I own nothing.
Millions, billions of thanks to my wonderful beta, GrammarBitch.
I guess this is it. I will miss writing this story. I have become very fond of it.
There will an epilogue, although I am not quite certain when I will have time to write it.
I want to thank you for your reviews and your love. I would have never expected this story to have over 1000 reviews, and I cannot even tell you how happy I am. Love you!
Isabella leaned against Edward's chest, scarcely paying attention to what Emmett was telling her husband. She barely noticed Carlisle and Jasper's absences, her eyes trained on her restless baby, whimpering in her arms. She felt numb, like what happened a little while ago had occurred to an entirely different person, not her.
Edward's arm tightened around her waist. "Are you alright?" he whispered in her ear, and she nodded absentmindedly.
He pressed his lips to her hair, and then he turned to Emmett with a frown.
"You said that Carlisle wants to take Peter to England."
"I would have loved to kill that fiend, but Carlisle would not let me," Emmett grumbled. "He said it would be better to take him to England and let him fend for himself. After all, the hate between Englishmen and Scots is mutual." With a sudden snicker, he shrugged. "I doubt he would be alive more than two days."
"Still, I would have preferred him dead," Edward mumbled under his breath, making Isabella flinch as she remembered James' unmoving, cold body.
"I wanted the same thing," Emmett agreed.
"Is Carlisle going with him?"
"Nay. He does not want to waste two weeks riding across the Highlands for someone who is not worth it. Carlisle said he would take Peter to the Crowleys and talk to their laird. I doubt he will deny Carlisle's request, considering the fact that we helped him in his war with the neighboring clan. He owes us."
Edward nodded firmly, looking down at his wife in concern. Ever since they left the cave, she had been unusually quiet. Even though her shoulders were relaxed, and she was breathing normally, there seemed to be something wrong. He knew he must have terrified her, killing James right in front of her.
"What?" Edward asked, when he realized Emmett was still talking to him.
"Charlotte is dead," he repeated, understanding Edward's distraction. He had also noticed Isabella's tranquility and was wondering what was going to happen next. "Jasper went after her, but she killed herself after realizing she could not escape him."
"As we all know Father Varner is against thievery, deception and suicide, he would not have given her a proper funeral, so Jasper decided to..." he stopped, throwing Isabella a glance, and then he continued, "dispose of her."
Their eyes met in a knowing glance. If Isabella heard Emmett, she did not acknowledge the comment.
The rest of the journey passed in a blur, the baby falling asleep on Isabella's shoulder. As soon as they reached the castle, Edward dismounted and helped his wife down. Isabella looked up and saw Rosalie running toward her, her eyes red and swollen, her hair in disarray.
"Isabella," Rosalie cried out, throwing her arms around her sister. "Are you alright? Did they hurt you? My God, I was so worried about you."
Knowing she was close to losing her composure, Isabella swallowed tightly and forced a smile. "I am fine. We are all fine."
Visibly shaking, Rosalie pulled away and stared into Isabella's brown eyes. She nodded jerkily, brushing away a few tears of relief. "I thought ... I was so terrified that you had been injured."
"They need to rest," Edward interrupted her softly. The strong words he had thrown at Rosalie passed through his head. He felt uneasy about it. He was starting to believe that he had been unfair with her.
Rosalie's misty eyes moved to his face, and her shoulders fell in misery. His expression was unreadable, but she assumed he was still angry with her. She could not help feeling forlorn at the prospect.
"Of course. You must be exhausted," she whispered, turning to give Isabella a wan smile. "We will talk later." She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see Emmett at her side, understanding her plight.
He smiled encouragingly and leaned over to whisper in her ear, "Give him some time. He will come around."
Isabella did not seem to have noticed the brief exchange between Rosalie and Edward. She followed her husband as he wrapped his arm around her waist and led her inside the castle. She did not think she could control her emotions any longer. She had already avoided bursting into tears when Rosalie embraced her.
As soon as they entered the castle, Edward looked around and saw the damage done to the great hall. A scowl settled on his face as he realized that Peter was responsible for it. The fiend had managed to destroy the table, and the walls had been blackened by the smoke.
