The end is nigh...
Chapter 25 ~ Epilogue
Four Years Later
Bella paced up and down, her hands alternately sweeping her hair from her face, and plucking at her skirt, which seemed to have shrunk since she put it on earlier that morning.
The scent of books, which usually had a calming effect on her, now caused a dry, tingly irritation in the back of her throat, making her nose wrinkle. She had been to many, many book-signings since she first became a published author but, for some inexplicable reason, this one was putting her on edge like never before.
She glanced across at a tall, good-looking man with shoulder-length dark hair and several days' growth of dark stubble, who was currently talking softly to the store manager.
He looked up, arching an eyebrow and smirking, before finally excusing himself and walking towards her.
"What is it, Bella? Wouldn't you be more comfortable if you sat down?" he asked solicitously.
"I'll sit down when I'm ready," she snapped. "Where are the ropes to keep the fans back? And why isn't there any water on the table? There needs to be water… and there are nowhere near enough books… and whose idea was that ridiculous cardboard cut-out? It's… it's puerile, Garrett—"
"Bella, it's neither ridiculous, nor puerile… it's hot. And you need to calm down—everything is under control, so please stop worrying."
He rubbed his hands up and down her arms as she continued to scowl—at him, at the manager, at the table, and at the growing army of fans she could see gathering outside. To add to her already frayed nerves, said fans were predominantly female and, to her critical eye, just a tad crazy looking.
"Calm down, sweetheart, it's going to be fine, I promise. Come on, you don't want Edward to see you getting all worked up when he arrives, do you?"
Bella looked up at the tall man, her eyes wide.
"And that's another thing… where the hell is he?"
"He'll be here any minute, he just got caught up in traffic. Now, for the love of God, will you please just sit down and take a few deep breaths!"
Bella could hear the irritation starting to creep into Garrett's voice and sighed, running her hands through her hair in resignation.
"You're right, I'm sorry, I just—"
At that moment, she caught sight of a shock of copper hair; without another word, she walked away from Garrett and into the arms of the smiling man who had just arrived.
"You're here," she whispered softly against his neck. With his arms wrapped tightly around her, she finally felt like she could breathe.
"I'm sorry I'm late, the traffic was a pig. Are you okay?"
Edward pulled back a little, looking down at her with concern.
"I'm fine now you're here. I'm just fussing for no reason… blame it on the hormones."
She gave him a wry smile, making him chuckle as he brought a hand round between them and placed it over her visibly swollen belly.
"Hey, now, don't go stressing out my little princess," he said, spreading his large hand over Bella's bump.
"I know, I know… and you've got to stop assuming it's a girl, otherwise you may well end up being disappointed."
Edward rolled his eyes and shook his head.
"It's a girl, I'd put money on it. But even if it's a boy, I'm hardly going to be disappointed… it just means we'll have to keep trying until we get a girl."
Bella's retort was forestalled, as Garrett walked over to them.
"Break it up, you two. We need to get this show on the road before the ravening hordes break down the door."
Edward and Bella both looked towards the front of the store with some alarm, then turned back to the older man.
"Okay, you ready?" Garrett asked.
Edward kissed Bella quickly but soundly and then let her go. He turned towards the large table behind him, which was now cordoned off with plastic ropes to keep the crowd back, forcing them to queue in an orderly fashion. As he sauntered across the shop, his eye was caught by the life-sized cardboard cut-out showing him posing in his white chef's coat, a faint smirk playing across his lips. He glanced back at Bella and Garrett and rolled his eyes—it wasn't so much the pose that made him feel a bit self-conscious, but the fact that the jacket was half undone, displaying a wide swath of toned chest, over which he had his arms crossed.
The image was also replicated on the cover of the books displayed around the table and on its surface. Edward's first cookery book, Masen's Mouthwatering Morsels, had come off the back of his first television series, which had seen him described, universally, as TV's Sexy Chef, much to his chagrin. And here he was now, at another first, a book signing at Foyles in London.
Two years earlier, he'd become Head Chef at Carlisle's second restaurant, Cullenary Quisine in London's Mayfair. Quickly garnering a series of glowing reviews, it had earned its first Michelin star just a year after opening, and the television producers had come calling. Unable to believe their luck that Edward Masen was not only a supremely talented chef, but also an astonishingly charismatic and photogenic man, they were willing to pretty much throw money at him to get him on television.
