A/N: Hi! Thank you all so much for your support with my story and welcome to all new readers. I hope you'll enjoy my little tale. A special Thank You goes out to Tarbecca for rec'ing this story in the Fic Dive Campfire at A Different Forest.

As always, I couldn't have gotten this chapter to you without the great help of my team, LaPumuckl, NKubie, and Midnight Cougar. I love you, ladies.

I don't own Twilight …


It Takes a Village - Chapter 3

After work, I drove to my new house to meet Heidi and collect the keys. The legal dealings of my purchase would take another couple weeks, but the owners and I worked out an agreement I'd pay rent until the sale was final. Therefore, I could move in without delay. We also signed an additional contract that allowed me to start renovating, but with liability stipulations, of course. Since I had the money outright in a fund, and an inspector had assured me the value of the property, I wasn't worried anything could go wrong.

Heidi showed me a few technicalities about the house and its surroundings, and reminded me to call her any time if I had questions or concerns.

It was a pleasant, sunny evening, and I felt great holding the keys to my new home, watching Heidi drive off. I turned toward the house and pictured the kind of furniture I wanted on the front porch, when I heard a squeal from behind me.

"Look, Mommy, it's Dr. Edward."

I'd treated several dozen kids in the past three days, yet only one had referred to me by that name. Curiously, I turned around, and on the other side of the street, I spotted Maddie holding her mother's hand, jumping up and down in excitement.

"Hey," I greeted, making my way over to them.

"Hey," Bella responded, leaning her head to the side with an inquisitive smile. "Your stalking is assuming new, shocking proportions."

I laughed out loud. "Oh, this is an honest coincidence. My realtor showed me the house, and it was exactly what I'd been looking for."

"So you bought the old Hanson house? Congratulations. It's definitely in great condition. Fiona and Max always took exceptional care of it. And the backyard is to die for. They were wonderful neighbors. I'm happy they got to move closer to their kids, though." Bella talked animatedly, gesturing toward my house.

Had she just said "neighbors?" That had to mean they were living close by. "I'll try to always store enough eggs, sugar, and flour if you ever need to borrow anything. But if I should run out of anything, where do I find you to ask for a restock?"

Eager to know which house was theirs, I waited for Bella to reply, but Maddie beat her to the punch.

"Dr. Edward, we live right across the street from you!" She pointed behind her to the nice, yellow, two-story home in the middle of a neat yard. "Mommy, now we don't need to go into the practice anymore. Dr. Edward can heal me here." Her radiant smile was contagious, and I was afraid, if she ever asked me for anything, I wouldn't be able to tell her no.

"Honey, this is Dr. Edward's home. When he's here, he doesn't work," Bella told her daughter, making Maddie's face fall a bit.

I couldn't have that. "I promise, I'll make an exception for you, Maddie." I winked.

With her smile fully returned, Maddie addressed her mother. "Mommy, can Dr. Edward come to the playground with us? If we don't show him the way, he won't know where to go when he wants to swing or play in the sand."

Bella started to explain to Maddie that I surely had other things to do, and I did. Yet, I cut her off, asking Maddie to lead the way.

"You don't have to do this," Bella whispered, as we followed the bouncing curls in front of us.

Smiling in reassurance, I responded, "I know. I want to. After all, I'm new to this neighborhood and to town in general. As Maddie pointed out, how would I know where to go if I want to swing or play in the sand?"

We fell into step next to each other and walked in silence for a couple minutes until Bella spoke. "So, you're the new doctor in town. What made you move here? Port Angeles isn't really everybody's dream."

"I'm not completely new here. I guess you know my aunt and uncle." Looking over at her, I noticed her nodding, so I continued. "I spent a lot of time here as a kid and teen. My cousin, Emmett, is my best friend, and Carlisle and Esme are more like a second set of parents to me."

By then, we'd reached the playground, and Maddie ran off to take the last empty swing. Bella and I took a seat on a bench at the edge of the square, and I continued with my story. "I worked at a hospital in Seattle until recently. I'd decided to go into private practice right when Carlisle told me his friend, Tom Gerandy, was looking for someone to work with him and take over in time. I didn't hesitate. That's how I got here."

"I think Port Angeles is lucky to have you." Bella smiled.

I hoped she was referring to herself as much as, if not more than, the town. At the same time, I hoped she'd take my next words for what I meant to say rather than what I was literally saying.

"I'm happy to be here."

We watched in silence as Maddie abandoned her swing in favor of the sandbox right in front of us, immediately starting to build a castle.

