Tuesday, February 26, 2002 | By: Drotuno

Smoke and Mirrors Chapter 25

CHAPTER 25

EDWARD

"What the hell are you doing here?" Mickey growled, her gaze never wavering from an extremely nervous Obie, who was standing on my front porch.

However, I wasn't sure exactly who was making him more nervous – Mickey...or me, Jasper, and now Emmett, who had just joined us.

Setting Bethy on her feet, I knelt in front of her. "Little sweetness, would you please take your brother inside? You can put a movie on or play in your rooms, but stay inside."

"Okay, Daddy," she whispered, and I could see that she was as intuitive as her mother, because the front yard practically crackled with tension. "Can I get 'mooches from Aunt Kate first?"

I snickered. "If you don't, she'll be upset, I think."

Bella set Sammy on his feet, and Bethy took his hand to lead him up the sidewalk. Aunt Kate met them halfway, beaming at them like they were the best thing she'd seen in a long time.

"Elizabeth Renee, come give me love, beautiful girl," she said, kneeling down. "And bring that handsome brother with you." She wrapped them both in loving arms, giving tons of kisses. "Samuel Masen, you're the spitting image of your daddy. And just look how big you've gotten!"

When Caleb joined them, she loved on him, too. He said, "I've gotten big, too, Aunt Kate! Wanna see?" He curled his arm to make a muscle, and she was loving every second of it.

Mickey shivered next to me, and I placed a hand on her shoulder as Aunt Kate led my kids and Caleb inside the house, telling them something about a surprise for later. Sometimes, it was best not to question her.

"You don't have to do this, Mick," I whispered. "Not now."

Instead of giving me an answer, she spun to face us – all of us. Her eyes roamed from Bella, Rose, and Alice, to me, Emmett, and Jasper. "Which one of you called him? Tell me!" she hissed, her hazel eyes blazing like a forest fire.

The girls shook their heads, as did the guys and I, because despite how badly we all wanted to give Obie a piece of our minds, we hadn't called Alaska. At least, no one had told me they'd made the call.

"He wouldn't have just...shown up," Mickey breathed, looking to me, and I could see that she was just barely holding onto her emotions. Fucking pregnancy hormones. "Someone called him."

"Believe me, I wanted to," I told her, giving the front porch a glare, "but I didn't."

The girls seemed to move as one giant hug, pulling her to them, but it was the sound of my full name that had my attention.

"Edward Anthony, get your behind over here," Aunt Kate ordered.

Despite the tension, I couldn't help but snort and roll my eyes. Some shit would never fucking change.

"Yes, ma'am," I sighed, but smirked as she wrapped me up in a big hug. "You look good, Aunt Kate."

"Thank you, child," she crooned, cupping my face.

It wasgood to see her, because we hadn't been up to Alaska in some time. In fact, not since before Sammy's first birthday. I was pretty sure the fact that he was walking and talking was a big shock for her.

"Not that I mind at all, but what are you doing here?" I asked her, glimpsing up to the porch to see that Obie was still fidgeting nervously on the top step. He was just far enough away that he couldn't hear us, though I think Mickey had stopped us on purpose.

"I got a call," she said simply, shrugging her shoulder and giving me a maddeningly all-knowing look.

"Oh, hell, who? And just what does Obie know?" I asked, trying not to point. "Because Mickey's a real mess over this...breakup. I'm not sure she's ready to see him – not that I don't think he deserves all that she decides to do to him, but..."

"I called her," I suddenly heard, and it was loud enough for all of us to look up at Esme. "It was as good a time as any."

"He knows I just about snatched an ear right off of his head when I found out why they really were fighting in my house," Kate stated firmly, giving Obie a withering look. "But he doesn't know why their argument meant the end. Michelle, come see me," she called, and the girls guided her over.

"Aunt Kate," Mickey sighed, falling into the older woman's arms. "You shouldn't have brought him. He doesn't want...the same things..."

"You'd be surprised just what he wants, Michelle," Kate said sagely, pulling Mickey back to cup her face. "And pregnancy suits you, child. You're glowing! Are you eating okay? Have you seen a doctor?"

Mickey cracked a smile. "Yes, I'm fine. I've had one appointment, and I'm eating okay... Well, I'm eating, though not everything stays down."

I chuckled, because it was the truth. Mickey had gone from morning sickness to a sort of all day sickness. Some days were better than others, but she reminded me of Bella when she was carrying Bethy – strong one minute, but throwing up without notice the next. I was damned sure that the stress of the case combined with the stress of facing the possibility of this moment was enough to make shit worse, but Mick had handled it like she handled everything else – by fighting through it independently, blowing off anyone's concern for her.

"She's going to see my doctor in a few days, Aunt Kate," Bella told her, wrapping an arm around Mickey. "I've already made the appointment for her."

Kate grinned wickedly, kissing my Bella's cheek. "Ah, Bella-child... I should've known you'd be all over this... Now," she sighed, turning to face the front porch. "What do we do with this heartbroken boy of mine?" she asked just loud enough that Obie heard her, which caused him to scoff.

Before Jasper and I could move, Emmett was already stepping forward. "Sit your ass down, Obie...before I make you sit. Your fate will be decided soon enough," he said with an evil grin as he cracked his knuckles and flexed his arms. He looked like all he was waiting on was for Mickey to say the word that she didn't want Obie there, and he'd be on it like white on rice.

"Emmett!" all the girls scoffed, but it was my father coming out my front door that made us all shut up.

"Sit, Obie," he sighed, pointing to one of the chairs. "Any sudden moves, and I may not be able to save your future ability to walk. However, I'm not sorry Esme called Kate. There are reasons you're here, and it's time you knew."

"Mickey," Obie said softly, sitting as he was told, but his eyes betrayed him. They locked with hers, and they screamed loneliness, heartbreak, and longing.

"Wild child," I whispered, and her eyes met mine. "Tell him. Tell him, because if it scares him, at least you tried, right? You can go on with how you're going now... Or..."

"Or...he accepts it," Esme finished for me.

"I'd want to know," Jasper stated softly. "We may not want kids, but if it happened... Yeah, I'd totally want to know." He shrugged a shoulder, giving Alice a glance when she wrapped an arm around his waist.

Bella and I had discussed more than once Alice and Jasper's decision not to have kids. We weren't sure exactly what it stemmed from. We guessed it had to do with Alice's upbringing as an amazingly smart child – brilliant, really. She rarely spoke of her family, and when she did, it wasn't always with a happy tone to her voice. Jasper, on the other hand... He'd told me more than one time that the only reason he would've had children was to give grandkids to his mother, but since she was gone, it just wasn't something that he really longed for. Though, together, they made an amazing "aunt" and "uncle" to all the kids. Their patience was endless, and they loved to play with them.

"Okay," Mickey finally conceded with a nod. "Eddie's right. If he doesn't accept it then nothing changes." She glanced up to the front porch, where it looked like my dad was taking a guard-like stance next to the boy. "Obie...let's walk and talk."

"We're not far," I stated, neither apologizing for my tone, nor the fact that Obie heard me. "The guys and I will unload my tools back into the shed. We'll be right there," I told her.

"Edward..." Bella started, but stopped when Emmett interrupted her.

"We're not listening, but he won't get the chance to act like a fool, either," he snorted, rolling his eyes. "Come on...tools."

"Are you calling me a tool?" Jasper asked him, punching his arm as we walked back toward the chopper and cars. "'Cause if you're calling me a tool, Em..."

"Shut the fuck up," Emmett laughed, and I just rolled my eyes at the both of them, walking to the door of my shed.

Taking the keys out of my pocket, I unlocked the door and lifted it up over my head. The sweet fucking smell that hit me made me inhale deeply. It was sawdust, pine, cedar, and a touch of machine oil. My whole body gave a shudder at just how relaxing that smell was for me. As Jasper and Emmett bickered back and forth, my eyes caught a glimpse of Mickey and Obie walking along the tree line. They seemed calm for the moment, so I allowed myself to take in the project I'd been working on before we'd had to leave. Bethy's desk.

I ran my hand over the smooth top, noticing that it needed one more sanding. The two sets of drawers for either side were just about ready, though I still needed to add the detailing, the drawer pulls, and the guides.

"That's nice. What is it?" Emmett asked, setting down my table saw, like it weighed nothing.

"A desk for Bethy," I said, putting the saw back in its rightful place. "She was upset that the first graders had their own desks, but the kindergarten class had to sit at tables."

"Is there anything you won't build her?" Jasper laughed, bringing in my sanders and a few bags of hardware that I'd picked up in California.

I chuckled, shaking my head. "No, probably not," I sighed, smirking at their laughter. "And when Sammy starts to want shit, I'll most likely build that, too."

"Which reminds me... Bella's old tree house could use some repair," Emmett said, looking sheepish. "I was afraid to mention it, but Caleb's started really hanging out in there. Rose says he's old enough to really handle it. It's probably the weather, but the windows stick and the roof needs some work. It's leaking, so if she wants to save that shit in there..."

Despite the fact that Bella had given Rose and Emmett the house she grew up in and that they'd been living in it for close to five years, the tree house would always be referred to as Bella's. Hell, even Caleb said he loved Aunt Bella's tree house, and it truly belonged to him.

"Yeah, sure. No problem," I agreed with a nod. "I'll come over next weekend. We'll put the game on."

Fuck, it felt so strange being back home, making plans for the normal shit we always did – football games, home improvement projects, the kids, and I was sure grilling would be a part of that shit, as well. It usually was. But it always took me a few days to wind down from a case like this.

The guys made a few more trips back to the car and the chopper, and soon, my tools were back to where they belonged. Reaching into my mini-fridge, I passed them beers. Hanging out in my shed was as good a place as any to wait for the news to reach Obie's ears.

Jasper's gaze locked onto the couple as he took a long draw on his beer. "Looks like he knows," he muttered, shaking his head. "Body language is a fantastic way of eavesdropping."

Emmett chuckled, though his eyes drifted toward the house. "Yo, Eddie, does the baby girl know about her desk?"

I took a drink, nodding. "Yeah. Why?"

"She looks like she's huntin' you down," he snickered, stepping back a little so that Bethy could make her way inside my shop. He ruffled her hair, but she ducked out from under his hand with a giggle.

"What'cha doin', Daddy?" she chirped, and I couldn't help but set my beer down and put her on the closest workbench.

"Well, I was thinkin' about workin' on your desk, little sweetness," I told her, tucking her hair behind her ears. "Wanna help?"

"Yeah," she said with a grin.

"Think Mommy will be mad we're out here?" I asked her, raising an eyebrow up, because if anyone could sense trouble, it would be Bethy.

"No," she giggled. "She told me to come play wif you, 'cause she said that you had to get used to bein' home."

Chuckling, I kissed her forehead, because my girls were so fucking good to me. Maybe I did need decompressing time in my shop, and Bethy was the perfect chattering distraction. She'd definitely keep me from killing the guy currently raising his voice to Mickey.

I glanced up to see Jasper and Emmett starting to step toward them. "Hold it!" I growled, standing up straight. "Let them finish. I'm pretty sure this isn't easy on either of them."

I still didn't fucking understand Obie's opinion on not wanting children. Period. As I gazed down at the little clone of my wife and remembered just exactly how she came to be – yeah, we'd totally conceived her in my chopper as I proposed to Bella – I couldn't imagine not having her. She was the very best of me and her mother, as was Sammy. The two of them, along with Bella, were the absolute best part of my life and something so fucking good that it shocked me that I deserved it all.

"Just...give me a minute, Mick!" Obie snapped, walking away from her as he shook his head. He left her standing there as he made his way around my yard.

"Go check on her," I told Jasper and Emmett. "If she's upset, take her inside. I'll keep an eye out for him. Make sure he doesn't accidentally trip and break his neck." I muttered the last sentence, causing them to chuckle.

My ever sharp little girl eyeballed Obie and then looked back to me. "Mr. Obie's sad?"

I took a deep breath and let it out, walking over to the bookshelf that housed catalogs and how-to books. "Not sad, baby. Not really." I grabbed the book I wanted and handed it to her. "Pick out what kind of handles you want, Bethy."

She nodded, blindly opening the book. "Then what's wrong wif him? Everyone seems mad."

I smirked at her, trying my best to figure out how to explain something so grown up to a five-year-old without overwhelming her. I also never wanted her opinion on Obie to change, because she loved learning about the animals on Aunt Kate's farm from him. But how did one tell a child that some adults just didn't want kids? It didn't necessarily mean they didn't like kids, but she could take it to mean it that way.

