A/N Thank you, Mid Night Cougar, for beta'ing and always being so prompt! ilovealion has helped with the medical details, so thank you again!

Happy New Year, dear readers! I wish you a fabulous 2014!

Chapter 34

Isabella POV

~ December 24th 2012 ~

~~ 0 ~~

~~ 0 ~~

~~ 0 ~~

"Who was it?" I asked quietly as Edward retook his seat beside me, placing his phone on the table. He looked like he had just received some really good news.

His eyes met mine, the ghost of a smile touching his lips. "It was Jenks. He had some news to share."

"Oh?" I gave him a questioning look. Then, all of a sudden, understanding dawned on me. "Why do I get the feeling it has something to do with James?"

"Because it does," he replied, giving my hand a brief, reassuring squeeze. "I'll fill you in when we get home."

"Mom called," Jasper announced, taking all of us by surprise, and interrupting the dubious stare I was giving my husband.

Husband... I still hadn't gotten used to how giddy and warm all over calling him that actually made me feel.

Across the table, Emmett frowned. "When?"

Jasper sighed, slouching back into his seat as if sharing that little piece on information was enough to drain him. "A couple of days ago."

Emmett looked around, briefly searching everyone's faces. "Am I the only one hearing about this now?"

When every head in the room shook in silent answer, Jasper looked abashed. "I didn't want any of you to stress over this situation more than you already have," he murmured, glancing at Edward apprehensively.

"What did she want?"Carlisle inquired, trying to look unaffected and failing miserably. He looked as broken as he was.

I felt bad for him; he had such a big heart. Esme didn't deserve his concern or the love he obviously still had for her. She was batshit crazy, and I hoped I never had to see her again. Edward had promised me she was out of our lives for good, and I prayed to God that was true. Because of her, just thinking of my wedding day made me want to throw up. She was a horrible person, but somehow I got the feeling that in the end she was going to get what she deserved.

Jasper gave a one shoulder shrug, managing to shake his head at the same time. "What she has always wanted lately… to turn us against each other."

Beside me, Edward let out a rude snort. "I swear to God I would have never imagined she would turn out so fucking insane."

"Edward, son..." Carlisle started gently."I know she's wronged you in so many ways, maybe more than she ever wronged any of us, but please don't turn your back on her. She needs our help, now more than ever."

"Dad, stop... just fucking stop already. Stop trying to make me feel sorry for her, because it's not working. I've had it with Mother and her crazy schemes and ploys. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm really fucking tired of feeling like her goddamned puppet. Enough is enough. I have a wife and an unborn child who need me, and I plan on dedicating myself to them completely."

"He's got a point, Dad," Emmett cut in, nodding in Edward's direction. "Bella doesn't need that kind of stress."

Edward went on, ignoring his brother's intervention. "Dad, I love you, but I just can't be of any help right now; my family has to be my first priority. I know she's my mother too, but let's face it... she's never been a good parent. I tried; I really tried to be a good son and make her proud of me, but nothing I ever did was good enough for her. I'm done trying to prove myself to her or anyone else for that matter."

Carlisle looked troubled. "I know," he said quietly, rubbing a hand over his face. "I know, and I'm sorry. I can't... I can't seem to let her go."

"I just want some peace in my life." Edward's voice was softer this time. He, just like the rest of the family, realized how much of a hard time his father was actually having with the separation. It was disturbing, seeing a man of Carlisle's caliber suffer over someone as frivolous and unworthy as Esme.

Jasper cleared his throat nervously. "Edward is right. Maybe we should all let her go. She's chosen her path and she's making no apologies for her actions. She made it perfectly clear she doesn't need any of us."

"Then why is she still calling you, or Dad, or Rose?" Emmett queried, giving his youngest brother a harsh look.

Edward blanched. "She called you?" he asked Rosalie, and I could read the worry behind those dark green eyes of his. Rosalie's vulnerability, when it came to Esme, was something to behold, and that didn't sit well with any of us. I guessed Edward still feared that one day his beloved sister-in-law might succumb to her manipulations again.

Rosalie let out a heavy, almost pained breath. "Yeah, but I didn't answer. I couldn't."

