The twentieth of June dawned bright and sunny, promising another fine summer’s day and, despite the early hour, the sounds of lovemaking rang around the bedroom as Bella rode her boyfriend’s body hard and a little wildly. Her hands stroked and clutched and pinched, fingers trailing in the wake of the sun’s golden tentacles, which crept rapidly through the window and past the half-open curtains to illuminate her peach-toned skin.
Sighs and groans, as well as muttered expletives, escaped them both, and Bella knew she needed to chase down her orgasm quickly now. She could tell that Edward was close… closer than she, and knew he would be pissed off with himself if he came first.
There was no way she was going to let him be pissed off, today of all days.
Leaning back, she glanced down at where he was buried deep inside her, the sight making her heart beat faster, and the tingling in her belly increase.
Bringing her hand up to her face, she wrapped her lips round her first two fingers, slowly letting her tongue liberally moisten the tips. When her eyes sought Edward’s, she found them fixed intently upon her, his own tongue instinctively licking his lips.
“Watch me,” she breathed, before pushing two fingers inside herself, just above where they were joined, and circling her clit.
Pushing himself into a sitting position, he cupped the back of her head with one hand and gripped her hip with the other, continuing to thrust up into her as he captured her lips. Breathing noisily through their noses, they broke apart and, as one, looked down to where Bella continued to touch herself.
“Jesus, Bella, that’s so fucking sexy,” he groaned.
He felt her tense and clench around him, her head lolling back as she sped up her movements. And then Edward’s name was exploding from her lips, over and over, mixed in with barely coherent declarations of love, followed swiftly by his own cries of pleasure and exclamations of devotion.
The ascendant sun made their skin glow and sparkle, as the sheen of sweat coating their bodies caught the shards of light which now danced across the room.
Sated, they continued to cling to one another, kissing when breath would allow, or simply staring into one another’s eyes… there they found no secrets, no doubts—only love, pure and simple, deep and abiding.
“Happy birthday, Edward,” Bella breathed against his mouth, feeling his lips curve into a smile as he fell back on the bed, pulling her with him.
Happiest birthday ever, thanks to you, my love, he thought to himself, before drifting back to sleep beside his beautiful Bella.
Later that evening, Bella sat at the dressing table in their hotel room, gazing down at the gold signet ring she held between her thumbs and forefingers. It was engraved on its face with an elaborate letter ‘M’, and she’d collected it yesterday from the jewellers. Now, in celebration of Edward’s birthday, they were spending the night at Whatley Manor, a beautiful country house hotel in Malmesbury, about ten miles from Chipping Mallard, where they were currently getting ready to dine. They would return home the following day, and then, on Saturday afternoon, they’d invited about twenty friends to a party at the cottage. The forecast promised fine, warm weather, and Jasper had volunteered his much-trumpeted grilling skills on the big, new gas-fired barbecue Bella and Edward had recently purchased.
She had thought long and hard about what to buy Edward for his birthday. Her first thought was to buy him a car, but he’d already decided to put some of Molly’s bequest towards a decent second-hand vehicle. Rose and Emmett were coming for the weekend, and Emmett had already promised Edward he would accompany him to Cheltenham on Sunday morning, to check out a car he’d seen advertised in the local paper.
Hearing the shower turn off, Bella slipped the ring back in its box and thence inside the small gift bag she’d bought. Nestling it in the bed of tissue paper, she covered it over and then put it in her handbag. She knew he wasn’t expecting it, as she’d already given him an iPad this morning, loaded with several cookery apps, which would help him create and record all his recipe ideas. He’d been over the moon, expressing his gratitude in exhausting but very satisfying ways.
Emerging from the bedroom with just a towel slung low around his hips, Edward grinned at Bella as he vigorously dried his hair. She couldn’t help but admire his lean, hard body—the smattering of soft hair on his chest, tapering between his pecs and forming a coppery trail which disappeared beneath the terry cloth that barely covered his lower body. She shivered with pleasure as she recalled how that same body had pounded into her from behind little more than an hour earlier, as she was bent over the big four-poster bed.
