CHAPTER 32 – EPILOGUE
Two months later...
"Bella, I can't do this," I whined – yes, fucking whined.
"You have to, Edward," she groaned over the phone. "I'd do it, but I can't. Please just...try."
"Fuck, baby..." I sighed, running a hand through my hair as I paced outside the dingy little bar in Olympia. "I don't know how to fucking pick up women anymore, Bella. Nor do I fucking want to."
I smiled when my girl laughed, but my smile fell because her laugh was strained. She'd been sick for the past week. The plan had been for her to be sitting at the bar separately, watching over the situation we were in – but she'd been battling the stomach flu.
It had taken fucking forever to locate the ex-Mrs. Rollins because she was "off the grid," according to Alice. Susan Rollins had taken her four-year-old son underground – way, way underground. She was dealing only with cash, no identification, no cell phones, and no communication. In fact, Harold Rollins was losing his mind because she'd even stopped calling to taunt him. He'd rather that she call with threats because at least he'd know that his son was okay, but without any news whatsoever, he was going to snap soon.
Susan had made one mistake by renting one hotel room in Olympia just above the ugly little bar I was currently standing outside of. She'd used someone else's stolen credit card, but in either a drunken stupor or a stoned euphoria, she'd used her own name. I wanted to tell her she was an idiot, but the very second the info blipped up on Alice's computer screen, we'd all jumped into action, grateful for her stupidity.
So there I was, standing outside this bar and trying to find the balls to go in and play the rich playboy that was looking for an easy lay, while my girl was sick at home. I was fucking hating it.
"Damn it, Bella," I groaned, hearing the raspy sound of her voice. "I should be home, baby. I should be taking care of you."
"Just find that little boy, Edward, and then you can play nurse to me," she whined. "Please?"
"I'd rather play doctor," I teased, but I was just being stubborn.
She giggled again, and I smiled at my favorite sound in the whole world. "Edward, you're so fucking cute, and you're dressed like a Wall Street god. Just go be sexy, and get this shit over with. Tell Jasper that as soon as he catches a glimpse of that baby, he and Emmett should rush their asses in."
I snickered at her commanding tone, but she was right. We needed to get that kid out of a desperate situation and back to his father. We were afraid that Tyson Rollins wasn't being taken care of, that he was being shuffled from one terrible place to the next, and that his mother was neglecting him. Tyson's father wasn't worried that she'd hurt him...just leave him alone for long periods alone. He said she barely remembered to feed herself, so his fear that Tyson was somewhere hungry was making him crazy. Harold Rollins's panic was the reason I'd agreed to try to find the kid, knowing it would take a guy to move in on his ex-wife, rather than Bella and the girls.
"Have you kept anything down today, baby?" I asked before I had to get to work because my girl came first, everything else be damned.
"Some sports drink, but my dinner didn't last long," she sighed, sounding so tired.
I huffed, running another hand through my hair. "Tell me you aren't alone..."
"Esme's on her way now, Edward, I promise. Go be cute and charming, like only you can, baby. Go be my hero," she said with a chuckle, and I could almost see her playing with the quilt that I'd tucked her under on the sofa of our living room before I'd left and wearing her sweet smile.
"Okay. I'll call you as soon as it's over, love," I told her, looking up when Emmett walked into the bar without looking at me. It was time to go flirt, hit on, and try to pick up a woman I'd rather just yell at for what she was doing to her son.
"Love you, Edward," Bella sighed, yawning into the phone.
"Love you, too, sweetness," I said with a frown. "Get some sleep, and don't wait up for me."
She snorted. "Yeah, right..."
I ended the call, and in some ways, it felt like a slice to my chest. I didn't like that she was home without me, much less sick. With one more hand through my hair, dropping my phone into my pocket, I yanked open the door to the small pub, loosening my tie like I was coming in after a hard day at the office.
I sat down at the end of the bar, the complete opposite of where Em was sitting, catching his eye briefly. I ordered a scotch, which was utterly needed with what I was about to do, turning toward the direction that Emmett's eyes had flickered to, and lo and behold, there she was.
Susan Rollins was swaying drunkenly by the old-ass jukebox on the far side of the room. It wasn't that she was an unattractive woman, but I could see her refusal of reality, her living in the moment. And with one last deep breath and a hand to my hair, I caught her eye, giving the smile that used to never let me down and tucking away my worry for my sick girl at home.
Susan smiled back, her eyes glazed with alcohol and lust as she walked my way.
I turned toward the bartender, sliding my credit card across the bar and saying, "Whatever the lady wants, put it on my tab."
"Good luck, pal," the older guy said with a snort, rolling his eyes. "She's a clingy one, that one. Looking for someone to save her, I think."
I smirked up at him and nodded. "I'll take my chances," I told him with a shrug, turning to the woman that was now perching herself on the stool next to mine.
Bella had totally had to teach me about this shit. I could raid a camp, a prison. I could fly in and take out the hideout of bad guys, but playing someone I wasn't was hard and not something that came naturally to me. We'd tried everything to locate this woman because as soon as we'd close in on her, she'd disappear. Bella told me that I needed to play into her personality and the woman's needs.
Susan Rollins needed someone that wasn't turned off by her drunken state, or that she had a kid, or the fact that her appearance had slipped. She needed the fantasy guy, Bella had told me. I needed to play a man with money that was just about to take off to another city and wasn't scared off by someone else's child. I needed to be everything that Susan Rollins was looking for, and Bella said that because I was ten years younger than this woman, it would make me all the more appealing.
Fan-fucking-tastic... I was about to serve myself up to a cougar or some shit.
But it worked – like a fucking dream. The woman ate up every line I gave her, every story I told her, and her eyes lit up when I spoke of my new position in San Diego. When I mentioned that I coached Little League baseball, I fucking sealed the deal. She wanted me, and it was all I could do not to vomit when she kissed my cheek and invited me upstairs to her room.
