buy those new-fangled gas grills and lamenting the fact that they'd gotten rid of the old ones. They honestly weren't that difficult to manage, but they had a few bells and whistles on them, and usually it was Emmett who fired them up. Emmett clapped his dad on the shoulder in passing and told him he'd be right out after seeing what his mom wanted.

Ava came rushing to us, beaming as she hugged Emmett and said, "Hello, son," before embracing me. "Edward, I'm so glad you decided to come! We never see you enough at these reunions," she scolded me, but the kindness in her eyes and the smile on her lips told me she understood why I didn't come to them all the time. She knew that - for all that I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the city - I just didn't do well being around this many people all at once.

We chatted for a few minutes, just catching up, before Emmett excused himself to go help his dad with the grills. He gave me a quick peck on the cheek, hugged his mom again, and headed out the door. I looked at Ava and said, "So, anything I can do to help?"

She put her hand to my elbow and started walking to the kitchen, where I saw Garrett and Peter already working on peeling the copious amounts of potatoes that would be needed. She put me to work helping them. It was generally the most any of us guys were allowed to do as far as cooking went - other than the grilling, which was handled by Emmett, Wade, and Dan.

As Peter, Garrett, and I were peeling potatoes, we chatted comfortably - I hadn't seen Garrett since the summer as he hadn't been able to make it back for Bella's birthday. He was telling us about his classes - he attended Michigan, just like his older brother and I had - and I asked him if he'd had a chance to go to The Quarter at all, and if it was still the same. I wanted to ask him if he was proposing to Kate, but I knew better than to do so from past experience. I'd made that mistake once, when I asked Jasper if he was going to ask Alice and had half the room on my head for ruining the 'surprise', even though it was a McCarty custom to ask the person in front of the whole clan.

Jasper himself hadn't minded so much, but I didn't hear the end of it from everyone else - Emmett excluded - for the rest of our stay. So, I kept my mouth shut in regards to that, and instead just focused on the job at hand and small talk. Once we were done, we were all ushered out of the kitchen after being handed the beverage of our choice. Garrett managed to get a beer, along with a stern look from Ava, who mouthed, "Just one!" at him.

I'd grabbed a beer for myself as well as for Emmett and went to see how they were doing. He grinned when he saw me coming and wrapped his arms around me, giving me a quick kiss. "Hey, babe. For me?"

He nodded at the beers. I chuckled and handed him one. "Of course. How's it going over here? Need any help with anything?"

I always asked, even though the answer was usually the same, and this time was no different. I decided to walk around for a bit, not quite ready to sit down and mingle with everyone. It was still a bit of a madhouse with people arriving, unpacking, preparing food, and whatever else they were doing, so I figured I'd go to the lake for some peace and quiet. When I got there, I was surprised to find little Maria sitting by herself - close enough to be able to enjoy the view, but far enough away to not have to worry about her safety. I wondered what she was doing here on her own, even as I quietly commended her for sticking to the rules.

As I got closer, I could hear soft sniffles coming from her. "Maria? What's wrong, sweetheart?" I asked softly as I sat down beside her.

She didn't answer straight away, but leaned into me. I wrapped an arm around her, putting my beer down next to me so I could cup her face and have her look at me. She looked so much like her mother with her big, brown eyes and the same cheekbones, though her hair was a little of her mom and a little of Jasper - curly and lighter brown where her mom's was straight and so dark it was almost black. She had never known her mother, as Maria had died giving birth to her - some complication or other, I wasn't sure what had happened. Not that it mattered. Jasper had been left a widower and a single father of a newborn baby. He had risen to the challenge, with the help of the whole family, of course - and Alice.

Alice had been best friends with Rosalie since kindergarten and had been considered part of the family for almost as long. She had also been close to Jasper, since they all hung out a lot. Like Ben and Angela now, Jasper and Rosalie had been nearly inseparable. When Jasper needed it most, Alice had stepped in to help, offering what support she could for him. Sometimes it was babysitting, other times a shoulder to cry on. Over time, their friendship had grown into something more - not that this had been a big surprise to anyone in the family; everyone had always wondered how long it'd take for them to get together. The surprise had been when Jasper had married Maria instead.

Alice and Jasper dated for a little over two years before he finally asked her to marry him two years ago. Alice had always always taken good care of little Maria and loved her as her own. Now they were expecting another baby, and I wondered if this was what had Maria upset. Since she still hadn't said anything, I gently asked her again as I looked at her tearful eyes. "Maria, honey, what's the matter? Why are you crying?"

She sniffled, wiping her nose on the back of her hand before saying in a small voice, "Brer Rabbit's gone..."

I frowned, confused for a moment before realizing she meant her pet rabbit. Stretching out my legs, I pulled her into my lap so I could wrap my arms around her. Hers went as far around my waist as she could reach while she rested her head against my chest, quietly sniffling. I kissed the top of her head, murmuring, "I'm sorry, sweetie. You want to talk about what happened?"

She shook her head. I sighed softly, tightening my arms around her a little. "You want to just sit here with me for a little while?"

She nodded, and I smiled, kissing her hair lightly again. "Alright."

We sat like that for a while, even though I started to get uncomfortable. She seemed to calm down some, so I decided to just let her be for as long as possible. It wasn't until Jasper walked up to us and knelt down beside us that we moved. Jasper gave me a soft smile and said, "Hey, Edward," as he ran his fingers through Maria's hair before he said to her, "There you are, pumpkin. I've been looking for you."

She whispered, "Sorry, Daddy."

He smiled at her. "It's okay, sweetie. Dinner's gonna be ready soon. Why don't you find Alice and go get washed up, okay?"

"'kay, Daddy."

She looked at me and whispered, "Thank you," giving me a hug before getting up to do as she'd been told.

I smiled, brushing my thumb across her cheekbone, and said, "You're welcome, sweetheart."

Jasper and I watched her walk off to the cabins, and I finally shifted to a more comfortable position, allowing the blood-flow to return to normal before even attempting to get up on my feet. He sighed, settling down next to me for a moment, his legs pulled up and his knees spread so he could rest his arms on them. He glanced at me with a half-smile. "Thanks, Edward. I appreciate you looking after her like that."

I nodded. "Any time, man. What happened to Brer?"

He cleared his throat lightly, running his fingers roughly through his hair as he said, "Brer had to be put down a couple of days ago. He got sick and..." He shrugged. "As you can see, she's taking it pretty hard. Aside from her mom, it's the first loss she's known, and that one didn't affect her much since she was so young, ya know?"

I pulled up my legs as well, mimicking his position, and nodded again. "Yeah, I know..." I frowned as I thought of something. "Hey, you have any pictures of him with Maria?"

He pondered it for a moment, looking a little puzzled by the question. "Yeah, I think we have a couple of them, actually. Why?"

I shrugged, giving him a half-smile. "Just thought she might like some illustrations, maybe a story about her and Brer?"

Jasper clasped my shoulder and grinned. "I think she'd love that. Thanks, Ed. I'll ask Alice about them after Maria's gone to bed."

We sat in silence for another minute and then we went back to the main cabin. As we got there, I could see that Emmett and I actually hadn't been the last to arrive, since I spotted a few faces I hadn't seen earlier. Jasper asked if I could give him a hand getting the drinks set up outside for dinner, and once we got that done, Wade announced that the kids could start getting their food - with the help of their parents, of course. I watched from the side, smiling at Emmett's interactions with each of them. He looked so at ease with them, talking to them as he plated their food, tickling some, ruffling the hair of others. He glanced up, flashing me a smile as he caught me watching him. He winked at me before turning his attention to the next in line, and I chuckled as I shook my head.

