Disclaimer: I do not own anything from the Twilight series. No copyright infringement intended.
Beta'd by the lovely LovePotionsBrewer. But for her help and encouragement, this story would not have been written, or made it to the contest.
Summary: Bella's wedding to the highly eligible Lord Masen was a fairy tale, but what happened after the vows had been spoken? ( Period drama, British English used).
After The Wedding
It was a beautiful summer day when I was wed, and a fairy tale of a wedding.
I had never seen the man I was supposed to marry. He had seen me though, at the formal dance my aunt had arranged just as the season had begun. The next day itself, he had conveyed his wishes to Aunt Esme, and she had rushed to our house, thrilled beyond words.
I had been pruning my favourite rose bush in the garden. With the departure of winter the snow and icy winds too had said goodbye, and spring was making its presence known everywhere. The small white roses I loved the most would take some time to make an appearance, but I wanted the bushes free of any dead twigs and leaves, ready to receive the bounty of the tiny buds. After spending nearly an hour in the fresh air, I had just stepped in when I heard my aunt's voice coming from the sitting room.
"Renee! What are you dithering about? It is Lord Masen—one of the most eligible bachelors in the whole county. Just say yes!"
"I have to consult Charles first, Esme," laughed my mother. "And you know how shy and quiet Isabella is—we have to make sure she will be happy in that household. Wealth is not always a guarantee of marital joy, you know that."
Lord Masen had made a proposal for me? Impossible! Why would he do that? He could have chosen any eligible girl from any number of rich and titled families, settled near and far.
Aunt Esme was shaking her head as I peeped from behind the heavy curtains. "You and Charles are so strange, Sister. I know for a fact mothers who have been throwing their marriageable daughters at him, and here you are nitpicking about him being wealthy? Consult your husband by all means, but you know as well as I do that he will probably agree if you are willing for the match!"
Both my mother and my aunt were extremely chatty and spontaneous women, and their thoughts tended to run in one direction one minute and another direction the next. So my aunt's rambling only made me smile.
She went on babbling. "As for Isabella, why would she not be happy? Not only is Lord Masen wealthy but also extremely handsome. And he possesses such a sweet disposition! Nobody has ever heard him yell, not even the servants—and you know how these lords and ladies treat them sometimes. He has never been involved in one of those drunken brawls either that young men nowadays tend to engage in so frequently. What else do you want for our Isabella?"
I knew she had my best interests at heart. My aunt had no children, so she pampered me and my siblings as much as she could. She was married to Doctor Carlisle Cullen, a fine gentleman with twinkling eyes and a dry sense of humour. They had a good life.
By marrying him, she had definitely moved up in the society. Perhaps that was what she envisioned for me.
My parents, Charles and Renee Swan, were not poor by any standards, but neither could they be considered rich. My father was a gentleman farmer, with sufficient land to cultivate and keep dairy animals, and our house was large and comfortable, though not fancy like that of my aunt and uncle. Their residence had been constructed and furnished luxuriously, and Aunt Esme loved to show it off by hosting as many parties during the season as was possible for her. It was at such a party that Lord Masen had seen me, and apparently liked me enough to ask for my hand.
My thoughts were all in a whirl as I stepped away quietly and went to my bedroom. Did I want to get married? Yes, I did. Since I had turned sixteen I had begun dreaming of a husband, a house of my own, and children. I would be the most important person in my husband's life, and we would love each other to the moon and stars. I would manage my household as well as my mother did hers. And our children—oh, they would be the apple of our eyes!
Now at the ripe age of eighteen and a half, I had seen a couple of my friends get married and settle down. I also knew that not everything was hearts and roses between a husband and wife. Sometimes they had disagreements, and sometimes there were arguments resulting in harsh words and tears. When I had asked my mother why we had never seen her and father exchanging angry words, she had smiled and explained that marriage was a constant process of adjustment. Some people grew with time, others did not. Through it all, being unselfish and caring for your spouse was what made a good marriage.
I cannot say I understood everything she said, but my dreams remained intact. However, I had never dreamt of grand mansions or closets full of fine silk gowns or boxes of jewellery. Now that I had overheard the conversation between my mother and my aunt, I was plagued with doubts.
Would I be able to carry myself like a proper lady? Did I have the personality required, the skills of conversation and organisation Lord Masen and his family would expect? Or would I be a complete disappointment to them?
Aunt Esme must have succeeded in convincing my mother, for the very next evening my parents asked me to stay behind after we had finished dinner. Angela, my younger sister, and Mike, my brother, looked curious, but left quietly for their rooms.
