Hello, everyone. I'm back. :)
I have had this idea/story in my head for so long, that I am actually glad to see it written. It has been awhile since I last published something here. I missed writing. I hope you enjoy this little story of mine.
The candelabra bathed the entire room in a soft, golden light, creating both a romantic and a mysterious atmosphere. Music came from the orchestra, beckoning everyone to dance and lose themselves in the intricate steps of a quadrille. Cool drinks awaited those who needed a respite from dancing. The doors to the balcony were wide open, a temptation to those reckless couples who wanted privacy.
The ballroom was filled with bachelors, widowers and widows, young, beautiful ladies looking for wealthy husbands, couples of various ages. And then, there was Isabella Swan, daughter of the Viscount of Canterbury, Charlie Swan. A wallflower.
"Don't worry, darling. These gentlemen are all a bunch of idiots."
Bella looked at her little sister, Rosalie, with an indulgent smile. She would have scolded her for her language, but she secretly agreed with her. Unlike Rosalie who had just made her debut into society four months ago, Bella had been around for more than two years. She was already used to being invisible, although that didn't make it any less uncomfortable or painful.
Rosalie was two years younger than Bella, but she was three times more beautiful. Ever since she made her debut, everyone had looked up to her, admiring her dresses, her perfect features, her blond, long hair. London was simply enamored with her. Bella knew everyone expected her to be jealous of her sister, judging by the covert looks she always received when the both of them entered a ballroom. In truth, she felt happy for her.
"Don't mind me," Bella said. "Enjoy yourself. You have already been invited to dance by three men. It seems that not all of them are idiots." She winked at Rosalie, taking a sip of her drink.
"Yes, but it doesn't seem fair that you get to spend the entire night standing here, doing nothing."
"What makes you think I'm doing nothing?" Bella raised an eyebrow. "Alice and her husband promised to make an appearance tonight, so I will not be alone for the rest of the night. You can stop taking care of me, baby sister."
Rosalie sighed dramatically. "I just hate it that they can't see how special you are."
Bella accepted her praise with an amused chuckle. "Then, thank God I have you for that."
Rosalie squeezed Bella's arm, then looked around the ballroom. Bella recognized the look in her eyes and became suspicious. She downed the drink in one gulp and followed Rosalie's gaze toward a group of men. Two of them were watching Rosalie from beneath their lashes.
"Whatever you have in mind, forget about it."
"They are all eligible," Rosalie pointed out, "and very rich."
"You know I want more than that."
"Nobody marries for love anymore, Bella."
Bella sighed, knowing that all too well. "You don't have to remind me. But it doesn't matter, anyway. I am already on the shelf. Now, we need to focus on you and your future, because you have more chances of getting married than I do." Ignoring Rosalie's frown, she continued, "So, tell me. Is there any gentleman in particular that you like?"
"You always change the subject when we discuss your future. Why should I tell you about mine?"
"Humor me." Bella didn't want to talk about herself anymore. She had already resigned herself to a life of solitude and talking about it only heightened the pain and loneliness she had tried to hide for almost a year.
Rosalie shook her head, frustrated. "I don't actually like someone, but I do enjoy seeing all these men tripping over their feet to get my attention."
"You are wicked," Bella joked, earning a giggle from her sister. "Are you serious? Not even a man caught your eye?" She grew curious when Rosalie twirled the glass in her hand and smiled mysteriously into it. "Obviously, there is someone. Tell me."
"There is nothing to tell. It's nothing serious. We are just fooling around." Seeing the look on Bella's face, Rosalie rolled her eyes. "My reputation and my virtue are safe. We are being careful. I told you. Nothing serious is happening."
She didn't have a good feeling about this, but she knew she would waste her time lecturing her sister on proper behavior.
"Can you, at least, tell me his name?"
"I wish I could, but it would ruin the fun, wouldn't it?"
"I hope you know what you are doing."
"It's fine," Rosalie said with a careless smile. "Just an innocent, casual fling. Nothing major happened between us, aside from a few passionate kisses."
"Oh." For a second, Bella pictured herself in the embrace of a handsome man, being kissed to distraction. She shook those thoughts away. "You've made me very curious about this mysterious man. Well, at least, give me a hint. Is he in this room?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. I'm sorry, but we promised not to tell anyone, family or otherwise. Don't be mad." Rosalie flashed her Cheshire-cat smile at Bella, and Bella relented. "Besides, I don't think this fling will last too long."
"And why is that? I'm surprised he hasn't proposed to you yet."
