Lovely readers... we are finally at the end.
Thank you for spending time with me.
As always, I don't own the original characters, I've just enjoyed playing around with them.
Thanks to my beta, Mauigirl60... I often say it and will say it again... I'm so glad you found me! And that you put up with me... improper verb tense, non-apostrophe usage and all. At least I spell ok (thanks Spell Check!). Sorry.. that would be "OK" or "Okay". Jezzums.
Lookie there! I just red penned myself!
Anyway... here we go... a few years in the future.
Chapter 27 - Under My Skin – Epilogue
My phone started ringing, the lyrics of "Brown Eyed Girl" blared at me as I finished putting on my makeup. The familiar ring tone made me grin briefly before my pleasure at hearing the tune turned into irritation.
"Damn it to hell!" I mumbled as I screwed the cap back on the mascara and gave myself a once-over in the large bathroom vanity. I loved this bathroom. I loved this house. I never held an ounce of resentment toward Edward for picking out this home for us, especially since he'd done it with the help of our families. That meant they'd all had a part in creating our future and that was just how I thought it should be.
I ignored the ringing phone, now on its second cycle through the Van Morrison classic, since I knew it was just my husband choosing to dial me from downstairs. This was his way of telling me to hurry my ass up for a three-hour drive. Not just any three-hour drive; a three-hour drive with a highly energetic three-year-old.
Thank God for vehicles with TV and DVD players!
When Emmett and Rose had bought their new truck with the TV "for Alex", I'd rolled my eyes. At that time, our little Samantha was not quite a year old, and I knew there was no way I would dangle a screen in front of my little girl to entertain her. I firmly believed Rose and Emmett just needed to spend more time with their rambunctious two-year-old son. They should entertain him and give him things to keep him busy. Of course, perhaps all the time that Emmett spent with the kid had been part of the problem. He was a stay-at-home dad while Rose worked her way toward her medical degree, and Emmett was anything but calm and focused.
Nonetheless, I was convinced that with my more hands-on approach, my little Sammy would fall in love with books, just as I had, eventually learning to entertain herself quietly for hours with toys and age-appropriate educational games.
When the day came that I'd asked Emmett what car dealership they'd used, he laughed at me and called me a hypocrite.
After one particularly horrific three-hour-drive to Seattle, I was done. So was Edward, who, incidentally, had the patience of Job with his then twenty-month-old princess. Apparently, his patience had reached its limit when he'd been confined in a vehicle for three hours with her screaming and begging to be let out of the car seat. On that particular trip to visit my sisters and brothers-in-law, Rose and I had left the men with the kids and drove right over to the car lot. I walked into the dealership with my checkbook and left with a sleek, black SUV with leather interior and two TVs.
And headphone jacks.
If I could have gotten privacy glass installed between the front seats and the back, I would have.
Of course, traveling with Samantha Leigh is much easier now that she's a little older, and I have a DVD library filled with every princess movie ever made. This trip will be less eventful with my broad array of DVDs, but I was still a nervous wreck and had three hours to think about what I'd be doing that day.
I grabbed my garment bag off the bedroom door as I left the comfort of my room. I would've loved nothing more than to stay there, curled up in one of those wing-backed chairs in front of the fire and read.
The reality was that if I did stay there, I'd end up in my office over the garage, working on the second and third books of my young adult fantasy series Darkest Dawn. The first book in the series was being looked at by a variety of publishers. With the success of my first book, Under My Skin, Forever in My Heart, I'd earned some notoriety and was seen as a writer with promise – or so I'd been told.
It had taken a couple of years, a few title changes and many rejection letters before that first book was published. In fact, I'd gone the on-line route first, with an e-book, until it grew in popularity. Once it had gone to hard-print, the sales climbed. Of course, Oprah hadn't added me to her 'Favorite Things' list and I wasn't dancing around the coffee table with Ellen yet, but I had hope. And, so did my reading and editing team. I had three publishers already interested in taking on my new series, a trilogy with enough backstory to promise a prequel, which would also be told in three books. There were also whisperings of many movie deals.
But before I could settle on the right publisher, I had one more meeting to attend. Then I could move forward with this new venture.
Edward met me at the bottom of the stairs and took the garment bag from my hands.
