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- this love, this love, this love -


I'm on the verge of falling asleep when I feel the baby kick.

She's the most active at night, like she's constantly having a little dance party in the womb. I'm convinced she does it to prepare me to lose sleep eventually, but even so, I'm always grateful to feel her move.

The only problem is she's elusive and usually stops before Edward can feel her. I'm twenty-eight weeks along today and he still has yet to experience that.

When she kicks a second and third time, I roll away from my pregnancy pillow to sit up and turn on the lamp.

"Edward!" I call out, realizing I sound more panicked than excited.

He's in our bedroom within seconds.

"What's wrong?" he asks, confused and stricken, standing in the doorway. "Fuck. Is the baby coming?"

Instead of telling him it's too soon, I lift my shirt above my belly and say, "Come here."

When he's close enough, I grab his hand and place his palm on my bare stomach. He sits on the bed and starts to speak but I shake my head, nervous she'll get performance anxiety if she hears us.

We wait.

And wait.

Disappointment starts to creep in and I worry she won't move again.

But then she does, and Edward finally feels our baby kick for the first time.

His eyes meet mine and I watch as disbelief and pure elation dance across his face. His mouth parts like he wants to say something, anything, but can't find the words.

"You feel her?" I whisper, already knowing he can because his expression says it all. Like this is a moment he'll never forget.

She kicks again, stronger this time.

"Hi, baby girl," he murmurs, smiling gently. "Why are you keeping your mommy up so late? It's almost eleven."

"Because she wanted to say hi to you," I tell him.

"Shit. She's gonna be a little night owl, huh?"

With perfect comedic timing, she kicks harder where his palm is, like she's agreeing with him. We laugh together, and yeah. This will forever be a moment I hold close to my heart.

"You hear your daddy, huh?" I ask, talking to her but watching him. "He loves you so, so much."

Lowering his head, he kisses my stomach, then keeps his mouth near as he says, "We can't wait to meet you, Evie."

Hearing him call her by her name makes my heart squeeze with adoration.

"Guess we can't call her Elusive Evie anymore," I tease. "She finally made an appearance for you."

There was a lot of hesitation over keeping the name Evelyn. Mostly on my part, not Edward's. I was worried it'd lead to even more issues with Allie, and I'd had enough of the drama. I wanted the rest of my pregnancy to be as uneventful as possible. Edward pointed out that things couldn't get much worse with his sister, so we might as well do what we wanted, regardless of what she thought.

I eventually caved, but it wasn't until Esme and Carlisle profusely insisted we still use the family name. They visited us last month to look at houses, even though they probably won't move here until sometime next year.

When our baby wears herself out and we can no longer feel her, Edward slides my shirt back in place over my swollen stomach.

"It's late," he says. "You should get some sleep."

"I don't think I'm that tired yet since I accidentally napped around six."

"Accidentally?" He raises his brows, fighting a smile. "You laid on the couch, covered yourself with a blanket, and said goodnight."

"Okay, so it was on purpose," I admit, amused. "But now I'm not super tired."

Kissing my forehead, he murmurs, "Still. You should try to sleep."

"You should, too. Take a break from podcast planning and come to bed," I say, brushing his chest, his worn T-shirt soft under my fingertips. "If you sleep, I'll sleep."

He smirks. "Coercion?"

"It's a compromise. I'm not using threats," I clarify. "Now if I were to say fine, don't come to bed, I'll keep snuggling with my pregnancy pillow, then maybe that would be considered—"

"Insulting," he chimes in, playfully glaring at the U-shaped pillow on the mattress like he wants to punch it.

I smile. "Are you jealous of an inanimate object?"

"No. That would be insane. I'm happy you can sleep better now. But am I a little irritated it can bring you more comfort than I can?" he asks rhetorically. "Maybe."

"Not true. Spooning with you definitely increases my love hormone. Nothing and no one else can do that for me. Just you."

