Chapter 39


It's good to be back home. I never thought I'd think of Canada as home, but this house has grown on me over the years. We're isolated enough here, that we've stayed much longer than we ever would have before. It's part of Carlisle's new outlook, now that the Volturi law isn't looming over us, like an axe ready to fall.

"Come on love, we don't want to be late." He kisses the back of my neck as he helps me zip my dress. I turn to face him and he folds me into his arms. He's right, but as he holds me, I think about undressing and making love to him until we're very late.

It never gets old.

Twelve years have passed since this beautiful man picked up a dead thing from the beach and breathed life back into her. I reach up and run my fingers through the golden lock of hair that's fallen onto his forehead.

"I love you." It's all I can say, and it's inadequate to cover everything I feel for this man. He's a part of me, and he really is my better half. I kiss him, unable to resist the sweetness of his lips, and the way he always seems so eager to follow my lead. I still get to him, even after all these years.

The pounding at the door separates us. "Come on you two, we need to leave in five minutes!"

He smiles and whispers "later," and kisses me quick before heading for the door. I hurry to finish getting ready. I brush my hair and slip into the shoes that match my dress. In my jewelry box I take out my favorite bracelet. It's the silver charm bracelet I've had for twenty-five years. The worn wooden wolf still stands out, as does the crystal heart. But there are a dozen new charms I've collected over the years. I fasten it to my wrist and head for the door. Rosalie is on the landing, waiting for me with her arms crossed.

"You just got back from the island, didn't you get enough of each other there?"

I meet her eyes and smile. "Nope, never enough." She rolls her eyes, then hugs me.

"Come on, we need to hurry. Everyone else is already gone. You look good by the way."

"So do you. But then again, you always do."

"Hush." She looks embarrassed. "Wait til you see Garrett."

They're both waiting for us just outside the garage. Two gorgeous blonds stand by Carlisle's classic Maserati. Garrett looks great, with his hair pulled back in his signature ponytail. His tailored suit makes him look like he just stepped off the cover of a romance novel. But my eyes glide over him and rest on my husband.

I smile at Carlisle, as he holds the door for me, and we both get into the back seat. Garrett loves to drive, and I love snuggling in my husband's arms.

On the drive, I absently play with the charms on the bracelet. The crystal heart will always be dear to me, as will the wolf. But I remember the present, purchased by a bitter, angry, Alice as she remembered the good times of our friendship. She told me she had no idea why she bought it at the time, since she only had blame for me back then. It's the reason she gave it to Jasper to give to me, instead of giving it to me herself.

There's a tiny mortarboard Carlisle gave me when I graduated from college. I didn't rush it like I had the first two years. But I did rush a bit to get through medical school, and I've got a caduceus dangling from a link, to commemorate being accepted into a residency program. It's the toughest time I can remember since the war and all the drama in Volterra. It was hard being apart from my family for so long, and finally Carlisle moved into the tiny apartment with me, even though it meant a terrible commute to his office every morning.

My life has changed in so many ways. I'm now an Ob/Gyn, with an office beside my husband. I wasn't sure I had the kind of control needed to be around blood on a regular basis, but it turns out I do. I chose my specialty because I felt drawn to help women through pregnancy and childbirth. My daughter's birth is still etched in my human memory, and I hope my patients never have to face that kind of pain and terror. Of course I have to face blood quite regularly, and I know I won't slip. But there's one thing I still have trouble with, and that's losing my patients.

I'm good at what I do. I love putting all my vampire gifts to work to benefit my patients. I now know why Carlisle loves it so much. He wasn't kidding when he talked about dazzling his patients. I've learned to do it myself, as it keeps them calm even in the midst of difficult or painful procedures. I have a really good success rate when it comes to labor and delivery. But I have lost patients.

Humans are fragile, and they don't always follow their doctor's orders. I can't cure cancer, I can't force a woman to stay in bed as advised, and I can't stop internal bleeding. The temptation is always there to turn a dying patient. That's been the hardest for me – letting go. The first time I was faced with a terminally ill patient, I called Colette and begged her to heal the woman. She did as I asked, and it seemed as if a miracle had occurred. But the next time was even more heart-breaking for me.

