Christmas came like a distance runner—steadily at first until it reached the home straight, where it sprinted to the finish line.

Bella put Jake out of her mind—the police had informed her that his trial date was set for late in January.  The day after she had aired her concerns to Edward and they had declared their feelings to one another, she called her solicitor in London to discuss taking out a restraining order.  She had been introduced to Jay Jenks by Eli, and he had become a trusted advisor.  He took all the details of the police report and assured her that he would take care of everything. 

She was comforted by his words, but still voiced her concerns about what might happen if Jake decided to just ignore the order and come looking for her again.

“Tell you what, Bella.  I’ve got an excellent investigator on a retainer and I can ask him to check out Black, keep tabs on him and make sure he doesn’t decide to take it into his head to do something stupid before his trial.  Tyler is very discreet and has a very capable team on his payroll.  If you want, I can talk to him, and email you a quote for his services.”

Bella really liked the idea of keeping Jake under surveillance, and readily agreed to Jay’s suggestion.  Just as she was about to end the call, a sudden thought occurred to her.

“Oh, Jay, one other thing.  This guy, Tyler, can he find people?”

“Of course.  Who did you have in mind?”

Bella explained what she needed, relieved when Jay told her that he was sure it would be no problem.  He promised to email her later, after he’d spoken to his investigator.

Jay was as good as his word, and, upon receipt of his email a few hours later, Bella responded immediately, confirming her acceptance of Crowley Investigations’ terms for the twin commissions.  The following day, Tyler Crowley himself called her to get a few more details about her secondary task, repeating Jay’s contention that it would be no problem, and that he would report back to her weekly, or more often if he had news.


Bella filled her days by working on her novel, painting and preparing for the holiday.  Edward was busy in the restaurant and spent a lot of his down-time learning as much as he could about food and flavourings, working on new recipes and other ideas for the restaurant.  He was always tired after a long shift, but Bella could see that he was deeply content.

She knew, because the look in his eyes mirrored her own.  She had no idea it was possible to be so happy. 

At night, when Edward got home from work, they made sure to spend at least an hour together downstairs, talking about their day.  Sometimes, he was too tired to make love when they went to bed, but the mornings were a different matter.  Bella had never been a particular fan of morning sex, but that was before Edward.  Being woken by him was never less than a delight, and she revelled in the way he worshipped her body in the early hours before their day started.

She had never felt so close to another human being, and with each day that passed, she fell more in love with him.

As for Edward, his nightmares had almost completely receded, and he rarely woke in the night anymore.  His contentment knew no bounds.  He’d gone from literally having nothing, to having everything he’d never dared to dream of.  His love for Bella was so profound, that he could barely bring himself to imagine his life without her.  He knew that the unhappiness and despair he’d experienced in the years following his mother’s death would pale into insignificance against the excruciating pain he would suffer, should he lose Bella.

Each day she became more beautiful to him.  When they made love, they would maintain eye contact as much as possible, and he often felt that he could see right into her very soul.  He had no doubt that she could see into his, because, with her, he bared all.  Following years of keeping his emotions tightly reined in, it was a revelation to open himself fully to another person.  He hid nothing from her, and he could see that after struggling with her own insecurities, Bella was finally throwing off the shackles of Jake’s negative and destructive influence. 

Since the night when she had terrified him with her doubts, they had talked a lot about her fears.  Clearly, Jake had done a number on her.  After years of professional rejection, and a string of failed romances, he had played on her many insecurities, making her feel worthless, stupid and plain.  It was obvious to Edward that Jake’s initial enthusiasm and support for her work was just a means to draw her in, before he set about destroying her confidence in order to control her.  How anyone could do that to a woman like Bella was beyond his understanding.  Apart from her exceptional beauty, she was highly intelligent, massively creative, and just about the kindest, most compassionate person he’d ever met. 

She was also, as far as he was concerned, the sexiest woman on the planet.

Being with Bella and having the job of his dreams would have been enough on their own.  However, as incredible as their life together was, he also revelled in the friendships he’d made since that portentous night just a couple of months before.  What little social life they were able to enjoy, between work commitments and alone-time, was filled with camaraderie and laughter, something he’d never really known before.

‘Lucky’ was just too small a word for how Edward felt.


