Seattle... Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 1:14 P.M.
I opened the passenger door of Alice's car and climbed out, with Rose piling out behind me so she could take my seat.
Our laughter spilled out into the air as Alice finished her story. "Yes, my first grader turned to me and said, 'That's what she said!'"
Giggling, I shook my head. "Thanks for lunch, ladies."
"Bye, Bella!" they chimed together, making me laugh as Alice beeped the horn once before pulling out of the driveway.
When I pulled open the front door, I could hear Edward on the piano, although the music faltered for a moment before picking back up at the beginning of my song. Smiling, I dropped my bag on the couch and looked around for the kitten. Seeing nothing, I headed through the living room to the library, figuring I'd find her in with Edward.
"Hey, babe," I said with a smile as I walked into the room. I started to ask if he'd had fun with the guys when movement on the floor drew my attention down. When I saw not only Edward's new baby but a small, black ball of fur, I gasped.
Dropping to my knees, I held my hand out to the puppy and let him sniff my fingers. He licked a couple of times, his little tail wagging furiously as he gave a little yip. Carefully picking him up and cradling him to my chest, I turned my head slightly so he was licking my chin, not my lips.
"Edward," I breathed, "what did you do?"
As the puppy attacked my chin with doggy kisses, I felt the heavy charm on his collar hitting against my chest. I held the puppy out a little so I could reach the heart attached to the little blue collar.
"I promised you a surprise," Edward answered softly.
When I was finally able to see the thing, my heart skipped a beat in my chest. I was afraid for a moment that I wouldn't be able to breathe.
Will you marry us? was engraved in the silver heart.
Taking a shuddering breath, I felt tears well in my eyes as I turned the collar around so it faced Edward. I was having trouble processing it...
...until I saw him get down on one knee in front of me, opening an iconic little black box as he asked, "Well, will you?"
I didn't hesitate, not even to look down at what I knew had to be a ring. As the tears fell down my cheeks, I nodded. "Yes! Of course I'll marry you!"
Edward's grin was as big as the one I knew was on my face as he stood and pulled the ring from the box. I finally looked down as he reached out and took my left hand, leaving me holding the new puppy with my right.
The ring was gorgeous – platinum or most likely white gold, round diamond in the middle with five smaller diamonds inset into the band on both sides. I watched as Edward slid it onto my finger, where it fit perfectly.
"It's gorgeous," I breathed, swallowing around the lump in my throat as I looked back up at him.
Edward shook his head. "It's pretty, but it's merely window dressing on the most gorgeous woman I've ever seen."
When I grasped his shirt with my newly-adorned hand and pulled him to me, the yipping puppy between us began wiggling to get down. Chuckling against Edward's lips, I pulled the animal from between us and set him down, freeing up my other hand.
"I love you," I told Edward, my voice low and a bit husky as I slid both arms up and around his neck.
Edward wrapped his arms around me, tugging me closer. My eyes stayed open and locked on his as he brushed his lips across mine once, twice, lingering a little on the third kiss as we breathed in one another. Finally, when I thought I would combust under his heated gaze, he groaned and slid one hand from my waist to the back of my neck. His fingers tangled in my hair, and he angled my head to capture my lips once more, deepening the kiss this time as my eyes fluttered closed.
Kissing Edward was a sensual experience. Every touch, every taste, every movement...he surrounded my senses and consumed me from the inside out as his tongue dipped and stroked, teasing my own. Just when I thought I might pass out from lack of air, he pulled away. Barely giving me time to catch my breath, he leaned in, capturing my top lip in a suckling kiss before moving to the bottom, nipping at it gently before pulling away again, leaving me breathless once more.
When he leaned his head down and pressed his forehead to mine, his emotional, "I love you, too," had me in tears once more.
He drew back, raising an eyebrow as he reached up to brush the drops from my cheeks.
"Happy tears," I explained with a watery chuckle, sniffling my suddenly runny nose.
Edward chuckled, pulling me down with him as he sat, scooting back until we were leaning back against the love seat. "Fine," he said, grinning. "Happy tears are allowed."
I laughed and then turned my attention to the animals, who were currently involved in some sort of chase and attack game. "How did you know?" I asked, looking from the puppy to Edward and back again.
"Oh, Isabella," he huffed, shaking his head. "I know you, sweetheart. It was written plain as day across your face yesterday when you looked at him – and it is a him, by the way."
Grinning sheepishly, I said, "I didn't think you'd noticed." I shrugged. "I couldn't help it. He looked so damn lonely there all by himself. But it was about you and about getting the kitten we'd talked about, so I convinced myself that he would find a good home."
Edward smiled. "And he did. The lady at the shelter said he was six weeks old – and he's yours to name. Any ideas?"
Pursing my lips, I gave it some thought. We had Cookie the kitten, named after the first thing that had really brought Edward and me closer. Thinking back over our beginning, I tried to come up with some appropriate names.
Nothing at all seemed to fit until I remembered a line from Edward's first letter back to me. He'd said, "I would blow up a building for peppermints!" I had found that particularly amusing since there he was, a sergeant in the Army, and he was saying he would go to that extreme for some little red and white candies.
"Peppermint," I murmured, chuckling from amusement. "But call him Pepper for short since he's black with a few specks of white."
Edward grinned. "Those little candies were the best," he said, tightening his arm around me. "I didn't expect you to send them, but you did." Looking at the puppy, he smiled. "Pepper is fitting, I think."
"You think they'll be okay together?" I asked, watching as Cookie and Pepper rolled around on the floor, yipping and meowing at one another. "I mean, the saying is they fight like cats and dogs..."
Edward nodded. "I looked it up last night to be sure. They're both very young, so they'll grow up together and be friends. Besides, they'll have us," he said, looking down at me and smiling. "We'll help them together."
Together... Yes, I loved that.
"Together, then," I agreed with a nod, smiling as I leaned my head on Edward's shoulder.
Edward's quiet, "Always," was like a warm caress, reaching to my very core.
