Disclaimer: 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.

*ΩafloΩ*

A FAMILY LIKE OURS: A SEQUEL TO PEOPLE LIKE US

CHAPTER 21

Thanksgiving was a wonderful, loud and chaotic affair as usual. Each year the holiday was hosted by two women in the family with the exception of Alice, whose cooking skills had never improved much over the twenty odd years that she and Jasper has been married.

This year Sue and Esme hosted the day in Esme and Carlisle's great room.

The guys took out all the furniture and long tables were brought in – enough to hold the thirty five guests.

Lunch was served buffet style, so that the food didn't get cold as everyone was trying to serve themselves.

Bella and Sam wondered around taking tons of photographs as the large group interacted with each other.

This Thanksgiving was different as for the first time some of the younger generation had invited their significant others to the family celebration.

Jared had brought his new girlfriend home and Rosalie hated her. Bella and Jesse giggled as they pealed a mountain of potatoes listening to Rosalie vent over the slim blonde that had sailed in the front door on Jared's arm a couple of days before.

According to Rosalie, she was vapid and completely devoid of any sort of personality, she had no interests and the only thing that she had been about to talk about was what the latest winter styles were.

Alice agreed completely because Christopher had invited his long time girlfriend home as well and although Alice liked the girl, she wasn't happy that Christopher seemed to be so serious at such a young age.

Jackson and Alexis had arrived with Bonnie and Mario and Edward spent the first three days of the children's visit being a complete grouch and dick because Mario was a guest in their house.

He quickly snapped out of his bad mood when Bella walked into his office, where he had closeted himself and stripped down to just a thong and tassels.

As he was about to lunge at her, she put her hand out and glared at him, "This is all you will see of my body this entire weekend if you insist on sulking, Edward Cullen."

Edward's eyes widened in shock and Bella smirked.

"Well, what's your answer? Are you going to paste a smile on your face and come and join us all downstairs for a drink and then later I can show you what I learned at the new lap dance classes that I've been taking?"

Edward was a model host for the rest of Mario's stay although Mario did mention to Alexis that her grandfathers and uncles and taken a lot of time showing Mario their hunting rifles and Charlie made a point of mentioning that he knew the forest area 'like the back of his hand'.

Alexis had chuckled as she lay between the sheets of her childhood bed, with her head on her lover's chest.

The parents had taken the minis and had gone to visit Garret and Kate for the day, leaving the older children to their own devices, with a promise that no one would be going into bedrooms while they were gone.

As soon as Steven had given Jackson a call to confirm his parents arrival, Jackson had carried Bonnie into his bedroom in the guest house, and while Mario had been more reluctant to break the Cullen's trust, he couldn't resist Alexis when she began to unbutton her shirt, flashing him a glimpse of her breasts incased in pink lace before she turned and ran up the stairs.

"Don't worry about Grumpy, babe. He is just being a cop. He really can't help himself and you know what my dad is like? Well he gets that from Papa C, so do Uncle Jazz and Uncle Em."

Mario chuckled as he smooth her wild hair, "Your father would shoot me if he saw us now."

Alexis grinned as she kissed the dimple in his cheek, "and then my crazy uncles would shoot you again before Grumps and Papa buried you in the woods out back!"

The sound of her giggles was doing crazy things to his nether region and Lexi giggled harder as she felt his dick bump against her hip.

"Again?"

Mario growled as he flipped them over so that he was hovering over her, his eyes dark, "I will never get enough of you, mi Tesoro." He said as he lowered himself onto her body.

*ΩafloΩ*

Once everyone had left again, the ranch seemed unusually quiet and thankfully Christmas was fast approaching and there was plenty to be done to prepare. Although once again it was going to be different.

Jasper and Alice would not be joining in the Christmas celebrations as they had decided to spend Christmas with Daniel and Tiffany in England.

Christopher had been invited to join his girlfriend's family for Christmas and so they were flying out a week before Christmas and were only due back after New Year.

Carlisle and Charlie had treated their wives to a Caribbean cruise for ten days and so they would be leaving a few days before Christmas and they were only scheduled to return halfway through January because Carlisle was taking Charlie, Sue and Esme to visit friends of theirs who lived on a small island off the coast of Brazil for two weeks.

Things were changing at home as well. First of all Edward had received a call from Aro inviting Nicholas to join his family in Los Angeles over the winter break. Aro was working on several new contracts and he wanted Nicholas to get some exposure and experience. After he and Bella discussed it, they agreed that it was a great opportunity for Nick and so they gave their blessing.

Only a few days later, Arielle and Riley had called to ask if Sam could join them in New York for Christmas and New Year. It seemed that Riley was hosting an art show of all of the third year RISKD students and he wanted Sam to assist him.

Of course Sam had begged and pleaded for his parents to agree and so Bella had once again given her consent.

It was a cold day in early December, only days before the minis were home for winter break when Bella received a call from Alexis.

"Hi Mama," her daughter said nervously.

Bella sat back in her study and frowned, "Hi Darling, what's wrong? Are you okay?"

Alexis seldom called her 'Mama'.

"Everything's fine, Mom. Well," Alexis hesitated.

"What is it, Alexis?" Bella said sharply.

"The thing is that Mario's parents have invited me to join them and the rest of their family at their maternal ancestral home in Spain for Christmas, isn't that great? Rio's grandparents have an olive farm in Ronda! But I wanted to make sure that you and Daddy are okay with it. Are you? Can I go?"

Bella could feel tears begin to form as she blinked them away quickly, almost as if Alexis would see them.

"Of-" her voice came out croaky and she quickly cleared her throat and injected a hefty dose of false cheerfulness.

"Of course you can go, Sweetheart! Wow, Spain is so beautiful and Christmas in the Mediterranean will be fantastic! So, who all is going to be there? Didn't you say that he has a ton of cousins and extended family?"

In her bedroom in Santa Monica, Alexis grimaced. She could hear how upset her mother was because Christmas had always been a big deal in their family and she had just heard from Tiffany that her aunt and uncle were going to England for the holidays, but she had not been able to refuse when Cammie had called her up to extend the invitation.

Alexis had grown close to Mario's family over the past few months and she enjoyed spending time with his sisters and his parents.

And so Alexis pretended that she had no idea that Bella was crying as she answered her questions and told her all about her upcoming holiday.

"When are you going to be leaving?"

"Um, next week. My classes are over at the end of this week and I'm going to be going down to spend a few days at Cammie and Toni's house and then we are all flying out together on the fifteenth. We will get back on the seventh of January, just before classes start up again."