"Did you know a proposal has come for you?" asked my father without any preamble. I had always liked this about him; he never beat around the bush.
I felt my cheeks becoming warm. "Uh, I overheard Aunt Esme saying something like that to Mamma yesterday," I admitted, unable to meet his eyes. Then I added hurriedly, "I had just come in from the garden. I didn't stay long, only hearing her praise for Lord Masen."
"Hmm." My father gave me a shrewd glance. "Well, in that case, what is your opinion? Do you want to get married to him?"
Mamma probably rolled her eyes at his direct question. I wasn't looking at her, but I felt it.
"Isabella," she said softly, her smile warm but her eyes serious. "Esme has praised Lord Masen—that is true. He is supposed to be good-looking, well-educated and kind-hearted. He has wealth and position—that is also true. But you know that we will never force you to marry against your wishes. If you have any reason not to marry him, please let us know so we can give him an answer."
I fidgeted in the over-stuffed chair. "Doesn't he want to meet me once—maybe ask some questions to see if I am suitable for his household?"
Mamma shook her head, her forehead wrinkled in thought. "Esme said that Lord Masen observed you at the ball and was pleased by your beauty and deportment. However, we can certainly arrange a meeting, if you wish so. Do you have any questions for him?"
I shrugged helplessly. "I just…I want to make sure he will not be disappointed with me after we are married. I have no idea how to run an estate or rule over a battery of servants, after all."
"I am sure you will do very well," assured my father. "You have a good head on your shoulders, Isabella. Don't worry about the size of the household. It might take you some time, but you will get used to the change. Of course, I will request Lord Masen for a meeting. I don't think he will mind."
And so it was that I found myself face-to-face with my intended, three days after the conversation with my parents. My wish to meet him had been conveyed through Aunt Esme, and an invitation had been extended to us to come and have afternoon tea at the manor house, situated on the Masen Estate, just outside the town.
My parents had felt too bashful to attend, so it was just Aunt Esme and I. She had been there before and was comfortable with the place. Also, the housekeeper was the elder sister of her own housekeeper, so she felt especially welcome there.
After we had been greeted by the butler and shown into the sun room, where a lovely tea had been laid for us, I whispered to my aunt how intimidating I found everything.
"This house is like a palace, Aunt. The furnishings, the chandeliers, the tapestries—everything is so opulent. I am a little scared of Lord Masen now."
She patted my hand fondly. "Don't judge him by the trappings of his wealth, dear. I have met him and I know he is a gentleman with simple tastes who likes to spend his evenings reading or playing cards with close friends. But he is expected to keep a grand house, you know, so he can entertain certain distinguished guests in the manner they are used to. He is an earl, after all. You have nothing to worry about. Now, I understand that he would prefer to meet you without me hovering around, so I will take off to the kitchen. I want to have a nice chat with Mrs Stanley, and have a look at the kitchen garden later on. It seems she has introduced some new herbs to the gardener and is quite proud of them."
She left me before I could voice my objection, and I sat there wringing my hands.
The sun room was a very pretty room, with a sofa set in white wicker, offset with floral print cushions. The afternoon sun spilled inside through French windows that opened out to a well-manicured lawn. A couple of periodicals lay on an elegant side table. I picked one that had articles on gardening and such, and began looking at the pictures inside. Just then, someone stepped through the door and a shadow fell upon the open page. I looked up and almost forgot to breathe.
A man stood there—tall, broad-shouldered, and with the face of an angel. His eyes were a deep green, his hair a tousled mix of red and brown, with a few golden strands highlighted by the sun behind him. His clothes were cut in the latest fashion and were perfectly ironed. And yet…he looked nervous. It reassured me a bit. Otherwise his perfection would have literally brought me down to my knees.
He gave me a hesitant smile and bowed slightly. I suddenly recalled my manners and scrambled to my feet, answering his bow with that of my own.
"Miss Swan, it is an honour to meet you." His voice was like music to my ears, deep and slightly husky. "Anthony Masen at your service. Please have a seat."
"Lord Masen." I couldn't think of anything else to say, still lost in his caress-like tone. I did sit down though, and he followed me. There was a moment of silence while we looked at each other and then averted our eyes as quickly.
"How do you like your tea?" was his surprising question as he lifted the lid of the teapot and confirmed that the tea was ready to be poured. I was so taken aback that I just stared at him. He cleared his throat, waiting for my answer.
"Oh, please allow me to pour the tea. You cannot—you are a lord—it's not—" I spluttered finally.
He waved his hand. "You are a guest, Miss Swan. And I do know how to make tea." His face broke into a full smile, dazzling me. "How will you trust me with your hand if you cannot trust me with a cup of tea?"