I looked from the playing animals to the new ring on my finger and then around at the room that had truly become ours two months ago when Edward had come home for the first time. It had seemed as if that day would never get here, yet it had. We'd faced so much together already, and I knew we would end up facing even more as the years went by – always.
As I looked around, I wasn't sure even "always" would be long enough. But for now...
It was perfect.
Seattle... Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 11:24 A.M.
"You're so spoiling her, Edward," I heard from the doorway of the kitchen. "You let her do anything."
I grinned and finished pouring Cookie's food in her bowl, all the while the little monster was climbing up the leg of my jeans. As the kitten reached my pocket and started digging around in there, I chuckled. "It feels like being mugged by the world's smallest criminal."
Bella laughed and plucked her off me, setting her and the bowl down onto the floor, where we were quickly forgotten. "Kiss me, Sarge," she ordered. "The girls should be here any minute."
"How long will you be gone?" I asked, drinking in the sight before me – tight jeans, a form-fitting sweater, just a hint of cleavage. "Mmm, you look delicious..." I rasped, licking my lips and setting her on the counter so that I could step between her legs.
"So do you," she giggled, trailing one finger down the middle of my bare chest, only to tease the top of my jeans. "Maybe I should stay home..."
Panic rose to the surface, but I did my best to cover it. As much as I would love taking her right there on the kitchen counter...again, I needed my beautiful girl out of the house. Today was a big day. Huge.
"You'll disappoint them," I murmured, leaning in to distract her by kissing the side of her neck.
Fingernails grazed lightly down my back from my shoulder blades to the edge of my jeans, making my eyes roll back into my head. Fuck, she was good.
"They'll live," she chuckled.
I pulled back to look at her, smirking at the shameless dark look in her eyes. "Just go, love." I laughed, but inside, I was hitting a second level of panic. "I'll make it up to you when you get home. I promise."
"Oh yeah, how?" she mumbled as she pressed her lips to mine.
"Now Isabella, you know I can't divulge all my secrets," I crooned, nipping at her bottom lip.
Fuck, the pout. Tilted head, sexy-as-hell look from underneath long eyelashes, and that tasty bottom lip – they were my undoing most times. But she wouldn't win this time because I really, really needed her out of the house.
I sighed but smiled at her. "It won't work. Just go."
And holy shit, thank God for Alice, who burst in the front door. "Bella, are you ready?"
"Yes!" My girl laughed, kissing me one more time before slinking gracefully to the kitchen floor. "Love you. And I'm holding you to that promise, Sarge."
"Yes, ma'am. Love you, too." I chuckled, but as soon as the girls were out the front door and the car had pulled out, my elbows hit the kitchen counter. "Shit, that was close," I groaned, fisting my hair as my forehead met the tile with a dull thunk.
My phone rang in my pocket, and I pulled it out to see that it was Jasper. "Hey, they're gone," I answered without any preamble.
"Good, we're on it. Meet you back at your house in an hour."
"Got it," I sighed, ending the call and heading to the bedroom to grab a shirt. I had a shit-ton of things to do in that one hour.
"Ah, Mr. Masen," the woman at the shelter greeted me. "He's all ready for you. I'll just go in the back and get him."
"Thank you," I told her, smiling at the same time that I ran a hand through my hair.
She came right back with a little ball of black fur in her arms. It was hard to tell which end was which until big dark eyes looked up at me as she handed him over.
"Hey there, little guy," I whispered, taking him from her as the woman got all my paperwork ready. A flash of pink shot out, giving my nose a lick. You gotta love puppy breath. I chuckled, rubbing his head and giving my attention to the woman behind the counter.
"He's ready to go...bathed, treated for fleas, and his first round of shots. But you'll need to get him back here when it's time to fix him," she instructed, laughing when I flinched at the last thing. "He won't feel a thing, I promise." She chuckled at my still-pained look.
After a few more instructions, several papers signed, and my credit card swiped, I loaded the little guy into my car, thankful I'd thought ahead enough to bring the pet carrier. Now was not the time for accidents – I would be cutting it close to Bella's return home as it was. Plus, my Volvo was only a few months old.
"I don't know what she's going to name you, little one, but let's go home, yeah?" I asked and was rewarded with a little tilt to his head and his little pink tongue peaking out as he panted.
"You're all set, Sarge," Emmett said, poking his head into the library. "Although, I think the cat is plotting his demise already."
I huffed a laugh, glanced up at the clock, and ran a hand through my hair.
"Damn, Ed, you're sweating like a whore in church." Jasper laughed, slapping my shoulder. "Relax...this is fucking perfect. There's no way that Bells won't say anything but yes."
All three of our phones alerted to texts, and my head snapped up.
"They're on their way," Jasper warned.
"Which means we're outta here," Emmett said with a laugh. "You'll do fine, man. Don't sweat it. Let the collar say it all."
"That was brilliant, by the way," Jasper called out before the front door slammed.
I huffed a nervous laugh, shook my head, and decided to play something, anything in order to relax. Movement from the corner of my eye caught my attention, and I looked over to see Cookie and the new puppy rolling in a wrestling match. She pinned him, only to squeal when puppy teeth latched onto her back leg.
The fact that they were both in the library with me couldn't have been more perfect, especially when I heard the car full of women in the driveway. The opening of the front door caused my shaky hands to make a discordant sound, but I started over. It also caused the no-holds-barred battle on the floor to come to a standstill.
"Hey, babe," Bella said, but her breath caught.
I couldn't help but chuckle when she knelt down in front of the little guy. He was definitely happier to see her than he'd been with me all damn day. Not that I could blame him one bit.
"Edward, what did you do?" she asked, scooping the little guy up.
"I promised you a surprise," I told her, waiting for it because she was already fumbling with his collar. I'd made sure that it was big enough that she could see it because it wouldn't stay on the little guy once she'd named him.
I knew when it finally sank in because big, watery brown eyes gazed up at me as she turned the collar to face me, like she was asking if it was real.
In scrolling script, the heart shaped tag was engraved with, "Will you marry us?"
Sinking to one knee in front of her, I opened the little black velvet box that had been weighing heavily in my pocket for weeks, asking simply, "Well, will you?"
