This was my entry for the May To December Romance Contest. It would probably never have been posted, had it not been for NewTwilightFan, who so kindly Beta'd this for me. I can't thank you enough, Maggie!
Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable characters herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
"Isabella Marie Swan! What are you thinking?"
No good could come of a conversation that began with those words. Bella sighed and turned to look out of the window.
"I'm thinking that I would like some chocolate milk," she replied pleasantly.
Experience showed that patience was the best way to deal with Renee. She would rant and rave for a few minutes, until she ran out of steam. That was when Bella would explain exactly what she intended to do. It had worked when she wanted to go to stay with her dad Charlie at seventeen. It had worked when she decided to enroll in Community College instead of applying to the Ivy League colleges her mother thought she ought to, given her impressive high school scores. It had even worked when she decided to break up with Tyler two years ago. For some reason, Renee had been fonder of him than Bella ever had. Suppressing a shudder at the thought, she took a deep breath and waited for her mother to finish telling her why it was such a bad idea to go to France for a month.
"You've only just managed to get a respectable job! It's expensive in Europe. How are you going to pay for the tickets? Where will you stay?"
Bella put the phone on her desk, waiting for her mother to run out of protests. She wondered idly why Renee even bothered. For as long as she could remember, Bella had made her own decisions. Unlike her mother, she wasn't flighty. She took her time and weighed her options, ultimately choosing to do what felt right to her. Living with Charlie hadn't challenged her independence either—if anything, he trusted her judgment and encouraged her. Which is why it was frustrating when Renee decided to show her maternal concern by questioning Bella's decisions.
"Mom, I need a break," she said firmly once Renee paused for breath. "I haven't 'just' got a job. I'm 26 and I own my business. I can afford to take a break. I spoke to Aunt Carmen and she's invited me to stay at their farm in France. Rose is off from school as well, and Aunt C said something about wanting me to talk to her about some problems she's facing. . . No, I haven't a clue what problems. You'll have to try to get that out of your sister yourself… Alright, I have a meeting in ten minutes, so I'm gonna go now. I'll call you from France, alright? Don't worry so much about me. I love you. Bye!"
She ended the call, closed her eyes and breathed deeply for a moment. That was done. Now all she had to do was brief her assistant Alice and she would be free to leave. For a month. In France. There was no masking the grin of sheer delight that lit up Bella's face at the thought.
Uncle Eleazar and Aunt Carmen owned a small farm in a tiny village in south-central France. Getting there was interesting, to say the least. Bella flew from Seattle to London, stayed there overnight and caught the flight from Stansted to Limoges the next afternoon. This was her first trip abroad, and she was enjoying every moment of it, layovers, bad airplane food and snoring co-passengers included. When she stepped out of the Bellegarde airport at Limoges, she stopped for a moment just to breathe.
The next thing she knew was the warmth of her aunt's embrace. Carmen looked a little like Renee, if you squinted and looked at her sideways, but her personality was as different from her sister's as could be imagined. Where Renee was flighty, Carmen was grounded. She was a nurturer, and the nearest thing to a maternal figure Bella had in her life. Unfortunately, living on separate continents made their contact somewhat sporadic, but it taught Bella at a young age that love really isn't about how often you meet a person.
"We'd best be on our way home, anytime you two are done with your hug-fest," drawled Eleazar, leaning nonchalantly against his car. Bella grinned and gave him a warm hug as well.
"Aww, you know you're just jealous she got a hug before you did," she teased him. Laughing, they quickly got her bags into the trunk.
It was a beautiful half-hour drive to Le Mazet, and Bella alternated between updating them on her life, and gawking out the window at the countryside that flashed by. It was just after five when they reached home—a charming stone cottage with the prettiest blue shutters framing windows from which hung boxes of colorful flowers.
"Wow, Aunt C, the pictures don't do this place justice at all! It's such a lovely house!" Bella exclaimed, taking in the simple but comfortable interior.
"Now you know why I've been asking you to visit for so long. I've set up the upstairs bedroom for you. Rose has the one opposite yours, so the two of you can chat without us old folk cramping your style. She'll be home day after, by the way. She had some event at university. She'll tell you about it, I'm sure," explained Carmen.
Half an hour later, a freshly showered Bella sat down at her Aunt's kitchen table, sipping a cup of tea. Uncle Eleazar finished his cup and stood up.
"Bella, darling, I'm going to step over to the neighbor's. You wanna come along? I'll show you 'round the village as well."
Bella jumped at the offer. It had taken her all of five seconds to fall in love with the countryside, and she was keen to spend more time out in the open, soaking it all in. She fell into step with her uncle, following him as he turned right along the side of the cottage. Almost hidden by the thick hedges, she saw that there was a short driveway, which suddenly opened out into open land. Bella blinked in surprised delight at the sight of green, rolling fields. A gentle breeze blew a few strands of her open hair across her face, as she turned towards a curious hodgepodge of a building—a long, patched up affair that combined an old stone barn and a newer cottage. There were two massive stone pillars in front, forming an oddly charming covered front porch. She had never seen anything as strange, or as wonderful. Bella may have stayed there longer just gawking at the homestead, if her uncle's voice had not snapped her out of her daze.
Bella turned and looked straight into a pair of eyes so vividly green, they put the fields to shame. Her breath caught; her heart stopped beating for a moment. When it began beating again everything was different, yet oddly familiar. It felt like she had spent the last 26 years waiting for her life to begin. And now, in this tiny French village, she saw her life staring back at her through the eyes of a stranger.