Terri was a young mother with three little kids, facing a cancerous death sentence. Before I called Colette, Carlisle took me aside and counseled me against it.

"We can't play God, Bella. If Colette heals this woman, then what about the next, and the one after that? You've already got a reputation for being the best in the area, do you want people to think you can work miracles? If people start asking questions it could hurt us all. How many patients will you lose if we have to close our offices and move away? People die every day – good people with families and a whole life ahead of them. We do what we can, but we have to let the rest go."

I didn't call Colette. I did all I could for Terri, and eventually I had to let her go. It was hard, and it brought up so many feelings I had when I lost Edward. I took a week off just to grieve. It was Terri's husband who helped me more than anyone else could. He called me and asked if I could come to a special memorial he was having for her. I went.

At a park where Terri often took her kids, they planted a tree in her honor. Her husband sprinkled her ashes at the base of the tree, and told everyone there that it was what she wanted. "Terri wanted us to celebrate her life, and not focus on her death. As much as it hurts that she's not here, I'm grateful for every moment I had with her."

He was going to be okay. He had a healthy attitude, and he was helping their children through their loss. I was humbled.

It was a lesson I needed to learn. I don't have the luxury to call on Colette every time something goes wrong. She's been in Africa for the past five years, traveling with Eleazar and their own two children. She can't save every AIDS patient, but she does what she can as they travel. Her youngest son has a combination of Eleazar's and her gifts. He can diagnose any illness or disease, though he can't cure them like she can.

I wonder if they'll come back for the big event. I hope they make it, since I miss them both. Carlisle kisses my cheek and takes my hand to get a better look at the charms on my bracelet. "What's this one for?" He singles out a cow dangling from one link, and I laugh.

"That's for the deal you made with the two slaughter houses here and in Italy, to save the blood of butchered cows." He laughs and shakes his head. It's been ten years now since he worked up an agreement with a Canadian slaughterhouse to save and process blood into quart sized containers. It was pasteurized and homogenized like milk, so it didn't need preservatives. Vampires can live on it, but it's the hybrids who really appreciate it. All the hybrids seem to enjoy the stuff, and they drink it like an energy drink. It went over so well in Canada., that he made a similar agreement in Italy, and they began delivering it to Volterra like any other food.

The animal blood makes switching over to an animal diet a lot easier, as vampires don't have to chase down animals and gnaw on furry necks. For me, it's good not to have to give up time to go and hunt. Aurora is also trying to gain support for a new law that would require any new vampire or hybrid to only consume animal blood.

Aurora is doing well leading the council, but she's looking forward to retiring. Her sister Arianna and Vito married, and they've got four children already. Aurora has vacationed here at our homestead every year since taking over the council. Sitting by the lake with nothing to worry about has always been her favorite way to relax.

Of course her visits seemed to coincide with Peter's visits. Maybe I was just too busy to notice, but Carlisle pointed it out to me. With the way the council operates, it's possible to hear from every supernatural being concerning different issues. Aurora can easily learn the location of most of us, and it was no coincidence that she showed up either right before or right after the tall blond vampire. By the time his arm had regrown, it was evident to everyone but him that he'd gained an admirer.

For five years, they spent two weeks of each summer in friendly companionship, as she consistently sought him out during their visits. Jasper finally took him aside to explain to his friend that Aurora wasn't only interested in his wisdom and his leadership advice.

Peter fought the attraction. He avoided the poor girl for the rest of his visit, and the next year he didn't come to see us. I worried that he'd chosen his grief over a future he might have with Aurora. I'm still not sure what happened, but Jasper went to find him. Jasper has a thriving psychology practice of his own, so it shouldn't have surprised me that he was able to help Peter change his way of thinking.

What did surprise me was how fast he changed. It wasn't even three months later he and Aurora were married. They have a little girl, and a new baby boy she delivered a few months ago, and I can't wait to see them.