"Oh no, God forbid." Rosalie looked troubled for a second. "I like him, and he is an amazing kisser, but I don't see myself married to him."
Bella raised her eyebrows, confused. She couldn't understand why Rosalie wasted her time on a man she didn't want to marry, but she had also never been kissed.
"I hope you don't break that man's heart, Rose."
The butler announced two new guests, and all the ladies turned toward the men descending the stairs, Lord Edward Cullen and Lord Emmett McCarty. Tall and handsome, Lord Cullen, Earl of Melburn, looked dashing in a black suit. His masculine, rugged features, his defined muscles and devil-may-care attitude drew women to him like moths to light. Every single lady in the room was watching him, some of them hiding their curious gazes behind their fans, while others stared blatantly. He gave a short nod to the hosts, excused himself from three eager mamas and let his gaze wander across the room.
Bella felt the temperature in the room rise as his eyes met hers for a fraction of a second, before they moved to her sister's and continued to peruse the entire crowd. Flustered and a little embarrassed by her crush on the man, she turned her back on him and looked at Rosalie.
"Well, they sure know how to make an entrance," Bella joked halfheartedly.
"Indeed," Rosalie agreed with a crooked smile. She winked at someone and then smothered a giggle.
"Who are you talking to?" Bella asked, looking behind her.
"No one important."
Bella wanted to insist, but a young man interrupted her, and she took a step back from the couple.
"I believe this is my dance, Miss Swan," the young man said with a confident smile, waiting for Rosalie to place her hand in his.
Bella watched them walk toward the dance floor. The first notes of a waltz rent the air, and other couples joined them. Their movements seemed so effortless and beautiful that Bella was dying to be among them. She wished a man, young or old, would come to her and ask her to dance with him, but no one was paying any attention to her. She suppressed a sigh full of longing.
Her gaze went to Lord Cullen, and her stomach flipped. He was talking to Lord McCarty, casually throwing a glance toward the dancing couples. If only he would notice her…
She had had a crush on the man since Rose's debut, when he had introduced himself to her family and asked Rosalie to dance. She didn't know what drew her to him, but since he didn't seem even remotely interested in her, she preferred to keep her distance. He was the most eligible bachelor in the room – handsome and rich. Mothers wanted him for a son-in-law, while young ladies wanted him to be either their husband or their lover. For the past several years, he had managed to remain unmarried, but there were rumors about his many mistresses. Lord Cullen had never denied them, nor had he confirmed them. He seemed like a very private person, which only made people more interested in him.
His friend of many years, Lord McCarty, was also a very handsome man, but his poor finances were known all over London, due to his father's gambling problem. Mothers kept their daughters away from him, even if the girls always found a way to reach him. He was also known for his good humor and optimism.
"Quit staring at them and give me a hug," a soft voice whispered in her ear, and Bella turned around to see her best friend, Alice Hale, smile at her.
With a blush, Bella wrapped her arms around her shoulders and squeezed gently. "I am so happy you could come. It was so boring around here, without you." She raised her head and saw her husband, Jasper Hale, Count of Sussex, give her a nod of acknowledgement. "Good to see you, Jasper."
Alice pulled away with a troubled expression. "We didn't really want to come. Poor Sophia is having a mild fever, and we wanted to stay with her. But my mom insisted that we should make an appearance tonight, since she and the hosts are good friends. We are not going to stay long."
"Oh, I understand. Your daughter must be so furious right now. She always told me how much she hated to catch a cold."
"You have no idea," Jasper answered with a slight shake of his head.
"But it isn't serious, is it?" Bella asked anxiously. She loved sweet, four year old Sophia, and she simply adored the fact that Sophia considered Bella her aunt.
"No," Alice said. "Besides this small fever, she is still her chirpy self."
"I am glad to hear that."
Alice and Jasper stayed only two hours, before they excused themselves and left to see how their little daughter was faring. Bella had lost sight of Rosalie a while ago and she tried not to worry about her. The last time she saw her sister, Rosalie had been dancing a quadrille with another young man.
When another hour passed, and she still didn't know where her sister was, Bella went to search for her. It was one of those rare occasions when she enjoyed her invisibility, because no one seemed to know why she was suddenly leaving her corner and walking around the ballroom.
Rosalie wasn't on the dance floor, nor was she on the balcony with some bloke. Bella realized that she might be with her mysterious man, and her stomach suddenly felt queasy. How could she be so irresponsible? What if someone saw them? And if she was with him, where were they? Surely, they hadn't gone in one of the rooms. Bella trusted her sister, but she didn't trust this mysterious man. What if he tried to take advantage of her?