"We can't abandon her. She may not want our help, but she needs it," Emmett stated, draping a strong arm around his wife's shoulders. "We'll leave Edward out of it, but Mom's still fucking sick. Do you even think about that, Jasper?"

Jasper shook his head disapprovingly. "She'll never agree to being put in a mental hospital again, especially for an extended period of time. Committing her against her will, for a second time around, seems just wrong to me."

"She's a danger to herself and she needs it, Jas," Emmett stressed, glaring at his brother from across the table.

"No, she's not. Her therapist would've never even thought about letting her go if she was, and yet he planned on doing just that before she pulled that escape bullshit. Besides, you forget who Hall's father is. That man could have her out of any mental institution in the State of Illinois if he really wanted to."

I frowned, turning to Edward who stared straight ahead, unseeing. "What did he mean by that?" I inquired in a hushed voice.

"He meant that Friedrich Hall is head of psychiatry at Rush University and is very well connected in the medical world," Alice whispered from beside me, having overheard my question to Edward.

"Oh..." I exhaled, not having expected that particular answer.

"Then what, we forget all about her?" Emmett asked, giving his brother an incredulous look.

"I don't know, Em," Jasper said more quietly, his brow furrowing. "Maybe we should just let her live her life the way she wants to."

"I signed the divorce papers," Carlisle announced abruptly, and every pair of eyes in the already tense dining room turned to him.

"What?" Emmett and Jasper spoke at the same time, pulled from their heated conversation.

Carlisle's eyes locked with Edward's for a few seconds, and I got the strange feeling he was trying to communicate something. "I thought maybe if I gave her what she wanted, she would let me help her." Then he shook his head, letting out a humorless chuckle. "I guess I was wrong."

"When was that?" Emmett wanted to know.

"Last Thursday. She hasn't called since."

"Fucking great," he spat, tossing his napkin onto the table roughly. "Great job, Dad. Now she doesn't have to answer to anyone. Don't you get it? That's exactly what she wanted all along."

"I agree with Jasper, Em," Rosalie murmured, placing her hand on his forearm. "We should let her go."

Emmett gave her an intense look, remaining silent. Something unknown to the rest of us passed between them, and he finally let out a defeated sigh before reaching for his glass of whiskey.

"She's messing with all of our lives for her own sick pleasure," Edward spoke, his voice cold and his stance unyielding. "I'm sorry to say it, but I'm with Jasper and Rosalie on this one."

I stared at my husband's profile in awe, realizing he was keeping the vows he'd made at our wedding, to love and honor me all the days of his life. By making this decision to protect me against his own mother, he was doing just that; he was honoring me as his wife. To me, that meant more than he would ever know.

~~ 0 ~~

Later in the car, I finally asked Edward what had been on my mind for hours. "Are you going to tell me the news about James?"

"Uh, yeah," he replied, glancing at me sideways. "I had Jenks dig up dirt on him, and he found out that a few years back when Hall was still a resident at the hospital, he failed a mandatory drug test for methylphenidate, which is a psychoactive drug used for treating ADHD. His parents, being the affluent, unscrupulous bastards they are, bribed a female lab technician to get rid of the incriminating evidence."

"That's it?" I said with a frown. "Edward, there isn't much you can do without the actual test results."

He stopped the car at a red light, turning in his seat to look at me. He gave me a sly grin. "As I said, she got rid of them."

"She?" I asked, confused.

"The lab technician. They're sleeping together."

"What?" My eyes grew the size of saucers.

Edward nodded slowly, sly grin still in place. "Jenks has evidence they've been having an on and off affair for almost seven years. She's married, but the sneaky asshole seduced her and she's been covering up all of his positive drug tests since that very first time."

"So, he's still sleeping with her?"

"Yeah," he confirmed. "And Jenks suspects his parents are still paying her, as well."

"And Esme..." I trailed off as I watched his face fall. He knew exactly what I meant. James was sleeping with both his mother and the lab technician.


"Oh, my God," I whispered, my voice betraying the horror I felt upon hearing such atrocity. I was quite aware of James' ugly character, but this was downright cruel and perverted.

