Falling for a Dark Soul @tufano79
Chapter 20

Disclaimer: None of this mine, nor do I claim to be Stephenie Meyer. I just like to dabble in the playground that she created with Bella, Edward and her Twilight characters. No copyright infringement is intended.

I had every intention to get to New Year’s Eve, but the previous chapter got to be too long. Up next will be New Year’s Eve, the return to work and introduction of a new character …

Chapter Twenty

Edward

By four in the afternoon, Katie’s party was over. The goodie bags had been distributed and the party planner was kind enough to give us a cart for her mountain of presents. My father and I were loading up the gifts into the back of my car. “I’m impressed that Bella pulled this off so quickly,” Dad said.

“She had some help,” I replied, trying to balance the gifts in the trunk. “One of her neighbors, Senna, gave her this suggestion.” I wrinkled my nose at my mention of Senna. She saw me and she scowled in my direction.

“You don’t like Senna?”

“She doesn’t like me, but it’s justified. I was an asshole to her,” I frowned. “She talked smack about me to Bella and …”

“Edward, you’ve changed. Anyone, even a blind man, can see how much you’ve changed,” Dad breathed.

“Regardless, I don’t care much about Senna,” I shrugged. “As long as she doesn’t continue to give me shit and all. Keeping me at arm’s length is probably best.”

“What did you do that she sees you as an asshole?”

“It had something to do with Sam. Her daughter went to pet Sam, but without asking. Sam is a good dog, but if he wasn’t trained … he could have snapped. So, I snapped at Senna and at her daughter,” I huffed. “Anyone with a brain knows this. Senna went off on me and I yelled right back. You and I both know that if Sam had tried to bite the little girl? She’d demand that he be put down.”

“She sounds like an entitled bitch,” Dad snorted humorlessly. “Did you ever see a video of some woman going off on another woman who wouldn’t let her pet her service animal? The one lady said she was going to call her lawyer because it was against her civil rights. The woman with service animal just rolled her eyes and walked away. The first lady smacked the other one and suffice it to say, the woman with the dog kicked ass.”

“I would never hit a woman, but we exchanged words,” I deadpanned.

“Edward, you would never intentionally hurt anyone. Despite your past, you are an inherently good man,” Dad breathed. “And, from what you described, Senna was wrong. Should you have approached it differently? Probably, but it doesn’t negate the fact that you were right.”

I closed the back of the SUV and saw the woman in question. She was walking with her daughter and husband. Her husband, Nahuel, was a cool guy. We’d ended up talking for some time about sports, football at Katie’s party. Jasper even invited him to come join us on our usual Sunday date to watch the Bears suck. He agreed. She glowered at me. She spoke with her husband and sashayed toward me.

“Do you want me to stay, Edward?” Dad asked.

I nodded, leaning against the cart.

“You have some balls coming to this party, Cullen,” she snapped. “I don’t know what you did to Bella, but you’re not a good guy. I’ve told her, numerous times, that you’re an opportunistic prick.”

“She probably also told you that you’re full of it, hmmmm?” I asked. “Look, you may never like me. That’s your choice, your prerogative.”

“You yelled at my kid!” she growled. “If you don’t want people talking to you, then you shouldn’t have your mangy dog with you!”

“If my mangy dog bit your kid, what would you have done then?” I hissed. She sneered at me. “Senna, you don’t have to like me but one interaction where I was trying to protect your daughter? That does not entitle you to talk to my girlfriend and say that I’m an asshole.”

“You are an asshole,” Senna argued.

“I beg to differ,” Dad snorted. “You’re the one throwing a hissy fit while he’s calmly talking to you. If anyone looks like an asshole, it’s you.”

“Sen, come on,” said Nahuel as walked over to us. Tia was in the car, watching from the backseat.

“No! I want an apology. Tia deserves an apology,” Senna yelled.

“I’m not going to let you continue to act like this,” Nahuel said, taking her hand. “You think that Edward was an asshole, but he isn’t. I happen to like him. So, let it go and you need to fucking apologize to him for all the bullshit you shared with Bella. She’s over it. The only reason why she continues to interact with us because Tia and Katie are close.”

“You’re on his side? You’re supposed to be on mine!” Senna screeched.

“Apologize, Sen,” Nahuel said calmly but angrily. His wife glared at him and stomped away. He pinched his nose before looking at me. “I’m so sorry, Edward. My wife can hold a grudge like no other.”

“Thank you for sticking up for me,” I shrugged. “You may want to go since Senna looks like she’s going to drive off without you.” Nahuel sighed, shaking my hand before running back to his car.

“You made a strong ally in him,” Dad smirked. “She also acted like the asshole, obviously. Now, regardless of that, I’m freezing my balls off.”

“Too much information, Dad,” I snickered. We rolled the cart back inside. Bella was sitting in a chair, her feet up and she was holding a snoozing Katie. “She crashed?”

