Acts of Atonement: Epilogue


“It’s so peaceful here,” I whisper, a sense of calm washing over me as I look out toward the water and into the rising sun. The beach is deserted on our private stretch of sand with only William and I here to bear witness to its beauty. Taking full advantage of the seclusion, William set up a picnic blanket, complete with pillows and candles surrounding our own private nook of Cape Cod.

“You’ve picked the perfect place to celebrate being newly divorced. Who knew it would have taken you so long to get unshackled from a felon?” I poke William in the ribs, winking at him before taking a sip of my coffee. I normally don’t wake up this early while on vacation but William coaxed me out of bed with a full carafe and promises of unparalleled beauty.

“I’m just glad everything is resolved and everyone and everything is as it should be.” William wraps an arm around me as we continue to stare into the ocean where the sun has now lit up the sky into a visual cacophony of purples, pinks and oranges.

I try to focus on the beauty in front of me but the memory of my father and brothers causes a dull pain to dampen my mood. As if sensing my sadness, William turns to me and lifts his hand to cup my cheek. “Retraction. Almost everything.”

“Almost,” I repeat, a warm smile touching my lips.

“Don’t worry. I haven’t given up on my promise to you. Aiden will see the error of his ways. Sooner rather than later. You’ll see.”

“Mhmm. I know you deliver on your promises.” I turn my head to kiss the strong hand laying on my shoulder, softly rubbing my lips back and forth across the grooves of his fingers. “You were right. This sunrise most definitely qualifies as unparalleled beauty.”

William reaches out with his other hand, turning my face to his. “That’s not the beauty I was referring to.”

My cheeks heat up as his eyes look into mine, so full of love the emotion flows right into me, warming the coldest and darkest parts of my broken self.

It’s been six months since I officially moved in with William and everything has been perfect. The combination of his love and patience has helped heal my wounds a great deal and I’ve come a long way, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there were times of doubt. Not about my love for William—that’s the one constant I know will never change—but about whether or not I’m worthy.

“What’s going on in that gorgeous head of yours?” William’s brows knit together as his thumb gently strokes my cheek.

“That I love it when you look at me like that. Like I’m enough.” I squeeze my eyes shut, not wanting him to see all of the uncertainty I carry within.

“My sweet Isabella. If you could only see what I see. You are more than enough. You are everything, and if you let me, I will spend the rest of my life showing you how worthy you are.” William shifts, dropping his arm from my side and I instantly feel the heat of his body leave mine.

“Open your eyes, baby.” William caresses my cheek with the back of his hand.

Slowly, I pull my eyes open, and the sight before me causes my heart to skip a beat. William is on one knee and in his right hand is a small box, the perfect shade of robin’s egg blue. My eyes tingle and my stomach flutters, feeling as if it houses a million butterflies.

Tears begin to stream down my face as I fling myself onto William. “Yes. Oh my fucking god, yes!” I say between kisses. “How? How are you so perfect?”

“I didn’t even ask the question yet.” William chuckles as he kisses me back. “I had a whole speech prepared.”

“You can tell me later after you fuck me senseless. This calls for celebratory sex!”

A throat clears from behind me. “Well, this is sure going to make a great story for the grandkids.” Ren points toward the phone in his hand. “And we’ve got it all on video.”

A snicker comes from behind Ren before I realize Matt and Max are here too. Looking back toward the rental we booked, I see the whole team is here along with Ashley, Harper, and Cassie.

“Oh my god. When did y’all get here?” I wipe at my tears, thankful it’s too early for makeup, otherwise, I’d have major raccoon eyes.

“We flew in on the jet last night.” Cassie gushes while popping open a bottle of champagne and shooting me a salacious smile. “How about you come inside and we settle for celebratory mimosas instead of the sex, at least until we’ve all cleared out?”

I feel my cheeks redden for the second time this morning and it isn’t even seven a.m. “Yes. Of course. You guys realize I had no idea you were here, right?”

“You said fucking!” Matt sing-songs before he and Max burst into a fit of giggles.

And there it goes again, my face turning a crimson shade of red for a third time.

“Boys, come here!” I shout, opening my arms wide for an embrace. “I’ve missed you so much. How did you get here?”

“I picked them up from New Hampshire last night. I’m their emergency pickup, and I think this definitely qualifies as an emergency. It’s not every day we see a grown man propose to a teenager.” Ren gives William the side-eye while snickering under his breath.

Fuck you. You’re just jealous I found my forever and you’re still out there playing the field with nothing to show for it.” William shoves Ren playfully.

Just then I notice Ren and Cassie exchange a look. I’m about to prod Cassie about it when Ashley cuts in, “So much for watching our language. I swear, these kids are going to grow up fluent in profanity.” The room breaks into a mixture of belly laughs and giggles, knowing this is probably a very accurate prediction.

Ren walks up to me, wrapping me in his arms as the laughter subsides. “Congratulations, Sprout, you know I was teasing about the age, right?”

