Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot of the Twilight Saga are the property of Stephanie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. The storyline of A Family Like Ours is mine.

WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS BDSM, EXPLICIT SEX SCENES & STRONG LANGUAGE. This story is strictly NC17!

A/N:

Dear readers,

Welcome to the sequel of People like Us, aptly named, A Family like Ours. We will get reacquainted with our favorite characters and we are going to meet some new ones, but first I need to 'set the scene' as it were:

This story takes place about 17 years after People like Us ended. Edward and Bella are coming up for their twenty year anniversary and their family has expanded somewhat.

PRIMARY CHARACTERS/ AGES:

Edward and Jasper now own a music empire. Their label is one of the most popular and every new and upcoming singer/band wants to have their records produced by 'Rocking Horse Records'.

Bella is a renowned artist and photographer although she rarely attends any of her showings as she tries to stay home with the children.

EDWARD – 45

BELLA – 42

JACKSON & ALEXIS – 19

NICHOLAS – 18

SAMUEL MASEN (AKA SAM) – 16

ELIZABETH ALICE & ANDREA ROSE – 10 (FRATERNAL TWIN GIRLS)

MAXWELL (AKA MAX) – 4

*ΩafloΩ*

Emmett and Rosalie live at Cullen Crest where Emmett has been running the vineyard for the past twenty years. Rosalie owns a chain of Interior Design stores.

EMMETT – 48

ROSALIE – 46

JOSHUA – 20

JARED – 19

MCCARTHY (MC) – 14

REBECCA – 6

*ΩafloΩ*

THE WHITLOCKS

While Jasper works with Edward, Alice's fashion designs are in demand all over the world. She still works from her studio on the ranch, and her production line is run in the town.

JASPER – 47

ALICE – 44

TIFFANY ANNE – 18

CHRISTOPHER HEATH – 17

DANIEL JASPER – 16

*ΩafloΩ*

CARLISLE CULLEN - 67

ESME CULLEN – 64

*ΩafloΩ*

CHARLIE SWAN – 65

SUE CLEARWATER SWAN – 60

*ΩafloΩ*

Seth is the district attorney for Sonoma County. He married Jesse and they live in nearby Rutherford.

SETH CLEARWATER-SWAN – 37

JESSE CLEARWATER-SWAN – 35

CASEY CLEARWATER-SWAN – 7

ISABELLE CLEARWATER-SWAN – 4

*ΩafloΩ*

Garrett and Kate live in Sausalito and Garrett owns a string of clubs, one of which, DAWN RISING, is a BDSM CLUB in San Francisco as well as BREAKING DAWN and RISING MOON on the West Coast. Kate is a stay at home mother.

GARRETT NOMAD – 55

KATE NOMAD – 49

STEVEN – 18

KIRSTY – 10

A FAMILY LIKE OURS: A SEQUEL TO PEOPLE LIKE US

CHAPTER 1

Bella forced herself to count to ten and she took a deep breath as she tried to refocus her attention on the paintings in front of her.

She had a show coming up in the fall and she was falling behind. Reilly had been adamant that he want thirty pieces this time and was trying to select the paintings that she wanted to show as well as the photographs that would be a part of her mixed medium show.

'GET AWAY MAX!'

'I DON'T GOTTA HAFTA! SOOO THEREEEE!'

'MAX! STOP SPITTING – I'M TELLING MOM! I HATE YOU, YOU LITTLE BRAT! WE WISH THAT YOU WOULD JUST DISAPPEAR – GO! WE DON'T WANT YOU HERE, MAX!'

Bella sighed, she was sick of the tension that had seemed to materialize almost overnight between the ten year old twins and Max, her almost four year old 'baby'. And of course it had happened from almost the moment that Edward had left.

She tried to ignore the sound of the raised voices but the sound of more doors slamming had her flying out of her studio and into the hallway.

"What is going on here?" Bella demanded as she rounded the corner into a suddenly empty hallway.

A door down the hall opened and Elisabeth Alice put her head out. Her wide brown eyes stared at her mother with trepidation. Everyone in the house knew not to disturb mom when she was busy painting.

"It's Max, Mom, he won't leave Andrea, Becky and me alone!" she complained.

Bella shook her head, "Elisabeth Alice, he is little and you should know better than to slam any doors in this house! Now, I asked you and your sister to watch him and you said that you would!" Bella suddenly noticed that the house was very quiet – too quiet and she frowned.

"Where are your brothers and sister? They were going to arrange a ride for everyone and Jack mentioned something about taking everyone out for pizza."

Elisabeth bit her lip; they were in big trouble now! Behind her door, her twin sister Andrea rolled her eyes as she pushed her younger twin (by three minutes) gently out of the way.

"Mom! Honestly, you can't expect us to be stuck with a baby like Max! And anyway he is a smelly little stinky!" she said triumphantly as her sister and cousin giggled behind her.

Bella felt her irritation and anger rise as she stared into her daughter's defiant eyes.

"Andrea Rose! You will not speak about your brother like that! Rebecca is only two years older than him, so what makes him a baby and her big girl?" Bella was so over trying to keep the peace.

"Well, Becky is a girl and she is fun and she doesn't have cooties!" Mother and child glared at each other.

The constant bickering had been going on for almost three weeks now, and she was sick of it.

