A/N… Sadly, this is the final chapter of the Gravity Series. I know you've waited patiently, which I thank you for, so I'll let you just get to it. I'll save all my words for the bottom…
Chapter 22 – Epilogue
"Sweet baby Jesus… Sweetness, what are you doing?" I rasped, slapping a hand against the tile in the shower.
Bella's giggle was naughty and dirty and all things sexy when I glanced down at her having snuck into the shower with me. She raised an eyebrow at me while on her knees at my feet at the same time her hand wrapped around my cock. I'd let her sleep in, considering it was the first day back to work, but I could see that she was taking advantage of having the house empty. I'd gotten up early, gone for a run, dressed the kids for their first day back at school, and taken them in, giving her an extra hour of sleep, but it seemed my girl was wide awake now.
I huffed a laugh. "I know what you're doing…I just… Oh, fuck…"
She hummed around my dick, causing my eyes to roll back in my head at the feel of her mouth on me. I knew what she was doing. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, Bella was staking her claim. We were about to start a new case – a cheating wife case – and I'd drawn the short straw. Or rather, I'd lost an epic tournament of Rock, Paper, Scissors between Jasper, Emmett, and me, but what-the-fuck-ever.
Gazing down at her, my eyes drank in dripping wet mahogany locks, smooth skin beaded with water, and warm eyes that were so dark, she looked like she was ready to make me her next meal.
"Hmm, baby," I moaned, cupping her face and dragging a thumb across her cheek as she continued to suck my dick. "You look…so fucking good like that, love. So sexy."
Her eyes stayed locked on my face, her tongue doing things to me that caused me to grip her hair.
"No, no, no," I hissed, squeezing my eyes closed in order to keep myself from coming. "Up, Bella…c'mere."
I pulled her to her feet, wrapping myself all the way around her so that there was barely any space between us. The feel of wet skin on skin was amazing, but even better was the searing kiss she placed on my mouth.
"I wasn't done with you, Edward," she whispered against my lips.
"Mm, I know, but I think…" I purred against the skin of her throat. "I think you should get yours, too, sweetness. Don't you?"
She grinned up at me. "I wasn't too concerned. You just looked too good to resist in here…figured you wouldn't complain."
"Shut it," I growled playfully, spinning her around so that her back was to my chest. "No complaints, but as much as I love that mouth of yours, I'd much rather sink into this sweet pussy, baby."
I cupped her between her legs possessively, smiling into the crook of her shoulder when she moaned. Her head fell back against my chest, and I skimmed my lips across her cheek.
"Tell me, Bella," I told her, lifting one of her legs to the edge of the tub and gliding my fingers through wetness that had nothing to do with the warm water drenching us. "Does sucking my cock make you this wet?"
"Yes…" she hissed, her hips arching away from me, searching, seeking something…anything. Her arm reached for me, wrapping behind her around my neck. "Edward…"
"Or does the thought of me flirting with another woman make you a little jealous?" I teased her, my voice low in her ear.
"I hate it, Edward. I can't help it."
Grinning at her declaration, I nuzzled her jaw until she turned to face me. I brushed my lips over hers, only to claim her mouth. She tasted like toothpaste and a little touch of coffee that she'd most likely stolen from the dresser in our bedroom.
"Then let me prove that you're the only woman for me, Bella." Tilting her hips just a little, I slid languidly into her hot pussy, both of us moaning shamelessly at the feel of it. "Feel that? Feel what you do to me, love? That shit won't ever change. Got me?"
I knew she knew. I knew that her trust in me was unlimited, but she tended to get a little silly with cheating cases. I was no different. I did the same shit when the roles were reversed. This case coming up was a touch different, though. We'd be working together, which rarely happened. According to the man who had hired us, he was suspicious that his wife might have been seeking out couples. He needed proof in order to divorce her.
"You know I don't share, baby. I don't give a fuck who it is," I told her, my teeth grazing her shoulder as I pounded into her. "Male or female, they'd still be touching what's mine."
I needed to hurry this shit up or we'd both be shocked when the hot water ran out. Slipping my hand down her stomach, I sought out her clit with my fingertips at the same time my other hand cupped her breast, giving her nipple a pinch.
"Come for me," I begged her, dragging my teeth over her earlobe. "I know you're close. You know you need it, sweetness. I feel it. Don't fight it…" When I rolled her clit between my thumb and forefinger, her breathing stopped, her pussy tightened down on me, and her leg shook. "There it is…let go…"
She shattered in a hissing string of curses, which only caused me to fall right behind her. "Shit, dammit!" she panted, sagging in my arms.
Chuckling, I wrapped an arm around her waist to keep her from slipping. "Good morning."