"Bella, come meet my neighbor, Edward Masen. Bella just arrived this afternoon, travelled all the way from Seattle. Thought I'd better introduce her to all the other village bumpkins so she knows what company she's let herself in for the next month!"
It was an effort to make herself move forward and hold out her hand to the tall man. The moment he took her hand in his own, she knew without a doubt. She knew this man. Her soul recognized his. How was that possible?
He held her hand for longer than was probably appropriate, but neither of them was keen to let go. His shocked gaze mirrored hers. She discreetly clutched her tingling hand to her heart as her uncle chatted with Edward about something or the other. Bella could not focus on anything other than the indescribable feelings rushing through her. His eyes darted to her own frequently, though he was talking to her uncle again.
All too soon, her uncle was ready to go home. Bella felt torn inside. Part of her wanted to hold onto this man and never let go, while the other part wanted to step back and get some perspective on... whatever had just happened. She knew she was too worked up to go home immediately.
"Uncle, I think I'll walk around a while, get a feel of the place. I'll be along in a bit, if that's alright," Bella said.
"That's an excellent idea," said Edward, his smooth voice sending shivers up and down her body. "Why don't you go on home, Eleazar, and I'll show Bella around?"
Bella was struck dumb by the suggestion. So much for getting away and clearing her head! Before she knew it, Eleazar was gone and she stood facing Edward alone. He reached out and took her hand in his. Inexplicably, she relaxed, and smiled. He smiled in response, and for the first time she took in his appearance. Her eyes widened as she realized that he was remarkably good looking. Tall and broad shouldered, he had a rugged strength about him that made her feel safe. He was probably a bit older than her, though, late thirties at least by her estimate. The breeze ruffled his hair, an interesting mix of brown mixed with gold and a few grays. For some reason, that sight snapped her out of her trance, and landed her right in the land of awkward.
"Hi, I'm Bella. I'm sorry, I was incredibly rude back when my uncle introduced us, but I just couldn't speak. I…"
"De rien, cherie. It's alright. I think… well it is difficult to explain, but I think I understand." He spoke with only a slight hint of an accent, which added to the allure of his already attractive voice.
"It was your eyes," she tried to explain.
He laughed a little self-consciously, and was that a red tinge to his ears? His gaze, however, was steady as he spoke again. "Mine? Bella, your eyes… I've never seen such calm eyes in my life. It's like you have all the answers."
That made her laugh and suddenly the awkwardness disappeared. "All the answers? You should have told my teachers back in school that. They would have had a good laugh."
"I aim to please," he said with a grin that made her insides go weak. "Now, shall I show you around our little village, mademoiselle?"
"Oh yes, please," she responded.
"When in France…" he trailed off with a smile. "Say 's'il vous plait' for please. Greet the people you meet with bonjour, and thank them with merci. That and your charming smile will have the entire village at your feet."
She didn't know whether to laugh or take him seriously. She settled for blushing, and softly repeating, "S'il vous plait."
They fell into step, walking through the village as they chatted about nothing in particular. With every step they took, Bella fell deeper under the enchantment of the verdant land, and the man by her side.
"Bella!" Rose was a blur in blue, as she almost flattened Bella with the force of her hug. It had been over three years since they had last met, and Bella could hardly believe her eyes. Gone was the chubby, unsure sixteen year old whose glasses nearly eclipsed her entire face. She still wore glasses, but these were sleek and somehow managed to bring out the beauty of her blue eyes. She had grown a few inches in the last few years, and apparently bribed a couple of good fairies as well—the girl before her was slim, with clear skin, attractive curves and a head of shining golden hair that reached down to her waist in gentle waves. "Rosie! You look spectacular! Oh, I've missed you!" Despite the seven year age gap, the two had always been close. Carmen and Eleazar smiled knowingly at each other while the girls chattered on in the back of the car. From past experience, they knew that it would be a while before those two were done talking.
Finally home, the two girls climbed up to the upper level of the cottage. Apart from the two bedrooms, there was just one large living space with a couple of comfortable couches, a pile of cushions, and a TV and DVD player. Oh, and a few crates of wine that Eleazar had clearly neglected to move to the cellar. Bella couldn't help but think how perfectly the house reflected the warmth of its owners. She wondered what Edward's house said about him. Surely a house couldn't be classified as sexy!
Suppressing her amusement at her own ridiculous thoughts, Bella made herself comfortable on one of the couches, turned to Rose and said, "Spill."
"Umm, ok. See, you know I love uni, right? I mean, I love learning, I love spending time in the lab, but well… I don't really have too many friends, you know? So a few weeks back, I started getting these notes."
"Like love notes or creepy stalker-y notes?" Bella interrupted.
Rose let out a surprised laugh. "Definitely not love notes, but not really creepy either. I mean the first one just said 'hi'. And the others were pretty normal sounding as well… wishing me a good day, or that they admired my intelligence. Stuff like that. But then I started getting these phone calls at the lab. Whoever it was wouldn't say a word, just hang up. Then last week, the person finally said 'you're beautiful' and hung up. Every day since then, she would call, say something like that and hang up!"
"She? You know who it is?" Bella was beyond intrigued by now.
"Yeah, at least I think I do. I guess she muffled her voice when she talked, and there was a lot of annoying heavy breathing, but it sounded like Jane. She's in lab a lot, and a group of us have hung out for lunch a few times. She's a little strange, but maybe that's just around me? I don't know B, what'm I supposed to do?"