The skinny kid she’d picked up on that freezing night seven months earlier was a thing of the past—now he was a man in every sense of the word. He’d been a good-looking boy, mature beyond his years when they’d met, but in just a few short months he’d grown into a strong, hardworking and very successful professional chef. He was truly her equal in every way—and it didn’t hurt that he was also drop-dead gorgeous, sexy to the nth degree, and a spectacular lover.
She turned fully and watched as he dropped his towel, admiring his fantastic arse as he bent to pull on his soft, body-hugging boxer-briefs. He looked round when she sighed loudly.
“What?” he asked, frowning
“Mmmm, just admiring the view!” she responded, smiling up at him.
He smirked, a slight blush heating his cheeks. “Well, we could always get room service, you know.”
He walked slowly towards her, an expectant look on his face.
“Absolutely not—I’m looking forward to getting the whole double-Michelin star experience in the restaurant downstairs. So, put your trousers on, Don Juan.”
Edward chuckled, bending down to kiss her lightly, before turning back to the wardrobe, where his shirt and suit were hanging.
Once he was dressed, Bella took a moment to fully appreciate the strikingly handsome man in front of her. Unlike the suit he’d bought before Christmas, when he’d first started earning, this one was made-to-measure. Too long, lean and broad-shouldered to find something off-the-peg that fitted perfectly, Bella had suggested he spend some of Molly’s money on a really good-quality tailored jacket, with two pairs of matching trousers—the result was, in her somewhat biased opinion, truly dazzling.
She stood up and walked towards him, glad that she’d splashed out on a sexy new outfit. It was a figure-hugging, strapless green dress, which complimented both the bracelet Edward had given her for Christmas, and the colour of his tie—which, in turn, accentuated his grass-green eyes. Stopping in front of him, she reached out and rubbed her hands up and down his arms.
“You look positively edible, my love,” she purred, smiling up at him.
“Hmm, I’m not the only one… with all the good things to eat in this room, I doubt we’ll find anything better downstairs.” He arched an eyebrow and gave her his best smile—the one she’d told him she could never resist—and waited for her response.
What he got was a playful slap on the chest and a view of Bella’s sensational bottom as she walked away from him, shaking her head.
“You’re not playing fair with the sexy smirk and eyebrow combo—you know it makes me putty in your hands.”
He pursed his lips, a rueful expression on his face. “Well, apparently, you’re becoming immune to it, so it looks like I need to up my game,” he said, following in her wake as she left the room.
Bella hurried towards the stairs, as if she needed to put distance between them in order to overcome her lack of self-control, so Edward didn’t hear her muttered ‘God forbid’.
A couple of hours later, Edward had to admit that dinner was sublime. Undoubtedly, the experience was enhanced by the beauty of their surroundings, as they sat at a terrace table overlooking the stunning landscaped gardens of the old manor house hotel. Clinking glasses, he and Bella watched the setting sun paint the sky in rich hues of gold, pink and vermillion, before slipping below the horizon. With the sun gone, and twilight falling softly around them, the warmth of the early summer day soon began to leach away, and Bella shivered a little.
“Hey, are you cold? Do you want to go inside?” Edward asked, reaching for her hand.
“No, I’m fine. Let’s just sit here for a bit longer, it’s so nice.” She smiled across at him, wanting to extend this quiet time with him for a few minutes more.
Edward pursed his lips and then stood, slipping his jacket off and walking round behind her to drape it over her shoulders. She looked up at him and he took the opportunity to bend down to capture her lips with his before returning to his seat.
Bella murmured a soft ‘thank you’, and then leaned down to pick up her bag where it rested between her feet.
“I have one more gift I wanted to give you,” she told him, smirking as he frowned in confusion. “Now, don’t look at me like that, it’s just something small, but I wanted to give you something more personal than an iPad.”
She produced the small gift bag and put it in front of him.
He looked at it for several seconds before picking it up and peering inside.
Bella chuckled. “Well, don’t just look at it… I promise it won’t bite.”
He shook his head in resignation and delved inside, pulling the tissue paper out to reveal the ring box within.
