Sorry it's taken so long to get this done. RL is an evil harpy with her own agenda.
Much thanks and love to everyone involved in this journey.
If you read this, thanks for staying with me. Hope it is worth the wait.
Chapter 36 – Court Adjourned
After giving the French police our statements, Bella and I made our way back to the hotel. We ordered room service, packed up our luggage and made our reservations for the next morning to fly home. We called the office in the states around six o'clock to let them know we were coming home and to check up on things. It was still only about nine o'clock in the morning on the west coast, and Emmett and Jasper were both in the office.
"Hey, Edward, how's it going over there?" Emmett asked.
"We're done, Em. We cracked the case, and you'll never believe how it came down. Get Jasper, put the phone on speaker, and we'll fill you lot in."
Bella and I spent the next half hour relaying all that had happened earlier that morning and answering their questions.
"So, Nathalie was not only a nasty cougar, but an embezzling nympho as well. Damn, Edward, you can really pick 'em," Emmett prodded.
"I didn't pick her, trust me. I have much better taste than that," I smiled at Bella, before pulling her to me for a searing kiss. The moan that escaped her in the silence we had left hanging on the line must have tipped them off as to what we were doing.
"There must be something to that 'City of Love' nickname Paris has," Jasper laughed, causing Bella to pull away from me wide-eyed, that tell-tale flush staining her porcelain cheeks. I would never get tired of seeing that, as it still made me hard as a rock.
"I think it has more to do with the company you keep here," I disagreed. "Anyway, we'll be heading home first thing in the morning, and then Bella and I are going to take a few days off to get over our jetlag and regroup. Is everything there at the office still kosher?" I asked. I heard a giggle in the background that sounded like Jessica, and I wondered what in hell my office had been reduced to while I was away.
"Yeah, everything is fine here. Morale is at an all-time high, I'd have to say," Emmett snickered. That sound had me worried. Emmett snickering usually meant there was mischief afoot.
"Right…" I drawled. "Has Newton been doing his fair share of late?" I asked.
This time Emmett snorted, "Oh, yeah."
That was all he said.
Now I was definitely worried.
"Hey, you two, cracking the Oberlauge case is definitely cause for a celebration. What say we have a little get-together when you guys get back?" Jasper asked.
"That sounds like a great idea. Maybe we can even make it a right proper do, seeing as the holidays are upon us now. Let me and Bella discuss it, and be thinking about it on your end as well. More than anything, I'll be happy just to celebrate being back on U.S. soil. Europe is great, but there's no place like home."
I hung up from Emmett and Jasper and turned to see Bella grinning at me. "What?"
"Oh, nothing, I just can't wait to get home. So, how do you think it's going to go with the new policy in place at the office? You're seriously expecting us to keep our PDA under wraps?" she purred, as she ran her finger up and down my arm.
"Bella, you make it hard for me to control anything when I'm around you. I have a feeling the policy-"
I didn't get a chance to finish that sentence, because Bella quickly had her hands in my hair and was tugging fiercely, as she attached herself to my lips, wrapping her leg over my hip. I was about to lay her out on the bed and have my wicked way with her, but room service knocked with our dinner, just before things could get too much more heated up. I wasn't as much interested in food as I was in feasting on my beautiful girlfriend, but I knew she hadn't eaten anything except a sandwich since breakfast, and I wanted her to be well nourished for the night I had in store for her.
Paris was indeed the city of love, so after dinner, we said our goodbyes to Paris in proper fashion, wrapped in each other's arms, making love until the early hours of the morning.
Neither one of us was particularly peppy after being up most of the night and having had only a couple of hours of sleep, but we had a plane to catch, both of us eager to finally go home. So with coffees in hand from an all-night coffee shop near the hotel, we caught a cab to the airport before the sun was even up good. By the time our plane took off at just before nine o'clock, Bella was yawning, and so was I. Reclined in our first-class seats, we slept while holding hands between us for almost the entire ten-hour flight back to Seattle. Between the fighting, lovemaking and settling the Oberlauge case, we were exhausted and ready for some rest.
