Isabella Marie Swan was an orphan. Or, well, is an orphan. Had she not been taken in by the kind Ladies Masen, who knows what would have become of her?
Not that her current position was all that dazzling, either, but it was certainly liveable, and if she compared her life to that of others her age, she supposed she could count herself lucky. Neither one of the Ladies Masen had offered to sponsor her for a debut in the London season, and she was nearing an age at which she would soon be too old to be a debutante.
Instead, she had all the time and freedom to focus on her studies and hobbies. Other obligations were rare. She was sure she could outwrite, or outspeak, anyone in her direct surroundings, although she rarely ever did so.
No, Isabella Swan was well on her way to becoming a spinster, and she did not mind one bit. A future as a governess suited her much better than the prospect of being kept like an animal, bargained about like a prized horse, only allowed to serve a husband and bear his children.
And so she bent herself over her embroidery with a secretive smile as she heard the ladies in the parlour gossip about the upcoming season. She would bring all her knowledge to Edward - the Masen scion who she knew did not want to marry. He was of a… different disposition. But that was an entirely different matter.
"And what will become of beautiful Isabella, who has yet to find a sponsor?"
Isabella looked up, finding Miss Hale being the one who had spoken. Who else? Everyone knows I'm done for, she thought to herself, inwardly amused at Hale's attempt to include her.
"Oh please, I'm quite fine as I am," she answered with a smile. "Please do not concern yourself with thoughts of finding me a sponsor, Miss Hale, although I appreciate your efforts."
Miss Hale sat herself down next to Isabella, draping her skirts elegantly as she did so. "This will be the last season you may call me Miss, Isabella," she said, her tone determined yet feminine and sweet. "This will be the season I shall become a Lady."
"I am certain you shall," Isabella said with no malice in her voice. "It is my personal belief that the only reason you have yet to do so, is because there were simply no proper suitors." She laid her embroidery in her lap, adding to her statement, "you have certainly been entertained by many a suitor in recent seasons, and outside."
"Isabella, you are too kind," Miss Hale smiled, before asking, "do you think that Lord Masen will finally start his chase this season?"
Now more girls in the parlour focussed their attention on Isabella. Ah, they're still holding out for Edward. "I cannot say to know such an answer," she replied lightly, picking up her embroidery again. "If you are interested, I might encourage you to ask him so yourself."
The parlour door opened, revealing a dishevelled-looking Edward. Next to Isabella, Hale sat up, straightening her skirts and sending a coquettish smile his way.
"Isabella, it is time we see ourselves home."
"Certainly, Lord Masen," Isabella replied, gathering her skirts and her embroidery, joining him at the door. He gallantly took her embroidery from her and carefully placed it in his bag before offering her his arm. She took it, and as the door shut behind them, the sighs of many young girls in love followed them.
Edward managed to keep his composure until they were well and safe between the walls of the Masen carriage, before raking a hand through his hair, further dishevelling it. "Well, that was fun. How are the girls holding out?"
Isabella laughed. "Some of them still seem to carry the hope of you joining the season with thoughts of finding yourself a wife, Rosalie Hale seemingly being the most persistent one."
Edward sighed dramatically. "For the life of me, I wish she would stop chasing me. We would be a poor match."
"If you withhold yourself from joining this season, I am sure she will stop - it seems she is determined to once and for all find herself a husband in the upcoming season."
"I wish she'd had sisters," Edward complained, "the mere existence of them would have forced her into marriage seasons ago."
"Such is the privilege of being the only daughter in a wealthy family," Isabella said with a chuckle.
Edward laughed. "Are you trying to tell me something here?"
She snorted. "I know that all chances of an honest marriage for you have passed now."
He waggled his eyebrows up and down. "Perhaps I just need some incentive."
"Oh you do not need more incentive!" she exclaimed, pretending to be scandalised. "You're just attempting to sit out all these determined girls so you can marry one that will allow you to walk all over her."
"Mama has not complained yet about my disregard for finding a wife."
"That is a weak excuse, and you know it," Isabella laughed. "Will you ever marry?"
"It's never too late for you to take up my offer -"
"Stop asking me to marry you and fetch yourself a wife another way!" She could not hold her laughter, nor her tongue. "You and I would be the absolute worst match in history! Not to mention the scandal if you were to marry a woman that has been available in your own household for years now. They'll think us desperate without even participating in the season once."
He chuckled. "Alright, alright, I won't ask again. Just know the offer is there."