"That's it! Find your siblings and tell them that I am calling a family meeting right now in the den" Andrea opened her mouth to protest but she snapped it shut quickly when she saw the fiery look in her mother's eyes.

"Fine! But what about Daddy? He should be here and he is gonna be so mad at you for being mean to us on our vacation!" Andrea said as she stalked down the hallway towards Nicholas' room.

"Andrea! Do not back-chat me, young lady, or else you will be punished!" Bella snapped.

"Fine! But I don't know where Jackson and Alexis are – I think they went off with Josh and Jared."

Bella bit back a frustrated sigh.

She pointed towards her older children's bedroom doors.

'NICK!" Andrea shouted as she banged on the closed door before she turned and tossed her mother a defiant glare. She would show her!

Bella hissed at the shout and she shook her head as she headed into her room for a quick shower.

As Bella washed paint and sweat off her body and out of her hair, she wondered what Edward was doing. He had been away for three weeks in the recording studios in Los Angeles this time and she was more than ready for him to come home.

Bella dried herself off and glanced in the full length mirror as she took out fresh underwear. She wasn't bad looking for forty-two years old and the mother of seven children! In the twenty years that she and Edward had been married, she had put on about five pounds or so. Her stomach and hips were softer and rounder, but she was still able to wear a bikini, much to her children's embarrassment and her husband's lecherous delight.

A knock at the door had Bella pulling the sundress over her head quickly. She slipped on a pair of sandals and ran a hand through her wet hair.

She had cut it a few years ago, after Max was born but she had been growing it for the past year again.

She opened her door and saw her seventeen year old son Samuel standing there, "Mom, what's going on? Nick says he is busy and so he sent me to see what was wrong and the girls are outside doing cartwheels on the lawn, so what can I do to help you?"

Bella smiled at the handsome man-boy. He was a combination of her and Edward. He had Edward's green eyes and her dark hair. His lanky build and height was all his father, but his easy smile and slight shyness was all Bella.

"Thank you, son, but I want everyone in this family meeting. I need to make my final selection for the show – Reilly is sending the transporters tomorrow, but for some reason your sisters have declared war on Max and they have been slamming doors and shouting – wait, how come you didn't hear them?"

Sam shrugged; "I was in the dark room, developing those pictures that I took yesterday morning, sorry Mom."

Bella put an arm around his slim waist and hugged him, "It's okay, Sam, you have done more than your fair share around here to help me – it's Jackson, Nic and Alexis that are really for it – they volunteered to look after the young ones today! I don't know why I agreed to have everyone here today, but Ali and Rose had those meetings in town today – oh well, it can't be helped."

Sam nodded, "I'll try to get hold of everyone and tell them to come home." He pulled his phone out and quickly sent a message to his oldest brother. Jack and Lexi were always pulling this shit with their mother! Just because they had been away at college, they acted as if they had no responsibility here at home. It pissed him off that no one seemed to be concerned about his mother's welfare.

Anger burned inside as Sam remembered how he had tried to tell his father about what was going on at home, but some douche had answered his phone and had told Sam that 'Mr. Cullen was too busy to talk'. Asshole!

Sam couldn't remember when last his father had been home with them for longer than a weekend, when he spent hours sleeping in any case.

He pushed his dark thoughts away as he glanced over at his mother. He hated the bleak, sad look in her eyes that she tried to hide for their sakes.

They walked downstairs together as Sam told Bella about the photographs that he had developed earlier.

As they stepped into the entrance hall, the front door burst open and a football sailed past Bella's head and missed hitting the large mirror that hung on the wall by inches.

"HEY!"

Josh, Emmett's and Rosalie's twenty year old son, his nineteen year old brother Jared and their younger brother, McCarthy, or MC as he was called, bounded in only to skid to a halt as Bella shouted. She could see Jackson, Alexis and Alice and Jasper's son, Heath, who had turned seventeen as well as their daughter, Tiffany Ann who was eighteen and their younger brother Daniel, standing in the doorway.

"Joshua Cullen, since when do you play ball inside the house? What are you – five? You all complain about Maxwell, but you are all worse than him – in the den – NOW!" Bella put on hand on her hip and pointed in the direction of the family den.

With a few muttered grumbles, everyone walked passed Bella and Sam, who was smirking until Jackson glared at him and snarled, "Pussy!" at him.

Bella's hand shot out and she glared at her oldest child, "Jackson that is enough. Do you understand me?"

For a moment it seemed as though he was going to argue with her but then his green eyes softened, "Sorry Mom," his eyes flicked to his younger brother, "Sorry Bud, you know I didn't mean it." He said as he hooked an arm around Sam's shoulder and he dragged him into the den.

Nicholas finally made his way downstairs and he looked up in surprise at the sight of his siblings and cousins all waiting for a dressing down from his pint sized mother. The thought made him smirk as he threw himself onto the spare sofa.

Bella walked outside and called the younger girls while Bella's housekeeper Evie Ross handed cans of soda to the others.

"You have really made Mrs. C mad this time!" she scolded mildly.

Joshua smirked at her, knowing that his smile melted women's hearts all over the country, "Aaaw come on now Miss Eve, you know we didn't mean it."

Evie shook her head at the impossibly good-looking young man, "Don't you even try to pull your sexy smexy nonsense here, Joshua, you just keep that for those fan girls of yours," she warned just as Bella was ushering the three girls inside.

"Evie, you don't have to feed them! They are all old enough to look after themselves, with the exception of Max and Rebecca." Bella said with disapproval.