It was really bizarre waking up, as we began our descent into Washington, to it only being mid-morning of the same day, west-coast time, as if only an hour had passed. I would never get used to that weird, surreal feeling.
We caught a cab at Sea-Tac, riding hand and hand back into the city. I wanted to ask Bella to come home with me, but I was suddenly feeling nervous. Apparently, Bella was, too, because her bottom lip was firmly clinched between her teeth. I feared us hitting a pothole, lest she bit it right off.
"Bella…" I started, getting her attention. I wasn't sure where to go from there, though, without sounding desperate. Hell, I was desperate. "Come back to mine?" I blurted out, looking at her hopefully.
She smiled back at me, her cheeks blazing red, making me smile. Her apartment was still occupied by the people she had sublet it to, so I knew she only had her friends to go to for a place to stay, or another hotel. I was done with hotels. She nodded, and I knew then that we were just fine.
"I'd love to. Thank you, I was going to ask you the same thing, but then I remembered I didn't have a place until the sublease is up. I considered making use of the futon in my office, but I don't want to be away from you, Edward; I just can't, not anymore."
"I can't be away from you, either, love, and don't worry about using that futon. I'm sure we'll put it to good use at some point," I winked at her. "We'll figure it out, Bella. I know we've been asleep for hours, but all I want to do is lie down with you for a while and just…be. Is that mental of me?" I asked, looking down at our joined hands.
"No, not unless I'm mental, too, it sounds perfect to me," she sighed contentedly, leaning into me.
After a quick call to the office to check in and let them know we'd arrived safely back to my apartment, we had a snack of whatever I could find edible in my cupboards, and then we crawled into my bed and just lay there in each other's arms, talking quietly for a while.
"We need to shop for groceries," Bella giggled.
"Right now?" I asked confused.
"No, silly, but if we're going to be staying here together, we might eventually like something to eat besides stale crisps and tinned fish," Bella wrinkled her nose. "I can cook, you know, I just need something to do it with."
"Why, Ms. Swan, that sounds positively domestic. Are you sure you want to do that?" I asked a little worried that I was hoping for too much, wanting Bella to stay here with me. If I had my way, she would never leave. That thought had me internally freaking out for half a second, before the image of her cooking breakfast for us in just my shirt, with me standing behind her, my hands wrapped around her baby bump, made me long for it to be a reality. I had never even given the idea of a wife and family any serious thought, but now I wanted it, badly. And I wanted it with her.
"I hadn't considered ever doing the cohabitating thing, but I think if it's with you, I wouldn't mind being a bit domestic. I'm a neat freak, Mr. Cullen, think you can handle that?" she smirked.
"Do you know me at all, Ms. Swan? With my anal retentiveness, do you honestly think I deal with messiness well?"
"Point taken," she grinned, and I dug my fingers into her ribs, making her laugh out loud. Yes, that sound was what I wanted to hear in my life every morning and every night, as I held her in my arms.
Bella settled nicely in with me over the next few days, and my apartment became our apartment. We finally went to the market, and I was salivating at the thought of the things she told me she was going to make for me. She seemed to feel right at home in the kitchen. She especially looked good bent over the kitchen island, but unfortunately, she also discovered just how cold granite could be. Needless to say, I wouldn't be pulling her jumper off and then pushing her bare breasts and stomach onto the frigid surface again without some warning. I now had a bruise on my forehead to show just how bad of an idea that was.
I was surprised at how little she actually had put into storage before she'd left for France. When we retrieved her things and brought them to the apartment, it only took an hour and a bit of rearranging some drawers, bookshelves and a rack in my closet to get her sorted.
"Is this all there is, love? Surely you have more boxes somewhere," I said puzzled, looking at her meagre belongings. I had never known a woman who didn't have loads of clothes and crap.
"No, this is it. I'm not one much for clutter, and I donated most of my household stuff to Alice and Rosalie, what didn't go to charity. I hadn't bought much of anything new except for some work clothes since college. I wasn't really sure where I was going to end up long term, so it didn't make sense to spend the money. I'm happy about that now. It just means less to donate because we have duplicates," she reasoned, and she was right. She seriously had to be one of the least materialistic women I had ever known.
