MTE Chapter One
Time is up, Bella.
A car will meet you at SeaTac.
"What is it, Bella?"
Bella's heart sank, as she passed the note and one-way ticket to her two travel companions. Her parents were once again forcing her hand; demanding her return to the box. A wave of panic washed over her.
'I am being summoned home," she shrugged.
"Aww, Bella, no!" Jessica cried, as she hugged her momentary bestie.
Bella shared a sad smile with Lauren over Jessica's shoulder.
"We need to have one more blowout before you go, tomorrow we'll hit Central Park," Lauren suggested.
Jessica jumped up and down, clapping, "Perfect, let's go tell the boys."
Lauren and Jessica ran up the six flights of stairs in the Florence youth hostel, all sadness forgotten as a heartsick Bella brought up a distant third.
"Sir, by the smile, I'd say we were successful in merging and acquiring," Brady greeted his boss, opening the car door as he spoke.
Edward Cullen clapped his assistant on the back as he climbed in the car.
"Yes, Brady, finally, I'm free," he groaned out, as Brady merged into Florence traffic.
Brady looked briefly in his rearview mirror. Mr. Cullen was worn thin. It had been over a year since he'd taken a vacation, a family obligation that did more harm than good. A forty year old man with his success should have more built into his life.
Brady frowned, as he focused on the traffic. Mr. Cullen had been in Florence for three weeks and had yet to see a statue.
He would clear his boss's calendar, give him one day in Florence, and plan their trip home for the following day. With that idea, Brady sat back in his seat with a pleased smile.
Bella soaked up the last bit of her stay in Florence. She sat on a bench, watching the sun filter past Ponte Vecchio, creating new shadows for her sketching. She was happy and safe at the moment, humming quietly as she shaded in the stones on the archway.
Today had been a wonderful, carefree day where she could just be herself and follow her fancy. The last carefree day for a long time to come, she feared.
As the shadows lengthened, she knew her days of wandering were drawing to an end. She would be required to once again put on the protective shell of practiced and refined apathy, playing the role of a dutiful daughter.
At twenty-three, she had yet to find a way to say 'enough.' She longed to break away and find something more.
With a heart heavy sigh, she stepped across the threshold back into this world and flipped longingly through her day's drawings, finding one character central in three of them.
The first had a man in a suit walking down Via Maggio with his hands in his pockets, a solitary soul in the morning lighting. She had sketched people and shops blurring with bustling activity around him as he walked alone in a tunnel of stillness.
In a second sketch, the sun set his auburn hair alight as he fed the ducks the last of his bread. He sat with his jacket off, carefully folded over the back of the bench. Her pencil brought the carefree birds into sharp focus, leaving the man in the suit in lighter shades. But she smiled at how well she had captured the soft smile on his face as he interacted with them.
The last found the same man standing on the Ponte Vecchio archway watching the river's course from his elevated position, sleeves rolled to the elbow.
She took a moment to give more movement to his hair that dipped down on his brow. Before tearing it out, she quickly scribbled in the corner. She looked it over before wadding it up.
Gathering her belongings, she began making her way back to the youth hostel. When she passed the man in the suit, she did not break her stride as she dropped the wad of paper at his feet.
Edward slept in until seven o'clock on his last day in Florence and breakfasted on the balcony overlooking the Arno with the Duomo in the distance. The Italian air smelled, and even felt different from New York air. He breathed in deeply, trying to file this moment away to revisit.
Weary from the boardroom brawls as he oversaw the legalities of a merger of two European companies, Edward knew he needed this break, this rebooting. Brady was a good man, a good friend.
As he walked down Via Maggio from his apartment at the Maggio Tower, he saw her for the first time. She was sitting at a cafe table. Her legs caught his eye first; crossed, slender, feminine, with her robin egg blue skirt hugging the curve of her hips and thighs stopping modestly at her knee. She had on a white tank top with a colorful scarf draped artfully around her neck. A beret, with black corkscrew curls escaping its confines pulled her casual outfit together. Her dainty gold earpieces outlined the shell of one ear and exquisite gold chandelier earrings in each ear lobe finished her look.
She was delicate and feminine from head to toe and currently struggling with her table as it wobbled on the quaint but uneven cobblestones.
He was slowing to help her when she ripped a page from her notebook, wadding and wedging it under one leg creating a well-mannered vista on which to place her breakfast.
Feeling as if he'd lost his moment with her, he shoved his hands in his pockets and continued walking. He glanced back briefly as the waiter brought her a cappuccino and cornetto and she flipped open her sketchpad.
He spent the morning looking at shops and visiting the Uffizi Gallery.
He took his lunch on a bench near Neptune's Fountain, where a small group of ducks entertained and distracted him with their little antics and graceful paddling.
