Disclaimer: Twilight and its characters belong to SM. I'm sure she wouldn't have waited six months between updates….wait…
Thanks to Ghost for the beta.
The rain poured, relentless, falling from the steel gray sky in thick rounded drops, lightning flashing behind, between clouds, illuminating their shape, the thunder rolling, deep, resonate, soothing. The river swelled, water tumbling over smooth cobbled rocks, roughly lapping against the muddied banks, threatening the bowing wooden fishing rods thrust into the slippery embankment.
Bella's lips tingled as she watched Edward soak up the rain, incandescent, laughing, happy. She shivered as another cold drop landed on her neck, snaked along languidly over the ridge of her collarbone and settled in the hollow of her throat. The fabric of her dress clung to her, heavy, sopping and her hair hung in wet curling tendrils. She absently wrapped her arms around herself, her physical discomfort secondary to her joy over seeing Edward smiling without restraint.
Another crack of lightning rent the darkening sky and Edward sat up sharply, water droplets hanging from his eyelashes. He brushed the back of his sleeve across his vision and when presented with Bella, standing, arms cross over her body, drenched, he snapped to his feet.
"I'm so sorry!" he rushed. "I shouldn't have kept you out in this."
She waved off the apology. "It's fine. I was enjoying watching you."
"It's not fine," he asserted, his cheeks coloring instantly. He looked around then began to quickly gather their belongings. "We'll make for the barn," he said as he strapped down the bundle to the smaller horse. "It'll be dry and we can wait the storm out there."
He secured the small mare's reigns to the pommel of his saddle before elegantly swinging up. He reached down, offering his hand to his companion and she slid her hand into his. He pulled her up into the saddle behind him, her arms wrapping quickly around his frame, her forehead resting between his shoulder blades.
"Hang on," he instructed before nudging the horse into a gallop.
She clutched him, fingers numb from the force of her grip of the fabric of his shirt and the now cool, stinging drops of rain biting into them. She burrowed further into Edward's back as they rode, seeking out the warmth of his skin through his thin soaked shirt and clenching her eyes shut at the rapidly passing landscape. The ride was short but to Bella, it didn't end soon enough.
Edward maneuvered them into the barn through a door hanging on a rusty hinge and though there were a few places in the roof where the wood had decayed, it provided a modicum of shelter from the driving rain. Bella slid down first, her legs almost giving way when they touched the ground and she used Edward's arm to steady herself. At his concerned gaze, she offered a weak smile.
"I'm fine," she stated, curbing any unnecessary guilt on his part for keeping her out in the rain.
He raised an eyebrow, silently challenging the statement before quickly dismounting and moving quickly, efficiently to stable the horses. Edward cast a glance in her direction, green eyes assessing her drenched figure before turning and rummaging through his saddle bags. He pulled out an extra blanket and with a wry smile, approached her, wrapping it around her shoulders.
"I'm sorry, it's a little damp," the smile still faintly there as he brushed a wet lock of hair from her face. "I wish I could make you a fire but the matches are wet."
"It's ok," she said matching his grin, grasping her wrap a little tighter. "What about you?" she asked, gesturing to his clothes.
He fiddled with the collar of his shirt, pulling at the clinging fabric. "I'll be fine."
It was Bella's turn to raise an eyebrow as she toyed with the corner of the quilt. "That's a shame," she said playfully, "because this blanket is awfully large for one person."
They passed the rest of the afternoon in the nearly dilapidated barn, wrapped in a moist blanket, watching the lightning break open the sky. Edward's arms were strong around her, and his chest the perfect resting place. She nestled into him, ensconced in warmth and safety, her breaths in time with his.
She turned slightly, looking up at him, watching the brilliant flashes play across his features, outlining his sharp jaw, illuminating the small languid smile of his lips, and accentuating his relaxed posture. It was such a difference from the day before, from the stiff expressions and muscles, the raw anxiety, the exhaustion and she had wondered what had happened virtually overnight to lift the weight that settled on him. He had been happy at the outset of their trip and when he confessed his secrets, he accepted her comfort and after, had initiated their closeness.
She blushed at the memory of their kiss and the thought of doing it again.
"What changed?" she asked, breaking the companionable silence. "I mean," she amended, catching Edward's startled and confused expression, "yesterday you were upset but this morning, you were different."
Color bloomed high on Edward's cheeks and his eyes darted away from hers. He ran agitated fingers through his damp hair.
"I…well…I went into town last night with Rosalie and my father. We talked to your father about the incident and a few other things."
"Other things," Bella questioned.
She waited, turned in his lap, the blanket falling from her shoulders pooling around their legs, and gave him time to formulate his response.
He swallowed and she was fascinated by the movement of his throat.
"Pa asked your father if I may be allowed to court you," he paused, eyes flitting over her features, searching, and expectant. "Officially," he added, meaningfully.
Bella would be flattered over such a question if it weren't for the rise of outright panic in her. She felt her face flush, her hands unconsciously clenching in her skirt. Carlisle had asked Charlie and she could only guess at his reaction. Did he say something utterly embarrassing? Did he brandish a firearm?
"What…" she gulped around the sudden lump in her throat, "did he say?"
The shy smile was back, teasing and hesitant.
"He said that he would approve of whomever you chose."
"Are you sure you talked to Sherriff Swan?" she asked, disbelieving. "Dark hair? Mustache? Usually scowling?"
Edward laughed, loud and rich.
"I'm sure," he answered, eyes twinkling. "He's quite progressive for a father although I think my father's assurances that I wouldn't do anything untoward and Rosalie's permanent glare were helpfully persuasive."
Bella matched his smile before mischievously cocking her head to the side and tapping her chin with her forefinger. "Now, whom would I choose?" she asked thoughtfully.
"I have no idea," Edward said, indulgent and playful.
"Well," she said dramatically, settling herself back against Edward's chest, "he'd have to be well read and have a good taste in books."
She felt Edward's sigh, her head lifting and descending with the sound. "Oh, no dime novels then?"
Bella giggled. "Hmmm," she hummed, "the occasional dime novel may be alright as long as he promises to read them aloud."
"I think that could be arranged."
There was a short silence and Bella laid her hand against Edward's and he quickly turned it over so they were resting palm to palm, sliding his fingers between hers, interlocking them. She studied their entwined hands, fitting perfectly together, their differences evident but complementary and it solidified in her mind her place. She belonged there, not necessarily in Forks, but simpler; at his side, wherever that may be: in a barn waiting out a storm, in a meadow on a picnic or a bench on a boardwalk. If he asked her to marry tomorrow, she would, in a heartbeat.
"We have time, Bella," he said breaking the silence, reading her thoughts.
She squeezed his fingers. "I know."
A/N: Please accept my sincere apologies for this not being anywhere near a full chapter. But I owe you all for patiently waiting and for the supportive comments and emails you all have sent and I couldn't in good conscience make you wait any longer. I do intend to finish. (There are 8 chapters left and an epilogue) And I hope you can forgive me for taking this long. Happy New Year.