"That depends. Do you like her?" Bella wiggled her eyebrows in a suggestive way that she knew would annoy Rose.
"Bella!" Rose whined. "I like guys, ok? I don't know how to deal with this! What if I tell her to back off, and she thinks I'm homophobic? Or what if I'm nice to her and she tells everyone I'm into her? I'll never have a boyfriend then! Not that anyone in uni is remotely interesting, but what if word gets around? I'll never have a chance with him!"
"Woah, girl. Breathe a little. First, you're gorgeous, you know. It's hardly surprising that someone got up the guts to tell you. Second, give the Jane situation a little time. She'll probably figure out that you aren't interested. Third, who is this guy you are so tied up about? And don't even think about pretending there isn't someone."
Rose blushed a deep red. "I met him when I was here a couple of months back."
"Wait, here, as in this tiny village? Was it a backpacker?" Bella cast her mind over all the fifty or so inhabitants of Le Mazet. There hadn't seemed to be anyone remotely close to Rose's age.
"No, I…" Unfortunately, Rose's words were cut short by the sound of her mother calling the girls down for supper. They had no time for another chat all evening, until Carmen finally declared that she was turning in for the night, followed by Eleazar.
"It's still light out," observed Bella. "Mind if we talk a walk?"
"Not at all, darling, just lock up when you get home," said Eleazar, waving them off.
It took the girls all of a minute to grab light jackets and dash out of the door. As they crossed the little gate leading to Edward's farm, Bella could not resist a peek. There he was, fixing a window frame, by the looks of it. She suppressed a sigh.
After such a promising start, she had been disappointed when there was no word from Edward the last two days. The worst of it was that he seemed to be avoiding her. Just this morning, she was leaning out of her bedroom window when she noticed that she had clear sight of his land. Admiring the view, she had seen him working near what she assumed was his shed. Shirtless Edward was a truly great view. As though he could feel her gaze on his skin, Edward had turned and looked straight at her. Before she could lift her hand to wave, he had turned and charged into his house as if he had the hounds of hell at his heels. And now there he was, working on his house and looking annoyingly attractive.
"Oh look, it's Edward!" said Rose, jumping in place and waving as she called out to him.
Before Bella could drag her away, Edward had seen them, and after a moment's hesitation, he made his way towards them.
"Bonsoir, ladies. When did you get home, Rose?" He was polite, but Bella felt something off about his greeting. Then it hit her. He wasn't meeting her eyes.
Fortunately, Rose didn't pick up on the weirdness between the other two. In fact, Bella was surprised to see how easily the usually shy girl chattered away to Edward. A sudden, unwelcome thought struck her. Was it Edward that Rose was interested in? No! It couldn't be! He was much too old for her. Eleazar had told her he was 40, right? Twenty one years was too much of a gap; surely he and Rose had nothing in common, just that she was absolutely perfect and he was clearly a god among men. With a superhuman effort, Bella stopped her internal monologue before she went crazy.
Rose was really talking up a storm. "Dad and I are thinking of taking Bella around. It's her first time in France and all she wants to do is laze around the farm! Can you imagine that? There's a lot to see around here, isn't there? There are the Roman Ruins they excavated near Chassenon. Do you remember, Edward, all of us had gone there in spring?"
"Yes, you should definitely take Bella around," Edward said, finally looking straight at the woman in question. His gaze was as electrifying as it had been the first day, but now there was a reserve, and was that anger? Why would he be angry with her?
Before Bella could begin to hyperventilate, however, Edward's gaze softened. "Not Chassenon, though. You should visit Brantôme. You would like it there."
"Oh yes! What a wonderful idea," Rose chirped, oblivious as ever. "In fact, why don't you come with us? It's a bit farther off, Bella, but the drive is beautiful. Oh, we could take along a picnic basket and make a day of it. It will be so much fun! Please, Edward?"
Once again, his gaze met Bella's. She smiled involuntarily. Something intangible sparked between them.
Edward pulled his gaze away and took a step back. "Alright, I'll talk to Eleazar tomorrow. Maybe we can plan something for day after, that's Thursday, right. You girls better be on your way now, it's getting late. Au revoir."
Effectively dismissed, Rose waved and turned to walk down the lane. Bella turned to do the same, but was stopped by Edward's hand on her wrist.
"Is that alright with you?" he asked softly.
"Holding my hand or taking a trip to Brantôme?" Bella asked with a slight smirk. She gripped his hand tight when he made to let go, and reached up to whisper in his ear, "It is more than alright with me."
She turned and hurried off after Rose, turning once to throw back a wink and a soft goodnight. She knew that his dazed smile would feature in her dreams that night.
"Rosie, you never did tell me who it was," commented Bella, as she sat brushing out Rose's long hair later that night.
Rose went as still as stone, before fidgeting with the edge of the bed spread.
"Come on, you know you can tell me. What are you worried about?" coaxed Bella.
"He... I don't know, Bella. He's so handsome and smart. I'll just make a fool of myself over him, I know it!" She turned and hid her face in Bella's lap.
Somehow her words reminded Bella of the fleeting suspicion she had about Rose and Edward. Surely not! But Bella could not resist probing a little.
"Is he older, this guy? You say you met him here, and there aren't any others your age here are there?"