Royce walked past me with Angela on his hip, holding her plate as they made their way to the kids' table. They were chattering away about something - well, Ang was chattering while Royce looked bemused and gave the appropriate responses at the right times. Rosalie and Ben followed shortly after them, and Rose rolled her eyes at me even as she chuckled. Apparently something had caught the twins' attention, as Ben was holding out his hands about half a foot apart and said as he walked by me, "Really Mama, it was that big!"

I bit my tongue so I wouldn't laugh, half wondering what he was on about, and half not wanting to know. I decided I didn't want to know - most times, I'd found, it was a lot better for my sanity in the long run.

After all the kids had gotten their food, the adults went and got theirs. I waited until most everyone had been served, wanting to be able to sit with Emmett and eat together, like we always did. I noticed that both Jasper and Royce - as well as one of the cousins whose name I couldn't quite place - had gotten two plates; I assumed this was because their wives were pregnant, which made me smile. Sure enough, I watched them as they put the plates down in front of their spouses before taking their seats. I was glad to see that they were being taken care of, though there was never a chance of anyone not taking care of their significant others when it came to the McCarty clan. Anyone who stepped out of line would hear from Gram, the matriarch of the family. I idly wondered where she was, as I hadn't seen her yet.

I grabbed two plates and got in line, finally, and when it was my turn Emmett grinned at me, murmuring, "Thanks, babe. I should be done in a minute."

He finished plating us both up, and I went to find us a seat. The only places left were at the table with Garrett, Kate, Bella, and her boyfriend. I struggled to remember his name as I made my way to them. Stopping by their table, I asked if it was okay if Em and I joined them, which was met with a general chorus of approval...and a blush from Bella. She quickly swallowed her mouthful of food, pointing her fork between the boy next to her and myself. "Edward, you remember Jake, right?"

Silently thanking her for saving me from embarrassment this time, I smiled at her - which, of course, made her blush even further. I put down the plates and held out my hand to Jake even as I took my seat. "Good to see you again. How are you holding up with all the crazy?"

Jake laughed and shrugged, shaking my hand in turn. "Alright, I guess. I don't mind so much. Kinda fun, actually."

Emmett walked up to us, clasped Jake on the shoulder, and said, "Hey, Jacob, good to have you here, man."

Jake grinned and nodded, having just taken a bite of food. Emmett kissed me below the ear, nipping at my skin. I pulled away, smacking his chest lightly as I laughed. "Emmett, eat your food, not me."

The grin that spread across his face told me at once that I'd opened myself up for some smart ass comment, but before he could voice it, I clasped a hand over his mouth and narrowed my eyes at him, my voice low in warning. "Don't. Even. Think about it."

I could feel him pouting under my hand, but I didn't release him until he rolled his eyes and huffed. Leaning into him, I murmured, "Thank you," before briefly kissing his lips and starting on my food.

As we ate, we talked - well, everyone else talked. I mostly listened, only offering a comment when directly spoken to. Kate and Garrett talked about college, saying that they were hoping to find a place to live together for next term - something that Emmett wasn't too pleased with, it seemed, which surprised me. Bella distracted me, though, by quietly asking how my book was doing, since I had told her on her birthday that I was working on a new one.

"It's going well, thanks," I answered with a smile. She asked what it was about, and I answered in vague terms. "Kind of similar to my last one with the modern setting. This one deals with computers more than magic, though." I felt Emmett squeezing my thigh and reached down, covering his hand with my own.

He'd been helping me out a little with my research, giving me suggestions for the way the technical side of it should run. It was the most I'd ever worked with someone else, as I was generally possessive of my plot and characters. It always seemed to me that when I talked about them to someone else, it affected the way they behaved, and then I lost the thread of who my characters really were.

Of course, whenever I expressed this opinion to Emmett, he just grinned and kissed me, telling me I was crazy. I thought he understood, though, at least on some level, because he never pushed for more.

"Speaking of computers," Emmett said, winking at me to let me know he was saving me from having to make some excuse about why I wouldn't tell them more, "have you thought about upgrading that piece of crap you have, Garrett?"

And just like that, talk went to computers with everybody at the table giving their opinions. I kept out of it, though - computers were Emmett's department, and I happily let him have the floor.

When I was done eating, I sat back and watched everyone as they talked, laughed, and joked. These were moments I did enjoy, when I was simply able to observe and soak in what was going on, rather than being in the middle of it all. I felt Emmett's hand on my thigh again, squeezing it lightly as he asked if I wanted anything more. I shook my head, smiling at him as he checked with Kate and Bella, who also declined. Garrett had already gone for seconds, and Jake decided to go with Emmett to get some, too.

As soon as Jake had left the table, Kate leaned over and began whispering with Bella, who was giggling at whatever they were talking about. Garrett met my gaze, shrugging and rolling his eyes. I closed my eyes with a soft smile on my lips when I felt the familiar warmth of Emmett's hand on my neck as he sat down again.

A shriek, followed by a mix of laughter and crying reached my ears, and we all turned around to the kids' table to find Angie standing up, shaking her hands up near her shoulders. Her once-yellow shirt was streaked with red, and she was crying. All around her, kids had jumped away from the table, but Ben was sitting there sheepishly, his empty cup lying on its side.

I heard him saying, "I didn't mean to!" as Rosalie hopped up and moved - more quickly than I thought she could - to pick up Angie. She whispered to her and reached down, ruffling Ben's hair just as Ava arrived to clean up the mess and tend to Ben.

I watched as Emmett's mom talked quietly to Ben, efficiently calming down all the kids as she distracted them with dessert. By the time she went back to her own seat, Ben was sitting down with a brownie and a dollop of ice cream, eating happily. Rosalie returned with a much calmer Angie, who was now wearing a blue shirt with a ruffle. She went straight back to her brother and forced him to scoot over a little so she could sit beside him.

Emmett placed his hand on my thigh, his thumb rubbing circles as I rested my head on his shoulder. He sighed softly, tilting his head to rest against mine as he gave a content hum. I felt oddly peaceful in that moment, not something that happened a lot whenever we were with the whole family - it was...nice. He shifted slightly, and when I looked up, he was smiling at me. Squeezing my leg, he pressed his lips to mine in a sweet - albeit chaste - kiss before settling back into the conversation that had been interrupted by the kids.

People started drifting between tables, catching up with everyone as they went. At one point one of the cousins that had stopped by our table mentioned that Gram had arrived. Emmett and I got up, and after he fixed her a plate, we went to her table. My eyes widened a little when I spotted the walker nearby - last time I'd seen her she was fine, and I wondered what had happened. Emmett placed her plate on the table before leaning down to hug her, and she patted his cheek gently as he stood back up again. When he stepped aside, it was my turn, receiving much the same treatment as she told us both she was happy to see us here.

Emmett grabbed a couple of chairs and held one out to me before sitting down next to Gram. He was frowning slightly, and I could tell he was worried about her as he asked her if she was alright. She'd started eating, but wiped her mouth with a napkin before patting his hand and saying, "Oh, I'm just fine, Emmett. Don't you worry about me. This old bat's got too much spunk left in her yet."