"You look beautiful, love." Age had done nothing but improve my beautiful man. At thirty-one, Edward was somehow even more handsome than he'd been as a teenager. I, on the other hand, had put on a few pounds and looked more like I was thirty-seven instead of twenty-seven. And I often felt forty-seven after a long day of running after my daughter, housework and meetings with my writing team. Not to mention twice monthly PTA meetings, for which I was the secretary.
"Thanks," I said sarcastically and rolled my eyes. Years ago I never would have bothered with even the lightest bit of makeup to head out of town. These days, I seemed to have dark circles which had taken up residence underneath my eyes.
Edward wrapped his arm around me, tucking me in close to his side. Kissing the top of my head, he spoke to me in the firm tone he used when he was irritated with my self-deprecation. "Bells, you are beautiful and you grow more so every day."
"Thanks, Eddie. I just don't feel it, but I'll take your word for it." I gave him a smile as we stepped into the garage, walking over to the vehicle and to our daughter, who was already buckled into her seat.
"Momma! Wanna see Alek!" Sammy yelled at me, as I climbed into the passenger seat while Edward hung my garment bag in the back.
"Yes, baby girl, we're going to see Alex and Aunt Rose and Uncle Emmett…"
"Unk Em funny!"
Sammy loved her uncles, Emmett and Jasper, but Emmett was just a big five-year-old himself, so he held a special place in Sammy's heart. Plus, he's always let her spray him with the water hose and put makeup on him.
"Yes, he is funny," Edward said, climbing into the SUV and buckling himself in before starting the engine. "And, Aunt Alice and Uncle Jasper are going to visit, too."
"BABIESSSSSS!" Sammy yelled, thrusting her hands in the air while stretching her legs and feet straight out in front of her.
"Yes, sweetie, you can pet the babies," I said, as we pulled out of our drive and onto the main road.
Alice was pregnant, with twins. She was six months along and looked like she was about to burst. Sammy and Alex liked to see her and rub her belly, saying that they were "petting the babies". It was all fun and exciting now; just wait until they realized exactly how much competition they were going to have in the attention department when those babies got here. I didn't even want to think about it, especially since they're having both a boy and a girl; currently, Sammy is the only girl and princess over everything. She wouldn't be sharing her tiara that easily.
Once we started our three-hour trek to Seattle, I got the movie going for Sammy and handed her the headphones. Looking over at Edward, I saw him fighting back a grin.
"What?!" I asked snarkily, as I turned back around in my seat, settling myself in and then looking back at my husband.
"Nothing, it's just funny, that's all. You, 'Bookworm Bella', raising a TV-loving child; it's a little ironic, don't you think?" He actually started giggling and I smacked his arm.
"Stuff it, Cullen! You know you love her watching movies and being quiet as much as I do."
"Yeah, but I wasn't the one who scoffed at the idea!"
"Well, I finally saw the light, and if you keep picking on me, date night is canceled!"
His face blanched and I knew then that I had him.
The rest of the ride was uneventful.
My girl was beautiful, even while she sat there silently, irritated at my reminding her she'd berated Emmett and Rose for putting Alex in front of the TV.
Bella and I were married in June, the same year I'd proposed. We'd wasted enough time and if we were going to live together, there was no reason not to be married. That same weekend of my twenty-seventh birthday, we were wed in my parents' backyard, under the tree as Bella had wanted.
Three months later, we found out she was pregnant. We were surprised, especially since Bella was on the pill, taking them regularly, and there weren't any antibiotics to interfere. Apparently, I had good swimmers and we were just meant to have a baby. So, after the initial shock, we celebrated and embraced the idea of being parents. The following May, Samantha Leigh was born.
In the last three years, Bella had become Wife-and-Mother extraordinaire. She was truly amazing and I was in awe of her. Being an accomplished author only added to the amount of love and respect I had for my wife.
Her new book series was sure to be a huge success. This trip to Seattle was just the last leg of a long journey, a door that needed to be closed.
It was spring break for me, so the timing couldn't have worked out better. We were going to spend the week in Seattle, visiting with Rose, Emmett and Alex, along with Alice and Jasper. I also hoped we'd be able to fit in time with our other friends, maybe plan a barbecue.