It was high time that she began to teach her children a lesson! Edward was far too indulgent with them and just because they were all doing well in school and college didn't mean that they could just have carte blanche on everything else!

"I have got a job to do just like everyone else in this family and just because I work from home, does not mean that you can all just come and go as you please, while not taking some responsibility to for your younger sisters and brother!"

Nicholas looked at his mother with a scowl as he ran his hand through his hair, "Yeah but we are on vacation". The simple gesture made Bella's heart ache. While Jackson looked more like Edward, Nicholas was perhaps the most like him in mannerisms and personality.

Bella swung around and glared at her son, "Excuse me? The way that things are around here, it seems that you are permanently on vacation!"

She looked back at the rest of her children and the assortment of nieces and nephews that were littered around the room.

"I have a dead line! I need to finish selecting and then packaging thirty paintings and photographs and have them ready for transport tomorrow morning and I can't if I have to listen to screaming, bickering and doors slamming all damn day!"

Elisabeth gasped but she quickly bit her lip as her mother turned to look at her with raised eyebrows, "What is it Elisabeth?" Beth turned bright pink as she whispered something under her breath. Nicholas heard her and he put an arm around her protectively as he chuckled.

"I didn't hear you?" she said impatiently. She knew that Elisabeth was far more sensitive and quiet than her outgoing and combative twin, who seemed to take after her Aunt Alice with her tantrums and her spoilt ways, but Bella was just not in the mood to coax a response out of her daughter.

Nick nudged Beth gently and she spoke a little louder, "You need to put five dollars in the curse jar" she said quietly. Nick was very protective over his younger sisters, and he had a very close bond with Elizabeth.

Everyone looked at Bella and nodded before they began to laugh.

Suddenly the tension was broken as Bella joined in the laughter, "No, you always do this, you guys! I'm angry with you and then somehow we end up laughing and you don't think that I'm serious. Josh, would you, Jared and MC pull this stunt on your mother?"

Bella almost laughed outright at the look of fear that crossed the brother's faces. Joshua was almost as tall as Emmett at six foot four inches, while Jared was just one inch shorter. McCarthy had some catching up to do but Bella knew that it wouldn't be long before he too was over six feet tall and yet they were terrified of Rosalie.

Being Emmett's wife and mother to his three rambunctious sons meant that she had to be as tough as a drill sergeant. She never threatened – she just metered out punishment and the Cullen children knew not to mess with Aunt Rosie.

Bella raised her eyebrows as she waited for the boys to answer.

"No Ma'am" Joshua said quickly.

Bella nodded, "Well then, do you think that you can respect my wishes and help out a bit?"

"Yes, Ma'am," he said again, this time with a smirk and a twinkle in his eyes.

Bella rolled her eyes at him, "Okay, then. Now, can you please take everyone, and I mean everyone in this room out for a horse ride and some pizza or whatever you were going to do?"

Jackson stood up and walked over to Bella. The summer had just begun but he could see how stressed his mother was. They all hated when his father was away, which seemed to be more often than not nowadays and he made a mental note to call his dad.

It was summer, for god sakes and he should be home! He also knew that Edward would be pissed as hell if he didn't step up and help, but seriously, he hadn't asked his parents to make like rabbits and breed seven children! What the fuck where they thinking?

He smirked to himself as he realized that of course, they hadn't been thinking with their heads – gross!

"Mom, why don't you go on back upstairs? We got this, I promise. We will make sure that everyone is dressed and out of here in ten minutes and then we will go out for dinner. We will even make sure that the 'minis' bath and get to bed, okay?"

'Minis' was what the older siblings called their three younger ones.

Bella sighed and nodded, "Thank you Sweetheart. I just want to finish this and then I can be free to enjoy the rest of summer with you all."

Tiffany had also stood and she hugged her aunt, "You need to chill, Aunt Bella; you are too uptight. You should go and visit Nana tonight or something."

Bella kissed her nieces dark hair and smiled, "Thanks, Tiff, I may just do that."

Just then Bella looked around, "Hold on, where is Max?"

Just then the front door opened and Bella heard Bart Ross call out to her, "We're in the den Bart!"

Bart was very tall and well-built and having spent his college years playing football and being a bouncer over weekends, he was well suited to handle the rambunctious teenagers. He was a blacksmith and carpenter and when he spent most of his time on the ranch or in his workshop. His creations sold well and he was always busy on some project or order.

Bart and Eve were from the Midwest and he was very comfortable being a cowboy.

Bart walked into the den. He was holding his Stetson in one hand and he had one hand on a very disgruntled looking Maxwell, who was carrying his 'mooki', a large furry cow that he had since his first birthday, that he loved and a small suitcase.

Bella looked from one to the other, "Max? Where are you going?"

His angry gaze looked from one twin sister to the other and then over to his cousin, "To Nana and Pops! I don't wanna stay here no more! B'coz they," he pointed at the three little girls, "are just meanies and I'm tellin'!"

Bella smiled at Bart, "Thanks Bart, I hope that he wasn't too much trouble."

Bart shook his head, "He never is, but he was walking along the road towards the gate and I was just worried that someone might not see him,"

"Because I'm too little!" the boy burst out as his eyes filled with tears, "No one wants to play with me!"