"Is there a plan already as to when Dr. Gerandy will hand over the reins?" Bella asked, her eyes on her daughter.

The proud, loving expression on her face had me aching to feel for someone the way she obviously felt about her daughter. Even though I was buying a big house fit for a family, I'd never realized I longed to have someone special to share it with — and Bella and Maddie could be those people.

Shaking off those thoughts, I tried to concentrate on what Bella had asked. "He's giving me free rein now. He plans to stay on for the next several months, but will gradually work fewer hours. I can change whatever I want as long as he's not completely opposed, and we get along very well."

"Anything you plan to change right away?" Bella wanted to know.

I had quite a clear picture in my head of what I wanted to do, and I was eager to share it. "Well, there are some organizational things like new software, slightly different hours, and an up-to-date homepage. I'd also like to change some decorations. The waiting area is somewhat outdated. I'm planning to add a little jungle-gym element, and I'd love to have a mural on the back wall."

I'd almost forgotten about Maddie playing in the sand when her little voice piped up. "What's a mooral, Mommy?"

Bella was quick to enlighten her daughter. "A mural is a picture painted directly on the wall instead of on a canvas or paper. How would you like one in the waiting area at Dr. Edward's practice, honey?"

Having learned a new word, Maddie beamed at me. "Oh, that would be really pretty. Dr. Edward, I know who can paint that mooral. My mommy could do it. She's a painter. She painted a castle and forest on the wall in my room. And she paints books, too."

Fascinated by that new piece of information, I eyed Bella expectantly. "You paint books?"

An endearing blush crept across her cheeks. "I'm a children's book illustrator."

"Wow!" I replied, honestly impressed. "Anything I might know?"

Bella didn't get a chance to answer my question herself because Maddie was quick to fill me in.

"Yeah, Mommy made Get Wings of Your Own." Her proud expression was too cute.

"So you're I. M. Swan," I stated, impressed. The book was my favorite whenever I actually got the time to look at one with either Emmett's kids or my patients at the hospital. The attention to detail, while keeping each picture sweet and colorful, amazed me from the first time I looked at it.

"That's my pseudonym, yes. I'm surprised you know it." Bella looked a little baffled.

"Children are my profession. I can't help picking up a thing or two along the way. And that book is my absolute favorite."

"See? Mommy could totally do your mooral," Maddie supplied happily, then added, "You could, Mommy, right?"

Bella's cheeks turned pink, and I felt bad for the way she was being put on the spot.

"You don't have to, of course. I'm sure you're busy. Plus, I don't think I could afford an original I. M. Swan for my waiting room wall, anyway." I winked at her, trying to convey she was off the hook.

"If you'd like, and if you don't need it ready within a day or two, I'd be happy to do it. Since my paintings aren't currently shown in the Louvre, I'm sure we can agree on something, Dr. Cullen." She laughed. "Maybe I'll even need a favor someday. We could consider it a 'you scratch my back, I scratch yours' kind of deal."

The gleam in her eyes led me to believe she wasn't opposed to taking the back scratching quite literally.

However, Maddie was only two feet away, so instead of going into detail about what parts to scratch or when to do it, I steered the conversation in a different direction, and Bella told Maddie it was time to leave.

"How did you get into illustrating children's books?" I asked, while we strolled back in the direction of our street.

The corner of Bella's mouth turned up in a wistful smile. "I've always had a talent for drawing and painting. I graduated college with a degree in Fine Arts to find out there wasn't a whole lot I could do with it. I didn't want to go into graphic design or something like that, so I made some money teaching a few art classes at a community center. I have to thank my friend, Angela, for getting me into the publishing business. I'd done some sketches for her niece, and instead of giving them to her, she showed them to someone she knew who worked in publishing. They offered me the opportunity to do a whole book, and that's how it all got started. I love doing what I do. It's mostly freelance. I work from home and make my own schedule, so I have a lot of time for Maddie. As well, I can still teach the odd art class when I feel like it. It's perfect."

"Or you can paint a mooral for your new town doctor and neighbor across the street," I added with a smirk. I looked forward to the time we'd spend together while she worked at the practice.

As we turned around the last corner, our houses came into view, and as we came closer, I saw a blue pickup truck drive by us and park inside Bella's double garage. I didn't get the chance to wonder who it could be because Maddie set off running, cheering happily, "Daddy, Daddy! Mommy, Daddy's home!"