It would take some time to restore the entire room.
The servants jumped from their stools and rushed to Isabella and Edward.
"Milady," Irina exclaimed, biting her lip in happiness. Even in her shaken state, Isabella was surprised by how different this welcome was from the others. "We were so worried about you." Thinking about something, she quickly added, "We did not know anything, Milady. I swear."
Lauren nodded in agreement. "We were truly abashed when we realized what Charlotte had done to you."
"You would not have been here if you had been involved," Edward pointed out, walking past them.
"Can we bring you something?" Irina volunteered, watching her laird and his wife ascend the stairs.
Edward looked down at Isabella's blank expression and said to Irina, "Warm some water and bring it to our bedchamber."
"Aye, Milord." The servants picked up their skirts and ran to the kitchen.
Edward opened the door and followed Isabella inside. His wife sat on the bed, waking Ian to feed him. The baby whimpered at being forced to open his eyes, but he quickly quieted down as he understood the reason. Edward watched them from across the room, his need to comfort Isabella increasing as he saw her desolate expression.
After feeding him, she carefully placed Ian in his cradle, caressing his small head. Then, she went to the bed and sat down. Concerned about her disposition, Edward lowered to his knees in front of her.
Caressing her thigh soothingly, he whispered, "You are too quiet."
Isabella pursed her lips and shrugged, her throat too tight with unshed tears to speak.
Edward noticed the tremble of her chin and craved to do something to ease her torment. Joining her on the bed, he gently pulled her onto his lap, her body pliant and unresisting. A shiver ran through her frame as he wrapped his arms around her and pressed his cheek to her warm temple.
"You do not have to pretend around me, love," he whispered in her ear. His hand gently stroked her disheveled hair, the tender caress shaking her composure even more. "I know you must be upset after everything that has happened today. Do not hide your feelings from me."
Isabella could feel her eyes water at his soft voice. It was making her self-control disappear, crumbling under the force of her pent up emotions.
She buried her face in his neck. "I ... I was so scared," she croaked, a sob slipping through her lips. Tears started running down her cheeks as he cradled her to his chest. "So scared," she repeated breathlessly, sobbing uncontrollably.
Edward held her in his arms, letting her cry on his shoulder. He felt his heart throb painfully at the sound of her tormented cries.
"He could have injured Ian," she whispered brokenly a few moments later. "He wanted to kill you. I ... I could not have borne it if either one of you had gotten hurt."
"Shhh," he soothed her, pressing his lips to her forehead. "He is gone, sweetheart. He is gone."
Sniffing, she nodded weakly. "I felt so helpless, standing there, unable to protect our baby from him. I should not have left with Charlotte. I would not have forgiven myself if something had happened to you or Ian." Fresh tears streamed down her face, her arms clinging to his neck.
"'Twas not your fault," he murmured, Rosalie's upset expression coming to his mind. It was not her fault, either. He sighed. He would have to apologize for being so callous to her. "We all trusted Charlotte. We could not have possibly known that she would betray us."
"She ... she told me you were hurt," she said, pulling away to look at him. Her eyes were puffy, her face streaked with dried tears. Her gaze descended to the wound on his shoulder.
Noticing her concern, he shook his head at her. "I am fine." Leaning down, he kissed away a tear, letting his mouth linger on her cheek.
Craving his touch, Isabella threaded her fingers through his hair and brought his lips to hers. Tentatively kissing him at first, she moaned softly when his tongue delved inside her mouth, both soothing and arousing her. Her tense muscles relaxed under his soft ministrations, his hands caressing her back, molding her breasts against his warm chest.
She realized she would never get tired of his touches, kisses. He would always be able to stir the passion inside her, make her feel alive. The feel of his lips moving fervently against hers sent a warm feeling to the pit of her stomach, her worries vanishing as she understood that he would always remain at her side and support her.
"I love you, Isabella," Edward whispered, kissing a sensitive spot on her slender neck. She nodded weakly as she tightened her hold around his broad shoulders.
"I love you, too."
A short knock on the door interrupted them.
"Come in," Edward said.