“Combination of being up early, sugar high and over-excitement,” Bella said.

“Where’s Esme?” Dad asked.

“She’s going to the bathroom, but will be right back,” Bella answered. “Can you pick her up, Edward? I need to put on my coat.” I nodded, easily lifting Katie into my arms. Bella put on her coat, picking up Katie’s.

“I’m back,” Esme said. She nuzzled Katie. “She’s so sweet, Edward.”

“Yeah, she is,” I smiled, kissing Katie’s forehead. She sighed gripping my shirt as she fell into a deeper sleep. We somehow managed to get out of Navy Pier. Bella was hugged by my mother and they made tentative plans to go out for lunch at some point. My father looked at us proudly, with a serenity in his gaze that I never expected to see.

Just as we arrived back at Bella’s brownstone, Katie woke up. She was a little disoriented and emotional. She broke down in tears, asking for her mother. Bella’s eyes welled with tears and looked at me, grief apparent in her gaze. We got Katie inside, along with the leftover cake and presents and she had a tantrum about Bella asking to take off her coat. “I’m sorry, Edward,” Bella whispered.

“I can go,” I said. “I don’t want to …”

“Trust me, when she’s like this, it’s hellish,” Bella sighed. “I’m surprised that it took this long for her to have a meltdown.”

“Call me if you need me, angel,” I whispered. She nodded, sliding her arms around my waist. I closed my eyes, pressing my lips to her forehead. I love you, Bella. Both of you. Begrudgingly, I left the brownstone and drove back to my condo.

I’d purchased this place after my divorce from Tanya. I needed a fresh start away from the memories of my broken marriage. The condo was the complete opposite from my old place. Tanya had decorated it and it was ostentatious, filled with expensive furniture and accessories. I liked things to be clean and uncluttered. Tanya just put crap up everywhere because it was expensive. My new condo had simple, modern furniture and clean lines. I liked it, but compared to Bella’s brownstone? It was cold, empty. Her house was filled with warmth and love. The only thing that was warm in my home was my dog.

Opening the door, Sam was dancing in the foyer. His tail was wagging excitedly. “Hey, buddy,” I said, crouching down and scrubbing behind his ears. “Were you a good boy?” He barked his response, kissing my jaw. “Come on, Sam. Let’s go outside.” Hooking him up to his leash, we rode back down to the street level. We walked around the block and Sam did his business. When he was done, we went back inside and I fed him. Opening up a bottle of beer, I leaned against the kitchen counter.

My phone rang and I frowned, seeing Jenks’ number flash across the screen. “You’re working on a Sunday night? What the hell, Jenks?”

“Hello to you, too, Cullen,” he snorted. “Did you have a lovely Christmas?”

“It was perfect,” I answered. “Now, what’s up? What does the ex-shrew want?”

“Nothing. Her attorney contacted me and said that she was moving away. She went into rehab after she got publicly dumped by her recent boyfriend,” Jenks explained. “She was going to be arrested, but she worked out a deal with the guy.”

“So, what does this have to do with me other than it’s my ex-shrew?”

“She’s gone, Edward. She’s moved to California and she’s out of your life,” Jenks explained. “Through her attorney, she had a letter delivered to me to give to you. It was just couriered over. That’s why I called you. Do you want me to open it? Do want me to send it to you? Do you want me to toss it?”

“Um, send it,” I answered.

“You okay, Edward?” Jenks asked.

“I will be, I guess,” I shrugged.

“From what I understood, Tanya is trying to make amends for bullshit she put you through. She was sorry,” Jenks said. “Or, that’s what her attorney told me.”

“Sorry seems so empty compared to what she did to me over the course of our marriage, Jenks,” I sighed. “Thank you for the information. What’s this going to cost me?”

“Nothing, Edward. Consider this my Christmas present to you,” Jenks snickered. “I’ll put that letter in the mail when I get to the office tomorrow. If I don’t talk to you, Happy New Year.”

“You, too,” I said, ending the call. I padded to the family room and sat down heavily on the couch. I wasn’t sure how to feel about Jenks’ news about my ex-wife. Perhaps, her letter would shed some light on her reasoning for being a raging bitch toward me. Not wanting to perseverate over the letter or Jenks’ news, I turned on the television. I would rather be with Bella, but she had to take care of her sister, who was missing the hell out of her parents.

Around ten, I got a text from Bella.