"Yeah, sure," she whispered faintly, but smiled against my jaw before placing a sweet kiss there. "I figure we've got about three minutes before the hot waters runs out…"
"Yep, you'd better be quick," I told her with a laugh and a pop to her wet bottom before I stepped out of the shower and grabbed my towel.
She hurried through her routine, and she was just about finished when I heard her squeak and then turn the water off. I held a towel out for her, cupping her face and kissing her lips.
Making her look at me, I said, "We got this. We'll have our proof by the time we go to bed tonight. Got me?"
She smiled, biting her bottom lip. "Yeah. I know." She kissed me and then grabbed another towel for her hair. "The kids get to their classroom okay?" she asked as I walked back into our bedroom.
"Yup," I called from the closet. "Sammy was great, because he'd already met his Pre-K teacher at Mrs. Cope's. Bethy, though…" I sighed, tugging on my jeans. "I swear, Bella. She's almost nine…and a boy…"
Bella laughed. "Let me guess…Colin."
"Yeah, how'd you know?" I asked her once I'd pulled a shirt on.
"Colin is the boy in class. Both Bethy and Abby talk endlessly about him. You know, he used to stutter," she stated. "Remember? He was in her kindergarten class…"
"Oh yeah!" I huffed a laugh. "Okay, then. But I swear, she's not dating 'til she's thirty."
Bella giggled, patting my shoulder on her way into the closet. "Good luck with that, Edward. Let me know how that works out when she's fifteen, sixteen…mm'kay?"
My eyes narrowed, but I shook my head. "Whatever…"
"Okay, so I had Alice pull Mr. and Mrs. Martin's financials," Rose stated, slapping a file down in front of us. "This case just got easier."
"How's that?" I asked, opening the file, but my eyebrows shot up when I saw the highlighted lines on the page in front of me. "Oh. Never mind."
Rose laughed. "Exactly." She tapped the page. "This charge right here is a club in Port Angeles. According to the owner and the businesses around it, it caters to…well…"
"Swingers," Bella said with an amused giggle. "Did he not know at first?"
"Well, I asked him," Rose stated, sitting down in front of us at the conference table in the office. "He said that he did ask his wife, and her excuse was that it was the bar closest to her work, that most of her coworkers go there after hours for a drink or two. And he bought that load of crap…more than one time." She sighed, wearing a small smirk. "To be honest, he wouldn't have known what type of place this was…just that it was a bar. He's not all that…in the know, if you catch my drift."
I snorted in amusement, simply because I'd met the man. He was a little on the nerdy side of shit, not that it made him a bad guy. Just…unaware. He was, however, determined to get proof concerning his wife. I picked up a picture of the couple in question. Shaking my head, I could practically see the neon sign of trouble. Donald Martin was thin, wearing thick lenses in his glasses and a button-down shirt. Amanda Martin, though, was overly made up, well taken care of, and screamed high maintenance. He made good money, and she spent it. And that was the problem we were facing. Mr. Martin was trying to protect his interests…and his kids' futures.
"She was out of his league from the get-go," I muttered, tossing the picture on the table. "He should've known shit would turn sour."
The girls laughed, but nodded in agreement.
"Well, yes and no," Bella sighed, pulling the same picture closer. "To be fair and according to Mr. Martin, they'd known each other their whole lives. It was practically an arranged marriage. They just…did what was expected of them – college, marriage, kids. But people change…"
"Oh, don't give me that fucking bullshit," I said with a laugh, pointing to Amanda. "Look at her, sweetness. She screams trouble. And he had to have seen something in the – what...? – six years of marriage, that showed she was a little…twisted. She had to have started at home first."
"Truly," Rose agreed, getting up from the table. "But that man is in serious denial. Or he was. Now he just wants to get proof and get rid of her."
Emmett, who had been studying the layout of the bar we were going to tonight, glanced up. "I'm with Ed on this one. But what's the big deal? I mean, so his wife is a little kinky. That's sort of cool, and he could totally get some extra pu—"
"Don't you dare finish that sentence," Rose warned him.
Laughing, my head fell back. I grunted when Bella elbowed me. "What, sweetness? He's kinda got a point. This guy could live the ultimate threesome fantasy bullshit. It's not my thing, but it is a big one that some people have out there."
Bella rolled her eyes. "Well, obviously Donald Martin doesn't have a need for such a fantasy. Leave him be. We'll get his proof. Do we know if Amanda will be at the club after she gets off work?"
"We do," Rose said, still giving a grinning Emmett a glare through narrowed eyes. "He called me this morning to tell me that she's already told him she's stopping with her friends after work today, so you're in. You need pictures, possible one-on-one proof and, if you can, audio. I don't know if you two want to set yourselves up as bait, or simply monitor her movements in there. The latter is definitely easier."