Jackson moved over to his little brother and picked him up, "Aww, you know that's not true, Max-Max. We love you and we definitely want to play with you! I was going to come and find you to see if you wanted to go for a ride on Trigger with the guys and me, and then we are going to town for pizza. What do you say?"

Max looked at his older siblings and his cousins for confirmation. They all made a point of nodding and adding to Jackson's request.

"Yeah, come on Max, you know that I'm a little afraid of Daisy, will you ride next to me?" Alexis added.

Max bit his lip, just like his mother did, "I donno Lexi, I'm wif the guys…" he looked at his brothers.

Jackson pretended to think about it, before he leaned closer to whisper in Max's ear.

Max nodded and grinned at his brother who he idolized, "Kay! Lexi, I'll ride wif you, but only to the creek and then I'm wif the guys, okay?"

Alexia smiled and kissed his little cheek, "Thanks Max, come one let's go and get changed." She took Max from Jackson and walked to the stairs.

Just as the others were going to follow, Jackson stopped the three little girls, "Hey you three minis – it's not cool to tease and fight with Max. He is a cool kid and he is younger than you. You know that we take care of our own."

Becky and Beth looked contrite and said that they would apologize to Max. Jackson stared at Andrea and raised his eyebrow at her, "Drea? What do you say?"

Andrea looked torn but when she saw that all three of her older brothers were staring at her in disapproval she sighed dramatically, "Oh, okay! But you know that he is a pain sometimes!"

Samuel was quick to answer her, "Yeah? Well so are you sometimes, but we don't kick you out of the den or the rec room if we are there – we always look after you when our friends come over, so you should do the same!"

Andrea looked ashamed and she agreed to apologize and mean it!

Bella thanked her older children and after she checked that they had their credit cards, Bella went back into her studio. The theme of this showcase was called Letting Go, which Bella had begun almost two years before, when Jackson and Alexis were getting ready to leave for college.

Bella had never fully understood how painful it was to let her children go 'into the world' and she had been shocked the previous year when Rosalie had almost gone into depression after Joshua left for UCLA. The difference had been that Josh was almost an old hand at being separated from his parents because he had been acting since the age of twelve.

He was one of the hottest young stars in Hollywood at the moment and Rosalie, Emmett and the rest of the family worked hard to keep him grounded. Surprisingly, Bella's father Charlie and his wife Sue had been the ones to step in as Joshua's guardian in the early years.

Charlie and Sue moved to a small home on the outskirts of Saint Helena, about ten years before, when Charlie had retired. Carlisle had offered to build a home for them on Cullen Crest land, but Charlie had refused as politely as possible. He said that 'farm life' was far too tame for an old cop like himself, and they needed the 'bright lights' of the town.

Shortly after that, Charlie and Sue had bought a pretty gingerbread style house that had a pretty 'English' style garden that Sue loved to cultivate and soon the air around their home was filled with the smell of roses, lavender, honeysuckle, sweet pea, other perennials and various herbs and vegetables that she grew in pots near the back door.

When Joshua had been approached by a Hollywood scout, for the pilot of a new Disney Channel series, it had been Charlie that had volunteered to be his chaperone.

He and Sue had done a wonderful job of taking care of the young actor. They had travelled with him throughout eight years of filming and so when Jared had been asked to model the previous year, the couple had been the obvious choice to send with him to New York.

What had shocked Bella the most was how she had almost fallen to pieces when her oldest children had packed their bags for college the previous fall.

Bella had cried for a week after she and Edward had said goodbye to Jackson at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland and then they had flown with Alexis to Los Angeles, where she was going to study Architecture at UCLA.

Thankfully Jared, Emmett's and Rose's second son had chosen to go to Yale to study law and Bella was comforted that Jackson wasn't alone on the East Coast, even though they were almost five hours away from each other.

Nicholas was going to be leaving for Stanford in the fall, to begin his MBA in business. He loved business deals and while his cousins looked good in front of a camera, young Nicholas sat right beside their agents as deals were brokered. At first no one gave a second thought to the suggestions of the boy until Aro, Edward's now elderly agent had listened to what he had to say and Aro had been astounded at how astute he was. After that, Nicholas often spent time with his 'uncle' as he was mentored in the world of Hollywood business. He had decided to stay on the West Coast to be closer to his mentor.

Bella had felt the 'loss' of her growing children, nieces and nephews acutely and as always her pain had been transformed onto canvass and into film.

Bella looked at the wall in her studio at the black and white photographs of her family. They really were the most beautiful family in the world and people could not believe that every single member of their family was more beautiful than the next.

Bella sighed as she gazed at a photograph of Edward that she had taken earlier that year. He was dressed in black and had not shaved in a couple of days. He looked serious and sexy. Bella bit her lip, he looked like a Dominant.

With a shake of her head, Bella turned towards her paintings once more. She refused to think about that. She couldn't change anything. That ship had sailed over eighteen months before, she reminded herself.

There is no Master and Isabella! She was no longer a submissive; she was no longer his submissive.

There were no collars or playtime; that had ended and it was over and she had to accept it!

Bella realized that she was crying when the tears blinded her sight and she cursed under her breath and dashed the tears off her cheeks impatiently.

"What is the point of crying, idiot? Move-on dot org, Isabella!" she whispered to herself.

Perhaps she should make an appointment to speak to Paul for a couple of sessions.

Even though she and Edward no longer played and as such she wasn't his submissive, Bella could not stop the pain and longing that she felt to feel her Master's touch once more.