She winked at me, her lips twitching as she fought a smile. Emmett rolled his eyes. "Seriously, Gram. What happened? You're normally never late, and that thing..."

He pointed to the walker behind her, but she waved him off, interrupting. "It's nothing. I just took a spill, and the doctor wanted me to stay home. Well, I wasn't about to have any of that. Couldn't miss this, could I? I told him I was going, and he insisted I take that blasted thing at least."

My brow furrowed slightly as I watched them. Emmett had an indiscernible look in his eyes as he listened to her, and I wondered what was going on. He leaned in and hugged her tight, murmuring softly to her - too softly for me to hear - and she patted his back lightly, whispering something in return.

We sat and talked for a little while longer as Gram ate. Before too long, there were too many people hanging around the table, all wanting a chance to talk with her, so Emmett and I took our leave.

We didn't get very far, though, before Emmett was tackled by Jane and Alec - two of the few kids from the cousins' side whose names I could remember, probably because they were the only twins on that side of the family. Jane and Alec looked identical, even down to the short haircut and the type of clothes they wore. Jane was a tomboy and loved to roughhouse with the guys.

All three of them fell to the ground, Jane and Alec on top of Emmett, who laughed even as they began to try to tickle him. "Uncle Emmett! Come play!" I had no idea who said it, as their backs were to me, and their voices were very similar - I hoped that as they hit their teens, it'd become easier to distinguish them from one another.

Emmett laughed again, his eyes finding mine as he grinned. I gave a small shrug, smiling crookedly at him as I saw the mischief light up in his eyes. He turned his attention to the twins and said, "Play? You want me to come and play with you? Alright, but you asked for it!"

The next thing I knew, all the kids were running to the clearing, followed shortly by Jane and Alec, with Emmett hot on their heels. Jasper, Garrett, Royce, and Jacob all decided to join in on the fun, and soon an epic game of tag ensued. I pulled a chair to the side and sat it down backwards, straddling it so I could rest my arms on the back. My eyes were mostly focused on Emmett; as always, I was amazed at how carefree he was - how utterly comfortable he seemed to be with all the kids. It appeared to come so easily to him, and I envied him that.

I started when I felt a hand on my shoulder, as I had been so enthralled with the sight before me that I hadn't noticed anyone walking over to me. When I looked up, it was to see Rosalie, smiling as she watched her husband running like a madman after their kids, trying to tag one of them. Instead, they tag-teamed him, eluding his grasp time and again. Her eyes went to Emmett, and then she looked down at me with a slight grin. "He's never gonna grow up, you know - he's always going to be a kid at heart."

I sighed softly, my gaze falling on him again as he got tagged by one of the kids. Glancing back at Rose, I smirked slightly. "Maybe there's something to be said for harnessing your inner child the way he does."

She grabbed a chair and sat down next to me. We sat quietly for a while, but then she turned to me, her head tilted slightly as she looked at me. "What?" I asked her.

She shook her head, smiling softly at me. "Nothing. You're wrong, you know?"

I frowned at her. "About what?"

She leaned closer to me, resting her palm on my knee as she looked at me. "You. I know you think you're not good with the kids, and that you don't understand why they love you the way they do."

I rolled my eyes at her - I couldn't help it. She smacked my thigh lightly. "Hey! I'm serious, Edward. Jasper told me about finding you with Maria earlier. You were great with her, giving her what she needed. You do that for all of them. I know they all love Emmett - he's a big teddy bear and he loves to goof around with them, and they love that. But you...you give them other things that kids need, that they crave."

I listened to her, only half-believing her as she said, "You're calm and quiet. You let them be when they need it, ask questions when appropriate. They need the peace as much as they need the chaos at times, Edward. That, and you tell the best stories."

With that, she winked and we both started laughing. I glanced at the kids again, running my fingers through my hair as I turned to look at Rose again. "I'm guessing it's the stories more than anything else, though."

This time, it was Rose's turn to roll her eyes at me, though her eyes widened suddenly and her hand flew to her belly. "Oh!"

I sat up, alert at once, as I watched her closely. "Are you alright?"

She smiled widely at me then, nodding even as she winced. "Yeah...good God, I swear...if those two don't turn me into a soccer mom, this one will. Here, feel."

She grabbed my hand, placing it on her belly. We sat for a few seconds before I felt it - a bump against my hand. And then again, harder that time. My eyes widened as I looked up at Rose, who was smiling. I smiled back, but the look on my face must have been something because she began to giggle. Quirking a brow, I asked, "What?"

She grinned, shaking her head. "Nothing. You look like you've been shocked or something."

The baby kicked again, and my gaze fell to where my hand was before I looked back at Rose with a soft smile. "I'm just amazed that something so tiny can kick so hard." I frowned at her. "Doesn't it hurt?"

She shrugged and winked. "It's not exactly comfortable, no. Why do you think I said earlier that I was more than ready to have this baby?"

Royce and Emmett came walking up to us before I could answer. Emmett plopped down in front of me on the ground, grinning as his eyes flickered between Rose and me. Royce leaned in and kissed Rosalie briefly, running his fingers through her hair as he asked her if she was doing alright. Rose nodded and pulled his hand to her belly. I moved mine away, crossing my arms on the back of the chair again so I could rest my chin on them. I smiled at Emmett as he ran his hand idly over my calf. I vaguely heard Rose and Royce talk beside us, but my focus was on Emmett. "Having fun out there?"

He laughed. "Yeah, but they ran me ragged. Those kids have more energy to burn than I do. Well, more than I'm willing to spend on playing tag anyway."

He winked at me, and I could feel heat rising on my cheeks, knowing full well what he wasn't saying. He slid his fingers under the hem of my pant leg, caressing my skin lightly. I closed my eyes briefly, stifling a moan and trying to will my body not to react to his touch. Meeting his gaze, I silently pleaded with him to behave. He withdrew his hand, patting my calf once before lifting himself up and kissing me, his fingers tangling in my hair. I closed my eyes, returning his kiss as my own hand went to the back of his neck, my fingers playing idly with the hair at his nape. When he pulled back, he didn't go far, resting his forehead against mine.

I whispered, "Please, Emmett..." I wasn't entirely sure what I was asking for anymore - for him to behave, or for him to take me back to our cabin.

Giving me one last, chaste kiss, he pulled away, rubbing his nose against mine as he said softly, "I'll behave...for now."

I muttered, "You're killing me, Emmett..."

He shrugged, chuckling. "I'd apologize, babe, but we both know I wouldn't mean it."

I narrowed my eyes at him, though it wasn't very effective considering I couldn't stop myself from grinning. "You, Emmett McCarty, are a wicked, wicked man. It's a good thing I love you so much."

Pressing his lips to mine again, he hummed. "Mmm, good thing, indeed. I love you, too."

A snort followed shortly by a stifled giggle had us both turn to Rose, who sat watching us with her hand clasped over her mouth. Lowering it, she grinned and said, "Sorry...you two are just too cute for my own good sometimes."

When she winked, I felt myself blush further, and I quickly hid my face by resting my forehead on my arms, muttering under my breath, "Fuck..."

I felt Emmett's fingers as he ran them through my hair, but I didn't look up. I heard him say to Rose, "You're right. Ed's damn cute," and I could practically hear him grin. He kissed the crown of my head and murmured, "C'mon, babe. Let's go grab something to drink."

