And we're back! This chapter is all Edward, our favorite masked bandit! We are really aiming to update more quickly so hopefully you guys like the format! I think we are going to stick with it for a while and see how it goes! Thank you all for your reviews! We are trying to keep up with them, but have fallen a little behind. We do read them and just think ya'll are awesome and hilarious. Everyone seemed to love the James/Vicky sexin' from last chapter. Henry, I mean James is such a dirty boy! Vicky has some competition if she can't hang on to James, I must say!

Check out the thread on Twilighted for the story, we posted pictures of James and Victoria and try to let people know when we will update! I haven't been so good about posting teasers there, but if I know people are looking for them, we can definitely put them up there!

http://www[dot]twilighted[dot]net/forum/viewtopic[dot]php?f=44&t=797&st=0&sk=t&sd=a&hilit=highwayman

This hasn't been beta'ed but we really tried to edit it and make sure we didn't miss anything.


EPOV

Watching my father descend the stairs this morning was painful, his slow, unsteady gait just making it more plain to me his weakened state. I met him at the last step, extending my hand to him to help him step down. He grasped it firmly, nodding in thanks before heading towards the library. He was dressed and I wondered silently where he planned to go as he hadn't left the house for several days.

"Did you have a visit planned this morning, Father? Shall I accompany you?"

He sat down in his chair near the fireplace, sighing in relief as he settled. "I am going into town. Today is the wedding, and I plan on being there."

I heard a sharp laugh behind me, making me aware that Victoria had joined us.

"In your health, dear Husband, you shouldn't be out of bed much less attending the wedding of a former servant. No need to waste your strength on someone of such little consequence."

I watched as my father's face, so pale after his effort was now flushed hotly. He didn't even look at Victoria as he responded.

"My health is my business, and I will attend. She cared for my children for many years and I will honor her dedication to my family by attending."

"Her care for your children? Is that your only concern?" Her words dripped of acid, her own face bitter and angry.

"I would watch my tone if I were you, Victoria. I am still the master of this house and do not need your permission in planning how I spend my time."

Their exchange was laced with anger and the deep resentment that only time can bring. I wondered again what exactly my father and Esme's relationship had been for Victoria to bear her such ill will. It wouldn't take much to turn Victoria against her, but this was more than just a dislike. Could it be jealousy?

She huffed before stepping back towards the door. "When you choose to spend your time in the company of such a woman, of a whore, you reflect poorly on all of us, my dear."

The words had barely left her mouth when my father roared back, "Leave us now! I will not have you speak of her so!" His fists were clenched and if he hadn't been so weak I would have worried that he would have attacked her.

"I was just leaving. Pardon me if I have offended you." The smirk on her face showed that she was far from repentant over her words.

I shook my head, dazed at what was happening and looked down at my father. He slumped back in his chair, all the fight gone out of him. Their argument had tired him and I sat down across from him unsure of how to proceed.

"Father, if you would like, I can attend the wedding as a show of good will from our family. I have no plans today and it would not be a problem for me to go in your stead."

He was quiet, his eyes closed. I thought he might have fallen asleep but he finally stirred.

"How was your outing with Miss Hale, Edward? She seems quite a nice young woman."

I sighed. Back to this then.

"The fair was enjoyable enough. Miss Hale was pleasant." I couldn't bear to think of that day without my mind wandering to the night and the time I spent with Bella in the dark. Miss Hale was but a moment in the long hours of that day, and she was among the least memorable moments at that.

"Pleasant, son? That's all you can say of her?" He looked at me closely. "She would be a good match for you, I feel. Beautiful, accomplished, and she will come with a remarkable dowry I am sure."

I looked at the floor, unwilling to comment, knowing that I could never marry her. She was not a good match for me, no matter what my father insisted, no matter what the size of her dowry.

"You have no comment? No objections? I have heard she is good rider and no one can question her beauty. She is unmatched in our county, she will make some man a very good, comely wife."

"That she may be, but I am not attracted to her as so many men are. Her beauty is not such a draw to me that I can not resist."

"Don't resist then Edward. You are a man now. You need to start thinking about our family's position here. There would be much to gain financially for us from this match."

I opened my mouth to argue but he stopped me, his hand grasping mine tightly.

