BANG!  BANG!

Bella jumped and then giggled as Edward’s arms tightened around her.  He grinned and kissed her again.

“Happy New Year, my beautiful Bella,” he whispered, as another loud explosion rent the air, making her jump again.  He laughed and turned her around, pulling her back against his chest.  She leaned her head back against his shoulder, watching as a series of rockets exploded above them.  The crowd which had gathered on the village green ooh’d and ahh’d as firework after firework painted a glittering and colourful display across the night sky.

It was cold, but wrapped in Edward’s strong arms, she felt warm and safe.  Whilst everyone else’s eyes were glued to the show going on above them, Bella’s were drawn to those of the inordinately handsome man looking down at her.  When he dipped his head, she willingly turned hers to meet his lips in another scalding kiss.

“Hey, you two!  The tickets for this gig cost ten quid each, so the least you could do is look at the bloody fireworks!”

Breaking off their kiss, they both laughed as Alice walked towards them with a stern look on her face.  She was carrying a cardboard drinks holder, containing four half-pint plastic cups, whilst, behind her, Jasper had two hands wrapped around four hotdogs.

“Here you go, I got hot mulled wine to warm us all up.”

Alice and Jasper divvied up the food and drinks, as the fireworks continued to explode above them.

“There you are!”

They all turned to see Carlisle and Esme approaching their vantage point next to the cricket pavillion, smiling widely.  Carlisle set down a bulky insulated bag and pulled out foil-wrapped packages, together with a large thermos jug.

“I’ve got warm pasties and mulled wine,” he announced, offering round the food, whilst Esme took the flask and topped up their drinks.

“So, who’s made their New Year’s resolutions?” asked Esme with a smile.

There was a mixed response to her enquiry—some rueful chuckles, some groans. 

As the friends swapped light-hearted pledges for the coming year—most of which they knew they were unlikely to keep—Edward held back on talking about the one resolution that he knew, without a shadow of a doubt, he would follow through with. 

Not right away, perhaps, but soon… very soon.

~o0o~

Bella emerged from the bathroom, hurriedly slipping off her robe and climbing into bed.  Going straight into Edward’s waiting arms, she snuggled into his side, relishing his warmth, and sighing in deep contentment.

“Tonight was fun,” she said, tilting her head up to look at him. 

“Yeah, it was really great… but I’m glad to be back in the warm.” 

He dipped his head to capture her lips with his, loving the way she immediately opened up to him.  For a while they simply kissed, allowing their passion to build slowly until Edward eased Bella onto her back.  Instinctively, her legs parted and he moved with practiced ease between them, his cock lying hard and heavy against her stomach.

Propping himself up on his elbows, he slipped his hands in her hair, his thumbs stroking softly across her cheekbones as he stared down at her.

“I love you, Bella,” he told her, his voice low, but imbued with emotion.  “For the first time in my life, you’ve given me reasons to look forward to a new year.  You’re everything to me.”

Her eyes glassy with unshed tears, Bella stared up at the beautiful man above her.  She could hardly believe how fortunate she was to have him in her life.  In the preceding weeks, she had found herself pondering her decision to pick him up that bitterly cold and snowy night, and how she might easily have driven by, leaving him to his ghastly fate.  Had she done so, she knew she would never have been able to put him out of her mind, and that she would have been plagued by guilt and remorse for the rest of her days. 

That simple but momentous choice had changed her life forever, and she had no doubt that, even if he decided to leave her at some point in the future, she could never regret it.  She would rather have a few short months or years with Edward, than to never have known what it was like to love, and be loved by him.

“I love you too, precious man… so very much.  Please, make love to me.”

She slid one hand into the thick hair at the nape of his neck and pulled his head down, kissing him deeply.  And as their mouths and tongues moved together, Edward lifted his hips, one hand going down between them to guide himself into her. 

As long as he lived, he couldn’t imagine anything being so intensely pleasurable, so utterly incredible… so fucking spiritual as being inside this wondrous woman’s body.  He moved slowly, his long, deep thrusts perfectly synchronised with the undulation of Bella’s hips against his.  He maintained a leisurely rhythm for as long as possible, wanting to make it last, but when she wrapped her legs around his waist and started forcing the pace, he could do nothing but comply with her need for more.

