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Thank you for you reviews.
I think you are going to hate me :(. I hate me too. When I first started writing this story, I was so sure I would finish it until the middle of june, and I am so sorry I was wrong. I don't want you to think that I don't care about this story, or about you. I know how frustrating it is to like a story and get updates once a month. I am not trying to find excuses, but I really didn't have time to write. I had a full-time job for three weeks, and college, and then final exams came. I managed to write a little for this chapter, but I couldn't finish it earlier.
The sad part is that I will be leaving the country on Tuesday for three months, and I won't be able to update this summer. It's a program for students, "Work and Travel USA", and I will be working two jobs a day. Sorry again! Hope you enjoy your summer! Kisses!
Bella had slept soundlessly and when she woke up, she had found herself wrapped around Edward, her head on his shoulder and her arm thrown around his waist. Fortunately, he didn't wake up when she disentangled herself from him, and he didn't see that her face was ready to burst into flames. She got dressed and told one of the footmen to bring them breakfast. She wanted to see if his mother was awake, but she was still a little apprehensive about her. Elizabeth didn't seem to like her. Edward told her that Elizabeth didn't like anyone. Bella refused to believe that, and somehow, she felt the need to prove him wrong.
They left two hours later, because Elizabeth had refused to get out of bed when Edward told her they were leaving. Bella hadn't tried to talk to her, because she knew it would be futile, so they waited for his mother to get dressed and eat. Edward didn't seem very happy about it.
Now, they were once again in the carriage, only two hours away from Hampshire.
"Can we stop for a few minutes? I can't breathe in here," Elizabeth protested. She opened her fan and waved it back and forth for a few minutes, then snapped it shut with a groan of breath.
"That would be a waste of time. In less than two hours, we will be home," Edward answered, giving her a side glance.
Bella looked at the two of them and pursed her lips. Truth be told, she thought it was rather sad that mother and son couldn't even look at each other. Ever since they got into the carriage, Elizabeth had been ignoring Edward, either keeping her eyes closed or looking out the window. Not having anything else to do, Bella had been watching them closely. Edward hadn't seemed to care about his mother's indifference, but she thought it was only a façade.
"I don't want to wait two more hours," Elizabeth argued, raising one of her eyebrows in annoyance.
"In case you haven't noticed, we are in the middle of nowhere. There could be bandits lurking around."
"If they had wanted to attack us, they would have done it already."
"We are not going to stop."
Bella looked from Edward to Elizabeth and then back to Edward. "I was wondering if we can throw a ball next week," she said the first thing that popped into her head, hoping that it would ease the tension between them.
They turned to look at her, both of them confused and probably wondering what the hell she was talking about.
"A ball?" Elizabeth asked skeptically. "Why would you want to throw a ball? It's a waste of money. And time."
"Well, we just got married, and I would like to know my new neighbors. Besides, why not?"
Elizabeth wrinkled her nose and looked out the window. "Why? Because it's stupid and useless. We haven't even thrown a ball in over fifteen years, and I don't intend to start now."
"But I do," Bella chimed in, smiling innocently. Elizabeth turned to glare at her, while Edward continued to seem confused. "Edward, what do you say? I believe it's a good idea. Balls aren't entirely about wasting money. It's about making friends and having a good time."
"But that –"
"Mother," Edward interrupted her. "I believe you said what you wanted to say. Now, it's my turn." He looked at Bella, and she thought she saw a small smile on his lips, a smile he was trying to hide. "Bella, I agree with you."
"What?" Elizabeth exclaimed, jumping a little when the wheels of the carriage passed over a pothole in the street. "How can you –"
Edward leaned forward, his eyes amused. "When I was a little boy, we used to have an annual ball; it was like a tradition. Every March, we invited our peers to spend two days with us, in Hampshire. We provided them with food, drinks, lodgings and entertainment. I never heard of someone complaining."
"That's because you were too young to remember all those details."
"Not that young," Edward countered. "I was twelve years old, but I think you are the one who doesn't remember all those details."
Elizabeth's face paled, and her lips tightened. Bella actually felt a little bad for her.
"I think it would be wonderful to start that tradition again," Edward continued, looking at Bella questioningly. "If you want that, of course."
Surprised, Bella turned from Elizabeth to Edward. She had merely wanted Edward and Elizabeth to stop arguing, and now her husband was giving her permission to resume an old family tradition. Gaping at him, she suddenly realized she hadn't even thrown a ball in her life. What if she failed and embarrassed his entire family in front of his peers? Why did she even open her mouth in the first place? She had no idea how to organize a ball.