I toss the pillow on the floor, and he frowns.

"Don't get rid of it just because of my wounded ego," he says. "I'm just teasing you. Use the pillow if you need it, Bell."

"It's not that deep," I say lightly. "I'm just moving it for now so we can cuddle."

With a kiss on my lips, he walks around the bed and removes his shirt and joggers before slipping into his side. I turn off the lamp and he pulls the blanket over us before we move into a spooning position with him behind me.

We settle and relax, and I soak up the comfort of his solid warm chest pressed against my back.

Things have been different since our intense couples therapy session two months ago. Not perfect or necessarily easy, but better. Healthier. We're trying harder than we ever have.

We had a long conversation the day after that appointment and decided we were moving too fast. Not in terms of calling off the divorce and moving in together, but in the bedroom.

So we agreed to take a step back because as much as we never had an issue connecting sexually, it was delaying our progress in all other ways.

We needed to focus on us. Not sex.

We've done other things to grow our intimacy and reconnect. Like date nights. A weekend trip outside of the city. I visit him at work to surprise him for lunch, and he surprises me by taking the occasional day off to spend time together.

Couples therapy has helped us reconnect too. Making that time for each other to talk honestly and without the fear of being judged has been a game changer.

"Big day tomorrow," he says softly, caressing my stomach.

"I know."

We weren't expecting to find a potential home this soon, but our house in Seattle sold within a week of being listed, and for well over asking. We took that as a sign that we made the right choice to sell, and decided to look at homes here, just to see what was available.

Rosalie referred us to her family friend, Carmen, who's been a realtor for thirty years and helped her and Emmett find their dream home years ago.

We saw about ten houses that we didn't love. They were too small. Too big. Too new, or needed too much work. We were going to call off the search until after the baby was born, but then Carmen showed us a Mediterranean-style home nestled in the Hollywood Hills.

It was built in 1926. It's rustic and has historic charm with wooden floors, high ceilings, and arched windows. The kitchen was renovated and the entire place is flooded with natural light.

There's a nostalgic vibe to it. It has good energy. It feels like someplace I've been before.

It feels like home.

We've looked at it twice and have loved it both times, but tomorrow Carmen is letting us hang out there alone without the pressure of her around.

"How are you feeling about everything?" Edward asks.

"Like we're about to be house-poor," I laugh.

I can hear his smile as he says, "We're not. But even if we are, I love that place. I'm not gonna want to be anywhere else."

"Well, good because once the baby comes we probably won't be doing any traveling for a while so we'll have to stay home," I tease, but it sounds like a dream, spending a sleepy summer in the garden with Edward and our newborn. "I guess I'm a little nervous. We haven't been through the house-buying process in eleven years. Can we really afford it?"

"Yes," he says without a doubt. "We've already been over all of this multiple times. You know we can."

"Okay, but do we need it? It's a lot of house for two people."

"Soon to be three," he corrects.

"True," I agree, rolling onto my side to face him. "But two extra bedrooms?"

"Then we can get a dog. And a cat. Fuck it, we'll get a fish, too," he says in amusement, and I laugh as he searches my face.

"Fish don't typically need their own rooms," I say lightly. "Using one of the rooms for guests would make more sense."

"I mean, fine, if you want to be realistic about it." He fights a smirk. "Do you love it, or do you want to keep looking? I'll do whatever you want to do."

"Of course, I love it," I insist, my fingers grazing his jaw. "I've had literal dreams of us in it recently. You, me, Evie."

"Then it's ours, Bell. I want to give you anything you want. We'll be okay financially. With your work, my salary, and my advance for the upcoming podcast…"

Emmett and Edward's drunken Instagram Live garnered so much hype among their fans that Cecily approached them to see how serious they were about making it a reality. Edward shared his ideas with her and explained how Emmett accidentally got involved. Regardless of Cecily, they were going to make it happen themselves eventually. But she reached out to someone at ESPN's podcast network and struck a deal that the guys couldn't turn down.