"Oh! Well that sounds lovely! Daddy and I will be in Los Angeles in February, for an awards thing and I was thinking that we should really introduce ourselves to Mario's parents. They sound like great people and I want to really thank Camilla and Antonio for their hospitality."

Bella could hear how falsely cheerful she sounded but what else could she do?

"Oh Mom, that will be awesome! Cammie would love to meet you although you've chatted on the phone and she feels like she knows you already."

They spoke for a few minutes more, before Alexis said that she had to go and they said goodbye and promised to speak the following week.

Back in her room Alexis wondered if Jackson had spoken to their mother yet. All the kids knew how much Bella loved the holidays and there was nothing that was more important to her than having all of them together – especially over Christmas but things were changing.

Alexis and Mario spent as much time together as possible especially as his transfer to Los Angeles wouldn't be finalized until early February. He flew to L.A. any chance that he had or Alexis flew to where ever he was posted at the time. Alexis was determined not to let her grades slip and so she was really looking forward to the break and to spend almost a month with Mario, even if she had to share him with his family, was Alexis' idea of heaven.

She picked up her phone and dialed her brother's number.

*ΩafloΩ*

With a sigh Bella put on her reading glasses and turned to her laptop. She sorted her emails and had just finished sending a long email to Arielle when she saw a new email pop up on her screen from Jackson.

She quickly opened the email and then wished that she hadn't.

Bonnie and Jackson were going to spend Christmas with Bonnie and her parents in Montana. Bonnie felt obliged to spend the holidays with them, seeing as she had spent the summer and thanksgiving away even though she wasn't overly close to her parents and Jackson wanted to go with her.

With tears of self pity dripping off her nose, Bella sent Jackson what she hoped was an appropriate response, telling him that she and Edward were sad that he wasn't going to be there but they understood completely.

Bella was not in the mood to stay in the house after that.

Edward had gone to help Emmett at the winery and the children were in school.

The day seemed to stretch in front of her as she stared gloomily out of the window at the softly falling rain. It matched her mood completely.

She knew that she was being irrational because she was happy that her older children were independent but at the same time she was upset that they didn't want to spend Christmas at home.

Bella didn't want to phone Edward because she knew that although he would be supportive, he wouldn't understand why she was having a meltdown.

She needed her 'mom' and so she quickly dialed Esme's number.

She greeted her mother-in-law warmly and asked if she could invite herself over for a cup of tea.

Esme agreed readily. She could hear that Bella had something on her mind.

Bella quickly changed out of her sweats and then she headed into town to pick up a tea cake before she drove up to Cullen Crest.

As she turned into the gates, she turned down the slip road and drove about a mile until she came to the turn off for Esme and Carlisle's home.

She parked alongside Esme's Champagne colored Lexus 450H hybrid and walked up to the front door, which as always stood open and inviting.

"Mom?"

"In the kitchen Bells, I'm just finishing up the tea! Come on in!"

Upon hearing the sadness in Bella's voice, Esme had quickly pulled a lemon cheese cake that she had made for dessert from the fridge along with her tin of 'FAT' short crust butter cookies.

"FAT' stood for 'fix all troubles' and Carlisle had given them that name when her own kids were young.

Her 'FAT' cookies could fix a scrapped knee, an argument or a broken heart and Carlisle stated with a grin that they were the perfect cure-all for the heart, body or soul.

As soon as Bella walked into the kitchen and she looked at Esme she felt her chin begin to wobble as tears filled her eyes.

"Hello, Sweetheart! How are – Bella! Honey, what's the matter?" Esme exclaimed. She set the tea pot down on the table and hurried over to gather Bella into her arms.

"Everything is changing Mom! Jackson's got Bonnie, and Lexi is going to Spain and Nick has the trip to Los Angeles to see Aro and Sam wants to go to New York and, and it's, it's just - just aww-f-f-ful! Christmas is going to be ruined! And you are all going a-away, and I am a s-s-s-spoilt w-w-w-witch!" Bella wailed before she threw her arms around Esme's neck and began to cry with loud sobs.

Esme held Bella as she smoothed her hand down her daughter's back, patting her with reassurance as she rocked and 'shushed' her as she rolled her eyes – children!

"Hush, now Bells. It's going to be okay, I promise you. Everything will work out just fine, I promise you."

Eventually Esme led Bella to the comfortable sofa and sat down. Bella kicked her boots off and curled onto the sofa with her arms around Esme's waist and her head on Esme's lap she turned her face into Esme's stomach.

That's how they stayed for a long time. Finally Bella stopped crying and instead she hiccupped softly and blew her nose with the tissues that Esme handed to her.

Carlisle had arrived shortly after Bella, fresh from his game of morning golf with Charlie, Sam Johnson the Fire Chief and the Bob Wilson, town sheriff.

Esme had held her hand up to him so that he didn't disturb them and she had waved him away. Carlisle happily turned around and walked down to the winery offices.

He heard Edward and Emmett before he saw them. They were sitting in Emmett's office brainstorming a new marketing campaign for the vineyards new rosé blend that Cullen Crest was launching in the New Year.

Carlisle knocked on Emmett's door before he walked in, "Is there room for another brain?" he asked with a grin.

"Hey dad, what are you doing here?" Edward asked.

"Well, Bells is at the house with Mom, and I was chased out, so I came here," Carlisle said with a rueful smile.

"Is everything okay?" Edward asked with a frown.

Carlisle smiled reassuringly, "I'm sure that everything will be fine, son. Sometimes a girl just needs her mother you know?"

"Well, rather mom than that maniac that was supposed to be her mother!" Emmett said with a growl.

Edward and Carlisle readily agreed.

Emmett asked his secretary to make refreshments and once they were sitting with their platter of savory and sweet treats from the restaurant and their pot of freshly brewed coffee, Emmett once again asked about Renee.

"What ever happened to that bat-shit witch anyway?"

Edward pursed his lips, "We don't really know. After all the shit happened with Bella, Rene became increasingly unstable as you know and eventually Phil went to court to have her declared unfit. He won the case and the court ordered her to the confine of a 'nursing home' to be under constant supervision and medical care. He never wanted to divorce her and he kept paying the hospital bills until about eight years ago when he phoned Bella one day to say that he had received divorce papers in the mail."

Edward sighed, "It seems that she had herself declared a 'ward of the state' and took matters into her own hands to divorce Phil. Rene moved to a facility where each patient or 'resident' lived on their own. Phil insisted on paying for her stay. The last we heard, Phil had met a lovely lady, I think her name was Mary or Maria and he had proposed to her. They live down in Jacksonville. He sends us emails from time to time and we always get a Christmas card from them. So as far as I know, Rene is still in supervised care."