Groaning, my face scrunched into a grimace. "I don't wanna be bait…"
Bella giggled, kissing my cheek. "Me, either," she whispered, smiling when I looked over at her. "We'll just observe at first. Maybe we can catch some evidence from afar."
"God, I hope so." My voice sounded whiny, but I didn't give a shit. I didn't want to touch, dance, or flirt with anyone other than the gorgeous brunette currently laughing at me, and in turn, I didn't want anyone to do those things to her, either. I didn't give a flying fuck if it was acting or not. "Laugh it up, sweetness."
She grinned, but pulled a tablet to her. "Well, we've got a few hours before Amanda gets off work and before we need to head to PA, so let's work on a schedule for upcoming cases."
We worked most of the day, only stopping to get lunch and pick the kids up from school. We'd discussed my request for less working on the weekends, less late nights, and so far, everyone was on board with the suggestion. We'd come home from Aunt Kate's and taken our time with not only the kids, but my dad and Esme, too. There had been trips to the park, lazy movie days when it was raining, and plenty of just plain fun.
My dad was still in Forks, so he and Esme were going to babysit for us while we hopefully finished this case in one damn day. Dad had been in no hurry to go back to work at Twi Tech. In fact, he was rather pleased with the way Jacob Black was handling things at the office, so he'd stayed in Forks and worked from his home office when needed. He'd also started the process of getting Boris Zukov to Seattle. He'd pulled some strings, and probably spent a shit-ton of money, but he had his old friend settled into an after-care facility not a week after we'd returned from Alaska. I was pretty fucking sure that Boris would have a new home soon, and probably not far from Twi Towers, where my dad usually lived full-time.
Bethy and Sammy were chattering away in the back seat of the car when we pulled in at the house to see my dad and Esme waiting for us. We'd merely wanted to see the kids after the first day back at school before we took off for Port Angeles.
After kisses to the kids, promises to be careful, and a change of clothes, we set out for Port Angeles. Jasper and Emmett were following in the SUV behind us. They would be monitoring the small cameras Alice had clipped on us. Alice and Rose had stayed back at Gravity's office in order to run information. Makenna wasn't going to start back to work for another week. Wes had returned from Virginia, so they were spending time together. Mickey, Obie, and Kaitlyn had decided to stay with Aunt Kate for another few days.
Whether I wanted to admit it or not, Kurt was definitely missed. I could see that it would take time to get used to his absence on the team. However, we heard from him almost daily. He and Irina were already in New York, and Bella was happy that he was happy, so I couldn't say much.
We parked down the street from the bar, getting out to meet up with Emmett and Jasper. From the loud music we could hear inside the building, audio was going to be out of the fucking question. So Emmett checked our small cameras, and Jasper told us to use our phones for still shots if we needed.
Bella turned to me to give me the once-over. Suddenly, I felt fidgety under her scrutiny. I'd dressed casually in jeans and a black button-down. I'd left it untucked and rolled the sleeves up to my elbows. There wasn't shit I could do with my hair, and I couldn't help but run a hand through it.
"What?" I asked, looking down at myself and then back to her. She looked fucking deadly, wearing a short skirt and a shirt that seemed to make her tits all the more in my damn face. I wanted to bury my face in them, but figured now wasn't the time.
"You look handsome," she told me with a sweet smile.
"Oh. Thanks," I sighed in relief.
Her laugh was loud, but she took my hand and dragged me up the sidewalk anyway.
The bar was any typical bar scene. It seemed to be a busy after-work stop, and it wasn't exactly as seedy as I'd had in my head. The bartenders were a man and a woman – both equally attractive in their own right. The patrons, on the other hand, looked…normal – normal-looking couples of all ages, normal-looking singles, normal-looking drinks in their hands. I was a little shocked, though I wasn't sure what I'd expected.
Bella chuckled, kissing my cheek. "You look like you expected people to be having sex on the table tops."
"That would've been…interesting, but I guess I wasn't expecting…this," I told her, jerking a chin toward the dance floor.
She grinned, but pulled us to the bar. We both ordered a beer, only to turn to survey our surroundings.
"Ah, there she is," I muttered, taking a sip from my beer. "Back of the dance floor. She's with a blonde woman."
"I see her." Bella set her bottle down, looking to me. "She seems to be already on the move, so…dance with me. We'll get closer in order to watch her."
Grinning, I set my own bottle down, wrapped an arm around her waist, and pulled her close. "Now that I can do."