Rose peeped up at Bella a little sheepishly and said, "Yes, he is a little older than me, but that shouldn't matter, right?"
"Well no, but Edward is twenty one years older than you! I mean ok, that sounds a bit stupid coming from me, he's fourteen years older than me, too, but still… there are things you have to consider, I mean there's compatibility and understanding and… and of course he is gorgeous, but you've got such potential. You're going to be a scientist someday, win the Nobel Prize, maybe, and he's here on a farm, and why is he even here? What does he even do?"
Bella paused to take a breath and noticed Rose staring at her with her mouth open. "Edward? Ewww! That's just… weird, Bella! He's dad's friend, he's like my uncle, and he is Emmett's uncle. That would be beyond creepy!"
"Wha.. who's Emmett?" Bella realized her word vomit had probably revealed more than she wanted, so deflection was the best course of action.
"Emmett's the guy I like. He's twenty five, and in the PhD program at Oxford. Edward's his uncle. I met him when he visited in spring. He was so nice, and I could actually talk to him without worrying about sounding nerdy, because you know, he got me!" Rose's eyes sparkled as she told Bella all about her crush. The blow-by-blow took a while, of course, and it was midnight when they finally decided to call it a day.
"Goodnight, Bella. Thanks for listening to me and being the best sister ever. And I think fourteen years isn't that big a gap, if you really like Edward." With a wink, Rose ran into her bedroom and shut the door just in time to dodge the pillow Bella threw at her.
Bella glared at the closed door for a moment, before her face relaxed into a grin.
Wednesday did not go as planned. Eleazar got a phone call at breakfast that sent the little household into a tizzy. His brother Benjamin had suffered a heart attack. He was stable now, but his family was understandably shaken. Within minutes, it was decided that Eleazar, Carmen and Rose would fly out to London immediately. Despite her protests, Eleazar was adamant that Bella should stay on.
"I don't want to cut short your holiday, darling. Hopefully we'll be back within a week."
"Why can't I stay back with Bella, dad? You know it'll just freak Aunt Angie out to have more people to deal with. I'm nineteen now, it's not like I can't stay home on my own!" protested Rose.
"She's right, Uncle E. I'd feel happier with her around as well," Bella said.
Eleazar looked from one to the other, before finally sighing in defeat. "Oh, alright, it's probably better that you are together. I will ask Edward to keep an eye on the two of you, though," he warned.
Within three hours, it was all arranged. Edward drove them to the airport, stopping by at the farm on his way back. He knocked on the door, but there was no response. A muffled shriek from the backyard had him rushing round the cottage, only to stop short at the sight in front of him. Bella was hopping around a lawn mower on one leg, having apparently hurt her foot while kicking it, while Rose was rolling on the grass, howling with laughter.
Relieved that they were both safe, Edward took a moment to admire the woman before him. No one had ever affected him the way she had. At forty, he was sure he had seen everything there was to see, but Bella Swan in knee-high rubber boots and shorts, jumping so that her breasts jiggled enticingly? That was something else.
Ever since he had met her—was it just five days ago?—thoughts of her consumed him. When Eleazar had told him that Carmen's niece would be visiting, he expected a kid like Rose, someone to whom he would be another uncle. But Bella Swan had tossed all his avuncular intentions out of the window the moment she first looked at him with those deep brown eyes of hers. Of course he wanted her physically, but she made him feel, and that scared him. And now Eleazar had entrusted him with the responsibility of keeping these two safe. Considering the thoughts and fantasies he had about Bella, what she really needed was someone to keep her safe from him. What a mess.
Sighing deeply, he ran his hand through his hair and strode purposefully into the backyard. Rose was still laughing, but Bella had stopped hopping around. She was now trying to unhook the bag attached to the mower.
"Here, let me," murmured Edward, standing behind her and running his hands softly down her arms. He gripped the bag and unhooked it in one easy motion.
She turned in the circle of his arms and her breath caught. He was so close that she could see the long eyelashes that veiled his eyes, feel his breath on her lips, and smell the enticing aroma that was pure eau-de-Edward. Her eyelids lowered, and she unconsciously swayed closer. A strange stillness seemed to have settled over the two. They were trapped in a warm cocoon of sunshine, with the smell of flowers, fresh cut grass, and want heavy in the air.
A cough broke them out of the spell.
"Hi, Edward, you want to help us with the yard today?" questioned Rose, smiling innocently at the bemused man.
He let the bag of grass drop, and stepped away from Bella, effectively breaking their almost-embrace.
"Umm, sure. I actually wanted to ask if you guys are still up for the trip to Brantôme tomorrow."
"Oh yes, we are! Right, Bella?" Rose turned her wide, hopeful eyes to her cousin.
"Right," Bella agreed. Why would she turn down a chance to spend time with Edward? As it was, she couldn't stop thinking of him. May as well spend the day with him!
Brantôme was like something out of a fairy tale. A little island surrounded by the waters of the River Dronne, a series of bridges connected it to the mainland. The water was calm and reflected the beautiful arches of the bridges, the wildflowers, the clouds in the deep blue sky—it was perfect.
Edward casually put an arm around Bella's shoulders, hugging her to his side. Something had changed after their moment in the garden yesterday, and he found it increasingly difficult to keep away from her. She was still too young for him, and he would still have to deal with the fallout should Eleazar find out about his attraction to Bella. But this feeling he had for her—it went beyond desire, it was stronger than any guilt he might harbor, and it made him want to be reckless. So he caved, taking every opportunity to touch her; brushing away a wisp of her hair, touching her arm as he passed by—he couldn't help himself any longer. Thankfully Rose did not remark on it, so maybe he wasn't being as obvious as he thought he was.