Needless to say, Edward's easy charm, enthusiasm for his craft, and devastating good looks had made him an instant star of the small screen, and brought him a huge following—predominantly women and gay men.
With a top-rated TV show, it wasn't long before publishers were offering large sums of money for a book, and now, here he was, at the launch of his first cookery volume. His agent, Garrett McCain, whom Edward had been introduced to by Eli Weisman, had done a fantastic job of supporting and guiding Edward to this point, and he was both excited and anxious about how it would be received.
As the doors opened and the large crowd made a beeline to where Edward sat waiting, he started to believe what Garrett and, more especially, his wife had been telling him for months.
His book was going to be a huge success.
Bella stood to one side, watching Edward greet each person with a smile; her heart felt like it would burst with the love and pride it held. Her insecurities of four years ago had long-since been washed away by his obvious and endless devotion, and she'd never once, in the intervening years, given a single thought to the possibility he might be attracted to —and leave her for—one of the many women who came on to him. The last year had seen those women grow in number, but Edward hardly even seemed to notice them.
Right now, she found herself being fascinated by the reactions of many of the ladies—and, indeed, some of the men—when Edward turned on that smile which had always made her tremble with desire. Knowing that he was hers, body and soul, she had to feel a little sorry for those who practically swooned on the spot. It was no wonder his television career had been so successful.
She had to wonder how many of the people buying his book would actually use it to cook something—but, really, did it matter as long as they bought it? Bella loved the fact that Edward was now a success in his own right, something she'd never doubted would happen—although she'd be lying if she'd claimed to know it would be quite so stratospheric.
But the level of his success was irrelevant to her. He'd worked so hard for everything he'd achieved and, as far as she was concerned, he deserved every bit of it, great or small.
She became aware of the baleful glances of more than one of the women as they walked away from the table, clutching their signed books to their chests. Bella had to force herself not to roll her eyes, and decided it was probably a good time to follow Garrett's advice and take the weight off her feet. Approaching Edward, she put her hand on his shoulder and leaned down to speak softly in his ear, ignoring the irritated stares of those still queuing.
"I'm just going out back to sit down and get a cup of tea. I'll see you in a bit."
He turned fully, a look of concern flickering across his face.
"Are you okay… do you need me to come with you?"
"No, silly, finish your signing, I just need to get off my feet before my ankles swell up and you leave me for a cute groupie."
She chuckled at his feigned look of horror, walking away before he could respond.
Slipping through the door into the small green room reserved for authors and their friends, she made herself a cup of tea and sat down with a grateful sigh. Edward would be at least another hour, so she grabbed her laptop from the bag she'd left there when she'd arrived and flipped it open. A huge smile lit her face, as it always did when she looked at her desktop—a collage of her wedding and honeymoon photos. With little effort, she cast her mind back to that wonderful day almost four years earlier…
Bella made her way up the short aisle created by guest seating in the Drawing Room of Whatley Manor on a beautiful September afternoon. Her progress was, of necessity, rather slow, as she held on tight to her Uncle Peter's arm, knowing she was more of a support to him than vice versa. Not that it mattered to her—just the sight of Peter's face, glowing with love and pride, was enough to temper her pace, despite the prize which awaited her at the end of the room.
And such a prize he was, standing tall and straight in his charcoal Gucci suit, watching as she moved towards him. Beneath the trimmed but still chaotic mop of copper hair, his vibrant green eyes shone with happiness, above a smile which spanned his face from ear to ear.
Bella had chosen an above-the-knee, white halter-neck wedding dress, not wanting a long gown to potentially trip Peter. The fitted bodice was embroidered with silver and crystal beads above a flared silk skirt, showing off her glorious legs to maximum effect. Completing the look, she wore a pair of high-heeled, strappy silver shoes, and had her long, mahogany hair coiled into an elegant chignon.
To Edward, she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever laid eyes on.
So patiently he waited, knowing that she was already his. When her uncle was finally able to hobble into position and pass her hand symbolically into Edward's keeping, the happy couple both murmured their heartfelt thanks.
And then it was just the two of them—barely conscious of the Registrar, whilst the guests, for the moment, were entirely forgotten.