Rose was nearing her goal of receiving her medical license. Em was happy being a stay-at-home dad. He volunteered at the preschool Alex attended and was the assistant coach for his pee-wee soccer team.
Alice had opened her own shop called 'Dress You' and was planning to open a second location, 'Dress You Too', in Olympia. Lauren had been her assistant since shortly after Bella and I were married and pretty much ran the boutique. Lauren and Embry had gotten married last year and were willing to move to Olympia to take over the new shop, if and when it happened.
Embry was ready to expand his auto repair business and opening a shop in Olympia would be a great addition. He had already opened a second auto repair shop in Seattle and Jake was running it for him.
Jake and Angela were finally married and trying to have another baby. They were crazy-happy together and their son, Chase, was great with Alex and Sammy. Jake and I had managed to become pretty good friends, declaring our friendship one night over too many beers and many games of pool. I thanked him for taking good care of my girl's heart for me while I got my head out of my ass. He said if I was truly thankful, I'd let him win a game of pool. I'd done a pretty good job of kicking his ass at the game that night.
My male ego wouldn't allow me to throw a game, so I decided to do one better and buy him his own pool table. Angela hadn't been angry with me for too long. Besides, it fit perfectly in their garage and gave Jake and Chase something to bond over.
By late morning, we had pulled into the parking lot of the hotel we'd be staying at for the week. We could have stayed at Em's or Alice's homes but, as much as we loved my brother and sister and their spouses, we liked our own space. So, a suite at the Seattle Hotel was the way to go.
Paying extra, I could check us in early, giving Bella the chance to change and get ready for her meeting.
I fixed Sammy lunch as my girl primped and preened. Twenty minutes later, Bella came out of the bedroom, the sight of her made my breath catch in my chest. God, she was gorgeous! She complained about the extra weight she claimed she put on since Samantha's birth and that she felt older than her twenty-seven years. I, however, loved the new curves of her body. Her hips were a little rounder and her breasts fuller. In my opinion, the last few years had been good to her. I knew she would age beautifully and I was happy to be with her and watch it happen.
She was asking me something over her shoulder as she checked herself out in the mirror that hung over the couch. She wore a black dress which wrapped around her waist, stopping just above her knees, along with black high-heeled boots. Just the sight of her luscious body was making me hard, and I shook my head to get the thought of what I desperately wanted to do with her out of my mind. We didn't have time, even for a quickie.
"Edward! Are you listening to me? I asked you how I looked!" she stated. I finally tuned into what she was saying. I watched as Bella ran a hand over her hips and turned from side-to-side, eyes never leaving her reflection, eyebrows pulled together in contemplation. Her hair fell in soft waves over her shoulders and she had just enough makeup on to bring out her natural beauty. I walked over to her and took hold of her hips, turning her to face me.
"Bells, you're breathtaking. Now, calm down, everything will be fine!"
She huffed and put her hands on my chest. Looking up into my eyes, she said softly, "Are you sure this was a good idea, Edward? Maybe it wasn't…I mean, we know it really wouldn't be an option anyway, so why bother?"
She looked down, so I pressed my fingers under her chin and raised her face so I could look into her big brown eyes. "Bells, this is a great idea! Sammy and I will be there, waiting on you. Sure, it may not seem necessary, but it's the door that you need to close in order to move forward. Now, let's get out of here!"
I cleaned up Sammy, got her lightweight pink jacket on her, pulled her auburn ringlets out from under the collar, and got the three of us out the door.
Bella had a two o'clock meeting at Newton Publishing and she wasn't going to be late.
As we pulled into the parking garage at Newton Publishing, I took a few deep, calming breaths in an effort to tamp down the panic attack that threatened to arise.
I'd known that when I used Iz Cullen as my pen name, it would be less likely that anyone from Newton would know it was little Bella Swan – or Isabella, as Tanya used to call me. I had used Iz Cullen purposely to avoid any backlash from my basically having blackmailed Mike Newton. Blackmail was a harsh word, but it really was what happened, and I've never regretted it.
