Age of Edward Contest
Title: A Kiss to Remember
Your pen name: wishimight (aka everwondering)
Type of Edward: Regency Era Edward
If you would like to see all the stories that are a part of this contest visit: The Age of Edward C2 Community:
A/N: I'm an idiot American and not exactly an expert when it comes to England, so I hope you Brits will forgive me for fooling around with your history a little. My knowledge of this time period comes only from the historical romances I've read and the many Google searches I performed while researching.
Disclaimer: All things Twilight are Stephenie Meyer's. Story is semi-inspired by the Teresa Medeiros novel of the same name. The rest is mine.
I was going to murder Alice. As soon as I returned, I was going to smother her with her pillow or roll her miniature body up in one of the tapestries and toss her into the pond behind St. Matthew's. Of course, I would make certain to repent afterward, but I would not be the least bit sorry as I watched her sink below the surface, taking her incessant prattling and infernal intuition with her.
After all, she was the cause for my current predicament. The little hellion knew precisely how much I abhorred going into town for any reason, especially for a shopping excursion. Her untimely demise would only serve her right since she was the one who had declared this tiresome journey a matter of life or death. Well, it would result in hers; of that, I was certain.
When she had awoken this morning and announced that she was feeling rather ill, I'd inquired if there was anything I might do to alleviate her discomfort. I had thought that perhaps I could prepare her some crumpets, draw her a bath, or even read her those silly scandal sheets she so ridiculously enjoyed.
However, she insisted that what she wanted most was a book with the most peculiar title that had just arrived in town. I had gently reminded her that we had little money but plenty of books already at Feeniks Manor which she could peruse. I couldn't fathom why she would even be interested in something titled Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus in the first place. Then again, I had stopped trying to understand Alice not long after we'd met last winter.
Unfortunately, she knew my weaknesses all too well. When her attempts, at informing me that she had a "feeling" today would forever change the course of my life, were met with my disbelieving glare, she proceeded to tell me rather nonchalantly that she had a few shillings remaining from the sale of the dress she'd sewed for Lady Cope, and that the bookseller had the late Miss Austen's Persuasion on the shelves. And, like the fool that I was, I decided that the washing and the cooking and the cleaning could wait until after I'd returned.
Of course, I should have known that a simple and easy trip to town could never be neither simple nor easy.
Just as I was paying for the volumes, I overheard Lady Mallory behind me, whispering to another woman beside her that she knew precisely how I had earned my coin. Then, as I left the bookseller, Lady Stanley walked by with a smirk and asked how the baron of Lapushire was fairing. And, just moments later, a few members of the militia sauntered over and said they had heard that if their beds needed warming, I was the most feverish chit in the region.
The only way the day could have gone any worse was if I had run into James Masen, the Devil of Forkshire. Somehow, being spared a meeting with the odious toad did nothing to assuage my ire toward a certain fairy imp back home.
As I drove the cart along the countryside, then through the meadow toward home, staring at the swishing black tail of the mare before me and thinking of a certain little hoyden with inky hair of her own, I tried to decide if it would be better to strangle Alice with the ribbons of my bonnet or the ties of my apron.
Nearing the wooded area at the edge of the meadow, and pondering if the pigs would eat stewed pixie, a splash of color on the ground near a fallen oak caught the corner of my eye.
"Whoa," I said to Lizzie, tugging on the reins, slowing her down. "What the devil..."
I gasped in surprise when I realized that the color in question–the most interesting shade of bronze I'd ever seen–was attached to the top of a head. The head of a man. At first glance, it appeared as if he were merely stretched out on the grassy field and serenely sleeping, a soft smile on his full lips, the fallen oak his pillow.
However, upon closer inspection, I saw fresh bruises forming on his cheeks. One of his eyelids was darkening and swelling, at least twice the size of the other. A thin line of crimson trickled out of his nose. His greatcoat was torn and on the ground beside him, his waistcoat and shirt ripped open. And worse still, his left arm was twisted to the side in an unnatural angle.
"Sir!" I called out, halting Lizzie and glancing about the area quickly for whatever wild beast had inflicted such harm upon him.
A flash of movement at the far side of the meadow caused my head to snap to the side. For a moment, I could have sworn I'd seen someone in the distance on a horse. Someone with blonde hair. However, no sooner had I blinked than the mysterious rider vanished, replaced with nothing but a fringe of ferns and a row of trees. I shook my head as I dismounted, thinking that I had perhaps been too long in the sun, for my mind was beginning to play tricks on me.
"Good heavens," I whispered as I slowly knelt beside him, reaching a hesitant hand out to his wounded body. "Sir?"
I gently nudged his good arm. When there was no reaction, I nudged him again, a tad bit firmer this time. He looked so peaceful lying there; I almost hated the thought of rousing him, knowing the pain he would likely be in when conscious... if he ever regained consciousness.
"Please don't be dead," I murmured. "As it is, I already have plans to dispose of one dead body later this evening. However will I manage two? Sir? Please, sir."
Swallowing the lump that had formed in my throat, I tilted my head and slowly lowered my ear to his chest. I exhaled in relief when I felt the soft rise and fall of his breathing. "Oh, thank the Lord."
He was alive!
And he smelled so good.