Their vows were traditional, but there was nothing offhand or perfunctory about the way they were expressed. Eye-to-eye, they spoke the ancient oaths, imbuing them with all the love and joy and hope they held in their hearts. When all the words were used up, they sealed the vows with a kiss so deep, so profound… so utterly all-consuming, that it was only the cheers and laughter of the small group of friends and family which brought them back to reality.
Thereafter, the day had spun away from them, becoming a blur of eating, drinking, speeches and dancing, but over and above all else had been love and laughter.
There were, of course, special moments which stood out in Bella's memory—the vicar's pronouncement that she and Edward were now husband and wife; the way he had looked at her each time their eyes met; their first dance, to Adele's version of 'Make You Feel My Love', and the way Edward had kissed her as they swayed together in splendid isolation—with love and passion, to be sure, but also with an exultation which left her breathless and a little giddy.
And then there were the speeches—the first one from Rose. Predictably, her friend had point-blank refused to be referred to as a Maid of Honour, citing the fact that she was neither a 'maid' nor particularly honourable. Bella, of course, had only disputed the latter, making Rose laugh, and they had compromised with the term 'Best Woman'. As expected, Rose had been honest, funny and utterly filthy, and Bella had loved her all the more for it.
For Edward, his choice of best man had been a simple one. In the absence of anyone from his past, there was only one person he wanted by his side when he married Bella—the man who was his employer, his mentor and his friend—Carlisle Cullen. He had proved to be an excellent choice.
Edward had never been more certain of anything in his life than he was of his love for Bella and his desire to marry her. Nevertheless, there were days in the run-up to the wedding, when he felt himself having doubts—not about his feelings for her, but about his ability to be a good husband, protector and provider. He knew Bella didn't actually need him to provide for her, but he wanted to believe that, should necessity demand it, he could, indeed, be anything and everything that was required of a spouse. It was at times like these that Carlisle was there to soothe him with wise and judicious advice. At his stag party, Carlisle ensured that Edward didn't end up naked and tied to a lamp-post in the High Street, and on the morning of the wedding, he was a stalwart friend and a calming influence on the nervous bridegroom.
Bella had known nothing of this until after the ceremony, when, lying breathless in one another's arms, he'd told her, saying that he couldn't believe he'd ever suffered a moment's anxiety about marrying her.
From the beauty of the wedding, held in the stunning environs of Whatley Manor and its grounds, Bella's mind wandered to the sublime and unfettered joy of their honeymoon in the Seychelles. They chose to spend two weeks at the very exclusive Cousine Island resort in the Indian Ocean, where the total accommodations amounted to four luxury villas. They were told that there were two other couples on the island during their stay, but they only caught occasional glimpses of their fellow honeymooners in the whole fourteen days. Bella assumed that, like she and Edward, their neighbours had much better things to do than socialise.
Their time in the Seychelles was everything and more they could have wanted—it was a feast for all the senses. They enjoyed the comfort of a beautiful villa with rooms that opened onto their own private beach. They indulged themselves with wonderful food and drink, served on their terrace or on the beach by their own personal waiter. They went snorkelling in the crystal-clear ocean, where giant turtles swam close by, or they relaxed by the pool, reading or dozing in the sun. And, of course, they made love—in the enormous canopied bed, on the beach, on pretty much every static surface in the villa, in the sea, in the pool, and a few places in between. They didn't care if anyone saw or heard them—they were, after all, on a honeymoon island—and they relished every kiss, every touch, every whispered word of love, as they joined with one another over and over in exquisite and endless affirmation of their mutual adoration.
Bella smiled to herself at the thought of all the amazing sex they'd had on the island—and since, come to that. She squirmed a little, feeling her nipples harden, just at the idea of Edward's body worshipping her… being inside her. A small moan escaped her, and she placed a hand over her bump, remembering the night, five months earlier, when they'd made the small person who now grew within her…
She had come off the pill just weeks earlier, and neither of them had any great expectations that Bella would get pregnant anytime soon—she'd been taking birth control for well over ten years and, at thirty-three, she automatically assumed it would take some time to conceive.
She clearly hadn't factored in Edward's seemingly super-charged sperm.
They'd been driving back to Chipping Mallard from London for a long weekend. It was Jasper's birthday, and they were both overdue some downtime, so were heading to the cottage late on a Thursday night, after Edward's shift at the restaurant. Bella was behind the wheel, as Edward still wasn't that confident about driving in London, and he was also pretty tired. However, he'd offered to take over once they got off the motorway, and Bella had teased him for falling asleep by rubbing her hand over his crotch.