He glanced sharply up at Bella, before taking the box out of the bag and snapping it open.
He stared down at the ring for an age, then raised his eyes to hers. She smiled encouragingly, but as he continued to just gaze wordlessly at her, she felt her smile slip.
“You don’t like it,” she said, sighing and reaching to take it from him.
“What? No… yes… I mean, Jesus, Bella, it’s…”
He looked back down at the ring and then finally plucked it out of the box. He held it between his forefingers and thumbs, much as Bella had earlier. As he examined it, he noticed something engraved inside the ring and peered closer.
“Hearts converge,” he murmured, looking up at Bella, his eyes blazing with emotion.
“Do… do you like it?” she asked uncertainly.
“Oh, Bella… sweetheart…”
He stood suddenly, walked around the table and bent to take her hand to pull her to her feet and into his arms. His mouth met hers in a searing kiss, which she returned with the same passion and intensity. When at last they drew apart, he looked down at her, raising his hand to gently stroke her cheek.
“I love it, Bella.” He released her, bringing his other hand up and sliding the ring onto the pinkie finger of his right hand. It was a perfect fit. “But you’ve kind of stolen my thunder,” he went on, a wry smile playing across his lips.
Bella frowned, staring up at him in confusion. “What do you mean?”
Edward pulled away from her, glancing down at the table.
“Have you had enough to eat? If you want something else, would you mind if we had it sent up to our room?”
“Um, no, I’m fine, let’s just get the bill.”
As if by magic, a waiter appeared beside them; minutes later, they let themselves back into their suite, where Bella instantly noted that something was different… someone had been there whilst they were eating.
“Wha… how… where did all this come from,” she stuttered as she surveyed the scene before her.
The big bed was covered in red and white rose petals; on the small coffee table was a wine bucket filled with ice, from which a bottle of Bollinger champagne protruded; beside it were two crystal champagne flutes and a box of incredibly decadent-looking Belgian truffles. Finally, the French doors onto the balcony had been opened and a huge vase of stargazer lilies had been placed atop the small wicker table. A soft breeze blew in through the windows, wafting the sweet, fragrant scent of the flowers around the room.
Behind her, Bella felt Edward enclosing her in his arms, his lips finding her neck as he held her tightly.
“I arranged it with the Manager yesterday. I wanted everything to be perfect, Bella.”
He relinquished his hold on her, only to take her hand and lead her to the bed, where he encouraged her to sit. Bella looked up at him, her eyes full of questions as he continued to gaze wordlessly down at her. Her heart thrummed in her chest, and her eyes grew wide when he suddenly dropped to one knee in front of her.
“Edward…?” she whispered.
“Bella… my love, my best friend, my guardian angel. This may well turn out to be the cheesiest thing I’ve ever—or will ever—do, but I have to do it right.
“I love you, Bella… with every atom and fibre of my being. It’s impossible to imagine loving anyone else this way, and it’s pure torture to think about my life without you. I want this… I want you for always… or for as long as you’ll have me.”
He paused and slipped his hand inside his jacket pocket, bringing out a small, bottle green velvet box. Bella gasped, and her hand flew to her mouth.
Snapping open the box, Edward pulled out the ring that lay within, a slightly sheepish expression on his face.
“I got this a few months ago… it’s not the most expensive ring in the world, and when I start earning better money, I’ll get you something bet—”
Bella stopped his somewhat apologetic explanation by pressing her fingers to his lips.
“It’s beautiful, Edward… it’s… oh, my love, it’s perfect,” she told him, her voice cracking with emotion.
She held out her left hand, which he took in his, sliding the ring onto her third finger.
For a moment, neither of them spoke as they stared down at Bella’s hand. The ring was antique, with two large, cushion-cut amethysts side by side, bracketed by two smaller cushion-cut emeralds and two small natural pearls between the amethysts, all in a fourteen carat gold setting.
It was Bella who finally looked up.
“So, did you have a question for me, love?” she asked softly, a hint of amusement in her voice.
Edward looked up sharply, his eyes wide.