"We're not mad, baby," I said, turning to pick up the desk's top and laying it across the sawhorses. "You know how you feel when someone messes with Sammy? Hurts his feelings or makes him cry?"

"Angry," she stated.

"Protective," I corrected. "You don't want him hurt, because you love him. That's why everyone is acting funny. Your Aunt Mickey and Obie... Well, they had an argument, and they need to work it out. We're not mad at him, but we don't want Mickey hurt. Does that make sense?"

"But what if Mr. Obie's hurt, too, Daddy?" she asked, tilting her head as she watched me sort through different types of sandpaper. "Dat's not fair, either. When you and Mommy yell, you both get sad."

I sighed, locking gazes with eyes that matched my own – bright green and curious. "You're very wise, little sweetness. You're also probably right." Bracing my hands on either side of her legs, I growled dramatically, "How'd you get to be so smart?"

"Mommy and Aunt Awice," she giggled, grabbing my face and squishing my cheeks.

I laughed, pressing a kiss to each palm. "That's probably true, too," I murmured, standing up straight and pointing to the book in her lap. "Pick," I ordered, taking off my shirt, because Bella hated it when I ruined them. It left me in a wife-beater undershirt, but those weren't as big of a fucking deal as my button downs.

Giggling, she looked down at the book, flipping through pages. Her little legs swung in time with whatever soft song she was humming to herself. Her color of the day was yellow, and somehow, it seemed fitting for her at the moment. She was all things happy and bright, sweet and innocent, but so very smart. Her tiny yellow Chucks were a blur with every kick of her feet.

God, I could sometimes squeeze her to death. And the same went for Sammy. With every little spark of their independence or their own personal opinions, I could just about explode with pride and fear and love. They were by far the best thing I'd ever had a part in. And that was tied with marrying Bella.

Using long, firm strokes, I started sanding the top of the desk. The top needed to be extremely smooth in order for the stain to take. Glancing up to see that Bethy was still right where I'd left her, I continued to sand off the last of the rough edges. I reached for my beer and the rag next to her.

"Did you find anything?" I asked her.

"Yeah. I like these," she said, pointing to a picture of a simple screw on knob with painted flowers on them. They were perfect for her for the age she was now, and keeping them that simple made it easier to change them in the future if she ever wanted something different.

I smiled, kissed her forehead, and said, "Those, it is."

"Hey, Daddy," she said, holding up the book. "Will my desk have this?"

"It can," I mused, scratching my jaw and mentally calculating adding the hutch on top. "You want the shelves and that cork stuff?"

She grinned and nodded, so I apparently, had my answer.

"It'll take longer to finish it," I warned her, because she'd been excited about this thing before we left. She was well aware that once it was done, Alice would finally build Bethy her own computer – something simple, easy to deal with.

"That's okay," she sang, reaching for me. "Can I have it? I can put pictures on it and my books."

"Sure, little sweetness," I sighed dramatically, catching her when she jumped for me with a cheer.

"You're the bestest daddy in the whole world," she sang, kissing my cheek.

I couldn't lie if I tried. That shit never got old. I was well aware that there was only a small window between the time my kids were born to the time they'd start to think I'm an old fucktard. The hopeful side of me wanted them to always think I was their hero, that I fought bad guys and found little hermit crabs on the beach just for them. But the reality was that eventually, my kids would be smarter than me, so for the time being, I wanted every superhero moment I could get my hands on.

"You're just saying that to get out of work," I growled against her neck.

"No, I'm not!" she argued with a giggle. "What's next?"

For the next few minutes, I showed her how to wipe the sawdust off of what I'd just sanded. I set her up on a crate, guided her hands and the rag with the grain so that most of the loose shit would wipe off. Before it was stained, I'd vacuum it to get the rest of it off.

Next, I set her up on the workbench again to help me put together the guides for the drawers. I knew we weren't alone, so when I reached for my next beer, I grabbed two. Obie sure as hell looked like he could fucking use one.

I gestured to the closest chair. "Feel free to hang out. I'm sure the house is...volatile."

He groaned, rolling his eyes, but he stayed quiet as he sank down onto the closest stool.

"Hi, Mr. Obie!" Bethy sang, using two pieces of small wood like drumsticks on her legs. "How's Goliaff and Samson and Maia? Do dey miss me?"

"Yeah," he snickered at her. "Goliath and Samson miss you."

I looked up when he didn't mention Maia, the Husky that my daughter loved so much.

"Mommy says we're suh-posed to go up 'dere for Thanksgiving. Do you think I could ride in the snow?" she asked, tilting her head at him.

"Sure, little one. Samson loves the snow," he sighed, taking a long draw on his beer. "You missed shearing this year, though," he chuckled, glancing up at her.

"I don't like shear-wing," she huffed, her little brow furrowing. "It makes the sheep naked."

Laughs escaped both Obie and me, because that thought was hilarious, but Obie explained it to her.

"We have to shear them, Bethy," he chuckled. "It's like a haircut. If it gets too long, the sheep are uncomfortable in the summer."

"Oh," she said, and then let him be, helping me hold the guides so that I could screw them in.

Obie nursed his beer as Bethy babbled away about nothing in particular. The topics were a wide variety – school, which she was going back to as of Monday, her friend with the stutter, and of course, Kyra playing a cartoon princess. All three very important subjects for her.

As I started to put shit away, tiny fingers stopped me, tracing the ink on my upper arm.

"Tell me again, Daddy," she commanded, but it was in a whisper.

"That's the Cullen crest. You know that," I chuckled. "It's a symbol of Poppy's Irish heritage – um, background."

"I know, but I like Mommy's version better," she giggled, her fingers and eyes still on the dark ink. "Why'd you get it?"

"Oh, that's what you're asking," I chuckled. "I got this for Mommy." I tapped my bicep with one finger. "Let's see... How do I put this? I got this to remind myself that I'm not alone since I met Mommy. That no matter how I mess up, you and Sammy and Mommy always come first."

"Always?" she asked, blinking up at me.

"Always," I stated firmly.

"You don't mess up, Daddy," she sighed, rolling her eyes, like that was dumbest thing she'd ever heard.

"I love you...but oh, yes, I do," I laughed, kissing her sweetly puckered lips. "Just ask Mommy how I've messed up."

"Love you, too," she sang, hopping down from the workbench, "and I'm gonna go ask her right now!"

I snorted, shaking my head, and put the rest of my tools away, pausing just long enough to cover Bethy's desk. By the time I was ready to pull the door down, Obie was throwing away his beer.

"Another?" I asked, and he nodded, so I grabbed us each one.

As I handed his over, he breathed, "I'm going to be a father." He looked up at me with a scared shitless expression plastered over his face. "I can't... I don't know how to..." He gestured inside the woodshed, trying to suggest that he couldn't do what I did with Bethy.

I pointed to the closest chair and took a seat across from him. Taking a long, slow drink of my beer, I tried to figure out the best way to help him, though I truly wasn't sure if my way was better or worse than anyone else's way. I was a different father than my own – not that he was bad, just different.

"Who do you see when you look at Bethy?" I asked, because it was absolutely obvious who my baby girl resembled the most.

"Bella," he said, looking curiously up at me.

"Exactly. I see my wife in every smile, laugh, and tear that little girl has." I sighed, sitting forward and resting my elbows on my knees. "I see her in Sammy, too, but Bella would tell you she sees me in them."

"I won't know what I'm doing. I'll be the worst father..."

I studied his face, frowning at the fear that I could hear in his voice. "Bethy was...unexpected. Did you know?" I asked him, and he shook his head no. "We weren't exactly prepared for her, but I don't regret her. At all. She's tangible proof of mine and Bella's relationship. So is Sammy, but by the time he came along, we wanted him, and it was easier to prepare ourselves for him."

I took another drink, looking up at him again. He was staring off out into the darkening sky.

"Do you love Mickey?" I asked him, not only because I needed to know the answer to protect my friend, but because his answer would give me something with which to work.

"God, yes," he breathed, his head spinning back to face me. "More than anything. I've been worthless these last few months."

I nodded, looking down at my shoes and then back up at him. "Then you'll love that baby more. Trust me. It's a different love, but it's strong. And you'll understand what I mean the first time you see him...or her. You'll know that it's no longer about you. It won't matter that your own past was shitty, because you'll do anything to make sure their's isn't.

"You will fuck up. Trust me on that," I chuckled, shaking my head. "You'll use the wrong soap, the wrong diapers, the wrong...whatever. The bottle will be too hot or not hot enough...or you'll forget their lunch for school. You'll pick the wrong toy, the wrong book, the wrong dress..."

"Dress?" he laughed, his brow wrinkling in curiosity.

"Preschool pictures," I chuckled with a nod. "Bella wanted Bethy in one dress, but I put her in a different one, because she wasn't there that morning to remind me. I was in trouble for days. And again when the pictures came out."

Obie laughed, shaking his head, but he sobered quickly. "Mickey says she's not coming back to Alaska."

My eyebrows shot up. "Ever?"

He shook his head no slowly, and I could see pain and nerves. "She wants to move here permanently. She wants me here, too. That is, if..."

"If you can accept being the father," I finished for him, and he nodded again.

I stood up, throwing my unfinished beer into the trash. "I can't tell you what to do. Only you know what you can and can't handle. However, I know Mickey really well. She has no blood relatives, and despite how much she loves Aunt Kate, she knows that we are the closest thing she's got to a real family. She's staying here because she knows we'll help her. If you stay with her then we'll help you, too."

"I don't know anything but Alaska," he countered, grimacing with that admission as he stood up from his chair.

"And that's a decision only you can make," I told him, shrugging a shoulder before pulling the woodshed door down and locking it. "Look, Obie... I'm going to tell you the same thing my dad told me. The woman has all the power. Period. They make the good shit good and the bad shit not so bad. Mickey won't let you screw up. Bella doesn't let me. Those are two very strong, very smart women, and for some fucking reason, they want us around. And I'm telling you, if my wife wanted to move to Mars, I'd sit right next to her on the ship there. Got me?"

"Yeah."

I turned to face him, taking a deep breath and letting it out. "My suggestion... Go with Mick to her doctor's appointment. I think it'll change your opinion. Your fear right now is in your head. Just you wait until you hear that first heartbeat..."

"You think?"

"Couldn't hurt, right?" I countered, guiding him back toward the house. Just before we got there, I stopped him. "Don't hurt her, Obie. I'm not fucking kidding. If you can't do it, then go back to Alaska, but if you commit, then really fucking commit. Don't let her depend on you, don't make promises, and then turn tail and run. The pregnancy and the first year are hard enough as it is on the mother. Don't add personal bullshit to it."

"Okay," he breathed, paling at most likely the serious look on my face.

"She's like a sister to me and those people inside the house," I said, gesturing toward my own front door. "If you hurt her and the child, I won't stop those guys from coming after you. Hell, I might even fly them to you." I raised an eyebrow up at him, and he nodded fervently. "And trust me, the girls are deadlier than Jasper and Emmett."

He smiled, though it was shaky and nervous. "Yeah, I'm sure."

"Just...think about it," I told him, starting toward the house again. "Oh, and why didn't you answer Bethy about Maia?"

Obie grimaced again. "Oh, no. I'm out of this one. Let Aunt Kate tell you."

We stepped up onto the porch, and I tugged open the door. What I saw made me groan and shake my head. I was going to kill Aunt Kate, especially when my daughter came running up to me, a bundle of fur in her arms.

"Wook, Daddy! Aunt Kate brought Sammy and me a pwesent! Can we keep 'dem?" she asked.

"Them?" I verified, gazing down at the little gray and white Husky puppy that seemed to think Bethy's face was a lollipop. "As in more than one?"

Bella laughed, and I glanced over to the sofa to see her holding another puppy that was almost black. She was bottle feeding the little guy, and I frowned, because they were way too young to be away from their mother.

"I told you he'd freak." She patted the spot beside her. "Come sit, baby. I need to tell you something."

~oOo~

BELLA

"I'll start dinner," Esme suggested, scooping Sammy up out of his Poppy's arms. "Boys, would you start a fire outside and set up the table?"