Edward had woken up very quickly.
Two minutes later, he was directing her to pull off the road so that they could swap over. It was pitch-dark, as they'd just passed through a small hamlet, and there was no street lighting on the stretch of road where they had stopped.
Edward got out, moving quickly round the back of the car, just as Bella was climbing out on her side. Without a word, Edward opened the back door of the Land Rover, at the same time grabbing Bella's arms and tugging her towards him. The next thing she knew, he'd pushed her down on the backseat of the car and was hovering over her.
"You think you can tease me like that and not follow through? Oh, Bella, have you learned nothing in the last three-and-a-half years?"
"In the back of a car, Edward? We're not horny teenagers!" Bella retorted, torn between feeling turned on by this turn of events, and irritated that her husband wanted to just fuck her in a car parked on the side of the road… where anyone might see them.
"Well, we're not teenagers…"
"Edward! You can't be serious?"
"Oh, I'm fucking serious, all right! We haven't had sex all week, and if I don't get inside you in the next five minutes I think my balls may spontaneously combust!"
Bella giggled, but her laughter was short-lived, as Edward's mouth crushed her lips and robbed her of further verbalisation.
As their kiss escalated, she couldn't prevent the moan which escaped her, nor could she object when Edward's hands drifted down her body and settled on the fly of her jeans. With a dexterity borne out of overwhelming need, he quickly divested her of both her outer and underwear, followed rapidly by his own. Moments later, their cries filled the interior of the car as Edward plunged deep inside Bella, immediately setting up a punishing rhythm.
It was quick, and hard, and just a little awkward, even in the moderately spacious confines of a Land Rover Sport, but neither of them much cared as they sped wildly towards their mutual release. The soundtrack to their union was the creak of leather seats, the squeak of sports suspension and the slap of skin on skin, all underpinned by the grunts and gasps each elicited from the other. In the relative silence which followed, as hearts slowed and aching lungs recovered, Bella's attention was drawn to a signpost pointing back towards the tiny village they'd driven through. She shifted, peering over Edward's shoulder and ignoring his soft groan as he slipped out of her.
And then she was giggling, the sound growing as she became convulsed with laughter. Utterly bemused, Edward tried to roll off her and fell onto the floor of the car, causing Bella's amusement to descend into very unladylike guffawing.
"What the fuck, Bella?"
"I—I'm s-s-sorry, love, but…" Again, the laughter took hold, forcing her to point impotently out the window.
At last, in the face of Edward's grumping as he pulled his jeans up and zipped his fly, she managed to control herself.
"Oh, God, I'm sorry," she gasped, wiping her eyes. "It's just that if, by some miracle, you've managed to knock me up in the back of the car, we absolutely can't be one of those couples that names their baby after the place it was conceived."
Edward frowned and then looked again in the direction Bella was pointing. "The signpost, love…"
As Bella's laughter once again filled the car, Edward peered out the window at the pole which was now lit by a bright, iridescent moon, finally, seeing what Bella had seen.
The village to which the signpost pointed was apparently just half a mile back on the B4030, and, more interestingly, was called Gagingwell.
Bella chuckled to herself when she recalled how the joke had, in fact, been on them. Just five weeks later, after throwing up for the third morning in a row, she realised that her normally regular period was late. Life had become hectic, especially with the success of Edward's new television career, and she'd completely overlooked the fact that her period had failed to materialise. It seemed unlikely that conception might have occurred so quickly but, nevertheless, she went out to pick up a couple of pregnancy tests… just in case.
Back in the bedroom of their cosy Chelsea pied-à-terre, Bella sat and read the instructions on the boxes, but then decided to wait for Edward to come home before she used either of the tests—she wanted him there with her when she found out, one way or the other.
It was a long wait, and more than once she thought about calling to ask him to come home early. In the end, she had managed to quell her impatience by cleaning out the kitchen cupboards, organising her small walk-in wardrobe, and bagging up clothes for the local Cancer Research charity shop.
At last, though, Edward was home and she could give in to her excitement.
Hearing the front door open and close, Bella rushed into the hallway to greet him, throwing her arms round his neck and kissing him hard. Startled at first, Edward quickly reciprocated, his own arms wrapping around her slender waist and pulling her close.