"What's this charm for?" Carlisle fingers the little Eiffel Tower, then kisses my hand.

"Yanna sent me that one from Paris." It makes me smile to think about how happy our daughter is lately. She and Leah are still together, and eight years ago they went through a civil commitment ceremony. For all intents and purposes they're married. At the time, Leah loved to joke that they didn't need some legal piece of paper to keep them together. She told Yanna, "if you left me I would find you, no matter where you hid." The first time I heard the comment, it set me on edge. Then she went on to make her meaning clear. "I would find you, and do everything I could to win you back. I love you so much, I can't even think of my life without you."

It still shocks me how much kinder and gentler Leah has become over the years. Though that softness is only in the way she deals with Yanna and our family. They're both living further north of us, near where the Denali coven used to be. They've built a facility there, along with a small place where they live. Together they've taken over leading the Guard. Some might be stupid enough to laugh at the idea of two pretty young women training supernatural fighters and hunters. But they don't laugh long when faced with Yanna's power and Leah's brutality.

They spent a year at the job in Volterra, then decided they could do even better with a more private training camp closer to their own family and friends. The Guard members come from all over the world, and they're vampires, shape shifters, hybrids, and a couple very tough and tenacious humans.

Volterra is nothing like it used to be. There are still a lot of supernatural people there, but the Triumvirate is gone, and now so is the council. The council is still in place, but it meets remotely as Carlisle and Alice had planned from the beginning. Even Aurora is rarely there, now that she has a family of her own.

The school Carlisle converted is thriving. It's one of the few places where humans and supernatural people can come together without hiding. The humans who know about them agree to keep the secrets. If they fail, Aro's son Angelo is called on to alter their memories. Tamara is the school's principal now, after being a teacher for five years. She has a no nonsense approach to dealing with both her supernatural and human charges.

With the school doing so well, and the council held remotely, Volterra is now the place to be for hybrids. There are still many vampires living there, but they're the ones who have had the most difficulty changing and moving on. Some, like Felicia's father, confine themselves to their rooms and live with the shadows of their memories.

Felicia's mother met an untimely end a few years back. She had continued her habit of hunting humans among the gypsies and vagabonds who seemed to be helpless and forgotten. She made the mistake of becoming predictable, and they somehow managed to trap and destroy her. Carlisle was the only one of us who wasn't shocked. "We'd be foolish to underestimate those who hunt vampires. Just because they're human doesn't mean they're without resources. Legends tell of how gypsies held power over supernatural beings of long ago. I think my own namesake was one of them, though he never as much as admitted it to me."

Felicia herself didn't shed a tear over the passing of her birth mother. "She didn't give a shit about me, and I've got real parents who love me. What's there to cry over?"

"Did you charge up the camcorder?" Rosalie's voice snaps me out of my memories.

"Of course Dear." Garrett is such a gentleman with her. "I know you want to make sure you don't miss a chance to have more video of Grace." He laughs.

She looks momentarily miffed. "They grow up so fast. In a few years we won't have anything but memories and video." I see him reach out and take her hand, silent and reassuring.

Grace is their daughter. Rosalie didn't give birth, and Garrett didn't donate to a surrogate either. Grace is adopted, and completely human. They came by her through almost legal means. They settled in Iowa, and went through the adoption process. They said they would accept a child with special needs, as long as it was a permanent placement.

Grace was a year old when she came to them. Their adoption representative had matched her with them because of her looks, and because few were even interested in the girl. Grace had spent the first year of her young life in and out of hospitals. She had a spinal deformity and myriad other birth defects which would require even more surgery and a heart transplant if she were to live. She couldn't walk or crawl, and she had to be fed through a tube in her stomach. Her chances to survive to adulthood were small.

They took the tiny blue-eyed blond home, and determined to love her as long as they had her. It was Carlisle who called Colette. It still amazes me that they weren't looking for a miracle when they agreed to adopt her. They wanted her even though she wasn't perfect. In fact it was only the idea of her own suffering which made them allow Colette to work with her.