We were headed back into the office bright and early tomorrow morning, but the guys claimed they had missed me and wanted to go for a pint, so Bella and I agreed to meet them for dinner first then go for a round and some darts. As we were walking toward the café, I couldn't help but notice Bella smirking, as if she had a secret she was keen on keeping.
"What has you grinning like the Cheshire cat, love?" I asked her, wrapping my arm tighter around her waist.
"Oh, nothing, I'm just looking forward to seeing how this evening plays out," she smirked.
"Is that so? And why would dinner and a pub crawl be that interesting?"
The minute we walked into the café, Bella was swept up into the arms of her friends, Alice and Rosalie. I recognized them from the night I had seen them at the pub a few months back. It seemed like a lifetime ago now.
"We're so glad you're back!" Alice squealed, "Although I have to confess, I was hoping the case would go on a while longer, so we could make another trip to Paris to visit you again."
"I'm glad it didn't. Paris was lovely, but home is still home," Bella told her friends, clutching my hand firmly. She made the formal introductions, and Rosalie smiled widely, looking knowingly at our joined hands. I would guess Bella had filled them in on our relationship.
We were still chatting, waiting for a table to open up, when Jasper and Emmett entered the café behind us.
"Edward, Bella! It's great to have you back. Ed, we've missed your grumpy arse around the office," Jasper teased. He looked to Emmett to back him up, but Em was too busy drooling on his shoes to pay Jasper any attention. Emmett's focus was solely on Rosalie. Tiny Alice stepped out from behind the statuesque blonde, catching Jasper's attention. I remembered Jasper mentioning having seen her before and being bowled over by her.
"Hello, we haven't formally met before," Jasper extended his hand, "but I'm sure I've seen you somewhere. I could never forget someone so beautiful. I'm Jasper Hale, one of Edward's partners."
"I'm Alice Brandon, and this is Rosalie Whitlock. We're Bella's best friends. It's so nice to meet you," Alice smiled shyly.
We were finally seated and had ordered, and I looked on as my two best friends transformed before my very eyes. Emmett and Jasper had always been players, ladies' men till the end, but I had a feeling those days were numbered given how they were looking at Bella's friends. I recognized that look, as I'd seen it in the mirror many times.
Bella leaned into me, whispering in my ear, "Hook, line and sinker. I was pretty sure this would happen, but if your boys hurt my girls, I'll have to remove what makes them happiest and feed it to them via their nostrils," she warned.
"I'll pass that titbit along. So, Miss Swan, matchmaker extraordinaire, does that apply to me, too?"
"What do you think?" she asked me with a raised brow and a look that made me cover my lap with my hands.
"Understood," I nodded.
The rest of the evening was spent pub crawling and having a great time. I didn't think I had ever laughed and joked so much in my life. I was completely happy, as were my mates. In one of the pubs, we happened across Mike and Jessica, who were out for the evening as well. They looked worried, when they saw me looking at their entwined hands, but I just clapped them both on the shoulder. "As long as it doesn't interfere with your work, carry on."
Mike could have been knocked over with a feather, but Jessica just grinned at me and winked.
It didn't take long for the office to get back to normal, and our case loads were booming. Word of our success cracking the Oberlauge case had spread to the states, and our firm had all the business we could handle and then some. We had a meeting and decided to expand, having enough work for several more attorneys. Once Seth was back, we offered him a lucrative position with us, with a quick track to partner if he wanted in. He had more than proven his worth in France, and we all wanted him on our team. Thankfully, he accepted.
Ben Cheney and Angela Webber were the other two attorneys we hired on. They were both top notch counsellors with backgrounds in different areas. Bella and Angela got on well right away, quickly becoming fast friends. They were heading out to lunch, and Bella stopped by my office to ask if I wanted anything. I pulled her inside and showed her exactly what I wanted.
"Edward, Angela's waiting for me. What would you like to eat, love?" she asked with a moan, as I attacked her neck.
"Already got it," I smiled, sucking on her collarbone.
"Food, Edward, your usual?" she giggled, as I nipped her neck.
