A/N Thank you, beautiful beta a.k.a Mid Night Cougar; you are a life saver! I honestly don't know what I would do without you...

Jen, you rock!

A special thank you goes to ilovealion for her medical expertise. She was a wealth of knowledge and a great help to both Mid Night Cougar and I.

Here we go again...

Chapter 32

Bella POV

~ September 15th, 2012 ~

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"Are you guys really engaged?" Alice asked excitedly, jumping from her seat as soon as Rosalie and Edward left the living room.

Everyone else in the room looked preoccupied by their drinks. Except Angela. She looked downright pissed, her eyes trained on me.

I sighed heavily, pretty much still reeling after Rosalie's reaction. The sad part was I was starting to get used to her scenes by now. It was like the more I got to interact with her, the more resigned I got to the fact she was probably never going to change her attitude towards me. Besides, it's not like I hadn't seen it coming.

I felt the beginning of a headache creeping up my left temple and lifted my hand to rub the spot gently. Forcing my eyes to focus on Alice, I tried my best to give her a half-hearted smile.

"Yeah, Alice, I guess we are."

Her expression became more serious. "Don't mind Rosalie. You know how she is."

"Oh, I know." I chuckled dryly before lowering my voice a little. "Is it pathetic that it bothers me Edward ran after her?"

"No, it's not. I'm with you on this; I think you put up with enough bullshit from her. But I also think Edward saw the opportunity to talk some sense into her and didn't want to miss it."

"Maybe he should just smack that sense into her," I muttered.

She sighed, smiling softly in return. "Can I see the ring?"

I lifted my hand, turning the stone so she could see it.

"Oh, my God, it's gorgeous!" she exclaimed. "I always knew Edward had impeccable taste."

I squeezed her hand, making sure to give her a meaningful look. "Thank you. For everything."

"You know I think you're going to be the best sister-in-law, don't you?" she replied. "I liked you from the very moment I met you. You're going to be an amazing wife and an even better mom."

"I'm so glad to have you on my side," I said, my voice betraying the emotions that were threatening to take over.

"Now don't you get emotional on me, okay?" she joked, but I could see she was feeling sorry for me.

Everyone in the room was. I had once again been humiliated by my future sister-in-law; this time in my own home. She was cruel, and I was an idiot for letting her treat me that way. I wanted to be angry with her, but couldn't anymore. I just felt drained.

"Sorry. These pregnancy hormones have been kicking my butt lately," I replied, discreetly wiping the corners of each eye.

"I can't believe that woman," Angela seethed, suddenly materializing beside Alice. "She's such a pompous bitch."

"Angela..." I warned, looking at Alice warily.

She waved me off dismissively. "It's okay. Everyone has the right to an opinion. Besides, it's not like Rosalie's been very pleasant since the whole Esme drama."

"What's her problem anyway?" Angela demanded, turning her glare on Alice. "Esme's a lunatic; why is Rosalie defending her so much?"

Alice shrugged. "She's got some mommy issues."

"That doesn't explain why she's so awful to Bella. This poor woman is pregnant. The last thing she needs to worry about is Rosalie's hysterics."

"I know." Alice sighed, looking at me apologetically. "Let's hope Edward manages to talk some sense into her."

Just then Carlisle approached us, a glass of whiskey in his hand. "Ladies, I don't mean to interrupt, but I was hoping to have a word with Isabella."

"Sure," I assented, and he offered his free hand to help me up.

"You look lovely tonight," he observed as he followed behind me in the balcony.

I placed my hands on the glass railing, taking in the city lights. "Thank you."

He was quiet for a moment. Then he came to stand beside me with his elbows resting on the railing. He took a sip of his drink before speaking.

"First, I wanted to apologize for my daughter-in-law's behavior. She hasn't been herself for quite some time now."

"You have nothing to apologize for," I said, a bit harsher than I had intended. "Rosalie's a grown woman; she makes her own decisions."

"Yes, I am well aware of that. The thing is; I also know she's already regretting her behavior. She might not admit it, but being mean to you doesn't bring her any kind of satisfaction."

"Sir..." I started, already wanting to put an end to this conversation.

He cut me off before I could form a full sentence. "Please, call me Carlisle. I insist. And I didn't bring you here to talk about Rose. What I really wanted you to know is that I am happy for the both of you. I love Edward and I want him to find his peace again. I have no doubt you are the perfect bride for him. Not to mention that I can't wait to hold my grandson for the first time."

I nodded, relieved that we didn't have to talk about Rosalie anymore. "I felt him move for the first time today."

His smile was wistful. "I remember feeling each of my boys inside their mother's womb. It's such a wonderful experience that never gets old."

"Was it hard raising three boys?" I inquired, angling my body towards his. I genuinely wanted to know.

He looked down at his glass, swirling the amber liquid before taking another sip. "It sometimes was. Kids are so full of energy, especially young boys. I had to learn how to combine the authoritative figure with the one of a doting father."

"You did a good job," I said, touching his hand briefly. "Your sons love you. They respect and admire you."

He smiled at me warmly, squeezing my hand in return. "You're a good girl. Edward's lucky to have found you." Then his blue eyes wandered away from me, searching the busy city below. He sighed, running his fingers through his hair. "Did you two set a date?"

I shook my head. "Not yet. I don't think now is the right time to plan a wedding."

"Why not?" He looked at me, his brow furrowing. "You and Edward should not be postponing your life together because of Esme. She's my wife, my responsibility."

"I know that but..."

He cut me off quickly, his voice taking a no-nonsense tone. "You two need to get married. My grandson should be born a Cullen; he should bear his father's name. Don't you want that for him?"

"I do..." I trailed off, taken aback by his reaction. I didn't think he cared so much.

"Then you and Edward need to start living as a family and leave the rest to me."

I swallowed thickly, my mouth suddenly feeling dry. I glanced down at the ring on my left finger and pushed back the urge to start crying. My emotions were all over the place on this particular night.

"I'm scared of losing him," I admitted, my voice a mere whisper. "I'm afraid of making plans for the future because everything might just crumble down around me when I least expect it."

I felt his hand on the small of my back. "Decisions, decisions. This is all life is about; making decisions. Some you might regret, some you might not," he said, bending his head so he could take a better look at my face. "Isabella, do you trust in Edward?"

I peered at him from under my lashes, upset that I was letting him see me so afraid and insecure. "I do."

"Then what's keeping you from taking that final step?" he asked, his kind eyes never leaving mine.

"I don't know."