After the success of my first book, I kept a low public profile. My author profile pages never had my picture; instead, there was a photo of my book cover. I was nervous about putting my face to the name, not until I was really established as a writer. I believed that Newton wouldn't be able to touch me. As my attorney, Jasper had said he would handle any issues that came up, though he doubted they would ever cause any problems for me. However, I still felt better knowing that when I had my meeting at Newton Publishing today, I'd have the upper hand.
Jasper met all of us in the lobby. I checked in with the receptionist, a buxom redhead. She told Jazz and me that we could head on up, and somebody would be meeting us on the third floor, where the executive offices were.
I kissed Edward and Sammy goodbye and headed to the elevator.
"Bella," Jasper said, placing a hand on my shoulder as the doors to the elevator closed. The metal box jerked slightly as it moved us upward. Just his touch calmed me instantly and I was happy my brother-in-law insisted on attending this meeting with me.
"Bella, just take a few deep breaths, everything will be fine. Besides, you have to admit that when Mike sees it's you, the look on his face should be epic!" He chuckled at what I assumed was his mental image of Mike Newton's jaw hanging open and I was reminded of Emmett, begging Jasper to video the "big reveal".
"Okay, Jazz, I'll keep that in mind."
The elevator stopped and the doors slid open.
"Ms. Cullen?" A petite blonde was standing there, hand extended. I stepped off the elevator and reached out my own hand, accepting hers in mine, and smiled.
"Yes, and this is my attorney, Jasper Whitlock."
"Nice to meet you both, I'm Irina. Mr. Newton is waiting for you in the conference room, if you'll follow me please?" She released my hand and pivoted on her spiked heels, heading in the direction of the conference room.
I glanced around. Not much had changed. There was still the receptionist desk, which I assumed was Irina's, the sofa and flat-screen television. I looked over at the Human Resource Manager's office and saw that Tanya's name was still posted on the door. I shook my head in disbelief.
Irina stopped at the closed conference room door and then turned the handle, pushing the door open, she announced us to the people in the room. "Mr. Newton, this is Ms. Cullen and her attorney, Mr. Whitlock." She turned toward us and said, "This is Mr. Newton, and his associate, Mr. Yorkie."
"Please, call me Mike, and this is Eric." Just the sound of Mike Newton's voice made my skin crawl, but the double-take he did as he moved around the table to shake my hand, almost had me guffawing out loud.
I squared up my shoulders and accepted his clammy hand in mine, grasping it tightly and giving it a good shake. I would have been offended at his brief lustful leer of my body had I not been so amused as I watched how his expression went from slight recognition to total disbelief.
"Isabella Swan?" he questioned, continuing to pump my hand up and down as he looked at me, stunned. His mouth really was hanging wide open and I heard a quiet chuckle huffing out of Jasper behind me.
"Nice to see you again, Mike." My voice was calm and cool, very different from how I felt on the inside and I was silently praising myself for wearing black. I was sure my antiperspirant had quit working and black hid everything.
"You…you're Iz Cullen?" Mike asked incredulously, finally letting go of my hand. I fought the urge to wipe it down on my hip but, instead, grasped the back of one of the upholstered chairs which sat around the conference table, thus effectively drying my hand at the same time I pulled out my seat.
"I am. Now, let's see what you have for me, Mike." I sat down and looked up at him, completely complacent. Jasper set his briefcase on the table and sat down next to me, trying and failing to stifle a chuckle.
I had settled into one of the two high-end leather sofas in the lobby area, deep into an article about some Hollywood power couple who were breaking up, when a young girl settled herself into the sofa facing mine. I looked up from the celebrity magazine I had picked up from the end table, glancing over at my daughter. Typical for her, Sammy had made friends with the receptionist and was helping her push buttons on the phone and type messages on the computer. Another person had been won over by my daughter's charm. She looked at me and waved; I waved back and then looked at the young woman sitting across from me. She was young, blonde and quite pregnant.
She rubbed her belly as she propped her feet up on the low metal and glass coffee table that was in front of us. She wore black stretch leggings with fluorescent-colored zebra stripes and a bright pink t-shirt that was pulled so tightly across her stomach that I could see her belly button had popped. Under normal non-pregnant circumstances, it probably fitted her loosely. A bright green jacket was on the couch next to her, a shiny gold purse sitting atop it, reflecting the sunlight which shone through the windows. My fashionista little sister would say that this girl was a hot mess, and I'd have to agree.