"That's fine." She squirmed out of my arms and out of my office, and I watched her walk toward the lifts with Angela.
Ben was standing there staring at the two of them, and I was about to tear into him for staring at my girlfriend, when he came over and asked, "Is Miss Webber involved with anyone that you know of? She's a beautiful woman, that one."
I relaxed a little, knowing his focus was not on Bella. "She's isn't involved with anyone, at least not that I'm aware of at this time."
"Good," he grinned, heading back toward his office.
Seth and I had a case we were working on together and were knee deep in reading depositions later that afternoon, when Jessica rang my office. "Edward, there's a Tanya Denali here to see you. She says she's a close friend of yours and has a standing appointment. I don't have anything on the schedule for her, though. Do you want to see her?"
I groaned, aggravated at the interruption. "Not particularly, Jess, but I might as well get it over with," I huffed and then turned to Seth. "Please stay, Bella's due back from court any time now, but without her here, I'm a sitting duck. If this woman gets me alone, there's no telling what she might try."
"The old Cullen charm can be such a ball and chain, eh, Edward?" Seth smirked, and I shot him a rude gesture.
Jessica showed Tanya into my office, and we made the usual small talk and pleasantries. I introduced Seth as my associate, and then stood there as the two eye-fucked each other shamelessly. Seth took Tanya's hand, pulling out his smoothest moves. "Ms. Denali, it's definitely my pleasure. May I take you to dinner this evening?"
I stood there speechless, as Tanya turned into a bumbling, stuttering mess. I had never seen her lose her composure like that before, and I couldn't help the smirk that crossed my face. Judging by the look on the two of theirs, I might not have to worry about Tanya coming after me ever again, especially when she accepted Seth's offer. This only made me smile wider.
Bella walked in from court then, and I made the introductions.
"It's nice to meet you, Ms. Denali. To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit?" Bella asked politely.
"Well, I'm hoping to join the team here at Cullen, Hale and McCarty. The partners of the firm I was working with were all older gentlemen, and they all decided to retire to the south with their wives and close up shop, leaving us younger associates to scramble for positions elsewhere. Edward and I have actually known one another since we were children and our families are still friendly to this day, so I was hoping to garner some consideration here."
I thought it rather presumptuous of her, but I'd known her my whole life, and that was nothing new. She handed us all a copy of her resume, and after looking it over, I would have to say she had excellent credentials and a solid track record on her cases, even though I knew how shallow she could be. That hadn't seemed to affect her performance as an attorney, however.
"Tanya, I'll need to speak to my partners about bringing you on. When would you be available to join us if the decision is favorable?"
She smiled widely, glancing at Seth. "They actually closed a couple of weeks ago, so I'm free immediately. I've been waiting for you to return to the states to contact you. Congratulations on closing the case in France, by the way. I've heard Nathalie Oberlauge is facing some serious time in prison. Well done, my friend."
Indeed she was. Nathalie Oberlauge would likely spend her remaining days behind bars. Gerald had finally seen the light and turned on her, giving the French police every shred of evidence he had in order to reduce his own punishment. He also ratted out Jane as one of Nathalie's lovers and accomplices, and she had been who had broken into the apartment and shredded Bella's clothing. I'd had no idea Ms. Oberlauge played for both teams, and apparently, Jane didn't like the attention Nathalie had been giving Bella or the threat Bella had posed to their arrangement. Alec had been cleared of any wrongdoing, and he was currently helping the Volturi brothers mend what damage had been done to the company, including reclaiming what they could of Nathalie's pilfering.
"Thank you, Tanya. Let me talk to my partners, and we'll be in touch," I told her, taking Bella's hand in mine.
"I'll be looking forward to it. You know, Edward, you look happier than I've ever seen you. I take it Ms. Swan here has something to do with that?" she smiled widely at Bella.
"Everything, actually, Bella is also my girlfriend, and she was indispensable in France, as was Seth. We only have the best working with us, Tanya, and we all care very much about each other here. We're family as much as colleagues," I said smiling at Bella.
"That's good to know. Speaking of family, our parents are planning a Christmas party next weekend. Will you and Ms. Swan be in attendance?"