Isabella shyly pulled away from him as Lauren entered the bedchamber with the warm water. Keeping her eyes averted from Isabella's flushed face, Lauren poured the water into the bath tub. As she performed her duty, she threw the couple a glance, guessing the reason behind her mistress' red, swollen lips.
"'Tis all, Lauren," Edward replied, turning to his wife as the servant rushed outside, with an embarrassed giggle.
After Lauren closed the door behind her, Isabella gave Edward a wobbly smile, her cheeks tear-streaked. "We just gave the servants something to gossip about."
His hands languidly loosened the strings on her dress, pushing it down her shoulders. Her breath caught in her throat. "God knows they have nothing else to talk about," he answered in a mocking voice that made Isabella chuckle.
After her dress was discarded, Edward took her chemise off. A few curses slipped past his lips as his eyes found the bruises on her body and a few scratches on her arms.
"You said he did not hurt you," he hissed, a muscle flexing in his jaw.
"'Tis nothing," she whispered, placing her hand on the side of his face. "It could have been worse. I can bear a few bruises. Besides, they will heal in no time at all. You should not worry about me."
"Not worry about you," he grumbled under his breath. "Nonetheless, these scratches need to be tended to."
"They barely scraped the skin," she pointed out. Seeing the dried blood on his arm, she bit her lip in concern. "They are not as bad as your wound. Does it hurt? Maybe I should tell Lauren to bring –"
"I survived the other wound. I can easily survive this," he interrupted her gently. "You took care of me then. Let me care for you now."
Knowing it would be futile to argue with him, she lowered herself into the bathtub and smiled a little as the warm water soothed her muscles and skin. Closing her eyes, she let her shoulders droop in relief.
When she opened her eyes a few seconds later, she realized Edward was taking his clothes off. He had already discarded most of his garments, his muscled torso gleaming in the soft light of the candle.
Unable to tear her eyes off him, she mumbled, amusement obvious in her voice, "I do not remember taking care of you like this."
A playful grin flashed across his face. "Consider it my way of healing."
He joined her inside the bathtub, positioning himself behind her, his long legs spread on either side of her. She leaned against his chest, her hands resting on his hard thighs. He placed her hair over one shoulder, revealing her slender neck. She let out a sigh, as he pressed his lips to her tender skin and his hands gently washed her body.
He washed her legs and her hips. His palms moved across her ribs, touching the sides of her breasts, before they descended again. He carefully let his fingers graze the surface of her scratches and bruises, cleaning them of dirt. By the time he reached her thighs again, she opened her legs. Her breath was uneven, her nails digging into his flesh. Sensing the change of her mood, he chuckled huskily against her throat.
Squirming impatiently as he tormented her with his touch, she breathed, "Please."
"You are too tired," he whispered, knowing exactly what she was asking.
"You were doing it deliberately," she accused in a weak voice, and he laughed quietly again. Hesitantly, she grabbed his hand and brought it to her breast. "Please, Edward. I need you."
Surrendering with a kiss on her throat, his fingers teased her nipples, circling them with his thumb, turning them hard and begging for the warmth of his mouth. She moaned low in her throat, letting her head fall on his shoulder, her blood boiling with excitement.
"You are so beautiful."
His fingers lowered down her body, caressing her stomach, lingering a little on her hips, before they finally reached the private, throbbing place between her legs. A gasp slipped from her lips her lips as he parted her gently, slipping one finger inside her. Her heart started thumping in loud, uneven beats.
His own body was answering her passionate responses, his desire soaring with each one of her movements. He held back, though, giving her all the pleasure she needed, his finger circling her, caressing her until she was begging for release.
Her back arched as he added another finger inside her, warmth spreading leisurely through her body, turning her skin crimson. Her hand grabbed his wrist, not knowing whether to push his hand away or pull him closer. She could not think, could not speak. The blood roared in her ears. He relished the effect of his touch on her, the way her eyes had darkened with passion, how her head was thrown back and the little sounds she made.
When her body started quivering uncontrollably, her inner muscles tightening around his knuckles, he turned her face to one side and captured her lips with his own, swallowing her cries.