In any case, bringing Bella to Brantôme had been both a great idea, and a spectacularly foolish one. She loved the old Abbey, just as he knew she would. The history surrounding them stunned her, especially when she learnt that Abbey was founded by Charlemagne. Rose was a fount of knowledge, and regaled them with dates and names, architectural styles and political histories. She was particularly keen on taking a tour to explore the caves, but nothing would convince Bella to accompany her. Edward volunteered to stay out with her, proving the 'foolish' part of his self-assessment.
It was already testing his control, to keep his touches light and friendly. All he could think of was kissing those plump lips, touching that soft skin, pushing into her moist heat, marking her as his. Without the buffer that Rose provided, how long would he last around Bella?
"Come on, I want to explore the town," she said with a bright smile, breaking into his thoughts. She grabbed his hand, pulling him along across the bridge and onto the island. She was charmed by everything she saw—the narrow streets, the cobbled pathways, the bridges, the quaint eateries—but most of all, the company of the enigmatic man by her side. His voice sent shivers down her spine; his smile made her heart skip. There was no ignoring the palpable attraction that lay between them. He made her laugh, especially when he produced a small digital camera and insisted on taking pictures of her on each of the five medieval bridges. He made her feel alive.
It was almost time for Rose's tour to end, so they started to make their way back to the Abbey. Just shy of the bridge, however, Edward pulled Bella into an adjoining meadow. There were a few people scattered around, but it was quieter than the town had been. He led her to a spot near the river bank and gently backed her up against a tree. For a moment, they just looked at each other, overwhelmed once again by the strange familiarity of being together this way, the rightness of it. She reached up to stroke the hair at the nape of his neck, and his eyes closed at the sensation. When he opened his eyes, they were darker, more intense. Bella's breath hitched, and her lips parted in invitation. With a low growl, Edward gave in.
When his lips touched hers, she felt a spark run through her body, settling low in her belly. His lips parted and took her plump lips in, biting the lower one, before soothing it with his tongue. He sucked on her lip, and she fervently wished he would do the same to other parts of her body as well. His hands left a trail of fire in their wake as they moved slowly from her hips to her waist, up until his thumbs brushed the sides of her aching breasts.
He pulled back, his glance a challenge. His thumbs moved to stroke across the front of her thin t-shirt, making her nipples pebble with want. He swallowed her gasp with a kiss that beseeched, demanded, and promised so much more than she had ever believed possible. Their tongues touched and stroked, and their bodies gravitated closer. When he tried to slow the kiss, she made a guttural sound of protest, nipping at his lip and grinding her hips against the straining erection he could not hope to hide. He pushed her back against the tree trunk, covering her body with his own, making her whimper. Nuzzling her jaw, he dropped a kiss on the soft skin just below her ear.
"Temptress," he whispered against her skin, making her shiver. "I could devour you, Bella. I want to. I can't imagine anything more delicious than to taste you on my tongue. I want your skin on mine, I want your sweat dripping onto my body, and I want my name on your lips when I enter you. I want to make you come so hard, that my name is the only thing you remember." His tongue darted out, sucking and licking along her neck as if to emphasize his words.
"From the moment I laid eyes on you, I knew you were mine. You felt it too, didn't you? I tried to stay away, I tried to be distant, but I couldn't. Now it's up to you, sweetheart. Do you want to know me? Do you want to give in to this feeling?"
His words were soft, gently spoken, but filled her with a yearning that she could barely comprehend. She reached up and pressed her lips to his in a kiss that was strangely chaste after the unbridled passion of the last few minutes.
"Edward, I came to France because my life was empty and I needed time to think. I've always had the feeling that I had to prove myself, so I put in every moment of the last five years making a success of my business. I source local artisans' work to upscale boutiques and art galleries, you know. I worked hard for my success, but I was always worried about what my parents would think, or if what I did was enough. I felt like I had to live up to the expectations of everyone around me, so I dated men I felt would fit in with the image. I tried, and the guys weren't horrible or anything, but it was a chore. Being in a relationship with them was tiring. I finally broke up with my last boyfriend two years ago, put everything I had into work, but I was still not happy. I was tired of caring what anyone thought, Edward. Caring hurts. A week ago, I came across an old diary of mine that finally pushed me to take a break. I had a list in there, things I wanted to do before I turned 30. I wrote it when I was twelve, so a lot of it was kind of silly. But there was one thing that struck me. I had written that I want to 'be happy'. I wasn't happy until the moment I saw you."
Edward had heard her out patiently, holding her close, but at that he couldn't hold back. He dipped his head down and captured her lips in a searing kiss that left them both breathless.
"I'm yours, Edward. I know I couldn't explain it the day we met, but I know you. I trust you. Do you have a wife or a girlfriend? Children? You might, and it doesn't change a thing for me. I'll be your friend, if that's all I can be to you."
Edward smiled down at her earnest expression. This beautiful young woman in his arms completely undid him with her honesty. He drew in a deep breath and finally stepped away from her, trailing his hands down until they clasped hers.
"Bella, there is no one else. But we do need to talk. I want to know every little thing about your life, and I want to tell you about me. I want you to know why I'm here. It'll have to wait, though," he said, looking up towards the Abbey. "Rose is back."