"I shall be a spinster, Edward, and then a governess," she said, though her voice held force nor determination in it.
"Well, if you change your mind…"
"I shall know where to find you."
During breakfast the next morning, Edward's mother, Lady Masen, and his aunt, the other Lady Masen, tried to convince him of the need to participate in the upcoming season as they had done for the past years as well.
This time, their arguments rang more desperate than usual, and Isabella left her own thoughts, tuning into their conversation.
"You must understand we need to continue our line, Edward," Elizabeth, his mother, pleaded.
"I am more than young enough," he responded, letting her pleas slide off him easily. "I can easily participate next year and still find a wife plenty young and sweet enough."
"Do you not care about how this looks for our surroundings?" Elizabeth continued, "you will not remain an eligible bachelor forever! Soon, you will just be a bachelor, and only tarnished girls will be your options."
"I do not care for marriage, mother," he repeated, his tone low, his demeanor obstinate.
If she pushes him any further, he might well leave the table, Isabella thought.
"Perhaps for amusement, then?" Esme, Edward's aunt offered in a small voice, almost as if she was afraid to get herself in the conversation.
Edward laughed, but he sounded bitter. "What do those children have to offer me? Forgive my brazenness, but I shall not engage in activities with such childish schoolgirls." He pushed his plate away from him and left the table, leaving the room enveloped in a heavy silence.
It took more than a few moments for either of the three ladies to start up conversation again, and even then, Edward's moodiness clouded over them.
With Edward being the Lord of their house, his mood coloured everyone's daily activities, and it was hard to break him out of his mood when it was such an exceptionally bad one. Isabella did not strive to try, for she would rather not be on the receiving end of his wrath.
As she sat embroidering with Esme, she waited for the other women to broach the topic, and soon enough, after exchanging some pleasantries, she enquired, "do you perhaps know why his Lordship is so…"
"Moody? Dramatic? Temperamental?" Isabella offered.
Isabella shrugged. "He is simply not interested in the institution of marriage."
"Has he always been like this?" Esme's tone was wavering, and Isabella felt bad for her. It was the first time Esme was on the receiving end of Edward's moods, and Isabella remembered well when it had been her first time.
"He grew more distant and bitter over the years," she then provided hesitantly, choosing her words for neutrality and keeping her tone friendly; she did not want to scare away Esme when she had been so kind to Isabella.
"He has never participated in a season, and seems honestly disinterested at the idea of finding himself a wife. It seems he finds comfort in being alone, and without a father to guide him…" Isabella had used these words many times before, to reassure the many women in Edward's life that had professed worry about Edward's difficult and unruly behaviour.
"Bless his soul," Esme murmured, "poor Elizabeth, left without a husband and such a temperamental son…"
"This mood of his will break," Isabella reassured Esme, "I promise."
Esme did not seem reassured.
"Edward!" A large, bear-like man stepped towards Edward and Isabella, and not recognising him quite that instant, Isabella stepped away to safeguard herself from him.
"Cousin Emmett?" Edward asked in surprise as he clapped the other man on his back. "What are you doing in London?"
"That mother of yours wrote mine, what do I hear about you not wanting to marry?" Emmett's tone was warm and Isabella stepped closer again, allowing Edward to offer her his arm.
"And who is this charming young lady you have attached to your arm?" Emmett asked in that same warm, friendly tone.
Isabella curtsied the lightest she had ever done, not letting go of Edward's arm. Before she could introduce herself, Edward spoke. "This is Isabella Swan. You may remember seeing her at a garden party or two a few years ago."
Emmett let his gaze slide over her and Isabella felt her cheeks flush against her will. "And where did you find such a pretty lady to entertain yourself with?"
"Her parents died, my mother took her in. Surely you remember that much?"
"My apologies," Emmett hurried to say, "please excuse my rudeness."
"All is forgiven," Isabella murmured, trying to sound kind and pleased with the attention, but if Edward's stiff arm in hers was anything to go by, she had failed.
As usual, Edward smoothed things over for her, picking up light conversation with his cousin as they made their way back to the Masen town house. Isabella paid them little heed, looking around and trying to make an estimate of how many women would be in this year's season, and amused herself with idle thoughts about marriage matches. Only when they entered the house again, did she tune back into the men speaking, hearing the last tidbit.
"Do tell me why, though, cousin, you would visit us when the onset of the season is nigh?" Edward enquired.
Emmett laughed. "Why, I'm here to find a wife of course."