Bella and I didn't go out, we didn't party, and we sure as shit didn't fucking swing, but occasionally, we'd be out somewhere or at a Twi Tech function and we'd dance. There was a time in my life where clubs and bars got me laid. However, dancing with Bella was a completely different form of torture. I knew her body better than I knew my own. I knew just what to do to turn her on, to drive her crazy, and that led to more than just getting laid. Dancing with Bella was like foreplay. Sometimes, I really loved our jobs.
The beat on the floor was heavy, sensual, erotic. We made our way through the crowd across the dance floor, placing ourselves close enough to Amanda to record her, or – if the case called for it – become accessible to her.
Amanda was grinding on the same blonde woman as before, but I barely registered her presence, not when I had my own woman grinding against me. Smiling down at Bella, I guided her hips, swayed us to the music, and pressed my forehead to hers.
"You're gorgeous, love," I told her unapologetically. "Sexiest fucking thing here."
She grinned, biting her bottom lip before she brushed her lips across mine. "Not so bad yourself, handsome."
I shrugged, but kissed her for the compliment. I didn't give a damn what other women saw in me. I wasn't blind – and I owned a mirror or two – but I simply didn't care.
My eyes glanced over to our target, who was eyeing us as the blonde woman danced behind her. We'd caught her attention, but I honestly didn't think we'd be her target. She seemed to also be keeping her eyes on a man who was sitting at the far end of the bar.
"Ah, got it," I said, turning Bella around so that her back was to my chest and my mouth at her ear. "Guy at the bar…he's watching these two. He must be with the blonde. See him? Suit, tie, drink in his hand?"
Bella nodded, turning around to wrap her arms around my neck. "Awesome. It'll be the waiting game, but at least we don't have to play."
I laughed at her, but nodded in agreement. "Excellent. Let's get another beer, baby."
"Payment received, Miss Bella. Case number 45723 is now closed."
"Thank you, Igor," Bella murmured from her seat at the conference table. "Poor Mr. Martin will be scarred for life with the pictures we got for him," she chortled wryly, shaking her head.
"Well, it doesn't help that apparently Donald Martin works with the guy from last night," I stated, shuddering at the memory. "Fuck, I couldn't get the water hot enough to rid myself of the dirty feelings that shit left on me…"
The whole office cracked the fuck up, but I ignored them. They knew. They knew we'd followed the three in question to some local park, where shit had gone from freaky to just plain twisted. They'd even used Amanda's minivan, which was all sorts of wrong, considering she had school-age children she toted around in there. We got enough evidence to prove to Mr. Martin that his wife was cheating on him with not only another man, but a woman, as well. He was hurt, but he was appreciative. He was on the phone to his lawyer before he even left the lunch table that next day.
It was now Friday, and Mr. Martin's wire transfer had gone through. We were all about to close up shop for the weekend. Bella shut her laptop, gazing over at me.
"Ready to go pick up the kids from school?" she asked, but I rolled my chair closer to her. "What?"
"In a second… Sweetness," I started, tucking her hair behind her ear. "Your birthday is coming up. I was just thinking…we should do something. What would you like?"
"I don't need anything, Edward," she sighed, but smirked my way.
"Well, that's good. It means I'm doing my job," I said, grinning and winking at her sweet giggle, "but what I meant was…do you want like a party? Or do you want to go out? It can even be just the two of us, but I want to do something for you, with you…something."
Her brow furrowed, but she reached up and cupped my face. "That's kind of a tough call, baby. I'd love to have you all to myself, but I'd like to be with family and the kids, too."
Smiling, I kissed her. "You let me know, okay? It's yours…whatever pops into that gorgeous head of yours."
She laughed happily and kissed me again, a little more heated than the one before. "Okay, Edward."
My birthday fell on a Friday, and per Edward's command, Gravity was closed for a long weekend…as if it were a damn holiday. The thought made me smile into my pillow. I stretched lazily like a cat in bed, relishing the smell that clung to our sheets. It was purely us – sweat and sex and something warm and comforting.
I probably needed to change them, but I couldn't find it in me at the moment. We'd had the house to ourselves the entire night – the kids had stayed the night with Poppy and Gamma – and Edward had taken it upon himself to keep me in bed almost from the second they'd pulled out of the driveway. My body still felt the effects of his touch, of the way he'd bent it to his will, and how he'd driven me over the edge so many times I'd lost count.
I listened intently to the house and only heard faint noises coming from the kitchen. I knew we'd only have a few hours before everyone started to show up. When Edward had asked me what I'd wanted for my birthday, I'd been conflicted. I'd wanted time with him alone, but I'd wanted to see everyone, too. So my sweet husband had given me both. He'd given me all night with him, and later, everyone would be over for a barbecue. It was probably the last time we'd be able to throw one, what with fall quickly approaching. My only demand was no presents. I needed for nothing. I just wanted a day of fun.