He chuckled, shaking his head at me. "You need to let go of your fear and start living your life. Men are such uncomplicated creatures. We need so little, but stimulated right, can give back so much. All you have to do is learn how to stimulate Edward, and he'll be yours forever. You and I both know you already have him wrapped around your little finger. Be firmer about the things you want from him, and you'll have nothing to worry about in the future. He'll listen to you. You're all that matters now. Stop being afraid."

I stared at him, trying to absorb his words. He was actually giving me relationship advice. Thinking about it, I realized that he'd lately started to act less like a stranger and more like a future father-in-law.

"I'll try."

"Set a date," he said more firmly, starting to head back inside. "Tonight."

Left alone with my thoughts, I pondered his advice. Deep down, I recognized the truth in what he'd said; I needed to be firmer in my relationship with Edward. He was a good man; perfect for me in so many ways. But he had one huge flaw: he was insanely reliant on his family, and that had to change while we still had time to make things right for ourselves.

Taking a step back to observe the bigger picture, I had to admit to myself that at this point in our relationship, I'd come to love him so much it physically hurt. I couldn't even fathom the thought of us ever breaking up. Taking the coward's way out and leaving him was not an option. But I was greedy and needy and wanted him all to myself. I hated thinking I was going to have to share him with his fucked up family for the rest of my life. I hated constantly feeling like I was at their mercy; like they could simply neutralize me if they ever felt like it.

His father was right. I needed to take action soon and I knew exactly what I had to do.

As I followed after Carlisle into the living room a minute later, Edward's hands wrapped around me from nowhere, startling me.

"You'll catch a cold," he scolded gently, kissing my hair. I smiled up at him and noticed he seemed relaxed. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"Really?" he insisted.

"Really. How's Rosalie?" I asked politely, knowing damn well I shouldn't have even bothered.

"Better." He looked pleased with himself for some reason. "Everyone's in the dining room. We should join them."

"Yeah..." I agreed, stopping him when he moved to walk away. "Edward?"

"Yes, my love?" He smiled, running his thumb over my knuckles.

"I want to set a date," I said firmly, leaving no room for interpretation. Soon he was going to be mine and mine alone.

His eyebrows rose questioningly. "For the wedding, you mean?"

"Yes. I want to be your wife. Soon."

He was quiet for a moment as he searched my face for something, and I feared he was going to see right through me and recognize the motive behind my sudden decision.

"Okay," he finally said, nodding in agreement. "What did you have in mind?"

I let out a relieved breath, wrapping both arms around his waist. "How about two months from now?"

He caressed my cheek in return, a worried look overtaking his handsome features. "Why the hurry, Bella? Isn't that a bit short notice to organize such an event?"

I shook my head, smiling at him sweetly. "I don't want a big reception. I just want to be your wife."

"Why the sudden change of heart?" he asked, his hand running down from my cheek to my neck. "Don't get me wrong, I love the idea. I just don't get where this is coming from, all of a sudden."

"It's only fair to the baby," I lied. "His mommy and daddy should be married when he comes into the world. Please let me have this, Edward."

"Okay," he breathed, kissing my lips softly. "Whatever you want."

"Yeah?" I asked, starting to get excited. Even though I had ulterior motives, the prospect of organizing my own wedding made me really happy.

"There's much to be done though. Looking for a house, picking a wedding dress, finding a suitable venue... Are you sure you can handle the stress?"

I nodded enthusiastically, running my palms up and down his broad back. "I already went through so much more since becoming pregnant. Let's just say this will be positive stress, and I need something positive in my life right now."

His lips turned up in a heartwarming smile. "I love you."

"I love you," I echoed, gazing up into his green abysses adoringly. Each day I was more amazed how much I could actually feel for the man standing in front of me.

He took my right hand from around him, bringing the knuckles to his mouth. "Shall we join the rest of the family?" he murmured, his soft kisses causing an unexpected surge of heat through my body.

"We shall," I breathed, wishing everyone would just go away. Right now, I really wanted some time alone with my fiancé.

When we entered the dining room, Susan and her daughter Caroline were already serving the hors d'œuvre. Everyone was chatting animatedly, and I breathed a sigh of relief that the awkward moment from earlier seemed to have been forgotten.

Edward held out my chair, and I smiled at him before taking my seat next to Jasper. Edward sat at the head of the table, reaching over to take my hand in his as Caroline set his plate in front of him.

We'd met Caroline the day before. She owned a small catering business, and both Edward and I had been more than happy to have her provide the food for this evening. She was in her early twenties, had short platinum blond hair and an impressive collection of pink ear-piercings. I liked her a lot. She was witty and crazy funny, and when she set my plate in front of me, I could see Susan smile at her from across the table; she was so proud of her.

Emmett entered the room a minute later and leaned down to whisper in my ear. "Congrats."

I looked up at him and smiled. "Thanks, Em." His nasty wife was nowhere in sight, and I made it my business to find out if she'd left. "Where's Rosalie?"

"She's in the bathroom," he replied, squeezing my shoulder lightly. His expression was serious. "I'm sorry for what she said, Bella."

I nodded. "Is she okay?"

"Yeah, she'll be fine."

Jasper rose to his feet holding a glass of wine, and Emmett left my side to take his seat at the other end of the table.

"I think a toast is in order," Jasper said, glancing from Edward to me. He looked genuinely happy for us. "Edward and Bella, we are all delighted with the news. May your life as a married couple treat you kindly. We wish you all the happiness in the world and good health to look after your little one. Bella, welcome to the family."

"Cheers!" Ben boomed, grinning at me. Angela chuckled, her eyes caressing his face like only a lover could.

"Cheers!" The others echoed, raising their glasses. Edward and I did the same.

"Did you think of a date yet?" Kate inquired softly, taking a sip from her wine. Garrett was out of state on business so he hadn't been able to attend.

Edward gave a small nod, his eyes sweeping over to me. He was letting me answer the question.

"Well, not exactly, but we were thinking two months from now," I replied, giving her an apologetic smile. I hadn't been too much of a good niece lately.

"So soon?" Alice gasped. "But two months isn't enough time to plan a wedding."

"We want something small, just family and a few close friends," Edward said, giving Alice a warning look. "Two months is enough time."

"I think a small reception is ideal." Kate smiled at me over the rim of her glass.

Just then Rosalie made an appearance. She looked like she had been crying, and for a brief second I actually felt bad for her. Quietly, she claimed her seat beside Jess, her blue eyes concentrating hard on her plate rather than the people in the room.

She looked so... broken.

Jess bit her lip as she stared at her mother's profile intensely. Then she reached under the table for her hand, and Rosalie's head snapped up as she regarded her daughter with surprise. A genuine smile crept its way to her face, which Jess mirrored, and for a moment my heart stopped beating. This was what a child's love looked like. Even a person like Rosalie couldn't deny its power.