"Ummm, this is nice," he said, grinning down at her as she finally broke the kiss. But, before he could go for round two, Bella was extricating herself from his grip, her face shining with excitement. Curious, he took her proffered hand and let her pull him towards the narrow staircase.
"What's going on, Bella?" he asked, as he let her lead him upstairs to their bedroom. She didn't respond, merely flashing him a somewhat nervous smile over her shoulder.
Utterly bemused now, he followed her across the room, looking at her askance as she turned and took his other hand. She walked backwards until she could sit on the bed, drawing him down beside her.
"I'm so glad you're home, 'cos I'm dying for a pee, and I needed you to be here."
His frown deepened. "What? Bella, you're driving me nuts, what the hell are you going on about?"
In response, she leaned over to the bedside cabinet, pulling the drawer out and producing a long, blue box. Standing up, she stroked his cheek and smiled down at him. His answering smile was uncertain, and disappeared completely when his eyes drifted to the slim, white, pen-shaped item Bella had just drawn from the box.
His eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open, but before he could speak, she was backing away from him.
"I'm going to go use this, so just wait right there."
She chuckled when he just sat there, staring at her with a look of complete shock on his face, seemingly robbed of the power of speech.
However, as Bella disappeared into the adjoining bathroom, he was suddenly galvanised into action, jumping to his feet and striding to the open door. She looked up from where she was hovering over the loo, holding the plastic stick beneath her.
Bracing both hands on either side of the doorframe, Edward gawked at his wife. "Bella…? Does this…? Are you…?"
He shook he head, trying to marshal his chaotic thoughts.
Whilst he did so, Bella finished up, placing the stick carefully on the side of the basin in order to pull her knickers up, flush the toilet and wash her hands. Turning to a still-gaping Edward, she walked to where he stood in the doorway and placed a hand over his heart.
"I'm sorry, I suppose I kind of sprang that on you. Come on, let's go sit down while it… does whatever it does."
She gently pushed against his chest, and he dropped his hand to grip her wrist.
"How long?" he whispered.
"Um, three minutes, I think." Again, she tried to get him to move from the door but, instead, he pushed her back into the bathroom. He closed the toilet lid, sat down on it and pulled her onto his lap. Winding his arms around her waist, he hugged her close and gazed intently into her warm, chocolate eyes.
"We'll wait right here," he told her emphatically. "Jesus, Bella, do you think…?"
"I don't know, my love," she said, slipping her hands around to the back of his neck and gently stroking the soft hair at his nape. "I—I don't want you to get your hopes up, it might just be a false alarm, but… well, I'm late… my period's late, and I've been sick—"
He pulled back to look at her, concern etched on his face. "What? When?"
"Just the last few mornings, after breakfast… after you'd left for work."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"It's only been, like, three days. I didn't put two and two together until it happened again this morning, and I realised I'm nearly two weeks late. The doctor did say that my periods might be a bit erratic for the first few months, so I hadn't really given it any thought until then."
Edward gazed at her for a long time, his mind in chaos as he tried, and failed, to absorb the enormity of becoming a father.
"So, how… I mean, when, uh, you know… when do you think…?"
Bella giggled. "Are you asking when I might have conceived? Well, put it this way—I am not calling our firstborn child Gagingwell!"
Edward threw his head back and laughed with delight but, as his eyes met hers, he quickly grew serious again.
"Is it time?" he asked quietly, unable to completely control the slight tremble in his voice.
Bella glanced at her watch and drew in a lungful of air.
"Yeah, should be," she replied, tearing off several sheets of toilet paper and leaning across to pick up the stick from where it lay by the basin taps.
Holding it away from them for a moment, she gave Edward a determined look.
"Before we look at it, bear in mind that it's really soon for me to have conceived, after such a long time of being on the pill, so we probably shouldn't get our hopes up. If it's negative, then we'll just keep trying… and if it doesn't happen… well, then we'll deal with it together, like always. Okay?"
Edward gave her a soft smile, pulling her closer and resting his forehead against hers.
"I know, love, it'll be fine…now, let's just look at the bloody thing!"
She smiled, bringing the plastic stick down while they both turned their heads to look at it.