With a nod to her and the bartender, not to mention a pointed look to Emmett, I held my hand out to her and helped her out the door and up the stairs to her hotel room. It was now a time-sensitive situation because my nod to Emmett meant right now, he was downstairs calling Mr. Rollins, who wasn't far away.
There had been an Amber Alert sent out when Tyson went missing, so all he had to do was bring the Olympia Police with him when the address was confirmed, but I had to set my eyes on Tyson himself before any of us could celebrate.
With that last thought, I touched the tiny earpiece in my ear and linked up to Jasper instantly.
"It don't mean a thing, if you ain't got that swing...do-wah, do-wah, wo-wah," he sang in my ear – poorly, I might add. But I couldn't say a word to shut him the fuck up. "Kiss that chick, and I'm totally squealing on you, Eddie," he said in my ear with a chuckle, and I had to hide my laugh behind a fake cough.
Jasper was planted – no longer holding a rifle, but a telescope, instead – on the roof of the building across the street. He'd been waiting to catch a glimpse of the kid all night, but there wasn't a single open curtain in her hotel room.
As Susan held my hand, she led me into her room, turning in front of me. She was wearing a smile, but I let my eyes scan the room. It was a basic dingy hotel room, with two beds and an old-ass TV. One bed was unmade, but the other had a small lump in the middle, a shock of blond hair resting on the pillow.
What pissed me off was the half-empty bottle of cough syrup on the nightstand next to a juice box of apple juice. There were few toys and no fridge to store food, so my temper flared to an all-time high.
"Your son?" I asked through gritted teeth, and she nodded. "Good," I sighed, smiling when Jasper called out that Tyson had been spotted.
"He'll sleep through anything," she whispered, looking up at me as she wrapped her arms around my neck, but I pried her off me.
"Why don't you pack a few things?" I suggested because she knew I was heading out to "my new job," and I needed to stall her long enough for Mr. Rollins to bring the police to the door.
I took a breath of relief when she removed her hands from me and began to toss a few things into a small suitcase. By the time she'd closed the bag, there was a knock on the door.
Susan tried to stop me, but I yanked the door open anyway, letting the police rush in with Harold hot on their tail. As the cops arrested her, he scooped his son up lovingly, placing frantic kisses to his face.
I smiled when a little voice broke through above the sobbing cries from the woman being led out of the room.
"Daddy," he muttered with a yawn, only to fall back asleep again.
Harold walked to me, cradling his boy. "Thank you," he sighed, glancing over to the nightstand. "She used to give him that at home when I would go out of town on business. He'll be fine."
"Good," I grunted with a nod.
"Thank Bella for me, will you? And I'll wire the rest of my payment to you first thing."
"Yes, sir," I said with a smile and an awkward handshake because he could barely let his touch leave his son. "I'm sorry it took so long."
"Just as long as I have my boy back, Edward," was all he said, waving as he left the hotel room.
I trudged down the stairs, my hands in my pockets as I watched Harold tuck his son carefully into his car. The other scene wasn't so pleasant because Susan Rollins was a sobbing, drunken mess in the back of the police car.
Officer Jackson stepped up to me, holding his hand out. "Nice job, sir," he said, gripping my hand firmly. "Mr. Rollins explained that he'd hired a private investigator to find his son. Custody cases are the hardest for us. Not enough manpower..."
I nodded, but I was ready to go. "What will happen to her?" I asked, pointing to the back of the cruiser.
"She has to be transported back to Seattle," he said, looking at her. "She'll be arrested, booked, and processed. It's a slap on the wrist, but what she really needs is help..."
"You're right," I sighed, suddenly really tired and unable to care about the ex-Mrs. Rollins anymore. I wanted to see my girl.
Once I'd spoken to Harold one more time, I met Emmett and Jasper at the car.
"How's Bella?" Emmett asked, falling into the passenger seat of my Challenger as Jasper settled himself into the backseat.
"Sick. And I want to get home to her," I growled, cranking my car and peeling the hell out of there. I pulled my phone out and dialed home.
My stomach roiled with nausea with every fast food TV commercial, and I shut the damn thing off. I glared at my phone, willing it to ring with some news about Tyson, even though I'd just hung up from speaking with Edward. I was nervous about finding the boy because it had been a bitch finding his mother – the crazy cow. It was one thing to want to fuck up her own life, but she should leave her kid out of it.
I was also nervous for Edward because he and the boys weren't used to these subtle kind of missions – missions where you had play a part, be someone else for just a little while. My Edward wasn't exactly subtle when it came to his temper, and his anger had flared when he'd listened to Harold Rollins talk about his ex-wife and son. If I'd left it up to the boys, they'd have just gone in, guns fucking blazing, but there was no telling about Tyson. He didn't need to be scared into fucking therapy; he just needed to be brought back to his father.
A light knock on the back door snapped me out of my worry, and I called, "Come in, Esme."
I looked up when she walked in, her arms full of a few grocery bags. "I'm sick, not broke, Esme," I chided lovingly.
"Hush, pretty girl," she said with a laugh, rolling her eyes and sitting down on the edge of the sofa, feeling my forehead for a fever. She set the bag down on the coffee table, pulling out another sports drink for me to sip. "I just brought you a few things..." I could see a knowing look in her eye as she pulled out a small box from one of the bags, handing it over to me.
I stared at the small box, and suddenly, a whole bunch of forgotten things came flying to me. "Oh shit," I breathed, looking up at her and counting the last few weeks...and then back almost two whole months. My last period had been just before we broke ground on Gravity's office. In fact, if I was counting correctly, my last period was just before Edward and I had made love in the chopper.
"You know, it's been months since I gave you that shot, Bells," she stated, a little warning in her voice, but I could also hear hope, love, and patience. "Have you been getting it from your regular doctor?"