Carlisle nodded, "That's where she belongs but I don't think that there is a cure or a drug for evil," he said coldly.

"You still don't think that there was anything wrong with her do you?"

Carlisle had always held the opinion that Rene was pure evil, not an undiagnosed manic depressant with delusional tendencies. Uncharacteristically it was he who had pressured Charlie to press charges and when Charlie refused, Carlisle had come up with using plan old blackmail to keep her away from Bella and the rest of his family.

He managed to get Charlie to agree to press charges if Rene ever came around their families again and so He had his attorney draw documents to that effect and he had them delivered to Rene and Phil and a signed copy was kept with their attorney.

Emmett changed the subject as he asked about their upcoming holiday.

*ΩafloΩ*

Once Bella was all out of tears, she sat up gingerly and moaned.

Esme smile sympathetically, "Nothing like a crying jag to bring on a headache. Why don't I make some more tea and get you a couple of headache pills?"

"That sounds great Mom, thanks"

Bella went to wash her face quickly and returned to the warm kitchen. Although the house was only ten years old, it seemed as if it had always been there. Esme had chosen to style the home in classic French country style. The results were a feeling of warmth and welcome that one got from every room. The kitchen had flagstone flooring; with shaker cupboards and a large bay window that over looked the vineyards. The window behind the sink overlooked Esme's beautiful garden, complete with a pond, gazebo, an extensive rose garden that was intermingled with an array of herbs and vegetables.

Bella sat on the window seat and curled her feet beneath her as Esme joined her.

Bella dipped one of Esme's 'FAT' cookies into the sweet beverage and hummed as chewed.

"Hmm, these are delicious, Mom."

"I added a little lavender to this batch and I must say, I do like the flavor and the smell."

Bella put her cup down on the table, "I'm sure that you think I'm crazy for overreacting to the fact that the kids are going to be away this year, but"

Esme put her hand over Bella's, "Oh Sweetie, you don't have to explain! Have you forgotten how crazy I was when you and Edward got together? Remember that I even sided with Edward against you that one time when he gave you a spanking and I told you that you deserved it? My God! Carlisle was spitting mad that I had interfered and he let me know in no uncertain terms that it was not my place to come between you, so please, don't think that you need to justify feeling like you aren't ready for them to spread their wings."

Bella snorted, "I had forgotten that! You were quite the protective mama."

They chuckled quietly.

"I feel like I'm losing them and I'm not ready." Bella said quietly, almost as if she was afraid to admit it aloud.

"I feel as though someone has snatched them away and I want to shout that I need more time," she wiped a stray tear away.

Esme patted her hand, "Look, I know what that feels like – hell Bella, every mother has felt like that at one time or another, but if I can give you a bit of advice?"

"Please do. I need as much help as I can get."

"This was the advice that Carlisle gave me and it seems to have worked so far: 'If you open your arms and let them fly and keep your arms open – they will come back to you. There will never be any place like 'home' even when they make their own home, your home will always be 'home'."

Bella nodded, "I guess. But what if they like their partner's parents more than they like us?"

Esme chuckled, "Oh honey, I don't think that there is a family alive that can replace us. There is very little danger of them not coming back, unless,"

Esme stopped talking and looked at her daughter expectantly -

Bella looked up at her with wide eyes as realization dawned, "Unless I refuse to let them go and I force them to break away, right?"

Esme nodded, "It would be very unwise to force them to choose between you or someone or something else – that's when you run the risk of losing them."

Bella took a deep breath and let it out slowly, "You are right, I need to get over myself and make this holiday just as special for Edward and the minis as I would if everyone was home."

She suddenly sat up straighter and clapped her hands together, 'Goodness, I've got so much to do in a very short period of time – the kids are going to be out of school next week and we need to get a tree and go shopping and –"

Bella broke off as she suddenly reached over and hugged Esme tightly, "Thanks, Mom, you always know just what to say to get me off the crazy train!"

Esme smiled as she hugged her daughter in law just as fiercely. She loved Bella just as much as she loved her own children, more sometimes because she knew how much Bella needed and missed having a mother in her life.

Fortunately she had been able to give Bella a little of that special "mother's touch" over the past twenty odd years.

"You are very welcome, Darling. I know how hard it is to step back, and there are going to be times that you will mess up, but you and Edward have given your children a wonderful grounding and if they make smart choices, then they will meet the right person and in the process, your heart will get bigger as more people join your family."

Bella drew back with a smile, "Like you and Carlisle?"

"Just like us: We were just a normal family with two rambunctious kids, and then we were blessed with Edward. Now there is Rose, Jasper, you, Garrett and Kate, your parents, Seth and goodness don't forget all of our grandchildren! So, yes, over the years my heart has grown much bigger."

The two women shared a smile before Esme began to talk about Bella's Christmas menu. Esme made some great suggestions and Bella made a few notes before she checked her watch and exclaimed that it was time for her to fetch Max from school.

After Bella left, Esme moved around the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the lunch that she had prepared for Carlisle and herself.

She sent him a text message, giving him the 'all clear' to return home.

It wasn't long before she heard the crunch of his foot prints on the gravel and then the front door opened.

"Es?"

"In the kitchen"

Carlisle walked into the kitchen sniffing appreciatively, "What smells really good, Darling?"

Esme laughed as she scooped large spoonfuls of the 'hunters stew' that she had been slow cooking all morning, over the fluffy wholegrain rice.

"That round of golf made you hungry this morning!"

Carlisle's blue eyes twinkled with mirth as he grabbed Esme's hand and kissed the back of it softly, "That's not all I worked up an appetite for this morning!"

Esme giggled as she sat down across from him, "Oh you!"

Carlisle was unrepentant as he reached out and patted her hand briefly, "I think that we will be taking a 'nap' this afternoon." He said as he fingered the bracelet on Esme's wrist.

To anyone else it looked like a pretty gold bracelet with an intricate engraving but to Esme it represented her role as Carlisle's submissive.

"Would you like to take a 'nap' with me, Esme?"

Esme felt her heart flutter, "Thank you, Master, I'd love to spend time with you." She said quickly as she stared at their joined hands.

"Good, but let's relax and eat first. I think that we are both going to need the sustenance."

His eyes held dark promises and Esme wondered how she was going to be able to eat anything with the butterflies in her stomach.

*ΩafloΩ*

When Bella pulled up at Maxwell's school, she saw Jesse, Seth's wife pull up behind her.

Bella got out of her car and noticed that Jesse hadn't made any move to get out of her car. She was wiping her face and then she quickly began to apply some eye makeup.