She finally went down. My sister was inconsolable. I think it hit her that this was the first of many birthdays she’d have without her mom and dad. I’d call you, but I’m just as much of a mess. It’s so hard to be someone’s rock … ~ Bella

I can be your rock, angel ~ Edward

You are … in so many ways. Thank you for being here for us for Katie’s birthday, despite the drama when we got home ~ Bella

Have you contacted your grief counselor? Maybe you can get in to see her for Katie? ~ Edward

I knew there was a reason I kept you around ;-). I’ll call her tomorrow. Thank you so much. I love you and I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I need a glass (or a bottle) of wine, some chocolate and a good night’s sleep ~ Bella

Call me if you need anything, Bella. Have sweet dreams, angel ~ Edward

I took a selfie of me and Sam, sending it to Bella. I’d rather be snuggled with you, but Sam will do in a pinch. Give Katie a hug for me and I have a kiss for you ~ Edward

xx FFADS xx

I didn’t hear from Bella. Since she was radio-silent, I decided to go into the office and I started working on year-end reviews for the team leaders and their senior executives. I wasn’t reviewing Emmett since he was just starting as a team leader and was a senior executive for a majority of the year. Alice would complete his review. I also couldn’t review Bella since we were in a relationship. Alice would perform her review for this year, but the following year, Rose would perform her year-end review so that I wouldn’t be biased.

I smiled timidly, excited that I was planning for something a year in advance.

It was tentative, but I was thinking well past tomorrow when it came to the relationship with Bella.

“I thought there was no work scheduled for the week between Christmas and New Year’s,” Alice quipped, leaning against the doorway of my office. “You work too hard.”

“Okay, pot meet kettle,” I snorted. “What are you doing here?”

“Well, I needed to get my notes for performance reviews,” she said. “I’ve been slacking and celebrating. I just wanted to let you know that next year, Bella will give Jasper’s review since he’s going to be my hubby, you know?”

“I figured that,” I snickered. “And this year?”

“Emmett is doing it,” Alice explained. “Practice for when he starts doing them. How’s his team looking?”

“We’re finalizing contract negotiations with this graphic designer. James Holden?” I said, looking at my computer. “He’s amazing but too expensive. No graphic designer in our firm gets paid as much as he’s asking. But, he seems amenable to joining Emmett’s team as long as he has the promise of bonuses.”

Alice tapped on her phone, pursing her lips. “Oh, he created the website for the Wynn relaunch in Vegas. He’s good. Emmett would be smart to nab him. He’s a bit of a douche, though.”

“Really? What does that mean? What did you hear?”

“I met him once at a conference a year ago. I was there with Jasper and we were acting like a couple since we’d just started dating. We’re not going to hide what we are,” Alice shrugged, sitting down across from me. “Anyway, James was very flirtatious and he did not take ‘no’ for an answer until Jasper stepped in. He kept trying to get me to go out for a drink, have dinner, go dancing, have sex …”

“That sounds more than flirtatious,” I said, worried for her. “I don’t know if I want that here at MAC.”

“Once Jasper told him to back off, he did. I didn’t see him after that at the conference,” Alice explained. “But, there was a rumor that he was fired from his old job for sexual harassment. It was only a rumor, but there could be some truth to it. I wouldn’t put it past him.”

“His previous employer wouldn’t give him a reference,” I explained. “I spoke to his old boss. He said that James was absolutely brilliant with graphic design but liked to press boundaries. He couldn’t say anymore. I think there’s an NDA involved.”

“Do we want that mojo in our office? We’re pretty tight-knit. Are you sure we should hire him?” Alice murmured. “What if he tries that bullshit on another staffer and he doesn’t take the hint. We’re opening MAC up to lawsuits.”

“I’ll have legal look into his most recent positions,” I said, trying to assuage her concern. “But, you said it yourself, he’s a brilliant graphic designer.”

“Is it worth it if he’s a walking, talking penis?” Alice quipped. “Only thinking with his penis and not in a good way.”

“That’s, um, quite the description, Alice,” I choked out, scratching my face and quirking a brow at her. “Now, I have that in my head. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” she snorted, waving her hand airily. “Speaking of close-knit, I have the first four monthly activities planned. January … The Biggest Loser … playing off everyone’s drive to lose weight after the holidays. I know I ate my weight in cookies at Bella’s house. Whoever loses the most will get a year’s membership to one of our gyms that we represent. Embry made that happen.”

“Sounds good. And trust me, I ate more than my fair share of cookies. But, they were so good. Now, what’s on tap for February?” I asked, arching a brow.

“We’re going to do two events in February. It seems fitting that the shortest month seems to go on for forever,” Alice said. “Anyhow, one is going to be revolving around the Superbowl. Emmett made arrangements at one of the bars you all frequent? I think Overtime? Yeah, we’re having a Superbowl party there. We’re also going to do something in the office for Valentine’s Day, something similar to a Secret Santa. Curious Cupid? It’s a work in progress with that.”

“Sounds good. Let me guess, March … pub crawl? For St. Patrick’s Day?” I chuckled.

“Bingo. Riley is finalizing that,” Alice grinned. “It’ll be the weekend AFTER St. Patrick’s Day since the holiday falls in the middle of the week. The city is doing it’s big to-do for the holiday the weekend before. Oh, and one more thing before I go. Bella and I have been invited to go to New York. New Moon Cosmetics is going to be sold at Bergdorf, nationally, and they’re hosting a launch party for them.”