His teasing question made me laugh. It also dispelled the awkwardness of first meeting to a certain extent. Surely a lord who could make his own tea and joke about it could not be difficult to live with?
I knew my aunt would not be absent for long, so I asked him the most important question first.
"Why do you want to have a girl from an untitled family as your wife? Surely someone used to this lifestyle will be a better choice?"
He took a sip from the gold-rimmed white cup in his hand and seemed to deliberate over his reply. "Miss Swan, as your aunt has probably informed you, I am a man of simple tastes. I want a wife who would be content with the kind of life I prefer. A few friends to converse with, my basic needs met with, and working for the welfare of my people—these things are enough to make me happy. Now, such girls may exist in titled families too, but I have not met one yet. Most of them are raised to be social butterflies, interested only in new gowns, new jewels and more balls than I care for. That is not to say," he added hurriedly, misinterpreting my look of incredulity, "that we will not have any social life. Of course there will be visiting and dancing and such—just not all the time. Is that all right with you?"
I relaxed at his words. Of course it was fine by me. Even though I liked spending time with friends and dancing, I liked my books and gardening more. I assured him with utmost sincerity that I had always dreamt of such a life—quiet, useful, and with my loved ones around me. That made him relax visibly, his shoulders losing the tension they had held until then.
We drank our tea and exchanged more information about our interests and our families. He was an only child, but had a cousin he was close to. His father, Lord James Masen, lived a fair distance away. His mother had passed away when he was only three, and his father had never remarried. The fact seemed to make him sad. I changed the topic, hating the pain in his eyes.
He loved horses and had many of them in his stable. When I stammered that I had never learnt riding, he promised he would teach me.
Too soon Esme was knocking at the door, and Anthony seemed to think it would be awkward to meet her right then. He requested me to convey his regards to her and left quickly through the same glass door that he had entered from, after bestowing a brief kiss on the back of my hand. It made me smile like a lovesick fool.
I happily gave my consent to my aunt, who in turn conveyed it to my parents. The wedding was fixed to take place just after a month, which seemed to my mother too short a time to make all the proper arrangements. But a message from Anthony stated that they were not to worry and everything would be organised at the estate. Esme—and Elizabeth Masen, his aunt—would be involved, and they would also consult my mother wherever required. Mamma was a little disappointed I think, but my father asked her to be more practical. There was no way we could have arranged a wedding fit enough for a lord, not to mention his extended family, friends and acquaintances. He might have simple tastes, but they would expect something grand.
Still, there were numerous things to be done, and time passed in a flurry of dress fittings and choosing wedding favours for our guests, among other things. Esme kept us informed on the preparations going on at the estate, "ooh"-ing and "aah"-ing over the decorations for the reception and the menu for the wedding dinner. It all sounded very impressive and rather overwhelming.
Soon my wedding day was upon us, and we were gathered in the little church where every wedding in the town took place. It was dimly lit by the light filtering in through the small, stained-glass windows, but I knew Anthony was waiting for me at the end of the aisle. I focussed on my shoes while walking towards him so as to not stumble, though my father had assured me that he wouldn't let me fall. Once he placed my hand in Anthony's, I relaxed and glanced at him through my veil, but his face was turned to the minister. Well, that was the right thing to do, wasn't it? I too turned to face the minister and waited for him to say the words I had been dreaming of since I had met Anthony.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to celebrate the union of…"
"Please repeat after me…"
As Anthony and I said our vows, I felt as if my heart would burst with happiness.
"You may now kiss the bride."
Finally the moment had come. Since the day he had kissed my hand, I had been thinking about his full lips on my own. But right then I had a fit of shyness and closed my eyes.
Anthony lifted my veil and kissed my…cheek. I opened my eyes, confused, and looked into his—and my confusion turned to shock. These were not the jade-green eyes I remembered from that day, a month ago. These were grey-blue, and although the face they were set in had some resemblance to the other, it was not the same face. Had it been a practical joke—sending someone else to meet me? But why would he do that?
I felt dizzy as we turned towards the guests and were introduced as Lord Anthony Masen and Lady Isabella Masen. After having accepted the congratulations from our families, I was suddenly roused by my husband's voice.
"Isabella, I would like you meet my best man—also my cousin—Edward Masen. Edward, this is my wife—Lady Isabella Masen."
Long lashes swept his cheeks as his lips burnt the skin of my hand. He lifted his head to reveal familiar green eyes, and they were full of pain.
"Lady Isabella, it is an honour to meet you."
A.N.: I am already working on this story, but I want to have at least half of it written before I start posting. Let's see what I can do in a couple of weeks!