It seemed they both inhaled at the same time, and then the stick was clattering to the floor as they both fell into a tight embrace, tears of happiness mingling as their lips met.
A sharp kick from Edward's lively child brought Bella back into the here and now, making her swear softly, even as she smoothed her hand lovingly over her stomach. In the same moment, the door opened, and she was unable to contain the wide smile which lit up her face as the love of her life slipped into the room.
"Hey, you okay?" he asked.
"Ummm, yeah, I was just a little tired, so I thought I'd sit down for a bit. Are you finished out there?"
"Yep, all done. Let's get you home for a proper rest."
She let him pull her to her feet, whereupon he busied himself gathering up their stuff before taking her hand and leading her from the room.
Four months later
Bella sat on the sofa in the sitting room of Ivy Cottage. She'd insisted on coming to the country for the weekend, but had regretted it almost as soon as they'd got in the car. Edward had never entirely overcome his anxiety about driving through Central London, but she was no longer able to get behind the wheel, much to her considerable irritation. Her grumpy backseat driving did nothing to calm Edward's nerves, which just fed Bella's ire, leading to a tense and predominantly silent journey to Chipping Mallard. It didn't help that she was also cross with herself, because she knew it had been a foolhardy decision to make the journey when she could go into labour at any time.
A further source of annoyance was that after an unseasonably cold, wet and dreary summer, September and October had seen a large swath of the country gripped in a truly glorious Indian summer. Glorious, at least, to the rest of the populace—to Bella, it was her idea of hell. The last two months of her pregnancy had found her growing ever more uncomfortable and bad-tempered and, now, at a week overdue, she seemed be caught up in an endless cycle of irritation, fury, self-pity and contrition, which had Edward's head spinning.
If he hadn't been totally secure in their love for one another, he might believe that Bella had actually gone off him. As it was, he realised that her hormones were at the heart of her uncharacteristic bad moods, and learned fairly quickly to simply keep out of her way unless she specifically demanded his attention
Right now was one such occasion, and Edward practically ran from the kitchen to the sitting room when Bella shouted his name.
He found her trying, ineffectually, to lever herself off the couch, a deep frown etched across her brow.
"Don't just stand there like an idiot, help me up!" she snapped.
He moved towards her, careful to keep his face blank.
"Of course, sorry. Did you want to go into the garden?" he asked evenly.
"Christ, no, it's too bloody hot out there, I just want to move around a bit."
Before he could stop himself, his eyes flitted to Bella's feet. He was quick to bring them back to her face, but it was too late.
"Oh, God, don't look at my elephant ankles. Jesus, I'm so fucking fat and ugly! I don't know why you're even still with me…"
Her voice trailed off as her tears began to spill, just as he pulled her awkwardly to her feet. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, but her stomach was just too big—a situation which made her sob loudly and push him away.
"Ugh, get off me, it's too hot!"
He stood back and watched as she walked slowly towards the door, both hands pressed into the small of her back. She left the room, and he followed her into the kitchen, where she headed for the sink and turned the cold tap on. Running her wrists under the cool water, she then patted her cheeks and chest with her wet hands. As she did, she felt Edward's hands on her hips and felt his warm breath on her exposed neck.
"Let's get one thing straight, Mrs Masen. You'll never be anything but stunningly beautiful to me, even when we're both old and grey. The fact that you're carrying my child inside you makes you even more gorgeous, and the single sexiest woman on the planet. I love you—more today than ever… even if you are a tad cranky right now."
He planted a soft, feather-light kiss on her shoulder, next to the straps of her camisole and bra. He hoped that he could seduce her out of her current grouchiness, but she pulled away from him. She went to the cupboard, grabbed a glass and filled it from the chilled water dispenser on the front of the fridge. Drinking deeply, she then headed over to the table and sat down next to the open window. He watched her for a moment before pulling out the chair on the opposite side and sitting down, wincing as she sighed in irritation.
"This is crap, Edward—I can't wait another week to be induced. I've heard that eating a really hot curry can spark labour, but I just can't bear the thought of spicy food in this weather."
She looked up at him, a look of determination in her eyes.
"I know, love, I'm sorry—if there was something I could do, you know I'd do it," he said, frowning at his own perceived impotence in the face of Bella's exasperation.
"Actually, there is something you can do."
Placing her hands flat on the table, she pushed herself awkwardly to her feet, as Edward gazed up at her in confusion.