“It would make sense for them to be sold there. New Moon Cosmetics is the epitome of high end beauty, right along with La Mer and Chantecaille,” I said.

“The fact that you know that scares me, boss,” Alice giggled. “The invite said that we could bring a guest. Obviously, I’m going to bring Jasper. I’m assuming that Bella will bring you?”

“I don’t want to assume, Alice,” I replied, my face flaming. “But, perhaps wishful thinking?”

“Well, with the launch party, they’re taking care of our flights, hotel and everything else. We still have time before we need to RSVP, but …” she trailed off.

“When is it?”

“The party will coincide with their spring launch,” she said. “The last weekend in February into the first couple days of March. I just wanted to let you know.” She stood up, holding her files to her chest. “I’m surprised you’re not doing something with Bella and Katie today? Instead, you’re working in an empty office. Creepy …”

“Katie had a melt-down last night, missing her parents. My heart shattered for both of them, but they needed time to work through it. When I last talked to Bella, she was trying to get Katie to see her therapist,” I explained.

“Poor thing,” Alice frowned. “Have you heard from her today?”

“Not yet,” I replied. “Katie was … she was inconsolable last night. She’s a pretty easy-going girl and to see her so upset? It was heart-breaking. They may need some time to process last night. I’m not going to foist myself onto them.”

Alice stared at me for a few moments, a soft smile on her face. “You know what? You’re a good man, Edward Cullen. I know that you got dealt a shit-hand of cards, but you’ve changed,” Alice breathed. “That gruff, grumpy exterior was just a façade.”

“It was a wall, Alice,” I muttered. “I was hurt by too many people when I was a kid. I’m not going to tell you the whole story, because it’s ugly. But, I was a little younger than Katie when my parents OD’ed and was put into the system. I was beat within an inch of my life, molested by my foster parents, and so much more.”

“Holy fuck,” Alice gasped.

“Yeah,” I gulped. “What Tanya did to me was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After she threw our marriage back in my face, I figured, what was the point? So, I stopped trying.”

“Until you met Bella and she read you the riot act,” Alice said quietly.

“She knocked me on my ass. Even while dealing with the death of her parents, she was still working hard and had a smile on her face,” I breathed. “She was the light in my dark, empty world.”

“Now, you’re her light,” Alice said. “I’m going to go. Also, don’t hesitate to push Bella a bit. Don’t be a dick, but I think that she may need a shoulder to lean on, if Katie’s melt down was as bad as you said.”

“Thanks, Alice,” I smiled.

“One more thing … New Year’s Eve. My place at eight. It’s going to be a New Year’s Eve party/engagement celebration,” Alice chirped. “You and your girl are invited. She has the address.”

“Will your sister be there?” I asked. “With her girls?”

“Probably not. It’s going to be an adults-only party,” Alice frowned. “Cyn will be there, alone, since she kicked her husband to the curb and the girls are going to be with Grammy and Pop-pop.

“I’ll have to let you know, Alice. Bella may not want to go if she can’t bring Katie,” I said.

“Sounds good. Text me what you decide. I’ll see you later, Edward,” she replied, turning to leave.

After she was gone, I blew out a breath and looked at the clock. It was a little after three. I didn’t want to be needy. So, I focused finishing up the year-end reviews. For the most part, people did well. The only concern I had was with Riley. His team was not as motivated as the others, falling behind in their productivity. I made note of it on my review and hopefully, we could brainstorm some new ideas to get things moving on the upswing.

My cell phone rang on my desk and I picked it up. “Hey, Mom,” I answered.

“How are you doing, sweetheart?” she asked. “I wanted to check on you and Bella. Oh, and that sweet Katie. She was so adorable yesterday.”

“Well, Katie had a melt-down when we got back to Bella’s place. It was bad. She was missing her parents and it hit her, big-time,” I sighed, scrubbing my face. “So, I left and from what I heard from Bella, they were trying to get in to see their therapist.”

“I’m so sorry,” Mom said, her voice filled with sympathy. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Not that I think of right now,” I shrugged. “Well, there is possibly something. But, it’s not about this situation. Um … I hate to ask …”

“Edward, honey, you’re rambling,” Mom snickered.

“Sorry,” I chuckled. “Um, Bella and I are invited to a New Year’s Eve party. I don’t think that kids are, um, allowed.”

“Are you asking me and your father to babysit?” she asked, laughter in her voice.

“I’m paving the way for you to do it. I’m not sure if Bella will even want to go,” I said. “With Katie’s breakdown? You know?”

“I’m going to tell you what I think,” Mom said. “I think you need to encourage Bella to go to this party, Edward. Her whole world has been upended. She went from being a single woman, starting her career and living her life to a mother with no backup. She’s built up a strong network, but she needs a moment to be a woman. To not have worries.”