Bella frowned as she got out and walked back to Jesse's window. Jesse hadn't noticed her and Bella tapped on the window.

Jess gasped before she let the window down, "Jeezus, Bella, you scared the crap out of me! Fuck, I almost poked my eye out! Do you have to sneak up on people like that?" Jesse snapped at her.

Bella took a step backwards in shock. Jesse was never crude or brash and Bella didn't know if she had ever heard her sister in law curse.

Jesse bit her lip until she was sure that it was going to bleed as she pushed her dark glasses onto her face and closed her window before she opened her door with a sigh. All the while, Jesse steadfastly ignored the look of shock and hurt on Bella's face.

Jesses didn't wait for Bella to join her as she stepped up onto the sidewalk outside the school.

When Seth had been promoted to the position of DA of Napa, they had thought of selling their home in St. Helena and moving a little closer but Casey loved being in the same school as Rebecca and the twins and Isabelle and Max were as close as siblings and they were in the same class.

Eventually they had decided not to move but now Jesse couldn't help but wish that they had moved to a new town. It would mean that their dirty laundry wouldn't be aired in the small town.

No matter how much St. Helena had grown over the years, essentially it was still a small town and every one had known each other for years and no one had private lives.

Bella stepped forward and put her hand on Jesse's shoulder, "hey, Jesse, if"

She didn't get any further because at that moment the kindergarten class raced out of the doors with their teacher and the teacher's assistant hurrying behind them, urging them not to run.

Jesse pulled her arm out of Bella grasp as she pasted a bright smile on her face when she saw Isabelle racing towards her.

"Mommy! I got here first and we had a wonderful day and can I go and play at Max's house today, please? He is riding his pony today and I want to go with him, can I Mommy, please?" Isabelle pleaded as she smiled at Bella.

Jesse was torn. She had been such a bitch to Bella and she could really do with the free time, but she also didn't want Isabelle to be disappointed if Bella refused. She knew that she and Seth couldn't go on like they were any longer. She could see the misery and fear in her children's eyes when they looked at her or Seth.

"I don't know, Honey, maybe Aunty Bella wants to be alone with her own kids this afternoon…" Jesse said quietly.

Bella stared at the other woman with a frown. She didn't know what was going on, but she could see that Jesse needed some time to herself.

"Jess?"

Jesse turned to face Bella for the first time and although she was wearing her sunglasses, Bella could see that her nose was still red and puffy and there were traces of tear tracks on her cheeks.

"Yes?"

Bella pretended not to notice, "We are going to go for a ride this afternoon, so if you would like, I can pick Casey up when I fetch the girls and they can come home with us for lunch and then we'll do homework before we go for a ride. Edward should be home soon and I think that Sam will be going with us as well, so there is more than enough supervision."

Bella noticed that Jesse was twisting her hands in front of her and her chin was trembling.

"Jeez, Bells, I was-"

Bella stepped forward and pulled a quick hug, "You have nothing to apologize for! Goodness knows that I have had my share of mood swings and drama! Now, why don't you go home or take yourself out for lunch and then go home and relax? Edward or I will bring the kids home later, okay?"

Jesse nodded as she quickly wiped the tears that had fallen.

Once again she pasted a fake smile onto her face as she leaned down to hug her daughter, "Okay, well you be a good girl for your Aunt Bella, okay?"

Isabella nodded vigorously as she and Max whooped and danced around the adults.

Bella loaded them into the car and made sure that their seatbelts were secure before she turned to her friend.

"I'm not going to ask you what's going on, because that's none of my business, but if you need us to keep the kids for a couple of days, will you call me?"

"I will. Thanks Bella and I am sorry about earlier."

"Nonsense, you are my sister and we love you both, so this isn't a bother or a chore. I love having Isa and Casey with us and you know that another two children is no problem at all. You go and get some rest and maybe take a nice hot bubble bath."

They hugged again before they parted company and Bella decided to take Isabelle and Max to the park opposite the elementary school to wait for the twins and Casey.

She noticed Emmett waiting by the gate and she called him over. Emmett explained that Rosalie had an appointment in Los Angeles and she had flown out early that morning. She was going to be away for a couple of days and so Emmett was playing 'mister mom'.

They chatted for a few minutes before the front doors opened and children streamed out the building.

Bella watched as Rebecca spotted her tall father and raced across the grass to jump into his arms.

"Hi Daddy!" she squealed and Emmett chuckled and hugged her.

"Hey Baby, how was your day?"

"It was fine and Daddy, didn't I tell you not to call me 'baby'?" The little girl frowned at her father as Bella hid her mirth.

Even though she had Emmett's dark, curly hair and his startling blue eyes, her expressions were all Rosalie.

Emmett grinned as he mimicked his daughter's pose, with his hands on his hips, "Well, you did, but you will always be my baby!"

Rebecca giggled and wrapped her arms around his waist, "You are so silly Daddy, but I still love you."

"I love you too, Becky."

"Did you say hello to Aunt Bella?"

"Oh no! Sorry! Hi Aunt Bella! Hi Max, hi Izzy!" Rebecca held her arm out and Bella leaned over and gave her a hug and a kiss on her cheek.

"Hi Sweetie, I believe that you and Daddy are making dinner this evening."

Rebecca nodded, "Yes, we have to feed Mac and you know how much he can eat! Mommy says that b'tween him and Daddy they can eat a cow a day!" her blue eyes were wide with expression, "A whole cow!"

Maxwell started giggling, "Uncle Em, do you eat a whole cow?"

Emmett nodded, "Of course, where do you think that I get my muscles from?"

Bella rolled her eyes, "As scintillating as this conversation is, we need to get home for lunch. Oh! Hi girls!"

The twins walked up to their group and Bella noticed how differently they were dressed. While Elisabeth was dressed in cute boots, with leggings, a long sleeved shirt and a coat, Andrea was wearing black jeans, with a pair of black Docs that Rosalie had bought for her, a dark grey Henley sweater and a black sweatshirt that Bella was sure that was one of Nick or Jackson's old ones.

Elisabeth wore a cute knitted beret while Andrea was wearing a black beanie with tiny grey skull and cross bones on the border.

Bella sighed, she knew that she was going to get a call from Andrea's teacher and she and Edward would be visiting the Head Master's office before long, to hear another lecture on 'Wardrobe choices for pre-teens'.

"Okay, well, Becks and I are headed home. We'll see you guys soon?"

Bella reached over and hugged Emmett and just like she had to his daughter, she gave him a kiss on his cheek.

