I own nothing.
I must say, that I am sad as I write this. When I began this story 6 months ago, I never dreamed that you would support it (and me) the way that you have. You have offered kind words and encouragement. I will be forever grateful to those of you who have reviewed and recommended this story to others. I am humbled. Thank you.
Thank you for reading and as always, please let me know what you think. To those of you who have been with me from the beginning, please take a moment to let me know what you thought of the story as a whole and whether you would be interested in reading anything else as I have another story that is taking shape in my mind and I would like to share it.
This chapter is short, but it says what it needs to and I felt it was where it needed to end.
Let's enjoy Edward's happiness.
"Good morning, husband. Did you enjoy your ride?"
"I enjoyed it immensely, love. The new additions to the stable have proven a wise investment." I leaned forward to press a kiss to her cheek before stroking a finger across the cheek of the babe who nursed greedily at her breast. My Bella had taken to mothering as though she had practiced it for years. She was patient and loving and all that a child could wish for in a mother and I grew more proud of her by the day.
"I have sent Rachel for our morning meal. It should arrive once you have cleaned up."
"Are you insinuating that I need to bathe?" I dropped my jaw in mock horror as I pulled my shirt from my body, dropping it to the floor. Glancing back up at my wife, I was more than a bit pleased to find her staring unashamedly at my bare chest. "Something you fancy, Sweetheart?"
Her cheeks blushed a delicious pink as her eyes met mine, but her words were playful.
"I do not deny that I always fancy you, Edward. I would enjoy nothing more than watching you undress for days on end." Given the newness of the child in her arms, I was a bit shocked at her words.
"Hmmm… perhaps we should consider giving your poor body a rest for a bit, love. But for your knowledge, I enjoy watching you reveal your body to me as well."
She laughed then, a hearty, melodious laugh. The babe in her arms startled and whimpered as she shook her head, "Well, at the moment, your body smells of sweat and horses. Perhaps we should have this particular discussion once you are clean."
I smiled and nodded in agreement and excused myself to the water closet. I could hear Rachel's arrival with our meal as well as Isabella's gentle voice as she sang to the baby. It took only a few minutes before I was presentable and I quickly joined her for our meal.
Just as I reached my chair, the door flung open.
"Papa!" My son's small feet pounded across the wooden floor as he raced to my arms, flinging himself forward with a squeal of delight. Lifting him against my chest, I tickled his belly, eliciting another squeal and giggles that were nearly identical to his mother's.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Cullen. He saw you return and was beside himself to see you." Rachel's eyes were full of worry, for what reason I could not comprehend. I had never denied access to my son and was never upset when he sought me out. I waved her off, smiling at Charles as he babbled incessantly while reaching for a pastry.
"He is fine, Rachel. Thank you for caring for him while Mrs. Cullen was indisposed."
She simply nodded and retreated from the room, closing the door behind her. Bella and I ate our meal with few words, listening to our son chatter on and glancing occasionally at our daughter who slept silently in the cradle beside us.
Much in our lives had changed over the past few years. The estate had become extremely prosperous. Many of the investments and improvements we had made had proven to be profitable. The farming was as strong as ever and the horses that were bred and sold from our stables were among the best in the area. The manor had become a social hub as well. Isabella had assumed her role as mistress of the manor and had just recently completed preparations for our fifth Winter Ball which would take place in just over a month. There seemed to be an endless stream of visitors to the estate as well. Bella had proven herself to be the gracious host, even offering our home up for many dinner parties and gatherings.
The education of the tenant children had grown so that we were faced with the dilemma of overpopulation. I hired a crew of men from town and once again renovated the cottage to include two more classrooms. After hiring two more tutors, many of the less fortunate families in town had sought us out to inquire whether we would be willing to accommodate their children as well. My compassionate wife had immediately agreed and we were once again considering the need to expand our facilities.
At the same time, our families seemed to be expanding as well. Alice had given birth to another daughter, Sarah Lynn, only a year after Anna Grace was born. Jasper was severely outnumbered by females and we teased him mercilessly that he would need to father a boy soon or we would purchase a bonnet and petticoats for him as well. For some reason, he did not find this amusing.
Emmett and Rosalie had taken on the management of her family estate and had happily welcomed a son only a month ago. Emma was overjoyed to have a brother and Rosalie was surprisingly healthy and strong throughout her pregnancy. Emmett Carlisle Cullen was the joy of his father's life and Rosalie would often remark that she was only permitted to hold the boy when she was feeding him. To which Emmett would respond that were he equipped, he would provide that for the child as well. While I loved being a father, I cannot say that is something I had any interest in whatsoever. The thought of a baby sucking on any part of my body was a bit unnerving.