"I will not be here forever. This malady doesn't seem to be regressing as the doctor said it would and I can't watch you fritter your life away. When I was your age, I was married with one son already. I need to see you settled, married, and intent on providing more heirs."

His words were banging around my head and I tried to shake them out.

"I respect your opinion father and I understand what you are saying but surely you will recover. This sickness will pass and I know that I will have time to find someone that suits me better than Miss Hale. I've just moved back and I think its too soon to rush into a marriage agreement with the first woman we think may help better our situation."

"You are wrong Edward. Time is the one thing you can't waste. I am learning that now, at my age. One can't always expect the world to wait for you to make a decision, to make a move. You have to be more focused. Don't let your idea of what should be or could be cloud what must be."

He stood, his legs shaking slightly with the effort. "I think I will go back to my room. This morning's discussion has me more tired than I thought possible." He put a hand on my head as he passed. "Remember what I said though, son. Time is not a commodity one should waste. Life is not to be wasted."

I sat, letting his words sink in, my mind spinning with all that had just occurred. Something had happened between my father and Esme, I was sure of it. The guilt and sadness in his voice was not over my indecision regarding Miss Hale and marriage in general. I decided that I would go to the wedding whether my father wished it or not. Esme had been as close to me as my own mother might have been. She had told me about my mother, recounting stories of her beauty and her love for both Anthony and I. My father had never spoken of her directly to me, only in vague references and without Esme there to keep her memory alive I would not know anything about the woman that had given birth to me.

---

I learned from one of the cooks that Esme's wedding was planned for the afternoon. The inn was closed for the gathering after the ceremony that would be held in the church. Discovering upon arrival that I was late to the ceremony, I slid quietly into an empty pew in the back of the church. Esme stood at the front with Charlie, a simple gown and just a small bouquet of flowers in her hands. I should have thought to offer some gift for them, perhaps even provided the means for a larger gathering.

Looking at Esme, I saw a beautiful woman. If she wasn't glowing with love I shouldn't be surprised, as the match was most likely one of convenience. But to see the groom was to see a man entranced with his bride. Charlie was fairly beaming at her, his face split in a wide smile. It made me almost uncomfortable to see someone so obvious in his affection for Esme. I felt the ugly vines of jealousy start to tighten around my heart, seeing her start a new life. And then to look to the side and see Bella, beautiful and sweet, smiling at them. Her family was gaining what I was losing. She gained a mother, someone to care for her while I had lost the closest thing I had to one. Watching them all at the beginning of a new life together, a new family, made me feel as if my insides had gone to rot with an ache I couldn't face.

I couldn't leave, despite my every instinct to flee, without drawing attention to myself. So I sat, and saw them bind themselves to each other before god and man, pledging to care for one another for all time. And all I could think of was how Esme would never be there for me, how my father languished in pain over some invisible agony, how my step-mother tarnished every happy memory I had of my home and family simply by existing.

As soon as the ceremony was over I escaped, making my way to where my horse waited. I had almost made it when I heard her call out behind me.

"Edward!"

Esme caught up to me, just as I had reached my mount and put her hand on my arm.

"Don't leave yet, Edward. Please stay and talk with me. You could stay for the party, perhaps?" She smiled up at me encouragingly.

Bella walked past on the arm of Jacob, the undeserving lout, laughing at something he had said.

I gritted my teeth, unable to scream out in agony as I wanted so desperately to do. When I looked back at Esme, she was frowning at me, her brow furrowing and her eyes sad.

"My dear boy. Are you well?" Her voice was soft and caring, and I yearned for the days when she could pull me up into her lap, and soothe my every worry with a song or a silly riddle or simply by caring for me.

"I am well. Congratulations." I searched for the words to tell her how happy I was for her, that she was secure in a place where my family's drama could not hurt her, where Victoria's wrath could do her no harm. But they had vanished. I was unable to tell her that I wished her well in her new life because my selfish soul wanted things to stay as they were always. Just as my father had told me they never could.

"Come, sit. We will have a glass of wine to toast the day." She wrapped her arm under mine and led me towards the inn. They had set up some tables outside to take advantage of the warm weather and we sat at one that was to the side, away, from the crowd.

"Now, how have you been?" She cleared her throat quietly, "Your father? Is he well?"

Her eyes were focused on a flower she was worrying between her fingers, and when I spoke she glanced up quickly, a look of anguish on her face disappearing as soon as I met her eyes.