I inhaled deeply, drawing in another delicious lung-full of his sweet honey and lilac scent. I wondered if his skin tasted even half as heavenly as he smelled. My cheeks grew warm when I realized what I was doing, and I quickly removed my nose from where it had burrowed beneath his torn cravat.
My eyes flashed to his face, and I was both filled with relief that he hadn't caught me sniffing him as if he were a sweetmeat, as well as regret that he wasn't any more conscious than he'd been when I'd first stumbled upon him.
"What happened to you?" I wondered aloud. "How did you come to be here?"
I glanced about the area once more. I could see no horse in the vicinity, save for my own, and his shoes didn't appear to have caked on mud, therefore I knew he hadn't walked here. For a brief moment, I allowed myself a silly glance toward the cloudy sky before quickly disregarding the ridiculous notion that he had fallen from heaven. Well, it would certainly explain his wounds.
Surveying his battered face again, I noted that he appeared to be a few years older than myself, perhaps five and twenty. I knew for a fact that I had never seen him in all of my twenty years. I certainly would have remembered seeing that shock of bronze hair before. Though the short strands were in disarray, I wondered if they were as soft as they looked. To my horror, my hand seemed to reach out of its own accord to discover that they were, in fact, even softer.
Beneath the scrapes and bruises on the stranger's face, I could make out high cheekbones, an angular nose, and the shadow of hair which darkened his chiseled jaw. As my fingers threaded through the silky bronze locks atop his head, I tried to imagine what color his eyes were. Were they sapphire? Amber?
My gaze dropped to his lips, which were, surprisingly, undamaged from whatever or whomever had wounded him. Unbidden, the thought entered my mind; if his hair was soft, I wondered...
Before I could stop myself, I pressed my lips against his then sighed. Softer. I should have known.
As my lips melded to his, I was keenly aware of the voice of propriety practically screaming at me inside my head to pull away and stop this madness, however, it was the soft groan from beneath me that caused my breath to hitch and my cheeks to flame ten times hotter than ever before.
Before I had the opportunity to pry my lips from his and apologize for my salacious behavior, and for causing more harm to the man as a result of my indiscretion, it soon became apparent that his groan was not one of pain. He was kissing me back! With warm lips that seemed to envelop my own. Even more shocking was the searing heat that scorched me deep inside the moment I felt his tongue brush across my lower lip.
I gasped in surprise, and as I did, his tongue delved between my lips, swirling and sliding, eagerly searching for my own. I waited for the fires of hell to come and consume me for the wanton thoughts that flew through my mind the moment our tongues finally touched, his wrapping around mine, then pushing against it and scraping lightly across my teeth.
My head whirled at the pleasurable sensations coursing through my body as my fingers continued to wind through his soft hair, my other hand moving tenderly across the exposed skin of his chest. His honey-lilac scent blanketed me, and I wondered if every man smelled this divine. Felt so good. Tasted this delicious. But then I remembered the baron of Lapushire, and I knew instantly that the answer was no.
Another groan left him as his mouth pressed firmer, more urgently against mine. I whimpered in response, not comprehending in the slightest the burning I was feeling inside. All I knew was that whatever it was, I wanted more. And I wanted this man to be the one to quench the flames.
This man who... had something wet upon his hair. And whose luscious honey-lilac scent was now mixed with a horrible, coppery stench.
My eyes flew open, and I quickly yanked myself from him, staring in disbelief at the crimson that covered my fingers as well as the back of his head which lay against the fallen oak.
His eyes fluttered opened, immediately locking on my own, and I marveled at the brilliant emerald color that was a striking contrast to the bronze atop his head. "An angel," he murmured as a lazy grin curled his mouth up on one side, causing my heart to pound even harder beneath my chest. "Amazing. Carlisle was right."
Before I could ask him who he was or what this Carlisle person was right about, his shimmering green eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he went limp in my arms.
Despite my attempts to rouse him thereafter, he was as unresponsive as he'd been before our fevered exchange; and though I checked often to ensure that he was still breathing, I didn't dare test the softness of his lips again.
A peal of thunder broke the silence of the meadow, and I knew that I had to snap myself out of whatever bedazzlement this man seemed to have put me under and get us both to shelter before the coming rain made it impossible to travel.
Lizzie whinnied as I struggled in earnest to heft the man's dead weight into the cart. This morning, I'd argued in vain with Alice. I hadn't seen the need for taking the cart, whereas she had insisted I might have use for it. As it were, I could kiss her for her incessant nagging which had caused me to take it rather than continue quarreling with her. If it weren't for her infernal intuition, I would've had to leave the man in the cold winter air and return for him later.
As I grunted and pulled and shoved and finally managed to get him aboard, I didn't pause to think upon the fact that his arms were well muscled yet not too bulky. Or that his chest was solid and firm, with a light dusting of that same peculiar shade of bronze. Or that his body was long, lanky and all man. And I most certainly did not notice the enormous bulge at the front of his trousers.
I shook my head in an effort to free it of my wicked thoughts as I grabbed the reins and set Lizzie into motion. No sooner had we started off for home, when the sky opened up, and the rain began to pour down. A few moments later we reached Feeniks Manor, and I quickly yelled out for Alice.