My heart completely sputtered out of control because she was right, and I slowly shook my head no. With everything that Edward and I had been through, with all the moving, the rebuilding of Gravity, and even this case he was currently working for me, I'd forgotten all about my birth control.
"He'll kill me," I gasped, tears welling up in my eyes. "We're not even ready to get married, much less for this, Esme! What do I do?"
She smiled, picking up my hand and letting Elizabeth Cullen's ring glimmer in the low light of my living room. "I think you two have always found your own way, sweetie. And I think...you're not giving that boy enough credit."
Swiping at my tears, I nodded, knowing she was right, and then I stood up from the sofa, taking the box with me. It didn't take the full timer for the extra little mark to show up on the plastic stick. I threw up one more time for good measure before walking back into my living room, holding it out to her.
I couldn't help but give her a halfhearted smile when she squealed with utter joy and happiness. But my tears started all over again because I was honestly scared. I was scared of what this meant for me, for my work. I was scared of how much my life would change, and I was absolutely fucking petrified of Edward's reaction.
But above all else, I was also...really happy. Visions of a cherub face with a head full of dark hair and green eyes suddenly overwhelmed me as Esme held me while I cried.
"Things have to change, pretty girl," she whispered, kissing my temple. "You have start eating right – no more coffee, no more beer – and you need to tell Edward when he gets home, Bella."
I nodded, sniffling and hiccuping another sob, but everything I'd recently been feeling made perfect sense. I'd been a mood-swinging bitch, sicker than a dog, and so very aroused by Edward's mere presence lately. My hormones were on the roller coaster from hell.
Esme stayed, smirking knowingly as I finally heard from Edward telling me the mission had gone perfectly, that the cougar hadn't kissed him, except on the cheek, and that he and the boys were on their way home. He'd been completely successful, but his last words to me were, "Baby, how do you feel?"
"I'll be better when you're home," I answered honestly because I needed to tell him this. Our whole relationship revolved around leaning on each other, and for this new development, I was truly grateful of that.
"A few hours, sweetness," he promised. "Get some sleep, please."
"I'll try," I sighed, thinking there was no way that would happen, but it did. I fell asleep almost the minute Esme left me after swearing to me she wouldn't tell Carlisle yet. In turn, she made me promise to see my doctor first thing.
I was awakened when I was picked up from the sofa and carried into our room. I looked up with blurry, sleepy eyes at Edward.
"Go back to sleep, baby," he whispered, kissing my forehead as he nestled me under the covers.
I curled up in a ball, watching him undress down to his boxer briefs, and then I squirmed myself as close to him as I could get. It was as he pulled me to him, letting me mold myself to his front, that my tears started again because I just didn't know how he would take the news.
I sniffled, threading my fingers into his hair and pulling his forehead to mine. He was just so fucking handsome, it was almost painful to look at him. And despite how soon it was that I was pregnant, the fact that there was something that we had made growing inside of me made me love Edward even more.
"Hey, hey," he soothed, tucking my hair behind my ears. "Baby, what's this?"
"I...I have something to tell you," I sobbed, sitting up and swiping at my tears with the back of my hand. "And I don't...I'm not sure... Fuck!" I cried, looking up at him when he sat up next to me. "I messed up, Edward...so badly. But it's a good mess up...or maybe it's just a too-soon mess up..."
Edward snorted, cupping my face. "And I thought I had the speech problems," he chuckled, but he lifted my chin gently so that I was looking him in the eye. "Just...spit it out, love. I can't imagine any mess up is worth getting this worked up over."
I snort-sniffled at him because he had no idea, but I decided that I should do it quickly, like ripping off a bandage. "I'm...pregnant, Edward," I whispered as more tears coursed down my face.
He froze, except for his eyebrows. Those bad boys shot up to his hairline. Edward tilted his head at me, his mouth opening once, only to snap shut again. His green eyes, which were filled with worry, darkened into confusion.
"It's my fault," I exploded into hysterics, wringing my hands together. "I forgot all about my shot. With everything...and work...and we're engaged...I just..." I knew I wasn't making a bit of fucking sense, but my stomach roiled again, and I shot off the bed and into the bathroom.
The only thing I had in my belly were liquids, and those were lost in an instant, but warm, rough hands gently held my hair as I heaved again. I took the cloth that he held out to me, sitting back on my heels.
I couldn't look at him. I didn't want to know if he was angry because I was a fucking coward. "Don't hate me," I whispered, wiping my face roughly with the cloth.
"I don't hate you, baby," he whispered against my temple. "You're sure? Is that what this is? It's not the flu, is it?" he rambled, but at least he could form normal sentences, and the irony of that was not lost on me.
I nodded, looking at my wringing hands again and not at the man that was sitting on the bathroom floor next to me. Again, his fingers tilted my head from under my chin so I would look at him.
"I don't hate you, Bella," he urged, making sure I was truly looking at him. "How can I hate you? Y-You're c-carrying m-my b-baby..." he sputtered, swallowing thickly. "I know you're scared, but...we did that," he stated firmly.
There it was. There was my nervous, honest, but in-control Edward that I so fucking needed at the moment.
I nodded, tears welling up again. "I am scared, but I'm in love with him...her...already." I sniffled, smiling when he gave me his light chuckle. "I know it's stupid, crazy timing. I'm sorry..."
He cut me off with a quick kiss, despite my throwing up. "I'm an adult in this relationship, too, Bella. I am half responsible. I'm finding it hard to be sorry, though."
"We're going to be parents, Edward," I whispered, shaking my head, but again, a little boy with crazy hair and green eyes flooded my mind, and I couldn't help but smile as I stood up to brush my teeth for what felt like the hundredth time today.
"Wh-What d-do we d-do n-now, love?" he asked, helping me to my feet and leaning on the counter as I brushed.
Once I rinsed, I said, "Doctor. Esme said so..."