“Oh, crap … I mean, yeah, uh… oh, hell, I’ve really fucked this up, haven’t I?”
He covered his face with his hands, before running them through his hair.
Bella cupped his strong jaw, shaking her head and smiling.
“No, not at all, beautiful man. Just ask me,” she urged gently.
With a rueful smile, he once again took her hand and gazed intently into her lovely eyes, which reflected back the adoration he felt.
“Bella, will you marry me and let me love you for the rest of my life?”
A single tear escaped her eye and rolled down her cheek, as a huge but tremulous smile lit up her face.
“Yes, Edward… a million times yes! Oh, God, I love you so much!” she exclaimed, dropping to her knees and throwing her arms around his neck.
They kissed, passion quickly taking on an urgency that neither could deny. Getting to their feet, they separated briefly, only to divest themselves of their clothes. Both now naked, they once again locked lips, shuffling and stumbling back to the bed. They fell awkwardly across the mattress, Bella’s giggle turning to a loud gasp as strong arms shifted her up and she met Edward’s intense gaze.
“I love you, Bella… there’ll never be anyone else for me, ever,” he whispered against her lips.
“I know, my love,” she replied, holding his face between her hands and gently rubbing her thumbs up and down his knife-blade cheekbones. “And you’re it for me, too.”
She punctuated her statement by arching her back, the movement allowing him to slide easily inside her, making them both groan.
With long, deep thrusts, Edward worked to show Bella just how much he loved her, and her hips rose up to meet his with equal passion and need. Together, they built slowly to a mind-numbing, breath-stealing climax, crying out their love as they both clung to one another, sated but still needing to keep the other close.
“Best… birthday… ever…” Edward exclaimed as he fought to catch his breath.
Bella giggled, and then groaned, as it effectively expelled him from her body.
“Many happy returns, my love,” she cooed against his ear.
“Oh, yeah… many, many very happy returns, I hope!” he chuckled, kissing her softly.
“Oh, my good God, Bella, he put a ring on it!”
Alice hadn’t even made it through the door when, as if by some kind of magnetic force, her eyes were drawn to Bella’s left hand. She grabbed hold of it with both of hers, pulling it up to gaze at the ring which adorned her third finger.
She and Jasper had, as usual, come through the garden gate, and he’d remained outside talking to Edward and Emmett, whilst she had come to find her friend in the kitchen.
“Oh, Bella, it’s so pretty… and it matches your bracelet. I want to know everything—what he said, how he said it… although you can stop when you get to the post-proposal shag-fest. I’m sure it was fab, but I don’t want to be thinking about Edward’s ginger pubes… oh, bugger, too late!”
Bella burst into loud, rather unladylike guffaws of laughter, slapping Alice ineffectually on the arm. After several minutes of this, when Alice, too, succumbed to snorts and giggles, they collapsed against one another.
Pulling back and sliding her fingers under her eyes to try and save her make-up, Bella shook her head at Alice.
“You’re such a terrible woman, Ally... and for your information, Edward’s pubes are not ginger, they’re a subtle shade of copper and auburn, so there!”
“Hmm, copper, schmopper, he’ll always be a ginger! Now, enough with the pube talk.” Alice wrinkled her nose, shoving Bella playfully.
“Oh, you started it! Anyway, I’m done. Let’s get you a drink, and we can talk about above-the-waist matters.”
She poured them both a glass of cold Sauvignon Blanc, and they sat down on either side of the kitchen table. Sipping their drinks, Alice smiled and sighed as Bella told her all about their wonderful stay at Whatley Manor, the fabulous meal they’d eaten and, finally, Edward’s beautifully romantic proposal. They both gazed at her ring, and Alice reached for Bella’s hand to get a closer look.
“It really is lovely, Bella. So unusual,” she said, brushing her thumb over the amethysts.
“It’s absolutely perfect, Alice. Edward keeps saying he wants to get me something better when he can afford it, but he could never find one I like more.”
She smiled to herself, sitting back and staring at her hand, before looking back up at Alice.