Everyone cleared out the room, leaving me, my husband, and the hungry little guy in my arms. Edward sat down beside me, his face impassive as he looked down at the puppy. I'd asked them to give the two of us time to talk it over, and I had told Bethy I couldn't promise her anything until I talked with her daddy about it. This was a huge decision, but it was also a sad little story.

"Bella..."

"Wait," I giggled, shaking my head. "If you say no, then it's no, but you should hear why Aunt Kate brought them." I sighed, gazing up at my Edward. "Maia died, sweetie. She was protecting her litter from a wolf pack, and they ganged up on her. By the time Obie and Tom got out there with shotguns, it was too late to save her and some of the pups. There were only three left...these two and one that Tom is keeping."

"Yeah, but...two?" he asked, and I smiled when I watched him unable to not pet the little guy. Long, gentle fingers traced up the puppy's nose as he suckled from the bottle. "Does Bethy know?" he asked softly.

"Yes." I nodded when he locked eyes with me, his expression sad for her, because our daughter had loved Maia just about as much as Edward had loved her mother, Kia. "Aunt Kate told her the story, but it was easier to take when the puppies were in the room."

"Bella, I don't know," he sighed, sitting back into the sofa. "Two is a lot of work."

"I know, and if the answer is no, Aunt Kate said we could sell them, but they've got to be weaned first," I explained, shrugging a shoulder.

"Oh, now, you can't do that, either," he whined, sounding more like Bethy by the minute, "because if we keep them long enough to wean them, the kids won't want to give them up! That's cruel, Bella. To them and the pups."

I giggled, because he was right. "Aunt Kate also said you owed her one, Edward Anthony. That you've been promising to take a pup for years, and you never have. She said two is payback with interest."

Edward grinned, and it was that All-American, panty-dropping, youthful smile. "Yeah, and that started way before you, sweetness," he sighed, his head falling back to the couch as he groaned. He looked back up at me. "By the way that you're feeding this guy, I'm guessing you're okay with it."

I shrugged, setting the now empty bottle aside. "We have the room, Edward, and we've been promising the kids pets for awhile. So we skip the hermit craps and dive straight into dogs. Besides, baby...look at this face," I cooed, holding up the puppy so that his little nose was practically touching Edward's.

"Don't," he ordered, fighting his smile and pointing a finger at me. "That's not fair. I can't make a rational decision based on cuteness..."

Giggling, I leaned over to kiss his cheek. "Fine, then, just think about it."

"Aw, fuck," he groaned, shaking his head. "If I say no, then I shatter Bethy's heart. If I say yes, then we're up at two o'clock in the morning for feedings again...and then there's house training, fur everywhere, vet visits..." He stopped himself, letting out a deep breath. "Aunt Kate!" he called, and the woman appeared out of the kitchen, wearing a smug as hell smile. He pointed to her. "This was low, even for you."

"Oh, hush, child," she laughed. "It's time for you to give these kids a pet. You had your first puppy when you were four..."

"Pete," they said together.

I shook my head at the name, but said nothing as I ran my hand flat over the puppy's head.

It seemed Edward thought about it forever, but in reality, it was only a few minutes. He took a deep breath, let it out, and then called, "Bethy, Sammy, come in here."

Both kids ran into the room, the gray puppy right on my daughter's heels. It seemed they'd already bonded. Edward saw it, too, and shook his head slowly, snorting softly at the sight. Bethy walked to her dad, and he bent down to scoop up the other puppy. Sammy walked to me, his little hand lightly touching the fur of the one in my lap. Both kids gazed up at him, waiting for what he'd say.

"So," he sighed, running a hand through gray fur and then glancing at his kids. "I guess we're not getting hermit crabs..." he said sadly, smirking at his daughter's fidgeting. "You'll be too busy with puppies..."

The squeal that Bethy let out was loud and happy, laced with a giggle as she jumped up and down.

Edward's laugh was soft, but he looked over at me. "Are they both males?" he asked, and I nodded. He turned to the kids, mainly Bethy, because she understood more of what was going on. Sammy just stayed quiet. "Well, they need names, don't you think?"

"Yup!" she chirped, nodding vehemently. "But I don't want Smiff and Wesson."

I laughed, burying it in the top of Sammy's head. "What'cha thinking, pretty girl?" I asked, still giggling, but it was Caleb that bounded into the room with the answer.

"Lock and Load, dude!" he yelled, looking just like Emmett, which only drew loud laughter from the kitchen.

"Lock," Bethy reiterated with a smile and a nod, pointing to the gray puppy and then to the black one, "and Load."

Edward cracked the fuck up, and I joined him, because it something I was sure they'd all heard their dads say more than once. He handed her the gray pup, still chuckling.

He looked over at his son, who was just quietly observing the whole thing, and then over to me. "Okay...Lock and Load, it is."

~oOo~

The car was eerily quiet after dropping Sammy off at Mrs. Cope's and Bethy off at school. It was their first day back since we'd left for the safe house, and Bethy wanted both her parents to go. However, they weren't the only ones that required mine and Edward's attention today. Mickey and Obie sat silently in the back seat as Edward drove toward Seattle.

We were on our way to Mickey's doctor's appointment. I was going just in case Obie couldn't handle it; Edward was going to keep the peace between them. Things were still tense, because Obie hadn't made a decision yet, though while Aunt Kate stayed at Carlisle and Esme's home in Forks, he'd gone back with Mickey to her apartment. I was guessing that they were trying to work stuff out.

If I were playing devil's advocate, I'd say that I didn't blame Mickey, because any decision Obie made at this point could be based on the emotions of being without her for a few months. They'd been miserable without each other; that much was obvious.

In Obie's defense... Well, poor Obie was just scared. Everything was changing, and he either had to accept it or get the hell out of the way. He was used to being quiet, in the background, and he shied away from everything up at Aunt Kate's. He'd had a rough childhood, having been tossed aside by both of his parents, but he couldn't shy away from this, nor could he stay in the background. If he chose to be with Mickey, he had no alternative but to be a father, and Mickey was determined to stay in Forks, so he also had to move away from everything he'd ever known.

I let out a slow breath, and a warm hand met my thigh, giving it a squeeze. We were both nervous for them, because this one doctor's visit could change everything. For Mickey, she'd get to see her baby a little bigger than the last time. For Obie, he'd see proof that this situation was indeed real. There was no going back for either of them.

Linking my fingers with Edward's, I squeezed back. I was a lucky, lucky woman. Edward dove into fatherhood without even blinking. And he was an absolute dream daddy to his kids. He gave them time, love, his ear, and his knowledge. There wasn't much they asked for that he wouldn't give them.

Edward pulled into the parking lot and shut off the engine, holding out his hand.

"I didn't bring a gun, Edward," I sighed, rolling my eyes. "If I have to kill Mindy, it'll be with my bare hands."

Edward laughed, and Mickey joined him.

"Is that the bitch from school, pretty boy?" she asked, opening her door.

"Yes," I laughed, getting out at the same time. "She's regretting being mean..."

The crew was well aware of Edward's old stutter by now, because they watched Bethy struggle with it. Not one of them teased him about it. They knew him, knew about his mother's death, so they wouldn't dare rag on him for it, especially considering they'd never heard him do it. Only the kids and I had heard that sweet stutter of his.

So when the girls heard the story of Mindy from Forks Middle School and High School, how she'd teased him due to his stutter, his smaller stature, and his shyness, only to change her mind once he'd filled out, outgrown his speech impediment, and become a little more outgoing, they wanted their hands around the stupid woman's throat just as badly as I did.

"Well, shit," Mickey chuckled, grinning up at Edward. "I sure hope she still works here, because I totally need to take my frustration out on somebody. Come on, Bells, let's see if she still has a staring problem."

Edward groaned, rolling his eyes and shaking his head as he held the door for us. Mickey and Obie walked up to the desk, and Edward sat in a chair, pulling me down next to him.

"Behave, sweetness," he warned low and sexy in my ear. "I don't need protecting, nor is Mindy worth your time." His palm rubbed my thigh slowly, eventually giving my knee a tickling squeeze.

Laughing, I fought his fingers. "Okay, okay, okay," I chanted through breathless giggles.

His low, sensual chuckle gave me goosebumps as he gave my neck a long, slow, open mouthed kiss. He pulled back a bit, glancing around the waiting room. "This place brings back memories," he whispered, kissing my lips lightly.

"Yeah, of hormones, anger, and just...fat..." I laughed, rolling my eyes when he scoffed.

"You were fucking gorgeous pregnant, baby," he stated, waving me off.

"So you told me...repeatedly," I muttered, smiling when Mickey and Obie were indeed greeted by the one and only Mindy. "Well, look who it is..." I sang, just to tease him, snickering when his gaze shot up to the front desk.

When his eyes landed back on me, they were fierce, dark. "You know, she'll never speak to me," he said softly, wearing a smirk that was as sexy as it was smug. "Never."

"Why's that?" I asked, thinking that she could certainly stare.

"I told you what she did when I first moved to Forks, Bella, but I didn't tell you what I did just before Dad sent me to military school," he chuckled, raising his eyebrow up one time as he glided his tongue along his bottom lip. "I told you that I played baseball and started hanging out with the wrong crowd."

"Right," I said, dragging the word out. "You got caught smoking weed..."

"Yes, but just before that is when Mindy changed her mind about me, started flirting instead of making fun. My stutter was gone, and I'd hit a growth spurt at sixteen."

"Mmm, I bet you were cute as hell," I purred, grinning at his scoff and eye roll.

"I was also with Dana at the time," he added, raising an eyebrow up at me.

"Ah, yes, the only long term girlfriend, besides myself, and the girl who was willing to do long distance for you overseas, because she'd already done the long distance thing from Forks to your military school," I sighed dramatically, feigning jealousy.

"Yes, smart ass," he growled, rolling his eyes, and I couldn't help but snicker at him. We knew each other so fucking well.

"And?" I prompted with a laugh, but we both glanced up when Mickey was called back, both of us willing to go with her, but Obie quietly took his place at her side and they disappeared behind the door. "And?" I laughed, glancing back at Edward and nudging his shoulder with my finger.

"And...I sort of set her up," he chuckled, shaking his head. "See, Dana wasn't happy that Mindy was suddenly flirting with me..."

"Can't say that I blame Dana," I huffed haughtily, giggling when he kissed me quickly.

"Hush, sweetness," he snickered. "Mindy may have stopped picking on me, but she hadn't stopped picking on...others." He raised up his eyebrow again. "There was a kid in the Audio/Video department that had a crush on Dana, so we asked him for a favor. We also knew the kids Mindy picked on – some more than others – and one of them just happened to be the A/V kid's friend. That was the same girl that helped me out in biology."

"Oh, hell, you broadcast that shit all over the school, didn't you?" I laughed, covering my mouth, because that was some evil, but very funny shit.

"Yes, ma'am," he chuckled, nodding slowly. "I warned Margaret that it would happen. She was a mousy little thing, but she was smart as shit in science. I liked her, didn't want to see her fucked with anymore, but I also needed Mindy off of my ass, because...well..."

"Your girlfriend didn't like it," I finished for him. "I said I didn't blame her, Edward."

He grinned, stating, "So Margaret baited her one day...getting her to start threatening her, picking on her. It was broadcast all the way from the gym to the principal's office. Mindy was humiliated in front of the whole school, especially when I made sure to walk by."

"Oh stop it!" I gasped, my gaze flickering from my husband to the woman that was back behind the desk. "She did not 'Hey, Edward' you did she?" I asked, knowing how girls like that sounded, all sing-songy and pathetic.

"Yup," he laughed, "and it was all over the school. She never spoke to me again, because she was suspended for bullying that very day. After that, no one let her live it down – especially the baseball team."

I laughed, my head falling back to the wall behind me with a soft thump. "Okay," I snickered. "She may live, then. She's had enough Edward-drama to last a lifetime."

Edward barked out a laugh, but kissed me sweetly. "Truly," he purred, pressing his forehead to mine. "In fact, I'm not sure why you put up with it..."

I giggled, biting my bottom lip. "Ask me that again when we're home alone, Edward, because I'm not listing all of your...assets in public."

"Hmm," he mused, narrowing his eyes at me. "Don't tease, baby."

"So not teasing," I chuckled, shoving him back when Mickey and Obie appeared back into the waiting room. "Well, how'd it go?" I asked, my question mainly directed at Obie, because he was pale as a fucking ghost.