Edward nodded, smiling so-very-sweetly as he fell to his knees in front of me. He lifted the front of his T-shirt that I was wearing and placed a long, slow kiss to my belly. "Tell me when and where, Bella. I'm in...I'm completely in, baby."
"Marry me, Bella," Edward whispered as his lips pressed to my now very-large belly.
"Yes, Edward," I answered with a giggle, rolling my eyes at his umpteenth proposal because now, it was just a joke.
It wasn't that I didn't want to marry him, but time was against us. We could never just get it done. And neither of us wanted a big to-do, especially with the baby on the way because she was more important than the the both of us combined.
He chuckled when our daughter kicked his face. "She's so going to be like you. All feisty and smart and stubborn," he teased, kissing the spot on my skin. "Aren't you, little sweetness?" he crooned at my stomach, and she kicked at him again.
I giggled down at him because number one, he was tickling the shit out of me with his rough, scruffy face. And two, he thought it was the best day ever because we'd just found out that we were having a little girl. It had been five months since I'd told him, and I don't think there was a man alive that had accepted the news with such happiness like Edward had. I'd been terrified, but he'd told me that he thought it was the best thing. Ever.
"I will marry you, Edward." I giggled again, squirming under him as he rubbed his chin lightly over my stomach. "You know this," I chided him.
"I know, but I still like hearing it." He snickered and then turned to my belly. "Tell Mommy that she should marry Daddy...like tomorrow, Bethy."
I don't know what was more adorable. The fact that he was already conspiring against me with our child, or the fact that she seemed to adore the sound of his voice because she always seemed to squirm more when he talked to her like this.
"Miss Elizabeth, tell Daddy that he needs to get working on your crib." I snorted, raising an eyebrow at him as I rubbed my tummy where his scruff had left me tingly.
I don't think either of us had, had to think twice about the name – Elizabeth Renee Cullen – and we both had blurted it out in the car on the way home from the doctor's office. Naming her after our mothers was a no-brainer. It was the boys' names that were giving us hell. If it had been left up to our family and friends, the poor boy's name would have been Carlisle Alec Jasper Emmett Eleazar Cullen. Not a chance in hell.
"Daddy will," Edward sighed, crawling up so that he was braced over me. "I'm waiting for the special stain I ordered to come in. I didn't realize how many safety regulations I had to follow when it came to spacing between the bars, height, and even the paint," he said with a shrug, "but she'll have a place to sleep by the time she gets here."
"'Kay." I sighed in contentment as I cupped his face and kissed him senseless because Edward was nothing if not ecstatic about having this baby.
He'd been to every doctor's appointment and could barely contain himself when it came to telling everyone. That's not to say we weren't nervous, because we really were, but just like the beginning of our relationship, we took things slowly, carefully, learning as much as we could as we went along.
But no one was as happy as Carlisle.
It was like Christmas every day for him once we'd told him the news. He couldn't wait to be a grandfather – or Poppy, as we'd all nicknamed him – and he loved it. He'd already set up accounts, trust funds, and college funds, and I'm pretty sure he was saving the old Camaro to give to her for her sixteenth birthday. Not to mention the fact that he'd opened a credit card for himself, just for spoiling Bethy at Toys R Us.
A horn honked outside, and Edward sighed, cupping my face. "Gravity meeting," he groaned, rolling his eyes, but then shot up like a little kid. "But Emmett owes me a hundred fucking bucks! I told him she was a girl ages ago..." he rambled, pulling out the sonogram picture like it was prize possession.
"Hey, Dad!" I laughed, reaching for him because I was completely stuck on our sofa. "Before you run off and leave me like a turtle on its back, can you help a girl out?"
"Shit, sorry, love." He chuckled, helping me to my rather swollen feet and kissing my forehead.
I pulled him to me, wrapping my arms around his waist. I closed my eyes when warm, strong arms wrapped around me and kisses were dropped on the top of my head. I took a deep breath, just leaning on him.
"Let's just...go, Edward," I whispered, setting my chin on his chest and blinking up at him. "Just go somewhere and get married. I don't care about traditions or any of that shit. Do you?"
Edward smiled and shook his head no, kissing my forehead and then my lips. "Tomorrow?"
"Yeah," I agreed with a giggle. "Tomorrow."
We were married in San Francisco in a court house two days later. The only witnesses were Carlisle and Esme, and that was kind of how we wanted it, though our friends threw a hell of a party when we got back. And it was perfect.
Elizabeth Renee was born two months later – little sweetness, according to her Dad, Bethy to the rest of us – perfectly healthy and by C-section. She was fat and sweet, with a head full of hair the same color as mine but with gorgeous reddish highlights. And even though her eyes were blue, it didn't take long to see the perfect green start to shine through.
There wasn't a stick of furniture in our child's room that wasn't made by Edward. He'd made it so beautifully that all my girls wanted something like it when they got ready to have kids, which Edward and I assumed wouldn't take long because Emmett and Rose were already married, Jasper and Alice were engaged, and Wes and Makenna were head over heels for each other. However, Carlisle still hadn't popped the question to Esme.
But it was what Edward was making for her before Bethy was even a year old that made me fall in love with him all over again, which was saying something because I loved him with just as much fire as ever.
I lounged in the shade, Bethy asleep on my chest, as I watched Edward, Jasper, Emmett, and Alec build a tree house that rivaled the one I had growing up. It was in an enormous oak tree in the back yard. The plans were top secret, but it didn't take long for it to start to take shape. With a wraparound porch, a staircase – instead of a ladder – and real, locking windows, the thing was beautiful. And knowing Edward, it would be painted white with blue trim to match the house. I half-expected to see a small American flag once it was all said and done.
Rose paced on the phone, speaking to the possible next client. "Well, hang on, I'll check our schedule and see if I have a guy for that date." She put her hand over the phone, yelling up into the tree. "Boys!"
"Yeah?" they all answered her.