“You know, Jake used to say that one day he’d put a ‘big rock’ on my finger, and I’d always cringe at the idea. I hate ostentation, and I just knew that if he ever did buy me a ring, it would be incredibly vulgar. Edward knows me so well, and even though he originally bought this as a piece of costume jewellery, it’s exactly the kind of engagement ring I would have chosen for myself.”
Just then, Rose wandered in and joined them at the table, topping up all their glasses as Alice sat back, sighing dramatically.
“God, if I didn’t already have the man of my dreams, I think I’d be crying into my wine over Edward being unavailable… bless his cotton underpants, he’s such a sweetheart.”
Bella smirked. “That he is, Ally, that he is. I love him so much… I didn’t think it was even possible to love someone this much.”
Her two friends leaned across, placing a hand on top of hers, and smiled knowingly. She looked quizzically at her old friend.
“You too, Rose? Has Emmett crossed the shark-infested moat, raised the drawbridge, and infiltrated your fortifications?”
A snort of laughter was the response and soon, all three of them were giggling like schoolgirls, as they revelled in their good fortune.
Calming at last, Rose smiled sheepishly at Bella, shaking her head in bemusement.
“Yeah, he’s just… well, amazing really. He’s sweet and kind and incredibly gentle, but at the same time, he’s strong and ferociously protective and just… so damned sexy, he makes me practically melt into a pile a goo—which is so not me. But he… gets me, you know? We haven’t talked about marriage or anything yet, but…well, I can’t imagine being without him, so I’m pretty sure it’s on the cards. So, yeah, Emmett blew his trumpet, and the walls of Rosalie came tumbling down!”
“You blew his trumpet, you mean!” Bella snorted.
Their laughter was interrupted this time by a sharp rap on the back door jamb, which made them all jump. They turned in unison to see Jasper leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed, with an expression of amused tolerance on his face.
“What are you three plotting in here? You’re like the Witches of Eastwick. Come on, it’s time to get your gorgeous arses outside so we can toast the birthday boy and stuff ourselves with Carlisle’s marinated lamb and chicken—my stomach feels like my throat’s been cut.”
Laughing, they all trooped outside, where Esme was pouring champagne, whilst their friends all stood around a bashful-looking Edward. His relief at the sight of Bella was tangible, and he quickly clasped her to his side.
When everyone’s glass had been topped up with either beer or wine, Carlisle stepped forward.
“Bella, I hope you don’t mind, but I’d just like to say a few words.”
“The stage is yours, Carl, knock yourself out,” she chuckled, glancing up at Edward, who now seemed oblivious to what was happening, as he only had eyes for her.
“Thanks, you’re too kind. Ez? Come here, honey,” he said, holding his arm out so that she could slip beneath it, allowing him to pull her close.
“First of all, a big thanks to Bella and Edward for inviting us into their beautiful home to share their celebration. Since Esme and I arrived, the whole town has been incredibly welcoming, but none more so than the good people here today, who I’d like to think have become true friends.
“We’ve all gathered today to help Edward celebrate his birthday. He hasn’t had the easiest life, and many youngsters could have turned out very bad indeed, given his breaks. But he’s made of sterner stuff, and has become a man that any parent would be proud of. Sadly, his parents aren’t here to tell him, so I hope he won’t mind if I say it for them. You’re a good man, Edward, and a talented chef with a great future—a future you’ve worked your ass off to secure, and I’m proud of you, son. Happy birthday!”
He hoisted his glass, as everyone mimicked the toast to a desperately embarrassed Edward. He glanced up to meet Carlisle’s eyes, but any words he might have tried to form were held captive by the lump in his throat.
He was saved from having to speak by Alice stepping up beside Carlisle and Esme, silencing the guests by clinking a teaspoon against her glass.
“Thank you, Carlisle, for an absolutely wonderful speech. But, this has now become a double celebration, as it seems Edward popped the question a couple of nights ago, and Bella is now wearing a beautiful ring on her left hand.”
Loud cheers and wolf whistles erupted from those assembled, before Alice once again established order.