Tuesday... December 28, 2010 at 1:02 P.M.
"Are you sure we have everything we need?" Edward asked for the second time since we'd left the house.
I laughed, turning into the animal shelter's parking lot. Parking in a spot close to the door, I turned in my seat to face him. "Babe, we set up the scratching post and unwrapped all the toys. The litter box is filled and in the laundry room, the food and water bowls are in the corner of the kitchen, and you have the new collar, right?"
He nodded, chuckling. "Sorry. I just want everything to be perfect."
He was so sweet, like a little boy getting his first pet.
Leaning over, I kissed him once and then cupped his face. "It will be. Don't worry so much. Now, let's go pick out a kitten."
The minute we walked through the shelter door, I felt my heart clench. I could hear the adult dogs barking from the big room in the back, and off to one side of the large main room, the cats were meowing their own chorus. Higher-pitched yips and mewls came from the room on the other side, clearly labeled Puppies & Kittens, and that's where we were headed.
"Hello," an older woman behind the counter said in greeting. "May I help you?"
I took Edward's hand and led him to the desk. "We'd like to see your kittens."
"Of course." She smiled. "They're right in the room there. Feel free to look around, and if you don't see any you like, I can take you back to see the older cats."
"Thank you," Edward told her, giving her the smile that made my heart jump-start every time.
When the door to the smaller room closed behind us, the din of noise coming from the other rooms lessened. Most of the young animals in this room were quiet, either sleeping or eating from the small dish in their cage. A few were just sitting there behind the cage door, looking out into the room, their eyes trained on us as we entered.
"God, there are so many," I breathed, swallowing around a lump in my throat.
All in all, I could see four cages with several puppies each and three cages with kittens. In one of the puppy cages, the mommy dog was nursing four babies that couldn't have been more than two weeks old. They were some kind of mixed breed. Beside them was a cage with two puppies that looked like they were almost ready to move back to the adult dog section of the shelter. The third cage of puppies were obviously bulldogs. They were so wrinkled and ugly that they were cute.
In the last cage, the puppies didn't look much older than the first – on closer inspection, the card in the lower left corner of the cage said they were six-week-old Havanese. They were the cutest things I'd ever seen, with silky, soft-looking black fur, adorable faces, and the saddest possible expressions. Three were curled around each other, but one was huddled in the corner by himself. His head was down on his front paws – one of which was white on the toes to match the white tip of his muzzle. I put my finger in through the wire of the cage and stroked his soft head, feeling my heart break when he nuzzled his head against my finger once before shying away.
Giving that precious baby one last sad look, I turned my attention to Edward, who was across the small room with the kittens.
"Find one you like?" I asked, slipping my arm through his.
Edward nodded his head toward one cage, where a kitten was alone, sitting right at the bars, mewing softly. The card read: "Female, 6 weeks old, domestic longhair. Found abandoned in street on 12/02/10."
"I'll go ask her to come get her out for us," I murmured, squeezing his arm.
"Hold on," Edward said softly to the kitten as he carefully put the cat carrier in the back seat, pulling the seat belt tight around. The kitten meowed pitifully as Edward jostled the carrier into position. "Shh, Cookie. It's okay. You'll be fine."
I turned in my seat. "Cookie?" Raising an eyebrow, I couldn't stop the chuckle from escaping.
Edward shrugged. "It seemed fitting."
Looking at his adorable face, cheeks tinged pink from embarrassment and a boyish grin in place, I smiled and nodded. "I like it."
The pink disappeared, and the boyish grin turned into his trademark sexy crooked smile as he straightened and closed the door, coming around to the driver's seat. Just before getting into the car, he said, "Oh! I'll be right back. I forgot the paperwork."
While he was inside, I turned back to face the kitten, trying to soothe her crying by speaking softly. Watching her pace back and forth at the edge of the door to the carrier, I couldn't help but grin. Edward had been so cute when the shelter lady had come back to the room to get her out for him.
"Okay," the older woman said as she shuffled into the room. "You're interested in this little one, hmm?" At Edward's nod, she smiled. "She had a bad case of fleas and ringworm when she was brought in, so she had to be treated before she could be released for adoption. We just put her out last week. For some reason, we've had a run of people interested in little boy kittens, but not many for little girls. So you're the first ones who've asked to see her, which is a shame because she's just a lovey, aren't you, sweetheart?" She lifted the mewling kitten out of the cage, petting her little furry head softly. "Here you go, young man."
Edward beamed and gently took the kitten from the woman's hands. "Ouch! Watch the claws, little one," he scolded gently.
We all started to scramble as the kitten climbed up the sleeves of Edward's sweatshirt, but to all of our surprise, she settled on his shoulder, digging her claws into the fabric as she began purring. Her head was right by his ear, and he grinned.
"That tickles." Edward looked up at me. "What do you think?"
I laughed softly. "I think she's chosen you."
He beamed another grin and turned to the shelter lady. "We'll take her."
Five minutes later, Edward opened the door to the car and climbed in, waving the papers and pulling me out of my thoughts. "Sorry. I wanted to get her recommendation on a good vet in the area, and she was on the phone, so I had to wait."
Shrugging, I turned back to face the front. I'd been turned to look back at the kitten, who was still yowling loudly, sounding so lonely. "It's okay. Cookie kept me company."
Edward grinned. "Good. Let's go home."
I gave one last glance at the shelter as we drove away. I knew not every dog and cat would be adopted out into good homes, but my heart was breaking for the poor little puppy that had looked so lonely in a cage with his siblings.
Maybe someday, I thought with a sad smile.
Seattle... Friday, December 24, 2010 at 8:35 P.M.
I set the two mugs of hot chocolate down onto the coffee table before clicking the TV off and turning on a CD of Christmas music that Bella had asked me to record on the piano. I snorted, hearing my own mistakes, but it wasn't something she'd most likely catch.