"Come on, you're going to fuck this baby out of me right now!" she told him with resolve.
"Wh-what?" he exclaimed, frozen in place as Bella walked towards the door.
Stopping, she turned and put her hands on her hips.
"I'm going into the front room and I want you to come in there and fuck me hard and fast—and if that doesn't get this baby moving, then I… I… argghh, just do it, Edward!"
She turned and walked out as quickly as her condition would allow, leaving Edward staring after her, caught between feeling appalled and aroused. It wasn't that he didn't want to make love to Bella—or, as she so forthrightly put it, fuck her hard—it had been weeks since they'd been intimate and he really missed that part of their relationship. But what she wanted now just didn't seem right… and yet he couldn't deny that he wanted it, too.
He sighed, and got to his feet. He must go to her—apart from anything else, the last thing he wanted was for her to think he didn't desire her.
He left the kitchen and pushed open the door of the sitting room, mentally preparing himself to do as Bella asked. He hoped to hell it did work, because he wasn't sure how she'd react if it didn't. Probably cut his dick off so he could never impregnate her again!
"Edward! Oh, my God, I think my waters just broke!"
Bella was standing in the middle of the room, wide-eyed, a look of panic on her face.
He stared at her in disbelief, unable, for a moment, to comprehend what she was saying. Then his eyes followed hers down to her feet, suddenly going as wide as Bella's when he observed the large, wet stain on the rug.
"Holy fuck, Bella…"
"Edward… I'm… I'm scared!" she whispered.
At last, Edward was broken out of his stupor, quickly walking over to where Bella stood and wrapping her, somewhat awkwardly, in his arms.
"It's going to be okay, baby, I'll take care of you. Let's get your bag and head to the hospital." He pulled back to look down at her, frowning at the fear he could still see in her face.
"Hey, come on, love, don't be scared, you'll be fine," he told her, cupping her face and rubbing his thumb soothingly across her cheek.
Bella pursed her lips and scowled up at him.
"That's easy for you to say—you're not the one who's going to have to squeeze a ten-pound human being out of your vagina," she grumbled.
Edward arched an eyebrow, trying hard not to laugh, but as his lips twitched, he could see Bella following suit, and the next thing he knew, they were both laughing. However, their laughter was brought to an abrupt halt when Bella suddenly gasped and bent forward, clutching the front of Edward's t-shirt.
"Shit, shit, shit, that fucking hurts!"
"Okay, okay, let's get you in the car. Where's your bag?"
"One more big push now, Bella."
The midwife looked up, smiling encouragingly, but Bella had the strong urge to kick the woman in the head.
You fucking push, bitch!
Seated behind her on the large birthing bean bag, Edward winced, but said nothing, as she squeezed his hand with a strength he had heretofore never suspected she possessed. His silence was apposite, as he was aware that anything he said at this point, no matter how innocuous, was likely to be met with further vitriol from his wife, the like of which might send a weaker and less devoted man running out the door. He could only pray that what he'd read about women forgetting the pain of childbirth was indeed true, otherwise it seemed quite possible he'd never be allowed back in Bella's bed, let alone her body.
Instead of verbal encouragement, he leaned forward to help her stay in an upright position, rubbing her back gently with his other hand.
"Come on, you can do it, Bella, you're almost there. Now… push!" the midwife urged.
"Arrrrgggghhhhhh…" Bella did as she was asked with what felt like the last of her strength, and suddenly she felt it—like something popping—and she just knew…
"That's it! Well done!"
Suddenly, the room was filled with the sound of a baby's loud, angry wail, and Bella was falling back against Edward.
"You did it, babe! Oh, God, I love you… I love you so much." Edward kissed her neck, pushing tendrils of damp hair from her shoulder.
Tiredly, Bella reached up to lightly touch Edward's cheek. "I love you too, Edward," she whispered, exhausted.
And then the midwife was holding out a tiny bundle for Bella to take, causing a loud sob to escape her as she held her baby in her arms for the first time.
"It's a boy," the woman announced, a smile in her voice.
They had both agreed early on that they didn't want to know the gender of their child before it was born, but Bella could now admit to herself that, despite Edward's conviction that it was a girl, she'd hoped for a boy—a beautiful, miniature version of her beloved husband.