Her eyes met mine and I gave her my teacher face – a friendly, noncommittal smile which let people know that I was a good guy, but I wasn't available and I already had enough friends. I had perfected it over the years, particularly with the hormonal teenage girls in my classes and their divorcée mothers.
"Who you waitin' on?" Day-glo Girl asked, as she smacked on some gum, which, coincidentally, was bright pink.
"My wife, she's upstairs in a meeting."
She looked at Sammy and then back at me. "She yours?"
"Yes, that's my daughter. She's three." I put the magazine to the side and stretched my arm out across the back of the sofa. Clearly, Eighties Throwback Girl wanted to talk. She would have been perfect in a Wham! video. All she needed were fingerless gloves and big bangs, and not to be pregnant.
"She's cute. I'm havin' a boy. Little rugrat in here's gonna be poppin' out in four months." She patted her belly and then looked back to me. "I'm Buffy."
"Buffy?" I couldn't hide the surprise in my voice, as I'd never met anyone by that name and I'd come across some strange names while teaching. The girl just looked at me and smiled.
"Like the vampire slayer in that TV show, ya know?" She grinned, clearly proud that she shared her name with a blonde who staked vampires for a living. Buffy looked to be in her early twenties and was probably Sammy's age when the show had originally aired. She tossed her bleach blonde hair over her shoulder as she crossed her outstretched legs at the ankles.
"So, are you meeting your…husband here?" I didn't see a ring but took a chance anyway.
She let out a giggle, smacking her gum and patting her belly as she spoke. "Here to see my baby-daddy. It's a s'prise."
"Oh, so you're surprising him with lunch or something?"
She looked at me as if I was an idiot and laughed again. Clearly, I was missing something.
"It's somethin' all right. He don't even know I'm here. I drove up from Vegas. Mikey hasn't been taking my calls." She shook her head and looked just past me, her face growing serious. "I figured if he wouldn't come to me…"
As her voice trailed off, I put the pieces together fairly quickly. She was one of Mike Newton's hook-ups from one of his many trips to Vegas. Bells told me that he had regularly tried talking her into going there with him. Thank everything that was holy she'd had the good sense to decline each and every time.
I was about to ask her when exactly she was due when the front door to the building opened and heels clacked on the tile floor. A steely voice spoke to the receptionist. "Liza, exactly what do you think you're doing? Don't you have work to do instead of playing around at your desk?"
I looked toward the woman. She had frizzy blonde hair and was wearing a heather grey suit and very high heels. She stood at the receptionist's counter and drummed her long, red-painted nails on it, making a loud tapping noise.
"Well, aint she just a bitch?" Buffy whispered and I had to stifle a laugh.
I stood up to get Sammy, as I didn't want her getting Liza into trouble; she'd been so kind to entertain her in the first place.
"I'm sorry, she's mine. Samantha never meets a stranger she doesn't make friends with and I'm afraid she just loves playing behind a desk. It comes from spending too much time with me at work." I laid on the charm, hoping it would keep Liza from any additional reprimands.
The woman turned toward me, her eyes sweeping down my body to my feet and back up again - lingering a little too long on my groin area - and then stopping to stare straight into my eyes.
"Mmmm…no problem." Her voice, which had been cold only moments ago, now dripped from her mouth like honey. I involuntarily shuddered and leaned back a little bit away from her. She held a hand out to me and said, "I'm Tanya, I work here. And, you are?"
Of course! Tanya, the HR bitch from hell!
I took her hand and shook it quickly before letting it go. "I'm Edward, and this is my daughter, Sammy." Sammy had come to stand next to me. Tanya turned her eyes down toward my daughter and smiled at her.
"Well, hellooo, Sammy!" Tanya reached her hand out to her and my normally-friendly daughter turned into my leg, hiding her face and fisting my jeans.
"Uh." Tanya huffed as she looked back at me.
"Usually, children love me."
Her unnatural grin told me she was lying. She looked over my shoulder at Buffy. "Is she your…wife?"
"Um, no, no she isn't."
"Really?" she questioned, taking a step toward me. I suddenly felt as if I was being hunted and wanted to flee from her. I tried stepping back but, with Sammy clutched to my leg, it was nearly impossible to move.