With a nervous hand through my hair, I walked into the library and straight to my father's old desk. I knew I was about to get into trouble, but I couldn't just let our first Christmas go by without getting my girl something, despite how we'd agreed that we didn't need anything. It was just supposed to be us, a celebration of being together after a really long year of waiting, writing letters, pining to be with each other. I opened the bottom drawer and pulled the small wrapped gift out from behind the file folders. Thinking maybe I'd wait for another time, or perhaps present it to her for the new year, I'd stashed it away, but after spending such an amazing evening with her, I wanted her to have it. It sort of fit with why we were alone for the holiday anyway.
Walking into the living room, I cracked a smile. It seemed I wasn't the only one that had broken our rule. Setting my own wrapped gift next to another one on the coffee table, I chuckled down at my girl, who was lying lengthwise on the sofa, wrapped in a quilt. Falling down over her, I smirked as she eyed the two gifts.
"We're both liars, huh?" She giggled, cupping my face.
"It's good we found out now," I said, using a false sincerity to my tone. "I mean...it gives us something for our New Year's resolutions. Otherwise, it'll soon be lies, lies, nothing but lies all the time."
Bella laughed, pushing at me until we both sat up. "Fine, Pinocchio. Let's see, then."
Raising an eyebrow up at her, I suddenly snatched her gift up, ripping at the paper, but her laughter made me stop.
"What? There's a time for being a gentleman, but Christmas presents isn't it!" I explained, absolutely reveling in that happy face that was now suddenly nervous. I stopped, setting the gift on my lap. "What, sweet girl?"
"It's just... It's not much, but I thought you could use it. I mean...and it looked so much like you," she rattled off, biting nervously at her thumbnail.
Leaning over, I pressed a kiss to her wrinkled brow. "It could be a bowling ball, and I'd love it, my beautiful girl."
She snorted, rolling her eyes, and poked the side of my leg. "It's not a bowling ball, Edward."
"I can see that." I chuckled, only to lean in to her ear. "Thank God. I hate bowling," I whispered.
Bella merely shook her head at me, watching my every move as I tore off the wrapping paper. Inside the small box was a little black book with an elastic band around it. Opening it up, my eyebrows rose high into my hairline. It was a music journal of sorts, filled with blank composition pages. On the front of the leather cover, my initials – EAM – were engraved on a small plate, surrounded by a couple of music notes. It was really beautiful.
"You asked for composition pages while you were overseas," Bella said softly. "And you'll be starting school next month... I thought maybe..."
Cupping her chin, I forced her nervous gaze to mine. "It's absolutely perfect, love. I will use the hell out of this." I kissed her lips softly, pressing my forehead to hers. "Thank you, Bella."
"The cover comes off so you can put in a new notebook when that one's full," she added, sounding much more confident and relaxed now.
I kissed her again, losing myself for just a moment, simply because I could. Pulling away, I reached over, setting my gift for her in her lap.
"It seems we were thinking similarly, but while you were concerned with the future, I went with the past," I said with a smirk.
My girl was neater when it came to unwrapping her gift than I had been. But when a book was revealed, her fingers immediately opened to the first page, which caused a gasp to escape her.
"Is this...? Did you...?" she sputtered, suddenly flipping through several pages, only to occasionally stop to read.
"Every single letter and email between us up until I came home," I whispered, glancing worriedly between the book in her shaking hands to her now watery eyes. "I never want to lose them."
The company that I'd found had done an amazing job; they'd used copies with our own handwriting for the first letters but had transcribed every email into a beautiful font for every word after that. They'd bound it all in leather, using a parchment-like paper in order to give it that classic look.
"I tried to wait," I rambled, glancing over her shoulder at a few pages, "but I found that I couldn't."
Truer words never had been spoken. In fact, I found that there were a lot of things that I just couldn't wait on any longer. It was all I could do not to beg her right then to marry me. But I didn't think the time was right. I knew I needed to wait, give ourselves time to acclimate to being together on some sort of daily basis, but fuck me to tears, I wanted it. With moving, Charlie's wedding, traveling for the holidays, my getting accepted into UW, and Bella's school schedule, I'd yet to find that right time. But it was getting harder and harder not to just beg her to be my wife. What kept my mouth shut was the fact that her ring wasn't even in the house.
"I'm glad you didn't," she gushed, turning to kiss me quickly. "Edward, it's really amazing. And to see them back to back..."
"I know," I said with a nod. "It's like watching the whole thing happen." Sweeping her hair off of her neck, I chuckled softly against her skin. "You like it, I'm guessing."
"I do! I love it! Thank you," she gushed, closing it, only to open it back to the beginning.
Bella barely took her eyes off of the pages, even when I shifted us on the couch so that she was sitting between my legs. Pulling her back to my chest, I read over her shoulder as she skimmed through the first few letters. Just our simple, kind, polite introductions brought back the memories of where I'd been, how she'd made me feel.
"Hello, Sergeant Masen! You don't know me. My name is Bella Swan."
"But if I never hear from you again, Miss Swan, which I completely understand...again, thank you. Sincerely, Sergeant Edward Anthony Masen"
"Cookie Thief," Bella said with a giggle, which only made me smile against her shoulder.
"You still are!" I growled dramatically. "Not every cookie makes it into the jar."
"It's my right as baker, Edward," she argued, leaning in to my kiss to her cheek.
Easy, getting-to-know-you conversations slowly changed to revealing histories, past loves, the deaths of my parents, and finally, Twenty Questions – the latter of which changed everything. Walls started to come down, the flirting started to kick up, and it was pretty fucking obvious that the two of us were falling just about the same time. And it all came bubbling over when I got hurt.
"Fuck, everything changed then," I sighed softly, shaking my head at the emails that occurred after the Skype session where we'd both said "I love you" for the first time.
"Yeah," she said slowly, softly, and with a slight nod of her head, but then she snorted into a sexy-as-hell giggle. "I can't believe you had the doc measure your cock..."
I groaned at the sound of that word escaping her lips and at the fact that I'd been that fucked up on pain meds to allow someone to do it. My forehead hit her shoulder as she laughed that much harder.
"The doc asked, love," I snorted, shaking my head but keeping my face buried. "I'd just finished reading one of your emails; I was stoned on pain meds, so I had a severe problem at the moment. When he mentioned the reaction of my body, the request came flying out of my mouth before I could stop myself."