I nodded and got up slowly, still blushing a little. Even after all these years, I still had a hard time being as free and open with my affections as he always was. I'd gotten better with it over time, but sometimes it was too much for me. Emmett knew that those were the times I needed to just be us and take a step back - regroup, so to speak. He grabbed my hand, entwining our fingers. As we started to walk away, Rosalie grasped my other hand, giving it a quick squeeze. When I looked at her, she gave me a warm smile, closing her eyes briefly as if silently saying she understood and that it was okay.

Squeezing her hand in return, I gave her a small smile. Emmett and I walked slowly to the main cabin, though he let my hand go so he could slip his arm around my waist instead. I wasn't about to complain; the contact was welcome and grounding. Instead of going to the table with the drinks set out on it from dinner, Emmett took us inside to the kitchen, away from everyone. Once we were alone, he guided me to stand with my back against the counter while he wrapped his arms around me, his legs spread so I could stretch mine out between them.

The moment our lips met, I felt the tension in my shoulders begin to drain away. Emmett kept things light, letting me feel his love and support rather than deepening the kiss to the point that I would've insisted he take me back to our cabin. His hands were soothing - caressing my cheeks, rubbing my back. I'd always been amazed with how gentle he could be, considering his size and how energetic he usually was.

Between kisses, his lips made their way to my ear, where he whispered his love and silly little things to make me smile. I could hear the squealing of the kids and the babble of conversation drifting in through the windows, but it was far away. It didn't touch me there, wrapped up in Emmett's arms.

When he pulled away, he rested his hands on my hips and looked me in the eye. The impish grin on his lips brought out his dimples as he rumbled quietly - for him, at least, "You better damn well believe you're mine tonight..."

I couldn't stop my own smile as I trailed my hands up his thighs before wrapping my arms around his shoulders and closing the distance between us. My lips were a scant inch from his when I whispered, "I'm counting on it..."

He bucked his hips once against mine and then stepped back, breaking our kiss. His eyes were apologetic as he winked. "Sorry...you know I can't take much more."

I grinned at him, nodding. It was true - we were getting close to Emmett's breaking point. I knew I could press just a bit further, and he would say "fuck it" and take me across the way to our cabin, but now that I had that power, I didn't want to do that to him. I wanted to let him enjoy the time with his family.

I reached up, cupping his cheek and running my thumb along h

is lips before taking his hand. As we were walking back toward the front of the cabin, he cleared his throat. A glance over my shoulder revealed his sheepish expression. I stopped in my tracks. "What did you do?"

He didn't answer at first, and I turned around to face him, my eyes narrowing. "Em, what-?"

I was interrupted by the front door banging open, bringing the confusion of voices with it. There was a tugging at my shirt, and I looked down to see Angela smiling up at me. "Book!" she said, a little bossily.

I stepped back and knelt down so I could see her face. "You want a book, sweetheart?"

She shook her head, and I glanced up at Emmett. "A little help?"

He reached up, scratching the back of his neck as he said, "I uhh...I might've promised Ben you'd tell them a story tonight."

I bit the inside of my cheek. I didn't know if it was to stop a grin or a groan because I felt like doing both at the moment. I loved telling stories, but I hated being put on the spot - and being the center of attention. It was one thing when it was just Angie and Ben, but as I watched all of the kids file in, talking excitedly to their parents about the things they'd seen outside, I sighed.


Emmett shot me an apologetic look as he scooped Angie up. She squealed and kicked her feet, but what little regret Em had felt must've faded quickly because he blew a noisy raspberry on her cheek, laughing as she tried to tickle him.

I stood there in the hallway, letting everyone pass by me as I tried to think of a story I could tell that would keep them all entertained. We had every age represented from the youngest, who weren't even walking yet, to Bella's age and beyond. I muttered to myself, running my fingers through my hair as I finally forced my feet into motion.

When I walked into the living room, it was to find them all scattered around the fireplace. The main cabin had been built with these huge family gatherings in mind, and the living room always put me in mind of a great hall. The ceilings were vaulted with exposed wooden beams, and there was plenty of room for couches and rugs and chairs, all of which were covered with bodies at the moment.

I grumbled with another sigh and swallowed hard as I walked to take my seat at the edge of the fireplace. The McCarty clan was full of traditions, and one of them dictated that stories were told here, where everyone had a good view of the storyteller.

Of course, most of those lucky bastards got to read a book. Not me. I really was a storyteller - well, crafter, really - and therefore expected to create something new.

I sat down on the hearth, feeling the heat from the flames against my side even though I was a safe distance away. I ran my sweaty hands on the thighs of my jeans and spent a few minutes just watching and listening. I always tried to take inspiration from my audience, so to speak, and I was searching for that spark, that idea that would let me develop a story around it. I saw Rosalie brushing Angie's hair out of her eyes and Jane holding up her hand to get a high five from an overly enthusiastic toddler whose name I couldn't remember. My eyes raked across old couples smiling at each other as they talked and brothers and sisters picking on each other, but nothing struck me.

Not until I glanced just to my left and saw little Maria curled up in Jasper's lap with her legs over Alice's. Alice had her hand resting on Maria's calf as she talked to Jasper quietly, but Maria's eyes were focused on me. She still looked...forlorn, somehow. Just a little sad and lost, and it was then that inspiration struck.

I caught Emmett's eye and nodded. He smiled and shifted Angie to his other knee as he raised his fingers to his mouth and let out a whistle. Conversation stopped at once, and I rolled my eyes at Emmett. He actually fucking bounced in his seat - I think he enjoyed story time just as much as the kids did. He was sitting on a couch front and center with Angie on one knee and Ben right beside him. Rosalie and Royce were crowded onto the couch as well, and my eyes drifted between all of them and little Maria.

I hated drawing attention to myself, so I tried to turn it to the story instead as I said, "It was covered in layers of dirt and dust, and the tip was a little bent, but Brer the Brave knew a treasure when he saw it..." I saw the corner of Maria's lips twitch when she heard the name, and I smiled in response as I kept going, weaving the tale of Brer the Brave, the bunny who discovered a kitchen knife just the right size for a two-handed sword. I followed him through his adventures, incorporating Rosalie's vicious chihuahua Blackberry and Alec's white mouse Chalk.

One of the things I loved about telling a story was the way everything else faded away. I became lost in my own world, and I didn't care anymore that my voice was rising and falling as I made grand gestures. I didn't fully notice when everyone leaned in as I whispered or jumped when I clapped my hands.

What I did notice was the way Maria reacted. She alternately beamed at me and hid her face in Jasper's neck, only to peek out again with a shy smile. When Brer finally arrived at the enchanted hayloft where his Princess Maria was being held captive, I watched a tear slide down Maria's cheek.

It was a silly story, to be sure, but it seemed to be exactly what they wanted. As Brer the Brave banished the wicked Badger King, the room erupted in cheers, bringing me out of my happy, safe storytelling place at once. I blushed, running my fingers through my hair and clearing my throat as I said the final lines.

Everyone was suddenly in motion again, and I stood up, feeling a little disoriented. Something slammed into my legs, and I looked down to find Maria hugging me fiercely. As soon as I picked her up, her arms were a vise around my neck as she whispered, "Thank you." We talked briefly about how brave Brer really was, and then Alice was there, smiling up at me with her own eyes shimmering.

She hugged both of us tightly, murmuring her own thanks, and then she pulled Maria from my arms. They made their way through the crowd with Maria glancing back to wave at me on their way to their own cabin. Several others were leaving as well, all of those with little kids who needed to get ready for bed.