They're still finessing things behind the scenes and filming some promo stuff, but the plan is for it to air in two months.

"I'm so proud of you," I tell him.

"I'm not bringing up the podcast for you to tell me that again," he promises. "I'm just saying, we can swing the mortgage. We won't be hurting for income."

"I know. I guess we'll see how we feel tomorrow when we're at the house," I say, and Edward just hums in agreement. "I talked to your parents earlier. They booked their flights today."

His folks are throwing us a baby shower in two months, but Rosalie offered to host it at her place. Esme and Rosalie have been working together to plan the event, and even though Edward and I both want something lowkey, I don't think they'll listen to us.

"When are they getting here?" Edward asks.

"A couple of days before the shower," I say, and he nods. "I told Rosalie if anything changes, we can do the shower here. I don't need her stressing out or anything."

"I can't believe they could potentially be parents soon," Edward muses.

Longing and hope squeeze my heart. "I know. I'm so happy for them."

Just last week, Rosalie confessed she and Emmett are looking into adoption again. She admitted they'd worked with a private agency over the past year but were never matched. They recently changed their list of preferences, hoping it would open up more opportunities to be placed with a child. Open or closed adoption, boy or girl, baby or an older child—it no longer mattered. They were ready to be parents if it was meant to be.

"Emmett got a little choked up the other day talking about it. I mean, he was trying to hide it, and I didn't make it a thing but…" Edward trails off.

"I'm sure he is emotional. They've been waiting to be parents for so long and they deserve the freaking world."

"I was surprised to hear they go to couples therapy, too."

"He told you that?"

"Yeah. He just casually said that their therapist is pregnant and he wonders if she thinks they're going to steal the baby from her or something. He was trying to be funny, I guess."

"Emmett? No," I deadpan. "He's the least funny person I know."

Edward cracks a smile.

"They seem like such an easy couple. So hearing that they go to couples therapy, too, made me feel like…" He pauses like he's looking for the right word.

"Like you and I aren't dysfunctional?" I offer.

"I was going to say normal, but even that word feels strange," he says. "I don't think we're dysfunctional at all. I think we function pretty fucking well, especially recently. Don't you?"

"Yeah, I do," I agree.

I think what has helped a lot is our individual therapy. I don't push about what he talks about with Dr. Molina, but there's been a significant shift in him over the last couple of months. Like he's more relaxed. Like he trusts himself to handle certain situations with us.

Sometimes he tells me about his sessions. Sometimes he doesn't. I'm the same with my appointments with Jane. Sometimes I want to share and hash things out with Edward, and other times I want to internalize them.

I think about my appointment earlier today with Jane. Allie was the topic for that session.

Nothing has changed since she blocked Edward and me two months ago. I can't lie that it doesn't hurt. Especially the closer we get to my due date.

It hasn't been just us that Allie is taking space from, but Esme and Carlisle, too. And I know that hurts them more than they'd admit. I don't think they want to add any stress to Edward and me, but it's obvious it stings.

"I talked about Allie in my therapy session today," I tell Edward.

"How was that?" he asks gently.

"I hadn't expected to cry when I brought her up because I thought I was getting used to the idea that things will always be like this. But… yeah."

He frowns. "I'm sorry, baby."

"I think we should invite her to the shower."

He stays quiet for a beat. "Why?"

"Because she's family. Your sister. And even if things are bad right now, it doesn't mean they always will be. Do we want that hanging over our heads for the rest of our lives? Not inviting her to her niece's baby shower?"

"I hear you. But she should've thought about that before she blocked us and cut off all contact."

"Just think about it. Please. She might not even come. It's the gesture though. An olive branch."

"She should be the one extending that to us. Not the other way around."

"Maybe, but… I doubt she ever will. And it can't be like this forever. I refuse to let it be," I stress. "She might be okay with how she's handling all of this, but I'm not. And I just think if we make an effort to reach out, she might finally talk to us. It might not be a good conversation but at least there'd be more closure?"