Wrapping his arms around his wife and son, Edward felt no embarrassment as tears ran down his face.
So many amazing things had happened to him since that fateful night he'd met Bella. He almost felt as if he'd spent the first nineteen years of his life being tested by some higher power. If that were the case, he'd surely proved himself worthy because, for all that he'd lost, he'd been given back a hundredfold. He'd long since stopped expecting something to happen to take it all away again—merely embracing every wonderful day as it came. He had a woman beyond measure, and now he had a beautiful, precious son—a family of his very own.
The love he felt as he looked down at the tiny, perfect child in his beautiful wife's arms filled his heart to bursting point. He would give this boy everything he'd never had—no child would be loved more.
He smiled to himself, inwardly wondering how his mother would have reacted to being a grandmother at thirty-eight.
That thought, however, was gone in a flash, as the midwife indicated that he needed to get up from behind Bella and take charge of his son.
"Your wife's got a little more work to do, and then we'll help her clean up so that you can have some time alone together before your visitors start arriving."
Much later, after Alice and Esme had left, Edward sat on the side of Bella's bed in the small private room she'd been moved to. Now dressed in her own nightdress, he watched her slide the silky material away from her breast, guiding her nipple into their baby's rosebud mouth. He latched on without hesitation, immediately starting to suckle greedily.
Bella winced a little. "Hmm, like father, like son," she said, glancing up at Edward as he gazed down at the wondrous sight of his wife feeding his child.
He grinned at her and slipped his arm around her shoulder, as he kissed her upturned lips. Pulling apart, they both gazed in wonder as their son guzzled enthusiastically, one fist waving furiously in the air. Fascinated, Edward held out one long finger, which was immediately grasped tightly by five tiny digits. He took a deep breath, his eyes meeting Bella's own for a moment, before he looked back to where the baby seemed to be regarding him intently, his grip surprisingly strong.
"Hello, Charlie Marcus Masen. I'm your dad, and this gorgeous woman is your mum. Welcome to the world, little man. We love you so much, and I can't wait to teach you how to make cupcakes."
Edward and Bella smiled at their little boy, and then at one another. They shared another soft kiss, before leaning their heads together and gazing down at the product of their love, held securely in his mother's arms. They both knew that the life which stretched out ahead of them would be filled with ups and downs, but they were both pretty sure the good times would far outweigh the bad.
On their own, they'd both learned how to be strong and self-sufficient, but together they would be indomitable. They were a family now, and life would never be the same… it would be so much better.
And that's all she wrote, my friends. Pictures of the wedding venue, Edward's suit and Bella's dress are on my website and Facebook - links on my profile. Sadly, no pictures exist of Edward posing in his half undone chef's coat. *pouts*
I'm kind of sad to press the 'complete' button on this fic, but my sadness is tempered by the depth of the love everyone seems to have for this story and the characters within. In a blatant exploitation of that love, may I beg your indulgence for a minute or two, whilst I say a few short thankyous.
Massive thanks to my wonderful beta, MauiGirl60, who has been such a godsend to me. Her patience, support and friendship means the world to me. I should make it clear that any mistakes you have found in this story have all been mine, never hers. Similarly, I have been hugely fortunate to have found a friend in the lovely Cared; she created my main story banner, and has religiously, week on week, posted teasers for WRC all over the internet, ensuring that it reaches the widest possible audience. I seldom mention Midnight Cougar, but again, I must take the opportunity here to thank her for originally suggesting a Facebook group for my fics, setting it up, and continuing to police it and keep away the spammers. It has been a huge success, and I'm so grateful for her help.
My final thanks must, of course, go to YOU, my incredible readers, who embraced this Edward and Bella in such a way that I generally spent my Saturdays and Sundays either sniffling like an eejit or grinning from ear to ear whilst reading your lovely comments. I am thrilled that you have taken this story to your hearts so profoundly - because of you, it has twice won the TLS Fic of the Week poll. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You humble me with your kindness, in the face of my rubbish efforts at responding to reviews.
I can definitely say there won't be a sequel to WRC, although it is possible that I may do a short outtake at some point in the future. We shall see. In the meantime, click on Follow Author if you want to read any future offerings. Until then, na shledanou, farvel, adieu, auf wiedersehen, andi'o sas, arrivederci, sayonara, do widzenia, do svidaniya, adios, hejda and goodbye.