Epilogue

As the first rays of the sun breach the horizon, Edward returns to his quarters from his meeting with Emmett. The bed is surrounded by gauzy white curtains, but he can still see her shape within its confines. Her soft, rhythmic breathing and regular heartbeats are all he can hear and, for a moment, he is completely at peace.

I'sabel sighs quietly, shifting on the bed, and he quickly crosses the room, not wanting to miss his favorite moment of the day. As he slides in next to her, her eyes flutter open, the beautiful dark brown focusing on him before she smiles sleepily.

Edward runs a finger down her cheek, reveling in the feel of her skin. He leans forward, placing a small kiss on her mouth. "Good morning, love."

Her smile widens, and she reaches up, grasping firmly to Edward's lapel before pulling him forward into a deep kiss. She moves away from his lips only to slide her mouth along his chin, her grip never loosening from his shirt.

Edward is always surprised by her lust and love for him, not understanding how a creature so perfect could feel the same about him. He's learned not to question it, though, and eagerly returns her affection. "What has you in such a mood this morning?"

"Mmmm," she mumbles against his skin. "Good dream. Now kiss me."

He does, shifting so he is above her and better able to see her eyes, still heavy with sleep. Her dark hair curls around her on the pillows and frames her face as she blinks up at him slowly. Resting his weight on one arm, he caresses her softly as he sinks into another kiss, their tongues touching in that warm glide that still makes him tingle everywhere. Her hands roam his back, eventually slipping under his tunic to run over his skin.

She tugs on his shirt a couple times until he pulls back to look at her. "This." She emphasizes with another tug. "Off."

Edward leans back and removes the offending piece of clothing and then his boots and trousers as he's certain that will be the next request. As he settles next to her again, she lifts the sheets, revealing her exquisite, naked body to him. His mouth floods with venom in anticipation of having her taste on his tongue, of swallowing her sweet warmth.

I'sabel wraps her arms and legs around him, positioning him exactly where she wants him. "Just like this."

Although Edward wanted to take it slower, to devour her inch by inch, it seems she has other plans. She lifts her hips, sliding her hot, wet warmth against his rigid cold. Reaching between them, she aligns their bodies, shifting and pulling him toward her with her limbs.

As always, giving in to her is easy, and Edward slowly, achingly slowly, slides into her. His eyes close for a moment, as they always do whenever they are together like this. Her perfection and his love overwhelm all of his senses at once.

I'sabel shifts below him, placing a lingering kiss on his cheek. "Edward?"

"Yes, my love?" he answers, not opening his eyes yet.

"Please. I need you."

He opens his eyes to find hers wide and full of tenderness, her hands on either side of his face. He shifts his hips back and moans at the feeling as her breath hitches in her throat. They kiss, never breaking apart even as he increases his pace to the rhythm he knows will give her the most pleasure. As she begins to tense around him, his mouth swallows her ragged moan. His world seems to fall apart and realign with every pulse of their bodies as he empties himself into her.

When he regains his bearings, he rolls to the side, keeping them together but without his weight on top of her. He feels like he could gaze at her flushed face and happy smile every morning for eternity, and he hopes he will be able to do just that.

She wraps her arms around him, and he pulls her close, just letting her warmth seep into him for several long minutes.

"Let's just stay here today," she mumbles into his chest.

He smiles, because even though she says it every day, he'll never get tired of hearing it. "Brilliant idea. I will have to reschedule the first official meeting of the joint Council, of course."

She pushes his shoulder playfully. "You will do no such thing. We've worked for months to have this meeting."

"Right. So then we should get out of bed?"

She sighs and huffs, but tilts her head up to place a single, chaste kiss on his lips. "Yes, we had better."

They both rise slowly, steeling small kisses and touches as they make themselves presentable for the day. A small knock on the door interrupts them, and Edward pulls back with a smile. "Sounds like we have a guest." Turning toward the door, he raises his voice. "Enter!"

The door opens slowly, and a human peeks around the corner. "Protector Edward, you are needed in the council room."

"Yes, thank you."

The man bows and backs out, shutting the door behind him.

Edward turns and finds I'sabel clothed and ready to go. Sighing, he grabs her hand and pulls her into his embrace. "You know, I would have rather taken your suggestion."

"I know." She pats his arm and then steps back, keeping a hold of his hand. "Let's go."

Together, they walk through the stone hallways of the fortress, finally arriving at what used to be the old throne room but has since become a symbol of changes throughout the kingdom. When the doors swing open, they are greeted by a fair number of voices echoing off the stone walls of the large room.

Gone is the throne on the pedestal.

Gone is the rule of the single Protector.

Edward and I'sabel then take their places, sitting as one of many at the large, round table that was created to accommodate all of the members of the New Council. Glancing around, Edward shares looks and smiles with Jasper and Carlisle, Anj'la and Er'k of the Ainmhithe and even Sam and Jacob, members of the former Truth Seekers.

Although their differences are not completely behind them, vampires, Ainmhithe, and humans are beginning to work together at last for the best for Aeland and all the free peoples.

As he brings the council to order, Edward realizes that he is no longer forced to bear the weight of responsibility alone. He has the support of the humans and Ainmhithe, giving him more freedom than he ever thought he would have in this coven or in this kingdom. Most importantly, he has his I'sabel, and that alone makes every moment, every breath, better than the last.

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A/N: So, that's the end of this little adventure. I hope you've enjoyed it and I've loved reading your reactions to each chapter. Thank you.

Kisses and hugs to LyricalKris who stuck through this whole epic story as the last remaining pre-reader. And all my love and smooches to theladyingrey42 for beta-ing. These two ladies are amazing and make my writing better and make me a better writer.

Just so you all know, I am already outlining a sequel to Beyond Duty, but not sure when exactly it will start posting.