She didn't heal her all at once. They wanted to make sure nothing seemed too impossible, at least while they were in Iowa. But little by little Colette healed baby Grace. Now she's a healthy, happy seven year-old. Rosalie is a wonderful mother, and Garrett likes being a father so much he wants to adopt more children. Of course there's the worry we all have about what will happen when she gets older. Rosalie insists she isn't interested in changing her, but Garrett says it will be entirely up to Grace.

We pull into the large parking lot, and Carlisle holds my door as I get out. There are a lot of people here, and we're running late. As we slip in the back door, a beautiful blond child runs to Rosalie. "Mommy!" Rosalie hugs her daughter, and kisses her cheek. Grace's hair is in cascades of blond curls, and a wreath of flowers rests on her head. "I was afraid you weren't going to make it!"

"Your Aunt Bella and Uncle Carlisle were slowing us down, but you know I wouldn't miss seeing you all dressed up like a little angel."

"We better hurry and get you all seated." Gemma and Angelo's son Christian is seventeen, and so good looking even Grace stares at him. I can see a little bit of Aro in the way his blue eyes sparkle with amusement. He helps us find our places just before the music starts.

As the first notes are played, we all turn toward the back of the church. Instead of the bridal party, a late guest stands at the end of the aisle, and strolls forward with his own amused grin. Christian meets him in the middle of the aisle, and offers to escort him to a seat. Instead the late arriving guest kisses both his cheeks, leaving him stunned as he continues to the front of the church.

The groom stands with his best man, waiting for his bride. Instead he faces the man we haven't seen or heard from in over ten years. Father and son stare at one another – Aro and Armando. None of us know what to expect, especially with an entrance like this. A smile breaks out on Aro's face, and he throws his arms around his son in a hug that's neither manly nor restrained. Cheeks are kissed and hair is ruffled before he lets him go.

Most of us have hearing good enough to hear Aro's profuse declarations of pride and love. Then he helps straighten Armando's tie, and smooth his curls back in place. Without any more delay, he takes a seat near the front, and a pretty young woman comes to join him. I can't help but stare as I see him slide his arm around her and pull her close to his side.

"That's Marcus' daughter, Marietta." Carlisle whispers in my ear. "You know they disappeared together." I nod mutely as Aro nuzzles her neck and she quietly giggles and pushes him away. They look good together, and Aro looks so different. He's wearing a casual pale gray suit, with no tie. He's also grown a well-trimmed beard, and his hair is shoulder length, though still in curls.

The music changes, and again our eyes are drawn to the back of the church. Grace, dressed in white leads the procession, scattering flower petals as she goes. Rosalie leans over to film her as she takes the walk.

Next in line is Arianna's son, and Aurora's daughter. They both look like five year-olds, but Aurora's daughter is only three. I can see Peter looking proud as he sits beside his wife, who holds their infant son.

The rest of the wedding party processes, and they're all in white. There are so many attendants, and they cross the spectrum of supernaturals. One of the groomsmen is Reese, and one of the bridesmaids is a young vampire from Mexico.

When the music changes again, I have to smile. It's a recording of Armando doing a very jazzy version of the bridal march. We all stand and look to the end of the aisle. Jasper looks great in a traditional black tux. But Felicia is stunning in a very non-traditional red gown. With a bouquet of red and white roses in her left hand, she places her right hand on her daddy's arm. She doesn't just walk down the aisle, she sashays, owning the room.

At the end of the aisle, Jasper kisses her cheek, and Alice stands to kiss her as well. Felicia takes her place of honor beside Armando. I glance across the aisle, wondering if anyone else notes the irony. Jasper's daughter is marrying Aro's son. I can't help but think of the Capulets and Montagues, hoping this feud is finally put to rest.

We all witness their very unusual vows. Felicia actually promises not to stuff his dirty underwear into his sax, and Armando promises not to spank her for mouthing off to him. His words to her are so real, I want to laugh and cry at the same time. "You are still a brat, and you can be a bitch sometimes too. You drive me crazy, and sometimes I want to strangle you." We laugh again at his honesty.