"Well, thank you for the opportunity, but I don't know what to say," Bella hesitated, her fingers playing with the hem of her dress.
"I suppose that settles it," Elizabeth huffed, sighing dramatically. "There will be no tradition."
Edward ignored her, keeping his eyes on Bella. "My mother will help you with the preparations."
"What?" Elizabeth almost yelled in indignation.
"Oh," Bella whispered, meeting Edward's gaze. His eyes were trying to tell her something, but she wasn't very good at reading his expression. She realized that he really wanted her to accept, and her agreement had something to do with his mother. "Then, I accept."
Edward smiled widely at her and grabbed her hand. "Thank you."
Seeing his genuine smile, Bella squeezed his hand and smiled back at him. She would ask him about what this all meant later. Now, it felt nice to share this moment with him and see him smile at her.
Even though his mother seemed mad enough to slap them both. "I think this is a horrible idea. I don't intend to help your wife with any preparations. It was her idea to throw a ball. She will be the one to organize it."
Both Bella and Edward ignored her as they continued to smile at each other. Elizabeth raised her hands in the air and turned her back on them.
They arrived in Hampshire a little after sunset. Bella's heart was beating erratically. She hesitated a little before getting out of the carriage. Edward was waiting for her outside, but she didn't think she was ready to get out just yet. Taking a deep breath, she gathered her wits and opened the door. Edward turned to look at her with an understanding look in his eyes.
"Are you alright?"
Bella let out a strangled laugh. "Not really."
"It is going to be fine. You have already met my family, and you don't need to worry about my servants. They are nice people."
"I am not worried about that. I am sure they are. I am more worried about who they were expecting to see."
Edward frowned. "My wife," he answered firmly as he linked his arm through hers.
Bella nodded, although she was still skeptical. Maybe his servants were expecting to see another woman at their lord's side? Did they know about Rosalie? She glanced at Edward. Probably not.
As they were walking toward the front door, she couldn't help noticing how beautiful his house was. It was truly wonderful, just like he had described it to her. It didn't seem to be six hundred years old.
"It's beautiful," she whispered, looking up at the house, surveying the windows, the walls, the roof. "You were right. I love it."
Edward grinned down at her. "That is good to know." Wiggling his eyebrows, he continued, "And you haven't seen the interior yet."
"You are quite proud of it, aren't you?"
"Quite," he laughed as the front door flew open and a blond, tall man stood before them. "Good evening, Carlisle. It's so good to see you."
"Milord, pleased to have you back," the butler answered with a smile. He turned to her, and the smile widened. "Milady, welcome home."
Relieved to be received like this, Bella smiled back and gently inclined her head in his direction. "I am happy to be here." They walked past the butler and into the main hall, where all the servants were gathered to meet their new mistress. Bella inadvertently squeezed Edward's arm.
Her husband cleared his throat, and everyone turned around. They all looked at her curiously, but they were all smiling. Bella relaxed a little, realizing that she had no reason to be so anxious. "I would like all of you to meet my wife, the new Countess of Melburn, Isabella Marie Swan."
They all smiled, told her they were happy to meet her, asked her if they could do anything for her. Bella felt overwhelmed, her eyes going from a face to another. They were all talking at once, making it impossible for her to keep track of everything they were saying. She thought she heard Edward chuckle next to her, but before she could ask him why he was laughing, a beautiful, brown haired woman stepped forward and curtsied.
"Milady, I am so happy to meet you. My name is Esme, and I am the housekeeper. I was wondering if you would like to see your room."
"Of course," Bella answered. Not wanting to appear rude, she looked at the other servants and said, "Thank you so much for your heartwarming welcome."
"Anytime, Milady. If you need anything, I am at your service," a woman said, and then all of them nodded in agreement.
Seeing them so eager to please, Bella almost laughed with delight. She had been so worried about their first meeting, that now she realized how foolish her fears had been. Edward must have seen her smile, because he leaned toward her and whispered in her ear as they ascended the stairs.
"Should I say 'I told you so', or should I keep my mouth shut?"
"You somehow managed to do both," she jested, shaking her head in amusement.
Esme looked over her shoulder and smiled. "Your room is right here." She opened the door and stepped aside as she let Bella and Edward enter the room. "As soon as we heard news about our lord's wedding, we started preparing this room for your arrival. I hope it is to your liking."