On the Sunday before Christmas, Edward and Bella took time out to buy a Christmas tree—the first real one either of them had ever had.  They put it up in the corner by the door, as far from the fire as they could get it, not wanting it to dry out too quickly.  They decorated it together with all-new baubles, beaded garlands and tiny, twinkling lights, and then turned the room lights off.

They both curled up together on the sofa, facing the tree, just gazing at it in the firelight.  When Bella started crying, Edward pulled her round to face him, gazing into her tear-filled eyes with concern.

“What’s wrong, love?” he asked anxiously.

“Nothing,” she sniffed.  “Nothing at all.  I’m just so happy, I… I suppose I feel like there’s not enough room inside me for all this happiness.  Oh, Edward, I love you so much!”

“I love you too, baby… more than my life.”

They kissed passionately, and in the warm glow cast by the fire and the Christmas tree, they made love until they fell asleep in the flickering tree lights, exhausted.


At Cullenary Quisine the following day, Esme ushered the last lunchtime diners out the door with wishes for a happy Christmas and turned the sign to ‘closed’.

It was Christmas Eve, and she and Carlisle had decided to close the restaurant at three o’clock and let everyone start their celebrations early.

She went to the counter and gathered the receipts to start cashing up.  In the kitchen, the staff finished clearing up and filled the dishwasher with the last of the plates, cutlery and glasses.  When they were done, Carlisle invited them to join him for a Christmas drink out front, where they all sat around a couple of tables pushed together. 

Esme poured drinks for everyone and then sat down with them, a small pile of envelopes beside her.

Carlisle stood, and looked around at the people in front of him.

“I’m not going to make a big speech, so don’t look so worried,” he said, making them all chuckle.  “I just wanted to say a few quick words to you all.  I know we’ve only been open a matter of weeks, and this is a hard business to do well in, especially in the middle of the worst recession in living memory.  But, due in no small part to all your hard work and enthusiasm, we’ve exceeded our wildest expectations.  So, thank you and happy Christmas!” 

He raised his glass, prompting everyone to do the same as they enthusiastically verbalised their own Christmas wishes.

He sat down, smiling broadly.  His eyes then fixed on his wife, who now spoke.

“Yes, we really are hugely grateful for your efforts, and with your help, I think we can all look forward to a great new year.  But it’s Christmas and Carl and I would like to give you all something a little more tangible than mere words to show our appreciation.  These are your payslips, and we’ve included a small bonus.”

She picked up the envelopes, each marked with a name, and started distributing them around the table.

“Don’t open them now, wait until you get home,” she said to the delighted faces.

They finished their drinks and then collected their coats and bags.  With hugs and handshakes, they all departed.  Edward was the last to leave, and Carlisle held him back for a moment.

“There’s a little extra in there for you, Edward, but don’t tell the others.”

“Carlisle, I—”

“Don’t say anything.  You’ve been a big part of our success, son, and I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you here for as long as possible.  Having said that, if you ever want to leave, I hope you’ll come to me first—I know a lot of people who could help you.  You’ve got a bright future ahead of you, Edward, once you’ve got some more experience… I just hope you opt to stay here until you’re ready to take on the world.  The restaurant trade can be brutal, and you’ve still got a lot to learn.”

“I know, Carlisle.  And I can’t look that far ahead.  I love it here, and I’ll be sticking around for a while yet.  But I promise I’ll talk to you before I think about doing anything else.”

“Good man.  Now, go home to your girl, and have a great Christmas.  I’ll see you on the twenty-eighth.”

Edward nodded and offered his hand to shake, but Carlisle pulled him into a hug.  Then Esme was beside them, and he turned to embrace her as well.

 “Happy Christmas, Carlisle, Esme… and thanks, for everything.”  He turned to walk back through the kitchen and out the back door, where his bike was parked.  Unable to wait until he got home, Edward pulled the envelope out of his pocket and opened it.  Inside was his payslip and a bundle of fifty pound notes.  Frowning, he pulled them out and counted them.

Fuck me, two hundred quid?