Suddenly she caught a flash from the corner of her eye and she turned to see a man with a camera standing near a car.

"what the - ?" she began, but Emmett was fast and before she could react, Emmett had put Rebecca down and was moving towards the man who looked like he was going to puke.

"Hey! You had better not be taking any pictures of any of the kids here, pal! This is private property and their rights are protected!"

Several parents had stopped what they were doing and were now staring between Emmett and the man.

"Hey man, I was just getting a shot of you and Mrs. Cullen over there…"

Emmett eyebrows shot up and he looked smug, "Really? Have you met my sister in law and my brother who sued a website and won the case? Yeah, maybe you should look it up and see how much those media houses had to pay – something like twenty million?"

Suddenly his face changed and the false smile dropped from his face as he moved closer and lowered his voice, "Fuck off, buddy and don't show your face near my kid's school again or you will be very sorry. If you're not gone in two minutes that security guard over there," he pointed over his shoulder, "Is going to phone the police chief and you will be locked up for trespassing and invasion of privacy, got it?"

Emmett's blue eyes were like ice daggers as he ground the words out.

The man swallowed and he quickly climbed into his car and drove off.

Bella had meanwhile herded all the kids into her SUV and was standing next to it.

Em walked over to her and saw that she looked pale, "Are you okay little Bell?"

Bella let out a breath, "yes, yes, I'm fine. It's just been a while since we've had any attention like that and it just shook me up a little."

Just then he saw Quill and Rush heading towards them, "Is everyone okay?" Quill barked out.

Bella wanted to roll her eyes but she knew that they would just ignore her gesture.

"I'm going to take the kids home. Em, do you want your daughter?" she said with a laugh as she opened the door and helped Rebecca out of the car.

Rush stepped in front of her, "Are you okay?" he asked quietly.

Bella nodded, "It was nothing Amos. You know that we still get some of those silly paparazzi that want to take photos of the 'old people', so I am fine."

His dark eyes appraised her carefully, "Yes, well, wait for us before you leave so that we can drive behind you."

Bella nodded before she said goodbye to Emmett and Rebecca, made sure that all of the children were securely in their seats with their seatbelts fastened and she saw that Rush and Quill were behind her as she headed home.

The drive home was lively with all five children talking and laughing as they made plans for the afternoon.

Back at the house, Bella followed behind the hyper-energetic children at a slower pace. When she walked into the kitchen, she saw that it was utter chaos, with everyone shouting and making demands of poor Evie as she stood at the counter.

Bella clapped her hands and let out a loud, "HEY!" managed to stop everyone in their tracks.

Five faces turned to stare at her with mouths hanging open in shock.

"Okay! Now that I have everyone's attention, here is what we are going to do: you are all going to put your book bags and backpacks down neatly along the wall. After that, you are all going to go upstairs and wash your hands and faces and change if you want to – Casey and Isabelle, I'm sure that there are clothes upstairs for you as well. Remember: Don't wear anything fancy – we are going horse riding later. When you are done, come back downstairs and we will have your snack ready for you – off you go!"

It sounded as if a herd of elephants had been let loose as the children disappeared upstairs.

Bella and Evie looked at each other and Evie shook her head, "I don't know how you do it, Bella! You get rid of three and then open your home to more – you are a saint."

Bella laughed, "Or certifiably insane! Let's get their snack plates ready, could you fill the travel cups for the minis and the glasses for the twins, while I get the plates out?"

The women worked quickly and within minutes Bella had put out slices of apple with honey drizzled over them, cubes of cheese and cold cuts, slices of toast soldiers and glasses of milk sat next to each place setting.

Bella checked that everyone had clean hands before they sat down at the long kitchen table and began to eat.

Afterwards, it was homework time and after all the books had been packed away, Bella hurried upstairs to change into a pair of jeans and her riding boots. Just as she was about to go downstairs their bedroom door opened and Edward stuck his head in.

"Hey Baby!" Bella kissed him quickly.

"Hi, I believe that you are going riding?"

"That's the plan. What are you up to?"

"Sam's got Basketball practice and I said that I would so and see how the team's doing."

Bella nodded, "That's great, Honey. I know that he loves having you there."

Just before they walked down the stairs, Bella put her hand on Edward's arm, "Listen, I brought Case and Isabelle home with me today because when I saw Jesse at the school, she looked as if she had been crying. I'm not sure what's going on, because she and Seth are two of the most drama free of all of us, but I told her that we would take the kids home later. Will you come with me?"

Edward frowned, "Sure, unless you think that we should just let them stay over tonight and maybe give Seth and Jess a chance to take the night off, maybe?"

Bella shrugged, "Babe, you know that I don't like getting involved but do you think that you could give Seth a ring and see if there is something that we can do for them?"

"Of course; I've got a little time before Sam's practice so I'll call him now and let you know."

They parted with a kiss before Bella gathered all the children together and led them outside to where the eight-seat golf cart was parked.

The children chattered with excitement as they quickly chose their seats. The boys shouted 'Hoot-hoot' and they bumped along the dirt road.

At the top of the hill, they drove around the circle and the kids waved to Anderson as he stood talking to Morgan, one of the regular security staff.

Anderson smiled and waved as they passed by. The smile faded from his face as he watched the cart disappear into the stable courtyard.

He looked at Morgan, "You are sure that it is Darryl White that's been snooping around the Cullen's place?"

Morgan nodded, "Yeah, man, we have it on camera. But he isn't snooping around the house. In fact he keeps to his hideaway in the copse of trees to the East side?"

Anderson nodded, "Yeah well he sets up his little 'camp' at around eleven or so – he climbs up into one of the trees and that's where he stays – he never goes closer, he has never tried to enter the premises or anything like that. He just sits up there – it's like, well," Morgan scratched his day old growth, "Well it's as if he is keeping watch over the house, or the Cullen's."

Anderson had a deep scowl as he looked at Morgan, "and there's been no phone activity?"

Morgan shook his head, "nothing, Boss, I swear! We have searched everywhere – there is no other phone! Quill has been monitoring his internet usage and besides searching different sites and reading news papers from across the US, especially the west coast, he has no contact with anyone on the outside."

Anderson let out a mumbled curse – this was getting fucking old!

"Boss, could Edward have been mistaken about what he heard? Could he have just heard White on the phone and could he have misconstrued what was being said?"

Anderson scowled at him, "Do you think that we haven't thought about that?" Anderson ran his hand over his short hair and sighed. It was at times like that this that he wished that he smoked!

