A/N: Well, dang. Here's the last one!
"They're totally zonked."
Edward checks the corner of his rearview mirror and chuckles softly. "I sure am glad the brownie sundae didn't have that effect on you the first time."
Bella marvels at how easily he can still make her blush. "Hardly."
Edward's voice is suddenly gruff. "How about this time?"
Bella grins slyly. "Oh, I don't know..." she teases, drawing her arms into a full-length stretch and yawning dramatically.
The car rolls up her driveway, and Edward turns off the motor. Bathed in the blissful silence of suburbia with the long, successful day behind them, the two reach for each other across the abyss of the armrest.
"Thank you for a wonderful day," Bella says between kisses.
"Thank you for trusting me with your children."
"I've never trusted anyone more," she answers easily, punctuating her statement with, "ever."
Edward leans forward and presses his soft lips to hers. Bella can taste their whole day in his kisses—the lingering warmth of the summer sun, a trace of coconut, the crisp, spicy edge of the Pinot, and the rich decadence of the triple-threat hot fudge sundae. Edward deepens the kiss, teasing her with a soft press of his tongue between her lips.
Angela shifts in her seat and startles herself awake, dazed and confused. "Mommy?"
Bella breaks their kiss reluctantly. "Right here, Peaches. We're home."
"I'll get Ben," Edward offers. The two of them fall into a silent partnership of lifting sleepy bodies, quietly closing car doors, and carrying lethargic children upstairs.
Bella tips her chin toward Ben's room and whispers, "I'll be in to tuck him in."
Edward nods slightly so as not to jostle the boy sprawled trustingly against his chest. Bella is glued to the sight of Edward turning to head down the hall, Ben's sweaty forehead tucked neatly into the crook of Edward's neck, his arms and legs wrapped around Edward's capable body. Just before she looks away, Bella happens to catch Edward's hand clasping Ben's head against his broad shoulder, and something inside her flutters and flips.
Angela is a warm, dead weight in her arms, and Bella makes the rare decision to forgo teeth brushing for the night. She pulls off Angela's sandals and settles her under the covers, leans over to kiss her forehead and brush the sweet brown curls from her face.
Angela's eyes are still closed, so Bella is startled when she hears, "Mommy, can Edward kiss me g'night?"
Her daughter will most likely be asleep again long before Edward makes it into her room, but Bella assures her Edward will be right there. Bella pads quietly down the hall to check on how the boys are doing, when she overhears low murmuring.
"How did you get him out of the lake all by yourself?"
Soft laughter. "It wasn't easy—that guy weighs a ton! I lifted him onto my shoulders..."
"Can you show me?"
"Hold on tight, spider monkey!" Swoosh. Giggles. Creaking bed springs. Laughter.
"Then I started his heart like this..." More giggles. "And I got him breathing again...well, you probably don't want to see that part..."
"Ew! NO! It's like kissing!"
"Yeah, kind of," Edward laughs, "but not in a good way."
"Do you wanna kiss my mom like that—I mean, the good way?"
"To be honest with you, Ben, I really, really do. Your mom is very special to me."
Bella's heart pounds in her ears for the few beats it takes Ben to answer. "I guess that's okay by me."
Tears spring to Bella's eyes, and a grape-sized lump forms in her throat.
Edward's voice is soft and reverent. "I can't tell you how much that means to me, Benjamin. Good night, my friend."
Edward seems startled to encounter Bella outside Ben's door, and he doesn't know how much she's heard. "He's such a great kid, Bella," he whispers.
"Yep," is about all she can muster before remembering, "Angela wanted you to kiss her good night, but I'm pretty sure she's sound asleep by now."
"Sure." He gives Bella a kiss on the cheek and a quick hug as they move in opposite directions. Benjamin is lying on his back, his hands folded behind his head, staring thoughtfully at the glow-in-the-dark constellations on his ceiling.
Bella sinks onto Ben's bed and stretches her tired body alongside his. "Did you have a good time today?"
"Yeah. It was fun. I liked the boat and everything. Edward's cool."
"Yeah, he likes you a lot, too."
"He does?" Ben's sleep-glazed eyes manage to widen with excitement.
"Of course he does. You're awesome. Don't I tell you that all the time?"
"Hey." Bella looks into the deep brown eyes she loves so much, "Thanks for giving him a chance. I knew you two would be thick as thieves."