“Yes.” I tilt my head and look up, the corner of my mouth lifting ever so slightly. “Everyone here knows I’ve lived two lifetimes in my short nineteen years of life. I might still be young on paper but deep in my soul, my ass is old. I’m ready for the next stage of my life. I want to belong to a family unit. Officially.”

“You already do,” a familiar voice rumbles from the doorway. Silence descends on the room as we watch my father make his way toward me.

“Daddy. How did you get in?” My brows scrunch together trying to figure out what’s going on.

“I let him in,” Cassie admits, shifting from foot to foot.

“Don’t be mad at her. I didn’t really give her a choice.” My father looks back at Cassie apologetically before returning his gaze to me. “I received a call from the school letting me know Ren had picked up the boys. Then I discovered the company jet had traveled to Massachusetts carrying an unusually large list of passengers. Putting two and two together, I figured something big was going down.” My father picks up my left hand, inspecting the new addition. “And it looks like it has.”

“Aiden.” William nods toward my father as he wraps a protective arm around my shoulder. “Thank you for joining us on such a happy occasion. I do hope you’re here to offer your congratulations. I’m afraid anything else would be unacceptable. I don’t want this day to be tainted with anything but joy for Isabella.”

“I understand. And don’t worry, I give this union, albeit an unconventional one, my blessing.” My father extends his hand toward William, who reaches out and takes it, pulling him in for a bro hug. “Thank you for letting me crash your party, but if it’s okay with you.” My father looks between William and me before continuing. “I’d like a moment alone with my daughter. There’s a lot I need to tell her.”

William turns to me, kissing the top of my head. “I’ll be in the next room if you need anything.”

Everyone clears out and it’s just my father and me, both unsure of who speaks first. Deciding to be the one to take the plunge, I part my lips and begin to speak. “I’m sorry for never letting you see the real me. For letting you believe I was still your little girl, unchanged and unaffected by the actions of those around me.” My voice shakes as I lay it all out there, fearing my father might reject me for what I’m about to tell him but not caring because I am enough. Just as I am. I am enough.

“I walked in on Lucia and her lover the night of my art exhibit. The room was dark, so I had no idea who the man was, only that I’d caught them in a compromising position… I argued with Mom on the drive home, telling her she needed to come clean. Tell you what she had done. She offered excuses, of course, all of which were inadequate. Before I knew it, we were spinning out of control and by the time the car had stopped, it was too late.”

My father reaches out to wipe the tears from my face, his unexpected affection giving me the courage I need to continue. “All this time, I’ve lived with the guilt of my mother’s death. If I hadn’t fought with her on that ride home, maybe she’d still be here. Maybe the two of you would have worked it out. Maybe the twins would still have their mother instead of being raised by a pseudo-mother like me or at boarding schools.” I stop and wipe my nose with the sleeve of my shirt, unable to look my father in the eye. “From the time of her death and up until recently, I engaged in self-destructive behavior. I truly believed I needed to atone for what I’d caused, never allowing myself the joy of love, and only seeking numbing release in alcohol and men.”

My father’s eyes go wide and his jaw clenches. I think he’s about to walk out, but instead, he nods his head and silently urges me to continue. So I do. “William helped me to heal, showing me that the sins I carried for so long were not my own. That there was no need to atone for the actions of others and that the accident, however tragic it might be, was not my fault. I may not be the perfect daughter you thought I was, but despite my flaws and inappropriate behavior, I am enough. I am worthy of your love. I am worthy of a family. And I will never let anyone take that away from me.”

Hard sobs wrack my body as my father pulls me into him, stroking the back of my head as I cry into his shirt. “You are worthy, Isabella, and I’m so fucking sorry I never made that clear.” He kisses the top of my head before continuing. “None of that was your fault. You were fifteen for fuck’s sake, I should have known better than to assume you could handle a loss of that magnitude on your own. But instead of helping you cope, I loaded you up with responsibilities that were beyond your years. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay. You were grieving too.” I look up into his eyes, so full of pain and regret.

“It doesn’t matter. You were my fifteen-year-old daughter, still under my care. I should have been there for you, not forced you to grow up before your time.”

“Like William always says, everything happens the way it’s supposed to. If I hadn’t been thrust into the situations life gave me, I wouldn’t have been ready for the wonderful man that is William.”

“So what you’re saying is that it’s my fault you two are getting hitched?” Dad raises a brow, a playful smile forming on his lips.

I lovingly shove at him and smirk. “I guess you could look at it that way.”

“Did I hear my name?” William asks as he walks into the room, donning a shit-eating grin. I have no doubt he was eavesdropping the entire time.

“I was telling Bella you should thank me for bringing you two together. Who knew a nannying gig would turn into a marriage proposal?” My father’s eyes glitter with something between mischief and happiness. “I’m glad Bella found a man who will love her the way she deserves. And hey, at least this isn’t a shotgun wedding.”

Now it’s my turn to look like the cat who ate the canary.

Deciding there’s no time like the present, I place my hand on my stomach and shoot them an excited smile. “Why can’t it be both?”


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