That particular duty had been difficult for my Bella in the beginning. The midwife had returned daily for the first week or so, trying to assist her, but she became swollen and Charles had struggled to get milk. I watched in horror one morning as Irina had placed ice packing around Bella's breasts to decrease the swelling and ached for the discomfort it must have caused her. In the end, it had worked and Charles fed well and slept for several hours that night, providing my Bella with the best sleep she had enjoyed since birthing our son. When our daughter arrived three weeks ago, it had been much easier.
I was present for that birth as well. Having been by my wife's side as our son entered the world, I would not be persuaded to leave her when our daughter came. When I told Emmett and Jasper about the events surrounding Charles' birth, they were at first horrified, but as I described the joy and closeness that had come from it, they were envious. Both of them had insisted on being present at the births of their second child.
My parents had been with us to visit with their grandchildren and had departed only yesterday after securing a promise from us that we would visit in a couple of months. I believe my mother was thrilled with the prospect of spoiling her grandchildren and presenting them proudly to her friends. For now, we were enjoying the quiet peacefulness of our morning.
Charles had finished his meal and was playing quietly with wooden blocks on the floor near the hearth. Bella had worried he might press in to close to the fire and had placed a rug on the floor, instructing him that he could not go beyond the edge of it while he played. He did not like the heat and kept well away. He was a pleasant child and often rode with me in the mornings. He enjoyed the outdoors and Bella insisted he was aptly named as he seemed to share the same interests that her father had enjoyed. He favored me through the face and eyes, but had Bella's brown curls and gentleness. We had yet to discover what temperament our daughter held, but seemed to already be a bit more vocal when she was hungry than Charles had been at the same age.
Looking up from where Charles played quietly, I met my wife's gaze. "I am sorry, did you address me, love?"
"I did. You were lost in your thoughts. All is well, I hope?"
Reaching over to take her hand, I squeezed gently before pulling her fingers to my lips and kissing them gently. "Forgive me. All is well, I was simply reminiscing about how our lives have changed. What is it that you asked of me?"
"I wondered if you had the opportunity to look in on Ben and Angela while you were out this morning."
Ben and Angela had been married not long after the Winter Ball before Charles was born. She had been a great help to him in managing the cottage school. Within a few days of their wedding anniversary, Angela had given birth to twin boys and now was expecting another child.
"I did. The midwife had been to see them yesterday and felt that the child would come within a day or two. Angela looked well. Tired, but well."
"I am glad to hear it. I have felt horrible that I have been unable to see her these last few weeks. Perhaps as soon as the child arrives we could pay a visit to offer our congratulations."
"I would be happy to take you to visit." Shifting forward in my chair, I lifted my sleeping daughter into my arms as I had not yet held her this morning. Gazing at her tiny pink face, I quietly spoke, "Bella? We have a circumstance to overcome."
My wife glanced up quickly, meeting my eyes with a worried look. I immediately smiled to put her at ease. Were I able, I would never allow worry or fear to enter her life again. I had seen it mar her features far too many times as it was. Her nightmares had returned when Charles was a few days old. Her mind would play scenes of James Smith returning to cause harm to me and our son while she was unable to stop him. She would wake shaking and weeping until I placed the child in her arms and held them close while she calmed. Thankfully, the nightmares had not returned after the birth of our daughter.
"I did not mean to alarm you, my Bella. I simply wanted to draw your attention to the fact that our little Elizabeth is still in need of a complete name. Have you come to a decision or is she destined to hobble along with a partial moniker?"
Bella's face grew tender and she looked away for a moment before standing and walking toward me. Kneeling beside my chair, she placed her hand over mine where it rested on our daughter. She brushed her finger over Elizabeth's tiny fingers where they were wrapped around the ring finger of my right hand. After a moment, she looked up and met my gaze. When she spoke, her words were but a whisper.
"I have chosen a name. I suppose it was born out of what I want for her more than anything. What I suppose my parents wanted for me when I was newly born. What you have renewed for me many times over, Edward. Hope. Her name is Elizabeth Hope Cullen."
Her eyes were filled with joyful tears and I could not help but claim her lips with my own in a gentle kiss. It was true. I had seen it grow within her. Hope that had been taken from her with her home and her father's health had been restored to her with kindness and love. She had become the woman she was always meant to be – loving, compassionate, kind, confident and full of hope for the world around her. It now overflowed out of her life and into others. She had given hope to my parents when they believed their son would never choose a wife. She had given hope to my brother and his wife when they feared for the life of their daughter. She had offered hope to desperately poor children, and by extension, their families. I had no doubt that she would continue to impact the lives around her by virtue of the love, kindness and hope she offered freely to all.
"Elizabeth Hope." I felt the weight of her name on my lips as I watched her sleep. After a moment, I met Bella's eyes and was in awe of the love I found there. "Hope is perfect, Bella. I love it."
"I love you, Edward."
"As I love you, my Bella."