After sharing a meaningful look, the both of them turned back to their meals, but I found myself unable to tear my gaze away. Was I going to make a good mother? Was my child ever going to look at me like that? My hand unconsciously drifted down to my stomach.

Edward noticed and leaned over the table to whisper in my ear. "You're going to be amazing. He's going to love you so much."

I sighed wistfully. "Yeah..."

Later that evening as everyone was preparing to leave, Rosalie approached me tentatively. "Can we speak somewhere more private?"

Her tall silhouette towered over me, her gaze impassive. Glancing past her, my eyes met Emmett's and they were practically begging me to say yes.

"Yeah, sure," I relented. "Follow me."

I led her into the master bedroom, softly closing the door behind us. I gestured toward the bed. "Have a seat."

She shook her head, choosing to head over to the windows. Crossing her arms over her chest, she stared at the glowing city outside. When she spoke, her voice sounded resigned.

"I can't do this. I don't want to be the bad guy anymore."

"Rosalie, I…" I trailed off, unsure of how to respond to such a thing.

She turned her attention on me, her expression blank. "I know you don't like me, and I'm not asking you to. I've been a bitch to you pretty much the entire time since meeting you. I'm not asking for your forgiveness either. I won't pretend to change overnight, so don't expect a drastic improvement of my behavior towards you. But I think we can be civil with each other. We both owe this much to Edward."

"Okay," I replied, trying to hide my shock. I wasn't sure where this was coming from, but I was grateful she was at least willing to stop being such a horrible person.

"That's it?" she snapped, starting to look annoyed.

Whoa... talk about an abrupt change in mood.

"What else do you want me to say, Rosalie?" I sighed, exasperated. She was so difficult.

"For starters, it would be nice knowing you don't hate my guts. In case you haven't noticed, I'm trying to make peace with you."

I shrugged, mimicking her posture. "Of course I don't hate you. I want us to get along, I really do. It would mean so much to Edward. He really cares about you."

I felt like I had to walk on eggshells with her. One misplaced word and she was liable to explode.

Her expression softened. "I know he does, and I care about him just as much. That's why I don't want us to fight anymore. He deserves a little peace in his life." She tucked a blond strand behind her ear, suddenly looking uncomfortable. "I'm not blind; I can see how much he loves you. You make him feel… complete again, and that's all that matters for now."

"I'm glad you are finally able to see reason," I said, getting the feeling this was going to be one difficult relationship. "But for the record, we haven't been fighting, Rosalie; you have been the one unfairly fighting me at every turn. I've done no fighting, just been your punching bag."

Lord give me strength to deal with this woman...

She nodded, taking a few steps towards the door before stopping abruptly with a deep sigh. "Yes, you are right, it was me. I'm... I'm sorry." She regarded me thoughtfully for a moment before continuing. "Also…" She looked uncertain. "Jess was wondering if she could spend the night. She misses her uncle."

I smiled. "I love Jess, and we'd be more than happy to have her over for the night."

"Well, then, Emmett and I should be going," she said, her blue irises sweeping over the evidence of my engagement. "The ring is lovely."

With that she left the room. I exhaled deeply, letting my head fall back as I stared at the ceiling.

"Thank God," I muttered under my breath.

An hour later, I was exiting the bathroom wearing only my too short, white, cotton nightie. Edward was undressing, his eyes trained on the TV. Suddenly aware of my presence, his head turned towards me. He smiled as he took me in.

"Could have been worse, right?" he asked, shrugging off his shirt.

"Probably," I said, reaching into my nightstand's top drawer and pulling out the hand cream. I squirted some in my palm and rubbed it evenly on both hands.

I decided I didn't want to know what had transpired between him and Rosalie when he went after her, so I wasn't even going to ask.

"Do I want to know what Rosalie said to you?" he inquired instead.

I shrugged. "She was amiable. And she apologized... sort of."

"Good." He removed his jeans and socks, tossing them on the back of an armchair along with his shirt. "Should we call it a night?"

"Yeah, I do feel a bit tired. Has Jess gone to bed?"

"She has," he answered, walking over to me with a predatory look on his face.

I closed the drawer and pulled back the duvet, preparing to climb into bed. He came to stand behind me, his strong arms wrapping around my middle.

"I miss you," he whispered seductively, peppering butterfly-like kisses along my exposed neck.

"Do you think we could…?" I trailed off, uncertain. We hadn't had sex since his surgery, and I needed him as much as he needed me.

He pushed against me, his growing erection making its presence known. "We could try."

I pushed back against his groin, searching for friction. "I want you so much, but... your back," I breathed.

He groaned softly. "I want you too, baby. Dorian said I should be fine as long as we're careful."

"I can't believe you asked him," I said, mortified.

"I'm a desperate man," was his unashamed reply as his hand trailed up my thigh and under my nightie. He cupped me intimately, and I moaned, reaching up to fist his hair.

It turned out, me on all fours worked just fine for the both of us.

~~ 0 ~~

A week later I got a call from Alice.

"Hey, you," she greeted cheerfully.

"Hi, Alice," I said, placing my glass of lemonade on the coffee table and sitting on the couch. The TV was on some news channel, and I grabbed the remote, starting to zap aimlessly.

"What are you doing later?" she asked, and I could hear traffic noise in the background.

"Um… not much. I just baked a pie and was thinking about starting a book I borrowed from my aunt. Why?"

"How about we go shopping for your wedding dress?" she suggested. "You're already running out of time, and who knows, maybe I'll find something for myself."

The idea sounded appealing. "Yeah, that sounds good. Do you mind if I bring my friend Angela? Today's her day off, and she would murder me if she found out I went dress shopping without her."

Alice chuckled at the same time a loud horn blared very close to her. "Of course I don't mind, silly. I like her."

"Where are you? The noise is deafening."

"Ah, rush hour on Michigan Avenue," she replied, amused. "The Mag Mile to be exact. I'm heading to lunch with a coworker and we just passed one of those bridal boutiques. That's how the idea struck me."

"So where should we meet?"

"I'll pick you up around two thirty," she said, starting to sound distracted. "I have to go; I think I just spotted a friend of mine."

"Oh, okay."

"See you soon."

She hung up, and I glanced at the clock, seeing it was five to one. Enough time to get ready. I dialed Angela, and she picked up after what seemed like an eternity.

"Get out of bed, loser," I joked, heading towards the bedroom, my book and lemonade long forgotten. "We're going shopping."