"Yes, Bella and I will be there, as will my partners and their new girlfriends, our associates, and Bella's parents. It should prove to be quite the crowd."
I'd called my parents over the weekend we'd gotten back, and I had been told all about it. They had demanded I invite Jasper and Emmett as usual, since they considered them their boys almost as much as me, and they wanted to meet the rest of my associates, so they were all coming to the party, too. They had especially wanted me to bring Bella to meet them, which I had promised to do if she was free.
They'd also wanted to meet Bella's parents, which had prompted a discussion on Bella's home life. Her mother had passed away when she was young, and her father had remarried a lovely woman named Sue, who Bella was quite fond of. Bella rang them, and they had agreed to drive up from their tiny hometown for a visit. Needless to say, I was insanely nervous about meeting her father. He was apparently a licenced firearm carrier, and he never left home without it. Bella, the cheeky thing she was, promised to tell her father that any act of debauchery I had performed on her had been done with her consent. The man was sure to kill me then. I just hoped it all went well enough that he would give his blessing when I asked him the second most important question of my life. The first, I would need to ask his daughter, and I intended to do so, shortly after I talked to him.
The night of the Christmas party, I was a nervous wreck. My parents had gotten to meet Bella earlier in the day, as my beautiful girl insisted on going over and helping my parents set up and cook. They loved her instantly, just as I had, and she and my mum had a lot of interests in common. I'd talked to my dad while Bella was working with my mum, and he had happily pulled out my grandmother's wedding rings for me to give to Bella. I wanted to marry her. I loved her with every fibre of my being, and I wanted her for all time. I wanted to make that fantasy of seeing her round with my children a reality. I had been subtly talking about marriage in conversations with her, and she hadn't seemed opposed to the idea, so I hoped tonight would go as I'd planned. Otherwise, I was about to make a huge fool of myself in front of everyone...
Eighteen months later…
"Edward, grab the cooler from my truck!" Charlie called to me.
"Got it!" I called back, lifting the snack and beer-filled cooler and heading for the boat. Yes, I, Edward Cullen, city boy and uptight business man, was about to go fishing with my soon-to-be father-in-law for the day. I had hated leaving my beautiful fiancée sleeping alone, but she had a full day ahead of her as well. My mother and Sue were taking Bella and her friends for a spa day in preparation for our wedding. All the other details for the wedding were handled, and Bella already had her dress. She was going to wear her mother's gown, and my mum had been helping her with the alterations. Of course, I hadn't seen it, bad luck and all that, but according to my mother, it would take my breath away when I did. It couldn't take my breath away any more than Bella had the day I'd proposed…
"Mr. Swan, can I talk to you for a moment?" I asked, and Charlie Swan nodded, following me out onto the deck of my parents' home.
"Sir, I know you don't know me that well yet, but I…um…wanted to ask…" I had to stop and collect myself. I could hold my composure in the courtroom like a rock star, but standing before this man, who with one word could completely ruin my plans for this evening, I was a blathering idiot. "I'd like your blessing to ask your daughter to marry me," I finally got out. He looked at me closely, his moustache twitching, while he seemed to be weighing my request.
"If I say no, what then?" he asked with a raised brow. "In the grand scheme of things, you two really haven't known each other all that long."
"I plan on asking her regardless, but I wanted to do the right thing and talk to you first. Sir, she's everything to me, I love her like I've never loved anyone before, and I can't imagine my life without her in it. I may not have known her for years, but I know I want her as my wife. She's everything I never knew I needed, but realize I'll never find in another woman for as long as I live. I'm sure it'd mean the world to her if we had your blessing."
"Bella's my only little girl, my only child. I'd do anything for her, and she's told me about you and how much she loves you, too. She's been happier than I've ever seen her, and I want to continue to see that look on her face that tells me she's content. You have my blessing, but just remember, I know how to make your disappearance look like a tragic accident if you ever hurt her, are we understood?"
Later that evening, once the party was in full swing, I plucked up the nerve to get down on one knee and ask for Bella's hand in marriage. She stood there stunned, before a huge smile crossed her face.