She closed the book, set it on the table, and turned over so that we were stomach to stomach. "You know, Sarge," she purred, her eyes dark as she braced her hands on my shoulders, "we can't exactly show the kids or grandkids this book."
"Or anyone else, for that matter," I clarified with a chuckle, tucking her hair behind her ear with one hand while the other skimmed over the T-shirt of mine that she was wearing and down to her sweet bottom that was barely covered in soft cotton. "We weren't exactly..."
"Rated G," she finished with an adorable snort, but then bit down on her bottom lip. "We said it all, you know..."
"Mm," I hummed against her lips. "We did. And we haven't even come close to acting some of those out..."
"So true..." she breathed, rubbing her body just right against my now-growing cock to make me shudder. "But the ones we have were so, so good..."
"You still look so fucking sexy in my shirts," I stated, gripping her bottom so that I could pull her up to straddle me.
"I can't get in an elevator unless you're with me," she said with a sexy grin and a tortuously slow roll of her hips.
"Do we even shower alone anymore?" I asked, smiling crookedly up at her as she loomed over me. Her hair fell around us like a curtain, smelling clean, flowery, and a touch like the cookies she'd baked earlier to take to Charlie's.
"Not if we don't have to." She laughed, running her fingers through my hair. "And don't get me started on this place," she said, waving a finger around. "Is there a spot in this house we haven't defiled?"
"I doubt it," I crooned against her lips, "but I'm all for repeats. You know, just in case we missed someplace."
"God, you are so beautiful," I sighed, tracing my finger along her cheekbone as I reveled in her sweet, silly, slightly lust-filled face. The combination on her was absolutely fucking breathtaking.
Bella's eyes were heavy-lidded, but her smile softened into warm and wanting. Her body molded to mine as she leaned down to kiss me. My hands skimmed up her thighs, over her bottom, and underneath her shirt.
"I love your hands on me," she whispered against my lips, only to pull away long enough for me to gather up her shirt and toss it to the living room floor.
My hands didn't stop; they merely continued to touch every inch of her. I held her breasts in my hands, my thumbs brushing lightly across her peaked nipples just to hear the sweet whimper that always escaped her. Trailing my fingertips down her spine, I slipped underneath the waistband of the bright red and green boyshorts she was wearing.
Bending my legs behind her, I whispered, "Lie back."
I tugged at her legs so that her feet were on my chest. Grabbing her underwear, I pulled them down and off of her, which left me with the best view of her hot, wet pussy sitting on my bare chest.
"Look at how wet you are, love," I purred, teasing the inside of her thighs with a single finger. I bit down on my bottom lip, trying my damnedest to not just eat her alive, but I was pretty sure I'd fail. "How'd that happen?"
"Your letters, Edward," she panted, her head falling back as my finger slipped just inside her folds to taunt her. I could feel her soft hair down my legs, the tips tickling the tops of my feet. "The things you said to me...I ended up in this state every time."
I smiled, kissing her ankles. Her thighs pressed together and her hips raised up, but I stopped her. "Uh uh, sweet girl. Open up for me. I want to watch my fingers fuck you."
Her legs fell open, and the heat and wetness that enveloped my finger as I slid inside of her caused a hissing string of curses to erupt from me. My thumb found her clit, circling it, applying just enough pressure to make her walls clench.
Bella's body rolled from head to toe in a glorious, wanton wave. "More, baby, please."
"How many, Isabella?" I asked, her nipping at the skin of her calf. "How many fingers did I tell you to use?"
"Umm... Ah, fuck," she gasped when I added a second finger inside of her.
"How many, love?"
"Th-Three," she finally answered, her voice raspy.
"That's right, three. Look at me, baby," I commanded. "Watch me make you come..."
My girl's brow was glistening with sweat as she sat up, but her breathing was coming out in pants as I removed my fingers from her and licked the flavor of her off of them, only to slide inside her again – this time, with a third finger. Fuck, she was so wet, so hot, and so very, very close as she watched what my hand was doing to her, the sound almost overshadowing the music that was playing in the background.
Using my other hand, I spread her open, finding her clit swollen and so sensitive. Starting with a slow circle, I teased it, flicked it, finally applying enough pressure to feel her climax almost reach its breaking point.
"Oh, sweet girl. Come for me," I begged her because I needed to be inside of her soon.
Watching her, feeling her, tasting her was driving me mad. I was hard as steel, throbbing to the point of it being painful. She was too beautiful, too responsive to my touch for her own good. She was the epitome of sexy and sensual.
Her walls clenched hard. Her head fell back again as my name filled the room. But it was the raising of her hips, her feet pushing up off of me, and the shaky grip of her hands on her thighs that made me smile in triumph. Her whole body jerked, her fingers grasping at my wrists to pull me away. As she sat up, I could feel her juices against the skin of my stomach.
"Put your legs down, baby," she said, scooting back and tugging my boxers down.
With quick movements, we shifted until I was braced over her because I couldn't wait much longer. Staring down at her at the same time I lifted one of her legs between us, I knew I wouldn't last very long without asking her to be mine in every way, to be my wife. I'd thought I could wait, but I'd been so fucking wrong. I loved her too much, needed her too much to keep holding it back.
But for now, all I could articulate was, "Merry Christmas, my sweet girl. I love you."
Seattle... Friday, December 24, 2010 at 4:22 P.M.
"Sweetheart, you want some more cocoa?" Edward murmured, holding his hand out.
"Mmm, yeah, thanks." I smiled, handing him my now empty mug.
As he went to the kitchen for more hot chocolate, I gazed into the fireplace, thinking of all the changes we'd made to the house in the last month.
The first, of course, was the gorgeous fireplace currently situated in the entertainment center that held the television. The weather had been unseasonably warm for most of November, but once the cold weather hit, Edward had suggested trying to find a gas or gel fireplace that would work. We'd found this one almost immediately. Because the room didn't have a lot of extra wall space, finding one that was in a media unit was perfect for our needs. The TV sat on top of it, and there was plenty of room on the shelves for all the gaming stuff plus some books and pictures.