He turned his head to look back at the door through which he had just exited.  He couldn’t believe it.  He had never held so much money in his hand.  He shook his head, once again astonished at his good fortune, as he stuffed the money back into the envelope and pushed it into the back pocket of his jeans.  He manoeuvred his bike through the back yard and climbed on, deciding to go straight to the antique shop where the owner was holding Bella’s gift for him.


Back at home, Bella had just returned from her shopping trip to Cheltenham, and was manhandling the large, unwieldy gift she’d bought for Edward up the stairs to her studio.  She knew he never went in there, and it was the only safe place she could think of to hide it.  Just as that thought crossed her mind, she heard the front door open, making her swear softly as Edward’s voice drifted up towards her.

“I’ll be down in a minute,” she called, hurrying up the remaining steps before he spotted her.

Once her shopping was safely stowed away, she headed downstairs, finding Edward in the kitchen.

“You’re home early,” she said, walking straight over to where he stood by the sink, filling the kettle.  When she reached him, he put it down on the counter and turned to accept her embrace and the kiss she planted on his mouth.

“Ummh, yeah, Carlisle closed the restaurant early and let us all leave after lunch.”

They kissed again before breaking apart, and Bella turned to pick up the grocery bags she’d brought in earlier.

“Is that the goose?” Edward asked, holding his hands out for one of the bags.

“Yeah, I picked it up on the way home, along with the rest of the stuff from the farmers’ market.  The rest of the shopping is being delivered in the next half an hour or so.”

“This looks like a lovely bird.  I’ll do a citrus stuffing and make a date and red wine gravy—it should be delicious.”

Bella smiled at his enthusiasm.  It had been Edward’s idea to get a goose instead of a turkey, and she was really looking forward to it, especially as it was being cooked by such an expert chef. 

“Sounds wonderful, my love—I can’t wait.”

He grinned at her, and went to find a plate to put the goose on.

“So, what do you want for dinner?  I could throw something quick together, if you like,” he said over his shoulder.

“Oh, let’s not bother—you’ve been cooking all day.  Alice and Jasper said there’s a few people going to the pub later—we could walk up there after the groceries turn up, get an early bite to eat and have a few drinks—that way, we’ll be home at a reasonable time.  I’ve only got a few presents left to wrap, so if you prep the goose before we go out, we can finish everything else when we get back from the pub, and we’ll only have the veggies to do in the morning.”

Their plans settled, they finished their chores, got changed and headed out to the pub, hand-in-hand.


It was still dark when Edward stood back from the fire he’d just lit and turned to look at the Christmas tree.  He’d turned the fairy lights on when he entered the room and with the presents scattered around the bottom, wrapped in alternate silver and purple foil paper to match the tree decorations, it looked wonderful.  He and Bella had also put up pretty garlands around the room. Clustered along windowsills and pinned to the fire lintel were sprigs of fresh holly with bright scarlet berries adding to the festive feel.

Peter and Charlotte would be arriving in a few hours, so he quickly took the bucket of ashes out the back and then set about preparing a light breakfast to take upstairs.  He’d left Bella sleeping, and wanted to surprise her… and maybe even squeeze in some Christmas morning loving before they both got started on preparing dinner.

With one more look around him, Edward was aware that the warmth he felt wasn’t just from the fire, it was from deep within him.  This would be the best Christmas he’d ever had, and he was determined to enjoy every minute of it. 


Putting the finishing touches to the dining table, Edward turned when he felt a warm hand on his back.  He smiled at Charlotte, taken aback once more at how much Bella resembled her aunt.  Same hint of dark hair, now more grey than brown, and the very same soulful brown eyes.

“Need any help, Edward?”

“Nope, it’s all sorted, Charlotte.  And I thought Bella and I made it clear—you and Peter are supposed to be sitting by the fire and letting us do the work.”  He cocked an eyebrow at her in remonstrance, but she just laughed.

She and her husband had got there just after ten o’clock, and Edward had chased Bella out of the kitchen shortly after so that she could sit and catch up with her only relatives.  It quickly became clear that she had told them a lot about him in emails and phone conversations, as they were well aware of their status as a couple and of his budding career.  It seemed she had also told them about how they’d met, much to his surprise and initial chagrin. 

When Bella had come into the kitchen to get some snacks, he had questioned her about it, not entirely able to hide his disappointment that she had shared so much about his past.