Edward searches my face then says, "You're gonna be a good mom, Bella."

I'm caught off guard. "What?"

He tucks some hair behind my ear. "You are."

"Why are you saying that?"

"Because you're so forgiving. And you've been so fucking patient with me. With us. And just… yeah. Our baby is lucky to have you as a mom. I'm lucky to have you."

Tears blur my eyes, his words sparking reassurances to the constant worries I have about being a parent. That I'll be too much. Too little. I didn't have the best people teaching me how to love so how can I lead without example?

But maybe Edward's my example of how to love because he does it so fiercely and wholly. So steadfast and solid.

"I can't wait to watch you love our little girl," I murmur.

There's delight in his eyes. "Only twelve more weeks."

"It sounds like no time at all, but also a lifetime away."

"I talked to someone in HR today," he says. "I get two months of parental bonding leave once the baby's here."

"Oh, wow. Definitely more than I thought, but still somehow not nearly enough."

"I can take off as much time as I need," he promises. "And whenever you want to start doing jobs again, I can be home with her. I don't go on-air until early evening, and it's not like you typically do shoots at night, anyway. We'll make it work."

"So what you're saying is that you're going to be a supportive husband and hands-on dad?" I ask, but I wouldn't expect any less from him.

"Just trying to make you fall even more in love with me," he teases.

"Not possible," I muse, kissing him. "Are you scared? Because the closer I get to giving birth, the more anxiety I have."

He thinks about this, rubbing a soothing hand over my lower back.

"I'm scared about you being in pain and me not being able to help. But I'll be there for you the entire time, doing whatever I can to make you feel comfortable and safe."

"And what if I get postpartum depression?" I vulnerably ask.

"You might," Edward says simply, and I like that he doesn't sugarcoat it or reassure me it definitely won't happen because the reality is that I'm more susceptible to it. "But you'll keep seeing Jane. We'll keep going to Angela. And you'll talk to me. Lean on me," he stresses. "I'll be there for you, and I want to know everything. How you're feeling, what you're thinking. All of it."

Every part of me softens from his unwavering and unconditional love and support.

"Thank you," I whisper.

"Don't thank me." His lips brush my forehead. "We're a team. That's how it's supposed to be."

"Nothing else worries you?" I ask. "You feel confident in us as parents?"

It's an ongoing conversation for us. Our fears and wishes. Our expectations and non-negotiables. It's a subject we frequent in and out of couples therapy because being on the same page about the future is vital.

We both want to be present parents, but not lose sense of ourselves, individually and as a couple. We want to be supportive, but not overbearing. We want to love unconditionally. That's the biggest must. That our baby always feels loved and heard and seen.

"Nah, I'm not worried." He leans in to kiss me deeply. "It's you and me. We've got this."


The next day, I arrive twenty minutes late to meet our realtor.

When I pull into the driveway, Edward's already here, standing outside and talking to her.

The plan was to drive separately since Edward was coming from work and has to head back afterward. I'd called him on the way here and since I was going to be early, he asked me to pick up his dry cleaning since I was passing by anyway.

Now he's here on time and I'm the late one. If I weren't in such a good mood about seeing the house and likely putting down an offer today, I'd be a little annoyed.

Edward waits for me to park then opens my car door, briefly kissing my mouth once I get out.

"Hope you weren't waiting long. The dry cleaners couldn't find your suits," I tell him. "So I finally gave up and left."

He doesn't look concerned. "Weird. I'll call them later. Thanks for stopping by for me, though. You ready?"

I smile. "Yeah."

As we approach Carmen, she looks excited.

"The front door is unlocked," she says with a kind expression. "I only have one other appointment today but it's not until four."

"Thank you," Edward and I both say, before he adds, "Give us about an hour."

"Take your time," she reassures us before walking to her Mercedes.