"He said he'd teach Embry and me some magic tricks. So...can I invite Embry over tomorrow?"
There's absolutely no guile to his suggestion, and Bella marvels at how easy it is for Ben to open his heart and accept this new man—now that he's had a chance to let Jake's poison work its way out of his little body. "I'll have to ask Edward, okay?"
"G'night, little man."
Bella smoothes the covers across his chest and gives her son a peck on the cheek before closing his door behind her. Edward is coming from Angela's room, and he looks to have swallowed about a hundred canaries.
"What are you grinning about?" she asks in a half-whisper.
"She asked me to get your 'mission for a sleepover' so I could make her 'Angelacakes' for breakfast."
"She did, huh?" Bella chuckles quietly. "Apparently, both of my children have invited you to stay the night."
Edward steps closer and laces their fingers together. "Smart kids."
"Mmhmm. So, what'd you say to her?"
"You mean after I got done grinning like a damn fool?"
"I told her I had no idea how to make an Angelacake, and she said, 'Mommy can teach you. Just like you taught her how to swim.'"
Bella's hand flies to her heart. "Now you have to stay."
"If it's okay with Angela's mom."
"I could be down with that."
"She said something else," he adds, nipping at Bella's ear. She allows herself the comfort of his body.
Though Bella can't quite reconcile talk of her daughter with the very adult feelings coursing through her, she asks, "What's that?"
Edward smiles, and it's big and smug. "She loves me."
There's a moment where both their bodies tense, neither of them moves a muscle, neither takes a breath. His lips are at his ear, and hers have made their way to his neck. She lets out a breath and rests her lips on his skin. "I have such smart kids."
The tight knot of his chest relaxes against her, and he purrs and hums as his kisses resume.
She admits out loud what her heart has known for weeks now. "I love you, too, Edward."
His hands move to her back, roving up and down as if he needs to touch everywhere at once. "That's a good thing," he answers, moving his lips to her mouth and kissing her deeply.
"Makes it easier to say what I have to say."
Bella's heart picks up speed, but he teases her with more kisses before revealing himself. Finally, after an agonizing wait, Edward whispers, "I'm marrying you."
She'd been expecting some sort of confession about his feelings, maybe a reciprocal "I love you," but not this. Not a proposal here...now. And it strikes her it was more of a statement of fait accompli than a proposal. She doesn't know whether to be flabbergasted, amused, or simply blown off her feet—so she goes with all three.
"Isn't that something you're supposed to ask a girl?"
Picking up on her playful mood, his lips curl up before answering, "I was working up the nerve to ask you before today, but now that I've met Angela and Ben, I know for a fact I cannot live without the three of you in my life."
"So it's all about you?"
"Well, that's a good thing to know before I decide if I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
Still cautious of waking the kids, Edward keeps his voice low. "I thought it only fair, and as you know, I'm all about the fairness."
"Being a judge and all."
"Mmhmm." Edward's smile fades slightly, but his eyes don't lose their sparkle. "Bella Swan, let me marry you and spoil you rotten and teach Benjamin magic tricks and learn to make Angelacakes—whatever the hell those are—and for the love of Pete, let me sleep in your bed tonight and wake up with you in my arms tomorrow!"
Her head spins with the thrilling reality of his proposal. Clearly, he'd been holding back until today, understanding that no choices about her future would make any sense without including her children in the deal. Bella kisses him deeply, slowly, sliding her tongue against his and telling him yes a hundred different ways. Placing her lips to his ear, she whispers, "I'll deliver my decision in my chambers."
A/N 2: And there it is. I hope you all are bobbing along on Lake Happy with me and this little family. This story was so much fun to write and post, beginning with the second Taste of the Forbidden contest and following through their awkward dance toward a relationship and more. Special thanks to Team Born: wise yet demanding pre-readers Intricacy Alterite and Shell Shock and patient and inspiring beta Chayasara, all of whom granted this story some serious consideration both in person and through chat. This was really fun. You know, we should do it again some time!
Thank you all for reading and sharing your insights and reflections. I've loved hearing from you! I don't know when I'll be writing fanfic again, but you can always find me on facebook or my blog (check my profile for links) or by sending me a PM here. Don't be a stranger! XXX ~BOH