"Look, Morgan, I am convinced that something is going on here – I just don't know what. Somehow, some way, Calvino, North, the photos of the Cullen's, and yes, even Darryl White, but I just can see the connection or what outcome he hopes to achieve with all of this – none of it makes sense."

He hesitated for a moment but then went on, "I'll tell you something, when those kids began to disappear – well I thought it was Calvino because when that first girl was taken, the cops were mighty interested in Nicholas Cullen and I thought that perhaps he was being framed. But then the kid turned up and other kids were taken so I guess that I was mistaken."

He put his hand on Morgan's shoulder, "Just keep an eye on them. I don't want any of us thinking that we can slack off here – my gut is telling me that something's brewing and I want us to be prepared for whatever it is."

Morgan nodded, "You got it Boss."

They chatted for a few minutes but broke off when they saw Bella, ride out of the paddock, followed closely by Isabelle and Max next was Elizabeth and Casey and finally Andrea. Bringing up the rear of the little riding party was Philip Jones, one of the senior trainers on the ranch.

Philip was an ex British Green Beret, a member of an exclusive regiment of the Royal Marine Corps. Philip had also been one of the best trainers in the British Equestrian Olympic Team and Jasper and Edward had been thrilled when he had contacted them regarding his ideas for a breeding program for the quarter horses that he loved so much.

As soon as Emmett had done his background check on the man, they had flown him out to Napa for an appointment and he was offered the job of Head trainer and Director of the Rocking Horse Breeding Ranch immediately.

He had worked alongside Anderson and Brian to ensure the safety of everyone on the ranch, human or equine. Philip was a quiet man, with a firm handshake and a slightly reserved air that put most people at ease. He was fantastic with the animals and the clients trusted and respected him.

Bella enjoyed riding with him and over the years, he had formed a friendship with the Cullen's and the Whitlock's. His story was rather tragic.

He had been married quite young and he and his wife had one child, a little boy. While Philip had been busy with training for the upcoming Olympics, his wife and son had been involved in a car crash and both had died at the scene.

Philip had known that he couldn't stay in England after that and he had begun looking for an escape when one of his friends had shown him an article about Edward Cullen and Jasper Whitlock, Hollywood actors, music producers and most recently, Jasper had become a horse breeder and trainer.

Philip had immediately contacted Jasper and after sending off his resume, he had immediately begun to pack up his home, selling everything except his clothes and a few photograph albums and he had flown off to his new life.

He was slightly older than Edward but at forty eight, he was still single, still devoted to his horses and still completely shut off from most people emotionally.

He enjoyed 'dabbling' in the security of the ranch, especially as the livestock and equipment on the ranch was worth millions of dollars. The state of the art paddocks, stables, barns and the indoor arena were worth several million more, which made the ranch a security risk against horse thieves.

There was a lot of money to be made within the equine industry and like anything; horses could fetch enormous amounts of money on the black market.

Philip heard the giggles and turned his attention back to the task at hand; he quickened his pace when he saw Elisabeth struggling on her horse, Prince Aragon.

"Your saddle is too loose, Elisabeth." He admonished gently as he drew alongside her.

Beth huffed impatiently, "Well, it wouldn't be if Andrea wasn't in such a hurry!" glaring at her sister who stuck out her tongue and quickened her pace to catch up to her brother and cousins.

Philip smiled, "Just lift your leg and we will get you sorted out in no time." He said quietly.

Elisabeth blushed as she lifted her leg over her horse's neck and she dipped her head down quickly.

She liked Philip Jones. She liked the way that he treated her as if she was an adult. He was always quiet and kind to the horses and he let her help him whenever he was around and she wondered down to the barn.

Most weekends would find her helping the stable hands to muck out the stables and wash the horses. There were lots of horses on the ranch, but Elisabeth was only allowed to help the horses that were owned by her family or if Philip or one of the senior trainers was there to assist..

A few years before, Bella, Alice, Rosalie and Esme had started the 'Rocking Horse School', which was a conventional horse riding school, except that it was for children and adults with special needs.

The riding school was on the opposite side of the ranch, with its own paddocks, equipment, staff and equipment. The state of the art paddocks, stables, barns and the indoor arena had all been handpicked and built with special needs children and adults in mind.

Every year, a number of children and adults were chosen to spend some time at the riding school, learning to ride, meeting new friends and doing something that they wouldn't have thought possible.

Jasper, Emmett, Edward and Seth encouraged their children to get involved as much as possible and even Charlie and Carlisle would help out, giving fishing lessons, or just camping out around a camp fire and making s'mores for a few hours.

Once the saddle was secured, Philip patted Elisabeth's hand awkwardly, "There you go, dear, snug as a bug. Prince's 'belt' is nice and secure."

"Thanks Mister Philip. Are you still planning on teaching 'dressage' on Saturday?" Elisabeth loved to help at the school, when she wasn't volunteering at the local animal shelter or assisting the local vet in his practice.

Philip nodded, "I am and I could certainly use your help."

Beth grinned at him, "I would love to! I will ask Dad to bring me down extra early and we help to muck out the stalls and get the 'boys' and girls' ready for their ride."

Beth insisted on calling the horses that they kept 'boys' and girls' and the phrase had stuck.

"Hey, you guys, less talking, and more riding!"

Beth looked up to see her mother looking at them over her shoulder.

"Okay Mom!" she said as she rolled her eyes and urged Prince to pick up the pace.

Philip smiled as he watched her move ahead of him.

He was very fond of all of the Cullen, Whitlock and Clearwater-Swans. They were always polite and generally followed orders apart from the usual teenage pranks that the boys got up to, they were good kids. They were polite and respectful and no one would ever know that their families were worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Once they had cleared the woods, Bella nudged her horse into a canter and she took off across the field with the children not far behind her. She let out a loud laugh as she heard Max and Isabelle laughing behind her, urging her to go faster.

Bella slowed her horse down to a walk as she came to the pond in the corner of the field, where they often had picnics. Years before, when she and Alice had found this space, they had begged Jasper and Edward to build a picnic area, which they had done. There were a couple of long, rough wooden tables with long wooden benches. There was also a quant outbuilding, that looked rather like a large garden shed or hunters cottage, which contained buckets for horse feed and water, and some blankets and torches in case anyone got stuck outside late at night and needed to find their way back. There were also some thick sweaters, a radio, some towels and some dried fruit and nuts and some sachets of powered energy drink.

Bella and Alice liked the idea of a place that anyone could access if they were outside and it began to rain or if the person was injured and needed a place to rest. There was a lean-to on one side the hut where several horses could be tethered. A small enclosed pasture behind it, allowed for the horses to be rested while the humans enjoyed the rock pool.