After Maxwell was born, Bella had suffered from a mild form of Postpartum Depression and anxiety and she had gone into therapy with Paul for almost a year.

During that time Edward had not pressured her to play, nor had he suggested it and weeks turned into months.

The first time back in the playroom had not gone well and Bella had safe worded after 5 minutes.

When Bella had felt better enough to go back into the playroom, Edward had informed her, quite coldly that he didn't 'feel' like it and so she had pushed her desire to be dominated down.

After listening to his excuses, which ranged from being too tired, to being too busy, to not being in the mood, Bella had finally stopped asking and her collars were only worn as decoration. The first time that she had worn her white gold necklace, she had hoped that Edward would react, but he had only kissed her shoulder and told her how lovely she looked.

Bella had hidden her tears from him.

When Alice had asked why she and Edward no longer attended munches or play parties, Bella had begun to lie because it was too difficult to tell the truth.

Her Dominant no longer desired to have her as his submissive.

Their sex life had remained healthy, or as healthy as it could be under the circumstances. When Edward wasn't travelling and they were not rushed off their feet with seven children, they had made love at least 3 or 4 times a week.

Bella snorted, if one could call it that. Yes, the man could use his dick like a missile and he could bring her to climax repeatedly, but there was no hot, unrefined, rough sex like before.

Edward treated her like a Dresden China Doll. She had found out after she had given birth to Maxwell that her womb had prolapsed and after continuous pain and bleeding, it had been recommended that Bella have a hysterectomy.

Bella knew that it was partly her fault that there was such a distance between her and Edward. She had been so weak! Her doctors had attributed her depression to the change of hormones in her body, but even when things had gotten better and she had healed first physically and then emotionally and mentally, Edward had never treated her the same way again.

He refused to spank her or discipline her in any way. Instead he acted as if she was going to fall apart at any moment.

Bella reached back as she pulled her hair up into an untidy bun and she looked at the next painting.

She had painted it just after Uncle Nicholas had passed away.

The two great-uncles had lived to the ripe age of 97 before Nicholas had passed away one night in his sleep, after they had played a round of all night poker with heir cronies in Las Vegas.

After the family had laid him to rest, Ernest had come back to stay with Esme and Carlisle and a week later, Esme had gone looking for her uncle, only to discover that Ernest had died as he sat on a bench in the garden.

Bella smiled at the painting of Ernest on the banks of a river watching his brother and lifelong best friend rowing away from him.

When Bella had shown the rough sketch to Ernest, he had laughed and told her that Nick was useless with a pair of oars and he would probably have drowned himself!

Bella had pretended not to see the tears in the old man's eyes as he spoke his brother's name.

With a shake of her head, Bella slipped on her 'reading' glasses and concentrated on the proofs once more.

For the next few hours she completed her selections before she began to carefully wrap her pictures. When the transport company arrived, they would crate up the valuable artwork before the crates would be shipped to New York for Reilly's perusal.

Bella's stomach rumbled, reminding her that she hadn't eaten since breakfast and she stood up and stretched her aching back.

Just then the intercom phone rang and she answered it.

"Hello?"

"Hey Bella, I'm heading home now, I just wanted to remind you that dinner is in the oven and the salads are in the fridge." Evie's disembodied voice sounded.

Bella laughed as she opened her door, "Thanks Evie, I'm on my way down now, and I'm starving!"

Bella walked downstairs and she smiled at the quiet. The house was seldom quiet anymore. With seven children between the ages of 19 and 4, there was rarely a quiet moment. Truth be told though, Bella reveled in the noise.

She loved to hear the sound of the boys playing Xbox or other games and the girls laughing or the sound of Max's high-pitched, excited voice mixed with Edward's deep laughter.

She felt lonelier than she would care to admit as she walked into her large kitchen. She had it remodeled a few years before and she loved the feeling of serenity and homeliness that she felt whenever she was in it.

Evie stood at the counter with a glass of white wine in her hand.

"Drinking on the job?" Bella teased.

Evie laughed, "I wish, no I thought that you would enjoy a glass with your dinner."

Eve and Bart Ross were an African American couple in their mid-30's that had been with the Cullen household for the past five years, right after Maggie and Reggie had retired to Florida.

Over the years Evie and Bart had become good friends and they loved Edward and Bella's children as if they were their own. Evie had not been able to have children and she loved taking care of the large group of children that were always congregated at the Cullen's home.

"Thanks Evie, I'll take it from here. I think the kids should be back soon."

Evie smiled, "They came home to change after their ride and I can see why Rosalie does not let the boys and Becky stay home alone – those boys are impossible! As for the mess that they left behind…" Evie laughed as she shook her head of curls.

"You need to put your foot down when we are overrun with kids, Evie. You let them get away with murder." Bella scolded, but she knew that she was talking for nothing.

"I'll see you tomorrow Bella. Have you heard when Edward is coming home yet?"

A look of pain passed over Bella's face as she shook her head, "Not today, but hopefully it will be soon."

Evie cursed herself for having brought up Edward's name, but he had been gone for over three weeks straight!

As she walked out of the kitchen, her eyes landed on the large manila envelope on the table.

"Oh Bella? An envelope was hand delivered for your attention this afternoon."

Bella turned from where she had dished her dinner up and she frowned.