"So, would you rather be with a man who would let you fend for yourself, or one who would be possessive and demand to have a say in every part of your life?" Edward asked.
"I'm an independent woman," Bella said. "That doesn't mean I don't want to be cherished."
Edward grinned and dropped a kiss on her head. Rose laughed at their banter and went back to whatever it was she was decoding on her laptop.
The last week had been one of the happiest of Bella's life. Edward spent every morning driving the girls around to all the places he and Rose decreed Bella must not miss. Every evening, Rose got down to work on her laptop, while Edward and Bella played the longest and most exhaustive game of twenty questions ever. The only blot on Bella's otherwise pristine French landscape was that Edward refused to do more than kiss her.
"Until we know where we are at," he said. He then proceeded to kiss her with such passion and tenderness that she forgot what they were talking about in the first place.
Then on Thursday, exactly a week after their trip to Brantôme, Edward seemed a little distracted. His smiles seemed forced, and even his bantering seemed off.
"Is something bothering you?" Bella asked, when she could no longer bear the brooding look on his face.
"No, cherie." He took a deep breath and shook his head as though to clear it. "I have a bit of a headache this morning. And I sometimes think too much. Learn from my experience, thinking is a waste of time." He attempted a smile, but from the unconvinced look on her face, he knew it fell flat.
"Edward, sometimes it helps to share your thoughts. Sometimes, it's less of a headache if it's not all on your head, you know?" She gently kissed his forehead and walked off to talk to Rose.
Edward looked at the retreating form of the woman he loved. He knew she was right, and he knew exactly the person who could help him with his problems. He flipped open his cell phone and dialed a number he had been avoiding for months—Jasper.
His mood seemed to have improved that evening, when he showed Bella around his house. It was the craziest thing she had ever seen, a combination of a 500 year old stone barn and a twentieth century cottage. Edward had completely stripped the interiors, broken down walls and joined the two buildings. He had used as much of the original structure as possible, and the result was surprisingly pleasant.
"I inherited this land and the buildings from my grandfather Masen. My father wasn't interested in the place, and pretty much ignored it. We lived in America for a while, in New York, then moved to London. But this had always been my happy place, and this is where I came when the walls seemed to be closing in on me." Edward looked out across the fields and then to the woman sitting next to him.
"They would have loved you. But they died. I... I tried, Bella. I had worked so hard with my friend Jasper, and our company was doing so well. It wasn't even affected by the recession, much. But I was always working, and hardly went back home to visit. Then one day, mom had a stroke and died. I never got to say goodbye, I hadn't even been to see her in three months. Two months after she died, they diagnosed dad with cancer. He had a tumor in the brain. I quit working. Jasper insisted I keep my part of the partnership, but for all intents and purposes, it's been his company for the last eighteen months. I took care of dad, got him the best treatment I could. But when the doc said nothing more could be done, I just tried to make dad happy. I took him to places he liked, we did stuff together that he'd always wanted us to, but that I never had the time for. Four months ago, he died in his sleep."
Bella squeezed his hand, but remained silent.
"I felt drained. I didn't have anything to achieve. I didn't have anyone to live for. I've never had a serious girlfriend, much less a wife, Bella. In my twenties, I wasn't even thinking long-term, and in my thirties I was focused on the company. In my head, I was still the same person I'd been ten years ago, and the idea of tying myself down to a person just didn't occur to me. The day my dad died, it hit me that I was all alone. My safety-net was gone. I was nearly forty, but I was completely clueless. I needed time to figure my life out, so I moved here. Thanks to Jasper and my earlier investments, I'm still comfortably off, but I've been thinking. It's time I started living again."
He turned to Bella and gazed into her eyes. "I need to leave, almost immediately. Give me a few days, sweetheart. There are some things I need to figure out. I will be back."
He kissed her eyelids and then her lips, and finally her cheeks.
He could still taste the salt of her tears on his lips when he drove away early next morning.
Friday was sunny, and Rose helped Bella trim the grass in the yard. It seemed to grow as fast as they cut it, but it was good to be out in the fresh air.
Saturday was pleasant, and Rose introduced Bella to Emmett over Skype. Apparently, Edward had done some helpful meddling, and the two were now chatting daily, as 'friends'. Rose did blush at the term, though.
Sunday was one of the most beautiful days that summer. Walking through the fields that surrounded Le Mazet, Bella smiled at Madame Dupree, enjoying her evening tea on her front lawn.
"Bonjour, Madame," she called out politely.
"Bonjour, comment ça va?" called back the old lady with a wave.
"Ça va bien. Au revoir!" she waved back. That was the extent of her French conversation anyhow. She would have to ask Edward to help her learn the language. Her heart stuttered at the thought of the man she knew she loved more than anyone in the world. It had barely been three days, and she missed him with an intensity that she wouldn't have believed possible.
When she returned home, Rose was on the phone. Bella motioned to her to continue talking, while she divested herself of her light jacket and toed off her shoes.
When she walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water, Rose was just hanging up.
"That was mom," she said, with a smile. "Uncle Ben is much better now. Mom and Dad are coming home tomorrow night. She said they'll probably get Uncle Ben and Aunt Angie to come down a couple of weeks later. He needs the rest and God knows, there isn't another place on earth as quiet as Le Mazet."
Bella laughed in response to Rose's cheeky grin. "That is so true. I'm glad Aunt C will be back tomorrow. I've missed them."