Once Bella and Philip had taken all the saddles off the horses and turned them loose in the paddock, the children sat on one side of the pond, on the wooden deck that stretched over the water like a makeshift dock, while Bella and Philip set their afternoon snacks out on one of the tables.

"Thank you for agreeing to help out this afternoon Philip; I know that you've got far more important things to do with your time." Bella said as she set out the travel mugs of cold juice and water.

Philip shook his head, "It's always my pleasure, Bella. You forget that I enjoy spending the time with the children far more than I do when I'm hunched over crunching numbers all day!"

Bella rolled her eyes, "You don't fool me for a minute; I know that you love nothing more than to see if you can help create a more superior horse than with all your blood lines and DNA and all your other CSI stuff!"

Philip chuckled quietly and held up his hands in surrender, "Okay, okay, you've got it all figured out – I do love tinkering around with the bloodlines and my theory had been proved over the last few years – look at Prince Aragon and Lord Landry – they are even more spectacular than the previous foals were!" he looked over at the horses with pride and pleasure.

Bella laughed, "You are such a proud Papa!" she teased but Philip didn't argue with her.

After everyone had eaten and enjoyed the cool day, they made their way back to the stables.

As they were all busy brushing the horses down and filling their water and feed buckets, Bella invited Philip for dinner that evening and he accepted readily. He was lonely and he enjoyed spending time with the Cullen's. Edward was an interesting man. He didn't have an inflated opinion about himself or his wealth or status in life and he adored his wife and kids. Philip liked being around the family because the always made him feel as if he was a part of them – even if it was for a little while.

He also enjoyed the fact that none of the family pushed him to partake in anything if he didn't want to. They always gave him a choice and he appreciated that.

Bella got everyone home and ushered them up to the bathrooms, where she quickly enlisted the assistance of the twins and between them, they oversaw Max and Isabelle's bath time, while Casey took a 'big boy shower'. Bella quickly had a shower and changed into black leggings, a black Henley and a soft grey cashmere long jersey and warm grey socks. Afterwards, Bella made sure that the boys changed into comfortable track pants, long sleeved t-shirts and warm socks and she left them playing quietly in Max's room with his Lego sets before she took Isabelle into Elizabeth's room and dried her curly dark brown hair before she helped her to dress in a similar outfit to her own, leggings, except that these were bright pink, with a pink Henley and a pink and purple sleeveless jacket with butterflies on them. Her socks were also pink with matching butterflies.

Isabelle was quiet as Bella brushed her soft curls.

"Aunty Bells?" her voice was soft as she fiddled with her fingers nervously.

"Hmm?"

"Why is my Momma so sad all the time?" Isabelle's voice trembled and Bella's heart broke.

"Oh Honey, sometimes Mommas just get a little sad, just like kids do, you know?" Bella said as her arms closed over Isabelle and she pulled her into her arms.

Isabelle shook her head as she stared up at Bella with tears hanging off her dark eyes, "Uhuh! It's not!" she shook her head firmly as her cheeks grew red.

"Me an' Casey don't like it when Momma and Daddy shouts and get loud and then Daddy leaves when he thinks that we are sleeping an' Case an' me cuddle under Case's bed and he tells me jokes an' stuff, but I's get scared and then we hears Momma crying…" Bella tipped her chin just in time to see two giant tears fall down the soft cheeks.

"Oh Little Belle, it's going to be okay, I promise. Mommy and Daddy love you and Casey very much. Don't cry, Sweetheart." Bella cooed as she gently rocked the little girl.

She was furious with her brother and sister-in-law for fighting in front of the children and a part of her wondered if she was being a hypocrite when not so long before, she and Edward had barely been able to stay in the same room together, but at least they had tried to put on a united front for the 'minis', even though they hadn't been able to fool the older four, they had tried.

Elisabeth came in and noticed the tear stains on her cousin's cheeks.

"Is everything okay, Mom?" she asked quietly.

Bella nodded, "Sure Hon, hey didn't you want to watch that new movie that Daddy got for you girls last week?" she said casually.

Elisabeth looked from her to Isabelle and nodded quickly, "oh yeah! I'm sure that Drea wants to see it as well. Can we watch it in the den, Mom?"

Bella gave Isabelle a kiss on her forehead and winked at her, "Do you want to watch movies with your cousins? I think it is the new one about the Party Pets or something…"

Isabelle's face lit up like a Christmas tree as her dark eyes grew wide with excitement, "Oooh, weelly? I love that movie! Momma says that Santa might bring it to me!"

Bella quickly wiped her cheeks and let her wiggle off the bed. She ran over to Elisabeth and grabbed her hand, "Come on, Bethy, let's go and get Drea!"

Bella smiled brightly as Beth allowed Isabelle to drag her out of the bedroom, but her smile faded quickly.

She got up slowly and straightened the twins' bathroom as she wondered what was going on. She checked on the boys again and found them in Sam's room. Sam was playing 'disco dance' with them and he waved Bella away.

As she walked down the stairs, the front door opened and Edward walked inside and closed the door against the cold evening.

"Hey baby girl,"

"Hi Babe." Bella said as she paused on the last step and waited for Edward to put his arms around her.

He bent his head slightly and brushed his cold lips against her warm ones.

"Hmm, you are so deliciously warm," he murmured.

Bella shivered as his cold arms pulled her closer, "You're c-cold!"

"I can change that," he said against her mouth as he moaned and suddenly deepened the kiss. He parted her lips with his own before his tongue snaked out and brushed over her lips, teasing her, provoking her until she groaned and pulled his hair to bring him closer to her, deepening the kiss.

Just as she was about to run out of air, Edward broke the contact and stepped backwards, he made sure to keep a steady hold on Bella's hips as she pitched forward with her eyes still closed.

Her eyes snapped open as she heard his chuckle and she narrowed her eyes playfully, "Why you!"

He laughed and skipped out the way as her small fist shot out to punch his arm. He shook his head as he pulled his jacket off and quickly hung it in the closet.

They walked into the kitchen together, where Bella checked on dinner that was simmering in the oven.

Edward walked over to the fridge and pulled out a half empty bottle of wine and he poured them each a glass before he took a seat at the island as Bella began to pull plates from the cupboard.

"How are the kids?"

Bella turned around and sighed, "Isabelle cried earlier on," she said quietly.

"Shit,"

"Yeah, it was horrible. Did you manage to speak to Seth?"

Edward looked uncomfortable and a little angry as he nodded, "he didn't appreciate the call, let me tell you."

Bella frowned, "What happened?"