"But you're the only one who understands me and puts up with me. You meet me where I live, and you lead me out of the dark pits where I sometimes hide. You give me laughter and joy. You don't let me take myself too seriously. You drag me into life – sometimes kicking and screaming. You're never boring, and you always manage to be just what I need." He lays his hand on her cheek as he gazes into her eyes.

"I know you don't want to hear a lot of syrupy drivel. But I can read every thought in your head, and you never lie to me. You are the most authentic woman I've ever met. I know you love me. But I want you to know how deeply I love you. You're not my world, you're my sun. You give me life, and light, and warmth, and I'll do everything I can to keep you happy, and never let you down."

She stares at him for a moment, then turns to look at all of us. "Oh my godisn't he cute?" Her voice carries, and we all laugh. "Baby if you weren't already here with a ring in your hand, I'd..." She stops and looks around, as if noticing for the first time we're in a church. "Well, I guess I better save those comments for the honeymoon." The girl has comedic timing, and facial expressions that make us all laugh.

The ceremony continues, and Alice sits tucked in the crook of Jasper's arm, with her head on his shoulder. Every attendant has a smile on their face, and Carlisle holds my hand. It's already agreed that Felicia is taking over for Aurora in leading the council. She isn't planning on spending more than a few months of the year in Volterra, since everyone who matters to her is here. The council is growing from nine members to eleven, as there are enough hybrids to add two new seats. Alice was right with her prediction that the sassy little snip would one day run the place.

Armando kisses his bride, and they are pronounced husband and wife. Amid all the happiness, it sobers me to think that neither the bride nor groom would exist if Joham had not set out on his plan of domination and control. I find my thoughts wandering to all the hybrids, and new vampires, and I'm sure most of them wouldn't exist if not for Joham's manipulation. He cost us so much, and yet life is still good, and many of us are even thriving in the aftermath of his schemes.

Carlisle kisses my cheek; a subtle reminder that we need to take our places to go through the receiving line. I look up at him, and know for a fact I'd never have known him like I do, if not for the war. I watch Grace playing with the flower girl and ring bearer, and I'm certain she would still be deformed if Colette were never born.

We make our way through the receiving line, and I hug Alice and Jasper; mother and father of the bride. Aro is in his place of honor, as the father of the groom, and I don't even know how to greet him. It's one of those fences that was never mended before he disappeared. I pause and stare, then he smiles and pulls me into an unexpected hug, kissing both cheeks.

His Italian words surprise me as much as the hug. "God must surely be laughing, to make us all family by marriage if not by blood. It is a good time to be alive!" He grabs Carlisle's hand and shakes it enthusiastically, then he seems to reconsider and pulls him into a hug as well.

"Don't look so surprised – I am a happy man! My son has married a beautiful woman, my daughter's have married well, and I am a grandfather! I have found love – can you believe it? Me – the terror of Volterra – in love like a foolish schoolboy." A smile splits his face and his eyes – his golden eyes! – turn to the lovely hybrid woman still awaiting her turn in the line.

"Marietta... " He calls to her with a small wave of his hand. "...please come stand with me love, you're too far away." She smiles back at him, and gracefully moves through the small crowd to stand beside him. "Bella, Carlisle old friend, this is Marietta, the love and joy of my life. Had I known that fate held such a treasure for me, perhaps I would have been more patient in my quest for the woman of my dreams." His eyes flick my way for a moment. "Little did I know when I held her as a tiny newborn baby, I was destined to hold her in my arms forever. I have been gone too long, but I had many things to learn. She refuses to marry a killer – so I have reformed! It has taken me... much time." He notices the line of people waiting behind us. "I apologize. We must speak more at another time – soon I think."

I reach Felicia, and she beams. "We made it! Tell the truth, you didn't think we would, did you?"