"A handsome man like you…not married? All alone and raising a child?" She reached out, running a finger down my chest.
I decided I'd had enough. I reached up and grabbed her hand not wanting her to touch me a second longer. Her lustful expression had me fighting the urge to puke.
"I never said that I wasn't married. I just said that the woman over there wasn't my wife. I am, in fact, happily married to someone you already know."
"Really?" Tanya pulled her hand from mine. "Who is she?"
The elevator doors chimed then and a grin slid across my face, knowing the shit was going to hit the fan.
Stepping off the elevator and seeing Tanya face-to-face with my husband was somewhat disturbing.
Stepping up to my husband as he tucked me into his outstretched arm and watching the look of anger and disgust cross Tanya's face was priceless.
"Bella? What are you doing here?" Tanya asked, hate and loathing dripping from her tongue.
I smiled widely at her. "I just had a meeting with Mike and his partner about my book."
"Your book? I thought his meeting was with Iz Cullen today. I didn't see your name on Mike's appointment calendar."
"I am Iz Cullen, Tanya. This is my husband, Edward Cullen. And, this is our friend and attorney, Jasper Whitlock."
Tanya stepped back and smacked into the reception counter. Her face was beet red with anger. She'd been lusting after my fuck-hot husband and I had gone and ruined it for her…just as she'd accused me of with Mike all those years ago. The humor of the situation didn't get by me, but I was successful in fighting the urge to laugh in her face.
"Well, I, uuumm, hope the meeting went well. Will you be signing with us?" A look of dread crossed her face. I knew she was praying she wouldn't have to deal with me – little did she know I'd never wanted to deal with them in the first place.
I felt Sammy at my side, her little hand slipping into mine as her head leaned against my leg. I was flanked by the two most important people in my life and I'd never felt stronger or more self-assured than I did at that moment.
"Actually, Tanya, I told Mike that he could take his offer and shove it! I wouldn't work with your company if you were the last publishing house left! I have to admit that it was fun watching him cringe as I rejected his offer – and it was a great offer, too. But, I don't need Newton Publishing to fulfill my dreams, they've already been fulfilled. Getting published is just the icing on the cake."
I turned to Edward, smiling. "You ready, handsome?"
He smiled down at me in response and kissed my nose. "Sure am, love. Let's get out of here!"
"Unk Jazz, pick me up!" Sammy said, as she turned from me, raising her arms up to her uncle.
"Sure thing, sweet pea!" he said with a smile, passing his briefcase off to Edward so he could lift Sammy into his arms.
As we turned to leave, Edward stopped and turned back to Tanya, who was frozen in her spot at the counter, mouth hanging open. "By the way, Tanya, you might want to let Mike know he has a visitor." Edward tilted his head toward the woman sitting in the lobby area. "And, let him know that she has the best family law attorney working for her, so he needs to stop running from his responsibilities or that young lady over there is going to own half of Newton Publishing."
Edward turned back to Jasper and asked him for one of his business cards. Jazz shifted Sammy in his arms so he could get the small leather card holder from his pocket and handed it to Edward. Edward then went over to the pregnant girl in the lobby and handed one of the cards to her. He quietly said a few words to her, pointing to Jasper and myself, and then shook her hand and said goodbye. Walking back over to us, he glanced at Tanya who, by this time, had gone from bright red to pale white.
"Remember, now, don't forget to tell Mike he has someone here waiting for him."
And, with that, we walked out of Newton Publishing, hand-in-hand, and into the afternoon sun.
Our beautiful future was awaiting.
Thanks again for reading and reviewing. Sorry if I haven't responded to your reviews. I try to hit most of them, but I get a little lost in it all and well... anyway. I do appreciate it more than you know. I finally hit 500 (yay me)... LOL
Planning more stories, just have to work them out. In the mean time, I am submitting a O/S to the Twi Fic Text Message LOL Contest on FF... very excited. It's my first contest and it was a hoot to write. Popular voting runs from May 7 thru May 21.
So, thanks again to my beta baby and to theonlykyla and SparklingWand for all of your love and support.
And to my BFF who quietly reads my stuff and tells me I'm great. Cause she's the best bestie in the world.