"I wasn't sleeping," she mumbled gruffly. "I was just… resting my eyes."

"Yeah, right." I rolled my eyes, even though she couldn't see me. She was such a hopeless liar. "Get up; we'll pick you up in two hours."

"Who's we?" She sounded more alert, her interest now piqued.

"Alice and I."

Angela sighed heavily. "Where are we going again?"

I reached the walk-in closet and began hunting for something to wear. "I need to find a wedding dress, and Alice offered to join me. I didn't think you wanted to miss dress shopping."

"I don't. I'll see you soon, yeah?"


I tossed the phone on a small ottoman and put my hands akimbo as I looked around.

What the hell does one wear for a long day of trying on dresses?

~~ 0 ~~

"So, um, don't people usually need an appointment for a shop like this?" I whispered to Alice as the three of us stepped through the doors at Belle Vie Bridal Couture on 34 East Oak Street, 4th Floor. The place was seriously upscale.

She grinned at me knowingly. "I have friends in the right places."

We headed over to the reception area where a young woman was talking on the phone. I looked around briefly, taking in the ivory walls, pink marble floor and tall vases full of fresh flowers. Everything about this place screamed luxury.

The young receptionist ended the call and smiled at us. "Welcome to Belle Vie; how can I help you?"

"We're here to see Amanda," Alice spoke in a saccharin voice, flipping her dark hair over her shoulder.

"I'll buzz her," the woman said, pressing a button on her desk.

Moments later, a petite but slender brunette made an appearance. She was wearing a blue knee-length, form-fitting dress and matching pumps.

"Oh, Ali, how good to see you," she gushed, enveloping her into a warm embrace. "I haven't heard from you in ages."

"I'm sorry, I've been really busy," Alice apologized sincerely. "This is my future sister-in-law, Isabella, and her friend, Angela. Girls, this in my good friend Amanda Lee. She owns the place."

"It's very nice to meet you both," Amanda said with a perfectly practiced smile.

"Likewise," I replied. She seemed nice.

"Well, today I'll be your personal shopping assistant."

My eyes widened in surprise, the words getting out before I could stop them. "I'm sure that's not something you usually do."

She chuckled. "Indeed. I only do this for friends, and that's what you are as Alice and I go way back."

"We appreciate it," Alice said. "I know how busy you are."

"My pleasure. Your dressing room is ready," Amanda addressed me. "If you'll all follow me, I'll show you to it."

The dressing room looked like it had just fallen out of the pages of Brides magazine. It had light mauve walls and the same pink marble floor I'd seen in the reception area. In the middle of the room sat a huge leather ottoman that could easily accommodate four or five people. Facing the ottoman was an immense floor-to-ceiling mirror, and a few feet away, the actual changing area. In a corner sat a tall vase of pink roses. Everything looked amazing. Even the air smelled of expensive perfume. It made me feel a bit out of place.

"Did you have a certain cut in mind?" Amanda asked, inviting the girls to have a seat while she attended to me.

"Well, no, I really have no idea what I like," I admitted, handing my bag to Angela.

She smiled comfortingly. "Most brides don't. Alice described you a little over the phone, so I took the liberty of putting aside a few models I thought would suit you."

"Great," I replied, a bit overwhelmed.

"Would you like something to drink before we get started?"

"Water please," I said at the same time Alice said, "Champagne."

Both Angela and I gaped at her. Champagne?

Alice rolled her eyes at us. "What? We're celebrating."

"She's right," Amanda piped in. "Bollinger sound good?"

"Perfect," Alice purred. "Two glasses for Angela and me. Bella's pregnant."

"I can see that," Amanda chuckled. "I'll be right back."

"Jesus, Alice," I breathed when she was gone. "This whole thing is kind of overwhelming."

"Yeah," Angela assented, a sly grin overtaking her features. "But I'm starting to like it."

Alice burst into laughter. "And I like you, Angela. We are going to have so much fun."

Much later, I was stepping out wearing the sixth or seventh dress for the girls to see and comment on.

"I don't know…" Angela wrinkled her nose, bringing the champagne glass to her lips. "I don't like that bow."

I looked over to Alice only to see pretty much the same expression.

"I, for one, can't stand Princess Cut gowns," she defended.

"I love the beading, though," Amanda observed. "Valentino is a classic."

"It kind of squeezes my belly," I said with a frown, staring at myself in the mirror. "I'm not sure I like it either."

"You can try the Grecian style; most of the gowns flare from just under the breast line."

"Yeah, okay," I exhaled, eager to get out of the corset. At this point, I was starting to get a little irritated by the whole process of dressing and undressing.

"I think I have the perfect chiffon one," Amanda offered and slipped out of the room.

When she was back with the chiffon Grecian dress she had referred to, I put it on, but disliked it from the moment it touched my skin. It just didn't feel right.

"What do you guys think?" I asked, for what felt like the millionth time that day, twirling around.

"I'm not sure I like chiffon on you. It makes you look… big," Angela noted, her head cocked.

"Gee… thanks, Ang," I replied sarcastically.

"No, she's right." Amanda rubbed her chin, looking like she was weighing something in her mind. "Maybe we should pick another cut?"

"How about A-line?" Angela suggested, looking from me to Amanda for approval.

"I'll try anything if it means finding a dress sooner," I practically moaned. "I'm starting to feel a little tired here."

Amanda nodded; the epitome of seriousness. "Understandable. I'll see what I can do about that."

Another two dresses later, I was ready to run for the hills. Shopping for wedding gowns sucked big time. I was tired and hungry and in a foul mood.

"I think I'm ready to go now," I mumbled, pretty disappointed that I was leaving empty-handed.

"Wait." Alice jumped from her seat. "Will you try on one more? An Elie Saab caught my eye when I went to the bathroom earlier."

"Which one?" Amanda wanted to know.

Alice beamed. "I'll get it. Wait right here."

"Trumpet cut?" I complained when she was back a minute later. "Are you sure? It looks kind of form-fitting to me. My baby bump is going to pop out."

"Just try it on," she insisted, pushing the lacy gown into my arms. "I have a good feeling about this one."

Amanda helped me get dressed once again. When I stepped out, I heard the girls' collective gasp.

"Really?" I questioned, watching their stunned expressions. "This one?"

Alice jumped to her feet, her grin infectious. "Take a look in the mirror."

I did and the breath caught in my throat. It was perfect... the cut, the lace, the three-quarter long sleeves... everything about it was exquisite. I was instantly so taken with it I couldn't even bring myself to care about the exorbitant price.

"Wow," I uttered, amazed that the person staring back in the mirror was actually me. I looked so... radiant.