“She tried that, Mom,” I frowned. “The night of the New Moon launch. I had a hotel room booked, but seeing the ex-wife kind of put a damper on that. We went back to her place and ended spending the night together. The phone went off at the crack of dawn with Katie being sick.”

“Who was watching Katie?” Mom asked. “That woman who gave you grief?”

“Well, yeah,” I said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t watch Katie in the future,” Mom sighed. “Well, your father and I are getting too old to do anything for New Year’s. We’d be over the moon to watch Katie, if you and Bella want to go. My personal opinion is that you two need to be a couple.”

“Is that code for us to have sex, Ma?” I deadpanned.

She snorted. “I would like more grandchildren, Edward. Other than Katie.”

“Mom,” I grumbled. “Bella and I are taking it slowly. But, it would be nice to … forget.”

“Let me know, Edward. I’d do anything for you and for Bella. She’s such an amazing and sweet girl,” Mom breathed.

“She’s everything,” I agreed. “Mom, I’ve got to go. I’ve got another call coming in.”

“Sounds good, honey. I love you,” she said.

“You, too,” I whispered. Her breath caught and I could hear her start crying. I couldn’t handle a woman crying, even my mother. So, I said a hasty goodbye and clicked over to the other call. “Hello?”

“Edward,” came an exhausted voice.

“Bella,” I said. “How are you? How’s Katie?”

“I think I got an hour of sleep last night,” she sniffled. “Katie had nightmares and she wet the bed … By the grace of God, we got into see our therapist, Michele. We spent nearly four hours talking. Katie’s calmed down and she’s napping. We also have another appointment in a week, along a meeting in a grief group for kids who lost their parents.”

“What do you need from me, angel?” I asked. “I’d give you anything, you know that?”

“I do,” she yawned. “I’m just overwhelmed, Edward. With Katie’s sobs, something in me just cracked. I’m a mess.”

“Give me a half hour and I’m there, angel,” I said. “Let me take care of you, Bella.” I want to love you.

“I don’t want to burden you …”

“You’re not a burden, Bella,” I breathed, shutting down my computer and throwing files into my satchel. “I need to swing by my condo and pick up Sam along with a change of clothes. Let me help you. You’re not alone. Not anymore.”

She sniffled and whimpered, “Promise?”

“With my whole heart, angel,” I vowed. “Time me … a half hour, love.”

“Okay,” she said. “Edward?”

“Yes?”

“I love you,” she cried before ending the call.

I closed my eyes, clutching the phone and replying, “I love you so much more, Bella.” With a firm nod, I threw on my coat, slinging my bag over my head. I rode down to the parking garage and I damn near sprinted to my car. I needed to love up on my girls. They were heartbroken and they needed me. I refused to be another person who hurt them.

xx FFADS xx

The next couple of days, I spent with Bella and Katie. The cheerfulness of the holiday had crashed. Hard. Katie was listless and heartbroken. Bella was trying to be strong for her sister, but was struggling. When I arrived the night after Katie’s birthday, I brought over greasy fast food and we just vegged out in front of the television. Within moments, both Bella and Katie were down for the count. Katie was in Bella’s arms and Bella was curled up to my side.

By New Year’s Eve, things had finally bounced back. It took some convincing, but Bella and I were going to Alice’s party while Katie would spend the night with my adoptive parents. They were going to make Katie’s New Year’s Eve special. Bella and I had a chance to get a brief respite from the drama. I even decided to spoil my girlfriend. I managed to get her a manicure and pedicure appointment at the salon in her neighborhood. Bella argued with me, wanting to spend time with Katie, but I handed her the car keys and kissed her before gently pushing her out the door.

With Bella out, I was making Katie’s lunch. She was playing with some of her new toys with music playing in the living room. I carried our sandwiches into the living room and I sat down on the floor with her. She’d been so quiet, so sad. It shattered me. “Hey, Little One,” I said. “I have lunch for you.”

“I’m not really hungry,” she shrugged.

“You didn’t eat much breakfast, Katie,” I gently chided. “I’m worried about you, sweet girl. So is Bella.”

“I know,” she muttered, turning to face me. Her blue eyes were dull and her face was pulled into a deep frown. I held out my arms and she clambered into my lap. “Does it get better, Edward?”

I kissed her forehead. “The pain never really goes away, Katie,” I answered. “It becomes a part of you. I don’t remember much of my parents, but there is an emptiness inside from that loss. I completely understand why you got so upset on your birthday.”

She sniffled, putting her head on my shoulders and idly playing with the buttons on my shirt. “I hope they know that I still love them. Bella and I watched videos and looked at pictures before we met with Michele. I wanted to remember what they looked like. What they sounded like. Bella remembers better because she’s older …”

“She had more time with them,” I explained. “Regardless of that, the pain does ease. Right now? It’s just more because it’s so recent. There will always be days that will be difficult.”