Putting his weight on his left arm, he slipped the other around her, placing his hand in the small of her back to press her harder against him.  The movement caused him to change the angle of his thrusts, his pubic bone colliding over and over with Bella’s swollen and sensitive clit.  She cried out each time, until she was simply inhaling without exhaling.  Finally, when she couldn’t draw in another breath, her orgasm slammed through her, and Edward’s name fell in breathless gasps from her mouth as she emptied her lungs.  Her nails bit into the skin of his shoulders, and he arched his back, pushing into her one last time as Bella clenched convulsively around his cock.  Holding himself still, he cried out as he exploded hard and deep inside her.

Edward collapsed on top of her, and the two lovers held on to one another tightly, both of them clearly reluctant to part—in fact, when he finally tried to move, concerned he might be crushing her, Bella tightened her grip.

“Please… not yet,” she pleaded breathlessly, loving the feel of his weight pressing her into the mattress, and the heavy thump of his heart against hers.

“Love you, love you… God, I love you,” he told her, laying hot, wet, open-mouthed kisses against her neck.

They clung to one another in the darkness until their heart rates slowed.  Then, as carefully as possible, so as not to detach himself from Bella’s body, Edward rolled onto his side, holding her close.

They lay in silence for a while, no words necessary. 

He was still inside her when they fell asleep.

~o0o~

Bella was sitting at her drawing board when her mobile started vibrating beside her.  Picking it up, she noted the number and swiped the screen.

“Bella Swan.”

“Ms Swan, it’s Tyler Crowley.  How are you?”

“I’m well, thanks, Tyler—and I wish you’d call me Bella.  Do you have something for me?”

“I do, Miss—Bella.  I’m preparing my report on what’s happening with Mr Black, which I’ll be emailing to you later today, but I thought you might like to know upfront what I’ve found out.”

Bella’s mind immediately went back to the moment three weeks earlier when she had faced Jake across the courtroom in Cheltenham.  The change in him had been dramatic, and he didn’t look like the same man she’d seen a month before.  He had lost weight, he had dark shadows under his eyes and his once-glossy black hair was lank and in urgent need of a trim.  According to Crowley’s report from the week before the trial, his employers had found out about the charges and suspended him pending the verdict, at which point, should he be found guilty, he would be summarily dismissed, regardless of the sentence.  This was obviously the reason why, in the face of all the evidence against him, he had pleaded not guilty.

The trial hadn’t lasted long.  Both Bella and Edward had been called to give evidence, as had Alice and Jasper.  Rose and Emmett had offered to travel from London, but the prosecuting team had felt it was unnecessary.  Instead, they had called upon Lady Orfrey, a guest at the exhibition, who was a local Magistrate,* and was considered by the police to be a good, independent witness—in other words, not a close friend of Bella’s.

Their judgement had proved to be sound.

In clipped, home-counties tones, she had described the whole unfortunate scene: from Jake’s unwelcome appearance, his assault on Bella, and the attempt to remove him peaceably, to Edward’s restraint, and, from her vantage point behind and slightly to the left of him, his attempt to avoid a fight, resulting in a drunken Jake stumbling and falling flat on his face.  Upon cross-examination, she had been immovable on her evidence and witheringly contemptuous of both Jacob and his defence attorney, leaving the jury in absolutely no doubt that the defendant had not only been the aggressor, but had brought his own injuries upon himself.

After just two days, Jake had been found guilty of assault and affray.  Edward and Bella had looked on with mixed emotions as he was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for two years.  He was ordered to pay two thousand pounds in compensation and four thousand pounds in court costs—the Judge apparently took a dim view of defendants who wasted taxpayers’ money by claiming innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Much to Edward’s dismay, Bella insisted on waiting outside the court until Jake was released.  As he emerged, Bella asked Edward to stay put while she approached her ex-boyfriend.

“Jake?”

He looked round, his eyes widening for a moment, before a look of dull resignation clouded his face.

“What do you want, Bella?  Are you here to gloat?”

“Oh, Jake, of course not.”  She reached out a hand, placing it gently on his upper arm.  “I just wanted to say how sorry I am that things turned out this way.  Are you going to be okay?”

He cocked his head to one side, looking at her askance.  An odd expression flashed across his face, too fleeting for her to identify, but any hope she had that he felt remorse for his behaviour was swiftly quashed.