"I need one of you for a protection service day after tomorrow in Seattle. Some fashion designer is opening a new line downtown. They need to get from the airport, to the show, to a meet and greet, and then back to the airport. It's just a day job..."
"I'll take it," Alec grunted as he lifted a board up with Jasper so that Edward and Emmett could nail it in place.
Rose nodded once, pulling out her notebook. "Okay, you're covered. Give me the details."
Bethy jumped, shifted, squirmed, and then broke into a cry when one of the guys dropped a board too loudly.
"Damn it," Edward growled, leaning over the rail of the porch. "Sorry, baby," he said with a grimace and then tore down the steps. "That was me..."
I stood up, rocking Bethy and cooing to her, but it was amazing to watch what her dad could do.
"Come here, little sweetness," he sighed, and I shook my head as she quieted down almost immediately.
His large, rough hands picked her up, holding her above him so their foreheads were pressed together, and she hiccuped once, grasping at his scruffy face. There was nothing as sexy as Edward holding her when he was shirtless and humming softly. Nothing. They were made for each other.
"I have to return a few calls, Edward," I told him as he sat down with a slowly-drifting-off infant in his arms. "Can you take her for a few?" I asked, knowing that he would.
"Yeah," he said with a nod. "We were just about to call it a day, anyway. Emmett has that adoption case he's working on and needs to head out."
I nodded and kissed my husband and then my daughter. "Those are tough because the records are sealed. Has Alice been able to help?"
"She shouldn't." Edward chuckled, lounging back and letting Bethy sprawl on his chest, her front pressed to his. I couldn't help but smile when his fingers played with her tiny toes. "It's illegal as hell, but I'm pretty sure she's drawn him the family tree."
"Bethy still needs one more feeding and a bath before bed," I told him, "so give me an hour to work, and then we'll put her to bed, okay?"
My work went over an hour because I had three cases to discuss with Rose, Makenna, and Alice. Four very long phone calls, a breakdown, a schedule for all three cases, and assigning those cases put me at almost two and a half hours before going back inside after sending the girls home.
I walked in, finding Edward rocking our daughter as he read to her in her room. "I'm not sure Tom Clancy is exactly infant material, flyboy," I teased him.
He chuckled, looking up at me with a wink. "She's asleep, and nothing else was working."
"I'm sorry it took so long," I sighed, scooping up my sleeping girl from his arms. "I have a case for the two of us, but I need to see if your dad and Esme will watch Bethy for two days."
Edward chuckled. "Gladly. He was bitching yesterday that we hog her."
"She's our kid," I said with a giggle, rolling my eyes and laying her down in her crib. After covering her up, I couldn't help but lean back against Edward, just looking at her. "She's beautiful, Edward," I sighed, feeling like my heart could hardly contain my love for the other two people in the room.
"She's just like her mother," he crooned, kissing the side of my neck. "Opinionated, strong, and gorgeous."
I smiled, turning in his arms. "And easily pissed off like her dad." I giggled, squeaking when he scooped me up.
Before he left the room, he turned to look at Bethy again. "She's going to give 'em hell, baby," he told me with a laugh, shaking his head and then kissing my lips. "She'll be a force to be reckoned with."
With that said, he shut the light off and carried me to our room.
Three years later...
"That's not a freakin' strike!" Emmett yelled at the TV, shaking his head and taking a long draw on his beer.
"Come on, knock that thing into the damn bleachers," Jasper urged, sitting on the edge of the chair.
"Where's my baby girl?" my dad asked, looking around the living room.
I snorted, shaking my head. "Last I checked, she was planning world domination in her room, with an army of teddy bears," I told him, grinning when he chuckled.
"She'd succeed..." Jasper laughed, standing up. "I'm getting another," he said, holding up his empty beer bottle. "Anyone else?"
"Yeah," we all answered.
It was the first weekend in ages that we'd all been able to get together at my house for a Mariners game. The only one from the old crew that was missing was Mickey, but she'd been stolen by the girls for the day, though she'd rather be with them, anyway. They were off shopping in Seattle for my dad and Esme's wedding. Alec wasn't there, either, because he was on an assignment in Los Angeles.
My dad had finally asked Esme a few months ago, and out of all of us, they wanted the big deal wedding, where the rest of us had just gone off and done the courthouse thing. Maybe it was a media thing because he was still running Twi Tech with an iron fist, or maybe it was an Esme thing because she'd never had a real church wedding before. But whatever it was, all the girls were eating it up, and they were planning the whole thing.
To be honest, I was really happy for my dad. It was a long time coming for him. It seemed that ever since my mother's death, he'd always been alone and, looking back on it now, a touch sad. However, Esme had changed all that for him, and they'd only gotten stronger and better in the last few years.
I looked up when I heard a bedroom door shut, taking a beer from Jasper when he came back into the room.
The little thump-thump-thump of Bethy's feet on the hardwood floor echoed down the hallway until she cruised through the living room as fast as she could without actually running. Her hands were full of just...stuff. I heard the screen door open and then slam shut.
"Okay, top of the sixth...no outs, runner on base," Jasper called out, rubbing his hands together.
The screen door slammed again, and this time, we all watched as my daughter hurried through the room without so much as a glance our way.
"She's so up to something," my dad said with a snort.
"Always," I sighed but smiled because she was amazing.
Elizabeth Renee Cullen was three going on twenty-three and her mother made over. She was so smart, so very sweet, and constantly on the go. She had Bella's long, beautiful, dark hair, with just a touch of red to it, but her eyes were all mine – bright green that reminded me of my own, but more my mother's. They were softer, warmer, but carried my glint of up-to-no-good, according to my wife.
She came back through, again with her arms loaded to capacity. I saw stuffed animals, hats, clothes, and some other things I couldn't quite see as she bolted out the screen door.
"Um, Eddie?" Emmett muttered, looking over at me. "What's the baby girl doin'?"
"No idea," I answered, chuckling, and sometimes, it was best just to let her be. Besides, she was nothing if not entertaining.