"That's odd; there are no courier markings on it and there is no waybill. Who delivered it?"

Evie shrugged, "A young guy in a white plain panel van."

Bella stared at the large brown envelope with the words: PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL – FOR ATTENTION MRS. ISABELLA CULLEN ONLY and she felt a wave of nervousness role over her.

"Huh. Okay well, thanks Eve, I'll see you tomorrow."

"Night Bella."

Eve watched as Bella carried her plate to the large table in the middle of the kitchen. She looked small and lonesome at the table that could and regularly did seat twenty people.

"You want me to stay tonight?" Evie asked.

Bella looked up with the television remote in her hand, "Are you crazy? I love this quiet time! I can catch up on all of the shows that I never watch! Go home before Bart comes looking for you!"

Once Eve had left, Bella turned the television on and she gasped when she saw that that the host and hostess of a Hollywood news channel was talking about Edward, because there on the forty two inch television was a photograph of Edward – and her.

Bella quickly rewound the broadcast and she watched with growing apprehension.

"Hey everyone! You are tuned into HOLLYWOOD INSIDER! The story that everyone is talking about is – Has the sun finally set on Cullen's Camelot? Yes, J we are talking about the "Prince of Hollywood" who has reigned supreme with his 'princess' for more than twenty years. Has Edward Cullen finally lost the keys to 'Camelot'? Has his princess grown too old for him? Is he looking for a new, improved 'lady-in-waiting'? Well if these photographs are anything to go by, then it seems that our Price has found someone to make him smile and laugh in a way that we haven't seen in a few years –"

The pretty co-host chuckled, "Maybe with seven or however many kids running around, Bella doesn't have time for her prince any longer? Or maybe she is still feeling depressed and fragile?" The two sniggered nastily but Bell had stopped listening.

She hit the pause button as she stared at the three photographs side by side. One picture had been taken when they had first appeared on the red carpet together and their love was almost tangible. The middle picture was taken about five months before when they had attended Edward's latest premier and sadness cloaked both Edward and Bella like a shield and the last photo, which was obviously recent, showed Edward looking happy and carefree as he laughed with someone that stood off to the side of the camera.

Bella hit the 'play' button with shaking fingers as she swallowed the feeling of nausea that was rising in her stomach.

"… Well whoever she is, oh yes, John, the mystery person is definitely 'she'. As I said whoever she is, she seems to have brought out a side of the austere Mister Cullen that we haven't seen in a long time. You better watch out, Bella, your prince could be leaving for greener pastures while you sit in your ivory tower and paint…"

The two co-hosts laughed at their 'inside' joke.

Bella switched the television set off.

She was hurt by the crass and thoughtless comments of the presenters even though she knew that it was just her bad luck that she happened to see that episode and Edward had warned her countless times not to listen to anything that came out of Hollywood, she couldn't stop the self-doubt and insecurity from creeping in.

To distract herself, she went into the sitting room after she had washed her dishes and disposed of her largely uneaten dinner and she attempted to read for a while.

The envelope lay forgotten on the kitchen table.

At some point the children came home and she could hear Tiffany and Alexis steer the three younger girls upstairs to bath, while Nicholas came in and told her that Jackson and Sam would make sure that Max was bathed and put to bed.

Nicholas sat on the sofa next to Bella with his arm around her shoulder and frowned. She looked sad and fragile.

"Mom?"

"Yeah?"

"Is everything okay?" he asked gently.

Bella smiled at him, "Of course! Don't mind me, honey, I'm just missing your dad, but he'll be home soon."

Bella looked at her second son. He was so handsome, she thought with a smile. He had piercing blue eyes and dark brown hair. His chiseled jaw and lips were all Edward. Bella had noticed that Nick had become more and more withdraw over the past few months, but when she had voiced her concerns to Edward, he had told her that Nicholas was just being a typical eighteen year old.

"Nicholas, is everything okay with you? You seem a little quiet lately."

They smiled at each other because of all his siblings, he was the most quiet.

Nick's smile faded and he sighed softly. How could he tell her? He had his suspicions about her and that made his secret even worse.

He leaned closer and kissed her temple gently, "It's nothing for you to worry about Mom."

Bella frowned, "But I do worry, Son. You know that you can tell me anything, right?"

Nick nodded as he stood up and moved to the door, this conversation couldn't go any further.

"I know Mom. Thanks." He said with a familiar crooked smile that squeezed her heart.

Bella sat staring out of the French doors for a long time after Nicholas joined his cousins and siblings in the games room.

She knew that something was remiss but she couldn't put her finger on what it was.

She signed in frustration and after turning off the lights, Bella checked on her younger children.

*ΩafloΩ*

Bella smiled as she tenderly brush a few tendrils of coppery chestnut hair off Elizabeth's face. Her room was still very much a 'little girl's room', which pleased Edward tremendously. He hated the thought of his 'babies' growing up too fast. Beth's room was pink and pretty, with girly cushions and pictures. Bella shook her head at the Justin Bieber poster on her wall and she knew that Edward would say something about it when he got home.

Beth's room was neat as a pin, with her dirty clothes put into her hamper and all of her toys packed away neatly.

Instead of sleeping in the trundle bed, Rebecca was asleep next to her favorite cousin.

Rebecca was the most beautiful child that Bella had ever seen and she wasn't the only person to think so. Instead of being blonde like her brothers, Becky had her father's brown locks that fell down her back in riotous curls. Her eyes were ice blue and quite startling, but instead of being a brat or vain, Rebecca was sweet, kind and loving.