“What is this, Bella?  I’m not interested in the whole ‘Saint Joan’ thing,” he mocked her, adding the parentheses by gesturing with his fingers in the air.  “You’ve ruined my fucking life, I hope you know that!  I’m going to lose my job, and by the time I pay legal fees, court costs and fucking compensation, I’m going to be wiped out financially.  I can’t sell the house, because it’s worth less than my fucking mortgage—which I won’t be able to afford to pay next month.   So, I’m going to be homeless, unless I can find another job... which, thanks to you, is going to be nigh on impossible with this fucking conviction.

“I can’t even leave the country until my two years’ suspended sentence expires, and having a criminal record means I won’t be able to get a visa to work in America, Australia or Hong Kong.  So thanks for your phony fucking concern, but you can shove it, you sanctimonious bitch!”

Bella dropped her hand and stepped back as if he’d hit her.  The look of pure hatred on his face made her realise that there could be no reconciliation or forgiveness, and she took another step away from him, breathing a sigh of relief when she felt Edward’s hands on her shoulders.

“Are you okay, love?” he asked, his glare fixed on Jake.

“I’m f-fine… I made a mistake…” she responded, turning to face him.  “Let’s go—”

“Yeah, why don’t you and your toy-boy just run back to the land of cowshit and inbreds.  But make the most of your little fuck-buddy while you can, Bella, ‘cause he’s not gonna hang around long once you turn into Norma Desmond and he’s leeched you dry.”

Bella looked up at Edward as she felt his fingers flex, and before she knew what was happening, he’d spun her round behind him and taken a step towards Jake.  She grabbed his arm, but her loathsome ex-boyfriend was already retreating, fear blossoming in his eyes.  In his haste, he stumbled and almost fell, arms flailing as he fought to save himself from the humiliation of landing on his backside in the street.

“Yeah, run away, you worthless piece of shit!  Not so fucking brave when you’re not hitting women, are you?  You make me sick!  You brought this all on yourself, and you deserve everything that’s coming to you!  If I ever see you within five miles of Bella, I swear I’ll make you sorry, you fucking coward!.”

“Edward, please, he’s not worth it!” Bella cried out, pulling on his arm.

He glanced back at her, the fire in his eyes fading quickly.

“You’re right, he’s not,” he responded quietly, before turning to refocus on Jake—but he was already walking quickly away down the street.

They watched him leave, both hoping it was the last time they would ever see him.

Edward turned away from his retreating figure, wrapping his arms around Bella and kissing her softly on the top of her head.

“He’s gone, love, forget about him.  Come on, let’s grab some lunch before we head home.” 

He pulled away slightly, looking down at her with a smile.  Meeting his gaze, Bella could only marvel, yet again, at the warmth and love she saw in his sparkling emerald eyes and, just like that, all thoughts of Jake were consigned to the dustbin.

“I’d rather go straight home, my love,” she told him, feeling her desire building.

With a slow grin, Edward released Bella, and instead took her by the hand, quickly leading her down the street towards the car park where her car awaited them.

~o0o~

“… so I thought I’d give you a call.”

Bella was brought back to the present, realising that Crowley was speaking to her.

“I’m sorry, Tyler, what was that?”

“I said that Black has rented out his house and moved to Edinburgh.  It seems he managed to persuade his employers to keep him on.  All reports indicate that he’s good at his job, and he had a sympathetic line manager, but the deal meant he had to accept a demotion, a big drop in salary, and relocation to their Scottish operation.  It’s the best deal he could possibly have hoped for, as he’d never get another job in The City* without lying about his conviction—and it’s a much too incestuous world to get away with that, especially as it was quite a high-profile case.  He’ll be starting pretty much at the bottom, and he’ll barely earn a quarter of his previous salary, but I imagine he’s happy just to have a job.”

Bella snorted, she couldn’t help it.  “I doubt he’ll be happy about it, Tyler.  Jake was always all about the high-rolling lifestyle—the flashy car, the luxury Docklands bachelor pad and the big city nightlife.  Still, it’s better than he deserves after what he did…”

“You’re right, but at least it means he’s as far away as possible, given the circumstances.  It means you won’t have to worry about bumping into him when you’re in London.”

She sighed, running her hand through her hair in a gesture she’d unconsciously picked up from Edward.