Pulling him round to face her, she had slipped an arm around his waist and cupped his cheek with one hand.

“I’ve never kept anything from them, Edward, and I don’t want to start lying to them now.  I promise you, they don’t think any less of you.  They were surprised when I first told them, and they gave me the usual lecture on the foolishness of my actions, but they understand now, and they are full of admiration for how you’ve worked so hard to make something of your life.  They like you, and they’re happy for me.”

She had kissed him, and it had been impossible for him to remain angry with her.

Now, as he smiled down at Charlotte, he could see in her eyes that Bella was right, and he realised he was glad he wouldn’t have to pretend with her or Peter.

“The table looks great, Edward, and the aromas coming from the kitchen are making my mouth water.  If the food tastes half as good as it smells, we’re in for a treat.  I can’t wait… I haven’t had goose since I was a child,” she told him wistfully.

“I hope it’ll be good.  It should be ready about three o’clock, and I only need to put the vegetables on about twenty minutes beforehand, so why don’t you go back and sit down, I’ll grab a beer and be there in a sec?”

“That would be great,” she said, patting his arm.  She paused for a moment, and then looked towards the sitting room, making sure they wouldn’t be overheard.  Edward frowned, looking at her expectantly. 

“Edward, you seem like a nice boy, and I want to say that you seem to be making Bella very happy.  I know that she’s told you about that awful man, Black, so you also know that she’s had a difficult time.  She’s never shared the details, but I’m pretty sure it was a lot worse than she made out… I didn’t meet him personally, but just from brief conversations on the phone I know I didn’t like him.  You, of course, did have the bad luck to meet him, but from what Bella tells us, you certainly put him in his place.”

She paused again, but Edward merely shrugged, remaining silent.  She clearly had more to say.

She sighed, seeming to be choosing her words carefully.

“You obviously care deeply for Bella, and it’s as clear as the nose on your face that she thinks the world of you.  She’s very precious to me and Peter, and I probably don’t need to say this, but… well, I wouldn’t be doing my job as her surrogate parent if I didn’t say something.  I… look, I know you’re a lot younger than her—and I’ve got no problem with that—but please, Edward, don’t hurt her.  She’s the sweetest, kindest girl you could ever meet, and she deserves to be happy.  There, I’ve said it.  I hope you know I have nothing against you—I like you a lot.  I… well, it just had to be said.”

She looked up at him, her eyes begging for his understanding.  He was happy to put her mind at ease.

“Oh, Charlotte, I love that you’re looking out for Bella—how could I have a problem with that?  And I promise you, I will never do anything to hurt her.  She’s precious to me too, you know.”

She nodded, satisfied, and turned to go back to the others. 

A few minutes later, Edward joined Bella and her family, taking the seat next to her on the sofa and immediately entwining his fingers with hers.

Peter sat on the chair nearest the fire, a walking stick propped against the arm.  After what Bella had told him about her uncle, Edward had expected him to be in a wheelchair, but he had managed to walk from the car and into the house—albeit slowly and leaning heavily on his stick.  His hands were gnarled by rheumatoid arthritis, but he was able to hold a drink and seemed in good spirits.  Apparently, the expensive new drugs he was getting via the private medical treatment Bella paid for had worked wonders.  He would never be cured, of course, or, indeed, completely free of pain, but he had been able to get back some of his mobility, and it had gone a long way towards lifting the depression from which he’d been suffering over the last ten years or more.

Bella had been worried that Peter wouldn’t be able to get up the stairs, but although his progress was slow, he had managed it better than any of them expected.  This small triumph had given them all something to celebrate, and Bella couldn’t help giggling as her aunt and uncle embraced the spirit of Christmas in every way.

Over dinner, Bella beamed with pride at Charlotte and Peter’s effusive compliments on the meal, and Edward reached under the table to squeeze Bella’s hand when her relatives waxed lyrical about her generosity.  They told him about the small, comfortable bungalow she had bought for them in a quiet, leafy suburb, a world away from the shabby flat in the 1960s-built tower block they had occupied on one of London’s most depressed council estates.  They had been on the fifteenth floor of a shabby high-rise, where the lifts rarely worked, trapping them both indoors for long periods.  Gangs of delinquent youths and vandals constantly roamed the walkways, daubing graffiti on every static surface, leaving Peter and Charlotte often terrified to even venture out their front door. 