For a short moment, I felt the breath catch in my chest. Of course, I assumed Maddie had been conceived the conventional way, but considering Bella wasn't wearing a ring, I hadn't thought about a father being in the picture. Bella hadn't mentioned him, either. Maybe they were divorced and her ex was there to pick up Maddie for his custody time.

However, the way the tall, Native American-looking man stepped out of his truck with a briefcase in hand, pushing a remote to close the garage, it was too domestic for them to be a broken family. Just then, Maddie reached him, and he caught her up in his arms, grinning at her widely.

We were close enough now to hear how he greeted her, "Hi, Sweet Pea. Have you been good for Mommy today?"

I couldn't see the little girl's face, but the way her father furrowed his brow implied she looked guilty. However, before he could ask her about it, we had reached the two of them, and the man reached out to hug Bella, placing a lingering kiss on her cheek. "Hi, honey. Sorry, I'm a bit late, but the conference didn't want to end today."

"It's okay. We only just returned from the playground." Bella took a step away from him, then motioned toward me. "Seth, this is Edward. He's the new pediatrician in town and our new neighbor across the street. He bought the Hanson house. Edward, this is Seth Clearwater, Maddie's dad."

Seth offered me his hand, and I couldn't avoid shaking it. "Hey," he greeted. "I'm glad Fiona and Max finally found a buyer. You really got yourself a great house there."

I wanted to reply something when Maddie reached for her father's cheek, turning his face to look at her again. "And Dr. Edward pulled a gummy bear out of my nose this morning." Only after she finished speaking did she seem to realize she had ratted herself out, which was apparent by the way she bit her lip.

With a stern look, he scolded her lovingly. "Well, Little Lady, I guess we'll have a talk about that later." His eyes met mine. "Will you stay for dinner, Edward? Bella's a great cook."

Shocked and saddened by these new revelations, I decided to make my escape.

"Thanks, but I have to take measurements at the house, then meet with my decorator. Maybe another time."

Bella's face fell a bit, and though she had her husband with her, she appeared to be disappointed I was leaving. Regardless, I needed to get away and lick my wounds.

"Sure." She smiled at me, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. "If you need anything, you can always knock on our door."

I said a quick goodbye and made my way across the street and into my house, not daring to look back until I had the door closed safely behind me. Still, I couldn't hold myself back from sneaking over to the closest window to peek through the curtains. I saw the little family walk up the front steps to their door arm in arm — and right as Bella closed the door behind her, she threw what appeared to be a longing glance in my direction. It felt as though she was looking right at me, but I knew she couldn't be.

Dammit! Had I read the signs that wrong? Not only today, but every time we'd spoken, Bella appeared genuinely interested. Granted, I was the one initiating most of the flirting, but she never hesitated to flirt back.

It didn't make sense. I'd have understood if she was a notorious flirt, but I didn't get that impression. Maybe she was in the process of separating from her husband, but then they looked happy together and he called her "honey."

Had she been leading me on? From what I'd learned about her so far, I didn't peg her to be a cheater or the lying type.

And why wasn't she wearing a ring? If they were happily married, wouldn't she be wearing a wedding band?

My thoughts were running a mile a minute, when I heard another car pull up and stop close by. Glancing across the street once more, I watched a silver sedan park in front of the entrance, and a tall, blond man in a suit stepped out, taking a leather briefcase with him.

He climbed the steps to the door, then instead of knocking or ringing the bell, he walked right in. What stunned me more than that, though, was that before the door closed again, I could see him greet Bella in the same tender and intimate way Seth had.

What the hell?

Bewildered and put off, I was glad the door closed and prevented me from witnessing even more. After a moment of painful silence, I pulled myself together and took the measurements Esme needed to order the furniture I wanted. I tried to be as thorough as possible, considering my head was pondering today's events, and more than three hours later, I was finally ready to leave.

It was dark when I stepped out of the house, but the silver sedan was still in the same spot, all downstairs windows in the house across the street were dark, only a single light shining in one of the rooms on the second floor.

Shaking off the weird feeling it gave me, I entered my car and drove off, knowing I had to stop fantasizing about a future with Bella. If only it were that easy.


A/N: Poor Edward. They had such a great time and now there's a husband — or not? And who's that other guy? The teaser for chapter 4 will give a short explanation of sorts:

… "Oh, sorry. I'm Riley Biers. I live across the street." He pointed toward the yellow house I'd been spying on last night. "You could call me 'the third parent' if you want. But, I'm sure you already heard about our … unorthodox arrangement." …

Huh. Answers or just more questions? Let me know what you think here or on Facebook in my group Payton79's Fanfiction.

See you next Tuesday.

xo Payton