"I'm right on target, the doc said," Mickey stated, holding up the sonogram picture, and I couldn't help but coo at it, because she was far enough along that fingers, toes, and a little face could be seen in almost perfect clarity. "She said that all my vitals were strong and that I'm exactly where I should be. She also thinks that I'm closer to three months along."

"That's good news, wild child," Edward praised, draping an arm around her in order to look at the picture. "Maybe next month, you'll be able to find out whether it's a boy or a girl."

"I hope it's a girl," Obie finally spoke, though it was barely above a whisper. He grinned sheepishly up at all of us when we looked over at him. "I could see her heart! Hear it beating!"

Edward chuckled, slapping his shoulder. "Told you, man. Makes it real, right?"

Mickey rolled her eyes, folding her arms across her chest, and glared over at Obie. "Well?" she asked him.

The shy thing that he was, he dropped his gaze to the floor. "I guess I'm moving to Forks," he said softly, meeting her gaze. "If you'll still take me..."

Edward rolled his eyes and took my hand, leaving them behind for just a moment. He kissed the side of my head, chuckling a bit. "Yeah, sweetness, you're right. They are more stubborn than we are."

~oOo~

"Wait, if you're s-so c-clumsy…Why do you have a fort in a tree?" Edward asked with a chuckle as we climbed up the ladder.

I laughed. "Don't think I haven't fallen out of this thing. It was here when we moved in. I've only just in the last year proven I can climb those steps."

The memory of first meeting Edward when I was twelve made me smile as I sat up in my old tree house. We were all over at Rose and Emmett's, trying to repair the thing before winter truly rolled in. Due to the rain, some small leaks here and there, and Caleb not really using it, my old fort had fallen into disrepair, so Emmett had asked the guys to come over and fix it up. Caleb had also asked me to take down all the "girly stuff" that I'd left in there, because he was now big enough to use it, according to his mother.

So that was what I was doing – packing up some of my old stuff for Bethy to have, throwing away some things that had been ruined, and stripping away all remnants that a girl had once used that tree house.

Reaching up, I took the yellow curtains down, knowing they'd most likely be replaced with camo or blue, and I gazed out over my old backyard. My kids, Caleb, and Abby were all running around, two chubby, fluffy puppies right at their heels.

It had been three weeks since we'd finished the case, only to come home to find Aunt Kate there with the dogs. Lock and Load were doing just fine. In fact, they were just about weaned, and house training was getting there, though it seemed to be a slow and frustrating process. Their little ears were starting to stand upright, and they looked like small wolf cubs. It was official; they were a permanent part of the family.

Lock was obviously Bethy's dog, having the same happy, hyper personality as hers. Load was exactly that – a load – all chubby and slow, but so very sweet, and he was wherever my son was. He was the laid back, sleep all day, easygoing one of the two pups. Load never cared if Sammy pulled too hard or used him as a pillow; he was just content to be. However, when the kids were at school, Lock and Load were at Edward's heels just about all damn day. At first, he'd never mentioned it, but as the days turned into weeks, he actually called for them if he was going outside.

Screams of girly disgust echoed up from the back porch, and I laughed softly to myself as Caleb thought it would be hilarious to throw pumpkin goo at Abby and Bethy. Rose, Sarah, and Alice were helping them carve Jack O'Lanterns and finish up decorating for Halloween. Trick-or-Treating was tomorrow night. Costumes needed one last check, so Makenna was working on those. Caleb insisted on being Batman, Abby was going as Tinkerbell, Bethy was a princess, and Sammy was "'Piderman."

"Caleb Edward McCarty!" Rose hollered. "Cut it out! That's just nasty." She then turned to Mickey, who was chuckling and rubbing her just now starting to show bump. "See? That's what you have to look forward to..."

Giggling, I got back to work. Edward, Jasper, and Emmett had gone to the hardware store for new roof tiles, and they would be back any minute, leaving Alec to start grilling and to keep an eye on the game. I was supposed have finished before they got started, because it would be loud inside that tree house once they started pounding on it. Carlisle and Esme were also due at any moment, having taken Obie and Aunt Kate back to the airport.

Obie... I sighed, shaking my head. He'd become obsessed with Mickey's pregnancy, determined to make shit right. He and Aunt Kate had stayed as long as they could, but they'd needed to get back to the farm. Aunt Kate was going before the weather became too bad to fly in, and Obie was going home to pack; he was officially moving in with Mickey. Edward had offered to fly up there when he was ready, load up the chopper, and move him back, because he didn't have a lot of stuff to begin with.

Mickey was also due for another doctor's appointment. We were all hoping that this time, even though it would only be her four month checkup, she'd find out what she was having. The bets had already been placed. My girls and I were hoping for another girl, just simply because it was a gender thing, and Edward was with us. He couldn't wait to tease Mickey about having to go pink and lacy and girly. The rest of the guys, however, were looking for a boy. I think they were just trying to even shit up. With Abby, Bethy, and now Benny's little girl, Hannah, that made for three girls among us. They wanted to make shit fair by giving Caleb and Sammy another guy to hang with.

Dropping another bag of garbage down to the lawn below, I went back to packing up some of my old books. They'd been raided by all of us throughout the years, but most still remained on their shelves, all dusty and lonely. I packed up old CDs and threw away my old posters, except for the one of Alcatraz, which I carefully pulled down and rolled up, never mind that it was a little faded.

~o~

I turned on the stereo, and we sat down. Edward looked around at all my posters, quietly absorbing my private world.

"I want to travel," I whispered, feeling a little exposed now that he was up there. "Those are places I'd like to see."

"New York…London…Paris…Italy…" he muttered, and I noticed when he was calm, comfortable, the stutter evaporated. "I've been there," he said, pointing to the poster behind me. "San Francisco."

"I want to see Alcatraz," I gushed, smiling at his laugh.

"It's cool. Kinda c-creepy."

~o~

Dear God, Edward had been so fucking cute back then, though if I thought about it, he wasn't much different now – sweet, funny, quiet, polite. He'd grown up to be a hardened soldier, but deep down, he would always be the beautiful, stuttering boy in that tree house to me. The boy that had told me he wanted to fly helicopters in the Air Force, and the very same boy that had listened as I'd chattered on and on about being an FBI agent so I could catch bad guys.

I pulled the last book down, and with it came a fluttering piece of paper. Thinking it was an old note from Rose from when we were in school, I opened it up, only to gasp.

~o~

"Kids, where are you?"

"Up here, Dad," I called out, giving Edward an eye roll. "He knows where I disappear to," I muttered. "It's not a state secret…"

"Right," he chuckled, setting his magazine down. "Got a pen?"

I nodded and handed him one.

"My email and cell number…I'll send you pics of Alcatraz," he told me, handing me a slip of paper before scooting towards the door. He stopped, turning toward me. "Thanks for not laughing…most p-people d-do."

"Thanks for helping me up."

"I knocked you d-down to b-begin with!" he laughed, opening the hatch leading to the ladder. "It's only fair, B-Bella."

~o~

"Sweetness?" Edward called, climbing up into the now almost empty fort. "We're back. You almost done, love?" he asked, sitting down in front of me, and the dèja vu was almost overwhelming. "What's wrong?"

I just shook my head, handing over the scrap of paper that had stayed pristine between two of my books. His script was just about the same, though now it was a little more fluid, not so boyish, like when he was thirteen. On it was his name, phone number, and email address.

"No shit?" he chuckled, gazing down at the paper and then back up at me. "Wh-Where th-the h-hell w-was th-this?" he asked with a happy grin, but the fact that his stutter returned with that little slip of paper just about made me kiss him stupid right there. I wasn't so sure I would be able to stop myself if he did it again.

"Between The Secret Garden and The Wind in the Willows. I think I was hiding it from Charlie," I giggled, shrugging a shoulder. "I don't know why. He knew we kept in touch for a little bit. For God's sake, the whole house knew when I got an email from you..."

Edward laughed, his cheeks tinging a little pink. "Damn, I never would've guessed that you still had this," he sighed, gazing up at me, his eyes evergreen, happy, and so very loving.

"I didn't think I did," I chuckled, giving the empty bookshelf one last look before closing up the last box. "Don't you dare fucking lose it, Mr. Cullen. That's getting framed or something."

Edward leaned to the side a bit, pulling out his wallet, and he tucked the little slip of paper carefully inside, only to put it right back. "Okay?" he asked, highly amused at the whole thing.

"Yeah," I snickered, rolling my eyes. We were so fucking stupid about our simple one-time meeting, but I wasn't sure it could be helped. And I also wasn't sure it didn't come later on, after we'd discovered just how much our mothers wanted us to know each other from the time they'd been pregnant with us.

I tugged down the last curtain, throwing the old faded fabric into the bag I had for garbage. Edward dropped it down below for me and then pointed to the two small boxes.

"Books," I said softly. "Some Bethy will be able to read soon."

Edward gave another solemn, but studying gaze around the fort, reaching out to drag a thumb across one of the window sills, because it needed to be replaced. The wood was warped, and the paint was cracking.

He huffed a small, soft laugh through his nose, shaking his head slowly as he looked around again. "I-It d-doesn't s-seem r-right...a-all e-empty a-and sh-shit..."

That was all I could take. Sitting up on my knees, I reached for either side of his face. Edward didn't even hesitate, but reached for me, too, threading one hand into my hair and the other grasping at my waist to pull me to his lap. It felt desperate, but comfortable, that kiss. It was deep, filling the little empty room with soft moans, heavy breaths, and wet sounds of lips and tongues.

Edward kissed me so thoroughly, so deeply, that it brought tears to my eyes. Gripping the back of my sweater in a strong fist, he pulled me closer, while the his thumb caressed the soft spot of skin just behind my ear as his fingers massaged my scalp. We swept top lips across bottom lips, tasting, teasing, smiling into it all.

Grasping my head on either side, he pulled back just a bit, only to kiss my forehead, my nose, and then my lips again. I leaned in, nuzzling his nose with my own, up one side and down the other.

"Mm, I so wanted to do that the first time I met you," I giggled, kissing him again when he chuckled softly.

"We were twelve and thirteen, Bella," he snorted, but bit his bottom lip as he gazed lovingly up at me. "I can't imagine it would have been all that good."

"Don't care," I sighed, cupping his face and rubbing his stubble with my fingertips. "You were so fucking cute, Edward. You have no idea... Any kiss would have been worth it."

Grinning, he tilted his head a little. "Yeah," he said softly and slowly, looking just like Sammy as his crookedly shy grin quirked up his face. He sighed contentedly, whispering, "Love you, sweetness."

"Love you, too, Edward," I snickered, unable to stop myself from pressing my lips to his again.

"Everyone's here, baby," he said softly, tucking my hair behind my ear. "They want to eat, and then at halftime, we'll fix the roof on this thing."

"Okay," I said with a nod, both of us looking down the hatch when we were summoned.

"Mommy, Daddy...come see my punkin," Bethy gushed, ignoring a bouncing Lock at her feet.

"Just a second, little sweetness," Edward told her. "I've got to help Mommy with these boxes."

"Up, Mommy!" Sammy commanded, holding up his arms and grinning.

"We're coming down, handsome," I chuckled.

"'Kay, hurrwy," he ordered.

Suddenly, our little trip down memory lane was gone. Poof. But that was okay, because that interruption was the result of all our history. And they were beautiful and perfect and smart.

Edward and I looked back to each other and smiled, but he lifted me off of his lap. Climbing down, he reached for the boxes and set them on the grass, only to take me by the waist when I was about halfway down the ladder. He stayed wrapped around me from behind, but didn't say a word.

After one last glance at my old tree house, I sighed and kissed Edward's jaw. "I think when you guys get started, I'm gonna run to the store."

"What for?" he asked, grabbing up the boxes at the same time I scooped up our son and took Bethy's hand.

I giggled and shook my head, kissing Sammy's temple and swinging Bethy's arm between us. Glancing up at Edward, who looked like he already knew why I'd all of a sudden need the store, I laughed, shrugged a shoulder, and said, "I suddenly have a craving for Aunt Jane's apple pie."
Friday, February 15, 2002 | By: Drotuno

Smoke and Mirrors Chapter 24

CHAPTER 24

EDWARD

Pressing a long, slow kiss to the back of Bella's sleeping head, I slipped out of bed. She was so fucking beautiful as she rolled over and curled herself around my pillow. Long, dark eyelashes rested on smooth, creamy cheeks. Pink lips pouted, as if she knew I was no longer there. It made me smile, but I wasn't waking her for anything, no matter how badly I wanted her. She'd fallen asleep in the chopper on the way home and had barely stirred when I tucked her in bed. It was as if her whole body had relaxed because the case was done, because there was one less evil, sadistic asshole out there on the streets, and she could finally rest easy.

