So everyone was happy to know that Bella is not so easily gullible,
but several were disappointed that Edward's surprised was 'ruined.'
I don't think he was too sorry for it! He is just elated to know that
Bella will be his wife tomorrow!

I appreciate Fran for all she has done for me, and you all, and for
this story! She works on so many stories, for some
amazing authors.
I feel honored that she has taken the time for this one. Truly Fran, I
appreciate you more than you know.

-LWTC-

Chapter 27

Girlish squeals could be heard throughout the Cullen house as Katy and Bella hugged at the door. When last they had seen each other, the mood had been fairly somber, even with Bella's happiness about where things were headed with Edward … thr entire visit had been undermined by sadness and tears. Katy was thrilled to see a genuine smile in her friend's eyes.

"It's good to see you so happy, love."

"It's good to be so happy, Katy."

"Hi, Katy, I'm so pleased you were able to come," Esme broke into their bubble of smiles, and introduced herself to the woman that she had already come to love and respect. She had been exchanging emails with Katy since the day after she commandeered Bella's phone and salvaged her Edward's sanity.

"Esme," Katy smiled, hugging the woman she had come to know as her friend's surrogate mother. "It is so nice to finally meet you face-to-face."

"Come on, girls. There's a lot of cooking to be done and not much time to get it finished."

"Thankfully you have two ovens, Mom. That's going to ease the insanity."

"I love you, daughter." Esme pulled Bella in for a hug, and rocked her back and forth, with tears threatening to spill.

The day was filled with laughter and discussion about the wedding, and of course, much baking and recipe swapping. Rosalie joined the three women in the kitchen at about ten in the morning, with Alice breezing into the house at two. The five women worked together to decorate for the wedding and to fawn over Bella's dress (which fit her like a glove).

"Is it terribly foolish to have a wedding without doing a rehearsal?"

"Bella," Esme soothed "this isn't some gigantic event. This is just you and Edward, exchanging vows and making a covenant in the sight of God and your family. Nothing is going to go wrong, and even if it did, who cares? Everyone who that will be here loves you and loves Edward."

"Besides," Rose grinned mischievously, "What fun would this be if everything runs all silky-smooth and perfect? You gotta give me something for ammo. All of this mush is dragging me down, babe!" Everyone laughed as Rose attempted to sound tough.

At five in the evening, Bella was hugging her best friend and her family goodbye. She was leaving to spend her Christmas Eve with Edward—alone—at home. They had made the plans, and she promised they would have the time alone. They spent their evening near the Christmas tree, sipping mulled cider, and making out like teenagers. They exchanged gifts, and both were touched by the thoughtfulness of the other.

Edward had bought an exquisite, rose-gold colored necklace with matching earrings. They had beautiful, pink, teardrop shaped diamonds, and when Bella saw them, she gasped in surprise and awe. It was the loveliest jewelry set she had ever seen.

"Oh, Edward," Bella smiled through the tears that filled her eyes, "I have never seen anything so lovely."

"I'm so glad you like them." Edward gathered her against him and kissed her nose. "I hoped you would. Will you wear them tomorrow?"

"Of course, Edward, I love them."

"Here," she handed him his gift, "I know it isn't much, but I hope you like it."

Edward tore into the paper and looked in wonder at the complete Chef's outfit. The toque and neck-tie were chocolate brown, with an embroidered 'EAC' in bright green, and the coat was emerald green with Cullen-ary Confections embroidered in brown.

I love it," he breathed wistfully. As he sat, marveling at the thoughtfulness of her gift and fingering the softness of the fine Egyptian cotton, Bella handed him an envelope. "What's this?" he asked, brows furrowed.

"Open it, silly."

Edward opened the envelope and scanned the papers inside, shaking his head slowly.