By the time she'd done it the third time, we'd muted the TV and just started waiting for her, but when she came in from outside that last time, she stopped in front of the TV.
"What are you up to, little sweetness?" I laughed because she reached up and turned the TV completely off, much to the shock of the guys.
"It's t-time, D-Daddy," she sputtered.
Oh yeah, she'd earned her stutter directly from me, and I couldn't help but love every single word she said because despite her little speech impediment, she could command a room without shame. The fact that she was wearing a pink camo shirt and little jean skirt was icing on the cake. With her hair half up in two little high ponytails, she tilted her head at all of us like she'd already lost patience.
"Time for what, Bethy?" my dad asked her, sitting forward on the couch.
"T-Tea p-party," she stated, and I flinched. "D-Daddy, you puh-puh-pwomised," she chided, pointing a stern finger at me.
"I did, sweetness," I told her, "but can you wait until after the game?"
"No." she grumped, walking to me. "M-Mommy says t-tea is at t-two...and it's t-two!"
"She can tell time?" Jasper murmured, his eyebrows raised high, and I nodded slowly.
"Yes, she can," I sighed, pulling her to me when she tried to pull me up by my hand. "I'm telling you...world domination..."
My dad laughed softly because there wasn't much Bethy didn't do that he couldn't just eat the fuck up. He spoiled her rotten but had more patience with her than I ever remembered him having with me.
"Did you promise, son?" my dad asked.
"Yeah, I had to get her in bed somehow," I murmured, rolling my eyes at his laugh.
"Pwease, D-Daddy," she said, crawling up into my lap, using my T-shirt to hold onto. Finally, I gave her a hand and sat back, straddling her on my lap. She grasped both sides of my face and pressed her forehead to mine. "Y-You said l-last n-night that y-you'd have a t-tea party wif me in the twee house. You did! I heard you."
"I did, Bethy." I chuckled because she hadn't let go of my face. "And I meant it, but I was thinking more about after the game."
"N-No! N-Now!" she said with a cherubic smile and wriggling closer to me just like her mother did when she wanted something.
When she tugged my baseball cap off and ruffled my hair, I was done. There wasn't much I could do about it, either. Both of my girls could get me to do just about anything when they did that. It had something to do with the begging eyes, the slight tilt of their head, and the sweet kisses to my cheek. Both my wife and my daughter knew exactly how to play me, but I didn't care because they were my fucking universe, and I wouldn't change it for the world.
"What about Poppy?" I asked, smirking over at my dad. "Don't you think he should come?"
"Yeah!" she squealed, beaming and slipping off of my lap. She grasped both our hands, and we let her pull us up this time.
My dad scooped her into his arms, planting loud kisses on her face and neck just to hear crack up into hysterics.
"What about the game?" Emmett asked, pointing to the TV with the remote and turning it back on.
"Don't you think Uncle Em and Uncle Jazz should come, too?" my dad whispered conspiratorially to her.
"Unca Em...Unca Jazz...you hafta come!" she pleaded with them both, and I fought my laugh because those two guys would do anything for her...except when it came to interrupting a game.
"Boys! Up, now!" my dad commanded without even bothering to turn around as he carried her out the screen door.
"Aw, hell," Jasper muttered, but they shut the TV off and followed us outside and up the steps of the tree house.
We all settled down Indian-style, cramming into my daughter's tree house. I knew that Bella had adored the one she'd had growing up, so I'd built one here. It was everything Bella's was but a bit more. It had electricity, working windows, even a small ceiling fan, not to mention heat for the winter. Hell, it was a mini version of a real house.
Bella had decorated the thing with bookshelves, beanbags, and little brightly-colored curtains. There was even a miniature sofa up here. I think most of the books on the shelves had belonged to Bella first. One of my favorite things was finding the two of them curled up on a beanbag up here, my wife reading to Bethy – something we'd started when she was a baby.
As Bethy handed out teacups and saucers filled with water, I picked a tiny helicopter up off the shelf, spinning the blades. It was new, and I wondered where she'd gotten it.
"Little sweetness, who gave you this?" I asked her, pulling her down into my lap, smiling when she squealed.
"Mommy," she answered, taking it from me. "She s-said one d-day, I c-could f-fly my own chopper."
I laughed, kissing her loudly on her neck and tickling her when she practically growled the word "chopper." She wriggled out of my lap, ruffling my hair, and got back to the serious business of her tea party.
"That would rock, baby girl," Emmett cheered, donning a big floppy hat and taking a pink feather boa from her.
"Th-That's what Aunt Awice said." She giggled, handing Jasper something that looked like a bonnet or some shit. "Now," she barked, pointing to all of us. "You have t-to d-drink wif y-your pinkies out!"
"Why didn't you bring Bethy today?" Mickey asked from the back seat of my SUV.
I turned onto the 101 to head home. It had been long day of plans, shopping, and fittings. Esme and Carlisle's wedding was the only full-blown wedding amongst us, so all of us were living vicariously through them. I had no complaints on how I'd married Edward because it was simple and quiet, and I'd been seven months pregnant with Bethy at the time.
"She was determined to stay with her daddy today." I chuckled, shaking my head at my obstinate child. "Something about a promise he'd made her, but she wouldn't spill the beans."
The girls all laughed because they knew her. She was insanely smart and completely sweet. She had zero tolerance for bullshit, just like her father.
"They are two peas in a pod." Rose chuckled, shaking her head and rubbing her now large belly. "I've never seen anything like it."
I grinned, looking over at her. She was due in a month, and this wedding had been torture trying to get her into a dress that fit because every time we went for a fitting, she had gotten bigger.
"Just you wait," I told her, still laughing. "Just you wait until Emmett's little clone comes tumbling out like hell on wheels. Then we'll talk about peas in pods."
"Right, because hyperactivity is genetic," Alice chirped from the back seat, which only caused all of us to laugh again.