Edward correctly surmised that although new medication had made a big difference to Peter’s physical well-being, the move he and Charlotte had made to a pleasant, affluent area of London must also have played its part in helping him regain a little more mobility and, with it, his dignity.

It was just one more piece of evidence—if, indeed, it was needed—that Bella was an angel.  Her kindness and compassion seemed to have no limit and, as he did every day, Edward thanked whatever deity had sent her to him.

With dinner finished, the dishwasher loaded and running, leftovers stored in the fridge, and the kitchen cleared, the four of them retired to the sitting room, drinks in hand, and settled down to open their presents.

There were silly little gifts, like novelty socks and underwear, a ridiculous Rudolph sweater for Peter, which he promptly put on, and some Christmas earrings for Charlotte, which contained little flashing lights.  They all giggled over these, before opening their main presents.

Edward had been at a loss over what to buy for Bella’s aunt and uncle, and had thrown himself on Esme’s mercy, who had proved to be a godsend. As Charlotte revealed a soft, chocolate brown leather handbag with a delighted smile, and Peter unfolded a full-length, fleece-lined dressing gown with an equally happy expression, Edward knew she had guided him well.  In turn, they had given him gift vouchers and a bottle of ‘Dior Homme Intense’.  He’d never worn any kind of cologne or aftershave before, but when Bella leaned over to take a sniff and hummed with appreciation at the scent, he determined to wear it as often as possible when he wasn’t working.

As the gifts under the tree diminished, and everyone had collected their small pile of personal treasure beside them, Edward fetched over a small, silver-wrapped package.  He sat back on the sofa next to Bella and handed it to her with a shy smile.  She had already given him several things—mostly clothes, but her final present to him had been an iPod and a £50 iTunes voucher, which he’d been delighted with.  As ever, she had been much too generous, but he’d learned to accept what she gave him graciously—although it made him even more determined to work hard so that he could one day reciprocate in equal measure.

Now, he waited nervously for her to unwrap the gift he’d saved until last, while her aunt and uncle looked on.

Revealing a small, worn, black velvet box about four inches square, she glanced up at him curiously, seeing the doubt in his grass-green eyes.

“I hope you like it… but if you don’t, the guy in the shop said I could change it for something else…” he told her quietly.

She shook her head, knowing that there was no way she would ever exchange a gift from this wonderful man whom she loved so much.

She looked back down at the box and opened it slowly.  As she revealed the contents, she gasped softly, putting her hand to her mouth.

Inside was a slender gold bracelet, one end of which was fashioned into delicate branches, topped with small purple and green stones.

Edward reached across and took it out of the box, then took her left hand and slipped it onto her wrist.

“Do you like it?  I know it’s not new, but the guy in the shop said it’s gold, and that the stones are amethysts and cubic zirconium…”  He trailed off, worried now that Bella’s silence meant that she did not, in fact, like it.

At last, she dragged tear-filled eyes away from the pretty bangle on her wrist to meet his.  As she did, it occurred to her that the green stones of her bracelet matched the beautiful eyes she’d come to adore.

“Edward, it’s… it’s stunning… I love it!” 

With that, she threw her arms around his neck, pulling him close.  Automatically, his own arms wrapped tightly around her, burying his face in her sweet-smelling hair.  He felt her lips move against his ear as she whispered her thanks and love over and over.

A low chuckle from the other side of the room brought them back to the moment, and they parted, smiling.

“You really like it, then?”

“Yes, Edward, really… it’s beautiful, thank you so much.”  She stood up, her eyes drifting to her wrist, where the bracelet sparkled in the light cast by the glowing fire.  “I just have to pop upstairs for a moment… why don’t you refresh the drinks.”

He nodded and stood up to follow her out of the room.  Once through the door, he closed it behind him, at the same time reaching out for Bella’s hand and pulling her back to him.  Immediately, he buried his hands in her hair and crushed his mouth to hers, his tongue sliding over her plump lower lip, causing her to open up to him.  The kiss was long and intense as they both poured everything they felt into it.  When they finally drew apart, he looked down at her, his long thumb gently stroking her cheek.