"He is not well, Esme. The only thing he speaks of now is my marrying, providing heirs as he says he won't be here much longer."

Her eyes widened and her breath caught on a sob. "Surely he is being dramatic. He has recovered from far worse than this before." That look was back, the sadness obvious on her pale face.

"Far worse? Has he had an illness of this sort before? Esme, tell me, what is going on with my father? Just this morning he and Victoria argued and I have never seen him so worked up only to fall directly back into a weakened state."

She wrapped her strong hands around mine, the warmth steadying me, before she spoke. "Edward, your father is a stubborn man, and he believes that he can rule the world to his wishes. He will recover, have no fear." Her smile was unconvincing.

"But he doesn't feel that way anymore, Esme. He told me himself this morning that I can't let time slip past me, I can't expect the world to stay as I think it should. I don't understand what is happening to him, to my life." I shook my head, feeling lost.

Her eyes closed briefly, before she steeled herself. "He is a wise man, and he wants what is best for your family. You would be wise to listen to him. He loves you very much as did your mother." She stood, "Now I had better be getting back to my guests. I am so glad you could come, Edward. You are very dear to me, and I want you to know that you can come to me whenever you need me. You are an adult now and will have many responsibilities on your shoulders. But even the most responsible man needs to know he has someone there behind him. You would be wise to find a wife that can share that burden with you, that can be your support. Your mother was that for your father. And if his family hadn't pushed him towards Victoria he might have found someone that could have helped him, rather than become another burden." She shook her head. "I have said too much, you must excuse me. I'm simply a woman having a very emotional day."

"And I should most certainly not be bothering you with my worries on this day. Please forgive me, Esme." I nodded to Charlie, as he walked up behind her. "Many congratulations, Mr. Swan, on gaining such a lovely wife."

He wrapped an arm around Esme's waist, pulling her against him and she leaned on his shoulder, smiling softly. "I am a very lucky man, Sir. Very lucky indeed. With these two beautiful women in my home I should feel quite blessed! And I do!"

Bella came up and stood next to Esme, blushing furiously when she saw to whom they spoke. My angry comments the day of the fair had left their mark on her opinion of me and I groaned internally at her obvious fear of me.

Esme reached out to her though and held her hand, guiding her to stand next to her.

Charlie spoke again, "This is my daughter, Isabella, Mr. Cullen. Isabella, this is Lord Cullen's son."

She blushed again, unable to look at me, her eyes glued to the ground at her feet. "It's nice to meet you, Sir."

"Likewise, Miss Swan." The urge to reach out to her was indescribable but I pushed it down quickly.

Esme watched me overtly, looking from Bella to me and back again. I thought she would say something but Bella excused herself quietly and went over to stand with Jacob and an older man. I had to look away for fear of my face displaying my distaste of the scene.

"I must be on my way, Esme. Best wishes to you both." Charlie thanked me for attending, Esme smiling at me from the protective circle of his arm. I left as quickly as I could, eager to be away from their company and I realized then how alone I truly was now.

--

I rode out that night, intent on success. The freedom I felt as I rode, alone now in the dark, was overwhelming. The anger and pain from earlier all but forgotten in the fresh night air. I was someone new, someone unlabeled and unburdened in the night with my only care to find a target. Aware now of the danger incipient from the soldiers I took care with my path, and stayed alert to other riders. Stopping to rest my horse for a moment, I leaned against a tree and thought about her. My Bella. As beautiful as she was today in the sunlight dressed in what must be her best gown, she was more beautiful when she was close to me, talking with me, touching me. I thought back to the night after the fair, amazed at the trust she had in me, a stranger, someone that could do so much harm to her. There was no angling on her part to make herself more appealing, no facetious small talk to make her appear more charming. Just her. Her passions, her care, her love.

Love? Why did I think she would feel that for me? I needed to remember who we both were and not get caught up in my own delusion.

The click of a pistol being cocked made me swerve my head and as I turned I was looking down the barrel at the highwayman that had stopped me weeks earlier.

"Well, I thought there must be another one of us. But I never guessed it might be you."

I choked in fear, unable to speak.

"Nothing in defense of yourself, Sir?" His voice was cold, but his face was full of anger. "I wonder what would drive a man such as you to such a despicable trade?"