We'd also painted the living room and bedroom. Not huge changes, but it went from feeling like some general house to a home. Since we were renting, there wasn't a lot else we could do, but just the small changes had made a difference.
And once we'd gotten back from Florida, we'd started looking at the Christmas decorations I already had. I usually had a fake tree, but since this was our first Christmas together, we both decided we wanted to do a live one. That meant waiting a couple of weeks, but before then, we hung up garland, put out other decorations, and made the house feel like Christmas. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, we'd gone with the gang to one of the tree farms in the area and cut our own. It was currently situated in the corner, and although we'd had to shift things around to fit, it was perfect. We'd thought about sticking with a couple of colors, but in the end, with the personal ornaments – including a couple that Irina had saved and included in one of the boxes from Chicago – and the lights, it was kind of a mess, but we loved it and thought it was beautiful.
Edward handed me my mug and then slid down onto the couch beside me. "We did a good job, didn't we?"
Leaning over to kiss him once, I agreed with a nod. "We did."
"Have you heard from the girls?"
"Oh! Yeah, Alice texted about an hour ago while you were outside, shoveling the snow. They got there just fine."
Edward smiled. "Good. I figured they would, but it's kind of slick out, so that's good to know." He took a sip of hot chocolate before speaking again. "I bet Alice was glad to see her parents."
Smiling, I said, "Yeah, I'm sure she was. They've always been close. Her parents are great. They weren't really strict, but then...Alice wasn't really a hellion or anything. Esme was a good mother figure whenever I needed one after moving to Forks. It wasn't that my mom wouldn't listen if I needed her to, but sometimes, it was just easier to have a mother's shoulder right there to cry on or a mother's perspective about a situation if she knew the players involved. And Carlisle is just...well, there's really no better way to say it than he's Carlisle." I laughed, shaking my head. "He's so selfless, and he'll go out of his way to help you if you need it. He has all the nurses pining for him because he's so sexy—" I giggled at Edward's raised eyebrow. "Sorry, but he is. He looks younger than he is, so people are surprised when they find out he's old enough to be a grandfather."
"Jasper seems happy with them," he commented.
I nodded. "He is. They accepted him from minute one, treating him like a son. He loves Ali like crazy, and they can tell that. They're great because they love Emmett, Rose, and me like their own, too, just like I know they will you." I squeezed his thigh, where my hand was resting gently.
"Are you upset that you aren't with them down in Forks now?" Edward looked a little worried, sad, and definitely curious.
Shaking my head once, I moved, angling my body more toward him. "Babe, this was the right decision for both of us. Tomorrow, we're going to Forks to spend the day with my family. I'll get to see Esme and Carlisle then. I wanted to spend some of it with just the two of us. Today is about us as a couple – celebrating our first Christmas together. Don't doubt at all that this is what I wanted, okay?"
After a moment, he smiled, leaning in to kiss me softly. "Okay," he murmured against my lips.
When the kiss didn't seem to be stopping, he reached over and put his mug on the table beside the couch. Then he took mine and set it beside his, never once letting his lips move from mine. He cupped my hip and tugged. I took the hint and moved to straddle him, groaning when he rocked his hips.
A few minutes, clothes were scattered around us on the floor, the fire warming our skin as our bodies, sated, finally relaxed once more.
A few hours later, our dinner of frozen pizza finished, Edward and I were settled on the couch in front of the television. We'd debated which of the multiple Christmas movies playing on TV to watch, but in the end, it really hadn't been a hard decision.
"Ohh, what about How the Grinch Stole Christmas?" I asked, pointing to ABC Family on the list of channels.
"If it were the animated version, maybe," Edward said, grimacing. "Not the Jim Carrey one." He watched as I scrolled down farther. "Wait, go back up." When I did, he said, "What about Miracle on 34th Street?"
I shook my head. "Not the new version. I like the old one, but I think that's later tonight."
We both shook our heads at Arnold Schwarzenegger's Jingle All the Way and White Christmas with Bing Crosby, but TBS was the winner.
"Yes! I love this movie," Edward said, nodding as I hit play.
"Me, too. I've seen A Christmas Story at least once every Christmas season." I laughed, shaking my head. "Rose and Alice hate it, but I love it. Charlie does, too, so we usually watch it together – sometimes two or three times."
Somehow, we made it through the ninety-minute movie relatively chastely. Hands had wandered, lips had caressed, but both of us had spent most of the movie actually watching it.
Turning over to face him, I grinned. "I swear, my favorite part is the dogs getting the turkey and then the family having to eat Chinese food for Christmas dinner. The looks on their faces when the waiter solves the problem of the head-on duck are priceless!"
Edward snickered and nodded. "I love that, too, but I gotta go with the leg lamp..."
"Of course you do," I teased, rolling my eyes. "You're such a guy."
"Don't doubt it, sweetheart," he growled, nipping at my jaw.
I pulled away, laughing. "Not now, cowboy. I need to use the bathroom and grab something from the bedroom. Get me some hot chocolate and meet me back here?"
Kissing me softly, Edward smiled against my lips. "Love you, sweet girl."
I kissed him back, taking a moment just to breathe him in. "Love you, too."
Jacksonville... Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 6:46 A.M.
I took a long sip of coffee, staring out over the water. I hadn't wanted to disturb Bella. Her mother had kept her up late chattering about every topic known to man. My girl had handled it with grace, placating her mother until a yawn came out of her mouth with every other word. It was then I'd excused us to bed. Bella hadn't exactly protested.
It would be an understatement to say that Renee was not what I was expecting. At all. She was a little oblivious, a whole lot of everywhere at once, and she really, truly adored her daughter. But if I had to guess, she actually admired Bella for all the things she wasn't – calm, settled, and at ease in her own skin. But that was merely my theory from being with them for a little less than twenty-four hours. My guard was still up around the woman, not only because I needed to be accepted by Bella's mother, but also because I hated, absolutely fucking detested having my girl hurt. And despite my girl's protestations, I knew that Renee had disappointed Bella on more than one occasion.