“Yeah, I must admit, that’s a big relief.  Thanks for letting me know.”

“No problem.  As I mentioned, I’ll email my full report to you later today.  Now, about the other matter you asked me to look into.”

Bella was suddenly alert, all thoughts of Jake fading quickly as Tyler started telling her the results of the secondary investigation she’d asked him to undertake.  She listened carefully, her eyes widening in surprise at one point, as she speculated on the impact his news would have.

When he’d finished speaking, Bella was initially silent while she mulled over what he’d said.

“Hello?  Are you still there?”

“Uh, yeah… sorry, Tyler.  Um, so you’ll email me the details?”

“Of course.  I’ll send my report as soon as I’ve emailed my notes on Black.  If it’s okay with you, I’d like to invoice you for the work to date and, then, if you need any further follow-up, I can bill you for that separately.”

“That’s fine, yes.  You’ve done a great job, Tyler, I’m grateful.”

“My pleasure, Bella.  Just call me if there’s anything else you need.”

They said their goodbyes, and she made her way slowly downstairs, just in time to hear a car pull into the drive.  Walking through to the dining room window, she was just in time to see Edward climb out of a car which was liveried as a driving school vehicle.

She turned when she heard his key in the door, and smiled as he walked into the house.

“Hey, how was the lesson?”

He looked up, running his hands through his riotous shock of copper hair.  It was getting a little long, but she rather liked that it gave her something to grab hold of, and she couldn’t deny that the whole ‘bed-head’ thing he had going on was hot as hell.  He’d never really looked like a teenager, but now he definitely looked like a man—a strong, mature, very sexy man.

As his eyes met hers, the slow smile which never failed to disarm her spread across his face, and she instinctively moved towards him and into his arms.

He kissed her thoroughly, holding her close.  Drawing apart at last, he put his arm round her shoulders and guided her into the kitchen, where he let her go in order to retrieve a cold drink from the fridge. 

“So, the lesson…?” Bella asked again, as she grabbed a glass from the cupboard and poured herself a drink of water from the tap.  As had become their habit, they sat down at the table across from one another to catch up on one another’s day.

“Yeah, it was good.  Rick says that now I’ve passed the theory test, I’ll probably be ready for the road test in four or five weeks.”

“That’s great, love.  I must admit, I’ll be glad when you can drive to and from work instead of riding your bike.”

“Well, I’ll be on the bike for a while, until I can save up for a car.  Anyway, it keeps me fit—which is important if I want to keep you satisfied.”

He gave her a roguish smirk, making her roll her eyes, even as the blush crept into her cheeks.  He loved that he could still do that to her.

“Anyway, how was your day?” he asked, taking another swig of his beer.

“It was good.  I got a lot done on the latest ‘Ashkran’ drawings.  I think I should be able to finish them this week… Um, I had a call today from Tyler Crowley.  He wanted to tell me about Jake.”

Edward paused with his drink halfway to his lips.  “Oh yeah, what’s that scrotebag been up to now?”

Bella related what Tyler had said, watching for his reaction.

He drained his can of Coke and put it firmly down on the table with a scowl. 

“Jesus, so he’s got away with it!  Talk about falling in a barrel of shit and come up smelling of roses.”  He shook his head in disgust. 

“Well, yeah, but at least he’s left London, and he’s not likely to show his face around here again.  And, for Jake, being exiled to Scotland—even Edinburgh—where he has to start again as a junior trader earning, at most, thirty grand a year, is a real punishment.  Jake enjoys the good life, and I’m guessing that’s not going to be so easy anymore.  Tyler said he had to let the leasing company take back his Maserati, which would have broken his heart—he loved that car.  Plus, the monthly rent he’s getting on his house is less than his mortgage, so he’s got to find the difference, on top of renting a place in Edinburgh, which means he’s going to struggle to keep up.  So, the upshot is that he’s going to suffer in all the ways that matter to him.”

Edward curled his lip in annoyance. 

“He’s got more than I ever had before I met you.  I would have liked to see him trying to survive on the streets—he wouldn’t have lasted two fucking days!”

Bella reached across the table, covering his hand with hers.

“Look, it’s not perfect, but he’s gone—that’s all I care about.  If he was reduced to living on benefits in London, he might still be looking to get revenge, despite the restraining order.  This way, we can put him out of our minds, which suits me—I don’t want to waste another minute of our life together thinking about him.”