“What are they for you?”

“My birthday and my mom’s birthday,” I answered.

“Why?” Katie asked.

“Because those were the last vivid memories I had with my parents. I was born on June 20th. My mom’s birthday was two days later on June 22nd. We had a combined party on June 21st and it was the most amazing day,” I replied, giving her a smile. I didn’t tell her the rest of the story that on June 23rd, my parents both overdosed and I was an orphan.

“Do you not like celebrating your birthday?” Katie pressed.

“Not really, but my adoptive parents, Nana Esme and Papa Carlisle, we celebrate my ‘gotcha day,’” I chuckled. “It was the day my adoption was finalized.”

“When’s that?”

“In April,” I said. “April 17th. So, my parents and I celebrate my birthday on April 17th while on my actual birthday, I do something for myself. But, I’m older than dirt and I can do that.”

“You’re not old, Edward,” Katie giggled.

“Well, my bones tend to disagree,” I snorted. I picked up the plate with her sandwich. “Are you sure you’re not hungry? I made grill cheese.”

“Do I have to eat the tomato soup? It’s icky,” she grumbled.

“I didn’t make tomato soup, but you have to eat the veggies, kiddo,” I said, handing her the plate. “I added some ranch dressing for you. If you finish all that, there’s a piece of cake with our name on it.”

“Thanks, Edward,” Katie said, scrambling off my lap and onto the couch. “You should be a dad, Edward. You’d be really good at it.”

“I hope so, Little One,” I sighed, my heart cracking at her admission.

After she ate her lunch, Katie and I went up to her room to find her a cute dress to wear over to my parents’ house. We also packed an overnight bag and video chatted with my mom to discuss what they had planned for my Little One. By the time that was done, Bella was back and she looked less grumpy. From the brief make out session in the laundry room, she was extremely appreciative of my gift. I eagerly accepted her kisses and moaned as she walked away, leaving me rock-hard and yearning for more.

We ate dinner together, enjoying some leftover chili. Katie and Bella went upstairs to get dressed and I did the dishes. I just needed to change my shirt, applying some cologne. With the dishes done, I got ready, took out Sam and texted my parents. I told them that we were leaving in a little bit. Mom was giddy with anticipation to see Katie.

I looked up when I heard their feet padding down the stairs. Katie was wearing the dress we’d picked out together. Her hair was braided and she looked happier. Bella was wearing a pair of black jeans and a blue sequined tank top with a pair of black booties. Her hair was curly and tousled. Her makeup was smokey, and sexy. Around her neck, she had on her necklace that I’d gotten her. “You both look perfect,” I said.

“You did a nice job picking out a dress for Katie,” Bella smiled.

“And he helped me pack my bag, Bella,” Katie chirped, pointing to a small duffle near the door.

“Thank for doing that, Edward,” Bella said appreciatively. “But, we do need to scoot. Alice has texted me no less than five times while we were getting ready, demanding to know where we are.”

“Impatient thing,” I snorted.

“Have you met Alice?” Bella retorted, arching a dangerous brow.

“Good point,” I snickered. “You ready, Little One?”

“Yep,” she said, bouncing on her toes. “Nana Esme and me are going to make cookies!”

Coats were put on and we ventured out into the cold to my SUV. We sat inside as it warmed up and I drove us to my parents’ home. Once there, we went inside and talked to my folks. But, Alice’s impatient texts and then phone calls made us leave, driving to her place.

“Alice and I are going to have words,” Bella sighed, tapping out a text response to Alice. “Impatient, much?” She shook her head.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Alice asked if we could pick up champagne. They forgot to grab it,” Bella explained.

“I don’t know about champagne, but we can pick up sparkling wine,” I teased.

“You know what I mean,” Bella giggled. “There’s a Binny’s around the corner from her brownstone.” Bella guided me to the store and we ran in to grab a couple of bottles of sparkling wine. After we paid for our purchases, we drove to Alice’s. “Before we head inside, designated driver? With my parents’ death … I don’t want to run the risk of truly leaving Katie an orphan.”

“I don’t drink much, Bella. I’ll have a beer and a glass of wine, but I’ll be our DD,” I smiled. “Relax, love. Have fun tonight.”

“I feel guilty,” she grumbled.

“Why? You deserve a night out, Bella. We both do,” I said gently.

“I just feel bad that I pawned off my kid sister on your parents,” she frowned, idly playing with her scarf that she’d received from my parents for Christmas

“They offered, Bella.” I took her hand, threading my fingers with hers. “Angel, you are entitled to have one night away. Just have fun tonight. Trust me.”

“I do trust you,” she breathed. “With the setback we had after her birthday …”

“She’s bouncing back. Did she seem happier after you came back?” I asked.