As the crowd thinned, Emmett was suddenly there at my side with a beaming, proud smile on his face. "You're awesome," he said simply.

My cheeks burned again as I rolled my eyes. "You're ridiculous," I answered. His smile never wavered as he turned me around and kissed me fully.

We were interrupted by Ava and Gram, who came up to hug me. Gram whispered, "You're always such a good boy," as she kissed my cheek. She knew I hated to be in front of crowds, and she never failed to give me some indication that she appreciated it.

And I, in turn, appreciated that.

Ava smiled at us as she helped Gram with her walker. "Do you boys want beer or wine?" she asked.

I knew what Emmett would say, so I was taken aback when he answered, "Wine."

My eyes were wide when I glanced at him. He just shrugged, grinning as he mumbled something about being out in the hot sun all day. Before I could ask him, Garrett called out, "Hey, Emmett? You coming or what?"

"Shit," Emmett muttered under his breath and looked at me apologetically. "Sorry, I forgot I told Garrett I'd help him clean up."

"Oh, okay. I'll come with you."

"No, no," he answered, a little too quickly. "We've got it...you just sit here and relax, okay?"

I frowned at him as he shuffled me backward, pushing me onto the couch he'd just abandoned. He leaned down, whispering in my ear, "Look, I know it makes you nervous to be in front of the group like that. I'm so fucking proud of you...just take a few minutes for yourself, babe. I'll be right back."

The way his tongue traced a sensual line up my neck before he nibbled at my ear left me breathless and with little choice but to do as he said. Ava returned quickly, taking a seat beside me as she handed me a glass of wine and set Emmett's on the end table.

We talked quietly as we sipped our wine, just idle conversation about the day and the mountains and how my writing was going. She asked about my parents, again extending an invitation for them to come for Thanksgiving, and I told her I would pass it along. Typically, they didn't like to impose, and I couldn't seem to get them to understand that with the McCarty family, it truly was "the more, the merrier."

"Well, maybe they'll have more reason to make the trip this year," she said cryptically, but at my slight frown, she changed the subject.

I was still puzzling over what she might mean when the other adults began trickling back in. Evenings in the cabins were typically spent like this - spread around the living room with the lights low, the fireplace burning during the cooler months. We all had drinks in hand while easy conversation flowed, and I felt relaxed at last.

This, I was used to. Emmett and I had a wide circle of friends back in Nashville, and we entertained often. We had a great house for it, with plenty of room and wide, open space. I loved every minute of it, from cooking with Emmett to talking to our friends to passing out, exhausted, in our bed as we decided that our last bit of energy was better spent on making love than on cleaning up the mess. There was always the next day for that.

Memories of our last such party put a soft smile on my lips as Ava's sister Catherine sat down with us. Jasper followed not far behind, pulling up an ottoman to join our conversation. We were laughing and joking as the room grew louder, the murmur rising as everyone else made it back.

I saw Garrett come back in with Jake and Peter on his heels, but Emmett was nowhere to be seen. I frowned, losing the thread of the conversation around me as I looked for him in the room. I didn't see him sitting with any of the other groups, and I debated going to ask Garrett what had happened to him.

I couldn't catch Garrett's eye, though, so I decided to give it a few more minutes. Before I had to make a decision one way or another, Emmett came walking back in. Something looked off, and it took me a minute to realize he'd changed. He was wearing one of my favorite shirts - a white button down with blue and yellow stripes that showed off his shoulders and chest. The sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, and his easy grin was in place as he stopped to bend his head close to Garrett's.

The two of them whispered together for a moment, and then Garrett nodded, clapping Emmett on the back before he disappeared out the door. Emmett strolled over to me and perched on the arm of the couch right beside me. "Sorry about that," he murmured as he leaned down to kiss the top of my head. "Felt gross."

His hand rested on my shoulder, and I could feel him kneading and rubbing lightly. From his lowered voice, I could tell he was trying not to interrupt his mom and Jasper as they talked, so I took his lead, resting my hand on his knee as I listened. Emmett felt a little tense, but a glance at his face showed his eyes dancing with excitement, and I wondered if maybe it had something to do with Garrett leaving - if he was going to get the ring for Kate.

I felt slightly anxious myself at the thought. I was always a little apprehensive when one of the McCarty men proposed because the fear always hovered in the back of my mind - what if she said no? The first proposal I'd seen had been Jasper to Maria on my very first trip to Nashville. They were so young, and I couldn't imagine his mortification if she'd said no, but she'd jumped into his arms and squealed.

Jasper's best friend Peter had done the same a year later, following the McCarty tradition as he asked Emmett's sister Charlotte to marry him. There was such a feeling of excitement and anticipation in the air on those nights because someone always knew beforehand - Gram, at least, and usually several others. I tried to see if I could feel it then, but I was still a little keyed up from the storytelling and felt slightly off in general.

Instead, I gave up wondering and let myself melt back against Emmett. His hand slipped from my shoulder, coming to rest on my chest as my head settled against his side. I could feel the vibrations in his belly when he laughed, and they made me smile. I would have never imagined when I saw him play football all those years ago that I would one day be here, in his arms with his family surrounding us.

Thank God for crashing computers and not-very-well-hidden porn...

I grinned and turned my face up to Emmett. He, of course, didn't know where my thoughts were, but he smiled and leaned down to kiss me all the same. His fingertips rubbed gently along my sternum as we parted, and Garrett walked back into the room and smiled when he caught Emmett's eye.

Suddenly, it was there - that subtle but palpable buzzing that I'd felt before, and I knew that this had to be one of those nights.

I watched as Garrett crossed the room and took a seat next to Kate on a couch. She smiled as they kissed, and he put his arm around her. His eyes turned to Emmett, who patted my chest and took a deep breath before he stood.

I didn't know what was going on, but I half-expected him to...introduce Garrett, so to speak, to provide some sort of opening to what was about to happen. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his palms brushing once along his thighs like they did during those rare times that Emmett was nervous.

I felt my stomach clench and wondered abruptly if maybe I'd been wrong. Oh, god...

Emmett's eyes were on me as he smiled, and then he glanced around the room, pausing when his eyes fell on Gram and his parents. Wade had moved to join Ava on the couch with me, and Gram was sitting in an armchair at the end. I realized at once that we were at the heart of the room, but I didn't have time to focus on that because Emmett began speaking, drawing my attention straight back to him.

"So, most of you know that when I met Edward, neither one of us expected it to go anywhere. I answered a call to go fix his computer and found this skinny guy who looked like he'd never seen the sun, and I know for a fact I wasn't his type, either." He paused then, shooting me a knowing grin, and I felt my cheeks burn as I realized he was remembering our early experiences with porn. His eyes were still on mine when he continued, "But there was just something about him that I couldn't resist. I asked him out just so I could hear him laugh some more and see the way his eyes flashed when I gave him a hard time."

Soft laughter was scattered around the room with my own chuckle joining in. They'd all been witness to Emmett teasing me over the years. It was just the way he was – most of them had been on the receiving end as well.

Emmett kept going, describing the way our relationship developed, and I was beyond intrigued hearing it from his point of view. He described sleepless nights in Springfield where he stared at the ceiling, missing me and counting the hours until it would be okay to call me. I wanted to interrupt and tell him he could've called anytime – because I was lying there awake, too – but I was mesmerized, struck speechless as he talked so openly about his feelings for me.