But then again… no one forced Esme to be with him in the first place. She cheated on Carlisle while they were still married, and what goes around really does come around. Karma is a bitch and misery is her sister, and they were both about to gang up on the ice queen herself.

Edward sighed. "I know."

The light turned green, and he put the car in motion again.

"So, is James an addict or something?"

"He's addicted to different uppers, would be my guess. Jenks said last time he tested positive for methadone, which is often used as an anti-addictive."

"An anti-addictive for..." I murmured, half curious, half afraid of knowing the answer.

"Heroin, most likely," Edward said matter-of-factly.

"Are you kidding me?" I gasped, trying to wrap my mind around what he was saying. He shrugged nonchalantly. "Jesus. So what now? What's your plan?"

Edward kept his eyes on the traffic ahead. "Jenks is going to try to get the woman to speak against him. She's obviously going to refuse at first, so he'll present her with the evidence that Hall's being unfaithful."

"And if she still refuses? From what you've just told me, I gather their relationship isn't exactly what you would call typical, so she might not care that much."

"If she still refuses, Jenks will threaten to expose them. I think she's smart enough not to risk both her job and her marriage."

Searching Edward's profile, I tried to gauge his current mood. To my utter surprise, his expression remained impassive. "What's going to happen to James?"

"If I have my way, and I usually do, I'll get him fired, have him lose hospital privileges, and of course make him lose his license to practice medicine in the state."

"That's harsh."

My reply managed to get a reaction out of him. His mouth twisted downwards, his brow creasing in visible displeasure. "Oh, trust me, I wish there was more I could do. He deserves everything that's coming to him."

"What about his parents?" I cocked my head to one side. "You said they're powerful."

"I can deal with them," he said, waving a dismissive hand. "My connections are as good as theirs if not better. Besides, let's not forget I'm an attorney... I have certain skills that will come in handy."

"Conceited much, Cullen?" I said teasingly, reaching over to run my fingers over the short hair at the nape of his neck.

He threw me a smug look. "Always have been."

"Just try not to get yourself harmed. James is a lunatic; who knows what he's capable of when cornered."

"Don't worry; I have it all under control." He grabbed my hand, bringing my wrist to his lips. "He can't do anything to me."

~~ 0 ~~

Once at home, Edward headed straight for his study, leaving me dumbfounded in the middle of the foyer. He was back a minute later holding a beautifully wrapped gift box.

"What's this?" I asked when he held it out to me in silent offering.

He gave me a coy grin. "Your Christmas present."

"Oh." I chuckled, taking it from him. Peering down at the light box in my hands, I turned on my heels, going into the kitchen. I sat on one of the bar stools and began unwrapping it eagerly. Inside a deep forest-green jewelry box sat a silver and gold Rolex. I stared at it for what seemed like an eternity, unmoving.

"You don't like it," Edward stated from behind me, a hint of hurt tainting his voice.

I began laughing at the absurdity of it. "Edward, how could I not like it? It's stunning," I said, turning to face him. "I love it."

He frowned, unconvinced. "Then what is it? Why are you laughing?"

"It's just..." I shook my head, smiling broadly. "I got you the same thing."

His posture relaxed instantly. "You got me a Rolex?"

"I got you a watch," I clarified. "Not Rolex."

"Great minds think alike, Mrs. Cullen." He chuckled, unbuttoning his wool blazer and taking a seat next to me.

Getting up, I slowly walked over to the cabinets and pulled out his present from behind a wooden condiment container set. "Susan said you wouldn't find it in here," I explained when he gave me a weird look.

He opened it with dexterous fingers while I watched over his shoulder. It was an Astralis Mars by Louis Moinet, his favorite brand. The only wristwatch to contain a genuine fragment of a Martian meteorite that traveled over 55 million kilometers before reaching Earth! I wasn't even going to mention how much of a dent purchasing it had made into the credit card he'd given me.

"You like?" I inquired apprehensively, placing my hands on his shoulders.

"It's perfect," he breathed, taken aback by the piece of art lying idly in his hands. "Thank you. I suspect you spent quite a pretty penny on it."