"Fabulous," Rose sighed, rolling her eyes.
She was having a boy, and they couldn't be happier. The name was still up for debate, but Emmett was pushing for Caleb Edward McCarty. It had something to do with Afghanistan and a lifesaving situation that Edward had pulled Emmett from, but I didn't quite know the details. The name had only just recently been put out there.
Alice and Jasper were waiting on kids. They weren't sure they were ready, but I told them they were wrong because they were Bethy's favorite babysitters. Alice was so smart, she was able to teach my daughter just about anything – computers, languages, reading – and according to my child, Unca Jazz told the "best stories ever."
I pulled in my driveway, hitting the remote for the gate and once again when I was through. I parked between my Mustang and Edward's Challenger. When Bethy was on the way, neither of us wanted to get rid of our cars, so we'd opted for a third vehicle. I'd let Edward go get it, and he'd come back with the safest SUV on the planet – a Volvo. I'd said nothing about it because it was perfect, but Edward had muttered something about, "Can't have some asshole run my girls over."
His girls. His sweetnesses. I fought my smile at the thought. If I'd thought Edward was protective before, he was practically vigilant now. Our work wasn't all that dangerous, just the simple cheating spouses, lost kids, and finding relatives, but my husband didn't take any chances. The entire property was a safe zone. We were careful about using real names with certain jobs, and we never, ever met a client at the office, which was behind the helipad. Period.
When I worked, Edward stayed with Bethy, and vice versa. And when we were both needed, Esme and Carlisle took her without even batting an eye. They were the perfect grandparents – Poppy and Gamma to my daughter. She'd stay with them in the Twi Tech Towers, using my old room as her own, though we totally had to get rid of the purple and paint it back to the pink my mother had originally picked out.
"Mommy's home!" I heard my favorite squeal. The rumble of little feet down the tree house steps caught my attention, and I scooped up Bethy, spinning her around.
"I missed you, pretty girl," I said, smooching her cheek. "Did you have fun with Daddy?"
"I d-did," she gushed, her cheeks flushed and her eyes a vibrant happy green. "I m-missed you, t-too, Mommy."
The fact that my little girl had inherited her stutter from her dad just made me melt. I loved it so much that even when the doctor and Carlisle said that she'd outgrow it, I prayed that she didn't because it was just the sweetest part of her dad that she'd received. Edward stuttered when he was nervous, but Bethy stuttered when she was excited, and that was just about all the time.
"So what was this big deal you and Daddy had planned?" I asked her, walking her toward the tree house.
"W-We puh-puh-pwayed t-tea party wif Unca Em and Unca Jazz and Poppy!"
I laughed, just imagining four of the deadliest soldiers I'd ever met having a tea party with a three-year-old, but if I thought they were just drinking tea, I was so wrong. I looked up to see the funniest thing. Ever.
Carlisle was wearing an old, frilly apron. Edward was tugging off some sort of flowery smock, but it was Jasper and Emmett that had me and the women behind me almost in tears. Both were wearing big, floppy hats with flowers and birds on them, and Emmett was twirling a bright-ass, pink feather boa.
"Sure, laugh it up," Jasper grumbled, but Emmett grinned wide and shameless.
"You know I am so rockin' this look," he huffed haughtily, tossing the boa around his neck and going back inside the tree house. "Baby girl! It's your turn."
"Oh!" Bethy gasped, wriggling down out of my arms. "Coming, Unca Em!"
"Killer game of Chutes and Ladders. She destroyed us in Hi Ho Cherry-O," Edward explained with a chuckle, wrapping his arms around my waist. "How was girls day?" he asked, leaning down to kiss my neck.
"Productive, but tiring," I sighed, wrapping my arms around his neck. "Now I know why we didn't have a big wedding. It's exhausting."
He grinned, kissing my lips this time. "I was just happy you said yes," he whispered between each nip to my lips. "Dinner is ready. I've been cooking it all day, love. Take the girls in with you."
"'Kay," I sighed, not letting him go.
"Unca Em, that's cheating!" our daughter growled, and I swear she sounded just like Edward.
Edward chuckled, kissing me quickly. "He's been doing it on purpose to see if she'd catch it. She may kick his ass before the game is over." He turned a bit, yelling up into the tree. "Bethy, boys...it's time to eat. Get in the house!" he ordered.
I snorted, rolling my eyes, but begrudgingly pulled myself from my husband's arms. I held a hand out for my daughter and said, "Come on, let's wash up, and then you can help set the table."
Dinner was loud, fun, and full of an entertaining debate between Emmett and Bethy concerning who was better looking – him or Edward.
"Daddy," she huffed, rolling her eyes and folding her arms across her chest in a way that was so me, I just about choked on the pot roast Edward had made.
"That's my girl," Edward crooned to her, kissing the top of her head as he walked back into the kitchen, though he flipped Emmett off when Bethy wasn't looking.
When the conversation turned from the upcoming wedding to work, Bethy scrambled down from her chair and crawled up in my lap, trying to hide her yawn, but I wasn't fooled.
"Bath and bed, pretty girl," I whispered to her, setting her down. "Go pick out your pajamas, baby, and I'll be in there to help with your bath."
Bethy met me in the bathroom with her favorite pajamas – a tiny little Air Force T-shirt and soft shorts. I was pretty damned certain the boys were trying to turn my daughter into a tomboy, but I kept faith in the fact that she still liked the color pink, wearing dresses, and playing with my makeup.
Once Bethy was clean, her hair brushed out and dried, and her teeth brushed, I knelt in front of her. "Better go tell everyone good night, baby."
She yawned again and nodded, padding out to the living room, where everyone was watching the highlights from the game they'd apparently missed, thanks to a very important tea party. With kisses and big hugs to Poppy and Gamma, hugs to the girls, and a high five and a fist bump to the boys, my daughter went in search of her dad.