However, I also wasn't going to deny Bethy or Sammy the pure joy of waking her up, either, because I'd be willing to bet one of them did. They'd been in bed when we got home and slept through mine, Kurt's, and Jordan's fussy once-overs by Esme. I was pretty sure that had Bella been awake, she'd have moved the kids to our bed just to snuggle with them. Not that I didn't debate that myself.

I quickly got dressed in my basketball shorts and running sneakers, tugging my cap on backwards. I wanted to go for a run, and I was also sure that I had shit that needed to get done before Benny gave us the all clear to leave. Just before we'd left L.A. the night before, he'd told us laying low for at least another twenty-four to forty-eight hours wouldn't be such a bad idea. It would give the media a chance to cool down, the Feds long enough to close the case, and for Myles to set up protection around Jordan's home, because that was where he, Kyra, Gator, Cassie, and Christine wanted and agreed to hole up until Kyra had to really get back to work.

Since her album was finished, she said that the hard shit really had to start – talk shows, getting ready for a tour, promotional photo shoots, choreography. The list was long, and half of it didn't make a bit of fucking sense to me, but she was determined to fulfill her contracts.

The only one that hadn't returned with us was Makenna. She'd decided that since the threat was over, she'd stay with Wes. And I couldn't blame her one bit, because they'd been separated for what was getting close to three weeks.

As I stretched on the back deck, I shook my head at the events of the night before. From what we could all piece together, and from what Sid Williams had fessed up to while he was surrounded by federal officers, it had been a lucky night on Preston's part. Apparently, Sid had been let go from Solstice Music not even two days after we'd been there, per an email from my father back to Twi Tech. The little weasel had been so pissed off, he'd called the only person that could answer any questions for him – Preston.

Even though Sid was aware of the buyout, he didn't understand why Ike and Preston Raulson were so important to my father, nor did he believe what everyone was saying about the young man that used to work for him. So he'd called him. And Preston had totally used that shit to his advantage, because it wasn't long before Kyra called him and pretended to want him to come get her.

Sid Williams had squirreled away close to half a million dollars, thanks to his skimming at Solstice. He also had a fierce love for high-tech gadgets...and an extremely good memory. He remembered that the team of us that had shown up at his office were wired, that we'd communicated via our earpieces. He also was highly frightened of me, so that was where the stun gun came into play. Motherfucker thought he was James Bond or some shit.

The rest had been pretty simple to figure out. When Sid took out communications and the security feeds, Preston had removed Kurt at the one door that was easiest to approach. They'd parked the van earlier in the day, abandoning it. In fact, it had been that van that Preston had been living out of, so once Kyra had called him, he'd called Sid, and they had set their plan in motion from there. We figured that it had barely taken forty-five minutes to an hour for him to place himself where he needed to be. Hell, he was already in place while the rest of us were on the road or in the air.

When Preston took out Kurt, he had indeed knocked on the back door, because he'd known communications were already out. He'd lucked the fuck out when it was Jordan that was closest to the door and answered it. Preston had stunned him the very second the fans had bum-rushed the front doors, causing Jordan to hit his head on the corner of the stage. And those fucking fans, or haters, or what-the-fuck-ever... They had been paid to cause trouble by Sid Williams – a thousand bucks to start it and a thousand bucks when it was over. Needless to say, they were pissed, because all of them were arrested that night, and they would never see a dime.

According to Sid, Preston had really wanted Kyra. They had been planning to grab her and go, but when opportunity had presented itself, Preston had taken advantage again and had decided to take Jordan. And he was only going to take Jordan. However, I happened to look in on Kurt, concerned that I hadn't heard him check in. So again, Preston had lucked out. Fucker.

Not that any of that shit mattered, because everyone was safe. Preston was dead, thanks to Kyra, Gator, and Bella, who had all put bullets in that asshole. Sid Williams, however, was in a shitload of fucking trouble. Wes wasn't even sure exactly how many charges were against him at this point, because they weren't done investigating his greasy ass. So far, he was facing grand larceny, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, fraud, possession of illegal firearms, two counts of attempted murder, and whether or not he'd made the fucking bombs, he was most likely facing terrorist charges, because his goal had been to blow up Solstice Music.

But Preston's luck that night finally ran out. My girl was fucking fierce. Benny told me that she'd practically threatened his existence had he not let her come for me. And that thought had made me laugh, because they'd all come in at one time and from every fucking direction. Emmett said they'd taken that building "better than Bruce Willis in Die Hard."

I stopped running up the beach, bracing my hands on my knees as I chuckled and shook my head. I'd known they would come for us, but I hadn't thought it was going to be all at once. Jasper had wounded Sid, taking down the extra threat, Emmett had disabled two bombs, and they'd all burst into the room as Preston had my Glock pressed to my head.

What none of us had expected was Kyra's participation. According to Gator, she'd been listening in over the earpiece and had suddenly taken off upstairs from the front lobby. He said he'd had to chase her, but the second she'd hidden Bella's gun behind her back, he'd followed her lead. Esme had said it was some sort of closure for her, even though her bullet wasn't the fatal one.

I sighed, straightened up, and rubbed my face, because that was a fucking close call. All of it.

The tide was out, so my eyes met wet, packed sand, seashells, and a few wandering birds as I gazed around. The air was chilly, winter moving in slowly, and I made my way back up to the house, grabbing my t-shirt off of the deck rail and tugging it on. I wanted to start breakfast for everyone, sink myself back into normal, but when I arrived to the kitchen, it wasn't empty.

I grinned, leaning against the counter as I watched my son rifle through the cabinet, only to come out looking rather proud that he'd found what he was looking for. "Hey, pal, if you'll wait, I was gonna make pancakes," I told him.

"'Kay," Sammy sighed, looking all sorts of sleepy, hungry, and undeterred, because his hand sank into the Cheerios box without shame. His hair stuck up everywhere, just like my own, and his face still held the creases from his pillow as he stood there in Superman pajamas.

Everyone that looked at him said he was me made over, but I saw his mother in there, too. It was that sweet, innocent chocolate gaze that could see into your very soul with a quiet thoughtfulness, like he could see everything about you, but wasn't judging you on a bit of it. Smiling, I scooped him up and set him and the cereal box onto the counter.

He popped a few rings into his mouth and chewed them slowly, giving me a smile that I knew only too well – all crooked and shit, filled with a subtle touch of mischief. "Boo-berry pancakes," he ordered, giggling when I laughed against his cheek softly.

"Yeah, I think so, too, son. Blueberry and maybe...chocolate chip?" I asked, but his nod was slow as he looked up at me.

Frowning, he pushed the box of cereal away and reached for my face. "Owies, Daddy," he muttered, his little brow furrowing as he traced the bruises on my face with a surprising gentleness. Luckily, none of Preston's hits had split the skin. "Dey hurt? You otay?" he asked, and there was the part of me in him that couldn't be denied, because I remembered checking on my mother like that constantly, especially when she'd gotten sick.

"Mommy beat me up," I teased him with a dramatic whisper and sigh.

"No!" he laughed, not buying that shit whatsoever. "Mommy no beat you!"

"No. No, she wouldn't," I chuckled, kissing his forehead and gathering him up into my arms.

"Wha' happin?" he asked softly, his fingers still tracing the bruise along my cheekbone.

"Bad guys, Sammy. Lot's of 'em," I told him in a growl, grinning when Samuel gasped, covering his mouth with both hands.

"Oh," he barely breathed, gazing at me with wide eyes. "Didjoo win?" he asked.

"Of course," I chuckled again, giving his neck a loud sloppy kiss. "Come sit, buddy. You can keep me company while I make breakfast."

"Yeah," he sighed, softly and slowly, and I gave him a few Cheerios to keep him happy while I got to work.

I made myself a cup of coffee and my son a sippy cup of milk, pulling out all the ingredients for pancakes. Sammy was a content kid; I had to give him that much. He babbled and chirped shit that I barely understood, but he didn't complain once that he was trapped in his highchair. And I listened to and acknowledged every noise he made, like he was giving a dissertation, because fuck, I needed that shit...like the air I fucking breathed.

"Awec!" he sang, holding up a handful of soggy Cheerios to his Uncle Alec, who looked freshly showered.

"Hey, kiddo," he laughed, ruffling his hair. "No thanks. I want whatever your dad's makin'."

"'Kay," Sammy said, shoving the rings into his mouth. "Boo-berry pancakes."

"Yeah?" he asked, though the question was posed to me.

"Yeah," I snickered. "Per his request," I snorted, jerking a chin toward Sammy while I mixed pancake batter.

"Want some help?" he offered, pulling out the bacon from the fridge.

"Sure."

Alec and I worked flawlessly together in a kitchen. That was a fucking fact. He made the eggs, bacon, and sausage, while I made a stack of pancakes of every fucking flavor that would put IHOP out of business. Just as we finished, the sounds of the house coming alive rumbled over our heads on the second floor. But it was the two giggly, sweet five-year-olds rushing down the stairs that made us both laugh.

"Daddy!" Bethy squealed, at the same time Abby gushed, "Alec!"

They both ran into the kitchen, dark hair, happy smiles, and big hugs, because they hadn't seen us since dinner the night before. I lifted my daughter up into my arms, squeezing her close and tickling her neck with my stubble. The color of the day was blue – dark blue sweatshirt and faded blue jeans – all the way down to her low top Chucks.

"Morning, little sweetness," I growled against her throat, just to hear her laugh, to feel it against my lips.

"Morning, Daddy," she sang, tilting that head of hers, but she gasped when she saw my face. "Who hurt you?" she asked with a touch of a growl to her voice, frowning as she touched the bruise along my eyebrow.

Now, that was all Bella, because my baby girl looked like she was about to hunt down King Kong and take him out for whatever had happened to my face. Her scowl made Alec and me crack the fuck up.

"Bad guys," Sammy blurted out from behind us.

"Weally?" she whispered, leaning in to press soft kisses to my cheek. "Did you kick their butts, Daddy?" she giggled, her little cheeks tinging pink as she said something she wasn't supposed to.

I snickered, shaking my head. "You'd better not let Mommy hear you say that," I warned her, raising up an eyebrow. "And yes, the bad guys are all gone. We caught them all," I said proudly, giving the credit to everyone, because it had taken all of us to catch that asshole – or both assholes, really.

"Yay!" Abby cheered from Alec's arms.

"Come, Causa," he crooned to her, kissing her temple. "Breakfast, yeah?" he asked her.

She nodded with a shy, small smile. If she knew he'd named her his cause, his reason for living, I wouldn't know, but she answered to it anyway. He called Sarah Anima, which defined those girls as his heart and soul.

"You, too, Bambina. Your dad and I worked hard this morning," he said to Bethy, using his term for her since the day she was born.

"Okay, Unca Alec," she chirped, grinning at me and pointing to the counter.

"Is Mommy awake?" I asked Bethy as I set her down on the stool next to her brother.

"Yup," she said with a fervent nod and a sweet smile, which meant it had been her to wake Bella up. "She said she was gonna get a baff. Aaand...she said me and Abby are suh-posed to pack after we eat. She said our room was a diz...a diz..."

"Disaster," Alec and I finished for her as we put together their plates, chuckling a bit, because it was damned true.

"Yeah, that," she laughed, bouncing in her seat and swinging her legs like she had more energy than her little body could contain.

We set full plates in front of all the kids as some more people wandered into the kitchen, my dad and Esme among them. Caleb joined the rest of the kids, waiting patiently as Rose fixed his plate. Soon, most of the crew and Kyra's people were sitting around the table eating, laughing, and teasing one another. The stress of the case was officially over, and they knew it. They could fucking feel it.

"Let me see your face," Esme commanded softly from my side as I made another cup of coffee to take upstairs.

I gave my dad a scathing look as he laughed when he walked by to join everyone at the table.

I knew better than to argue that shit with her, so I let her poke, prod, and fuss over me as we stood alone in the kitchen. She lived to fucking do it, and her eyes were warm, filled with sweet concern.

"Headache? Nausea? Blurry vision?" she asked one right after the other, grinning when I groaned like a petulant child – like Sammy when he was sick.