I felt my eyes sting when he admitted that he'd cried when I'd left Tennessee after my first visit there. "Everything has just always been right for me when Edward is with me, and I feel like something's missing when he's gone. So when he left after that trip, that's when I knew something had to change."

He recounted his trip to Chicago, and it was as he was describing my decision to move down to Tennessee that I realized he was catching everyone in the room up to speed. He wanted them all to know our story, not just the bits and pieces that were scattered over family gatherings, but what made us us.

My eyes were only for him as he spoke, but I could hear little sounds throughout the room – an "aww" here and a sniffle from Ava there, punctuated with quiet laughter as Emmett told the story the way only he could.

My chest was tight and a lump was forming in my throat when Emmett took a step toward me and reached out his hand. I sat, stunned for a moment, and he smiled, motioning gently with his fingers. I took his hand, and he led me back to the center of the room, right in front of the fireplace.

He breathed, "I love you," for my ears alone and then reached into his pocket before sinking to one knee. My eyes widened as the realization of what he was doing hit me hard.

"Edward, I know I can be an ass." I laughed softly, my anxiety vanishing at once the way it always had with Emmett. I squeezed his fingers, but I didn't trust my voice to say anything. All I could do was stare down at him, at his warm brown eyes gazing up at me, at that sweet smile on his lips that brought out his dimples. His hand was warm around mine, and I felt a strong urge to run my fingers through his hair – so I did just that with my free hand before letting it fall by my side. He smiled at me and continued, "But I've never loved anyone like I love you – not even close. You make me want to be a better man, and I am…because of you. You know I'm not good with words – that's your job – but I just had to tell you…had to show you how much I love you. When we were in Chicago and I said I wanted every day with you, that's exactly what I meant. I want every day, forever."

My smile spread slowly across my lips as I heard those sweet words again, the ones that had first made me know without a doubt that Emmett wanted what I did – a lifetime together. Emmett returned my smile as he swallowed, a hint of his nerves showing again as he lifted his right hand to reveal a ring between his thumb and forefinger. "Please say you'll be my husband and share forever with me. Will you marry me, Edward?"

Mercifully, my brain censored my fuck, yes, and it was a shaky, "God, yes," that passed from my lips in answer. Emmett beamed up at me as he slipped the ring onto my finger, and then he was on his feet. I was crushed in his strong arms, my ribs creaking, but I hugged him just as fiercely. Our lips were hard and needy against each other, and my fingers tangled in his hair, holding him to me as I tried to show him just how much it all meant to me because I didn't have the words to explain it right then.

I didn't think I ever would.

Our moment was interrupted almost at once as the family came to congratulate us. There was an excited chorus of voices calling out congratulations as hands slapped Emmett on the back. We were swept into hug after hug, and I registered only bits and pieces: Ava's face streaked with tears, her smile happy; Wade's booming voice, so like Emmett's, as he said, "Congratulations, son," and hugged me tightly; Gram's lighter hug, her arms frail but sure as she whispered, "Welcome to the family"; Garrett's impish grin that mirrored Emmett's as he gave his oldest brother a high five.

Emmett and I managed to stay close for a time, and we tried our best to keep some sort of contact between us. We alternately held hands and put our arms around each other. I kept my hand on Emmett's back as I talked to his parents while he was turned away, accepting congratulations from his aunt. In time, though, we were separated, and I found myself backed into a corner near the fireplace as Bella shyly congratulated me with Jake at her side. I smiled, thanking her, but my eyes sought out Emmett, who was likewise trapped across the room.

Our gazes met, and he shook his head, shrugging in exasperation before his aunt Catherine caught his attention. I could hear her scolding him for not letting her in on the secret, and he turned his most charming smile on her, trying to get her to understand that he really had wanted it to be a surprise.

Jasper, Alice, Rosalie, and Royce joined Bella and Jake, effectively blocking Emmett from my sight as they created a wall of well-wishers around me. I began to feel frustrated and anxious at being thrust into the limelight while being denied Emmett, who was usually my saving grace at moments like this. I did my best to carry on my part of the conversation, which wasn't too terrible as playing the part of the ecstatic and completely stunned fiancé was coming to me rather easily at the moment.

Before much longer, Emmett's gruff voice said, "Alright, alright, let me through," and then there was a parting in the bodies surrounding me. I smiled as soon as I saw his face, and he grinned at me in turn. "Ready to get out of here?" he asked.

All it took was one look at his happy eyes and the impish smirk on his lips to have me nodding. He grinned. "Come on, babe," he said as he reached out a hand to me.

I took it, and he began pulling me along, but the push of bodies against us pulled our hands apart again. I heard him give a low curse, and then he forced his way back to me again. He scooped me up, throwing me over his shoulder cave-man style, and I was left staring at the ground as he began making a path through the crowd.

"Emmett!" I protested, smacking his ass, but he patted mine in return.

I heard him chuckle and murmur, "Hell, no...I told you. You're mine."

My eyes flew wide. I was speechless as Emmett pushed his way through the room. I heard laughter and a few catcalls mixed with the voices still congratulating us, and I could imagine very few ways that would leave me quite as mortified on the night of my engagement.

He didn't put me down as he stepped out into the darkness between our cabins, so I had no choice but to stare at his ass until he'd opened our door and stepped inside. He set me down then, his sure fingers locking the door even as his lips found mine and he kissed me hungrily against the wall. My embarrassment faded as I felt his roaming hands begin unbuttoning my shirt.

He pulled his lips away long enough to whisper, "Sorry. I just couldn't take another minute apart from you, and they were not cooperating."

I let my head fall back against the wooden slats of the wall as I muttered, "God, Em, don't you care that every single one of them knew exactly where you were taking me?"

"Fuck, no," Emmett answered at once, his lips teasing the skin of my neck as he pulled the tail of my shirt from my pants to unbutton the last of it. "Edward, everyone in that cabin now knows that I love you and that you love me and that we're going to be together for the rest of our lives. They'd think it was fucking weird if we weren't in here right now..."

Heat rushed to my cheeks at his words, both at the confirmation that his entire family knew he was undressing me right that second and at the surge of emotion I felt when I realized that Emmett really was my forever. He wanted me just as I wanted him.

So I did my best to shove away what embarrassment I felt. This was the night of my engagement, and I'd been trying my damnedest to get him in bed all day, and he was finally mine to do with as I would.

"Fuck," I breathed, cupping his cheek to bring his lips back to mine as I began unbuttoning his shirt.

"Mmm," he answered wordlessly, his hips pressing against mine while he kissed me passionately.
It wasn't long before Emmett's family faded into the background, disappearing from my mind as he pushed my shirt off my shoulders. I did the same with his and then tore off his undershirt, my hands tracing the muscles of his chest and abdomen as a smile danced on my lips. I'd never quite gotten over the beautiful body he had, and he'd kept in shape over the years - mostly because he loved the way I stared.

He licked his lips as he teased my nipples, his mouth returning to mine as our tongues brushed. He sucked lightly, and then his hands slipped between us to work on the button of my jeans. He took his time, tormenting me by reaching down to rub me lightly before he'd fumble with the button again. He was never that clumsy - he was just enjoying watching my frustration and anticipation build.