She nodded, blinking to me. “She said you were phenomenal with her. She truly adores you, Edward.”

“She told me I’d be an awesome dad,” I muttered.

“You will … you are … with her,” Bella said, cupping my cheek and smiling tenderly. “Thank you for being an amazing man, Edward.” She picked up my hand and pressed it over her rapidly beating heart. “I don’t know what I would have done this week without you. I love you.”

I couldn’t hold back. I brushed my lips over hers three times, pressing my forehead to hers. “I’m always here for you, angel.”

Her cell phone chimed and she groaned. “God damn it, Alice. We’re having a moment here.”

“She’s brilliant but patience is not one of her virtues,” I laughed. “Come on, love. Let’s ring in the new year.”

She pressed her lips to mine before she got out of the car. I grabbed the wine and we walked up to the festively decorated brownstone. Alice’s sister opened the door, hugging Bella and taking the wine from me. She hurriedly said that coats were going in the office and that cold drinks were on the back deck while mixed drinks were in the kitchen.

“It’s about time you all made it,” Alice chided, walking over to us in a silvery dress and a tiara on her head.

“I didn’t realize we had to be here promptly at eight, Alice,” Bella grumbled. “You do realize that I had to drop off my sister at Edward’s parents’, right?”

“Sorry, I just wanted to get the party started,” she sang, hugging Bella. “You look amazing, girl. I love this color on you … whoa! I’m blinded by the bling. What a gorgeous pendant!”

“It’s a gift from Edward,” Bella said, shooting an appreciative smile my way. “For Christmas.”

“You did good, boss man,” Alice grinned, hugging me and kissing my cheek.

“Where’s your fiancé?” Bella asked. “I haven’t had a chance to congratulate him. I was pulled away before I could do so at Katie’s party.”

“He’s in the living room,” Alice answered. She looped her arm through Bella’s. “Emmett was looking for you, Edward. He’s in the kitchen, getting a drink. Embry and Quil are in there, too.” She pointed toward the kitchen. I thanked her, heading there.

“Hey, Edward,” Emmett boomed. “How are you doing, man?”

“Good,” I answered.

“Want something to drink?” he asked.

“A beer … they’re out on the porch?” I asked.

“Embry’s out there,” Emmett replied. “What do you want?”

“Stella, if they have it,” I answered, popping a carrot into my mouth. Emmett poked his head outside and a few moments later, Embry walked in with two bottles of Stella. “Thanks, Embry.”

“I was keeping Quil company while he was having a smoke,” Embry said. “Did you just get here?”

“We had to pick up the champagne,” I chuckled, sipping my beer.

“Alice was in a tizzy. Jasper was supposed to pick it up, but he forgot it,” Embry explained. “Or it wasn’t at the store he went to. I don’t know, but you saved the day.”

“I can imagine,” I deadpanned. “Em, Alice said you were looking for me.”

“Yeah, I heard back from Holden,” Emmett explained. “He’s signed the contract and is eager to start working with MAC. All I need from you is your approval.”

“Alice brought up a few concerns about James Holden. How he left his previous employer,” I answered.

“He explained it to me, Edward. It was not as bad as you think,” he sighed. I looked at him, my brows quirked and gestured for him to continue. “There was an allegation of sexual harassment, but it wasn’t that. In order to smooth the waves, James just walked away in search of a fresh start.”

“If it wasn’t sexual harassment, why didn’t his previous employer give him a reference?” I pushed. “I will sign off on his start, but I want to make a change to his contract. Most employees are on a three month probationary period … I want him to have a year-long probationary period. If it wasn’t as bad as described, if he truly wants a fresh start, then he’ll sign the contract.”

Emmett scrubbed his face. “You sure? It seems a bit excessive. A year-long probation?”

“You have your team to worry about. I have a company. I have to think what’s best for MAC. I do not want things to escalate where he has step away for another ‘fresh start’. Would you like me to talk to him? Make him the offer?” I asked.

“I’d appreciate that, Edward,” Emmett smiled.

“You will sit in on the conversation, but I will explain my concerns,” I said, shaking his hand. “Now, no more discussion of work until we’re back on Monday.”

“Got it,” Emmett chuckled. “Let’s talk about the Bears.” Embry, Quil, who had come back in from finishing his cigarette, and I groaned. “What?

“This is the season that wasn’t,” Quil sighed, leaning against the counter, his hand in Embry’s back pocket. “We shall not speak of this season ever, ever again.”

“Agreed,” I said, tapping my beer bottle with his.

We talked for a few more minutes before heading into the living room. I brought Bella a glass of white wine. We sat down on the floor, laughing and enjoying the company of our friends and work family. Alice was excitedly telling everyone who would listen about Jasper’s proposal. Her happiness was infectious. It even carried to her sister, who was obviously in a funk because of her relationship status. However, she was chatting with one of Alice’s neighbors, Garrett.