"No. I'm fine, Mom," I huffed as I rolled my eyes, but I suddenly froze, because despite the fact that she'd come to be like a second mother to me, I'd never actually called her that aloud.

She went rigid, and I wondered for a moment if I'd offended her, but her eyes welled up with tears as they looked more to my chest than my face. When they finally met my own, she smiled and nodded, lifting up on her toes to kiss my cheek.

"Good. Love you, and I was just checking on you, son," she whispered against my jaw as her hands squeezed my upper arms a bit, before she dropped back down flat on her feet.

"Love you, too," I murmured, sighing in relief that she wasn't upset with me.

She nodded, blinking back more tears, but she smiled up at me again, letting out a long breath. "If you happen to see Kyra upstairs, tell her I need to talk to her. I think I have someone – a therapist – that might be able to work with her once she's permanently back in L.A."

"Got it," I told her, picking up my mug. "Esme, I..."

"Don't you dare apologize," she interrupted with a sweet, soft laugh, kissing my cheek. "I'm honored that you would call me that, Edward. Your mother was an amazing and special woman. I wouldn't dream of trying to take her place, but...know that I love you like you were my own. You and Bella both."

"'Kay," I said softly.

"Go take Bella her coffee. I know you haven't really talked since last night," she said, patting my shoulder lightly.

I nodded, making my way upstairs, my steps stumbling when I neared Kyra's room. The smile that crept up my face couldn't be stopped, because for a split second, I wondered just how much noise Bella and I had made since we'd been at the safe house.

I chuckled, shook my head, and stepped into our bedroom. I needed my girl, if only to touch her, talk to her for a minute. There was a part of me that hoped she was still in bed, all curled up and warm, though I knew I needed a shower. What I found when I went in was even fucking better.

Bella hadn't showered yet, because she was still in my t-shirt. However, our bags were on the bed and looked pretty much packed. My girl was ready to get the hell out of Dodge.

"Can't say I'm not disappointed," I muttered, closing the door and clicking the lock into place as I leaned against the wood.

"Morning to you, too, Edward," she giggled. "What are you disappointed about now?"

"Well," I sighed, shrugging a shoulder, "Bethy said you were getting a 'baff.' I was hoping for a sweet, warm, clean, and very, very wet Bella..."

My girl laughed at my use of Bethy language and at my shameless words, her face so fucking beautiful as the rising sun beamed in through the windows. "I will, but I wanted to get a start on this," she told me, bustling around from the closet to the dresser, back to the bags.

Another noise caught my attention, and I snorted, rolling my eyes. I wondered for a moment if God kept count of every time His name was called out in the throws of passion, and if so, what it numbered. That thought made me snicker to myself, because I could imagine the number was fucking unfathomable.

"Hmm," Bella said, glancing up at me with narrowed eyes. "That's an awfully sexy smile, baby. What's that all about?"

I tapped the door I was leaning against. "It seems Kyra and Jordan worked things out... Umm, or at least, they're working it out pretty damn hard right this second," I said with grin, chuckling when my girl gasped, dropped the shit in her hands onto the bed, and padded to where I was.

Pressing her ear to the door, she gasped again, her eyes widening. "Oh damn," she giggled, her stunning face filled with amusement, though I knew her well enough to know what her darkening eyes meant. She straightened up, leaning a shoulder to the door beside me, and reached for the mug in my hands. "Good for them..." she murmured before taking a sip. "At least tell me everyone else is downstairs...like the kids," she chuckled, taking another drink.

I laughed and nodded. "Yes, they are, and I was thoroughly inspected by both our kids. I passed, I believe," I told her.

Another low moan echoed across the hallway, and both our eyebrows rose up in unison.

Bella tugged at my sleeve, saying, "Come away from the door, Edward. It's rude to listen. It's not porn."

I grinned, shaking my head at my silly girl. I was no stranger to porn, because I'd been in the military, and being friends with Emmett pretty much guaranteed debauchery of every form. However, no magazine or online website could turn me on as quickly as the sweet, sexy as hell form in front of me, especially when she was only wearing my clothes.

"Well, it's not as hot as trying to figure out where my boxers went," I told her, my voice huskier than I was expecting, though I could give two shits at this point.

"Laundry, Edward," she laughed and rolled her eyes, pointing to a pile of dirty clothes in the corner of the room. "I was going to do a load before we left."

"Ah," I sighed with a smile, sitting on the edge of the bed. "You think we're that loud?"

Bella laughed, her head falling back. "Probably...not that you care, right?"

"Hell, no," I growled, licking my lips at the thought of it. "You make some really sexy ass sounds, love. Maybe we've taught someone a thing or two."

"Edward!" she giggled, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. "You really don't have any shame. And you'll have to hold that thought, because I really want to get this done before I go downstairs."

"Fine, but there's always the shower," I pointed out, dragging my tongue along my bottom lip at just the mere thought of it and shooting her a wink when glared up at me, but she didn't protest, either.

Fuck, but just being in the same room with her was good enough for me. This had been a fucked up case. It had started out as a damned neon sign concerning my past and then turned into a hunt for two serial killers. I was just glad it was fucking over. I was glad that I could still flirt shamelessly with the most gorgeous woman I'd ever laid eyes on, and she could give it back just as good as she got. It was almost like a soothing rhythm for us.

I stayed quiet as I couldn't take my eyes off of her, my hands holding on to the mug of coffee. Maybe it was the comfort of knowing we'd be going home soon, or maybe it was how strong she'd stayed during the whole thing, not judging me on my past, even when it was smashed in her face. But fuck it all, I wanted her. I always wanted her. However, I wasn't going to bug her, because she looked damned determined to finish the packing.

My eyes followed her bare legs as she gathered up a pile of clean, balled up socks, dropping them into one of the bags. Suddenly, she was standing between my legs, stealing my coffee again.

"You okay?" she asked, taking my baseball cap off and leaving a long, slow kiss to my forehead before taking another sip. "Did Esme look at you last night?"

"Yes, ma'am. And this morning," I told her, unable to keep my hands from the skin of her thighs. "I'm fine. I've had worse bruises from fist fights."

Bella smirked, but nodded, giving my nose a kiss this time. "Okay, just checking... I'm sorry I fell asleep on you on the way back last ni—"

"I-I c-called h-her M-Mom..." I suddenly blurted out, though my stutter came shining through with this confession. I'd had to tell her. Only she would understand why I felt off about it.

My girl's eyebrows rose up, but she nodded. "I bet she cried," she whispered, smiling softly in understanding as she gently and soothingly ran her fingers through my hair over and over.

"Yeah," I sighed, leaning forward and letting my forehead fall to her sternum, though my hands never stopped touching, never stopped caressing. When my thumb found the long, deep scar on the front of her thigh, I dragged it slowly over its raised surface. Up and down, swirling around the top, and then back down again.

Self-doubt rose to the forefront of my mind, and Bella let me stay quiet, but something felt wrong about my conversation with Esme. I loved her, and she loved me back, but it felt like an insult to my mother's memory.

"It's okay that you called her that, Edward," she finally said softly, gently pulling my face away from her stomach and looking me straight in the eyes. "You didn't do anything wrong. Your mom would want you to love her, because she cares for you, for Carlisle...hell, for all of us. I think she'd be happy to know that you're loved, no matter how old you get."

"You believe that?" I asked, and I realized it had been a damn long time since we'd talked about our moms.

"I have to," she simply replied, shrugging a shoulder. "I have to believe that our mothers would want someone looking out for us, that there was someone that would spoil their grandkids shamelessly in their place, and that we had someone to go to when shit gets hard." She set the coffee cup down on the nightstand, taking my face in her hands. "Think about it, baby. Wouldn't you want that for Bethy and Sammy? Wouldn't you want them to have someone if we weren't here?"

"Yeah," I said, my voice barely there, because my girl always had a way of changing my perspective. "E-Esme l-looked r-really h-happy a-about i-it..."

Bella chuckled, kissing my lips. "I just bet she did. She loves you like you're her own son," she stated firmly, and I nodded. "Did you make breakfast?" she asked, swiftly changing the subject for me.

"Yeah, Alec and I did," I told her, kissing her tummy in silent gratitude for always just knowing what I needed to hear and for knowing when the subject was closed. "Though there was this little gremlin in Superman pajamas rummaging around in the cabinet when I came back from my run."

"He wakes up starving," Bella laughed. "I think it's all the growing he does in his sleep. He'll be tall like you, I bet."

I grinned and nodded. "Yeah, I told him you beat me up," I chuckled, pointing to my face with one hand, though the other one hadn't left her scar.

"You didn't!" she gasped.

"Yeah, he wasn't hearing a word of it," I snorted, pulling her closer. "Bethy, on the other hand, is looking for the culprit and an enemy to fight."

"That's my girl," Bella murmured proudly, wrapping her arms around my shoulders. Pressing her forehead to mine, she let out the most beautiful moan when my hands finally skimmed up her thighs and underneath that shirt, only to find that there was nothing else in my way.

"Bella," I sighed, begging her with my eyes silently, because I needed her. I couldn't even put into words just how much I wanted to lose myself in her, if only for a moment. Cupping her ass, I gave it a good squeeze, only to glide my open hands up her spine and back down.

My girl let out another sexy as fuck sound. It was feline-like, a singing purr, and it was fucking sexy as all hell.

Gathering up my shirt and tugging it off my head, she slung it to the dirty laundry pile in the corner. "Bath or shower?" she asked simply, raising her eyebrow up at me.

"Don't care. Either. Doesn't fucking matter," I grunted, standing up in front of her. It was my turn for shirt removal. "But I need you soapy and slippery and coming around me really fucking soon," I stated, tossing her shirt away and leaving her bare in front of me. Skimming my hands all over her sweet, soft skin, I said, "I can fuck you harder in the shower..."

My girl grinned like the fucking Cheshire Cat as she tugged my basketball shorts and boxer briefs carefully down over my now hard as hell dick. She snaked her arms around my neck, saying, "Mm, shower, it is..."

Wrapping my arms all the way around her waist, I picked her up, practically growling when her legs locked around me, because it brought all good things – already wet things and soft things and pebbled things – flush to my own skin. Nails scraped along my scalp and shoulder, warm, wet lips trailed down my jaw to my neck, and wet heat slid languidly over my cock as I walked us into the bathroom. But the best part was the sweet little squeak and giggle that escaped my wife when I set her sweet ass on the cold vanity.

Chuckling low, I finally leaned in, because she just needed the ever loving shit kissed out of her. I kept her hot pussy pressed against me and my erection trapped between us, threading my hand into her hair at the base of her neck. I wasn't sure I could be slow, soft, or even take my time with her, and she seemed to know that, meeting my mouth halfway.

I was met with warm and open, wet and welcoming, moaning when she let me claim her, taste her, grind against her. She tasted like coffee and a touch of mint as my tongue swirled with hers, like the only flavor I needed to make the whole fucking world go away. Bella always made shit better. Always. She made the awesome stuff that much more fan-fucking-tastic and the bad shit fade away like it had never even been there.

Small, hot hands skimmed over my stomach, up my chest, and then around to my back. Sickeningly sexy legs pulled me closer, and hard nipples teased my skin. Gripping her hair just a little bit firmer with one hand, I tugged, dragging my teeth along her bottom lip before kissing my way down her cheek to her ear. My other hand was damned busy, touching her everywhere else – her breast, pinching her nipple, her hip, pulling her closer, and her ass, kneading and squeezing it.

"Should I just fuck you here? Or continue this in the shower, love?" I whispered in her ear, because at this point, I couldn't care less where I took her. I was just going to fucking take her. Possibly more than once. No, probably more than once. Hell, or maybe just one time – one fucking phenomenal time.

Her response was nonsense, though I thought I heard my name mixed in there with some words that would top off the swear jar.

Grinning against the warm flesh of her neck, I chuckled again. "Guess that makes it my call... Okay, sweetness?" I pushed away from her just a bit, smirking at the little whimper she let out, because she looked just as ravenous for me as I felt for her. "Shower," I stated, raising an eyebrow up at her. "Don't you dare move that sweet ass from right there. Got me?"

"Yes, sir," she purred, and I swear to God, my cock twitched, which she totally saw. A crooked smile crept up her face as she licked her lips, ogling me from head to toe. "Oh, Edward... You'd better get that water on..." Her chuckle was dark and sexy, laced with a tone that said she meant that as a fucking command.