After paying his respects to the Duomo, he stopped on the Ponte Vecchio to take in the beauty of the Arno one last time. He was delighted to spot his little Robin from the morning sitting on the knoll below the bridge. She was lovely in the afternoon sunlight, intent on capturing the world around her on her paper.
He unashamedly used his phone to bring her image closer to him. She had removed her beret and had pinned her black hair away from her face, leaving the rest to fall in tight curls around her slim shoulders. She had chocolate brown eyes sharp with wonder and a little button nose that turned up slightly. Her beautiful lips begged to be kissed with the bottom lip temptingly plumb. He hadn't seen them form a full smile, but they would turn up at the corners as she worked on her sketch.
Unable to resist, he snapped a few pictures before tucking his phone away. There was an undefinable something about her that drew him in and held him spellbound.
All too soon he watched her gather her things and stand. She dusted her cute little bottom off and began making her way to the Piazza behind her.
As she moved out of his sight, he suddenly felt deflated and pulled out his phone.
"Brady, I'm returning to the apartment before my meeting at eight," he said.
"Yes sir," Brady replied just as Mr. Cullen's little bird walked into view on the bridge.
"Hold," he commanded. He tried not to stare as she approached, but he surreptitiously peeked at how her skirt clung and moved with her thighs.
He held his breath as she passed. Feeling something hit his shoe, he looked down at a wad of paper. Picking it up, he looked to see her descending the slope of the bridge, disappearing into the crowd.
He opened the paper to a sketch of Ponte Vecchio. It had an impression of people coming and going with a man, looking very much like himself, fleshed out with detail.
A smile touched his lips as he ran his finger over the man in the middle of the bridge. His smile widened when he read the writing in the corner-
"Brady …" Mr. Cullen barked as he began walking with purpose.
"I need you to book a table at The Jazz Club on Via Nuova de Caccini."
"For how many, sir?"
"Two." He said as he broke out into a jog as he hit the bottom of the bridge.
She had made her way across the Piazza toward Via Santa Maria when she heard brisk footsteps closing the distance behind her.
She looked behind her and there he was; the man in the suit, looking disheveled, breathless and glorious up close. She had a distinct feeling that her act of whimsy had backfired on her.
"Y-Yes," she managed.
"I'm sorry, but you lost this crossing Ponte Vecchio. I thought it might be important." He held out the now folded paper.
She looked at the paper and turned to continue walking.
"No, I didn't lose that, but thank you for going to so much trouble," she threw over her shoulder.
He gently touched her arm, stopping her.
"I saw you drop it as you passed," he pressed.
"Yes, I dropped it but I did not lose it," she smiled up at him.
He really was handsome she mused as he frowned at her.
"I dropped it with purpose," she clarified.
A smile spread across his face washing away the effect of time.
"Really …? I was hoping that was the case," he replied. "Is this me?" he asked opening up the paper.
"Yes, you seem to have been my muse today," she nodded.
"You're muse, huh …?" he asked drawing closer.
"Yes, you were in several of my sketches today," she frowned that she had said too much.
"Are you in a hurry? I'd like to see the others if you have a moment. May I buy you a coffee?" he motioned to the café-bar with outside tables.
"I've never been someone's muse before. I'm Edward Cullen," he grinned.
His boyish grin is what did it. He was so cute and charming it was inevitable to succumb.
"Um, let me text my travel companions and let them know I'll be late, then yes, coffee would be nice," she ducked her head shyly.
He gave one clap, "Wonderful, I'll grab a table while you make your call."
He had a feline grace in his walk, a walk of purpose and strength as he made his way across the piazza.
Edward watched her frown over her texting and worried he had caused her trouble. His shoulders relaxed as she began walking towards him with a bounce in her step.
She was young. He could see that, but she had an ageless grace about her that was captivating.
As her swaying hips propelled her toward him the Big Bopper's 'Chantilly Lace' began playing in his mind.
"Oh Baby, that's what I like!"
He chuckled to himself and stood to pull out her chair.
"Everything all right?" he asked over her shoulder as he pushed her chair in.
"Oh, yes, they didn't like the change of plans, but when you're traveling in a group you don't always get your way," she smiled as he retook his seat.
"I wouldn't want to cause problems for you," he said.
"I want to be here with you," she smiled.
"Oh, and I'm Bella Swan," she said holding out her hand.
She was too cute.
He smiled holding her gaze as he took her delicate hand to shake, "It's my pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ms. Swan."
She blushed sweetly.
"Likewise, I'm sure, Mr. Cullen," she giggled.
As the waiter approached, he reluctantly released her hand, but not without running his thumb over her knuckles first.