Her eyes widened when she saw the cargo I carried. "No, it can't be... I didn't think... What happened? Is he dead?" she questioned, leaning down to assess his injuries. When she noticed he was still breathing, she let out a relieved sigh and whispered, "Thank heavens. I don't know what I would've told..."
She trailed off, and I quirked an eyebrow at her peculiar words before launching into a quick explanation of how I'd happened upon him in the meadow, leaving out the part where I had ravished his mouth. Being mindful of his injuries, we combined what little strength we had between the two of us and, grunting from the strenuousness of our effort, managed to get the stranger inside and out of the elements.
"What are you doing?" I asked, wide-eyed and slack-jawed after we had laid the man's unmoving frame across the bed in the guestroom.
Alice smirked mischievously. "Oh, do you wish to do this part?"
Though my cheeks flamed as I shook my head furiously, she didn't even bat an eyelash as she peeled his drenched, torn waistcoat and shirt from his torso and tossed them to the floor.
"Well, he can't very well stay in these wet clothes, Issy. Do you want him to catch a fever and perish?"
"That reminds me, I thought you were ill. You..." My voice faded as she slid his trousers over his powerful thighs and down his well-formed legs. A pain emanating from my lower lip caused me to realize that I'd been practically gnawing it off for who knew how long. Probably from the first moment I'd glimpsed his bare, masculine chest.
Thankfully, Alice refrained from removing his drawers and simply covered him with the rumpled bedclothes before turning to face me. "His arm is broken, and his head wound looks dire."
"I know. I'll go fetch the doctor."
She grabbed my arm as I shuffled toward the door. "You'll do no such thing, Issy. It's far too dark now, and the weather is too dangerous to ride in. Besides, you're more than capable of tending to his injuries. I saw how you helped your father."
My heart clenched at the mention of my father, and tears stung my eyes. I blinked them away before they could fall and took a deep, steadying breath. "Alice, need I remind you of the outcome of my efforts?"
"Oh, Issy," she said softly. "That wasn't your fault. His death was a result from his injuries, not your attentions. I don't think even the most skilled doctor could have done more." Before I could open my mouth in protest, she took me by the elbow and guided me out the door. "Now, you need to get yourself out of your wet clothes before you catch your death."
"I'll fetch the supplies you'll need for his care and air these out." With that, she took the damp books I'd purchased this morning and sashayed away, not even giving me the chance to argue.
I let out an exasperated sigh and reluctantly went to my room to change into drier garments. When I reentered the guestroom, I noticed that, while Alice was nowhere to be found, in my absence she'd gathered up an assortment of supplies and placed them beside the bed.
Hesitating for a long moment, I offered up a silent prayer that I wouldn't do more harm than good, then went about tending to the man's wounds. The most pressing matter was the gash at the back of his head. After I cleaned the wound, I steadied my hands and stitched up the gash as carefully as possible. I then set and wrapped his arm and cleaned and dressed his other wounds, letting my eyes linger on his face a little longer than necessary. Despite his cuts and bruises, he really was handsome. However, his skin was all too pale, as if he'd rarely taken the time to simply enjoy being outdoors, basking in the sun's warmth.
When my gaze flickered to his lips, I knew it was time to remove myself from the room, so I set out to do all the work I was originally supposed to perform before this whole day had even begun. To my utter surprise, I found that Alice had done it all. She merely shoved a tray of food at me and shuffled me out of the kitchen, insisting that I watch over our guest in the event he were to waken.
I had intended to find something else to occupy my time with, however, my feet seemed to have had a mind of their own, for it wasn't long thereafter that I found myself back inside the guestroom, checking to see if there had been any change in the man's condition. The longer he lay there, the harder it was for me to leave the room. I couldn't comprehend the draw I felt toward him, and I somehow let Alice convince me that my presence was necessary, so I curled up in a chair beside the bed and waited.
The following day, instead of waking, he burned with a dreadful fever. I spent much of the day pressing a cool cloth to his forehead, his neck, his chest; I dared not go any lower. My brow knit together in confusion when I noticed that there were numerous, older scars marring his torso. Did he make it a habit to get beaten on a regular basis?
The fever eventually receded, only to be replaced with chills. I brought out another set of bedclothes and cocooned his trembling body in them, my prayers for his recovery growing even more fervent. Alice and I argued on more than one occasion over my desire to go fetch the doctor, certain that my efforts to care for him would kill him as they had my father. Unfortunately, the weather had only grown worse, and Alice insisted that it would be too perilous for travel.
For three days, I rarely left the man's side. I was too afraid of what might happen if I did. After all, I'd been fast asleep the night my father passed on. I had often wondered if perhaps he'd called out for me before he died. Could I have somehow prevented his death? Given him another dose of laudanum? With that reminder, I resolved to do nothing else until the stranger recovered. Resting could wait.
Alice checked in on us periodically, concern written all over her features as she caught sight of my no doubt haggard appearance.
I was just finishing up with redressing the bandage on his head, when she sauntered into the room. "How is Sleeping Beauty?"
"Still sleeping," I replied with a yawn.
She pursed her lips and frowned. "You need your rest as well, Issy."
"I can't. What if–"
"I'll watch over him. Besides, you'll be of no use to him if you fall over dead from exhaustion. Now, I'm going to pour you a bath."