I leaned down to kiss his cheek. "I'm glad you like it. I think I'm actually starting to enjoy being frivolous with your money."

"It's our money," he corrected, pulling me into his lap. He kissed my neck, my chin, my nose, and finally my lips. I opened my mouth, granting his tongue access to mine. When things got a little heated, I reached down between us to rub him through his jeans.

"Mmmm..." he murmured, his eyes closed as I peppered kisses along his jaw, all the while my fingers making quick work of his fly. My hand slipped into his boxer briefs, and he inhaled sharply as his eyes flew open. "No," he half moaned, half breathed. "Baby, not now."

"When?" I pressed, eyes hooded and not really caring for the answer. I wanted him. I needed my husband.

He stopped me by placing a firm hand over mine. "You know when," he replied, his expression screaming repressed lust. "I won't risk Matthew's safety."

"That's bullshit, Edward," I said with a deep frown. "The doctor said we could have gentle sex every week or so."

His eyes narrowed, and I knew I'd just managed to piss him off. "Yeah, well, there's something wrong with the way she does her job. Maybe we should switch doctors," he said, his voice and posture suddenly freezing cold. "Dr. Aminov seems capable."

"Are you making fun of me or what?" I snapped, hoisting myself up from his lap. Now, I was mad. "Dr. Aminov is like ninety! He's a decrepit old man who can barely tell the difference between a baby boy and a baby girl."

"He's experienced."

"Dr. Clark is a good doctor, Edward. What the hell has gotten into you?" I said, exasperated, throwing my hands in the air.

Oh, great. This was turning into a fight.

"I didn't like the way she handled the whole pre-eclampsia thing. She should've given you stricter instructions after what happened at the wedding. I've read my fair share of pregnancy blogs and online pages. I know for certain you shouldn't be allowed sexual intercourse during bed rest; why doesn't she?" he replied acidly, and I had to refrain from hurling something at his head.

I settled for glaring at him instead. "I can't believe you right now. You're not a doctor, Edward; stop thinking you know everything."

"I didn't say I know everything, but I know better than she does. She's too young, too inexperienced."

"Stop it, alright? Just stop it. I won't hear any more of this nonsense."

He rose to his feet, his face the epitome of determination. "We're not having sex until the baby is born."

"And we're not switching doctors." I crossed my arms over my chest defiantly, nodding towards his crotch. "Good luck with that tent you're still pitching."

He stared at me for a long moment, green eyes narrowed and nostrils flared. He looked like an angry dragon. The thought made me want to smile, but I reined in that urge. Suddenly, he spun on his heels and stomped out of the kitchen, leaving a trail of burning flames behind him. Seconds later, the sound made by the door to the master bedroom being slammed shut echoed through the condo.

"Jerk," I muttered under my breath, occupying his vacated seat. Looking down at my new wristwatch, I decided to try it on. Unsurprisingly, it was a perfect fit.

I sighed, holding my left hand in front of me and admiring the way my wedding rings complemented the lovely Rolex. Edward was such a kind and attentive husband. Why couldn't he be less of a hot-headed prick?

Oh, well...

I set to make myself some chamomile tea. When I was done, I brought the mug with me to our bedroom. I could hear the water running in the adjoining bathroom and assumed Edward was taking a shower. Changing into flannel pajamas, I slid under the covers with my tea and a book I'd started a couple of days prior.

By the time Edward emerged from the bathroom, I was engrossed in the book. He began looking for a fresh pair of boxer briefs and a t-shirt, pulling open drawers as he went, and I rose my eyes from the page I was currently on to glare at his back; my concentration gone.

He dropped the towel around his hips to pull on the pair of black underwear he'd selected, and I couldn't help ogle his sculpted ass. Letting my lustful eyes wander, I took in his strong calves, the muscles in his back, his bulging biceps...

He turned around, and I managed to get a glimpse of his ripped abdomen just before he covered it with a plain cotton t-shirt in an odd dusty grape color. God, did my husband have a killer body. How in hell had I gotten so lucky?