"What would you like, Bella?" he asked sitting back.
"Um …" she hesitated.
"A latte macchiato, perhaps?"
She lit up, "Yes, that would be lovely."
Edward addressed the waiter, "Due macchiati con due biscotti, per favore."
"Si Signore," he bowed his head and retreated to the kitchen.
"Thank you," she smiled, resting her cheek on her hands as she looked around.
He watched her racing to take in her surroundings as if it would disappear.
He felt a need to reach for her hand, to anchor her with him. Knowing that would alarm more than comfort, he chose to draw her to him in another way.
"So you're American?" he smiled across the small café table.
She left off her visual wandering and brought her focus to him. "Yes, and you, I'm guessing."
"Yes, I'm CFO for McCarty and Hale in New York. I've been here helping two companies merge without bloodshed," he said smiling.
"Are you a student here?" he asked.
"I finished my bachelor's at the University of Washington and was granted a three-month reprieve for good behavior. So here I am, backpacking across Europe." She smiled softly.
"Are you traveling alone?" He asked with concern.
"Well, I was, but I met a boy in France, two girls in Venice and another boy here. We share living expenses."
"Well, I'm glad you have some friends to travel with. I don't like the thought of you alone." He said softly.
She caught his eye and cocked her head as if she were trying to see him from another perspective.
He ran his hand down his tie and straightened the spoon on his napkin.
"They're acquaintances who have temporary common interests that make it beneficial to be in each other's lives. They come, they go," she said with a shrug.
"Sometimes alone is good, better," she added softly as the waiter brought their drinks.
"Grazie," she smiled up at the waiter, who nodded with a smile.
"That's very astute of you. Like today?" he asked, dismissing the waiter.
"What about today?" she cocked her head.
Realizing he'd boxed himself in, he decided to move forward in what felt like a game of negotiations.
He smiled warmly, "I saw you this morning at the café on Via Maggio and later at Ponte Vecchio. You seemed to have a good 'alone' day," He held her gaze challenging her to respond.
"I didn't know you saw me. My first sketch of the day was of you walking down Via Maggio," she smiled in awe.
"Yes, the sketches of your muse," he brightened, "may I see them?" he asked sitting forward.
She nodded as she pulled her satchel onto her lap.
Drawing out the sketchpad, she forewarned, "These are very amateur. They're just for me really…"
"I can make my own mind up about things, Ms. Swan," he silenced her as he took her work.
Opening the pad, the first page held a circle of what looked like intricate lace-like iron work. With an ornate gate roughly sketched in the lower half. He looked up.
She leaned forward to see, "That's the gate outside of the Duomo," she shrugged.
He nodded and flipped to the second page and found a pair of woman's hands resting in an aproned lap. The lower half was a rough sketch of an older Italian woman her leathered skin wrinkling around her eyes as she smiled brightly.
Again he looked up. Again she leaned over to see.
"Come over here," he sighed, standing to move her chair next to him.
The waiter, seeing the movement, rushed over to move the table's contents around and then retreated.
She followed her chair, retaking her seat as he pushed her in.
"Now, tell me," he commanded in a gently lowered voice.
The lower tenor of his voice ran like a current through her. She quickly studied his profile at this more intimate distance and felt her heart jolt and speed. He was beautiful. Laugh lines graced the corner of his sharp green eyes as they intently studied the details of the page before him … His eyebrows, the curve of his ear, his earlobe, the corner of his mouth that curved up just so.
She wanted to touch that cheek, run her fingers along his collar and into his rusty auburn hair. She realized she was already in love with this face and needed to know the man behind it.
He shook the pad impatiently, drawing her back.
"Oh, this is Angela Maria Cervino. She has the most expressive face and her hands are so beautiful and strong. You know she's not talking if her hands are resting like this," Bella laughed softly smiling sweetly down at the paper.
"How do you know her?" Edward asked as he soaked in her close proximity.
"She and her husband, Benny, own one of the shops on Via Maggio. They met in 1966 and were Mud Angels. I talked with her all afternoon on Tuesday."
"You like her," he stated.
"She's my friend," she said adamantly.
He turned his piercing green eyes on her.
"She is your friend, but the people you travel with, break bread with are not?" he challenged.
"What are mud angels?" Edward asked without looking away from Angela Maria Cervino's face.
"Oh, Edward, that is so fascinating," she replied animatedly squirming in her seat.
He looked up amused and waited for her to explain.
"Did you know that in 1966, the Arno overran its banks, flooding a good portion of Florence?" She asked.
"No, I didn't."
A sympathetic frown marred her countenance as she continued, "Yes, it flooded as far as your eye can see," she paused for dramatic emphasis.