After a quick trip to the bathroom, I tossed my hair up into a ponytail and tugged on Edward's button-down shirt from the day before. Déjà vu met me head on like a speeding train when I remembered the first time I'd done that very thing inside this house. The memory of the first time I'd finally felt free of my fears, my scars, and the nightmare that I'd lived through made me smile. And it made me rush down the hallway toward the smell of coffee.
Stepping into the kitchen, I drank in the usual, yet still stunningly beautiful, sight of a shirtless, baseball cap-wearing Edward leaning against the counter. The newspaper was open on the island while delicious smells wafted around me. Strong arms braced on either side of the paper as he read, but deep green swept up, meeting my gaze.
"Morning," he said, his voice deep and velvety. He stepped around the island, walked to me, and cupped my face. "Happy birthday, sweetness."
"Hey," I sighed, my arms snaking around his neck.
He buried his face into my neck, his arms wrapping all the way around me. I squeaked in surprise when I was suddenly lifted off the floor and gently placed on a stool.
"Don't you move," he growled playfully, pointing a finger my way. "You're not lifting a fucking finger today, birthday princess."
Cracking up, I shoved him a little. "Edward, I've never been a princess. Don't even try it."
"Well, give it a fucking try today, okay?" he said with a chuckle and his sexy crooked smile. "I'm not saying you have to wear a tiara or prance around in a tutu, but at least let me spoil you," he stated while plating my breakfast. When he turned around and saw my narrowed gaze, he stopped, "Wh-What?"
I giggled. I simply couldn't help it. "It's just funny that you know what a tiara is."
Rolling his eyes, he set my plate down along with a cup of coffee. "We have an eight-year-old daughter, Bella. You're lucky I don't have glitter nail polish on," he countered. "Again," he tacked on, which made me just about fall off the stool laughing.
"Your toes were pretty, baby," I told him once I'd wiped the tears from my eyes.
"I know," he said with a shameless grin. "I rocked…what was that color?"
"Vampire kisses," I chortled before taking a sip of coffee.
His laugh was happy and carefree. "Sparkly red. Yup, kept that shit on for like a week. Bethy made me. She inspected my damn feet every time I took my shoes off." He slipped onto the stool next to mine. "Eat, love. And then I've got to set up everything outside." I opened my mouth to speak, but he closed it with the tips of his fingers underneath my chin. "No, you're not helping."
It was my turn to roll my eyes, but I knew it was an argument I couldn't win. Sometimes, Edward just had to spoil me. Today was obviously one of those days.
Sweet kisses met my temple. "And don't even think about going out to the office today," he warned me. "Just…chill the fuck out for once, yeah?"
"Okay, okay, okay," I sighed, smirking over at him. But I couldn't help but lean over and kiss his lips. "So…who's coming today?"
"Some you know…and some surprises," he replied cryptically, focusing on the newspaper with exaggerated concentration.
At that point, I just gave up. Apparently, Edward had plans, so I just let him be. As I ate, the kitchen fell into a comfortable silence, the only sound being the ticking of the clock on the wall and the rustling of the paper. When I was done, he took my plate, and I got up to make another cup of coffee.
Darkening eyes raked over me, and I raised an eyebrow in question before taking another sip.
"Fuck, I love when you wear my clothes, sweetness," he sighed, shaking his head slowly as a smile curled up the corners of his mouth. "You're temptation incarnate."
He walked to me and took my mug out of my hands before setting it on the counter. I was quickly lifted and set on the island in front of him.
Edward braced his hands on either side of my legs, but stepped between my thighs as I took off his cap in order to run my fingers through his hair. His eyes were almost stern when he spoke.
"Look at me, love," he commanded firmly. "You are…just as beautiful as the day I found you. I hope you know that. I hope you see that. These past eight years have flown by, and th-they've b-been i-insane a-and f-fun a-and f-fucking p-perfect. I-I w-wouldn't t-trade a-a s-single d-damn m-minute. If anything, Bella, I love you more now."
My brow furrowed, but I grasped either side of his face, pulling him in for a kiss that was over way too soon.
"I love you, too, Edward," I whispered against his lips.
Standing up straighter, his hands ghosted along my bare thighs. "Now…I'll say it again. You're not doing anything. Go run a bubble bath, take your fucking time getting dressed, and relax. I've got this."
Giggling, I saluted him mockingly. "Sir, yes, sir," I said with a grin.