Edward caught me looking, and his lips curled into an arrogant smile. He knew precisely the effect he had on me. And yet, he wouldn't touch me. My frustration was getting the better of me.

Sauntering towards the bed, he slid in beside me. I frowned, forcing my attention back on the book in a feeble attempt to ignore his overwhelming presence so close to me.

He turned onto his side, throwing a leg over both of mine and his left arm just under my breasts where my baby bump started. I inhaled sharply and tried to pull away. I was still mad at him.

He held me in place firmly, ignoring my trying to getting away from him. "Your feet are cold."

"I'm fine," I said dryly, refusing to look at him.

"Come here." He pulled me even closer, his leg enveloping mine like ivy.

"I said I'm fine," I reiterated, weaker this time. It was hard keeping my composure when he was being so infuriatingly cajoling.

"You're being stubborn for nothing," he murmured, kissing my hair before nuzzling it lovingly.

I sighed. "You think getting on my nerves is nothing? In case you haven't noticed, my tolerance for your childish tantrums is nonexistent these days."

"It wasn't a tantrum," he whispered into my hair before kissing it again.

My resolve was slowly crumbling under the power of his tender gestures. "What was it then?"

"Me having an opinion."

"Your opinion is unfounded, Edward." I finally looked at him and had to fight to keep my dirty thoughts in check. His hair was damp from his shower and he was sporting that five o'clock shadow I liked so much. "You know that."

"I don't want to fight," he said with a heavy sigh, doing his best to placate me.

"Well, maybe I do," I replied stubbornly.

"And I don't," he said more firmly.

"And everything has to be done your way, doesn't it? I'll fight if I want to, damn it!"

His brow furrowed, and he gave me a look like he thought I was getting a little crazy. "You're overreacting."

"I don't care. I'm mad at you."

Instead of replying, he just leaned in and kissed me. Resisting him was futile; my body craved him. So instead, I closed my eyes and let myself enjoy it.

It was deep and passionate, and even though I was lying down, I could feel my legs turn to jelly. He was such a good kisser.

"I love you," he murmured, going for my neck. "I hate it when we fight."

"Touch me," I implored, arching into him.

"Bella..." he breathed, and I could hear the torment in his voice.

"I need it, Edward. Please don't make me beg."

He must have really sensed my urgency, because after a moment of hesitation, his hand started drifting towards the waistband of my pajama pants. I had no idea why I was so wound up; all I knew was that I needed the release.

His fingers slipped into my panties, and I pushed against them, relishing the contact. It felt so good. He rubbed gentle circles around my clit, his mouth peppering hot, wet kisses just under my jaw. I moaned in response to his ministrations, and I could hear his breath get heavier with each passing second.

"Yes," I whimpered, my skin feeling like it was about to burst into flames. "I love you so much."

"I love you, baby," he rasped, pushing against my thigh. He was rock-hard under the thin fabric of his boxer briefs, and I hated that he was denying himself the pleasure. I trusted Dr. Clark implicitly; why couldn't he?

"More," I demanded, craning my neck to reach his mouth. He kissed, licked and bit my lips, never taking his eyes off of me. They were practically hooded with lust, and the intensity behind them was enough to send me into a frenzy.

"More," I said again, writhing under the spell of his touch.

Edward inserted a tentative finger inside me, and a few pumps later, I was coming fast and hard, my nails digging into his forearm. The relief was immediate. My body felt lighter, and I let my head fall back into the soft pillow, trying to catch my breath.

"I missed this," I voiced my thoughts, reaching up to caress his face.

"Yeah," he mumbled, turning his head to kiss my palm. Reflecting upon our relationship in the past few months, made me realize this pregnancy hadn't been easy on him either. He needed the release just as much as I did.

"Will you let me reciprocate?"

He shook his head. "There's no need. I'll be fine."

"Edward, you look like you're in pain," I argued. "Please let me make you feel good."

He seemed to be struggling with the answer. "I don't-"

"Oral never hurt anyone," I cut him off before he could say no. "Please?"

Edward looked like he was tempted to argue, but his eyes betrayed him. He wanted this.

"Okay," he said after a moment.

I grinned triumphantly. "Get out of bed and strip."