I pushed his hips away, standing up straight as I made short work of the buttons and zipper of his pants. I pulled them down while he stepped out automatically. My eyes were drawn to the way his hard cock rebelled against the thin fabric of his boxers, and my hand followed suit. I reached through the opening, moaning when I finally felt him filling my hand.

He inhaled sharply as his dick twitched, and I felt the cool drops of pre-cum where his head brushed against my wrist. I kissed him hard, biting his bottom lip before I whispered, "God, Em...I need you. Now." When he didn't move, I added, "Please?"

He stood there for a moment longer before he caught my wrist and pulled my hand away. "Not gonna make it long if you keep that up," he murmured with a sheepish edge to his voice. He put my arm around his waist and closed the distance between us. "Edward, did you really mean it? It's just us here, now...will you really marry me?"

I was struck by the vulnerability in his voice. It was tempered with awe, and I suddenly needed to see his face. I took a step to the right and clicked on the lamp near the door, pausing as my eyes adjusted to the sudden light. When I could see him again, I took his face between my hands and kissed him chastely. I was looking in his eyes when I said, "Emmett, I've never meant anything more in my life. You've always been the only one for me."

The uncertainty faded from his eyes as he smiled - and then growled. He slung me over his shoulder again and headed straight for our bedroom, where he threw me down and pounced on top of me. His kisses were scattered all over my upper body, his lips and tongue finding my nipples and the ticklish places along my ribs. He popped the button on my jeans and pulled down the zipper agonizingly slowly, his smoldering eyes trained on mine.

Just as I was about to beg, he gave up the game and took me in hand through my underwear. His eyes drifted closed as he bit his bottom lip, moaning quietly. He stroked me several times, his masterful hand running along my length as he squeezed and rubbed, and then he opened his eyes. "You feel so good...can I taste you?"

I didn't want to ruin the moment by asking him if he was a fucking idiot, so I simply nodded, my lips parting as my breathing sped. He smiled and pulled my jeans down, my boxers going with them. He threw them to the ground before running his hands slowly up my thighs. His smile was playful as his eyes focused on mine while he lowered his head, blowing lightly across my crotch. The air was cool, making me twitch and shift on the bed as I tried to will him to touch me.

He never broke our gaze as he licked a slow, seductive line from the base of my cock to the tip. I moaned, my eyes closing automatically as I pressed my head back into the mattress. He took one of my balls into his mouth, sucking and teasing with his tongue. My fingers knotted in his hair as he lavished me with attention, but as he started to take me between his lips, I tugged at his hair to stop him.

The confusion in his eyes faded quickly when I sat up and lightly shoved him so that he rolled onto his back. He grinned, murmuring, "Oh, hell yes..." as he moved so that he was lying in the middle of the bed. "Come here," he commanded softly, his hands roaming my legs and ass.

I settled over him, my knees on either side of his shoulders as I lowered my face to his hips. His arms wrapped around my thighs as he placed open mouthed kisses all along my length. He was still wearing his underwear, and I decided a little payback was in order for all his teasing earlier. I took him in my mouth, breathing heavily so that he could feel the heat through the thin fabric. He groaned, his hand spreading my thighs wider as he sucked the head of my cock between his lips.

He took me deeply, his head turned sideways because of the slightly awkward angle. For some reason, he loved it, loved being surrounded by me that way, and he sucked eagerly, his tongue tracing long lines and swirling around my head.

It was more than I could take, and at once, I needed to taste him, too. I pulled his boxers down, and he lifted his hips, letting me shoved them off. As soon as his cock was freed, I wrapped my lips around it, moaning at the salty taste of his skin. Emmett redoubled his efforts, his mouth creating an intoxicating paradise that left me dizzy as I tried desperately to bring him the same pleasure.

We were a mass of writhing bodies and heat and moisture, all blending together with the sounds of our moans and sighs. I was the one to break first, and I pulled my head up, panting lightly as I pleaded, "Oh god, Em...please...I need you..."

My hips were rocking, completely outside my control, and I felt my cock stutter along his lips and chin when he pulled away to answer. "Mmm...come here, baby..." His actions made it impossible, though, as he bit my thigh, sucking hard enough for me to feel the sting before he let me go.

With a few last licks as if he just couldn't get enough of me, he finally let me go. I turned around and suddenly found myself on my back with Emmett's exquisite weight pressing me into the mattress. Our cocks brushed together as he rolled his hips into mine smoothly, lowering his head to kiss me feverishly. Gradually, his lips slowed, our kisses losing their frenzy but not the urgency.

I felt his weight settle a little more heavily onto me as he reached out to the left, never breaking our kiss, to retrieve the lube he'd obviously stowed away earlier. I heard the snap of the bottle, and then his hand was wrapped around my length, messy and slippery and fucking perfect as he stroked me just the way I liked it. He made several passes all the way over my head before letting his hand travel down, drifting over my balls to rub against my entrance.

After so many years together, he knew just how little I needed to be ready for him, but he was more thorough, more careful this time, even though it wasn't necessary. His voice was soft as he whispered words of love and devotion and desire, and I couldn't fight the smile on my face as I answered him in kind.

I reached for the bottle, pouring a little of the lube into my palm before reaching between us to stroke Emmett. He was stiff and so ready for me, making me moan when I felt the way he grew even harder with my attention. "Now, baby...please..." I whispered, nudging his cheek with my forehead so he'd lift his chin.

A smile flitted across his face when he saw the expression on mine, and he kissed me hungrily as he shifted his hips. When his tip pressed against my entrance, he pulled away far enough to look into my eyes, and he was watching me with a quiet smile as he began to push into me. My hand was wrapped around his base, guiding him in, and we moaned as one when he was finally filling me completely.

He held still for a moment and then lowered himself so that our chests were pressed together. He took my hands, lacing our fingers as he moved them over my head. I smiled when he squeezed my hands, letting me feel the bite of the new ring on my finger. Turning my face to his, I kissed him tenderly as he began to move.

His hips rolled against mine as he thrust into me, our bodies fluid and graceful despite the grunts and moans we made as one. Our lips never stilled, whether we were kissing or whispering words of love. Emmett's smile was brilliant when he looked at me, and I could see the awe in his eyes when he whispered, "I can't wait to call you my husband."

I'd never really entertained the idea of being married to Emmett - at least not consciously - but the word husband shot a thrill through me that had me lifting my hips, meeting Emmett thrust for thrust. We spent long moments just being together, enjoying the joining of our bodies and the way it felt to not know where he ended and I began.

He shifted, moving so that his upper body was braced on his elbows by my shoulders, and the next push of his hips buried him more deeply than before. "Oh, god..." I murmured, my eyes rolling back as my thighs tightened and my toes curled.

"You like that?" he whispered with a knowing smile. He knew better than to wait for an answer he wasn't going to get, and he thrust more forcefully, making me moan as my nails scratched along his back. His skin was soft and smooth beneath my fingertips, the sweat that beaded there making it difficult for me to find purchase.

His breathing grew ragged as he grunted, his forehead wrinkling in concentration. His lips were parted, and I lifted my head, kissing him passionately. He let go of my right hand, which immediately moved to the back of his head, anchoring him to me as our tongues brushed.

He broke our kiss with a shuddering, "Fuck, Edward..." and his eyes squeezed closed as his head lifted slightly. His hips were pulling away further, coming back with a slapping of flesh that both stung and had me wanting more. His fingers tangled in my hair, tightening almost to the point of pain as he sought any leverage he could find.