She didn't know what to do. How could she find out where her sister was? She couldn't simply open every door in the house. Invisible or not, everyone would figure out that something was wrong, and that would bring unwanted attention toward her family.
She took a deep breath, telling herself that everything was going to be fine. Otherwise, she was going to make herself sick with worry. Rosalie was her little sister, and she was supposed to take care of her. Unlike their mother, who had chosen to leave London and forget that she had a family.
"Isabella, sweetheart, still sitting in the corner, I see," the dowager duchess of Hampshire said, her wrinkles accentuated by the powder on her face. Bella forced a smile and turned toward the old lady.
Behind one of the doors in the house, Rosalie was being kissed senseless by her mysterious man. Her fingers threaded through his soft hair. His arms wrapped around her small frame. Her tongue tangled with his. His groan matched hers.
There were only four candles lit in the room, casting a soft glow around them. The door was locked. The windows were closed and the draperies shut. The only sounds in the room were their ragged breaths and their occasional moans.
His lips trailed down her jaw and kissed her neck, finding a tender spot that made her sigh with pleasure. "We need to stop doing this," he whispered, his voice husky.
"Oh no, please, continue. I quite like what you are doing right now."
He pulled away and cupped her face in his hands. "I am not talking about this."
Rosalie reluctantly opened her eyes and looked at his serious face. Her knees were still wobbly from his passionate kisses, and she didn't think she was ready to break up with him right now. "Then, what are you talking about? Because we are wasting precious time, and someone might realize we are both missing."
He was quiet for a couple of seconds, just staring at her with his intense, bold gaze. Rosalie was growing impatient. She raised one of her eyebrows. When he still didn't say anything after a minute, she tried to press her lips to his, but he stopped her.
"Will you just tell me what's on your mind?" she asked, irritated.
"I love you, Rosalie. Marry me," he whispered.
Rosalie froze, with her eyebrows near her hairline. She would have never thought he would say those words to her. He was patiently waiting for her response, looking into her eyes.
Unfortunately, her first reaction was to burst into laughter. "You cannot be serious. I can't marry you. This is a short fling, meant to end sooner or later. Surely, you knew that."
She watched a shadow cross his features, and then his expression became unreadable. With a start, she realized that he was very serious about his confession and proposal. "We both knew that this wasn't meant to last. It was just for fun. It isn't like we talked about your future or mine. We simply kissed."
"I think you have made yourself very clear," he said sternly, turning around to leave. "Forget everything I said."
"Edward, please, be reasonable."
The sound of his name on her lips seemed to incense him, because he threw his hands in the air as he faced her again. "Reasonable? You knew how I felt about you," he almost screamed. "You knew from the beginning, and yet, you chose to give me hope that maybe you felt the same way about me. Do you need me to remind you that you were the one who started this?"
"Don't you dare blame me for this situation. I never even hinted at falling in love with you. You were the only one who assumed things that weren't true."
"Oh? So, this entire mess is my fault."
"I didn't say that. I don't think we are to blame for this. I guess we just got carried away by passion. I know I should have ended this fling before it got here, but you know how stressful these balls and events are. I needed a distraction." Realizing by the tormented expression on his face that she was only worsening the situation, she clamped her mouth shut.
"A distraction?" he whispered several beats later. "I was only a distraction to you?" He seemed to lose his temper for a second, but he quickly got his emotions under control. A muscle was ticking in his jaw, and his eyes were hard. "Glad I finally found out."
He looked at her in disdain and then turned his back on her.
Rosalie feared that he might slam the door on his way out, but he closed it softly, although she had the feeling that he was furious enough to punch a wall. Taking a deep, calming breath, she smoothed her dress and took care of her hair, in case it was disheveled. Then, she blew out the candles.
Shaking her head, she tried to pretend this never happened. Maybe she hadn't been exactly tactful in her rejection, but he had caught her off guard. How was she supposed to react when he dropped that confession in her lap?
She remembered Bella's words from earlier about breaking the man's heart and realized with a start that she had just done that. He looked hurt for a second, before his expression became unfathomable. Her brows furrowed in concern for a second, before she told herself that now was not the time to dwell on the situation.
Bella must be worried about her. Nervously smoothing her dress again, she counted to twenty, made sure no one would see her walking out of the room and then slowly closed the door behind her. She was ready to forget for a little while what happened between those dark, four walls, but as soon as she returned to the ballroom, something very unusual unsettled her, and she stopped in her tracks.
Edward was talking to her sister.