I kiss her cheek and hold her hands. "I admit I had some doubts. You two were split up as often as you were together. I don't think I've ever seen two people in love who fought so much." I smile at Armando as he stands beside his wife. "But I know you love each other. I think we were all just waiting for you two to realize you'd rather be irritable together than miserable apart."

She leans in close to me and whispers in my ear. "We are going to have so much sex, he won't have the energy to argue with me." Then she licks my shocked face – one of her infamous puppy kisses.

"See what I have to deal with?" Armando commiserates. "I still reserve the right to send her back home if she makes me too crazy," he teases.

"Never happen, Sweet cheeks. You can't get rid of me that easy." They kiss amid their playful banter, and Armando tickles her side.

"You look lovely, my dear." Carlisle always knows just the thing to say. She throws her arms around him and hugs him tight.

"I still intend to pay you that million I owe you."

"Nonsense. It's money well spent; you don't owe me a thing. Just be happy." He kisses her cheek. "And one more thing... " He has her full attention. " still look hot in red." They both laugh, and she stands proud in her gown. We continue on, shaking Armando's hand. I hug Carolina, Felicia's best friend and maid of honor, then I hug her father Angelo, who is his brother's best man.

So many new relationships are convoluted like this. All I have to do is look around for confirmation. Aro is in love with his best friend's daughter. His son has married his rival's adopted daughter. His oldest daughter has married his rival's best friend. Nahuel has raised his own daughter and his half sister. Eleazar has married Colette, the daughter of the man responsible for killing his first wife. Yanna is in love with one of the pack who killed her father. Angelo's mother has left on a trip with one of Carlisles old friends. Alistair isn't dead as we'd feared, but he was deep in hiding – something he has in common with Rachele.

And of course I can't forget my own relationship with Carlisle. If someone had told me twelve years ago, that I would share a deep and passionate love with my father-in-law, I'd have told them they were crazy. But instead I'm the one who's crazy – about this man.

He leads me from the church, and we wait outside for the bride and groom to run the gauntlet. Felicia has opted to have bubbles, rather than allow us to throw anything at her. "I know better than to give anyone the opportunity to get back at me for some prank I might have pulled on them." She definitely has a knack for self-preservation.

We stand in the overcast afternoon, and Carlisle nuzzles my neck. "I miss being alone with you, Doctor Cullen." His soft words in my ear is all it takes to turn my mind to being back on the island. We've had a new home built on Esme Island, and it's bigger and stronger than what the hurricane has claimed. We've just returned from there in time for the wedding, and we made sure to leave it in good shape for the newlyweds to use on their honeymoon.

We enjoyed our vacation in much the same way we'd spent our own honeymoon. Yet even though just the day before we were completely alone in paradise, I still want him. I relax against him as his arms encircle me. We watch the bride and groom dash through a curtain of bubbles, and wave as they climb into the waiting limo.

Felicia had wanted to be carried away in a palanquin, hoisted by a dozen muscular, half dressed men. Armando wouldn't agree to that, and so they compromised on the limo. As a concession to his bride, Armando has the driver arrive shirtless, but for a bow tie. As soon as she sees the driver, she hugs him – Armando that is. I have a good feeling about their marriage, though it doesn't seem the hybrids have the same instinct to stay together like vampires and shifters do.

It's a mixed blessing. I might worry that Carlisle is compelled to be attracted to me, and I might doubt he truly loves me. But on the other hand, love between us is forever. It's undeniable, and it doesn't fade with time.

More and more I've come to believe it's more a function of our perfect memory than any unbreakable bond. I don't feel compelled to love him, I just feel like the love I have for him has never faded over time. I still remember how it felt to fall in love with him. I can still feel all those overwhelming emotions when I look at him. It feels new, and wonderful, and exciting every day.

It's not instinct, it's memory which keeps us together. In this respect, I'm twice blessed to have Carlisle in my life. He didn't just fall in love and stay in love. Because of his memory loss, he had to fall in love with me twice. Any time I might have doubts, I remember it's not a fluke, and he loves me truly.

