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In my world before you
I lived outside my emotions
Didn't know where I was going

I Do (Cherish You) ~ 98 Degrees

Chapter 13 – I Do (Cherish You)

From that first Thanksgiving, through the following two years, I never acknowledged a single thought or plan for the future that didn't involve Bella. She became so vital to me; it honestly scared the living shit out of me. She fit so perfectly into every aspect of my life, it was nearly impossible to remember what it was like without her.

I was no longer that cold, empty shell I'd been before Bella came into my life. I had someone just as eager to wake up early with me for a few extra moments together over coffee before work. A woman I was anxious to take home for the holidays whenever we could, and my entire family embraced her as one of our own.

However, with the end of my residency looming before me, my future suddenly became a topic I couldn't avoid anymore. I wanted to go home, but I wasn't entirely sure that Bella would want to leave Washington. She was very close to her dad; would she really want to live on the other side of the country from him? She had a stable job, as did I, at the hospital. We had a good life.

And then, as much as I tried to suppress it, my own fears bubbled under the surface. I'd known from that first trip to Georgia that Bella was absolutely the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. When I would envision my future with her, I could see everything in startling clarity. And it terrified me, even though, deep down, I was sure that Bella would never do what Kristie did, on the surface, I knew how badly it would crush me if I ever lost her.

"Bella, I have a confession to make," I called out to her one evening as I sat on the foot of the bed we'd been sharing together every night for over a year and a half. Since the day she came over and never left.

I heard the sound of her brush setting down on the bathroom counter and she appeared in the doorway, wearing a white bathrobe. "That doesn't sound good."

I motioned my fingers for her to come closer and patted the space beside me, where she hesitantly joined me. "You know how last weekend, I told you I was going to visit some buddies of mine?" I asked and she slowly nodded, her eyes flickering nervously between mine. "Well, that wasn't exactly true."

Bella's body straightened rigidly with tears forming in her eyes, and it was as if I was watching her heart shatter in front of me. "What? Just…what?"

"Baby, I was with your father," I replied, taking her hand in mine and her body shook as she released a heavy breath. "I would never do that to you, Bella. Don't you know that?"

Her tears spilled down her cheeks as she bit her lip, nodding and lowering her eyes. "Yeah, I know. I just…I couldn't imagine any other reason for you to lie about where you were. Why?"

I looked back to her to find her eyes level with mine again. "I needed to talk to him alone, and I knew you'd ask questions."

Bella's expression became that of complete confusion. In the two and a half years we'd been together, Charlie Swan and I had no spoken more than three words at a time to each other, and I was gone for a majority of that afternoon…alone…with Bella's father. I could understand her questioning gaze. "And you didn't think I'd have any now?"

"I had to show him something," I replied, reaching into my pocket and retrieving the object in question, holding it in front of her. "This was my Grandma Masen's engagement ring. Mama gave it to me the last time we were down there, for when I was ready. When we were ready. And I don't know about everywhere else, but where I come from, you ask a girl's daddy for his blessing before you get down on your knee."

Bella's hands rose to cover her mouth as more tears flooded her eyes. "Did he give it?"

I pressed my lips firmly together, remembering the tense moment in that kitchen, his eyes turned out the window. My stomach flipped much as it had then, when he looked at me with tears glazing his eyes, though it was obvious he was fighting them, and said, "You better take damn good care of my baby."

"Yeah, he gave it," I answered softly.

I watched her lip tremble before taking it between her teeth to stop it and closing her eyes. "Are you sure?"

Was I sure? Images began flashing in my mind of moments with Bella, and my heart began to race. I remembered the first day I met her, and how, even though I was taken at the time, she stole my breath away a little. How it felt the first time she was in my bed, loneliness and pain the farthest thing from my mind the instant she touched me. The agony I felt when she left me, the terror when I saw that gun pointed at her, the indescribable euphoria when I had her in my arms again and she was mine, and making love to her for the first time.

Finally, I remembered whispering "I love you" to her, thinking she was asleep, but had since become so grateful that she wasn't. Watching her eyes open and hearing her say she knew—it was freeing. And the sincerity in her eyes when she said it back let me know that I would never go back to the emotional void I was in before her.

"I'm positive," I replied in a resolute tone, holding her gaze.

Bella released a soft laugh as another tear fell from her cheek to the back of her hand. "Well, you should get on your knee and ask me, then."

I was stunned silent for a moment before I returned her smile, kneeling at her feet and taking her left hand. "Bella, would you do me the honor of growing very old with me?"