"I know who else you've missed," mumbled Rose, with a grin.
"Ohh! Someone is happy today. Enjoyed your Skype date, did you?" jibed Bella, sticking her tongue out at her cousin.
"Yes, I did. And I truly believe you will be happy too, soon," Rose said, coming over to hug Bella. "You don't know how much I missed you all these years, Bella. Just talking to you helps me figure stuff out. So yeah, I want you to be happy, and Edward makes you happy, doesn't he? Can you imagine how cool it'll be if you marry him and I marry Em? I mean I know Dad and Mom will probably freak out for about Edward's age for ten minutes, but they love you so they'll be happy, especially when they see you two together. You guys are sickeningly sweet, you know? And Uncle Charlie will love Edward. Aunt Renee… well, she'll probably try to put a dampener on your happiness, but we'll get mom to deal with her. I mean…"
"Woah, cool your jets! Marrying Em, are you? Way to go from sappy to shocker, Rose," Bella said with a laugh. She didn't even try to disguise the blush that colored her cheeks at the thought of marrying Edward.
She spent an hour wondering how that would work, if they lived on two different continents. She spent another two hours trying to figure out the possibility of relocating her business to France.
Bella had a strange dream that night.
A woman lay sleeping in her bed, but her dreams seemed troubled. Though the moonlight filtering through the partially curtained windows did not reach her sleeping form, it was not difficult to note her evident distress. She tossed and turned, whimpering and calling out in her sleep. She seemed to settle, before restlessly turning to her side. And so the pattern might have continued, if a golden haired girl hadn't let a tall, green-eyed man into the room.
The man stood at her door for a moment, and drew a deep, steadying breath. He then walked quietly but surely to the sleeping form. For the space of a heartbeat, he looked down at the sleeping woman. Then he carefully slipped his arms beneath her, and lifted the girl as carefully as though she were crafted from fragile glass. In stark contrast to her earlier restlessness, the girl quieted down in his arms. Her head turned involuntarily to rest in the crook of his neck, where the scent of night and a man in love soothed her into deeper slumber.
She didn't stir when he dropped a light kiss upon her forehead. She didn't stir when he carried her out of her room, and out of the house. She merely pursed her lips up into an unhappy pout when he finally lay her down upon his own bed, in his own house. That was smoothed away the moment he lay down beside her, tucking her securely under a warm blanket, running his long fingers through her soft hair. The man did not sleep all night, keeping vigil as his love slept.
Bella didn't want to open her eyes. She was so comfortable and warm. And it smelt so good, what was that smell? It was yummy, but comforting, like pancakes, or something absolutely edible. Mmmm, she would drool her way out of her dream at this rate, she thought, snuggling into the pillow. The pillow smelt so good, just like Edward. She loved Edward. He was yummy too. If she didn't open her eyes, maybe she could pretend that she was in his bed, in his arms, safe and warm. She could pretend that he loved her and he had come back for her and they were going to rule Le Mazet. Ok, maybe not that last part, but only because it sounded like a bore to rule fifty people. Her satisfied smirk was replaced with a look of close-eyed confusion when a chuckle broke through her consciousness.
"Open your eyes, cherie." The voice was warm and yummy too, like Edward. Oh, it sounded like him. Why was he calling her a cherry? Did he want to pop her cherry? She wanted to suck him like a cherry popsicle. She unconsciously licked her lips.
She heard a low groan, and then her lips were assaulted by the softest, most delicious lips. Her eyes shot open in shock.
"Edward! How… what are… where are we?" Bella sat up and looked around in confusion. She raised her hand to trace the contours of his face, as though to ensure that he was real. Their eyes met, and it was like the first time they'd met, again.
"I brought you home, to my place. I hope you don't mind," he smiled, dazzling her with his green eyes.
"But how did you bring me here?" she persisted.
"Rose helped, opened the door and so on. I carried you over, simple." He shrugged like it was no big deal. "You must be hungry. Why don't you freshen up and I'll get our breakfast up here." With another quick peck, he was gone.
Bella sat there, stunned for a moment, until his words sunk in. She needed to brush her teeth so she could kiss him properly! Ten minutes later, she sat on the wide ledge of his window, watching as he carried a laden tray into the room and set it down on the bedside table.
"Did you make all that?" She could see croissants, an omelet, pancakes, juice, and was that chocolate milk? Wow, just when she thought she couldn't love him more, he did something like this.
"Ah, no. I mean I bought the croissants, and the pancakes are from a mix, but I did make the omelette au fromage just for you. And Rose said you love chocolate milk, so I bought two cartons."
She couldn't help it. She jumped off the ledge and straight into his waiting arms. Their lips met with explosive passion, sucking, licking, stroking and nipping at each other, in a dance their bodies were eager to replicate. Finally breaking away to breathe, Bella pushed him to sit back on the bed, and straddled his lap.
"Missed me, did you?" she smirked, running her fingers through his soft hair.
"Nah, I didn't really have time to miss you. I had all these girls I had to say goodbye to, you know. They were sad, so I had to comfort them. That's what took me three days," he said with a crooked grin.
"I don't care if you did go off to have one last fling with Olga the busty barkeep, so long as you aren't going back to her or anyone else," Bella said, narrowing her eyes and nipping at his earlobe.
His eyes were sparkling with joy and lust as he laughed out loud. "Sweetheart, I don't think anyone else is interested in having me, so you're probably stuck with me. You silly little thing, I missed you every minute I was away. It was a good trip, though."