"He asked why you were interfering in his 'business' and when I tried to explain that we were just trying to help, he made a stupid remark that isn't worth mentioning."

Seth's voice was filled with anger as he had ground out, "Take care of your own damn family, Edward, and I will take care of mine and keep your damn interfering wife under control! Isn't that what you 'S&M' people do? Jesus – fuck! Stay out of it!"

He has slammed the phone in Edward's ear.

Bella felt a stab of hurt. She and Seth were very close and they had always supported each other before.

Edward saw the flash of hurt on Bella's face before she quickly turned around and began to clang pot lids and shuffle things on the stove.

"Bella"

Bella either didn't hear or ignored him. Edward was sure that it was the latter.

"Bella, baby, look at me."

Once again she didn't respond.

With a sigh Edward got up and walked around the island. He was pissed that someone else's mess was upsetting her.

He walked up behind her and gently moved her away from the stove after making sure that the plates were turned off, he gently, but insistently turned her around.

Bella crossed her arms over her breasts and huffed impatiently as she stared stubbornly at his chest.

Edward patiently put his finger under her chin as he lifted her face until she reluctantly looked up at him.

"Isabella…" his voice died when he saw the unshed tears in her eyes.

"She was so scared, Baby. It just broke my heart when she asked why her mommy cries all the time and why her daddy sneaks out the house when they go to bed and they lie under Casey's bed and he tells her jokes to drown out their parents arguing and shouting."

Edward knew how protective Bella was towards her young nephew and niece and he saw the minute that her anger began to rise.

She stepped back, "You know what? Fuck that! And fuck him! How dare he say that I'm interfering! Well, now I am going to interfere…does he even realize how selfish they are being?" she stalked over to the phone just as it began to ring.

"What?" she barked into the phone as Edward watched on with some amusement.

He watched her face change from angry to concerned.

"Yes, they are fine Jesse. Are you crying? Jesse, let me come to see you. What? …Oh, okay. Are you sure? Well okay, but will you please do me a favor... Will you call me when you get to Seth's office... just to let us know that you got there safely because the weather has turned quite nasty?"

She looked over at Edward and shook her head sadly, "Okay, fine. Jess, we love you and Seth, and there is no judgment at all….. Yes, I will. Don't worry, they will be fine here - okay, I'll ask Edward to pick their bags up at the gate….Bye."

She replaced the receiver and was about to speak when a voice interrupted them "Was that my mom, Aunty Bella?"

They turned and saw Casey and Max standing in the doorway, "yes, it was sweetheart. She called to check that you and Isabelle were alright. She's going to meet your daddy at his work because he is taking her out for dinner. She said that it could be quite late before they are finished so she asked if you could stay here tonight and if they decide to stay in town, maybe tomorrow night as well. Is that alright with you?"

Casey reminded her so much of Seth. He had the same dark brown hair that was straight and thick. He had his father's dark laughing eyes and dimples although at the moment his eyes looked sad and far too old to belong to a seven year old little boy and Bella noticed how his chin quivered slightly as he tried but failed to hid his sadness.

He shrugged and nodded slowly, "Sure, I like staying here with you. Isn't daddy working again?"

Bella bit her lip, "I think your Mom and Dad want to spend some time together, so maybe he is taking some time off."

They watched Casey go into lounge where the girls were still watching their movie. Bella made sure that they were all in the room before she told Edward what Jesse had said.

"She said that she and Seth are going to take off for a couple of days to sort themselves out and they weren't sure if they would be home tomorrow or the day after. I just hope that they sort their shit out because if they don't, Charlie and Sue will kick their asses for upsetting those kids!" Bella said fiercely.

Just then the front door opened and they heard as Sam and Philip walked in together.

"Hey Mom! Philip was just about here when I picked him up." Sam said as he walked into the kitchen.

"Why did you walk?" Bella asked.

"I like the exercise."

"Well you aren't walking home tonight. You can take one of the carts or one of us will give you a lift home. Its pitch black out there at night – what if you fell or something?" Bella fussed as she moved back to the stove.

With that Bella asked Sam to go and shower quickly before dinner as she busied herself with the final touches on the roast that she had put on earlier in the day.

Edward looked over at Philip who was staring at Bella with his mouth slightly open and he grinned at the older man, "Don't look at me – she is a force to be reckoned with. Now, I've got a bottle of thirty year old scotch in my study, would you care to join me before dinner?"

Philip nodded eagerly. He wasn't much of a drinker but he enjoyed a good scotch and Edward had great taste.

As the men walked out Bella reminded Edward that dinner would be ready in half an hour.

Later that evening, Philip took one of the golf carts and drove to his small cabin as he thought about the night that had just passed.

Bella and Edward were great hosts and even better parents. They gave all of the children around the table a chance to talk about their day and they actually listened and asked questions and made comments.

Afterwards they had excused themselves briefly as they readied the children for bed and Philip couldn't help but notice that they treated their niece and nephew as though they were their own.

Once Philip had left and the minis were tucked up in bed and asleep, Bella and Edward curled up on the loveseat in front of the fireplace in the library.

It was one of Bella's favorite rooms with floor to ceiling shelves filled with books, works of art, pottery and other treasures that they had collected over the years.

Bella was half lying across Edward's lap as they shared kisses and tender touches.

"Hmmm, I could kiss you all night long," Edward murmured as they came up for air.

Bella giggled as she caught her breath, "Yeah?"

"Yeah, but I want to do more than that, so shall we move this up to our room, Mrs. Cullen?"

Bella bit her lip as she skimmed a finger over Edward's cheekbone. Sometimes she still couldn't believe that this amazing man was hers.

"I think that could be arranged."

Instead over letting her get up, Edward curled one arm around her shoulders and the other under her knees before he stood up.

"Edward! Be careful Sweetheart, you're not as young as you used to be!" she exclaimed.

Edward ducked his head into her neck and growled playfully.

"And your point is? You think that I can't pick up a slip of a girl like you? You think that I'm going to … drop you?" he pretended to lose his grip and Bella squealed as she clung to his neck.

He let out a laugh and walked up the stairs, teasing her as they went.

As he gently laid her out on their bed, he took in the picture of his beautiful wife, sprawled out before him, her cheeks bright pink from the giggles and he said a silent prayer of thanks to his Maker for blessing him so abundantly.

He knew that the next few days would be trying but for now they were okay.

*ΩafloΩ*

A/N: I am so sorry that it has taken me so long to update this story. I've had terrible writers block and work has been insane and I'm just really sorry. I am still writing and I will get the next chapter up sooner than this one.

Hugs

Ginger