She found him in the kitchen, and he quickly had to set down the beers he was pulling out of the fridge in order to catch her, chuckling and wrapping both strong arms around her.
"Night, D-Daddy," she said, grasping both sides of his face and planting big kisses to his face as she wrapped her strong little legs around him.
"Night, little sweetness," he whispered to her.
"Love you," she sang, grinning at him and tilting her head.
"Love you, too, baby," he said with a smile, kissing her neck loudly so that she squealed. "Lights out, little soldier."
"Y-Yes, sir," she giggled.
"Only sweet dreams," he grunted playfully at her, and I loved this little routine they had.
"Y-Yes, sir!" she huffed back, faking a serious face.
"You'll fall in at oh-eight-hundred tomorrow," he grunted again.
"'Kay, Daddy," she finally laughed, kissing him again before wriggling down and coming to me.
"C-Come, Mommy. R-R-Read t-to m-me," she ordered, and I rolled my eyes.
"Yes, ma'am," I said, giving her a salute.
We settled her into bed, and I pulled out the book that we'd been reading. As much as she liked the Wizard of Oz movie, the book was different and a little scarier, so we were currently working on Peter Pan. My daughter loved fairies and the Lost Boys; she was convinced that Emmett was never growing up, either.
I heard everyone leave and Edward lock up the house, setting the alarm at the front door. My daughter started to drift off just as her dad leaned in her doorway. She was too tired to speak, but she reached for him, and we both knew that she just wanted both of us with her when she finally fell asleep, so he squeezed in on the other side of her in her tiny little bed.
I finished the chapter out, just to be sure that she was completely asleep, before Edward and I carefully got out of her bed. Leaving her nightlight on and the door cracked, we turned the lamp off by her bed after we both kissed her forehead.
"Oh, damn," I sighed, once we were in our bedroom and I was getting undressed. "I totally forgot to ask your dad and Esme if they could watch Bethy tomorrow. We have to head to Portland to meet with that client..."
"They're good," he answered, coming to stand right behind me. "I asked them before they left. They're talking about the zoo or something. They're spending the night here in Forks and will pick her up in the morning, love."
I smiled, closing my eyes at the feel of his arms wrapping around me. I leaned back into him, tilting my head when warm, wet kisses were dropped along my neck and shoulders. I moaned shamelessly when my ponytail was gathered up in a firm grip and his kisses became hungrier, more desperate.
I turned in front of him, though he didn't let go of my hair, and pressed myself fully against him. He'd already stripped himself of his T-shirt, and at thirty, my husband was in the most amazing shape. He still ran just about every morning, though his hobby of building furniture kept him in really good shape – not to mention our daughter was a whirlwind of energy.
I let my fingers trace every muscle, every dip of his chest and stomach as he wrenched my head to the side in order to kiss my neck roughly up to my ear, where he took my earlobe between his teeth.
"Bella," he grunted, walking us backwards toward the bed, and I stopped when the backs of my legs met the mattress. "Fuck, baby..."
"I guess you missed me today," I teased him as we fell into the middle of the bed in a tangle.
He smiled against my neck, pulling back to gaze down at me as he settled between my legs. He was still in his jeans, and I was still in mine, but his weight felt good, comforting. I traced my fingers down his back with one hand, the other brushing an errant curl from his forehead.
"I d-did," he stuttered, sounding just like Bethy, and I smiled up at him because it was, by far, my favorite sound. It was the sound of pure honesty and love coming from him. "I probably love you too much, sweetness," he purred, scooting down my body to press his lips against my old scars as his fingers deftly flicked open my jeans. "I miss you whenever you're away from me..."
I never even gave them much thought anymore because they'd faded over time and with the help of the cream that Esme had given me so long ago. The only scars that remained prominent was the deeper one on my thigh from the tip of Miller's knife and the newer one of Bethy's C-section, both of which Edward always tended to give extra kisses and love. The one on my thigh, he'd told me once, meant the most to him because it was that one he'd kissed when he'd told me he loved me the first time, and the C-section scar was when I gave him the best gift he'd ever received – our daughter.
As he tugged off my jeans and dropped them off the bed, he did, indeed, pay homage to those two scars, just as I'd known he would.
"I love you, too, Edward," I sighed, my eyes rolling back as his mouth worked its way from one thigh, across my belly, to my other thigh, my fingers threading into his hair. "So much..." I tugged him lightly, saying, "Get up here and love me..."
He chuckled lightly, kicking out of his jeans and crawling back up my body. His mouth gaped just a bit when my legs wrapped around his hips, both of us moaning at the feel of nothing between us.
He pressed his forehead to mine, planting his elbows on either side of my head, and his fingers lightly brushed my hair from my face as he gazed down at me.
"I-I'm a l-lucky fucking man," he sighed, a slight smile gracing his handsome face as he shook his head slowly. "You've given me everything, Bella. Shit that I never thought I'd have..."
I looked up at the man that had once called himself a monster, the same one that I'd called a hypocritical asshole. I looked up at the guy that had been angry, commanding, and standoffish, the same guy that had kissed me stupid for the first time during the chase of our lives. He was not a monster... He was my hero. He was strong and loyal, sweet and loving. He was an amazing husband and father, and he was the best partner I could ever ask for. He'd vowed once to me that he would make it so that I was safe, and I don't think he'd meant permanently at the time, but it hjad ended up that way. He'd built a world of safety and comfort for me, and now our daughter, and I loved him more for it with each passing day.
I pulled his mouth to mine, kissing him softly, slowly, because I remembered a time when I could barely let him touch me, much less let him make love to me. And as he slipped inside of me with a delicious slowness, I knew that he wasn't the only lucky one.
Our mothers had tried to keep us together, though two different paths had ended their plans, but fate had intervened, giving us another chance. I pulled him to me, keeping him close because closer was always better.
I kissed his shoulder, all the way up to his ear, whispering, "Me, too, Edward. Me, too."