“When these two arrived in the middle of a blizzard back in November, I just knew that we’d be great friends. Bella is the kindest, most open-hearted person I’ve ever met, and is that rarity—a hugely talented artist with zero ego. As we all now know, she’d extricated herself that very night from a horrible situation and, in the process, she found Edward.”
Alice turned her attention from a furiously blushing Bella to an equally squirming Edward.
“Oh, Edward, it’s been such a joy to see you flourishing here in our little village, where you’ve become such a wonderful asset to our community, as well as a really good friend. I know you didn’t have the best start in life, but fate brought you and Bella together for a reason, and I like to think that a little bit of magic was woven the night you met and came here to Chipping Mallard.
“So, I want to ask everyone to raise their glasses to wish Edward and Bella every happiness in their future marriage.”
She held her glass aloft, as everyone called out ‘Edward and Bella’; then, they were all talking at once, several demanding a speech.
Both blushing furiously, they smiled at one another, before Bella was pushing Edward forward. Amidst cheers from the assembled guests, he turned to face them, his face ablaze, but grinning broadly.
“Um, well, this is… shit, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say…” He glanced at Bella, who smiled at him encouragingly.
“Well, I s’pose I should thank Carlisle and Esme for giving me a chance. I lit’rally have the job of my dreams, and Carlisle has taught me so much. Thanks, guys. And thanks, Carl, for what you just said… it… well, it means a hell of a lot.
“As for Alice, well she’s been a great friend… I’ve never had friends like her and Jasper, and I’m so grateful to them—not just for being such lovely people, but for never judging me or treating me like anything other than an equal. You’ll never know how much that meant… means to me.
“Thanks to all of you for making me so welcome here and for coming today—this is the best birthday I’ve ever had. I keep wanting to pinch myself because I can hardly believe the life I now have and all the brilliant friends I’ve made.
“But, I’m sure you’ll understand that my biggest thanks are reserved for the beautiful lady who is responsible for all this. I swear, I’m the luckiest man on the planet, and the fact that Bella has agreed to marry me has made me the happiest man on the planet.
“I love you, Bella, and all I want is to live a long and happy life with you. I promise to do everything in my power to make you as happy as you make me.”
The woman in question parted from the crowd and walked straight up to Edward, wrapping her arms around his waist. Gazing up at him, she made no effort to stop the tears which overflowed and rolled down her cheeks, so that when he kissed her, he tasted salt.
Their guests cheered and clapped, before drifting away to other parts of the garden, giving them some privacy—although, at that precise moment, they were both completely oblivious.
Breaking the kiss, Edward took Bella’s glass and put it down on the table with his, before gathering her back in his arms.
“I can’t wait to marry you, Bella—please say we can do it soon,” he said, stroking his thumbs across her cheeks to gather up the dampness he found there.
“Oh, Edward, I can’t wait to be your wife. I don’t want a big wedding, let’s just book somewhere, invite our friends and do it.”
Edward’s grin nearly split his face. “Sounds like a great plan—how about next week?”
Bella chuckled. “Hmm, well I think that might be pushing it. How about September? I was thinking maybe the week before my birthday… before I’m thirty.”
He threw his head back and laughed aloud. “Again with the age thing, love? You know I don’t care about that.”
“I know, I know, but it would be nice to marry you while we’re both in our twenties. The seventh is a Saturday, and I may or may not have found out that Whatley Manor could fit us in that day. I thought it would be nice to get married at the place where you proposed.”
“You already called them? Wow, I… fuck, that would be fantastic! God, yes, let’s book it!”
He dipped his head to capture her lips in another scorching kiss, which was only interrupted when Emmett clapped Edward on the back, announcing ‘grub’s up!’
They broke apart as people started moving towards the barbecue area, and he grinned down at Bella before turning to their friends. Raising his voice, he drew their attention back to him.
“Hey, before you eat, can you all please check your diaries to see if you’re free to attend a wedding on the seventh of September?”
Loud whoops and squeals rent the air, and then everyone was closing in once again to congratulate Edward and Bella, who were taking the next big step towards a future filled with happiness and endless possibilities.