Bella giggled with tears in her eyes and nodded, her eyes lowering to watch me slide the ring on her finger. The moment it was settled there, she took my face between her hands and crushed her lips against mine. She guided me up to the bed to lie above her, wrapping her arms tightly around my shoulders. "You ever do something like that to me again, I might kill you."

"Like what?" I asked with sincere confusion.

Bella opened her eyes to look up at me, tracing my face with her fingertips. "I thought I was losing you. I really don't think I'd survive that."

"Never, Bella. Because I wouldn't, either," I whispered, kissing her gently and then smirking against her lips. "And now you're stuck with me. I'm taking you back home as my future wife."

"Guess we really need to do some talking, huh?" she said and I nodded, gazing into her eyes. Whatever she wanted that I could give her, I would. No matter what. A small smile twitched at her lips and I felt her fingers begin to twirl in my hair. "Later. Right now, I'd like to make love to my fiancé."

I lowered my lips to her and slipped my hand beneath her robe, granting her request over and over throughout the night and our entire day off.


"Keep your eyes closed," I laughed as Bella wiggled impatiently in front of me on the saddle.

"Edward, it's starting to get dark, and you know how Alice is going to get. Teenage hormones are in full force, do you want to contend with that?" Bella replied in her attempt at an intimidating voice, which naturally, I found completely adorable.

I pulled the horse to a stop and rested my chin on her shoulder, with my arms wrapped around her waist. "I just thought you'd like to see where we're coming tomorrow after our wedding, Mrs. Cullen."

Bella stopped breathing for a moment at my words and then slowly opened her eyes, at which time, she let it out sharply. "Are you kidding?"

"No, I'm not kidding," I whispered, kissing her cheek and dismounting, holding my arms up for her and lifting her down. "You said you wanted to stay close to my folks and the edge of this property meets with theirs right over there."

I stood behind her, pointing across the wide open pasture to the dividing fence in the distance. Bella's eyes shifted from there to the small house in front of us and felt her tremble in my arms. "This is our house?"

"Just signed the papers this morning. Figured if I couldn't give you a honeymoon, I was damn well gonna give you a real wedding night in a place of our own," I replied, pressing my lips to her hair.

We'd both been surprised when I'd heard back within a month from the Atlanta Medical Center, for a position in their trauma department. I thought it would at least take long enough for us to get married and possibly have a brief honeymoon before I dove back in to building up my career again. Apparently, my recommendation from Dr. Ateara had been exceedingly glowing and they were quick to snatch me up.

Bella, on the other hand, was never quite the same after that day with Mr. Callaghan. She still held on to her job, but she never stepped into the OR again, opting completely out of surgeries and began simply doing rounds and vitals. When we'd made the decision to move to Georgia, she began talking about possibly going back to school. She enjoyed helping out with the animals on my parents' farm, and had even assisted my father in the birth of a colt during one of our visits. She told me she felt a thrill that day that she hadn't in a very long time, and decided to become a vet; animals didn't scare her nearly as much as humans did, she told me.

I watched as she stepped away from me, walking up the stairs of the porch in silence and leaning her hands on the railing, looking down at me. "I can't believe you bought us a house."

"Well, it's just something to start out in. Someday, I'll get you one of them big places in town, with marble floors and gold doorknobs, and whatever else they have in them fancy houses. The whole she-bang."

Bella laughed and came back down the stairs, taking long strides toward me until she jumped into my arms. Her lips met mine as I hugged around her waist, her feet several inches off the ground. "This is perfect. Plenty of room for everything we need, and to start our family."

Our eyes locked briefly after she spoke, and then I resumed kissing her with everything in me. I carried her up to the stairs again, seating us on the porch swing with her straddling my legs. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too. But there's no 'starting' anything until tomorrow night. You need to make an honest woman of me first," she teased against my lips, pecking them briefly before lifting off my lap and sitting beside me.

I wrapped my arm around her chest and she rested back into mine, laying her head against my shoulder. In less than eighteen hours, the woman in my arms would be my wife. God willing, before the year was out, she'd have our child inside her. Life was good, and I couldn't imagine it getting any better than that. I had everything I ever wanted, and someone to share it all with, who wanted it all, too.

Yep, life was definitely good.

A/N: C'est fini. Thank you to you all for taking the time to read my little story here. Hope you enjoyed my overdramatic ramblings of my overactive imagination. Hopefully now I can give myself a kick in the ass to get my other updates done. This has been consuming me for three weeks now. Later, lovelies!