Edward links his fingers with mine and guides us up the driveway to the arched double front doors. They're solid wood with glass panels, and while I love them, I worry, even if you can't see the road from here.

"Might need to get something with a little more privacy," I say, nodding toward the windows. "To keep all your rabid fans away."

"It's a gated community," he reminds me, amused as he opens the door.

Instead of walking in, I'm suddenly hoisted up into his arms so he can carry me.

"What are you doing?" I laugh, holding onto him. "You're gonna throw out your back."

"No, I'm not," he says, a playful glint in his eyes. "Let me romance you, woman."

With ease and cautious steps, he carries me across the threshold like I'm his bride. Like he did after we bought our first house.

I'm tempted to make another joke about being too heavy to carry, but my heart squeezes with enough nostalgia to shut me up for a second and just enjoy how sweet he's being.

He uses his foot to close the door and we kiss before he gently sets me down in the entryway.

"Where should we start?" I ask, nodding toward the stairs with iron railings.

"We'll work our way up," he says casually.

Staying on the main floor, we leisurely walk through the open living room first, then pass through the dining that leads to the kitchen. Sun floods the entire space, the wood floors showing off by shining.

We stay quiet, imagining ourselves living here.

I can already see it.

Making breakfast. Enjoying dinner. Cuddling up on the couch for movie nights. Celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. Milestones with our baby and milestones in our marriage.

"You know what I'm thinking about?" I ask when we're back in the living room.

"What?" Edward asks softly.

"Where the Christmas tree would go."

He has the cutest smile. "Ahh. Yes, that's important." He looks around and points toward the corner I was thinking of, in front of a large window. "Over there?"


"C'mon," he says, taking my hand. "Let's go see our potential bedroom."

"I can't lie, the stairs make me nervous, but we can get baby gates or whatever," I say as we head to the second floor, making mental notes of what we need to do eventually.

"Yeah, I'm gonna baby-proof the fuck outta this place," he says seriously, placing a protective hand on my lower back.

"Mmm. I love it when you talk Dad-mode to me."

"I'm gonna slide safety covers into all of the electrical outlets," he taunts, his voice purposely low as we walk down the hallway. "And use my drill to anchor all of the furniture to the walls."

"Yeah, you're definitely in your DILF era," I tease.

With a wicked grin, he drapes an arm around my shoulders and presses a chaste kiss to my temple.

When we enter the master bedroom at the end of the hall, we immediately notice the French doors to the attached balcony are already open and it's covered in what has to be hundreds of flowers in various vases. Ivory, soft pink, magenta, and clementine brighten the space so it's like its own little garden.

"What is all of this?" I ask in confusion, thinking this was something Carmen did to spruce up the place to really sell it to us.

I walk ahead of Edward, toward the display.

When I turn around to look at him, I see it written all over his face that this was his doing.

"It's a surprise," he says, eyes tender and sincere. "For you."

I soften from how romantic he's been today and move closer to press a kiss on his stubbled cheek.

"They're beautiful," I murmur, and we move onto the balcony. Bending my knees, I touch the luscious layers of pink petals that are in full bloom. "What are they?"


"They kind of remind me of peonies."

"I know," he says with intention. I glance over at him again, noticing there's a shift in the air, but I can't quite place exactly why. "I thought about buying you peonies because they're your favorite. But I worried they'd bring up too many bad thoughts. So I found something similar enough but completely different so we can start making new memories."

I can't help but think of the last bouquet of peonies he left for me on my porch after he'd moved to LA. And then I think of everything that followed and I clench my eyes shut.

I don't feel sad or mad, though. I feel grateful for where we are now, no matter how long it took us to get here.

"Look at me, baby," Edward coaxes. "I want to see your pretty eyes when I give you this."

My lids flutter open and I'm expecting him to be holding out a flower.

Instead, I see he's holding a ring.

Fighting tears, I cover my mouth in surprise with both hands.