"You look stunning," Amanda said, confirming what I could already see. She gathered my hair, pulling it up into a loose bun to expose my neck.

"This is it," Angela stated firmly. "This is the dress."

I grinned from ear to ear. "I love it so much. It's gorgeous."

"Just wait until Edward sees you in it. He won't know what hit him," Alice joked, making everyone laugh.

"How soon can you have it altered?" I inquired, running my hands up and down my waist. God, the feel of it...

"We'll have to see Mrs. Hudson about that, but I think she can have it ready in two to three weeks. But since you're pregnant, you'll have to attend more than just one fitting."

"Great," I said, not really caring about the technical details. "I'll take it."

~~ 0 ~~

"A little higher." I heard Dorian say through the cracked door, his voice commanding. "Hold it. Now ease back into the initial position. Good."

I knocked before entering, and both of them looked at me expectantly. Edward was lying on a gymnastics mat with Dorian kneeling beside him; the usual routine.

"Hey," I said quietly. "Sorry for interrupting."

"No problem." Dorian smiled, getting up to grab a bottle of water and handing it to Edward.

Edward took the water gratefully, draining half of it in a single gulp. He looked exhausted.

"I just wanted to let you know I'm leaving for class," I said, pushing the strap on my messenger bag higher up my shoulder. "I'll be back by five."

"Have you had lunch?" Edward asked, slowly sitting up. He'd made so much progress since his surgery.

"Yeah." I nodded dutifully. "Steak and veggies plus dessert."

"Good." He seemed pleased about my nutritious meal, although I was anything but. I had put on enough weight in the past months. "Oh, and Alice called about an hour ago. She said you weren't answering your phone."

"Oh, okay," I replied, already reaching into my bag. "I'll call her now. See you later."

Alice picked up as I reached the elevator.

"I found the perfect venue." She dove right into the subject enthusiastically.

I chuckled, pressing the call button. "Well, hello to you, too."

"Yeah, yeah," she replied dismissively, and I could bet she was rolling her eyes at me. "When can we meet? You need to see it; it's perfect."

"Right now I'm heading for class. How about this evening?"

"I'll call you," she said with finality before hanging up.


The elevator arrived, and I stepped in, leaning on one of the metal walls as I waited to reach the main lobby. I waved to Peter as I passed him, heading for the front door. Today I felt like walking.

I was sure Edward was going to flip when he realized I had taken the subway instead of my car, but I didn't really care. I could handle him.

The chilly October air felt reinvigorating on my skin, and I smiled to myself as I tucked my hands into my coat's pockets. It was such a lovely day.

Passing the nearby Starbucks, I couldn't resist the temptation. I headed inside and took my place in the short line, the smell of freshly brewed coffee intoxicating.

"Isn't this quite the coincidence," a familiar voice sneered behind me.

I groaned and closed my eyes. James. Just my damn luck.

"What do you want, James?" I fired back, not even bothering to turn around.

"Same as you," he replied, amused. "Coffee. Although, I don't think you should be having it in your delicate condition."

"Hello, decaf," I said in a snarky tone.

He chuckled. "Ah, yes, the infinite options..."

With a sigh, I finally turned around to face him. I was surprised to see he was with someone.

"This is Dr. Ahmed," he introduced the middle-aged, exotic-looking man.

"Hey," he acknowledged me with a short nod of his head. He looked like he hadn't gotten a good night's sleep in a while.

I gave him a brief smile. "Hi. Bella."

"Bella, Bella, Bella," James sang, showing off his perfect teeth. "You look nice. I see a little something on your left ring finger that wasn't there before."

I paled instantly, pushing my hand back into my pocket. "That's none of your business."

His answering grin was salacious. "Oh, but it is."

A chill ran down my spine. I stared back at him, his dark eyes hypnotic, and not in the good way. For a moment I felt transfixed; like I couldn't tear my eyes away from his. There was just something about those black pits that rang alarm bells. I mean, yeah, he always made me uncomfortable, but this time around he gave me the distinct impression he was up to something. It was very unsettling.

"I have to go," I mumbled, rushing past him. I needed to get out of there; just being in his presence made my skin crawl.

"What about your coffee?" I heard him call behind me.

Before I knew it, I was rushing towards the nearest underground station.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid," I muttered, angry at myself. "I should have taken the damn car."

For some reason, running into James on this particular day left me really disturbed. What was he doing in this part of town, so close to where Edward and I lived?

All of a sudden, I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. Reaching the platform, I stopped and leaned against the closest wall. I took a few deep breaths, willing myself to calm down. I felt a bit lightheaded, and my heart seemed to be pounding a bit too hard in my chest. The feeling was disconcerting; unlike anything else I had experienced before, and I blamed it on the sudden surge of adrenaline.

What the hell was he doing to me? What was this sick game he was playing? Why couldn't he just leave us alone?

Each time I saw him, he managed to creep me out even more. But given Edward's history with James, I knew I couldn't tell him about my latest encounter with his beloved ex-cousin; he was liable to have a coronary. For now, I had to keep this to myself.

The train arrived, and I got on, making sure to cast one last cautious look over my shoulder. When I saw no sign of James, I took another deep breath and closed my eyes in relief.

That evening as Alice picked me up from school, I felt much more relaxed. Trying to push James to the back of my mind, I smiled as I climbed into the passenger seat of her sports car.

"Look at you, looking all girlish in pink," I observed, admiring her very feminine ensemble.

She grinned. "You like?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. The color suits you."

"Thanks," she replied, satisfied with my answer.

"So, where to?"

"You'll see."

We drove for about half an hour through Chicago's evening traffic, chatting about this and that. I loved spending time with Alice; she had such a refreshing personality.

When she pulled through the massive iron gates at the Cullen mansion, I gave her a panicked look. "What's this?"

"The venue." She smiled sheepishly. "It was Carlisle's idea."

"Alice…" I began, shaking my head. "I can't."

"Why not?" She practically whined. "The mansion is the perfect place for a small wedding. There are so many rooms no one uses."

"I..." I trailed off, uncertain. The mansion was beautiful, but I didn't think I was going to feel comfortable having my wedding there. "Carlisle has enough on his plate. I don't want to intrude."

"You're not intruding. I already told you it was his idea." She looked at me with large, pleading eyes. "He needs the distraction, Bella."

Did I want this? Not really. But maybe she was right; maybe Carlisle needed a bit of happiness in his life. He had been really good to me; the least I could do was to return the favor.

"If you're sure…"

She clapped her hands enthusiastically. "I'm positive. Come on."

So, I went with her, and for the next couple of months we planned my wedding… with the reception allocated to the Cullens'.