Renee and Phil owned a condo with a beautiful view of the Atlantic, and the sun was just barely trying to make itself known. It was baby blue, pink, and just a hint of orange coming up over the water. The moon and a few stars tried their best to cling to the last pieces of the night, but they were failing.
I shifted in the deck chair on the back porch, shaking my head. It was strange being back in Florida, but different. Flashes of a different beach, the zoo, and an outrageous game of mini-golf came to mind, and I smiled down at my cup. It seemed so fucking long ago, but at the same time, like a blink of an eye. Damn, I wouldn't trade a fucking second of it.
"You're up early," I heard softly behind me.
Glancing up, I saw Renee with her own cup of coffee leaning against the sliding glass doorway.
I smiled and nodded. "Some old habits die hard," I told her. "I could say the same for you."
"My sleeping is erratic." She chuckled, taking a seat in the chair next to mine. "Some days, I stay up all night...others, I just wake up too early." She smiled over at me, and I could see Bella in it. "Or maybe I was just excited about today."
I snickered a little and gazed out over the water again, thinking that sort of fit with her personality. The colors were brightening, the pinks having given way to bright yellow.
"It's rare she lets me take care of her," Renee continued, wearing a small yet sad smile, but then she laughed. "I promise you, Edward, that when she wakes up, the first thing she's going to want to do is cook, simply because she thinks she has to."
"True." I laughed, nodding, because that was the last thing my sweet girl had muttered to me before falling asleep. "Did you have plans, then?" I asked her, grinning when she nodded just like Bella.
"Yes, of course," she said haughtily. "I want to take you kids out. Treat you. No cooking, no cleaning, no football." She stressed the last word with a roll of her eyes. "I'm sure you had enough of that with Charlie. And there's this great place just up the beach."
"Sounds great," I hedged, grinning again down at my cup. "Now you just have to tell Bella she can't cook."
Renee snorted and nodded. "Don't I know it."
We were quiet for a moment, something that shocked me, but it was welcome nonetheless. Seagulls started calling to one another, the waves crashed in the distance, and wind rustled the palm trees in front of us. It was soothing. And suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to go wrestle my girl out of bed just to bring her out here to see it.
"You love her," Renee suddenly said, though her voice was soft.
I gazed over at her, studying her expression. It was shock and awe, maybe even a touch of jealousy, but I couldn't be sure. And I could see my girl over every bit of that woman's face – the wrinkle of the nose, the minute tilt of the head, the slight rise of an eyebrow, and even the dark locks curling around her shoulders. The only thing I didn't see was Bella's soulful, warm brown eyes, which she truly got from Charlie.
"Yes," I said slowly and carefully. "Very much. She's...everything to me." My voice might have come across as a little harsh. I wasn't worried about her approval as much as Charlie's, but I also didn't want my intentions with Bella to be unknown to her.
"Good," she said, her eyes watering a little. "Bella needs someone that will pamper her. Lord knows, she spent her whole life as this...tiny little grownup. She took care of me, of Charlie, and herself."
"That's just who she is," I defended, shrugging a shoulder. "Bella takes care of people she loves. I'm not sure that'll ever change, no matter how much I try to pamper her."
A touch of guilt flashed across Renee's features, and I finally saw what Bella had been talking about. Her mother totally meant well, but at some point in Bella's life, my girl had just...taken control in their relationship. She became the rock, allowing Renee to explore...well, Renee. There had been a time when Renee had needed a ten-year-old Bella to make sure the rent and utilities were paid, but now, the mother really, truly wanted to return the favor to her daughter without dredging up anything from the past. Renee was, by no means, stupid.
"And just how do you plan on pampering her?" Renee suddenly asked. "Bella says that you're going back to school..."
I laughed, holding up a hand. "My parents left me... Well, I'm fine. Let's put it that way. Bella doesn't have to work if she doesn't want to, but I'd never tell her that. She loves teaching, and her students adore her."
There was a part of me that wanted to tell her that she'd know these things about Bella had she only made the effort to visit Seattle, but I didn't. I was pretty fucking sure that Renee knew that.
Heavy, thumping footsteps down the stairs caught our attention, and we both waved to a sleepy-headed Phil, who made a bee-line straight for the coffee maker in the kitchen.
I drained the last dregs in my cup, standing up from my chair. I smiled down at Renee, having finally come to some sort of understanding about her.
"I guess I'll go plead your non-cooking case to Bella," I told her with a chuckle.
Renee giggled and stood up next to me. She pulled me into an unexpected hug and then kissed my cheek. "I'm glad she's got you. She needs you," she stated softly, but her eyes were warm. "I know my daughter, Edward. She talks about you more than she's talked about anyone in her entire life. She looks at you like you hung the moon. She never needed me, but she really does need you."
Frowning, I let out a sigh. "Take it from me; you always need your mom, Renee...in any capacity."
She smiled and nodded. "Go wake our girl, okay? And tell her whatever shopping list she's making can go in the garbage. Maybe we can walk the beach later... Oh! Or there's this really sweet theater that will be open later..."
Chuckling at her sudden shift in gears, I stepped back inside the house, fixed a cup of coffee for Bella with enough cream and sugar to put someone in a coma, and made my way upstairs. Just as Renee and I had guessed, Bella was sitting cross-legged in bed, a pad of paper and pen in hand.
"Morning, sweet girl," I said, setting the coffee on her nightstand and dropping a kiss to her forehead.
"I have to find an open grocery store. My mom has hardly anything I need in order to..."
I took the pad and pen, yanking them from her hands, and tossed them over my shoulder before falling down over her, pushing her gently to her back. I smiled as I braced my hands on either side of her head.
"Edward," she protested, her brow furrowing, but there was a smile playing on her lips as I kissed them to shut her up.
"Hush, beautiful. You aren't doing anything today, except what your mom tells you," I told her, brushing my lips across hers.
"Oh, what? Now you and Renee are BFFs?" She giggled, wrapping her arms around my neck.
"We might be." I chuckled, settling in the cradle of her thighs. "I can be...very charming when I want to be."