Backing two steps away from her, I blindly reached for the handles. I made sure it wasn't too cool or too hot, before I was welcomed back into her arms. Cupping her ass, I scooped her up off of the vanity and stepped into the shower with her and under the spray.

Bella dry and dressed was always a beautiful sight. Bella sleeping sweetly could shatter a man's heart. But Bella wet, with rivulets of water skating down every inch of her skin, with hair that deepened from a chestnut brown to the richest mahogany, with pink lips, wet eyelashes, and heavy breathing – that was a sight that could just buckle a man to his knees. And I was that man.

My mind was in a turmoil, because I wanted to fucking touch her, but in order to touch her, I needed to put her down. But I didn't want to fucking put her down. I wanted to keep her wrapped around me, under the water, gazing at me like I was the best thing that ever existed. I wanted to drink every drop of water from her skin, hear my name when she came around me, and drive myself into her balls deep.

"Christ," I growled, turning to my right and pressing her into the cold tile. She hissed, but helped me out by bracing her foot on the soap dish and the edge of the tub. "Baby, I love you...so fucking much," I panted against her skin, flicking my tongue out to gather up beads of water. I caught a droplet balancing precariously off the tip of her tight nipple, sucking the whole thing in my mouth, just to hear her gasp and her head fall back to the tile with a dull thump.

"I love you, too," she whispered, losing her footing on the edge of the tub, so I wrapped her leg around my waist, bringing her pussy flush to my cock, because her other braced leg opened her up wide for me.

My indecision continued, though. I wanted to drink every last drop from her – everywhere – but I ached for her. However, her plea was more than I needed to decide.

"Edward, please..."

Grunting against her collarbone, my eyes shot to her face. Dragging my lips up her neck to her ear, I whispered, "Look at me, Bella. I fucking love watching your beautiful face when I sink into you..."

I coated myself in her hot, wet heat as she gripped my neck. Foreheads pressed together as our eyes never wavered. My tip at her entrance, I slowly started to enter her, but Bella's eyes rolled back. Despite how fucking stunning she looked with her mouth open slightly, her lips barely brushing against mine, and her cheeks flushed pink, it was those chocolate eyes I needed.

"No, baby...please, look at me," I begged, my teeth practically grinding at how tight and wet she was. I just wanted to see her, to know she felt this as much as I did.

With eyes open, she grasped either side of my face, kissing me stupid. We both moaned shamelessly as I filled her, teeth dragging over lips and breathing coming to a halt as muttered words of love and more and need ghosted into the foggy shower air.

"Fuck, baby," she said, her voice wavering as her whole body rolled in a wave of want and need to get closer. "You feel so good."

That was the face I was looking for. Chocolate darkened to almost black, staring at me to move or do something. Teeth latched on to her bottom lip as she strained to hold on, to keep from crying out, and to stop herself from coming, because her insides were already clenching down on me.

"Easy, sweetness," I groaned, brushing my lips across hers and finally beginning to move. "Let me make you feel good."

It was all I wanted – for her to come. Hard. And with me.

Swirling my tongue along her throat and gathering as much water as I could, I suckled at the soft spot just below her ear, the spot that caused the most amazing sounds to escape her.

"Oh, damn...harder, baby," she groaned in my ear, her hands still holding on to my shoulders, her leg around me digging her heel into my ass.

"Hold on, love...up there," I told her, and her hand immediately reached for the towel bar above her head. With one hand cupping her sweet ass, the other slammed into the tile next to her head.

It was wet kisses, slippery grips, and deep plunges into her. And it wasn't going to last – neither the hot water, nor my ability to hold back my climax. She was too beautiful, too tight, and felt so, so good. Swiveling my hips so that my pelvic bone rubbed against her clit, I coaxed her to come.

"That's right...let go, Bella," I urged in her ear, my stomach starting to tighten and my rhythm failing.

Her hips rolled with mine, sinewy muscle under smooth skin. Nipples peaked higher, tighter, calling to my mouth, and I laved my tongue over both, before latching on to the right one. Using just the hint of teeth, I scraped along her sensitive flesh, and she shattered against the tile.

"Oh, God...Edward..." she panted, and I couldn't fault her when her eyes closed this time, her head falling back again. Everything about her clamped down tight on me – arms, legs, and that beautiful core.

"Fuck yes, baby... Yes, yes, yes," I chanted, my control finally falling away, and with a few more thrusts, I buried myself as deep inside of her as I could go, coming so hard that stars exploded behind my eyelids.

It took a minute, with my head on her shoulder, for me to finally lift my gaze to hers. Warm, sweet brown gazed back at me as she gently wiped water off of my face.

"You're kinda hot with these," she murmured, wearing a sated, but wry grin as she traced my bruises with a feather-light touch. "In a dangerous, bad boy sort of way."

I snorted, rolling my eyes at her. "Shut it, woman," I grunted, smirking at her sweet giggle. "So much for getting clean," I sighed dramatically. "The hot water is gone," I laughed, pulling her away from the wall and holding her under the now very cool spray.

The squeal she let loose wasn't my reward; it was the deep laugh that caused her head to fall back. Kissing her neck, I stepped out of the water, slipping her down my body so that her toes finally landed on the rug.

"There's always later..." she sighed, still giggling.

"Or there's always...home," I told her, raising an eyebrow at her.

"Yeah...home," she purred, wrapping her arms around my waist and leaning in to give my two tats each a kiss. "That sounds...so much better..."

~oOo~

BELLA

"Elizabeth Renee," I sighed, not that she could hear me, because she was outside with the rest of them.

Her version of cleaning the kids' room – and I had zero doubt that she was the ringleader of this shit – was shoving all toys, dirty clothes, and shoes underneath the beds. My baby girl couldn't be bothered with such trivial things as cleaning when there were adventures to be had with Abby, games to be played with Daddy, Poppy, and her uncles, and music to listen to when Kyra was playing her guitar. She was way too busy to pack, and Abby, Caleb, and Sammy were only going to follow her lead. I couldn't fault her, though, because Poppy had insisted on one last bonfire before we left the next day. Kyra and company were heading back to Los Angeles, and the rest of us were going home to Washington.

Benny had called and given us plenty of news. Robert Reynolds never woke up from his coma, but slipped away quietly around dawn. The charges that Sid Williams was facing were keeping him under arrest, and as soon as he was cleared from the hospital where he was recovering from his gunshot wounds, he was going straight to jail. No passing go, no collecting two hundred dollars. All bail had been denied. Benny said that he was doing his best to keep Kyra's name out of it all, so the media was now focused on the FBI's closure of Preston Raulson and the fact that he'd killed his serial killer father. The gruesome details were just what the media feeding frenzy needed.

Digging out all the shit from under the beds, I started to sort through it. Toys went into one giant box to be gone through later to sort out what belonged to which kid. Shoes were separated by owner. Dirty clothes were tossed into the laundry basket, because I wasn't the only one that needed to do a load or two before we left.

At least I could see the floor and felt I was making progress by the time I heard my baby boy crying. My head shot up to see Mickey step into the doorway.

"Want Mommy!" he wailed, all pitiful with big tears and pouting bottom lip.

"Here she is," Mickey soothed, brushing his hair from his forehead in order to plant a kiss there.

"Goodness, handsome, what happened?" I asked from my perch on the rug, opening my arms for him when Mickey set him down.

He padded over to me, still crying, but Mickey answered, "He fell down. Bumped his head on the deck steps and skinned his hands. Well, I think he skinned his hands. He wouldn't let me see, 'cause he only wanted you, and Eddie was down at the shoreline with Bethy and Abby." Her warm, honey colored eyes looked down at him with pity and understanding.

Wrapping my baby up, I pulled him to my lap, mouthing, "Thank you."

Mickey smiled, nodded, and left me with a still sniffling and hiccuping Sammy.

"Hey, buddy," I crooned, rubbing his back as he straddled my stomach, "let me see your owies. Where'd you hit your head?"

Sammy pushed back from where he'd nuzzled into the crook of my neck, bracing himself on my chest with one hand and rubbing a spot where his hair and forehead met with the other. I could see a touch of a little bump forming and a tiny little nick.

"You want 'mooches? Would it help?" I asked him, smiling when he nodded slowly.

"Yeah," he said slowly, tilting his head at me. "'Mooches..." His breath hitched, his little bottom lip pushed out in a sweet, sad pout, and his deep brown eyes were still watery.

He was so damn cute, looking like his father when he was upset about something. I couldn't help but gently take his sweet, chubby cheeks in my hands and wipe away his tears with my thumbs. I placed a long, slow kiss to his little bruise, only to kiss each eye, his nose, each cheek, and his now smiling lips. When I got to his neck, he curled in on me, finally breaking out into a giggle.

"No, Mommy!" he laughed, pushing at me.

"Okay, fine," I sighed dramatically. "Well, then let me see your hands, baby."

Two little pudgy hands popped up in my vision, fingers spread wide, and I was glad to see no skin had been broken, but I could tell he'd used them to brace his fall, because the baby soft skin was an angry deep pink.

"'Mooch 'dese!" he ordered with his daddy's trademark crooked smile, and I couldn't help but laugh.

Leaning in, I kissed each little palm, ending in, "Mwah!"

Sammy grinned, a soft giggle escaping him as he curled back into me, a sweet sigh ghosting across my neck. My boy loved his cuddles. I was pretty sure he got that from both Edward and me, because a good snuggling could make everything better.

"Don't you want to go back to Poppy? To the fire?" I asked him, kissing the top of his head.

"No. Wif you," he said simply, not even bothering to sit up.

Smiling, because he was just so damned sweet, I pulled him back to look at me. "How about this... You stay with me, help me pack some of this stuff, start another load of laundry, and then we'll go out to the fire together. How's that sound?"

"Yeah," he said with a slow nod and a smile. "Work wif you."

"That's right," I chuckled, standing up with him in my arms, only to set him on the closest bed. "You work with me, and then we'll...party," I growled, tickling him until he was a giggling, squealing mess.

What should've only taken me a few more minutes stretched out a little bit longer, because Sammy was my little helper. He moved slower, but insisted on being independent with his task of putting toys in the box. We finally made it down to the laundry room, and I swung him up to the top of the dryer just to keep him from getting run over in the process. He didn't seem to mind, though, because he wanted to fold washcloths and towels – which basically were a tumbled mess, but I wasn't saying a word. He looked too damned adorable and all sorts of intense about it. God, he was just like his father, who suddenly leaned sexily in the doorway.

"There you two are," he said, grinning at the sight in front of him.

"Workin', Daddy," Sammy told him, his face oh-so-serious. "Then we can par-tay," he giggled, sounding like his Uncle Emmett with the way he said party.

Edward laughed, walking to his son and dropping a kiss to the top of his head, only to do the same to me. "Well, if you say so, pal." He held out a fist, and Sammy bumped it, going back to the pile of towels I'd dropped into his lap. Turning to me, he said softly, "Mick said he fell..."

"He did, but he's fine. Just scared him a little," I said, brushing Samuel's hair away from his forehead to show the little bruise now forming. Hanging with his sister had certainly earned the boy worse injuries, so a bump was nothing.

"Who's got owies now, huh?" Edward chuckled, pressing his forehead to his son's.

"Me!" Sammy chirped, grinning up at him. "We're same, Daddy!"

I giggled, because I just couldn't stop it if I tried. It echoed up out of the washer as I bent to snatch the last few socks out of it to toss into the open dryer. Closing the door, I reached past them both and turned it on. I locked eyes on my boys and bit back my swoon. Edward was quietly teaching Sammy how to fold properly. Standing up on my toes, I kissed my husband's cheek and then reached for my son.

"What was that for?" Edward snickered.

"Just 'cause," I said with a grin, hitching my boy up on my hip. "You two are massive amounts of cuteness, but work..." I growled, raising an eyebrow at Sammy, who grinned back. "Work is done, dude!"

"We party now, Mommy?" Samuel asked, his eyes wide, but making sure that I was coming with him.

"Oh, yeah," I chuckled, spinning him to my front, just to toss him up on my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Patting his bottom, I said, "Let's talk s'mores, buddy..."

"Oh, Lord," Edward groaned, rolling his eyes as he walked us toward the kitchen, "this'll be some really messy shi...stuff." His tone was wry and sarcastic, but that didn't stop him from grabbing out the bags of marshmallows, the bars of chocolate, and the box of graham crackers.