Her breath was ragged as she whispered against his lips, "Now, it is my turn."
She seemed ready to protest, but he continued, kissing her again, "Not tonight, love. You are too tired to handle me. Now, do not argue with me and admit that I am right."
Biting her lip, she glanced down. "You must be in pain."
"I can manage," he replied with a grin.
He helped her out of the bathtub. After he toweled her dry, he slipped her nightgown over her head. Isabella crawled under the covers, her muscles refusing to cooperate as her body fell helplessly between the pillows. Edward was right. She was exhausted.
Closing her eyes, she yawned soundlessly, feeling the bed shift as Edward joined her. His arms closed around her, and she cuddled against him.
"Edward?" she mumbled, her voice soft and sleepy.
"Is there something wrong between you and Rosalie?"
She felt him sigh against her hair. "I did not think you noticed that."
"Oh, I did. I was too distraught at the moment to remark upon it."
"I said some hurtful things to her," he confessed hesitantly. "I accused her of being responsible for having let you go with Charlotte. I realize now I should not have laid the blame on her. It was not her fault." Squeezing her shoulders, he added, "It was not yours, either. Do not worry. I will talk to Rosalie tomorrow and apologize for everything I said."
Isabella nodded drowsily, and then she chuckled. "The first time you apologize to a woman, and it is not even me."
Morning was fast to come, the sun predicting a glorious day. Edward was the first one to rise. He looked at Isabella's peaceful expression as he dressed.
He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her forehead, before he left the bedchamber and walked downstairs. He gathered a couple of soldiers and told them what needed to be done in order to restore the great hall. All of them seemed eager to start chopping wood to rebuild the table. Edward suppressed a chuckle at their enthusiasm to repair a mere piece of furniture.
The clan seemed relieved about their mistress' rescue, but they did not dare ask their laird about what happened to James, Charlotte or Peter. It was the collective belief that they did not wish to hear it. Instead, they all decided to express their happiness over Isabella and Ian's return.
Later that morning, Edward heard from Emmett that Carlisle and Jasper had returned not long after dawn. They had been relieved that the ordeal was over, and they could finally relax. They had retreated to their cottages immediately.
"What about Stefan? How is he?" Edward asked Emmett.
As far as Emmett knew, the man was feverish, but the wound had not festered, which was a good sign. Victoria and Alice were taking turns caring for him, mixing plants and changing his bandages every few hours. However, his condition had made him more ill-tempered, because he hated being vulnerable.
"The man needs to guard his tongue if he wants to stay alive," Emmett remarked. "No woman will treat him when he is cursing like a sailor."
Edward let the comment go unnoticed as he felt someone staring at him. He turned around and saw Isabella in the courtyard, the baby resting on her shoulder.
She waved and smiled at him, visibly more relaxed than the day before. She seemed to have forgotten everything that happened merely a few hours ago. He could not help feeling proud of her.
Isabella dropped her gaze as a gruff, deep voice drew her attention. "I am so glad that you are unharmed, child." Father Varner was approaching her slowly, a smile on his face. "We were so very worried about you two."
"Edward rescued us just in time," Isabella replied, stroking Ian's head.
"Ah, yes." Father Varner sighed knowingly as he looked at the bronze haired hero. "I never thought I would see the day when he would fall in love. You have changed him into a better man, darling. Can you believe he even bothered to ask me how I was feeling this morning? He's never asked after my well-being before."
Shaking her head in amusement, Isabella smiled.
"What happened to your sister?" Father Varner suddenly asked, and Isabella looked up to see Rosalie walking past Edward and Emmett. Her shoulders were tense, her spine rigid.
Isabella frowned, remembering what Edward had told her last night. He said he would apologize to her. It was obvious he had not done it yet.
"She seems desolate," the priest continued in a concerned voice.
Isabella decided to go to her. She started walking toward Rosalie at the same moment Edward did. Isabella stopped, not knowing what to do. Emmett caught Isabella's gaze and lifted his shoulders at her, his expression troubled. She decided to go to Emmett, instead, Father Varner close on her heels.