~~ 0 ~~

Saturday, December 1st.

Wedding Day.

I stood in the middle of the unfamiliar bedroom, staring at myself in the mirror. Was this really me wearing a wedding gown? I could hardly believe it. Amanda and her troop of stylists had done a wonderful job.

On the outside I looked so calm and statuesque, whereas on the inside I felt like I was going through a medley of emotions. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't really name a single dominant emotion because there were so many things happening simultaneously. I was anxious about the wedding ceremony and the celebration afterwards. I was afraid of the new life ahead of me and sad that I was saying goodbye to the old one. I was deliriously happy that I got to be Edward's forever. I was emotional and excited and confused and so many other things.

I took a deep, calming breath.

Everyone was still fussing about me, putting the final touches to my make-up and hair and dress. I placed my hand on my seven-month-old baby bump and closed my eyes for a moment. I could feel Matthew growing restless, and realized my agitation was getting to him, too. After weeks of debating, we had finally decided we were going to call him Matthew instead of Anthony. I had to admit the name was starting to grow on me. I smiled, willing myself to calm down some more.

When I opened my eyes, Kate was standing next to me.

"You look... words fail me to describe you right now," she said, tears swimming in her chocolate-brown eyes.

"I love you, Kate," I whispered, trying hard not to think about my parents and failing. God, I missed them so much. How I wished they could have been with me on the biggest day of my life.

"I love you, too, honey," she choked out, dabbing at her eyes with her ever-present handkerchief. "They would have been so proud."

I nodded, a lump forming in my throat. I didn't want to cry; not today.

My eyes slid towards the window just in time to see that it had started snowing again. It was so peaceful.

I would have never thought I was going to have a winter wedding. December first was almost two and a half months since the engagement, but this date seemed to have worked out for everyone's agenda, including Mrs. Scott's, the wedding planner.

A soft knock on the door preceded Carlisle's shy entrance. "May I come in?"

I gave him my best smile. "Of course."

He looked dashing in a simple, black tux with matching waistcoat and tie. His handsome features had aged significantly since I'd first met him; the outcome of the trying curveball life had thrown him.

After all this time, there was still no sign of nutty Esme. The private investigator Emmett had hired was clueless; he had no leads. It made me wonder whether she was still alive or lying dead in a ditch somewhere. The mere thought made me shudder. And here I was making myself at home in her opulent palace. If only she knew...

"You look beautiful," he complimented with a secret smile, making himself comfortable on a nearby chair. "Edward is going to be rendered speechless."

"Thank you," I breathed, rubbing my stomach lovingly. "I'm a nervous wreck."

"It's only natural, my dear. Many of us only marry once in a lifetime. It's a big day." He tapped his chin, watching me closely, then nodded to my stomach. "How are you feeling today?"

I knew the meaning of his question. A couple of weeks before the wedding, I had discovered I was suffering from pre-eclampsia. The doctor had picked it up during one of my antenatal visits. She'd had me do a few routine tests and noticed the presence of protein in my urine. Another test revealed that my blood pressure was abnormally high, practically cementing the diagnosis. She hadn't been able to explain to me why this condition suddenly occurred, but she suspected it was because there was a problem with the proper development of the placenta, because the blood vessels that supplied it were faulty.

Edward had gone ballistic. He'd blamed my condition on wedding planning stress and insisted we cancel the whole thing. It had taken me days to convince him the wedding wasn't going to put neither me nor the baby in any danger.

I shrugged and stuck out my foot to show Carlisle my swollen ankle. "I'm okay. I had my blood pressure checked again yesterday and the doctor said it was still high, but better, that the meds were doing their job… somewhat. And after the wedding I am to really take it easy."

He nodded in agreement. "Well, pre-eclampsia in pregnancy can be concerning, so, while I am excited for today, I know we'll all feel better when this stress and extra activity is over for you and the baby."

"Have the boys left for church?" Rosalie inquired, interrupting us. I had almost forgotten she was there.

In the last couple months she had been much more agreeable towards me, albeit a bit aloof; her usual rigid persona. But even I had to admit she was really making an effort. She was trying really hard to accept me as family, and honestly, I couldn't have asked for more.

"They have," Carlisle said. "That's why I'm here. We should be going, as well."

"I think we're done here," Paul, the stylist, announced, pulling a step back to take a better look at me.

I turned around and faced the many people in the room. They all smiled, including Rosalie, making me feel a little more confident.

"You are a sight to behold," Alice breathed, her hands clasped in front of her.

I smiled, accepting Carlisle's hand as he led me out of the spacious guest bedroom.

The drive to the church was silent, for the most part. I gazed out the window at the busy streets covered in fresh, pristine snow while Carlisle took a few phone calls. After a while, he placed his large hand on top of mine and offered me a reassuring smile.

"I hope you and Edward have a happy life together."

"I do, too," I replied sincerely. "Thank you for being so supportive."

The rented vintage car stopped in front of the imposing Holy Name Cathedral that seemed so out of place among the surrounding skyscrapers. The driver stepped out and opened my door while Carlisle rounded the car towards me. He wrapped my right arm around his left.


I tried to rein in my emotions. "Ready."

He led me inside the church where friends, and family, and most importantly, Edward, were waiting. Mrs. Scott was standing at the entrance.

"Everyone is ready for you, my dear."

"Okay, thank you," I said softly, already starting to feel overwhelmed, but knowing it was important for me to stay as calm as possible.

Mrs. Scott bended at the waist, arranging my short train.

A young man began playing the pipe organ with great artistry. The grave universal hymn filled the air, and my heart skipped a beat. This was it. This right here was the moment that was going to change my life forever.

People were staring, but for once in my life, I actually enjoyed being in the spotlight. I was the bride; this was my day.

Carlisle walked me slowly up to the altar where Edward was standing stock-still, and I could tell he was just as nervous as me. His green eyes met mine, and for a brief moment everything around us disappeared. All the things I was feeling: the love, the complete devotion, the excitement, I could see reflected in the eyes of the man I cherished most.

His lips curved into a beautiful smile when his father gave me to him, and all I could do was to reply in kind. He looked so handsome.

"You are breathtaking," he whispered.

Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry… I repeated in my head like a mantra. Instead, I kept smiling, trying not to break down before the service even began.

The ceremony didn't last nearly as long as I had expected. Before I knew it, the reverend was proclaiming that the groom could kiss his bride. I beamed at my husband, relieved that it was over and I had even managed not to forget my vows. I was officially a married woman.

"I love you," Edward whispered reverently, kissing my lips so softly I could barely feel it. "...wife."