I did exactly as I was told. I holed myself up in the bedroom, taking a long bath, singing along to music, and pampering myself completely. Through the window, I could see when people started to arrive. At first, it was the guys. Jasper and Emmett set up tents, tables, and the grill while Rose put out tablecloths and a couple of coolers. Lock and Load ran around them, occasionally getting someone to throw the ball for them. Alice, however, disappeared into the office, which made me curious as all hell.
By the time I stepped out onto my front porch steps, Carlisle and Esme were pulling up into the driveway, with Alec, Sarah, and Abby pulling in right behind them. Boris was with Carlisle, and I hugged him close.
"Bella," he greeted with a grin.
I kissed his cheek. "You're looking better."
"I believe I owe that to you…and Carlisle," he countered, giving his old friend an eye roll. "He's never gonna let me pay this one back."
"No," I said, shaking my head, "probably not."
And even though I'd seen them just the night before, I hugged Bethy and Sammy fiercely, asking them if they'd been good for Poppy and Gamma.
"Yeah," Sammy said in his usual slow way, giving me his crooked smile that was identical to Edward's. But he reached into the pocket of his cargo pants. "We made dis for you, Mommy."
Taking the handmade card, I grinned down at little handprints and his attempt at writing his name, which was in blue crayon. Bethy's name was in bright green.
"Beffy helped," he added, giggling when I scooped him up and dropped kisses to his handsome face. "You like it?" he squealed, writhing in my arms.
"I love it. Thank you, my handsome boy."
"His S is backwards," Bethy whispered, smiling up at me. "He wouldn't let me fix it."
Laughing, I sat down on the porch steps and pulled her between my legs. "That's okay. You had your own backwards letters when you were his age."
She giggled, nodding a little. "I know, you showed me." She reached into her pocket, looking over her shoulder to her dad. "Daddy, can I give it to her now?!" she yelled.
His laugh was adorable. "Can't you wait, little sweetness?"
"I can," she argued, rolling her eyes at him. "I just don't want to."
Jasper's laugh barked out from behind the grill, and he shoved Edward. "Go, dude, I've got this. I swear she sounded just like you right then."
Edward chuckled, dropping the towel that was resting on his shoulder onto the table. He walked to us, taking a seat next to me on the steps. He waved his daughter on, wearing a sweet smile.
Bethy reached into the pocket of her denim overalls, pulling out a small gift wrapped in shiny paper. The bow was a little crumpled, but I didn't care.
"This, sweetness," Edward started softly. "This is from us." He gestured to himself and the kids. "I know you said no presents, but in all fairness, we've had this for a while. It was the kids' idea, and technically, we didn't buy anything."
Smirking at his nervous rambling, I nodded. As much as I didn't want presents, I honestly couldn't deny Bethy and Sammy anything, so now my curiosity was piqued. I ripped the bow off, stuck it to Sammy's nose just to make him laugh, and tore the paper off. A long, black velvet box sat in my hands, and when I cracked it open, I had to smile. Inside was a beautiful locket that bore the same lion symbol that resided on Edward's bicep – the Cullen crest.
"Bella," Carlisle said gently, kneeling in front of me. "This was Elizabeth's, and Edward and I thought you should have it. I gave this to her as her wedding present, but I think it's time you took it."
My mouth opened and closed, and my eyes watered at just what an honor it was to have her wedding ring on my finger, and now this.
"Look inside, Mommy," Bethy whispered, her eyes a bright green and so sweet.
I cracked open the locket, my breath catching in my throat. One side of the locket held a fairly recent picture of Bethy and Sammy. They seemed to be laughing at whoever took the picture, both wearing blue. Bethy's hair was half up, the rest curling around her shoulders. Sammy's hair was everywhere, just like his father's. On the other side of the locket was a picture of Edward and me. I couldn't place when it had been taken, couldn't even remember the last time someone had taken a picture of the two of us, but it seemed to be pretty new.
"Guys," I sighed, looking at Carlisle and Sammy, then Bethy, and finally, to Edward's nervous expression. "I love it. Really. It's so perfect."
Edward smiled, lifted my hair off my shoulder in order to place a kiss to my neck. "Good," he whispered in my ear. "I know what my tattoo means to you, Bella, but I'm not the only one that puts family first, love. A-And m-my m-mom w-would l-love kn-knowing y-you h-have i-it."
That brought tears to my eyes, and I nodded, turning to kiss him, then pulled my kids to me. "Thank you guys." I handed it to Bethy. "Help me put it on, pretty girl."
Once it was on, I stood up to hug Carlisle, whispering, "Thank you."
"Anything for you, sweetheart. I hope you know that," he whispered back and then kissed my forehead.
"Yo, Ed! I think everyone's here, so let's get this party started!" Emmett yelled from across the yard.