"Is there something wrong?" Father Varner asked as soon as they reached Emmett.
Emmett and Isabella exchanged a glance. They all turned to Edward and Rosalie. They could hear everything they said.
Edward was unaware of the eyes watching his every move. He stopped in front of Rosalie. She started, her head snapping up in bewilderment. Her expression suddenly became guarded. "Good morning, Edward."
She cleared her throat uneasily. "What happened?"
"I want to talk to you about yesterday," Edward said carefully, watching her purse her lips and lift her shoulders.
"There is nothing we need to talk about. It does not matter anyway. In a couple of days, I am leaving, and we can all forget what happened," she said in a firm voice, although her chin trembled a little.
Isabella heard Emmett draw in a sharp breath.
Edward stared at Rosalie, guilt swamping him. "Of course it matters, and I doubt I could forget how cruel I was to you. I should not have spoken so harshly to you," he said. The words stuck in his throat. Rosalie seemed to understand that he was apologizing to her, and she looked up at him with wide eyes. "It was easier to lay the blame on you, and I am ... I am sorry I did. It was not your fault."
Rosalie was speechless.
"Please, forgive me."
"I ... I..." Rosalie trailed off, blinking. "Did Isabella force you to apologize to me?"
"No. This was all my idea."
"Oh," she breathed. "Well, I ... I believe I can forgive you, after all."
Edward held his hand out, and she looked down in confusion. When she realized he meant to shake her head, she laughed and threw her arms around his neck. Edward's eyes widened, and he awkwardly patted her shoulder.
Isabella squealed, while Father Varner seemed relieved. The only one troubled was Emmett. He ran his fingers through his black hair, frowning in concentration. As Rosalie let Edward go, Emmett had an idea.
Emmett walked toward Rosalie and Edward. He tapped Rosalie on her shoulder and watched her turn around slowly.
Edward narrowed his eyes suspiciously, as he met Isabella's questioning gaze. He joined his wife and the priest, watching the couple talk.
"What do you think he will do?" Isabella whispered to her husband.
Edward chuckled under his breath. "Let us watch and see."
Emmett leaned over Rosalie, while she stared up at him in wonder. He seemed to murmur something to her, because her eyes widened, and her cheeks became crimson. His hands gently touched her upper arms, and he brought her closer.
Father Varner frowned at Emmett, opening his mouth to protest.
Before he could say something, though, Emmett pressed his lips to Rosalie. Right in front of everyone. Even a few soldiers and women passing by stopped to stare at them with their mouths wide open.
Rosalie's eyes closed in surprise, her arms creeping around his neck, while Emmett pressed her body closer to his.
When he pulled away, Emmett said loud enough for Father Varner to hear, "There, now you are compromised."
Isabella's mouth fell open, while Edward snickered under his breath. Father Varner bristled immediately, fluttering his hands around in agitation as he told them how improper it was for an unmarried woman to kiss a man out of wedlock.
Isabella started laughing as soon as she saw Rosalie's flushed face and Emmett's unrepentant expression as the priest scolded them. She turned to her husband and saw him watching her with such tenderness that made her knees weak.
She warmly smiled up at him, leaning into his side as he bent over to kiss Ian's little forehead. "Well, it seems that you were right. She needs a husband."
"Yes, and he needs a wife. It did not take him long to realize that he wants her." Cupping her cheek, Edward met Isabella's affectionate gaze. "Not as long as it took me. I only wish I had realized sooner how much I care for you."
Isabella's hand crept up to the back of his neck, her fingers tenderly playing with his hair.
"You mean everything to me, Isabella," he whispered. "I did not believe I would ever surrender my heart to someone, not after my parents died. Now, I realize it was yours from the first moment I saw you. You are my whole world. I love you."
Happiness lit up in her eyes as she leaned up on her toes, bringing their faces closer.
"I would have waited an eternity for you to tell me those three words," she confessed, "because I knew you could never resist love." Brushing her lips over his, she continued, "My heart will always belong to you."
He wrapped his arms around her waist, sealing their vows of love with a kiss, knowing in their hearts that they would never stop loving each other.
~ The End ~