My hands slipped down, cupping his ass as my fingers slipped between to tease him. He groaned and bit his bottom lip, his jaw clenching as he struggled to control himself. He shifted his weight to one arm and reached between us, taking my cock in hand to stroke me. His thumb traced the thick vein he always liked before teasing my head, making my hips lift from the mattress as my heels dug in.

His hand was slick and sure, his movements confident, and he whispered words of encouragement, begging me to come with him. I pulled his face back to mine; I didn't want to silence him, but I just needed so badly to taste him, to feel his stubble abrading my lips. His kisses were desperate as his hips picked up speed, their rhythm faltering.

When my release spilled over my chest, hot and sticky, Emmett's wasn't far behind. I felt him shudder, trembling as his world exploded. He held himself utterly still for a moment and then thrust into me several times in succession. My head was filled with white noise, with no thoughts penetrating the fog of sensation. I knew only strong arms...heavy weight...salty, masculine scent...light tickling of panting breath.

My entire body was tensed, instinctively holding onto the ecstasy Emmett brought me, and he laughed softly as I slowly relaxed. My muscles were trembling from exertion, and his body settled on me more heavily as he peppered my shoulders and neck with kisses. He rolled us onto our sides as he pulled out of me so that we were still tangled up together.

His arms were tight around me, his hands caressing every inch of skin they could reach as he kissed me languidly. He cupped my cheek, his thumb grazing my cheekbone as he smiled at me from only inches away. "Hey...I love you," he whispered.

"God, I love you, Em..." I answered, feeling overwhelmed and loved and blessed beyond belief. I covered his lips with my own, kissing him thoroughly, and when we parted, his eyes were dancing as he smiled.

The reality of our new situation began to sink in, and I could feel my own smile - just as huge and ridiculous as his. My hands were on his back, still rubbing gently, and I lifted the left, turning the ring with my thumb as I tried to contain my disbelief.

Emmett must've either felt the movement or seen the look on my face because his grin turned mischievous as he teased, "Oh, yeah...you're mine now."

"Always was," I said softly, kissing him once more.

He laughed in earnest this time when I pulled away because it was to lie on my back, holding out my hand in front of me. I realized that I probably looked more like a woman then than I ever had, but everything had happened so quickly that I hadn't even had a chance to look at the ring Emmett picked out for me yet.

I studied it in the dim light, smiling as I saw that it was perfect for me. It was sleek and modern, made of titanium, and there was a thin ribbon of burnished silver in the middle that ran only halfway around. A small diamond, unobtrusive but meaningful, was set in the end of the silver. It, like my future husband, was stunning.

There were no words for all the things I wanted to say, so I lowered my hand, glancing at him with a soft, "Thank you."

I saw the smart ass response lurking in his eyes and knew he was debating asking me if I was thanking him for the mind-blowing orgasm, but he repressed that. His eyes were clear and bright - happy - when he said, "You're welcome." He kissed my temple and wrapped me into his arms before saying, "Thank you for saying you'll marry me."

"Mmm..." I hummed contentedly and snuggled closer to him before a thought struck me. I still felt a little disconnected with everything happening so fast, but it suddenly bothered me that I hadn't wondered this before. "Hey," I began, sitting up halfway to balance on my elbow. Emmett followed, mirroring my position. "Can I ask you something?"

"'Course, babe," he said with that easy smile. "You can always ask me anything. You know that."

I nodded, but the next words were harder to say than I'd expected. I swallowed carefully and said, "Why now? We've been together six years, and..." I trailed off, hoping he would understand.

Emmett's smile turned rueful as he sighed. He rolled onto his back, running his fingers through his hair and staring at the ceiling before he turned to look at me again. "Edward, I owe you an apology..."

I frowned, completely unsure about this turn of events and not liking it one bit. "Why in the world wo-"

He cut me off with a finger over my lips, making my frown deepen. "Listen to me, babe? Please?"

I sighed, nodding. I kept my eyes focused on his, and when his hand left my lips, it was to come to rest on my throat, cupping my cheek as his fingers slid behind my ear. "Edward, I made a really stupid assumption about you, and I'm so fucking sorry. I thought that since...since we can't legally be married..." His eyes darkened, his jaw clenching before he shook his head. "I thought that because of that and because your family is so different than mine that it didn't...mean much to you."

His eyes turned pleading as he looked at me, and I felt my brow furrowing as I tried to figure out what had him so upset. We'd never talked about marriage before. Neither of us came from states where it was legal, and we just always...were who we were. We were together, and that was that. "Baby, I can quite honestly say that until you proposed, I'd never really thought about it. So why...?"

"You don't remember, do you?" he asked, leaning forward to place a gentle kiss on my lips.

"Remember what?" My confusion was plain in my voice, making him give a small smile.

"Charlotte's wedding?" When I shook my head slowly, Emmett shifted, adjusting on the bed so that he could see me clearly. He took one of my hands in his and rested them on his chest. I could feel the heat against the back of my hand, the light thrumming of his heartbeat, and I turned my hand over, rubbing his chest lightly. "At her wedding, you said, 'Can you imagine how nice that must be? To get up in front of everyone like that and say a few words and just...know that that's it?'"

I saw the ghost of hurt in Emmett's brown eyes as he studied me, his words lingering in the air. As I thought about it, I vaguely remembered something similar to what he was saying, but it was buried under glasses of wine and shots of whatever-the-hell Emmett had brought me. "Emmett, baby, I was drunk. I didn't know what the hell I was saying."

He shook his head, stopping the flow of words on my lips. "That doesn't make it any less true, Edward. If anything, it makes it more honest." He reached out to brush my hair away from my face and paused to scratch my scalp lightly before lowering his hand with a sigh. "I felt like such an ass then...how could I have not let you know how much I love you? How serious I am when I say that I'm yours forever?"

"Em, I do know..."

Once again, I didn't get a chance to speak, as he just kept talking. It was clear that this had been on his mind for a while, and I wondered how I'd missed it. "Baby, I know you know. I do. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is different. I thought we didn't need that - didn't need to stand up and say any words because we said it every day with every choice we made - but there's a difference. No matter what's legal or not or where we say those words...I want to make that promise to you. And I never even realized it until you made that comment at Charlotte's wedding."

Everything was silent when he finished. I felt a confusing array of emotions. I was upset that I had caused him pain, shocked to realize that what he was saying made sense and that I had been feeling that way without even knowing it...and above all, I felt happiness and love. I had to clear my throat before I could speak, and then my words were a surprise to me. "I guess I always...wondered. You know? If maybe you were...keeping your options open."

I saw the internal wince and reached out, putting my hand on his hip. "No, Em...it wasn't your fault. I just...I guess I saw all your brothers and sisters getting married, and it affected me more than I realized." I smiled at him sheepishly. "If I didn't know it bothered me, how could you?"

Emmett watched me for a moment and then wrapped his arm low around my waist, pulling me so that our bodies were flush. He kissed me deeply and pulled away only to whisper, "Edward, you are my world. My heart. You are my family. I want to get up in front of the rest of them and promise you that it will always be that way. Will you let me?"

My forehead was pressed against his, my eyes closed as a silly smile settled on my face. "God, yes."

I repeated my words from earlier and then tilted my head, claiming his lips once more.

A/N: Next Sunday, August 1st, should see the return of regular updates from Whitlock-Masen. Also, the day before that - July 31st - is a certain Ms. naelany's birthday :) Send her some love if you can - SC