He nodded, turning his hand to link his fingers with hers.

“You’re right, let’s forget about that prick.  Now, I need to shower and get ready for work.”

He stood, walked round the table and kissed Bella, before heading upstairs to change.

Bella watched him go with a sigh.  She needed to talk to him about Tyler’s second report, but now wasn’t the time.  She picked up the empty Coke can and put it in the recycle bin, then looked in the fridge for something to eat for lunch.

Twenty minutes later, Edward reappeared, and came over to her at the island where she was making a sandwich.

“Do you want something to eat?” she asked.

“No, I better get going—I’ll grab something at the restaurant.  I don’t think we’ll be busy tonight, so I should be home by ten-thirty.”

He leaned in to kiss her, and then, with a quick grin, turned and left.

~o0o~

Bella was brought awake by soft kisses across her shoulder and neck, as she lay dozing on the sofa.  Smiling she turned towards the owner of the lips that gave her so much pleasure.

“Hey, sleepyhead,” Edward greeted her softly, dropping a light kiss on her mouth.

“Ummm… hey, you,” she responded, reaching her hand out to cup his cheek.  “Can I get you a drink?”

He held up the bottle of beer he’d brought from the kitchen.  “I’m good.  Scoot up.”

She straightened to allow him to sit, then immediately wrapped her arms around him and rested her head against his chest, breathing in his scent.  In turn, he put his arm round her shoulders, and then took a long swig of beer.

“Good night?” she asked.

“Yeah, not bad.  How about you?” 

She was forced to relinquish her hold on him a little as he leaned forward to put his drink down, and then she felt him tense up. 

“What’s this?” he asked, and she pulled back to see that he had picked up the sheets of paper she’d left on the coffee table.  Leaning forward, she rubbed a hand up and down his back, and gently extracted the document from his fingers. 

Swivelling round to face her, Edward ran a hand through his hair, a frown darkening his features.

“Bella—what did you do?”

She sighed, glancing down at the email she’d printed off earlier, and then back up to meet Edward’s anguished gaze.

“Okay, please don’t freak out—”

“I’m trying hard not to, but seeing Paul’s name at the top of that email is kind of doing my head in.”

“I know, I know, but please try and keep an open mind.  When I talked to Tyler about Jake, I thought it would be worth asking him just to see what he could find out about why Paul might have been trying to find you after all these years.”

“And?”

She turned a little, propping her knee on the sofa, so that she was facing him.

“Okay, so the first thing you need to know is that, as far as Paul is concerned, it’s good news, because you can finally put him out of your mind.”

He arched an eyebrow at her, but remained silent, despite the anxiety that was still clear in his eyes.

Bella took a deep breath and reached out a hand to clasp his where it rested on his thigh.

“He’s in prison, Edward.”

She paused, watching as his eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. 

“Wh-what?” he rasped, clearly stunned.

“It must have happened just after you saw him.  Apparently, he was in a pub in the King’s Cross area, which I’m guessing was near where you last saw him.  According to the police report, he was drunk and got into a fight with some local hard-case.  He deliberately broke his pint glass and stabbed it into the other guy’s neck, severing his carotid artery.  He bled to death before the ambulance even arrived… Paul was arrested for murder.  He’ll get life, Edward.  Maybe he didn’t get caught for killing your mum, but he’ll pay for it, one way or another.”

She squeezed his hand, dropping the email onto the sofa cushion in order to reach up to caress his cheek.

Edward just stared at her, as he struggled to process what she’d just told him.  He glanced down at where she gripped his hand, and then back up to meet her eyes.

“He’s… he’s really in prison?”

She nodded in confirmation, and he leaned forward to rest his forehead against hers as she continued to stroke her thumb across his cheek.

They remained like that for a moment, neither one speaking as Bella let him absorb the news.  Time seemed to stand still, the silence broken only by the soft tick of the clock on the shelf, and the crackle of the fire.

After what seemed like an eternity, Edward drew back, a frown creasing his handsome features.

“Did they find out why he was looking for me?”

Bella sighed, looking back down at the papers, then back to Edward.

“Yeah, they did.  The police found a solicitor’s letter on him after he was arrested.”

She paused, her eyes filling with sadness and compassion.