I didn't get a chance to argue with her, for she had already whisked herself out of the room. She returned a little while later and practically shoved me toward the tub in the kitchen. As she drew the curtain and shuffled back toward the guestroom, I lowered myself into the water with a deep sigh. Even I had to admit that the warm water felt most refreshing and soothed my aching limbs.
It had been the first time in three days that I had done anything for myself. I could neither sleep nor eat, nor do anything except check the man's wounds for infection, pray for his recovery, and think upon the kiss I had stolen.
Oh, that kiss! Surely that had been the most heavenly experience of my life, as well as the most sinful. I still couldn't believe that I had acted so wantonly. Me! The one who wouldn't even let a past suitor hold her hand! But the way his lips had moved over mine... the feel of his tongue sliding and caressing, invading both my mouth and my senses.
"Unhand me, woman!"
The unmistakably masculine roar brought me out of my reverie, and I leapt to my feet, the steamy water cascading down my very naked flesh. I nearly fell out of the tub and slipped on the floor in my haste to get to the guestroom. Thankfully, I had the sense to wrap a cloth around myself before throwing open the door and rushing inside, afraid of what horror might await me.
My eyes widened when I took in the sight before me: Alice stood at the foot of the bed, a washbasin beside her, looking at the man with her eyes narrowed, lips pursed, and a wet rag in her grasp. The man cowered away from her, clutching the counterpane tightly to his stomach with his right hand, an equally angry expression on his bruised face.
"What have you done to me?" he accused.
"I've done nothing to you..." Alice answered through clenched teeth. "Yet."
"You broke my arm!"
"I did no such thing!"
"You tried to molest me!"
"Don't flatter yourself. I was merely trying to wash you."
"Against my consent!"
Alice scoffed at that. "It's not like you're some virtuous saint, so don't get all pious with me."
"Alice!" I scolded, not quite understanding her sudden incivility with a complete stranger.
The man turned his emerald gaze to me then and opened his mouth to speak; however, nothing came out. His jaw hung open for several moments, and it wasn't until I saw his eyes darken and his intense gaze travel the entire length of my body that I remembered my current state of undress.
My cheeks flamed, and I backed toward the door, clutching the cloth to my dripping body, preparing to make a swift exit.
"Don't go," he whispered suddenly, freezing me in place. "Please, Miss, don't leave me alone with this demon."
"Ha! If anyone is a demon here, it's you!"
"Alice!" I gaped at her and her horrifying behavior. What had come over her?
"He's impossible. I don't know what I was thinking–"
"Alice, please! The man has suffered a great shock. Think of his injuries! He needs his rest. You shouldn't tax him so."
"What he needs is another blow to the head or maybe a swift kick to the–"
"Will one of you please tell me what's going on, or why my head feels like a horse has galloped over it, or who the bloody hell I am?!"
Alice and I stared at him with slack jaws, then at each other, then back at the man again.
"What do you mean?" Alice whispered.
"I mean that I don't remember who I am or how I got here or... I don't remember anything!"
"Nothing at all?"
"Not a damn thing! And my head..." He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment as a pained expression crossed his features.
"I found you in the meadow nearby," I answered softly. "You were unconscious and bleeding from the wound in your head. I think you may have hit it against one of the fallen oaks. I brought you here and bandaged you up as best I could."
"Where is 'here?'"
"Our home. Feeniks Manor. In Forkshire."
"Forkshire?" he repeated, his brow furrowed. "Who are you? What happened to me?"
"She is Isabella Swan, and I am Alice Brandon," Alice interrupted, pulling me to her side and flashing a brilliant smile in the man's direction. "Perhaps you were robbed." She shrugged. "Nevertheless, Issy saved your life twice, once by bringing you here and out of the rain, and the second time by patching up the gash in your head and tending to your other wounds."
"Broken, I'm afraid."
He let out a long breath of air through his nose and stared off at nothing in particular. "I don't even know my own name." The expression on his battered face looked so lost; I had the peculiar urge to reach out and stroke away the crease in his brow.
Alice bit her lip and turned her head to the side in thought. "You look like an Edward."
"Edward?" he asked, his face scrunching up.
"Issy has always fancied the name Edward."
I gasped. "Alice!"
"Well, you have. Besides, we can't very well keep calling him Sleeping Beauty now, can we?"
"Of course not, but–"
"But nothing. I'm going to fetch Edward something to eat." With that, she quickly disappeared from the room, leaving the two of us alone.
"Edward," he repeated, his voice barely a whisper.
"It does suit you," I offered. "And it is better than 'stranger' or 'man' or 'you there!'" I teased.
His mouth twitched slightly as he slowly stood to his feet, still clutching the counterpane around his lean hips. He stood unsteadily on his feet, looking as if he would fall over at any moment. I wanted to tell him to get back in the bed and remind him that he needed his rest; however, words failed me, and I stood there speechless, my pulse racing as he stepped in my direction.
He took his time in walking toward me, and I thought my poor heart would give out by the time he reached me; it was beating so fast. His warm honey-lilac scent enveloped me almost immediately, and I fought to keep myself from swooning on the spot.
Our gazes locked as we stood not more than a foot apart, neither one of us speaking. I still couldn't get my mouth to work properly; I didn't know the reason for his silence. With the counterpane held awkwardly against his waist with the hand of his injured arm, he brought his other hand up to cup my face.