He helped me up first, then did as I told him. I sat on the edge of the bed, and he stood naked in front of me.

"Come here," I coaxed, grabbing his hips and pulling him closer. Keeping my gaze fixed on his handsome face, I leaned down and took him in my mouth.

"Shiiiit," he exhaled, the harsh expletive sounding so erotic given the context. His hands buried into my loose hair, and I went deeper, loving the feel of him. He was smooth and warm and incredibly hard. He was salty and wet and perfect, and whoever first said size doesn't matter, was a big fat liar.

I sucked harder, running my tongue over the tip, and his eyes became wild. His fingers tightened their hold on my hair, and he began thrusting back; taking control of his own pleasure. His leg muscles tensed under my hands, and I moaned around him, wishing he was pumping this vigorously elsewhere.

I applied more pressure, giving him the much needed friction, and I could see his jaw set as he breathed hard through his nose. Scraping his shaft with my teeth a few times had the desired effect.

"I'm… coming," he warned, giving me the opportunity to pull back.

As if.

"Oooh... So good, Bella, baby," he groaned as warm liquid began coating my throat. I swallowed, not a fan of the taste, but loving his face when he watched me do it.

"Better?" I asked when I was done, giving him a smug look.

"Yeah," he breathed, caressing my cheek. "So much better."

~~ 0 ~~

On New Year's Eve, Kate and I sat in the living room, chatting about this and that as she taught me how to knit. She'd made some awesome hats, mittens and booties for Matthew, and I insisted she showed me how to do it. Almost twenty minutes into our lesson, I'd managed to make half a bootie. I didn't have Kate's skills, but the tiny piece of wool in my hand was starting to resemble actual footwear.

"What are you two doing?" Edward stepped into the room, wearing a soft smile. He was dressed casually in jeans and a light blue sweater with the sleeves rolled up.

"Kate's teaching me how to knit little shoes for Matthew." I beamed, holding up my little artwork. "Look, I actually made half of this one."

Grabbing the other finished pair, he examined it briefly. "These actually look intricate." He looked impressed as he leaned down and rewarded me with a kiss. "Good job, baby."

"Thanks," I said with a smile, breathing in the subtle scent of his cologne. "Is dinner ready yet?"

He straightened up, holding his hand out for me. "Dinner's ready and the table is set. Susan's sent me to fetch you both."

I put down the woolen thread and knitting needles, placing a hand on my belly for support as he helped me up. "Great, I'm starving."

"Where's Garrett?" Kate inquired, pushing the other wool balls to the side before standing.

"I left him in the study talking on the phone," Edward replied, his hand rubbing gently over the small of my back.

"I'll go get him," she said, and left the room.

Turning to Edward, I placed my palms against his chest. "I like this sweater on you. You look so handsome."

"Aren't I always?" he replied with a smirk.

"Yes, you are, you conceited ass. Too handsome for your own good, actually."

He chuckled, wrapping both arms around me. "Would you have rather preferred I was ugly?"

I grinned up at him. "Nope. This pretty face is what attracted me to you in the first place."

"Not my charismatic personality?"

I snorted, slapping his chest playfully. "You don't have a charismatic bone in your body."

"Thank you." He laughed quietly. "What a lovely compliment, wife."

"Well, it's the truth. You're direct and fiery and a no-nonsense kind of guy, and for that I love you."

His smile faded, his expression becoming more serious as his eyes bored into mine adoringly. "And you're my complementary better half: kind, sweet, innocent... an eternal optimist."

"So, you're saying I'm the Yang to your Yin?" I joked, trying to keep the conversation light.

He seemed pensive for a second. "Well, not quite because as I know it, Yang is associated with masculinity and Yin with femininity, so in theory it's the other way around. But... you're definitely the light to my dark, the high to my low, the water to my fire and so many other things."

"How very philosophic of you."

Edward kissed me in response, his lips lingering against mine. "Do you have any idea how much I love you?" he whispered almost reverently.

"I might have an inkling," I said coyly.

"I don't think I've ever felt like this before."

"Not even with..." I trailed off, and he understood I was referring to Tanya.