“Edward… God, there’s no easy way to say this.  It was about Molly… she… I’m so sorry, Edward, but she died.”

Again, his eyes went wide, filling with tears. 

“No…” he whispered, that one simple word filled with agony, as his tears finally fell, tracking silently and unheeded down his face.

Then he was in her arms, as she wrapped him in all the comfort and love she had to offer, his choking sobs breaking her heart.

It was so unfair.  Everyone he’d ever loved… lost forever.  His loss was all the more poignant, because she knew he’d been thinking for a while about trying to re-establish contact with his surrogate grandmother—one of the few people from his past who had truly cared about him.

She held him for a long time, letting his tears soak into her sweater, wishing with all her heart that she could take away his pain.  She rubbed her hands soothingly up and down his back, rocking him gently as he wept.

At last, he calmed, although he continued to cling desperately to Bella, as if he feared that she, too, would be ripped away from him, should he loosen his grip.

Finally, he seemed to regain control, and slowly pulled away.  He tried to wipe away the tears and snot with his hands, and Bella let go of him to reach across to pluck a couple of tissues from the box that sat on the coffee table.

He took them from her, wiping his face and blowing his nose.  When he’d gathered himself, and felt capable of speaking without breaking down again, he looked at Bella.

“When… how?” he asked softly.

“Um, sometime in September, I think.  She had cancer, apparently.  Tyler didn’t have the details.”

“But… I don’t understand, why was a solicitor writing to Paul to tell him about Molly?  He never even knew her.”

Bella shuffled through the papers beside her, extracting one sheet.

“Tyler managed to get a copy of the letter… it’s addressed to you.”

She held it out to him, but he simply stared at it, before shaking his head.

“Just tell me,” he murmured, dabbing again at his eyes with the balled-up tissue.

She nodded, and then glanced down at the typewritten page.

“It seems Paul never moved out of the house where you lived with your mum, so when this letter turned up for you, he opened it, and then decided to try and find you.  We may never know whether he was acting out of some kind of latent altruism, or whether he was hoping to gain something, but it seems Molly never forgot you… that she never stopped loving you.”

She paused, taking a deep breath in order to control her own emotions.  Edward needed her to be strong for him right now, and she was determined not to let him down.

“Anyway, she apparently included a bequest in her Will.  Tyler did some digging, and she had a fairly substantial estate—she was the sole beneficiary of Marcus’ estate, which included the value of his business, plus a substantial life insurance settlement, and she left you ten thousand pounds.”

Edward, who had been staring at his hands, looked up sharply, his eyebrows almost disappearing into his hairline.

“What?”

He grabbed the letter from Bella’s hands, scanning it quickly.

“I can’t believe this… wait a minute, it says here that they enclosed a letter from her addressed to me.”

He looked back at Bella and then to the papers lying on the sofa cushion.

“I’m sorry, love, but it’s not here.  Tyler says it wasn’t with the solicitor’s note when they found it, and when he sent someone to search the house, there was no sign of it.  He thinks Paul probably threw it away, which would point to the fact that he was merely intent on finding you so he could get his hands on some or all of the money.”

Again, she ached for him when she saw his face crumple in defeat.

“Hey… it probably just confirmed that she was leaving you the money because she loved you—and you already know that.”

He nodded slowly, before turning tear-filled eyes to her. 

“Yeah, but it would have been nice to read the words.  The money… it’s just fucking money, Bella, and I’d give it up in a heartbeat if it meant I would still have a chance to see her again.”

He sniffed, glancing back down at the letter in his hands.  Taking a deep breath, he looked again at Bella.

“So, what happens now?”

“Well, Tyler has contacted the solicitor, passing on your new address, and he says they’ll be writing to you again.”

“Do you think they’ll give me Molly’s address?  I’d like to maybe contact her daughter—I mean, she’s probably pissed off that her mother left such a huge amount of money to some random bloke she’s never met, but… well, I’d like to talk to her, if she’d be willing.  At least tell her how sorry I am…”

He swallowed, fighting back more tears, and stood up.

Bella got up, and put her hand on his arm.

“Hey, are you all right?”

He looked down at her, picking up her free hand and playing with her fingers.

“Yeah… I think I’ll just go for a walk… clear my head.”

She nodded.  “Do you want me to come with you?”