My breath hitched as his thumb slowly stroked my bottom lip, and I thought for certain my face would catch fire at his tender touch. Had he remembered our fevered kiss? I certainly felt feverish now.
His gaze dropped to my lips, and part of me dared to hope that he had remembered the kiss, while the other part of me desperately prayed that he had not.
"I thank you for your care."
"You're welcome... Edward?"
"Hmm. Edward..." His lips quirked. "Edward it is."
He inclined his head ever so slowly to mine, inching forward, his sparkling emerald gaze locked onto my mouth.
"Who wants kippers and eggs?" a cheery voice sang out, immediately causing Edward and I to jump apart.
He narrowed his eyes at Alice as she carried in a tray of food. "For someone so small, you can be hugely–"
"Kipper?" she asked, shoving a forkful of fish into his mouth.
He coughed and sputtered as he choked on the food, though I had a feeling he was inwardly cursing at the little hellion.
"Issy, you're not going to walk around the manor naked all day, are you? It wouldn't do for you to nurse Edward back to health only to cause his poor heart to fail."
I gasped in horror at the reminder that I was completely bare save for the cloth, and I quickly excused myself before I could die of further embarrassment. I cringed when I thought about what my indiscretions of late would do to my reputation, and then I wanted to cry when I remembered that my reputation was already ruined. The Devil himself and the baron of Lapushire had already taken care of that.
The fortnight following that day passed by much too quickly for my liking. More often than not, I found myself spending time with Edward. It was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I quickly discovered that I rather enjoyed his company. A curse because I still hadn't been able to banish that kiss from my thoughts.
For the first few days, I brought him his meals and tended to his healing wounds. He would ask me to stay and keep him company, and we would spend the hours talking about nothing of importance. When he felt well enough to move around, he sought me out on his own, and we took our conversations to other areas of the manor.
I shared with him the story of how Alice and I had met. How she had been accused by the town of being a witch because she sometimes had premonitions of the future, and how my father, when asked to arrest her, had simply offered our home for protection. She'd moved in with us almost immediately, and we became instant friends. Edward listened with rapt attention as I told him the struggles we'd endured and about the servants we'd lost because we could no longer afford to pay their wages.
Edward and I also spent time reading together. I read Persuasion, he the Frankenstein novel of Alice's. We took a turn about the manor often and were both shocked when, seeing the pianoforte that hadn't been played since before my father had passed, Edward sat down and played–albeit awkwardly with his injured hand–a piece by Mozart. We'd thought for certain that his memory would soon return since he'd played the notes without the aid of any papers at all; however, that wasn't the case, and I didn't know who was more frustrated by that fact.
Another fortnight passed by much the same, and Edward and I continued to spend our days together. He aided me with my chores as he grew stronger by the day. Alice kept to herself for the most part–which I found quite odd–claiming she had a gown to work on, though I was unable to recall her ever mentioning she was to sew a dress for anyone in town.
Sitting in the drawing room at my father's desk, going over our practically non-existent accounts, I stopped her as she came in with the morning post and the Times. "Have there been any reports yet of any missing gentlemen?"
"Still none, I'm afraid."
I sucked in a breath and held it as I asked, "Escaped convicts?"
She laughed. "No, thank goodness."
"But, surely someone misses him!"
"Perhaps he has no family. Perhaps his family is... here. With you, Issy."
"What? He... that's absurd!"
"Is it? I've seen the way you look at him, the way he looks at you."
"You're being ridiculous. What if he's married?"
"You and I both know he wears no ring."
"Hmm. No. No, I don't see it."
I let out an exasperated sigh. "Alice, what makes you even think that he would want me. If he knew what they say about me..."
"You'll never know unless you tell him."
"Don't let him ruin your happiness yet again."
"Speaking of him, has there been any answer to my letter to the Devil?"
"You correspond with the Prince of Darkness?" Edward asked with an impish grin as he strolled into the room.
I returned his grin with one of my own as I caught sight of him. He looked rather dashing in my father's old trousers, shirt and waistcoat. His bronze hair had grown out considerably, the wayward strands moving in whatever direction they pleased. Though his arm was still wrapped, the bruises on his face had disappeared, and I was amazed at the sheer masculine beauty of his countenance. He was quite possibly the most handsome man I had ever laid eyes upon, certainly more handsome than Lord Black ever was.
"Not regularly," I replied.
Alice gave me a pointed stare, then winked before skipping out of the room.
"Who is this 'Devil'? I've heard you mention him before."
"He's..." I trailed off, unsure of how to continue, unsure if I wanted to continue.
Edward strode over and knelt beside me, taking my hands in his, a look of concern etched in his features. "What is it, Bella?"
I couldn't help but smile at the nickname he'd given me weeks ago, and it gave me the strength I knew I would need to get through my confession. "He's the duke of Forkshire... the man who ruined me."
Anger flashed in Edward's eyes, and his grip on my hands tightened. "What?"
My heart ached at his response. He would never want me now, not when he learned of my reputation. Still, I knew that he deserved an explanation, so I continued. "It all started when, a couple of years ago, my father introduced me to Lord Jacob Black, the baron of Lapushire. Despite the fact that I had no interest in a marriage with Lord Black–I wanted to become a nurse and care for soldiers wounded in the war–my father and he deemed that the match was far more than a penniless country girl like myself could ever hope for.