"No." He shook his head, and there was something in his eyes; a feeling I couldn't grasp the meaning of. "No. This love I have for you is all-consuming. It's like an obsession. You make me feel like a love-struck teenager all over again."

I gaped at him in astonishment. Never in the year and a half since I'd known him had Edward been so completely straightforward with expressing his feelings.

"The feeling is so very mutual," I murmured, placing my arms around his neck and pulling him down for another kiss. My fingers locked into his hair, and he let out a contented hum, responding with equal fervor. One of his hands settled on my stomach, feeling his son move around restlessly.

"I hate to interrupt the little moment you three are having." Kate had materialized into the living room again, and Edward pulled back hesitantly. "Susan has left, and dinner is getting cold. Are you coming?"

Edward was about to answer, but was distracted by a sudden jolt coming from my baby bump. "He just kicked me."

"I think that means he's hungry, too." I laughed, pressing my hand over his.

"Like father like son," Kate muttered in amusement, turning around to leave.

Edward stared down at my enlarged stomach, a look of sheer pride lighting his entire face. "Shall we?" he asked playfully, linking our fingers.

"We shall," I replied in kind, following him into the dining room.

Kate and Garrett were already seated at the table, which Susan had done a fabulous job of decorating. This year's colors were white, silver and a very unconventional violet. The centerpiece consisted of a huge baby's breath flower arrangement, which I thought to be a really sweet touch given the circumstances. There were brand new table settings bought for this particular event, and a few lit candles to complete the atmosphere. But what caught my attention were the four gift boxes sitting idly next to the intricately wrapped cloth napkins. They all looked the same, and I wondered what was inside. I looked to Edward in silent question, but he simply shrugged, unknowing.

"So, Bella, when are you due?" Garrett asked, reaching for the deviled eggs.

"My doctor said I should be due on January twenty-fifth, but with my pre-eclampsia and all, we'll have to wait and see," I replied, smiling at Edward as he put a mini mushroom tart on my plate then his.

"That's like three weeks from now?" he said after a moment, pausing to look at me.

"Almost four," Edward answered, continuing to add a spinach cheese roll and a stuffed tomato onto my plate before doing the same to his.

"Thank you," I murmured gratefully, and he kissed my cheek in response.

Garrett smiled, taking in our display of affection. "I'm sure you're going to have a beautiful son. Kate's already overly excited to get her hands on him."

I chuckled, glancing over at Kate who was pouring herself a glass of wine and trying to suppress her amusement. I was so happy for her. She and Garrett seemed to be getting along really well. She deserved someone who could truly appreciate her, and from what she'd shared, Garrett was that special guy.

"Yeah, Edward and I know the feeling. It's going to be an amazing experience getting to hold him for the first time."

Garrett nodded. "Edward, you're a lucky man."

"I know," he said with a smile, leaning over to whisper in my ear. "I have a surprise for you."

"Oh?" I gave him an inquiring look.

"Later." He winked conspiratorially.

~~ 0 ~~

It turned out, the gift boxes contained dessert. They were mini cakes in the shape of a blue baby cart, that got us all gaping at Susan's outstanding skills in the kitchen. The woman was a true artist, and I made a mental note of asking Edward where he'd found her. To say dessert was delicious would be an understatement. It had three different layers of filling: chocolate, raspberry and walnuts, and I couldn't help devouring mine as well as half of Edward's, which he indulgently pushed towards me.

After clinking a glass of champagne - non-alcoholic grape cocktail for me - at midnight and enjoying the firework show, Edward asked all of us in the living room. We gathered on the couch with our drinks still in hand, watching as he set up the DVD player. Our beautiful Christmas tree was silently glowing in its private little corner, and I let my gaze linger on the baby's first ornament. It was an egg tied with a blue ribbon that said Matthew's first Christmas, because technically this was his first Christmas inside his mommy's belly.

"Now that Kate is also here, I wanted to show you something." Edward grabbed the remote, making his way over to me, and I gave him my sweetest smile. He was going to be such a good father.

"What is it?" I asked as he sat down beside me. "You've made me curious over dinner."