"No," Edward stated, standing up. "We're waiting on a few more."
My brow wrinkled as I took in who was already here. My Gravity crew had all arrived, including Mickey, Obie, and Kaitlyn. Makenna was happily feeding Wes some fresh strawberries at thetable. I knew that Kurt was still on the east coast, and Aunt Kate had said she couldn't make it. I couldn't tell who was missing.
Almost as I finished my mental head count, a car pulled in the driveway. I grinned at the sight of the large man unfolding himself from behind an SUV. Preacher's giant form made the vehicle he was driving look small, but his charming grin lit up the backyard.
"Preacher!" all the kids screamed, running for him.
He laughed in his usual deep chuckle, wrapping his huge arms around them all.
I laughed, but gasped at who was getting out of the passenger side of his SUV. Miss Geneva. I walked into her awaiting arms. She was dressed in her trademark football jersey – this time, it was the home team of the Seattle Seahawks.
"Oh, Bella-child," she crooned, hugging me fiercely. When she pulled back, she cupped my face. "Happy birthday."
"Thank you," I told her, kissing her cheek. "I didn't know you'd be here."
She scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Like I'd miss it. Now, I was told no presents, but no one said I couldn't cook for you." She jerked a thumb toward the back seat of the car. "I made your favorite."
Giggling, I helped her with the door, squealing in happiness at the sight of a huge chocolate cake. And written in shaky handwriting was, "Happy Birthday, Bella."
"Here, love," Edward said, holding out his hands. "I'll take it."
I set it gently in his hands, but he had no choice but to bend down so Miss Geneva could kiss his cheek.
"Mm, mm, mm," she hummed at him, making his ears turn pink. "Hello, gorgeous." She spun to me. "Tell me you got summa dat for your birthday."
Edward simply snorted and walked away to put the cake in the middle of the table. I laughed when I heard the command, "Keep your fingers out of the icing," and I wasn't sure if he was talking to the kids or Emmett.
I gave Miss Geneva a wink to answer her question, which made her laugh boisterously, and then walked around the truck to hug Preacher.
"It's good to see you, Bella," he rumbled against the top of my head. "And boy oh boy, somethin' smells good!"
"Then let's eat!" I told him, guiding him and Miss Geneva toward the table.
The food was amazing. Between Edward's steaks and chili dogs, Jasper's barbecue ribs, and Alec's special burgers, the backyard smelled amazing. It seemed everyone had brought something – potato salad, baked beans, macaroni salad – and the boys had grilled corn on the cob for the kids, too.
The table was packed and loud and filled with laughter. Conversations ranged all over, from past cases that Gravity had worked on, to how Preacher's neighborhood was doing. The answer to the latter was fantastic. It was prosperous and clean, and the residents were happy.
I felt a warm hand on the back of my neck, and I smiled up at Edward.
"Cake, love. And then I believe Alice has something for you," he said softly.
When I narrowed my eyes at Alice, she merely giggled. And I realized I couldn't exactly pinpoint when she'd joined us at the table.
"Stop it, stop it, stop it," she chanted in her usual three-time chant. "I didn't spend a dime, Bells."
I sighed, shaking my head. It seemed that everyone had found some sort of damn loophole in my request for no presents. Finally, I waved her on. "Whatever, Alice."
She seemed to set her begging puppy-face gaze on Edward, who merely laughed, saying, "Okay, fine! That first and then cake."
Alice grinned, obviously happy with getting her way, but she turned back to me. "I made you something. Actually, it's really for you and Edward, but I know you'll love it." She spun her laptop to me, saying, "Igor, play video."
"As you wish, Miss Alice…"
A rather heavy beat started, and everyone gathered around me as Edward picked up my hand, whispering, "This should be good."
I giggled, but it caught in my throat, my mouth falling open at what Alice had put together. It was my life, but it was more than that.
It seemed to be pictures and videos and flashes of my life, but it started with the picture of me and Edward as infants curled around each other, then the same shot with our parents beaming down over us. There were awful childhood photos, but at least Rose was in some of them with me, making her crack up. My mom and dad were there, along with some of Charlie and Carlisle. On and on they went, and I grew up right there on the screen as the song continued to play. But I gasped at a security video that I'd forgotten she'd had.
"Oh my God, Alice!" I screamed at her, but laughed at the same time.
"Oh no," Edward groaned, shaking his head.
In vivid color was the security video from over eight years prior. It was the stairwell from the law office. It was Edward's and my first kiss. Alice had edited it, but it was quite obvious that we were totally pissed off at one another. And I giggled, because I knew him so well now, and to see his surrender was hilarious. His face, his posture, his gripping hands all screamed, "Fuck it," as he kissed the holy hell out of me, which caused a roaring cheer from everyone behind us.