“Before we hit midnight, I’d love to hear your New Year’s Resolutions,” Alice said. “I’m struggling with coming up with one.”

“I resolve to not make any resolutions,” Rose laughed from Emmett’s lap. “Alice, girl, I love you, but no one keeps their resolutions.”

“I did, years ago,” Bella shrugged. “I made a resolution to lessen my soda intake. Now, I don’t really drink much soda. It tastes weird to me.”

“Okay, one person keeps their resolutions,” Rose quipped. “I think I did the soda thing for Lent one year. I drank coffee and I gained a shit-ton of weight because I like my coffee with more cream that’s healthy.”

“My resolution is to be happy,” Cynthia said. “I took that first step by ending my farce of a marriage. I cut off the dead weight.”

“Good. Neil is not good enough for you, Cynthia,” Alice said, her nose wrinkled. “He never was good enough. He’s a lazy-ass slob.”

“Don’t hold back, sis,” Cynthia deadpanned. Alice arched a brow at her sister. “But, you’re right. Neil was a douche-canoe. A sea-slug had more ambition than my soon-to-be ex-husband.”

“Do you need an attorney?” I asked. “I have a good divorce attorney.”

“I’m using one of the partners from my firm,” Cynthia explained. “Thank you, Edward. If things don’t work with that route, I’ll ask for that name. Neil will not get one red cent from me.”

“I’m going to resolve to run the Chicago marathon,” Garrett said. “I’ve already signed up and I’ve started training.”

“Me, too,” I chuckled.

“You’re running the marathon?” Bella asked.

“I’ve done so for the past seven years,” I said, wrinkling my nose, trying to remember when I started running.

“Running for fun,” Jasper shuddered. “Why?”

“Exactly,” Embry snickered. “I can think of better ways to burn calories. Right, Quil?”

“Damn, straight, baby,” Quil purred, kissing his boyfriend.

“Honey, we ain’t straight,” Embry teased.

“Edward, right?” Garrett asked. I nodded. “Since you’ve done the marathon, can you guide me with the training?”

“Gladly,” I said. “We can exchange numbers. I’m happy to help.”

“All you healthy people,” Rose grumbled, waving a dismissive hand. “I’m like Embry. We can burn calories by fucking. Right, Em? Tonight? Ring in the new year the horny way?”

“You got it, baby,” Emmett said, kissing her neck.

Bella blushed, looking at me with wide eyes. I just brushed my lips along her ear. She whispered to me, “I feel badly … we …”

“No time table, angel,” I whispered back. “We do what we want for us. Not them.”

She kissed me, tugging on my hair and sighing against my mouth. We were in our own tiny bubble. She moved so she was in my lap, cuddled in my arms. I just held her, breathing her in. I idly played with her curls, pressing tender kisses to her alabaster skin.

“Ooh, it’s almost midnight!” Alice squealed. “Jasper, let’s pour the champagne. Cyn, turn on the television.”

We all stood up and we were handed noise makers, party hats and glasses of champagne. The countdown began on the screen at one minute until the New Year. I slid behind Bella and snaked my arms around her waist. She leaned against me, threading her fingers with mine. She turned in my arms, sliding her hands up my biceps and toying with my hair. “New Year, Edward … this is the first time I’ve had someone to kiss at midnight.”

“Me, too, angel,” I said.

“What about the ex-wife?” she asked.

“We went to events, but we never really kissed at midnight,” I shrugged. “But, right now? There’s no one else I want in my arms at midnight. This New Year’s has been infinitely more special to me because I’m with people who I care about, especially you.”

“Thirty seconds!” Emmett said, pulling Rose into his arms.

“This past year was the toughest of my life,” Bella said, clinging to my shirt. “I’m hopeful that this year will be better. It already is … I’m with you, in your arms … Love is too small a word of what I feel for you.”

“My Bella,” I said, pulling her closer. We heard our friends began the ten second countdown. I was lost in her eyes as our friends cheered Happy New Year. I kissed her and as they celebrated, I breathed against her mouth, “I love you, too.” She must have heard me because her mouth was pressed to mine with fervor. I cradled her head, holding her close to my body. “Want to get out of here?”

“Yeah,” she smiled. “We made our appearance. Now? I want to celebrate with you.”

“We’re in charge … no time table, angel,” I said.

“Agreed, but you had your taste at Christmas. I want mine,” she purred.

A/N: Cliffie h00r … I know. We’ll pick up with Bella with some citrusy action. Will it be a full lemon? Nope … Edward’s getting better, but he still can’t say those words out loud. He can whisper them. He can show them, but something is still holding him back. Plus, we’ll head back to work and find out some more about James Holden.

Not many pictures with this chapter, but what pictures I have are on my blog. You can access that on my profile. I’m also on twitter, too: tufano79.

Leave me your thoughts. Thank you so much for reading!

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