"However, when I shunned his proposal, he took matters into his own hands and kissed me in front of practically the entire town. I had no choice but to marry him after that; my reputation was at stake. I accepted his proposal with a heavy heart, and before long, it was announced in the papers that I was to become the baroness of Lapushire. Can you imagine me as a baroness?
"Anyway, a week before the wedding, Lord Black rode to London where he met His Grace, James Masen, the duke of Forkshire. They spent the week gambling and getting foxed. The duke then convinced Lord Black that it would be a mistake to marry a poor country chit and introduced him to a Scottish lass, a Miss Vanessa McDougall.
"Needless to say, I never heard from Lord Black again except for the post informing me of his rescinded offer of marriage. When the town heard of it, my reputation was ruined. After all, they had witnessed our very public kiss. They didn't care to hear anything further on the matter, just branded me a harlot and assumed I must have done something horrible to drive him into the arms of another woman for comfort."
I shrugged and sucked my lower lip in between my teeth. "Last I heard, the two of them were wed and living happily somewhere in her homeland of Scotland. All because of the Devil of Forkshire. If he hadn't interfered–"
"You would be married right now," Edward said quietly.
I nodded. "And that isn't even the worst of it."
His jaw tightened. "Tell me."
"Last spring, my father happened upon a man forcing himself on a woman. No one would even lift a finger to help because she was a... lady of questionable employment. My father took action and was able to rescue the woman, but the man, a Frenchman named Laurent, stabbed my father and left him for dead.
"My father managed to get on his horse and ride home but refused to see a doctor since we couldn't afford it. I should have insisted... I should've..." I swiped at my cheeks, not surprised to find that they were wet. "I did everything I could, but it wasn't enough. He died a few days later, and the man who killed him, though he was initially arrested, went free. Apparently he's been a friend of the Devil's for years, and the duke asked a favor of his uncle, King Marcus, and just like that..."
"Oh, Bella. I'm so sorry."
"He's a horrible rake. Alice reads about him all the time in the scandal sheets." I turned to face him, unable to stop the tears from flowing down my cheeks. "He's stolen every single chance I've ever had for happiness, and now he wants the manor."
"He owns the deed. My father had been paying him regularly, but now that he's gone... Alice and I do the best that we can, but now he wants more. And he sent word a couple months ago, right before I met you, that he was going to toss us out."
"He won't touch you, Bella. Or the manor," he said with fierce determination, a fire I'd never seen before lighting his eyes. "I swear it. I'll go speak to him myself."
"I hate him, Edward," I sobbed. "I hate him so much."
He dropped my hands and drew me into his arms in a tight embrace, rocking and shushing me gently. "I'll take care of you."
"How? How can you stop him? He's a duke. The king is his uncle!"
"I don't know. I'll find work. I'll take care of you and... Alice." He sounded less than enthusiastic when saying her name. I could almost hear him adding 'if I have to' in his head. I couldn't help but smile.
But as I took in the full meaning his words, my smile faltered, and I pulled away from him. "Why? You don't have to take care of me."
"Bella," he murmured, wiping my tears away. "I love you."
My heart practically stopped beating in that moment before taking off faster than a hummingbird's wings. "You... what?"
"I love you, Isabella."
"But... I'm a ruined woman."
"Ruined, why? Because the town says so?" he scoffed. "Bella, I couldn't give a damn what anyone else says about you. I already know firsthand that you're the kindest, sweetest, most beautiful woman in the world." He tucked a lock of my hair behind my ear and tilted my face toward his.
"Technically, you've only met two women," I reminded.
His lips twitched, then he sighed. "Bella, it wouldn't matter if I'd met a million. I can say with utmost certainty that I've never felt this way about anyone in all of my years, however long those may be. I love you. I think I've loved you since that very first moment we kissed in the meadow."
I gasped in shock. "You... you remember that?"
"How could I forget? It's the only memory I have, and it has haunted me every single day."
He reached out and stroked my bottom lip with his thumb. Electricity seemed to flow through me at his touch, and I shivered in response.
Slowly, gently, he lowered his lips to mine and pressed softly against them. A quiet moan escaped me as his honey-lilac scent surrounded me. He wrapped an arm around me and pulled me to his chest as he deepened the kiss, sweeping his tongue inside my mouth. Much too soon for my liking, he pulled away, leaving us both breathless.
When I found my voice, I whispered so quietly that I didn't even think he could hear, "I love you, too, Edward."
He must have heard, however, because an unbelievably wide grin broke out across his face, and he squeezed me even tighter to his body. "Sweetheart, I know that I have nothing to offer you but my love. I don't even have a ring." He locked his emerald gaze with mine as he sank down on one knee. "But I vow to love you for the rest of my days and more. Will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?"
My mouth fell open at his words, and the part of me that remembered I had been hurt in the past by Lord Black and the others that had followed after our broken engagement–Lord Newton, Sir Crowley, and the earl of Yorkie; men who had offered to comfort me but not offered the protection of their names–wanted to tell him no. But an even greater part of me wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around him, pepper his face with kisses, and tell him yes.
The past faded away in that moment, and we were soon a tangle of arms and lips as I gave him my answer.