"Yes," she nodded, tears streaming down her face. I placed my grandmother's ring on her finger before pulling her in for a long kiss. The cheers around us were deafening.
"I love you, my beautiful future wife."
"I love you, too, my handsome future husband."
"Come on, boys, the fish are just about jumping into the boat this morning. Let's go!" Charlie said excitedly. I didn't know how he could tell that, since it was still pitch dark outside.
"You blokes want to make today a bit more interesting?" Emmett grinned, and I was suddenly worried he'd want to do something stupid. I couldn't afford stupid this close to my wedding day, so I had nixed a trip to a strip club tonight. I didn't need Bella mad enough to castrate me before I even got to enjoy our honeymoon in Fiji.
"What did you have in mind, Son?" my dad asked.
"Just a friendly little competition, biggest fish gets to decorate the bridal car for after the reception," he said with a wicked gleam in his eyes, and Jasper nodded along with him. Suddenly, I feared driving away toward the airport with helium-filled condoms tied to the car and phallic symbols painted on the windows. They all agreed, and I really hoped Emmett or Jasper didn't win.
Charlie and my father had charted an all-day salt water fishing expedition as the activity for my stag-day celebration, and all my closest mates were going as well. Emmett, Jasper, Seth, Ben and Mike had left their wives behind to go with Bella today, which was a good thing. A bunch of pregnant women on a boat probably would have led to a lot of hair holding and back rubbing all day.
Bella and I were the last of us to tie the knot, having been too swamped with our case loads until now to take the time away to have a proper wedding. We had both been fine with a long engagement. Every day I got to live with Bella just proved that much more how I wouldn't be able to live without her.
Shortly after Emmett and Jasper met Rosalie and Alice, we had offered the ladies positions as Executive Assistants with our firm, and they had accepted. It was a good thing we had modified the no-fraternization policy, as love abounded with a vengeance around the office, but thankfully, open displays of PDA were kept to a minimum. However, I knew for a fact that all of the futons in our offices had been well christened. Thank heavens for wipe-clean upholstery.
Emmett and Rosalie had been first to make it official, jetting off to Las Vegas for a weekend trip, only to return married. Rose was due anytime with their first son. Jasper and Alice were next, having had a small cottage wedding in the country, and they had just found out Alice was expecting twins. Ben and Angela, and Mike and Jessica, had all gotten married shortly after Jasper and Alice, and both girls were about halfway through their first pregnancies as well. Of course, we all kidded Seth about his and Tanya's being a "shotgun" wedding, since she had already hit the fourth month of her pregnancy by the time of their nuptials a couple of months ago.
I was happy for them all, and with all these new babies coming in close succession, things at the firm were going to be hectic. But I also couldn't wait to join the ranks of expecting and new parents. We had extra space on our floor, so we planned on establishing a staff day-care within the office, as that would prove to be the most efficient way to go and still be able to get any work done.
The rest of the day passed with much testosterone, alcohol and trash talking. Thankfully, my dad ended up catching the biggest fish, so I knew our car would be safe…that was until he grinned with the most mischievous look I had ever seen on his face. Oh shit…
The day I married Bella was the happiest of my life. Like my mum had predicted, the vision of her walking down the aisle in her mother's vintage gown, her kryptonite blush lighting her face, about took my knees out from under me, the image forever frozen in my heart. Well, I thought it was the happiest day of my life, until Bella told me a few weeks later that her forgetting to bring her birth control pills on our honeymoon had resulted in a little souvenir that would be delivered the following spring. I guess my dad hanging nappies, baby bottles and pregnancy tests all over our honeymoon getaway car had done the trick. Carlton Chase Cullen would bring a whole new level of happiness to my life I never knew I could achieve, and his sisters, Emelia Grace and Bethany Elizabeth, who joined our family during the next three years, would only make it that much more profound.
My life was amazing now, and I had one beautiful woman to thank for it. I had used that ridiculous no-fraternization policy to try and make sure no one else had anything more than I'd had at the firm, but my Bella had opened my eyes and turned my dull, structured existence, where I only had my work and my loneliness as my constant companions, into a life filled with friends, companionship and love. She was now and always would be the reason I became a better man.