Glancing over at Edward, I laughed when he mouthed, "Best kiss ever."
He got slaps on the back, the girls all squealed, but the video went on. My heart hurt with the next few pictures, because I could see someone had taken a few not long after that kiss. I saw pure, unadulterated love radiating out of Edward as he spoke to me or knelt in front of me or even sat next to me, but I could also see just how…damaged I'd been, with dark splotches under my eyes from lack of sleep, with scars and fear and panic. I could see that the only light in my eyes was when Edward was somewhere close by, and it made me fall in love with him all over again for simply having found the endless patience and calm to bring me back to the land of the living.
Every woman that had stayed at the mountain safe house cheered out a catcall when the infamous video of the boys chopping wood made an appearance. A glance over to Edward told me they'd had no idea we'd filmed them back then. His laugh was incredulous, but completely amused.
The song went on, and there were photos of cases we'd worked, parties we'd thrown, and several from when I was pregnant with both Bethy and Sammy. My heart ached with love at some beautiful pictures of Edward with me, with Bethy and Sammy, and a few of all four of us.
I stifled a sob at a picture of Sam and me. We were obviously at Aunt Kate's, because he was helping me with Goliath. His rare smile was big and happy, his scars barely noticeable, but then, they never were to me.
When it was over, I shook my head, swiping the tears that had fallen down my cheeks. "Thank you, Alice."
She got up from the table and hugged me, setting a DVD case down in front of me. "Just in case you wanna see it again," she told me in a whisper.
Edward got up, lit the candles on the cake, and set it down in front of me. He sat down next to me, saying, "Make a wish, sweetness."
I could barely speak, much less blow out the candle right then, but I gazed around me. My family was hand-picked and fucking perfect. I was surrounded by good friends. It was my sisters – Makenna, Rose, Alice, Mickey, and Sarah. It was my brothers – Alec, Emmett, Jasper. And it was my adopted parents, Carlisle and Esme. Finally, I looked at my kids, loving so much that they were a beautiful blend of me and the man I loved more than anything in the world.
Sniffling a little, my gaze landed on Edward. Perfectly imperfect Edward. My strength and the reason I was still alive today. I mouthed an I love you to him, making him wink at me.
"Sweetness, make a wish. The candles are gonna burn out," he said with a sweet chuckle.
I took a deep breath, knowing in my heart of hearts that I had nothing to wish for. I had everything and then some. I was thankful and happy, and I wished for the only thing left…for it to always be this damn good.
A/N… *sobs* I know. Believe me, I know. It's the last of a group of characters that I've completely fallen in love with, but it's time to mark this complete.
This has been an amazing ride. I was so unsure about adding another one that it took me two years to put this one together. And I need to thank everyone that has pimped, squealed, cheered, and begged for more. The love you've shown me, Mercward, and Sweetness has been enormous, and sometimes, overwhelming, if I'm being honest. It humbles me to think this series is that important to so many of you, so I THANK YOU…from the bottom of my heart.
More thanks needs to be given… To Bethany Tullos…for every pretty banner, manip, and pic she's sent my way. You are so very talented, my friend, and I love you! ;)
To my pre-readers: Pamela Stephenson (aka DrivingEdward)…Your encouragement, guidance, and technical help was amazing, and I'm so very thankful that we've become friends.
Jodi (aka inkedupmom) … You've become a true, RL friend, and I'm not sure what I'd have done without you. It goes beyond this fandom. And I need to thank you for that, as well as all the help, idea bouncing, and suggestions. Thank you, sweetie. MWAH!
GooberLou…my twin…there are no words for what you are to me. Just that…my sister. Thank you for everything… I love you.
And lastly…Jenny (aka JenRar)… I don't even think of you as my beta…you're simply one of my best friends (that's better at grammar than me! LOL) Without you, I'd be a hot mess, and that's the truth. Thank you so much for pushing me to do this one last Mercward, because…yeah, it was worth it. Love you so much…
What's next? Now I can honestly answer this question. The reason this epi took so long was due to a plot bunny that simply couldn't be ignored. I've been working on something new, something different. It's called Masen Manor, and I'm not sure when it'll start posting, and I honestly don't know if there will be a set update schedule, but we'll see. Here's the summary…
Summary: Masen Manor, home to a prestigious boarding school, Masen Academy. An immortal hiding from the world has his faith tested by a hundred-year-old fortune and a broken, silent girl. AU…E/B…Slightly OOC…Rated M
That's it. As I hit complete on Mercward one last time, I thank all of you again. Until next time… Mooches, Deb ;)