The month that followed flew by, and before I knew it, we were standing before each other–and before a beaming Alice–in St. Matthew's as the rector joined us in holy matrimony. My gown was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen before, thanks to Alice; she'd been secretly working on it since the day I'd brought Edward home. Her and her infernal "feelings"! Perhaps there was something to them after all.
Edward carried me over the threshold of the manor, his arm finally healed from that fateful day in the meadow, and brought me into his room. My heart pounded furiously against my ribs as he laid me across the bed and raked his hungry gaze down the length of my body before climbing on top of me with a predatory gleam in his eye.
"You, my lovely wife, look good enough to eat. I think I'll have a snack." He ran his hands beneath my gown and slowly pulled it upward, kissing, licking and nibbling my legs as he went.
I moaned from his ministrations, but just as he reached the juncture between my thighs, there was a commotion outside the door. It suddenly flew open, and a woman with a ferocious countenance and flaming red hair entered, a man with long, braided hair following swiftly behind.
"What is the meaning of this?" Edward called out, quickly pulling my dress back down and shielding me from the intruders' narrowed eyes.
"Hello, darling," the woman sneered before winding her fist back and slamming it right into Edward's jaw.
The force of the impact sent him flying off the bed and landing to the floor with a thud.
"Edward!" I scrambled off the bed to his side and helped him sit up before turning to the woman. "Who are you? How did you get in here? Alice!"
"I tried to stop them." I heard her small voice call out from somewhere in the room, but all I could see were the woman and the man, staring at me with all the contempt in the world.
"Are you alright," I whispered to Edward, who was clutching his head.
"Trust me; he's had far worse," the redhead sneered.
"Dammit, Victoria. What the hell do you want now?"
My eyes widened at his words, and I gasped in surprise. "You... you know her?"
"Of course he knows me. I'm his fiancé."
"Ha! We both know I never proposed..." Edward began before his words trailed off. He looked at me then, a smile slowly curving his lips upward. "I remember... I remember!"
"Remember what?" the man asked.
Edward's smile faltered, and what little color he had in his cheeks seemed to drain completely from his face. "Oh, God."
"What is it, Masen?"
"Masen?" I asked in confusion, looking toward the man who seemed to know my Edward.
"James Masen, of course. The duke of Forkshire."
Those were the last words I heard before everything went black.
I stared unseeing across the drawing room floor with the second worst headache of my life as Victoria and Laurent sat in chairs opposite mine and proceeded to talk my ears off in a dizzying rush.
"I can't believe you went and got yourself leg-shackled, mate," Laurent said, laughing.
"You were supposed to make me your duchess!" Victoria whined. "You know the chit probably knew who you were the whole time. It's why she never sought help, why she never let you leave. She married you for your title and your wealth. Why, I bet she planned this from the very beginning! The whole town talks about her and her vile reputation."
"I've heard the rumors as well. And her father viciously attacked me last year. Perhaps it's in the blood, and she was the one who assaulted you in the first place."
"The horrible woman! Her and that witch friend of hers."
"Have you compromised her? Perhaps if it's not too late, the king will grant an annulment."
Victoria threw her head back and cackled. "Oh, that's rich. As if there's a woman alive he's come across that he hasn't compromised!"
"Enough!" I yelled, glaring at them both, not wanting to hear another word.
How had I gotten myself into this situation? Oh, right. I'd been an unadulterated ass.
Months prior, I had received a letter from a Miss Swan, the name sounding vaguely familiar, and I'd worried briefly if she was writing to inform me that she was to bear my illegitimate child. Though I'd often feared receiving such notices, I had yet to receive one. Thankfully, her letter was nothing of the sort, and instead, she was merely writing in response to an earlier post of mine. She begged for her and her friend, Alice's, situation with Feeniks Manor, one of my many properties.
My cousin, Jasper, had been visiting me at Forkshire Hall the day the post had arrived, and he immediately recognized the names. As it turned out, he had been courting this "Alice" for the past fortnight, unbeknownst to her friend or his family. I instantly tried to dissuade him from making a horrible mistake by aligning himself with some penniless country girl, one who had been branded a witch, at that!
We argued and fought, and that only incensed me further. I didn't need him or anyone else telling me what to do with my properties, and I most certainly didn't need to have a cousin with a wife who had a scandalous reputation. I immediately mounted my horse and rode in the direction of Feeniks Manor, determined to toss the two chits out.
However, I never arrived. Jasper caught up with me in a grassy field and grabbed hold of the reins of my horse, sending the stallion bucking and me flying through the air.
The next thing I remembered were the softest, most delicious lips teasing mine. Even now, with my memories fully restored, I could say with utmost certainty that it was the best kiss of my entire life. I had opened my eyes, believing that I must've died and gone to heaven–a destination I never believed possible for a rake like me, though Carlisle, Jasper's father and my favorite uncle, had often tried to tell me differently.
I almost wished my memories had never returned.
I awoke in my bed to a soft humming and someone holding my hand in theirs. "Edward?"
"It's only me, Issy."
My eyes fluttered opened and found Alice's small form beside me, looking upon me with a sad smile. The memories from earlier came surging forth, and tears welled up in my eyes and began falling freely down my cheeks. "Oh, Alice!"