"Don't I know it." She laughed, squeaking when my hand shot underneath the T-shirt of mine that she was wearing in order to tickle her ribs.
"And your mom just wants to spoil you," I stated, raising an eyebrow up at her, but I kissed her again.
I wanted to tell her that Renee struggled with the thought that Bella didn't need her, but the two of them had a dynamic that just worked, and I just didn't want to fuck with that. Ever. My unease at meeting Renee faded away into just wanting Bella to have a good time. Why mess with a good thing? In a small way, I envied Bella.
"Come, baby," I said, pushing off of her. "She and Phil want to take us somewhere."
"Would you quit asking questions and get your sweet ass out of bed?" I laughed, pulling her up.
"Okay, okay," Bella acquiesced with a giggle, standing up and grabbing the coffee I'd made for her, "but only if you shower with me."
Smirking, I couldn't help but step closer. "Why Isabella...whatever do you have in mind?"
"Shower with me, and I'll show you, Mr. Obtuse." She laughed, squealing when I stepped menacingly forward again. "I might need to start this day off right in order to survive it."
"Mm," I groaned, wrapping my arms around her and burying my face in her neck. "Yes, ma'am..."
"What a nasty witch!" Renee exclaimed in an over-exaggerated whisper as she and Bella walked arm in arm on the beach.
I rolled my eyes, but Tanya did bring out the best reactions in people.
"Man, that was kinda cold," Phil muttered beside me.
I snorted and shrugged. I was feeling full from dinner, tired from having traveled, and if I were to be honest, a little homesick for Seattle – even though the flight back tomorrow would be long and tedious. However, I wouldn't have traded coming here for anything because the look on Bella's face was truly my reward. She'd come here expecting to have to run the show, and she didn't, so watching her just enjoy her mother's company was amazing to me.
Dinner had been filled with animated conversations and really good food. The restaurant had been on an old pier made to look like a fishing shack, but the food had been outstanding. Along with the traditional Thanksgiving menu, they'd also offered foods with a touch of Florida in them – grouper sandwiches, key lime pie, and oyster stuffing...the last of which I just about gorged myself on.
Phil and I had listened to the two women reminisce about holidays past in quiet amusement, but it was true what Bella had said. Renee didn't settle down in places for very long. In fact, Phoenix and Jacksonville had been the longest.
"I know, right?" Bella giggled, rolling those beautiful brown eyes up to her mother.
I chuckled at her, finally turning to Phil. "Best thing that ever happened to me, though," I admitted to him.
He grinned, slapping my shoulder. "Sometimes it happens that way."
We arrived back at the condo, and I had to admit that walking had helped with my full stomach, but I wanted to groan when Renee piped up with more plans and activities.
"So...movies, and there's this little shopping center that'll be open early for Black Friday..."
Phil, though, moaned, rolling his eyes. "Renee, sweetheart, give us a break, will ya? Let them breathe."
"You just want a nap," she accused, smirking at him while poking a finger into his chest.
"Yes! Absolutely," he said with an amused chuckle, "but I'd settle for a cup of coffee and a chance to sit down for a minute."
"But they're leaving tomorrow," she argued, frowning.
"Mom," Bella said, stepping in but also taking my hand, "we'll go wherever you want, but I could use coffee, too. That food made me sleepy."
And there it was. The dynamic they'd always shared. Renee immediately gushed about some new creamer and dragged her daughter inside to make the coffee. I sat down on the lounger on the back deck, deciding it was my favorite spot. It kept me in earshot of Bella, but it also afforded them their own privacy.
It wasn't long before a mug shot into my view.
"Here, handsome," Bella said, sitting down between my legs when I patted the cushion. "You okay?"
Chuckling, I kissed the skin of her neck once as I pulled her back to my chest. "I'm better than okay, love. I've got the most beautiful woman in my lap. What the hell is there to complain about?"
"Well, the fact that my mother can wear people out?" She snickered, picking up her cup and taking a sip.
"You've met Emmett, right?" I joked. "Big guy? Talks too much? Zero filter from his brain to his mouth?"
"Yes," she answered with a giggle, turning to kiss my cheek. "Point taken, Edward."
"I'm glad we came. Seeing your mother is good for you," I told her, kissing her temple. "I still think she needs to come visit you, but...maybe that's not always feasible."
"Hey," she whispered, turning just a little so that deep, sweet brown eyes scanned over my face.
"What, sweet girl?"
"Let's spend Christmas alone...just the two of us," she suggested, shrugging a shoulder. "At least Christmas Eve. I know Charlie will want us down for Christmas Day, but..."
I grinned and then dropped a kiss to her lips. She tasted like sugar and coffee and the mint she'd eaten after dinner. "That sounds...really fucking good."
"Okay, kids!" Renee sang from inside the house. "What movie are we seeing?"
My chuckle snorted into a full-blown laugh when both Bella and Phil groaned.
"Whatever you want, Mom," Bella sighed, shaking her head slightly.
I took her cup of coffee and set it on the table, only to turn her sideways in my lap. Kissing her lips softly, I trailed my lips down her cheek to her ear.
"Mmm," I hummed, opening my mouth for just a small taste of her. "Too bad your mom's going... The things we could get away with in a cold, dark theater, Isabella..."
Fingers wove into my hair, holding me where she wanted me as I left small kisses just behind her earlobe.
"You... You're the devil, babe," she responded with a soft laugh.
"Perhaps," I purred against the shell of her ear, tracing my tongue around it.
She laughed, shoving me back a little and standing up. "Come on, Sarge. We'll test your theory when we get back to Seattle."
Grinning, I took her hand when she offered it and stood up in front of her. "Excellent," I praised, causing her to laugh. "We'll have a few days when we get home before you go back to school."
My girl's eyes softened at the mention of the word "home." And I understood. We could go anywhere, but our house on the quiet little street had truly become our safe haven. It had been the goal for so long that we lived for the little bubble we'd created.
"I know, love," I said, kissing her forehead. "Come on, we'll play the dutiful kids for a few more hours, and then tomorrow, we can go home. Okay?"
She smiled, kissed my lips, and nodded. "Okay."