His memory did heal over time, but it didn't come back in an instant. The memories crept back into his mind slowly. It was a delight when he would recall some little moment or event that had previously been hidden. For him it was like doing it all over again. When he remembered our first time making love, he rushed home from work to tell me about it – and to relive it.

His hands slide gently over my stomach, as he rests his cheek against the top of my head. As soon as the limo pulls away, I lead him from the gathering. We don't take the car, since Garrett drove. Instead we slip off into the woods on the other side of the road. He doesn't ask me what I'm doing, and in minutes we're deeply hidden in the evergreen forest. I turn and he takes me into his strong arms.

The reserved, refined, Doctor Carlisle Cullen is gone, and my husband kisses me with a hunger we share. Fingers fly over buttons and zippers, careful not to tear our clothes. The ground is littered with what we had on, and beautiful, naked, perfection, stares at me. His words of love are interposed between frenzied kisses and my own murmurs of need.

The bark of the pine is rough against my back but can't hurt me, as he presses me against it. His hands fondle and caress my body, before his mouth follows the same path. I love him! He's a force of unrestrained passion, and I can't get enough.

"Carlisle... please!" It's all the encouragement he needs. He stands and I wrap my legs around him as he takes me – hard. It's what I need from him. I'm lost in just the feel of his body possessing mine. I cry out with the intensity of our lovemaking, as I clutch his head and rain kisses over him.

It reminds me of the island, but with the familiar scents of evergreens and moss. His uninhibited fire feeds into my own need and lust, and I urge him to give more; urge him to let go.

He's learned over the years that I want him any way his passion leads him. Sometimes we make love in long, gentle, tantalizingly slow, hours. And other times it's like this – fast, hard, needy, and unrestrained. He possesses me completely, and I love the feel of him sheathed inside me as I cling to him. In this way he's mine alone. No other has touched this side of him. No one else has ever matched his wild, untamed, hunger the way I do.

Push pull, in out, give take, and all while I squeal, cry, pant, and beg him to never, never stop. And yet I'm quickly brought to one crashing release, followed by another, as my body becomes overly sensitive to his, and I hear my voice rising with the intensity.

He calls my name and I feel his climax, taking me again into blissful ecstasy. We both breath hard and whisper I love you's as the storm passes. Without releasing me, he collapses to the ground, as I cling to him. For long minutes we lie in the underbrush tangled together, still kissing and still wonderfully joined.

I look down into his eyes, so wide with wonder and the kind of peace that comes from being loved. I kiss his nose and then his sweet mouth. "You amaze me..."

"I was just going to say that about you. Bella, I am so overwhelmed with how much I love you. The whole time we were at the wedding, I kept remembering how beautiful you looked at ours."

"Which one?" I smile and run my fingers through his hair.

"Both. The dress, flowers, guests, and everything were really nice in the second one. But I love how you looked the first time – the surprise in your eyes, the eagerness, the way you felt every word of our promise – that was real. I loved you so much then – enough to offer you forever. I didn't know I could possibly love you more than I did then. But I do."

He pulls my face to his for one of his slow, deep, sensuous, kisses that make my head spin. When he lets me go, I gasp for air, and gaze at his beautiful face. His hands slide over my body, and I imagine just lying there with him for the rest of the day and night, making love. His smile tells me he knows where my mind has gone.

"We better get dressed, darling. They're going to be missing us soon." He doesn't make any move to get up, and his hands still tease over me.

"You are a relentless tease."

"You love it." He nips playfully at my neck, as he holds me tight.

"I love you." I press closer for one more kiss. He turns with me, and pins me beneath him. I wish we didn't have anywhere to go for a few more hours.

He's told me several times that I surprise him with how happy I am to make love any time, and especially any where. Our second honeymoon broke down so many of his barriers. Still, he thought that once we were back home, we would again confine ourselves to private, indoor spaces. Instead I followed him on one of his nature hikes, and showed him that there are many private outdoor spaces we can explore.