"I had Jenks do this video for you," he said, pushing a couple of buttons and making the flat screen come to life. "This has been on the market for a really short time."

A relatively young red-head stared back at us. She was dressed smart in a silk blouse paired with a tight pencil skirt and stiletto shoes that showcased her slim figure. "My name is Abigail Byrne, and I'll be your realtor today," she said in a thick Irish accent, offering the camera a blinding smile.

"What?" I gasped, turning to Edward.

He placed his hand on my knee, shushing me. "Just watch."

Looking back at the screen, I noticed the woman was standing in the middle of a huge foyer. "Built in 2005, this 11,000-square-foot grand beauty is one of a kind," she began, starting to move towards the stairs. "It has five bedrooms, six full baths, three half baths, high ceilings, heated floors, a steel and mahogany staircase, arched passageways, three fireplaces, elevator, and a media room with a stage on the lower level. Compensating for the tight lot lines are two terraces, a small back yard and a 1,200-square-foot roof deck with city views."

She went on, going from room to room, and I was mesmerized. The entire presentation took almost an hour. When the video ended, I was pretty much speechless.

"What do you think?" Edward asked apprehensively, gently squeezing my knee.

"Edward, it's huge!" I blurted, wide-eyed and still in shock. "Five bedrooms? What are we supposed to do with five bedrooms?"

He shrugged, giving me a reserved smile. "I want lots of kids."

"But it doesn't have a pool..." I babbled, not knowing what else to say. "You said you wanted a pool."

"You heard her. It has two terraces, a small back yard with a patio, and a more than accommodating roof deck. I was thinking about transforming the roof deck into an open pool area."

"Is that even possible?"

"It is with the right amount of money. We can do pretty much anything we want with the house. It has great structure."

I shook my head, unable to hide the smile tugging at my lips. "It doesn't have a gazebo."

"I think the two terraces are a good replacement. Plus, it's in the city. That's definitely a bonus," he replied quickly, and I could see how excited he was about this one. He really loved the house.

"You thought about everything, didn't you?"

"I think it would make an amazing home, if you want my opinion," Kate cut in. "Great for raising children."

I took a deep breath, trying to absorb everything I'd learned about it in the past hour. To be honest, the house was much nicer and better suited to our needs than anything we'd seen thus far. I loved the architecture and especially the design and spaciousness of the rooms. It was great... really great.

"How much?"

"Five million."

"That's... incredibly expensive," I whispered.

"We can afford it," Edward assured me, angling his body towards me. He looked hopeful. "So, what do you say?"

I bit my lip, pondering his proposal of purchasing the house. "So we're not moving into the suburbs?"

"Not if you don't want to."

"You know I don't," I said, glancing back at the TV screen. The video had been paused on Abigail bidding goodbye on the roof deck. The scenery behind her was simply breathtaking. "I love it more than any other house we've seen. I want it if you do, too."

"I do," he beamed. "Consider it ours, baby. I'll have Jenks call Abigail tomorrow and draw up the contract. I can't wait to start remodeling."

He kissed me, and I laughed at his excitement. He was like a little kid on Christmas Day. "We're really getting a house," I breathed. "Wow!"

"Congrats!" Kate jumped from her seat. "Let me give you guys a hug." She kissed and hugged both of us while Garrett settled for patting Edward on the back and giving my cheek a brief peck.

Then Edward leaned in to whisper in my ear, his voice warm and seductive. "You know... we're getting more than just a house; we're getting a home for our family. We'll have lots of kids, and you will never wish for anything. I will always treat you like the queen you are... the one and only queen of my heart."

My amazing, intense, ridiculously hot husband... it was insane how much I loved him.

~~ 0 ~~

A few days later, Edward entered our bedroom looking like the cat that ate the canary.

"What's with the grin?" I inquired, momentarily distracted from my book on interior design.

He pulled his t-shirt over his head, heading for the built-in closet. "Jenks called. He wants to meet."

"Does that mean..." I trailed off suggestively.

"Yeah," he confirmed, positively glowing. "The lab tech in willing to talk."

A/N Thank you for reading!

A link to E and B's new home is on TPB facebook group!