Bella tucked the duvet around her shoulders and kissed her forehead before she walked through the adjoining bathroom into Andrea's room.

Bella gave a sigh. The room looked like a disaster area with clothes, toys and CD's strewn all around. The room was decorated in black and pink with a distinctly punk rock theme. The sisters could not be more different if they tried to be!

Where Elizabeth was so much like her mother, quiet, shy and slightly insecure, Andrea was like Emmett and Alice, loud, unafraid and very opinionated!

Bella made her was over to the bed and she bit back a laugh: Andrea was lying with her head at the bottom of the bed, her legs half off it completely as she mumbled away.

Bella brushed the tangle of waist length hair off Andrea's hot and sweaty neck and kissed her cheek.

Andrea grunted and flopped over.

Bella went across the hall and opened the door. She felt her heart constrict as she saw the little lump with his small bottom stuck up in the air, lying in his 'Spiderman' bed.

Her baby.

"Mama?" Max's gruff voice half whispered.

Bella crossed the room and she flicked his wild chocolate brown hair out of his eyes, "What is it Munchkin? You should be sleeping." She said quietly.

Eyes that were the same color as his father's stared at her with teary sadness, "I want my Daddy…"

Bella felt tears sting her eyes. She wanted to howl along with her son, but she was the grownup and she couldn't breakdown in front of the children.

Instead she gathered Max's body in her arms and sat down in the blue and red slider chair across the room. Her heart melted at the feel of the small arms that hugged her and the smell of soap, baby and … little boy that she loved.

"Oh Maxwell, don't cry honey. Your daddy loves you so much, you know that. He is working so hard so that he can come home to us, I promise. You know what, I bet that uncle Jazz and Uncle Em would like to have a play date with you, what do you think?"

Max didn't answer for the longest time and Bella thought that he had fallen asleep when his husky voice spoke up again.

"Mama? Can we phone my daddy? He needs to sing my song to me…"

Bella bit her lip to stop a sob from breaking free.

"Max, sweetie …."

"I need to tell him stuff! I gotta tell him I was good an' he gotta bring me a toy! He did say so!"

Bella could hear how over tired and emotional her little boy was and she knew that no amount of reasoning with him was going to do any good. He would just keep on whining until one of the broke.

Bella kissed Max's damp forehead, "Okay, but you can't whine to Daddy, okay? You are a big boy and Daddy is working remember?"

Maxwell nodded quickly as Bella stood up and walked out of his bedroom.

She sat Max on her enormous bed and picked up the house phone. A tiny voice in her head was playing a loop from the broadcast that she had watched earlier … our Price has found someone to make him smile and laugh in a way that we haven't seen in a few years….

Bella ignored her shaky hand as she quickly dialed Edward's number and she prayed that he would pick up.

"Cullen." Bella's heart pounded as she heard Edward's voice for the first time in a few days.

"Hello?" Edward sounded impatient.

"H-hello? Edward, it's Bella," she said hesitantly. What the hell is wrong with you? This is your husband!

"Oh! Hi, hi! How are you?" Edward said in a falsely cheerful voice.

"I'm fine. Listen I'm sorry to disturb you, but Max is having a hard time right now and he won't settle until he talks to you. I'm sorry, i-it won't take long, I promise." She spoke quickly, inwardly cringing at the way she sounded – apologetic and scared.

"Of course I will talk to him; you don't have to apologize, baby. I was going to call you in a while in any case. Put Max on, love." Bella wondered if the warmth and affection in his voice was real or if he was trying to impress someone else!

STOP IT! THIS ISN'T REAL – JUST STOP IT! She told herself.

"Hey Max, Daddy wants to talk to you," she quickly gave Max the phone and walked into their bathroom.

"HI DADDY! IT'S MAX CULLEN... oh! Sorry! Okay, inside voice: It's Max… I miss you Daddy, when are you coming home? The girls are mean to me and they won't play with me and I miss you so much… Mama's sad too, Daddy…" the little boy swung his feet as he stared at his mother washing her face in the bathroom.

"I don't think that she was crying, but her eyes look sad and her smile is like when we take photos and you say 'smile' and then everyone smiles all silly like…"

Bella stood in front of her vanity and she splashed water on her face. She had to stop whatever she was thinking – she could not allow her mind to play tricks on her.

Deal with facts, Bella! That's what Paul always told her. Paul Banner-Jones had been Bella's therapist, confidant, advisor and friend for more than twenty years. She didn't know what the truth was and what pure Hollywood bullshit was!

Thankfully she seldom took any note of gossip columns and such but from what the two hosts on that show had said that evening, it seemed that she was still the laughing stock of Hollywood.

Edward used to reassure with his words and deeds that he loved her and he didn't care what anyone said, but especially over the past 9 or 10 months, it seemed that they were headed in two different directions.

For a while after Bella's operation, Edward would take his time and love on her all the time, but that slowly stopped until it seemed that when he reached for her it was more out of obligation or some such thing.

Bella had felt her anxiety levels rising steadily over the past several months but she had become very good at hiding it – either that or Edward just didn't care enough to deal with her shit.

She heard Max giggle tiredly and she turned to see him cuddled on Edward's pillow as he blinked long and slow, a sure indication that he was falling asleep.