"Did Alice-"

"Alice told me about it," Bella cut him off mid-sentence. "Rose rebuked her, and told me it was nothing you would be interested in." A heavy sigh gusted from her lips. "This year, they are holding the contest over Valentine's Day. You are supposed to tell the story of your love through chocolate. Edward, baby," Bella turned his face toward her, placing a hand on either side, and stared into his very soul, pouring every ounce of her love into him through her gaze. "You aren't that man anymore. Making your mark in the world with your chocolate doesn't mean you have to go back to that. You deserve this, Edward."

As he laid the application beside them on the couch, Edward released a gusting breath and leaned in to press his forehead against hers. He pulled her against him firmly, and held her tightly. He marveled at her resolve. He wondered how she could know him so well. Without ever having told anyone why he was unwilling to enter this competition, Edward felt elated to discover that his Princess knew him so completely, she managed to put into words his every fear on her first try.

"How do you always know what to say?"

"How do you?" Bella shrugged. "Your heart speaks to my heart—it always has. I know you. Deep calls to deep.*"

"You were made for me," Edward acknowledged before claiming her mouth in a fiercely hungry kiss. Bella began to grind against him as their kiss deepened, and they soon found themselves spiraling into a frenzy of need and want.

At an unheard of nine pm, replete with satisfaction, and freshly showered—separately—they climbed into bed, a tangle of limbs. At eleven-thirty, they were startled awake by a loud banging at the door. Edward sprang from the bed to discover a quartet of smiling women. He groaned as they bustled past him, talking loudly, and pushing him into the bathroom along with his jeans and a hoodie.

"Get dressed, and get home," Esme ordered in a not-to-be-argued-with tone. "It is almost midnight, and you may not see your bride until the wedding. It is tradition."

"Fine, fine," Edward held his hands up in surrender while rolling his eyes. "Can I at least kiss her goodnight?"

"Seems as though you already did," Rose sniggered.

Bella stumbled from her room to find out what all of the commotion was about. When she realized what was going on, she began to whine, protesting the idea of sleeping without Edward's warmth and arms.

"Sweetie, this is the last night that anyone will force you two apart like this," Esme promised, "it is tradition, and you will both follow it."

"Whatever," Edward growled as he pulled Bella into a crushing embrace and kissed her passionately, without a care about their audience. "Don't worry, make them sleep in the spare rooms, and I will sneak back in through your window," he whispered directly into her ear, before pulling back and speaking loudly for their benefit, "I'll see you tomorrow, Princess. I'll be the one waiting with baited breath."

"And I will be the blur of white, running to embrace our future."

They kissed once more, tenderly, before Rose and Katy pulled her from his embrace, and began to shove him out the door. Once his car had disappeared around the corner, Bella turned to the women she loved and smiled warmly.

"We all have an early start tomorrow, and I for one am exhausted," she declared through an undisguised yawn. "There are fresh linens on the beds upstairs. I love you all," she kissed each woman on the cheek, and turned toward her bedroom, "goodnight."

Bella tried to stay awake while she waited for Edward to come back and climb through her window, but she was truly quite fatigued, and found herself startled awake some time later by a tapping on the glass. She glanced at her clock and discovered that it was nearly two am.

"What took so long?" she asked as she helped him to wriggle inside.

"I had to wait for the guys to go to sleep," Edward whispered. "Mom told them to make sure I didn't come back. I parked around the corner, and snuck through the neighbor's back yards. I am fairly certain that Mom is awake in the living room, so we need to be really quiet."

Bella giggled quietly as Edward stripped down to his boxer briefs and a worn Caedmon's Call tee, and quickly shuffled into bed, wrapping himself around his bride-to-be.

"Goodnight, Princess."

"Goodnight, my almost husband."

"I almost like how that sounds," he chuckled softly.

"Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas, my almost wife."

-LWTC-

So, how are we feeling? Do we just want to yell at the women,
or are they right to want to follow tradition? I am personally torn.
There is some good to be said about tradition, but sometimes I
think we get so caught up in following the rites of passage that we
don't even stop to think about what made them significant in the
first place. If that is the case, then why follow them? (Sorry for the
mini-rant! ;)
*huggles*