More than the places, we were both surprised at how unrestrained we became with one another. It took him a little while to realize he wouldn't hurt me or shock me with what we did together. Gradually his inhibitions fell away, until he could completely lose control with me. Sometimes his need is as fierce as the vampire within him, and our coupling is almost savage.

I love those times the most. It's in those moments when I feel like I'm seeing who he really is. He doesn't have to try to be good, controlled, or even moral with me. For just a little while he becomes both vampire and human, not a human trying desperately to suppress the monster within.

One of the things I knew, even before I was changed, was that there are some good things that come from the change. Edward had never really acknowledged that being what he was gave him some incredible gifts. He saw those gifts as being part of the perfect, soulless, killer. Carlisle had even followed in this way of thinking, though he never called it evil. They both fought to be in control, and saw losing that control as the worst thing that could ever happen.

But when we make love, it's a safe way for us to lose control. This is something our red-eyed counterparts had already figured out. It's what gave Aro his charm, and what lent Jasper his commanding presence and sex appeal. It's in how they'd embraced their dark side. They never felt quite safe, because they knew they were dangerous. They knew the heights of their power, and the depths of their depravity.

Perhaps Carlisle would never know these things – neither would I for that matter. But when we come together with no limits or barriers, we experience the powerful nature of the beast. We are vampires, unrestrained but for the leash of love. It's powerful.

"Bella... Carlisle!" I hear Rosalie calling us, even though she's a mile away. "Don't make me come and find you two!" Carlisle laughs. I love how he looks when he smiles. He doesn't do enough of it, as his serious expression is still part of his professional demeanor.

He kisses me and whispers, "I used to have to tell her and Emmett the very same thing. Those two would sneak off and get lost in the woods without a word to anyone."

I wrap my arms around my husband and play with his hair. "Do you think she'll really come to look for us?"

"Garrett won't let her; he's a gentleman." He kisses me one last time, then stands. "But he's not above leaving us behind either." He starts sorting through the clothes on the ground. "We better get dressed."

"What if we send them on without us?" I don't make a move to dress.

"Bella... how do you think Felicia would feel if we skipped her reception?" He gives me his serious look.

"Knowing that girl, she'll probably want to sneak out early herself. I wouldn't be surprised if she and Armando make out in the limo and avoid the whole thing." I smile up at him, feeling pretty good about my chances of staying right where I am.

"What about Alice?" His words make me groan, and I reluctantly reach for my clothes.

"Party-pooper," I grumble. He raises one eyebrow, and the corner of his mouth twitches. I dress in a hurry, and he once again zips me into my dress. "She better appreciate what I'm giving up for this." I straighten his tie and brush a leaf from his shoulder. I look up into the eyes I adore, and can't help but smile. "I love you, Doctor Cullen."

His arms slide around my waist and he kisses me, a tiny whisper against my lips. "I love you too, Doctor Cullen." He smooths my hair and kisses me once more. He takes my hand and we race back to the car before we get left behind.

I know we've got an evening of friends, family, and dancing ahead of us, but the only thing that matters to me is this man. He means everything to me. Edward gave me a second chance at life, when he changed me. But I know in my heart, Carlisle gave me another chance to live when he saved me from my grief.

I once believed I was a walking tribute to Edward's memory, and in some ways that's still true. Without Edward I wouldn't have found love the first time. I wouldn't know what it feels like to be truly, and deeply loved, and I wouldn't know Carlisle, When he died, he left such an aching hole in my life, it took someone truly wonderful to fill it. Only Carlisle could heal my cold, fragile heart.

*~* Fini *~*

Author's Notes: I wasn't sure if I was going to do an epilogue for this story, since I had so much tied up with a bow. But I thought a little peek into the future was in order.

Thank you all for reading! I appreciate the reviews, and I especially appreciate that you allowed me to show you a different pairing and a lot of original characters. Aurora, Arianna, Armando, Yanna-dora, Felicia, Cipriana, Colette, Gemma, Reese, Leonora, Sarah, Masen, Tamara, Rachele, Angelo, Christian, Grace, Karina, Carolina, and Vito are all mine.