“No… I think I’d like to be on my own for a bit, you know?”

“Of course.”  She glanced at the clock, which showed that it was almost midnight, but she said nothing.

He leaned towards her, kissing her softly on the forehead.  “I promise I won’t be long.”

“Take all the time you need—I’ll be right here when you get back.  I love you, Edward.”

He gathered her in his arms, burying his nose in her hair. 

“I love you so much, Bella,” he whispered, his breath tickling her ear. 

Then he released her and walked out of the room.  Moments later, she heard the front door open and close quietly, and she was alone.

~o0o~

Over the ensuing days, Edward remained quiet and introspective.  When they made love, Bella was conscious of a kind of desperate need in him that hadn’t been present since they had first got together.  Sometimes, he would collapse on top of her and weep uncontrollably, and all she could do was hold him and offer what comfort she could.

About a week after she had given him the news about Molly, a letter arrived for Edward from her solicitor, requesting that he provide proof of his identify.  Initially, he was adamant that he didn’t want to respond, that he didn’t want money he wasn’t entitled to.

Bella sat him down, and firmly explained to him all the reasons why he should accept Molly’s bequest.  She told him that it was what Molly wanted, that she wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of putting him in her Will if she hadn’t cared deeply about him; that it was her way of reaching out to help him.  She said it wasn’t just from Molly, but from Marcus as well, that they had both loved him, and he would be throwing their love back in their faces if he didn’t accept it.  Once he had the money, he could do what he liked with it—donate it to charity in their names, if he felt that strongly about it, but rejecting it out of hand was the same as rejecting them.

When, at last, she was able to persuade him that he should and must reply to the solicitor, he started to panic that he had no idea how to provide them with the information they wanted.

Again, Bella took charge.  She went on line and ordered a copy of his birth certificate, and then, when it arrived, she arranged for him to visit a notary and get it legalised, along with a photocopy of his driving licence.  Typing up a covering letter, she got him to sign it, and couriered the whole package to the lawyers. 

A week later, another letter arrived, enclosing a cheque for ten thousand pounds.

For three days, Edward ignored it, refusing to even pay it into his bank account.  Bella didn’t press him, or make any moves to persuade him to cash the cheque, wanting him to reach a decision on his own. 

On the fourth day, a Thursday, he came home from work and sat next to Bella on the couch.  He perched on the edge, staring down at his feet, saying nothing for several minutes.  Bella waited, knowing that he would say whatever he had to say in his own time.

“I want to go to Manchester—I want to visit Molly’s grave, and meet her daughter.”

He finally looked round to gauge her reaction.

“Okay.  That sounds like a really great idea.  When were you thinking of going?”

“Um, well, I already asked Carlisle for a few days off.  I thought I’d go tomorrow—”

“Tomorrow?”

“Yeah, Esme checked for me, and I can get a bus from Cirencester to Bristol at seven in the morning, which should get me there in time to catch the 11:09 to Manchester Piccadilly.  I just wondered if you could give me a lift into Cirencester?”

Bella stared at him, capturing her lower lip with her teeth, and then shook her head.

“No.”

“No?  You won’t give me a lift?” he asked, incredulously.

She sighed.  “I will give you a lift, but not to Cirencester.  Edward, please don’t shut me out.”

“I’m not—”

“You are.  You’ve been distant and practically monosyllabic ever since we found out about Molly.  I’ve tried to let you figure things out on your own—I know you’re not used to having someone to rely on, but I can’t believe you would go all that way without me.”

“I… I didn’t want to ask—”

Bella threw her hands in the air.  “Oh, for God’s sake, Edward—we’re a partnership now!  I love you, and there’s no way I’d let you go on your own.  How would you have felt if I’d told you I didn’t want you with me at Jake’s trial?  I needed you there, and now it’s my turn to be there for you.  We’ll drive up tomorrow—together.”

He reached across the gap between them, cupping her face and stroking his thumb gently over her cheekbone.

“Do you have any idea how much I love you?”

She smiled, leaning into his hand and covering it with her own.

“If it’s even half as much as I love you, then, yes, I’ve got a pretty good idea.”

 


* Clarifications:

Magistrate – Justice of the Peace

The City – City of London, which refers to the square mile of London delineating the old financial district, but which now also includes the new financial hub at Canary Wharf in Docklands, East London.