He leaned his elbow on the table covering the smile behind his hand as she continued.
"When the waters finally receded, there was mud everywhere," she said.
"So the mud angels were people who … what?" he encouraged.
She smiled, "They were people who came from all over the world to help with the recovery and restoration of all the historical artifacts and property that was damaged."
He studied her profile as she sipped her coffee. She was so passionate and alive one minute and closed and cautious the next. He took a sip of coffee as she continued her history lesson.
"A kind of triage was developed where the volunteers worked at recovering and cataloging paintings, statues, and books. Oh my, there were hundreds of thousands of books damaged."
"I had no idea," he shook his head.
"I would have loved to have been a part of that," she sighed.
He studied her graceful profile for a moment, adding softly, "Yes, I would have loved to have met your dear friend Angela."
He flipped to the next page. She smiled at his profile wanting to kiss the creases at the corner of his eye.
She crossed her legs towards him as she dipped her biscotto in her foam.
He flipped a page and then another. Finally, he huffed out, "Where am I?"
She put her biscuit down, "Such a pouty little boy, tsk."
She took the pad as he scowled at it.
"These are from the week. These are today's," she said soothingly as she flipped to the middle of the book.
Placing it before him, she put her arm on the back of his chair and leaned towards him. As he reclaimed the pad, he shifted his leg so that the top of her foot rested behind his calf.
Neither acknowledged how nice this felt.
"That's me," he said brightly.
"I wanted to capture your solitude," she said softly.
"You did, remarkably well. I had just passed you. You were conquering a wobbling table," he smiled fondly at the page.
"You saw me," she said in an awed whisper.
He put the book down.
"You were so lovely in your robin egg blue skirt with the morning sun on your face," He sensed her still and turned his head slowly capturing her gaze.
Encouraged that she didn't sit back, he whispered, "You're just as lovely in the afternoon shadows."
She didn't dare blink.
He leaned back, ran his hand down his tie and flipped to the next page.
"Bella, where were you when you sketched this? How did I not see you?" He asked with amazement.
"Oh, I was on the steps across from Neptune's Fountain. Neptune may have been blocking your view," she said quietly.
Looking back on the page, he noticed the smile on his face and unconsciously mirrored it. She had captured a contented moment for him. He felt immensely grateful.
"The last one is in your pocket," she said leaning away from him, breaking the spell.
"I know these are just casual sketches, but you have an incredible eye, for detail, lighting, whimsy," he said, flipping through the book.
Reaching for the pad, she pulled it carefully from his hands.
"Well, I just do it for my own enjoyment," she shrugged with a frown.
"Forgive me, love. It was just such a tempting way to see your mind," he placed his hand gently on hers and again she didn't pull away. Instead, she ran a finger of her free hand over his knuckles. When she began running her finger up each one of his fingers, he felt himself stir.
Such gentle, feather-like touches
He captured her hand and brought it to his lips.
"Have dinner with me, Bella," he breathed against her palm.
She placed her palm against his sweet, hopeful face.
He was so beautiful.
He held her gaze, speechless. Reaching to tuck the strand of hair behind her ear, he ran his finger along the shell of her ear, fingering the chandelier.
"I'd like to say yes … to dinner, but my roommates are expecting me. We're going to Central Park for dancing," she whispers.
He sat back in contemplation but continued to hold her hand.
"What time are you and your friends going out?" he asked rubbing her wrist with his thumb.
"I- gah, that feels good- I think we were going to dinner at a pub and winding up at Central Park around eightish," she shrugged.
He chuckled darkly and lifted her wrist to his lips, soft lips to warm skin.
He watched as she leaned in as his lips skimmed her silky skin. She could so easily be his.
Sighing softly, he laid her hand on the table but continued to play with her fingers.
She needed to go out with her friends, not wasting her time on a dead end.
Without warning, he stood. His movement wiped away her awed smile.
"I wish there was more time for us, Bella." He said as he pulled her gently from her seat.
As she stood he drew her toward him and was pleased when she willingly followed. She reached up to brush his hair from his temple allowing her hand to linger.
"Maybe this should be enough, one perfect moment. How many people get one perfect moment like this," she breathed out.
He closed his eyes and leaned into her hand, rewarding her with the contented smile she'd captured at Neptune's Fountain.
"Thank you for this perfect moment, my sweet little bird," Edward whispered before pulling her hand away and kissing it.
She bobbed her head realizing this was goodbye but unable to say the words.
He nodded back, releasing her.
Reluctantly, she turned and walked across the Piazza.
He watched her go with his hands in his pockets trying not to run after her. It was better to let her go.
When she turned the corner, he began shaking his head as a war waged within him.
Without thought, his phone was at his ear.
"Brady, change of plans ..."