"I love you, Bella. So much," he confesses, and something in his gaze changes. In his voice. In his entire demeanor, like he's a mixture of nervous, earnest, and excited.

It's the exact expression he wore the day he proposed to me.

Anticipation fills my chest and I uncover my mouth, resting my hands on my rapidly beating heart.

"Are you proposing to me again?" I can't help but blurt, emotion coating my throat.

He smiles softly. "Not so much a proposal as it is just making sure you know that you and our baby are my entire world and I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with y'all, in this house," he says with fierce determination that makes my stomach flutter. "You're my wife. The love of my life and the mother of my baby. So, I'm gonna need you to start wearing this again. Only if you want to."

All I can do is nod, his face blurring as my eyes well with happy tears.

He grabs my left hand, confidence radiating from him as he slips the ring onto my finger.

I blink away tears to see it's different than the ring he proposed to me with eleven years ago in Greece. This gold band has not one, but two large diamonds nestled side by side.

"I was told this style is called toi et moi. You and me," he says, his gaze sparking with purpose, reminding me of the healing words he spoke in therapy months ago.

You and me, baby. Always.

Since then, the phrase you and me has been a mantra of sorts for us. A promise, a prayer, and sometimes a plea.

"Toi et moi," I echo, still in disbelief. "Wait, where did you get this?"

"I borrowed your ring a month ago and had this made. It's a new setting entirely, but the round diamond is from your old engagement ring. And the oval-shaped one is new."

"Sneaky man," I laugh breathlessly. "I didn't even notice it was missing from my jewelry box."

"Well, good. It would've ruined my plan." His grin is proud before it turns to something softer; sweeter. "It was important to keep a little bit of our history in this ring, but also offer the promise of something new. Something better."

"Like us," I whisper, my hand shaking as I admire the diamonds before locking eyes with his. "We're still the same, but better."

"You and me." His throat rolls with a hard swallow before he reaches for my waist and pulls me closer, pressing his forehead to mine. "Do you like it?" he asks, his hands caressing my swollen stomach.

"I love it. I love you," I sniffle, wrapping my arms around his shoulders to hug him.

His arms tighten around me and when we break apart, he kisses me once, twice, three times.

Turning to face the bedroom, he yells, "She said yes!"

I laugh, wiping my eyes. "Who are you talking to?"

"Rosalie and Emmett. They're here. Somewhere. Probably hiding in a closet downstairs."

I laugh again. "So much for gated communities," I tease. "Are they really here?"

"Yeah." He nods and lets out a heavy sigh like he can finally relax. "Carmen let us in early, and they helped me get all these flowers up here. It's been stressful trying to plan this without you finding out. That's why I had you stop at the cleaners on the way here. I didn't actually have any suits there, but you were gonna beat me here and I couldn't have that."

I chuckle at the idea of him sneaking around to surprise me.

"I can't believe you did all of this."

"I just love you, Bell, and want you to feel special. I know it's not Greece, but—"

"I do feel special. You didn't even have to do anything. You could've slipped my old ring back into my finger while I was sleeping and I would've been the happiest woman in the world because I'm yours," I say with conviction, relief flashing in his eyes. "This was perfect. You hear me? Greece was us then. The past. This is us now. I love how we're evolving. It feels right."

"What feels right is seeing you wearing a ring again. I've fucking hated seeing your finger bare this entire time."

"Same. So when are we gonna take care of that?" I ask, pointing toward his ringless finger. A smile brightens his handsome face and from his pocket, he pulls out two plain gold bands—mine and his.

With an intense gaze, he slips my old wedding ring onto my finger next to the new addition, then holds out his symbol of monogamy.

"Want to do the honors?" he asks, eyes blazing with unwavering devotion the same way they did when he watched me walk down the aisle on our wedding day.

"Yeah," I murmur, sliding the shiny band onto the fourth finger of his left hand. "I do."