“I’ve been dying to do that for the last three hours.  This has been the best Christmas of my life… I love you, Bella.”  His final words were whispered reverently as she smiled up at him.

“I love you too, you sweet, wonderful man.” 

They stood for a moment, just basking in the feelings they saw mirrored in one another’s eyes, then Bella was extricating herself from Edward’s embrace.

“Go get the drinks, I’ll be right back.”  With one more light peck on his cheek, she ran upstairs, and he headed into the kitchen.

A few minutes later, Bella loitered outside the sitting room, the bulky gift she’d bought for Edward standing on its end.  Looking down at it, she sighed at the memory of how difficult it had been to wrap, and she knew he would be in no doubt as to what it was as soon as she entered the room.  She just hoped he would like it.

Turning the doorknob, she cracked open the door and popped her head round to see everyone turn and look at her curiously.

“Bella?  Is everything okay?” Edward asked, starting to stand.

Bella waved her hand up and down to indicate that he should remain seated and pushed the door open wider.  She watched as he frowned and then his eyes went wide when he took in what she was carrying.


She walked over to him and put the large, messily-wrapped package down, holding it by the top.

“This is for you… it’s your main present.”

He stared at her and then at his gift, mouth agape.

“Open it, my love,” she instructed him softly, pushing it slightly towards him.

He looked back at her, and then put his hands around the narrower top end, feeling the shiny purple paper wrinkle beneath his hands.


“Please, just open it,” she pleaded.

Shaking his head in resignation, he began to peel away the paper, knowing what he was going to find beneath, yet still hardly able to believe what she’d done.  As he stripped away the wrapping from the wide base, he swallowed hard, pausing to run his fingers over the cursive silver letters embossed on the black leather case.

He looked up at Bella, wide-eyed.

“A Gibson?”

She nodded, and, unable to contain her excitement any longer, reached down to flick open the silver clasp at the top, stooping to similarly undo the lower one.

With trembling hands, Edward opened the case and stared in awe at the six-string acoustic guitar which lay within.  The front was made up of a highly polished wood, stained a dark amber round the edges, fading to a pale golden colour around the bridge.  The pickboard was made of a glossy dark wood, inlaid with pale cream branches topped with filigree flowers, like feathery dandelion heads.

It was the most beautiful object he’d ever seen.

In the last four and a half years there had been much that had happened in Edward’s life that could have broken him—would have broken a weaker man.  He had never wept for his mother, nor, despite his devastation over the deaths of little Katie and her mother, had he spilled any tears for them.  He had been afraid many times, and had often despaired.  He had lost everyone he had ever cared about, and had learned very quickly to harden himself against the slings and arrows of his particularly outrageous fortune.

Then Bella had come along and saved him in every conceivable way.  She had given him everything—not just shelter, food and clothing, but, more importantly, hope and love, which he’d begun to believe he’d never again experience.  These things she’d given freely, with no expectations or hidden agenda.  And he’d taken them, embraced them, and loved her fiercely and endlessly in return.

But now, with this incredible and unbelievably thoughtful gift, he felt the floodgates finally open—all the pain and hurt, the fear and desperation he’d worked so hard to lock away in order to protect himself suddenly burst out of him, like a suppurating boil being lanced, and he dropped his head as the tears fell.  His shoulders shook and he sobbed aloud, unable to hold back.

Suddenly, the guitar was taken out of his hand and Bella was beside him on the sofa, gathering him into her arms and rocking him gently as he finally wept—for Marcus, for Tanya and Katie, but, most of all, for his mother.

Over his shoulder, Bella watched as Charlotte helped Peter to his feet and, smiling sadly in understanding, they quietly left the room.

She held him for a long time as he clung to her, whispering words of comfort and shushing him when he tried to apologise.

Much later, Bella realised that, clearly exhausted, Edward had fallen asleep.  Gently extricating herself from his arms, she eased him down onto the sofa, placing a cushion under his head.  She took the soft, faux-fur throw from the back of the couch and draped it over him, then, leaving him with a feather-light kiss on his forehead, she headed out to the kitchen.  There, she found Peter and Charlotte sitting at the table, drinking tea and chatting quietly.  They had obviously cleaned up, and seemed relaxed and completely at ease.