"Yeah? Did you figure out your life already?" she asked skeptically, reaching over to grab a plate of food.
"Pretty much. We can work out the details together, but I did meet Jasper. He can't wait to meet you, by the way. I'm going to get back to work, and we're going to look into setting up a branch in Seattle."
He was interrupted by the sight of Bella choking. He immediately banged her firmly on the back, till her coughs subsided. Drinking the chocolate milk he so thoughtfully pressed into her hand, Bella asked, "Seattle? You said Seattle, didn't you? I didn't make it up in my head?"
Edward chuckled. "Yeah, you heard right. I need to be near you. Besides, expansion will be good for the company. Jasper was very excited at the thought."
"Shut the front door! I was planning on moving my business to France so I could be near you! We can't both move, we'll be back on two different continents again!"
He couldn't hold back the happy laughter any longer. "You are ridiculous, you know? I love you for it, though, so don't even think of changing. Finish eating, I've got better things to do with my morning."
Her eyes nearly bugged out of her head. "What things? And you love me? And you tell me that right after you tell me I'm ridi…"
Her words were cut off by a very determined pair of lips. There was silence for a moment, before he pulled away. Grabbing the hem of her t-shirt, he pulled it over her head with a remarkable efficiency of movement. "Oh nice, no bra," he smirked.
Before she had time to remark on that or anything else, he had tossed her onto the bed and was hovering over her, with a dangerously sexy look in his eyes.
"I love you, and I am now going to make love to you. Anything you want to say to that?"
She nodded. "I love you. Now get on with the good stuff, please. My aunt and uncle will be home this evening. We're working on a deadline here."
He sniggered, before pulling off his own t-shirt. He was in remarkably good shape for a man of forty. Plus, the renovations he had been working on over the last four months had added definition to his muscles. Bella reached up to touch his chest. She had seen it once from her window, but being able to touch it, taste it… she was lost in her explorations, pushing him onto his back and randomly nipping, sucking and licking as she made her way over his torso, and down to his navel. Her hand dipped lower, cupping and teasing his hard length through the cotton of his sweatpants.
He sat up, pulling her to him so that their bare torsos pressed together. Her nipples hardened into sharp nubs of sensation and she writhed against him, needing more friction. He soothed her, stroking the silken fall of her rich brown hair over her shoulder and down her back. Their lips met once again, in a soft kiss, then again, deeper, and sweeter than ever before.
He lay her down and kissed her again, moving his fingers with feather-light touches, over the curves of her breasts, down her sides and back again. She stifled a moan as his fingers brushed against the sensitive skin of her belly. His hands grasped her hips firmly, as his thumbs traced feather light circles on her abdomen that had her squirming with want.
"More?" he asked softly.
"More," she pleaded.
The instant his fingers moved off her skin, she almost protested, until she realized that they had merely moved a few inches south, to skim under the waistband of her pajama bottoms.
Her eyes closed in anticipation, as he pulled them off, leaving her covered only by her pink cotton bikini briefs. Her eyes shot open. Her pink cotton panties, that had a small hole or two near the waistband. She moaned, this time in mortification, and tried to turn over and hide under the pillows. Why could she not have worn sexy, non-holey lingerie? Why, God, why?
A deep chuckle brought her back to the situation she had just been trying to hide from. He was laughing at her!
"Sweetheart, I'm not laughing at you," he said, with a wry grin. "But I think you don't realize it's you that makes everything you wear sexy, not the other way round."
"Huh? Did I say all that aloud? Oh great! Now you think I'm a crazy slob with torn underclothes. Just ignore me." And with that, she buried her head back under the pillow, sticking her butt up and waving him away. A sharp sting on her backside had her gasping and facing him again.
"You stick your delectable ass up like that, and expect me to just walk away? Now come here so I can make you feel better," he demanded, pulling her over to straddle him, stroking and kneading her ass, and pulling down her hips against his, while dropping kisses across her torso. By the time he nuzzled her breasts, bringing first one and then the other to peaked perfection with his lips and tongue, she was well on her way to forgetting her own name, let alone what she may or may not have been wearing. His lips were kind of magical like that.
"So," he murmured from the vicinity of her navel, fingering the waistband of her panties. "Are you very attached to these?"
"No," she groaned. "I'm throwing them away. In fact, I might have to clear out half my underwear drawer."
"Hmmm, in that case..." He stuck a finger in the tear and ripped the panties right off her. Before she had registered anything other than the slight sting where the material had pressed against her softness before it gave way, Edward was already soothing her with his soft lips. His tongue joined in, and he sampled her eagerly, a hand on her hips holding her down gently. For a while, her world was nothing but sensation, as his tongue traced the route to her own private nirvana. When she finally came down from her high, he licked his lips, picked up the torn scraps of pink cotton and said, "I'll help you with that clearing out you were talking about. One pair of torn panties at a time."
She grinned at him. "S'il vous plait, sweetheart."
De rien: It's nothing
S'il vous plait: Please
Merci: Thank you
Au revoir: Good bye/ Till we meet again
Bonjour: Good day
Bonsoir: Good evening
Cherie: my dear
Ça va bien: Ça va is used in conversation to ask 'how are you/how is it going', to which the response Ça va bien is used to mean 'it goes well/I'm fine'.
omelette au fromage: Cheese omelet
Thank you for reading! I may add a chapter or two, though I'm not sure when.