"A man such as me?" I finally sputtered out. "You know nothing about me." My brave words were empty of true courage and the ridiculous position I was in struck me. There was no way to explain this away.

"Yes, a man such as you. I know you. I know your father. I know more about your family than you might guess." He sneered at me, "Care to ask how?"

"As if you would answer me honestly. I wouldn't trust anything out of your mouth, to be sure."

He laughed and pulled the gun away from my head. "Oh, the courage this young one shows. It's obvious you aren't aware of the delicate position you are in. Such arrogance!" He hooted in laughter again.

"And the irony of you speaking of trust, being the spawn of Lord Cullen, the epitome of trust worthiness and honor." He spit the words out. I stood very still, not wanting to startle him.

'I'm not sure I know what you speak of but I am sure if there is something my father owed you, he would have repaid it."

He leapt towards me, "You're very sure are you? Well, I wouldn't be as sure of my father if I were you. Or me."

Men like your father think they can roger any maid or serving girl with no responsibility, with no one to answer to. Then throw them out with nary a penny. I watched my mother beg a man in the streets for help when we couldn't eat and all he could do was throw a few coins. And when I chased after him screaming, my mother grabbed me, stopped me. What was I to that man? Nothing. Not even a mistake. Simply nothing."

I watched him as he stopped yelling, as he stood shaken and said, "That is why I ride, to mark my revenge against every man and woman that thinks they can ignore the pain and suffering of those beneath them as if they don't exist. And if I get richer in the mean time, well so much the better."

"So, watch yourself, young man. Know that I know your secret. And know that despite what your peers think, your life is not lived inside a bubble. Your actions can wreak such a havoc as can not be be imagined. Your life is not without responsibility. Remember that."

He was gone before I could ask what he meant, ask if he spoke of my father or if it was a misdirected anger he held on to. He was surely unbalanced enough to take out his anger on the wrong person. And I would never know the truth, I was sure.

--

My bed had never looked so inviting, empty as it was of all companionship. After today though I couldn't bear to hear from another person how much was riding on my life. I had had enough of lectures and advice, how ever well meaning. All I wanted to do was sleep for days on end and escape all this turmoil.

My mind couldn't help but turn to my Bella though, in these quiet moments. Her smile, her sweetness, her trust. How I wished I was another man, or that she another woman and that we would not have these boundaries, these obstacles between us. The few times I had spent with her had left me aching, not only for her body but for her whole being. She made me feel a peace I had never known before, and I yearned for that tonight, needed it to calm my anguished soul.

I turned over, willing the dreams of her to come and quickly. If I couldn't be with her tonight, let the memory of her work its spell over me. There was always the next time we would meet.

--

We were supposed to meet tonight and I waited for her, hidden in the shadows. The relief at seeing her form emerge from the darkness was immense and I quashed the urge to run to her, letting her instead come to me.

She smiled shyly at me, setting my heart on a frantic pace.

"Hello."

"Hello, Bella." My heart was pounding, my nerves on fire just being next to her.

I helped her up into the saddle in front of me, inhaling deeply as her hair brushed across my face. We headed out to the abbey, stopping when we reached a moonlit spot.

After dismounting we sat together on the wall and I handed over the small leather bag of coins I had accumulated for her. It wasn't much but she was impressed none the less. And she thanked me effusively for it, which seemed too much. It amounted to half of what Victoria would spend on a new gown and she was ecstatic over it.

She grabbed my hand, squeezing it, thanking me again and said a little shyly, "I don't even know your name to thank you properly."

I blanched, not knowing what to say. I couldn't possibly tell her my name, if she mentioned this to anyone, I would be disgraced.

"Masen. Please call me Masen." It was my mother's maiden name. She wasn't from the area, and had no family to speak of so using her name was the safest option I could think of.

"Well, thank you very much Mr. Masen. You have been very kind, no matter what you said before and I am very grateful."

"It is a small gesture, I wish I could offer more, Bella."

"Oh, but it's not small! This will help provide new clothes, or food for weeks for the children. You don't know how this will help." Her face was glowing with happiness at the mention of her orphans and I wished to hear her speak of them.

"Then tell me how it will help. Tell me what will be done."