Curtains made out of silk. Walls covered in velvet. Red roses on her bed. "I love it. It's so beautiful. Thank you so much."
Esme inclined her head and linked her hands behind her back. "It was our pleasure, milady. We were all so excited to meet the new Countess of Melburn, and we wanted you to feel welcome. If you need anything, pull on the bell rope, and I will be here in a minute."
"Of course," Bella smiled, watching the woman curtsy and step out of the room.
As she surveyed the room, she could feel Edward's eyes on her. "I will leave you alone to your room," he said a second later. "I will be in mine if you want to talk to me."
He had already turned around when she said, "Wait." He turned around and looked at her questioningly. "Before you leave, I want to ask you something. What really happened in the carriage?"
He took a step forward and raised his eyebrows. "I could ask you the same question."
"I just wanted you two to stop arguing," Bella started. "I don't even know why I said that. I don't know how to throw a ball; I have never done it before. Then, you said that you want me to resume an old family tradition." She frowned, starting to piece everything together. "I might have been honored that you wanted me to do that, but I somehow feel that's not what you had in mind. You asked me to throw a ball because you know that's exactly what your mother hates."
Edward sighed. "That's partially true." He saw Bella's apprehensive expression and told her to sit down. When she did, he sat down on the chair next to the bed. "When I was a boy, I was always looking forward to that annual ball. My parents and I never had the best of relationship, but it was different when everyone came for the ball and spent the night in our rooms. They were more attentive with me, and I liked that. Oh, I knew they were only pretending the whole time, but I enjoyed their attention, so I took advantage of it whenever I could." He looked up at her, his expression blank. "Yes, you were right about my mother. I hate it that she has decided to put up a wall between herself and the world, and I want her to start living again. On the other hand, I really enjoyed that tradition and was angry when my parents put an end to it. I am not talking strictly about my parents' attitude towards me. I am also referring to what you said in the carriage – balls are not about wasting money or boasting about your fortune; it's about making friends."
Edward took a deep breath and looked at his wife. He hadn't meant to tell her about his nonexistent relationship with his parents, but the words had tumbled out of his mouth. He didn't want her to feel sorry for him. From her expression, he could only see sympathy in her eyes, not pity. He remembered that her mother left when she was only a child.
"When do you want me to have the ball?"
"You don't want to ask me more questions?"
"I already know what I need to know," Bella answered with a shrug and a smile.
Two hours later, after dinner, Bella was wondering whether to knock or not. Her hand was hovering near the door, her instinct telling her to go to her room, while her stubbornness was forcing her to knock. Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door.
She had to press her ear to the door in order to hear something. "What?"
Turning the knob, she entered the room and placed a wide smile on her face. "Good evening. You didn't come to dinner, and I wanted to make sure you are fine."
Elizabeth raised one of her eyebrows, the gesture as similar as her son's. "Do I look like I need your help?"
"Well, obviously not-"
"Then, what are you really doing here?"
Bella had prepared herself beforehand. She knew her mother-in-law would not welcome her into her room, but she still felt irritated with Elizabeth for talking to her like that.
"Actually, I came here to talk to you about the ball," Bella said, taking a few steps forward and straightening her spine. If she wanted to talk to Elizabeth, she had to appear confident and strong, even though her knees were trembling. She wasn't used to taking control of the situation.
"Psh," Elizabeth scoffed, avoiding Bella's gaze. She started brushing her hair. "I am not going to help you with that."
"I am sorry, but I didn't come here to ask for your help. I came here to tell you that I will be waiting for you downstairs tomorrow morning in order to discuss everything that needs to be done." Knowing that wasn't enough to convince her, Bella quickly continued, "And if you don't come, I will just assume you want to discuss those details in your room. Also, I am sure Edward would love to help me find you in case you decide to hide. Whether you like it or not, that ball is going to happen, and you are going to help me organize it."
Elizabeth frowned, her mouth hanging open. She couldn't believe that the girl she had thought to be naïve and flimsy was standing up to her. "How dare you talk to-"
"That being said, I wish you goodnight," Bella interrupted her, turned around and got out of the room, quickly closing the door behind her. Stunned, she leaned her back against the door and blinked a couple of times. She had stood up to the dowager countess. She had been confident.
Walking toward her room, she covered her mouth with her hand and started giggling uncontrollably. She remembered Elizabeth's shocked expression, and her giggles turned into laughter. She didn't know Edward could hear her from his room, and was wondering what had put her in such a good mood. He would ask her tomorrow.