“I’m sorry about that—”

Charlotte waived a dismissive hand at her.  “Don’t be silly, Bell, sometimes we all need a good cry.”

Peter nodded, smiling ruefully at his wife’s niece.  “She’s right, sweetheart… God knows, I’ve done my share of crying since this bloody arthritis crippled me.  He’s a good lad, and from what Lottie tells me, he’s had a hard load to carry for such a young kid… and I’m guessing we don’t know the half of it.”

Bella walked over to the table and pulled out a chair, while Charlotte grabbed a clean cup from the Welsh dresser and poured her a cup of tea.

Sighing, Bella took a sip of her drink.  “No, I haven’t told you the details—it’s not my story to tell, but suffice it to say that you wouldn’t wish Edward’s former life on your worst enemy.  He’s lost everyone who’s ever mattered to him, and I have no idea how he’s come through it so… whole, and is still such a good man.  It boggles my mind how he survived.”

Her aunt reached over, putting her hand on Bella’s arm and squeezing gently. 

“He really is a good man, Bell—and he loves you so much.”

She smiled at the way her niece’s eyes lit up at her words. 

“Oh, Lottie, I love him too—with all my heart.  I can’t imagine my life without him—I don’t want to imagine it.”

She looked at her surrogate parents, and knew they understood and, more importantly, that they supported her, as they always had.

They continued to chat amiably while they finished their tea, and then Bella got up to go check on Edward.

As she put her hand on the doorknob of the sitting room, she paused, her heart rate picking up when she heard soft guitar music.  As quietly as she could, she opened the door and peeked in, her heart swelling at the sight before her.

Sitting up on the sofa, Edward was bent over the guitar, looking at his fingers as they moved along the fret board, strumming a really familiar tune.  As she watched, unobserved, he started to sing in a soft baritone, and she realised it was an old Beatles song.

There are places I remember

All my life, though some have changed,

Some forever, not for better,

Some have gone and some remain,

All these places have their moments

With lovers and friends I still can recall,

Some are dead and some are living,

In my life I've loved them all.”

Bella’s small gasp drew his attention and he stopped, looking round.  Two bright spots of colour bloomed on his cheeks and he smiled sheepishly as Bella walked across the room and sat down beside him.

“That was… beautiful, Edward.  I love that song.  I’m surprised you’re into the Beatles, though… bit before your time, isn’t it?”

He lifted the guitar off his lap and placed it carefully at the end of the sofa, leaning it against the arm.

“Yeah, I’m not really a huge Beatles fan... I don’t know much of their stuff, but that was one of Molly’s favourite songs and she used to play it all the time.  I used to sing it when I was busking, and I s’pose it’s taken on a lot more meaning for me over the years.”

He smiled sadly, and Bella reached her hand up to rub it up and down his arm.

“I can relate to that.  Are you feeling better now?”

He nodded, dropping his eyes and picking at a loose thread on the seam of his jeans.

“Yeah, I’m fine.  I’m sorry about earlier.  I can’t believe I did that, and after you gave me such an amazing gift.  You must think I’m such a twat.”

Bella cupped his cheek, tipping his face up to look at her.

“I think no such thing.  I get it, Edward, really I do.  You’ve held it all in for so long.  I’m not sure you’ve ever really let yourself grieve for the people you’ve lost.  You’ve blocked it all with anger—at your mother, at Paul, and, most of all, at yourself.  Maybe now, you can start to heal and let go of the hurt.”

He looked at her, feeling his heart swell with all the love he felt inside him for the wonderful woman it had been his good fortune to meet.

“You’re amazing,” he told her, cupping her face with his hands and resting his forehead against hers. 

“You’re not so bad yourself,” she responded with a smile.

They sat in silence for a moment, just enjoying being close, before Bella slowly pulled back.

“So, does that mean you like your gift?”

He chuckled, standing up and offering his hand to help her to her feet.  He wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her lightly.

“It’s fantastic.  It’s too much, of course, but I love it… thank you.”

“Good.  Now, let’s go find Charlotte and Peter, and make some goose sandwiches.  I haven’t eaten nearly enough today!”

Edward laughed and, taking Bella’s hand, walked with her to the kitchen.