Anything to prolong this encounter. My ardor for her was dampened, but not because I didn't want her. It was hearing her talk that intrigued me now. To hear her speak of something she was so passionate about was immensely satisfying. She told me of the youngest boy, and his chronic illness. How she cared for him through all of his bouts and yet he always showed her a happy face despite his pain. I understood the boys perspective. I would never want her to see me in a foul mood, angry or despondent.

Unable to be so close to her without touching, I pulled her into my lap, settling her skirts in a semi-circle around us. She squeaked, startled at my movement before leaning against me and continuing on with her story. Every child was special to her, that I could see plainly, and it made me strangely envious. I wanted her to worry about my well being every day. Wanted her to think of my happiness and wonder how she could cause it.

I was jealous of a group of parent-less children simply because they had her in their lives. They could go to her, touch her, talk her when they wanted.

My arms tightened around her instinctively, wanting to be closer, to have more of her body connected with mine. I couldn't tell her what I was thinking; I just wanted to enjoy this time we had together.

She continued to tell me about the children and then spoke of the Vicar and the work she did with him. When she finished, I asked about her father and her mother. When she told me that her mother had died in childbirth, I was surprised. Not that it was an uncommon occurrence, many women died while giving birth. But that we shared that bond, both losing our mothers before we even knew them, made me feel even more deeply this strange bond we had created.

When she tired of talking she looked up at me shyly.

"And you? What is the tale of your life?"

I shook my head, wanting to break the connection of our eyes, but unable to look away.

"There is no story to tell. None that would interest you, I am sure." I couldn't tell her, any details I revealed could cause damage later or even worse place her in danger.

"I'm sure that is not at all true." She smiled up at me winningly and my stomach clenched at the beauty that was inches from my face.

I leaned down and kissed her softly, her lips warm and plush against mine. Her arms crept around my neck, and I turned her upper body to face me, her bottom still in my lap. Our mouths moved together, tongues shyly exploring. It was a sweet, unhurriedly connection the belied our comfort with one another. We broke apart after a moment, both breathing heavy, our arms still wrapped tightly around each other. I didn't want to let her go, but I knew that if we continued I would be unable to stop things from progressing farther than they should. We had already done more than was proper for her and I didn't want to endanger her future. And yet I still burned for her.

This obsession with her had not waned upon hearing her speak as it so often did with most women. It only flamed the fire, making me dizzy with the desire to know everything about her, to see her daily and watch her interact with the world. These things could not happen and yet I still wished for them.

She squirmed on my lap and while I don't believe it was intentional I would have to gain some distance, both literally and figuratively. I set her down next to me on the wall, holding her hands in my own.

"Thank you for letting me help you. I feel like this has given me an opportunity to redeem myself." Even if no one knew it had been my contribution, perhaps in the larger sense of the world this would help account for some of my sins.

"You are very welcome, Mr. Masen." She was toying with her skirt, not raising her eyes. I wondered if she was thinking of our last meeting in the dark and I feared that she wanted a repeat of that night. While it was all I wanted to do, to be that close to her, we needed to control ourselves. We could not let ourselves give in to our desires each time we met. That would quickly lead us down a path we must not travel.

I stood and pulled her up with me.

"We should make our way back to town. It's unsafe for me to keep you out so late."

She nodded, her face disappointed. She had been thinking of what had transpired between us before.

"We will meet again, in two weeks time." Tipping her chin up with my fingers, I brushed my lips against hers softly. "Now, let us get you home."

I would be counting the minutes until our next meeting.

AC: Boy, Edward sure was acting emo this chapter...

AN: Until he saw his girl that is.

AC: True...nothing like having the one you love in your arms...

AN: Has he said he loves her? I didn't think so.

AC: Well, we know he loves to run bases with her. Maybe someday he'll realize he loves her for real.

AN: I think he loves having her sit in his lap, for sure.

AC: Lucky girl, she ends up having a romantic, chatty highwayman ride.

AN: It's just not fair.

AC: Wonder when he will reveal himself to her.

AN: He hasn't already?

AC: Not quite. She's becoming quite familiar but I don't think they have had a face to face meeting. Or a head to head...

AN: Ha ha, I get it. Let us know what you think of their meeting, or how Edward is becoming so emo he might start cutting himself with his sword.

AC: At least the emos didn't wear eyeliner back then. The mask is hot...kohl rimmed eyes on Nobleward...not so much.