The appellative sounded so foreign yet so very right.

"Say it again," I whispered back, my scalp prickling with pleasure. I could hear the audience applauding somewhere in the background, but my focus was on him.

He grinned knowingly. "Wife. My very beautiful, pregnant wife."

"I love you, too, husband," I replied, leaning in for another kiss.

This time he wrapped his arms around me, pulling me to him until our bodies were as flush as possible against each other. This kiss was so full of passion and unspoken promises, it almost made me swoon. Someone gave a low whistle, and I blushed, burying my face in Edward's neck.

"Come on you two," Angela spoke behind me, her tone amused. "I'm so ready to party, it's insane."

Later, at the party, I sat on Edward's lap as we discussed our plans for the night. We'd had to postpone our honeymoon in Japan because of my advanced pregnancy and pre-eclampsia, but that didn't mean we couldn't have a good time on American soil, as long as I didn't overdue it. Edward had booked a suite at Waldorf Astoria for our wedding night, and the next day, we were set to head over to the lakehouse Carlisle owned within two hour drive from Chicago.

"How are you feeling?" Edward inquired, caressing my protruding stomach. He had removed his jacket, and I ran my fingers over his broad shoulders, loving the way his light gray waistcoat hugged his body.

I reached his purple tie and tugged on it playfully. "I'm feeling fine, stop worrying. And I'm happy. I'm so very very happy."

"Me too, baby," he said gently, his eyes full of love and adoration. "Me too. I never thought this day would ever come."

I kissed him softly, and he smiled against my lips.

Matthew kicked at his hand, and Edward chuckled. "He's getting restless, isn't he?"

He pressed lightly against my belly, and Matthew protested, kicking even harder. He was turning out to be such a little spitfire.

I let out a short laugh, placing my hand over Edward's. "Yeah, but that's my fault. I've been really agitated today, so I guess I passed my agitation on to him."

Edward frowned but decided not to push the subject. He began rubbing calming circles against my stomach, and eventually the kicks stopped.

"Jenks wants us to see another house when we come back from our short trip."

I smiled, looking forward to it. "Can't wait."

We'd seen a few houses in the last couple of months, but nothing seemed to fit the bill. Edward's friend and colleague, Jason Jenks, had offered to help, and we were more than happy to work with him.

"This dress is perfect for you, Mrs. Cullen," Edward murmured appreciatively, his voice suddenly low and filled with carnal insinuation. "I can't wait to get it off later."

"Mmmm," I hummed, stroking his silky tie and gazing up at him under my mascara-coated lashes. "Judging by how hot you look in a tux, I don't foresee me having a problem with that."

He was about to reply when Michael Bublé's Everything came through the speakers, and I hoisted myself from his lap, grabbing his hand. "I love this song! Let's dance."

He chuckled, following me onto the floor dutifully.

And in this crazy life, and through these crazy times
It's you, it's you, you make me sing
You're every line, you're every word, you're everything...

I sang along to Bublé's rich voice, my arms wrapped around my husband's neck. His jade eyes smoldered as they traveled over my face and modest cleavage. We moved to the light beat in slow unison.

For a little while I allowed myself to get lost in him. I stroked the soft hair at the nape of his neck, and he peppered gentle kisses against my lips, my cheekbone, my ear, my hair.

When the song changed to one I didn't recognize, I pulled back a bit to observe the other pairs dancing. Jasper and Alice were kissing while Kate and Garrett seemed to be sharing some private joke.

The sitting room looked completely transformed, decorated in rich shades of gold and pink. Without all the furniture, it had turned out to be larger than I could have ever imagined, hosting nine tables and forty-five guests. A few waiters dressed in beige and light blue outfits wandered between tables, carrying drinks and impeccably garnished plates.

Outside snow was falling thickly while inside the great marble fireplace was burning low; giving the general atmosphere the look and feel of a beautiful fairy tale. It was everything I could have imagined my dream wedding to be.

The song ended, and Edward pulled me towards our table. We passed Rosalie who was looking beautiful in a mauve one-shoulder dress and silver five-inch pumps. She glanced at our intertwined fingers and smiled a soft, understanding smile. Then she looked up and froze, her expression turning horrified in the span of two seconds.

A sense of dread rocked my entire body, and I inhaled sharply. Both Edward and I turned around, and the sight awaiting us made me weak at the knees instantly.

A mere twenty feet away stood Esme, her posture rigid as a board and her long dress a deep scarlet red. Her hair had been dyed black and cut in a sharp bob, and she appeared much more slender than the last time I'd seen her. She looked incredibly young and... different. But what shocked me more than the fact she had showed up at my wedding, was her company. Standing next to her, dressed smartly in a navy blue tuxedo and bowtie, stood James.

I gasped audibly, and James' expression turned downright malicious. His dark eyes burned into mine with such hatred, it made me want to run for the hills. For the first time since meeting him, I was terrified. Now I could see exactly what Edward had tried to warn me about all along. The man was pure evil.

"Good evening," Esme said; her voice confident and her attitude commanding.

"What the…" Edward trailed off, visibly taken aback by the unexpected turn of events.

"Esme?" Suddenly Carlisle and the rest of the family materialized beside us. "What is going on here?"

"What the hell are you doing with him, Mom?" Jasper demanded, looking pissed.

In the background the music went on playing, although no one was dancing anymore. All activity had ceased, and each and every pair of eyes in the room was fixed on the newcomers.

"What does it look like I'm doing, darling?" Esme answered, sounding serene. "I've come to the wedding. James here is my date."

Edward snapped out of his brief trance. "Are you fucking kidding me?" He all but snarled, his hands balling into fists. "You go missing for months and now you come to my wedding with fucking James? Are you out of your goddamned mind?"

"Who I date is none of your concern," Esme thundered, her stance changing rapidly. "And mind your tongue around your mother."

Edward took a menacing step forward. "You're dating him?"

She jutted her chin out in defiance. "I am."

"We've been worried sick about you ever since you ran away from the clinic, and this whole time you were God knows where fucking James?" Emmett spoke; his voice eerily quiet. Rosalie looked like she was going to be sick as she clutched at her husband's arm for dear life. For a moment, I pitied her.

James smirked cockily. "I took her to Ibiza. I have to confess she wears that bikini quite well."

Before any of us knew what was happening, Edward launched himself at James and started throwing wild punches. I cried out in surprise, my hand flying to my mouth as I backed away a few steps.

Edward swung back, hitting James in the face and stomach, causing him to double over in pain. He managed to land a few damaging punches before being pulled back by his brothers. James clutched at his stomach as a frantic Esme ran to his aid.