I grinned up at almost slip, causing him to roll his eyes again. "Messy is fun, Edward."

"Yeah," Sammy piped in. "Fun, Daddy."

"I know when I'm outnumbered," Edward chuckled, taking Sammy from me with one strong arm and holding the stuff for s'mores in the other as he led us outside.

The noise that hit us was filled with laughter, music, chatter, and just plain at ease goodness. There weren't any more looks of worry or stress. I could see some new faces since I'd been busy inside and a few that were missing.

"Where's—"

"El and Felix were called away," Edward answered, and I couldn't help but smile that he knew what I was about to ask. "They said to give you their love and that they'd see us at the house in a few weeks when they're back in town."

"Okay," I answered, waving over to Wes and Makenna.

"Mommy!" Bethy rushed to me, and I scooped her up before sitting us down next to Mickey. "Daddy let me hold a cwab. We named him Bob."

Giggling, I asked, "Bob?"

"Yup," she said with a grin, looking to her dad.

"What? Bob's a good name," Edward stated, settling Sammy on his lap and handing the s'mores stuff over to Emmett.

I laughed, because I remembered not so long ago when Edward had told me that he'd had a cow by the name of Steve at Aunt Kate's when he was young. Somehow, Bob was perfect for a little crab.

"And are we keeping Bob?" I asked the both of them.

"No," Edward chuckled. "Bob has his own family."

"He had babies!" Bethy gushed in an over exaggerated whisper, like it was the biggest secret ever.

"Ah, gotcha," I sighed, leaning to Edward. "So really, her name was Barb."

Edward's cheeks tinged pink, but he just laughed. "Probably."

"Come on, guys," Emmett called, setting Caleb down on a blanket by the fire. "Let's get our s'mores on!"

Bethy giggled, scrambling down from my lap to join Caleb at the same time as Abby, but Sammy simply left his dad to take her place. Curling to me, he settled himself with his back against my chest so he could watch them, but he made no move to join them.

"Handsome, you don't want a s'more?" I whispered in his ear.

"Daddy make it," he ordered, looking to Edward, but pointing toward his sister.

"Yes, sir," Edward chuckled, but his eyes were sweet evergreen and warm as he looked at us. Some emotion that I couldn't quite put a name on flickered over his beautiful, but bruised face. Placing a gentle hand on his son's head and leaning to my ear, he whispered, "Jesus, I just want to go home."

I nodded and sighed, knowing that feeling. I was ready for just our little family – just the four of us. In fact, considering that Halloween would soon be upon us, I was considering shutting Gravity down for the rest of the year, simply to give everyone a break. Or at least only take simple cases here and there. Nothing major, and no security tasks until after the new year.

I wanted my lazy Sunday mornings with my husband, my evenings with my kids, and I wanted Bethy back in school ASAP, because I knew she missed it, even though Sarah and Esme had kept up with Abby's and Bethy's school work. I wanted to sleep in my own bed and wake up next to warm and strong and amorous. I want to watch TV with all of us piled on our couch. And I was ready for the happy chatter that came out of the kids' bathroom during bath time.

I missed our front porch and the swing, Bethy's tree house and the back yard, and I missed Edward cooking in his own kitchen while I did laundry. We'd talk about nothing and everything. I missed the smell of him after he'd worked in his woodshed for a few hours, the sight of him washing the cars, or the feeling of complete and utter perfection when he'd crawl into bed and loom over me, the house quiet after the kids had gone to sleep.

But all I said was, "Me, too."

We locked eyes, and despite that morning's activities in the shower, I could have kissed him stupid. We were on the same page, tired from this case that seemed to take so much out of us. He was strong and brave, but at his core, he was a quiet family man. He'd rather spend time with us than anything else in the whole world, and he was done with plans, details, and reminders of his past. He was ready for what we called normal.

Edward smiled, brushing his lips across mine. "You want a s'more, too, sweetness?"

"Yeah," I answered with a chuckle, nodding. "That'd be great, baby. Thank you."

Glancing around the fire, I could catch pieces of different conversations, but I stayed quiet, dropping kisses to the top of Sammy's head. Wes, Mack, Carlisle, and Alec were discussing the details of Sid Williams' case. Jordan held Kyra lovingly in his arms as he discussed a few things with Teri Foley, Cassie, Christine, and Gator, and I could've sworn I heard something about Kyra doing the voice for an animated film. Rose, Alice, Jasper, and Esme were all talking about a case of Esme's that she'd had long ago, which had them all laughing. Emmett and Edward were showing the girls and Caleb how to perfectly toast a marshmallow in the fire without burning it.

But it was Mickey my eyes landed on. Her eyes were glazed, her focus on the ever changing flickering flames. And I could imagine that for her, going home meant facing her situation head on. Alone. I dropped another kiss to the top of Sammy's head, because as a mother, I'd had to make tough decisions concerning the little guy, suffer through a really scary pregnancy, and I regretted none of it. Mickey wanted her child, and while I was pretty sure she wasn't regretting her decision to have it, I could see the longing in her eyes.

"It'll be okay, you know," I said softly to her, nudging her leg. "You're not alone. We'll all help you. In fact, you'll love my doctor. I've already got you an appointment for when we get back."

Her eyes snapped up from the fire to meet mine, and she nodded, swallowing thickly. "I'm scared, Bells."

"That's okay," I soothed her, kissing Sammy's head again. "It is kinda scary. If you want, you can borrow Edward. He's awesome at the OB-GYN." I chuckled, giving her a wink when she finally cracked a smile as she glanced past me to look at my husband.

"No, but you?" she asked, but her eyes fell to Samuel, who turned in my arms simply to be able to play with my hair quietly.

"Absolutely," I agreed before she barely finished the simple question.

Mickey nodded, but said no more about it after that. She just went back to gazing into the fire.

By morning, the house looked like it had when we arrived. Bags, boxes, cars, and the chopper were all packed. Wes, Makenna, Rose, Emmett, and Caleb had already started back to Seattle. Alec, Sarah, Abby, Carlisle, and Esme were just about to head out, as well. Alice, Jasper, and Mickey were going to fly with us. We were all to meet at mine and Edward's house, because as a crew, we needed to make a decision concerning Gravity.

However, it was time to say goodbye to Kyra and her people, though my daughter was giving her the third degree.

"You're weally pwaying a pwincess?" she squealed, her face looking like it was fucking Christmas.

"I think so," Kyra chuckled as she knelt in front of Bethy. "I tell you what... If I play a princess, you can come to the premiere. They usually throw it at the castle. How's that?"

"Yes, yes, yes!" she chanted just like her Aunt Alice, which caused all of us to laugh, especially Alice. Bethy jumped up at down, beaming like a sunny day. "I wanna see the castle! Daddy was gonna fly me 'dere anyway..."

Edward chuckled, his head falling back, though I had no idea what that was about. Those two had their own little secret plans all the damn time. There was no telling what he'd promised her.

"Well, Daddy can come, too," she laughed, standing up. "All of you can."

As she walked to me, I realized Kyra didn't even look like the same woman I'd met in Carlisle's office just a under a month ago. She'd been scared, haunted, and full of anger. Now, she held her head high, walked with a lighter step, and smiled most of the time. She was far from healed. In fact, she'd already taken Esme's advice and set up a few appointments with the therapist she'd suggested.

I no longer saw her as someone from my husband's past, though she always would be, but I saw her as someone that I'd come to really like. She was wickedly talented, a touch sarcastic, and stronger than she gave herself credit. She'd fit in with my girls just like she'd always been there. And I was actually going to miss her.

"Are you sure I can't take care of the cost of this?" she asked me, her nose wrinkling. "I mean, it's not like I can't afford it. It should be my responsibility."

"Nope," I snickered, shaking my head. "Carlisle wired the money this morning. You can take it up with him. He's technically the one that hired us."

Kyra's eyes glanced past me as Edward joined us, and I noticed that it was just the four of us left on the driveway. Jordan had joined us, too, but stayed respectfully quiet, because it looked like he knew what she was about to say.

"I need thank you two...and apologize again," Kyra said, her gaze flickering between me and Edward. "You didn't have to take me in, or even take this case. And you sure as hell didn't have to put up with the way I acted in the beginning. You have no idea how...embarrassed I am." Edward and I both started to say something, but she stopped us. "I know. I was... I had issues. But had I told someone about this long ago, then none of this would've happened. There is a guilt that comes with surviving, Esme told me. She said I'm not to blame myself for anything that happened, but I can't seem to help it. Had I told someone, would Molly Parsons have lived? Would all of those women after me have lived?"

She shrugged a shoulder, but then looked to Edward. "I don't know what to feel about that, but I know I don't regret meeting you, Edward." She shook her head, smiling up at him. "You made me realize that there are good men out there. Men that don't lie, that respect women..." Her eyes flickered to Jordan, who kissed the side of her head.

"Kyra...what I was back then..." Edward interrupted, his face pained a bit.

"Was completely honest," she finished for him, giggling when he rolled his eyes. "We were young, Edward. You made me feel safe. And I thank you for that, too."

My husband shut up, nodded, and looked down at his feet for a second. His past made him uncomfortable, but he always saw the darker side of things. He didn't see that he'd helped her simply by being...Edward. By simply keeping Ike away from her, by sheltering her from the horrors of war, and by giving her a brief glimpse of being treated right, he'd provided the tools she needed in order to find someone like him.

"We were young," she said again.

He looked back at her, and this time, nodded more firmly.

Kyra turned to me. "I meant what I told Bethy. If I do this animated film, then you guys can all come. Those don't take long, and it'll keep me in Los Angeles for a little while. I'll be able to keep up with my therapy sessions." She smiled like that was the best news ever, and I wondered for a moment if keeping her in town meant keeping her with Jordan, because he looked ever so pleased with that idea.

I chuckled at them both. They were head over heels for each other, and I hoped that it worked out. They made a beautiful couple.

"Oh!" she gushed, grabbing Edward's arm. "We'll be making the announcement that we're back together as soon as we're back in L.A. You won't be tied to me for much longer, Edward. I know you were hating it."

Edward laughed, and we joined him, because the relief that crossed his face was almost comical. "It's not that I hated it," he chuckled. "It's just...I only belong to my family now. I don't know how to act any other way..."

"Yeah, you should see him catching cheating women," I muttered, rolling my eyes. "The complaining never ends."

Edward snorted, shrugging a shoulder, and growled, "Sue me, sweetness." He smirked, kissing my forehead, before muttering, "I'd better go ready the chopper." Turning to Jordan, he shook his hand firmly, finally gazing back down at Kyra. "Kyra, take care of yourself," he told her softly.

After she hugged him, he walked over to where Cassie, Christine, and Gator were waiting by the car. He shook hands with Gator, but received hugs from the girls. Finally, he made his way toward the back of the house.

Kyra then hugged me, whispering, "Thank you again."

"Take care of yourself," I whispered back. "And him," I chuckled softly, jerking my chin toward Jordan. "He's good for you."

She grinned like a high school girl with a crush, her cheeks blushing pink. "Yeah... Yeah, he is."

After hugs all around and promises to keep in touch, I gave the house a final walk-through, making sure nothing was left behind. There were toys that my kids just couldn't live without, so I wanted to be sure.

Edward was making his final checks on the chopper when I arrived, but as always, he hoisted me up into the back, because his five-year-old co-pilot was already in her position of power. Taking a seat between Alice and Mickey after giving Sammy a quick kiss, I sighed that we were finally heading home.

The flight was short, the cabin quiet, except for Bethy, who chatted happily to us all about what she could see down below us. By the time Forks came into view, I couldn't wait to see my house, which was just over the expanse of forest below. As Edward called in his landing and prepared to descend, I could see that most everyone had arrived already – including a car I didn't recognize.

Edward powered down the chopper, unbuckling Bethy as I unbuckled Sammy. Jasper slid open the side door, but it was Mickey's voice that caused us all to stop cold.

"You've got to be fucking kidding me," she growled, hopping down from the chopper, and before any of us could tease her about the swear jar, we saw what had riled her up.

Stepping down my front steps was Aunt Kate, but it was who was behind her that shocked us all. Obie. He looked nervous and angry, like he was looking for a way to escape. But we all froze at the sight of Mickey's face.

She glared at him, shaking her head slowly and folding her arms across her chest. "What the hell are you doing here?"