Bella bit her lip and smiled tenderly as she watched her son whisper into the hand set.

Bella walked into the bedroom and gently took the receiver from Maxwell and put the phone on 'speaker' setting.

Immediately she regretted her actions as Edward's husky voice filled the room, as he sang the lullaby that he had writing for Max when he was born.

"… and you will always be…

My little soldier…

Rest your head, my darling boy,

Daddy's here….

With butterfly kisses and dinosaur tumbles…"

Bella willed herself to calm down as she crawled onto the bed and lay facing the vast ceiling to floor windows as stray tears escaped.

"Hmm… love you… Daddy… comes home…" Bella's back stiffened as she heard Edward mutter a curse.

"I miss you too, Max-Max. I'll be home soon son. Sleep tight. Here's a kiss for you ….mmmwah..." silence filled the room broken only by the sound of Edward's breathing and then, "Bella? Are you there?"

Bella rolled over and picked up the handset as she wiped her nose with a tissue, "Um, hey! I'm here!" she cleared her throat, "Sorry about that, frog in my throat. Thanks for getting him to sleep for me. I'll carry him to bed-"

This time Edward sounded pissed off, "What? No, Bella! You know that you are not supposed to pick him up – especially when he is a 'dead weight'! Fuck! Why don't you ever listen?" his voice was harsh and low, the words being spat out of his mouth.

Bella almost dropped the phone but then the anger set in and she gripped it with both hands as she stalked into their dressing room so that she didn't disturb Max.

"What? Don't speak to me like I am one of your 'minions' Edward! I don't need to 'listen'! I am quite capable of taking care of myself and what do you care in any case? You haven't touched me in weeks because you haven't been home in weeks, Edward!"

Bella heard Edward's sharp intake of breath, but she continued, "Why is it that Jasper stays here while you have to go to Los Angeles all the time or New York or where ever? I don't know why you don't just man up and admit that you would rather be anywhere else but here with me!"

As Bella listened to her harsh breathing, Edward gripped his phone so tightly that he thought it would snap.

Where the fuck was all of this anger coming from? He was working his ass off to finish this album with Whitney Pryer. Yes, he loved his job and yes, she was a delightful person to work with and they had a great time working together, but his main focus was always to get home to his family.

Edward ignored the small voice inside him that asked: Is it really? Is that why you have stretched this out for so long? Is that why you insisted in recording in L.A. and not at the studio at the ranch?

Edward hissed and ran his hand though his hair, "Isabella, what the fuck are you talking about? I am working!"

Bella recoiled at the icy tone of Edward's voice and her anger dissipated.

"You are right, I'm sorry. I'm just tired and on edge. My pieces are being picked up tomorrow."

"What pieces?" Edward asked.

Bella bit her lip as hurt stung her, he didn't even know what she was working on, or he had forgotten.

"Never mind," she mumbled.

"No, tell me, what pieces?" he sounded impatient.

"The pieces for my show Edward, you know, Letting Go. The one that I've been working on for two years?"

Bella dashed the angry tears off her cheeks, "If you were home more, you'd remember, Edward." She added quietly, almost to herself, but Edward heard her.

The anger was back.

Edward inwardly cursed his foolishness, how could he have forgotten that her show was coming up? Fuck, he needed to get home.

"Isabella, I'm sorry. I've been too preoccupied here and time has just gotten away from me. We should be finished by the end of the week and then I'll be home. How are the kids?"

For the next few minutes Bella told Edward what everyone had been up to. He was angry that Alice and Rosalie had dumped their kids on Bella when they knew that she was alone, but Bella argued that she enjoyed the company, which made Edward feel guilty and then angry all over again!

He knew that he had stuff that he needed to sort out with Bella, and he had been avoiding it for months, or even for the last couple of years. It was easier to fill up his calendar with gigs, and appointments than it was for him to face the fact that their marriage was taking major strain and most of it was his fault.

After they had said a stilted goodnight to each other, Edward pushed his chair back and stood up.

He stretched and scratched his flat stomach absently. At forty-five his body was still in great condition although Edward worked at it nowadays. He worked out every day still and he ran ten to fifteen miles a day.

He didn't mind the laughter lines around his mouth or the crinkles around his eyes, but lately it seemed that he only smiled or laughed when he was away from home and he knew that was wrong and bad and dangerous.

Edward let out a shaky breath as he squeezed his eyes shut. He missed her, God! He missed his baby girl so fucking much! He missed his wife, his best friend, his lover and his submissive.

How did he even go about trying to get her back? Would she even want him anymore?

He walked over to his balcony and sat outside as he flipped through his contact names and hit send.

"Hey Paul, I'm sorry to call so late, but I need to talk to someone…"

As Edward talked to his old friend and therapist, he had forgotten about the large manila envelope that he had received at the reception desk when he had arrived back at the hotel.

It was marked simply in bold black writing: 'STRICTLY PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL: FOR THE ATTENTION OF E CULLEN – ONLY".

*ΩafloΩ*

a/n: Aaand we are off to a rocky start, people! Edward and Bella are obviously not in the best of places but hang in there because I want to make a couple of things clear:

There will be no cheating in this story! I believe FIRMLY in a HEA – but I also believe in a touch of RL, so things are not always going to be perfect. You know me, I do like a measure of drama.

So, are you with me?

Happy New Year my lovelies.

Plu/justginger

xoxo