"Let me go!" Edward shouted, enraged, fighting to wrench himself free. "I'll fucking kill him!"

The music stopped abruptly as a collective quiver of indignant murmurs filled the air. The guests were shocked.

"Edward, stop, please," I begged, hot tears streaming down my face. This was not supposed to happen on my wedding day.

"What the hell is wrong with you, Edward?" Esme screamed; her expression murderous as she helped James stand up straight. Blood dripped from his nose, and he dabbed at it with the back of his hand. He glared at Edward like he couldn't believe he had actually had the guts to attack him in the middle of a crowded room at his own wedding.

"What's wrong with me?" Edward hissed through clenched teeth. I had never seen him this mad. It was frightening. "What's wrong with you, Mother? How could you do this to Dad? To us…"

"I did nothing to any of you," Esme responded, looking like she was capable of just about anything. "I have the right to live my life as I see fit. Do I have to remind you who locked me away in that lunatic asylum? James saved me. He's the only one who cares."

I tried to wipe my tears, but my hands were trembling so badly they felt out of control. She had done it on purpose. She'd wanted her revenge and now she had it. My wedding was ruined, and both Edward and I were a mess. The entire family was hurt. Goal achieved.

A sharp jolt of pain traversed my upper right abdomen, and I gasped, placing my shaky hands on my baby bump. Kate was beside me in a nanosecond.

"Are you alright?" she asked, concerned.

I nodded, doing my best to ignore it as not to cause even more panic. I was definitely not alright.

"You clearly must be delusional if you think he cares about you," Edward spat, finally managing to free himself from his brothers' firm grasps. "He's only using you to get to me."

"Everything's not about you, Edward. You just hate seeing me happy, don't you?"

"You need help," Emmett boomed, standing at Edward's side. "And he needs to stay the fuck away from you." He pointed at James.

James' face wore a somewhat quizzical almost impertinent air. "She's mine now, and there's nothing you can do about it."

"This is low even for you, James," Jasper spoke, running a hand through his blond hair. He looked exasperated.

Carlisle, who up until that moment had been rendered speechless, found his voice. "I'm still her husband," he said firmly, staring James in the eye. "I'm the one responsible for her."

"You won't be for much longer," Esme shot back, her low voice taunting. "I already filed for divorce. You should be receiving the paperwork anytime now."

Carlisle blanched. "No."

"Dad…" Jasper said softly, placing a hand on his shoulder.

"He doesn't care about you, Esme," Carlisle stated, his voice almost a plea. His blue eyes softened as he focused solely on her.

Esme remained impassive, her expression becoming, for a moment, devoid of any trace of emotion. "And you do?"

"You know I do."

She huffed, suddenly letting out a shrill laugh. "You're all pathetic. You all pretend to care about me, but none of you really do." Then she turned to Edward, her eyes blazing. "You chose this pathetic slut over me, and I hope she proves to be the worst thing that ever happened to this family. I hope she makes your life miserable, and I hope her wicked spawn never gets to be born. And if he does get to be born, I hope he'll turn out just as deformed as her ugly soul."

Her words were so full of venom that I couldn't take it anymore. Everything was just too much. I broke down into a fit of sobs, wrapping my arms around myself protectively.

"No…" I whispered, leaning against Kate.

"I hate you," Esme seethed, staring at me with such satisfaction, it made me sicker than I already was, and I felt a sense of impending doom. "I hate all of you with a passion. And especially you, Isabella."

"Esme…" Rosalie sobbed, looking like she was in shock. Beside her, Jessica was returning her grandmother's stare, her innocent eyes imbued with hatred.

"Rot in hell," Esme threw one last nasty insult before grabbing James' arm and dragging him towards the door. James cast the family a triumphant glance over his shoulder. It turned out; taking those punches had been worth it, after all.

Edward was beside me, his beautiful features twisted in fear. "Bella baby, you need to calm down," he soothed, pulling me into his strong arms. "Shhh. It's okay. She's gone. Forget what she said; she's mental."

"No, no, no," I repeated, shaking my head.

I couldn't just forget what she'd said about my son. I could bear anything but the thought of my little one being in harm's way. A sudden vision of a horribly deformed stillborn filled my brain, and I cried harder, causing my heart to race. Somewhere at the back of my mind, I realized I was getting hysterical, but I simply couldn't stop crying.

"Bella, please, settle down." I could hear Jasper's anxious voice, but was only vaguely aware of his proximity. "You'll hurt the baby."

"My baby," I choked, feeling my legs give out on me.

"Jasper!" Edward yelled desperately.

"Fucking hell, with her heightened anxiety her blood pressure must be through the roof," came his powerless reply. "She needs to calm down right this fucking minute."

"Call an ambulance," Edward demanded, holding me tight. "Now!"

"Ah!" I exclaimed, my sobs turning into an urgent cry as my vision blurred and a severe wave of nausea overtook me.

Oh God...

There was pressure in my abdomen and my back was slowly beginning to seize up, making me believe I might be experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions. It felt like the muscles inside were twisting to the point that it became uncomfortable and downright scary.

Someone pulled out a chair, and Edward had me sit on it as he crunched down in front of me. "What are you feeling?" he asked, distress written all over his face.

"It hurts a bit," I answered, grabbing hold of his forearm. "I think I'm having contractions. And my vision is funny… I just feel… wrong… heavy… kind of sick."

"The ambulance is on its way," Jasper announced, carelessly tossing his phone on the table. "Bella, take deep breaths and try to calm down."

"I can't," I whispered, my heart beating a frenzied beat. I felt like I was losing my breath. "Oh God, I can't."

People had gathered around me like I was some sort of frightening yet compelling experiment. I snapped my eyes shut and gritted my teeth, wishing for the ambulance to get there already.

Minutes later, two male paramedics rushed into the festive room. Before they could say anything, Jasper spoke up, "I'm a doctor. She has pre-eclampsia and is experiencing some concerning symptoms due to stress. I'm certain her BP is extremely high. We need to get her to the hospital immediately."

"Okay, thank you, Doctor," the medic said, as he and his partner quickly laid me down on a gurney and inserted an IV, then proceeded to treat me further. It was all happening so fast, I started to panic again.

"Edward," I wailed, desperately reaching for him.

"I'm here, baby," he said, his voice strangled with fear as he took my hand into his warm one. "I'm here."


His tormented eyes stared back at me, and I could read the anguish... the pure agony.

The paramedics began rushing the stretcher out of the room, and my hand slipped from Edward's.

A/N Ummm... see you next time?

Thanks for sticking with me!

~ Andreea ~