She wrapped her arms around me, rocking me gently. "I'm so sorry. I never thought it would turn out like this."
"I should have known the Devil would find a way to ruin my wedding day somehow."
"Jasper said he isn't always so bad."
"Jasper? Who's Jasper?"
She sucked in a breath and blew it out slowly then told me of the man who had secretly been courting her for months. He had been the flash of blonde hair I'd seen that day in the meadow. He had come to stop Edward–James–from turning us out.
"You knew, Alice? You've known who he was this entire time?" I bit back a sob at the very notion of her betrayal.
She nodded solemnly. "I'm sorry for my deception. I know you don't care for my premonitions, Issy, but I saw the two of you together. You were older than you are now, surrounded by your children, and you were both so very happy."
"The Devil of Forkshire?!"
"His name really is Edward. His father, Edward Sr.–nicknamed 'Aro' by the ton because of his immeasurable arrogance–discovered his wife in bed with another man. The duchess ran off with her lover and never returned. From that day forward, Aro practically disowned his son. He stopped calling him by his first name, Edward, and began using his middle name, James, exclusively.
"He told Edward that his mother was nothing but a filthy whore, and that he was no better than she. That he was probably some other man's son, but since he needed an heir, he would do Edward a great service by allowing him to remain at Forkshire Hall. Oh, but Issy, Jasper says that Aro took out his anger constantly on Edward and caned him repeatedly. It wasn't until Aro's death when Edward was seventeen that the beatings and torment stopped."
My heart tore in two at Alice's words. I remembered the scars I had seen on his chest, and tears pricked my eyes once again, but I blinked them away before they could fall. "I just want to be alone, Alice. Please?"
Reluctantly, she nodded and left the room moments later. I flipped over onto my stomach and buried my face in the pillow, finally setting my tears loose.
Why did life have to be so cruel? How could I love him more than myself and hate the man with every fiber of my being all at the same time? How could a man who had dealt so treacherously with me also be the very man who had kissed me with such tenderness? Confessed his love for me. Married me.
I wrestled with my thoughts for what seemed like hours, finally brought out of my reverie by the sound of a carriage pulling away from the manor.
He was leaving me!
Though I wanted to strangle him for all the pain he'd inflicted upon me, I couldn't bear the thought of never seeing him again, and my tears returned with a vengeance. I burrowed my head beneath my pillow and cried for the Devil. For the man.
I couldn't stand to listen to one more pitiful word out of either Victoria's or Laurent's mouths. Before I landed myself in Newgate Prison for murdering them both, I quickly ushered them back into their carriage and sent them off for London so that I could be alone with my thoughts... and Bella.
My heart ached to be with her as I made my way back to the drawing room and poured myself a glass of brandy, downing it in seconds, pouring another and drinking that immediately thereafter.
As I sat in the chair and traced the edge of my empty glass with a finger, my thoughts drifted to Bella, not that they'd ever strayed far. She had married me, despite the fact she knew nothing about my past. Surely we could work out our differences. And if she refused to forgive me, I could always make her. She was my wife, after all. My beautiful wife with a mouth that intoxicated me.
Another part of my body ached at the remembrance of our kisses, and I found myself on my feet. She was my wife! This was our wedding night. I was the duke of Forkshire and her lawfully wedded husband. I was able to do whatever I damn well pleased with her, whenever the hell I wanted. And I wanted her now! Storming to her chamber, I threw open the door, prepared to consummate this marriage or die trying, but I froze in my steps when I took in the sight before me.
She was buried beneath the bedclothes, her head under a pillow, her sobs sending a pang instantly to my heart.
Who was I trying to fool? I didn't deserve her. I would never deserve her. How could she ever love me now? Now that she knew who I was: The Devil without a soul. I would never be more than that to her, and I rightfully deserved the title for my abhorrent actions.
Though the thought of what I was about to do pained me immensely, I cleared my throat and watched as she turned around, her watery eyes widening in panic as she took in my presence, no doubt frightened at the prospect of what I'd come for.
I quickly put her mind at ease. "Fear not, my lady. I have no plans on taking you to bed this night or any other night, for that matter."
Her jaw tensed, and I longed to know what she was thinking.
"Since I have not compromised your virtue in any way, and since we married under the circumstances we did, I am quite certain that if I petition the king for an annulment, he will grant it."
An emotion I couldn't understand crossed over her features, and though I wanted nothing more than to take her in my arms and tell her how much I still loved her, I steeled myself and continued. "I'm giving you the deed to Feeniks Manor. You needn't ever worry about your home being taken from you by me or anyone else. Upon my return to London, I'll have my steward deliver it along with some money–"
"I don't want your money."
"No! You've done enough. Please, just leave."
The expression on her face was enough to silence me. Not wanting to cause her any more pain, I swallowed thickly and bowed before exiting her chamber and the manor, quickly mounting a horse and riding toward Forkshire Hall, leaving my heart behind with her.
In the days that followed Edward's departure, Alice introduced me to his cousin, Jasper, the son of Carlisle, the Marquess of Cullenshire. Jasper didn't hesitate to offer her his hand in marriage, assuring her that he would provide her with the biggest, most lavish wedding England had ever seen; but Alice insisted that he'd already kept her waiting long enough, so the pair had set off this morning for Gretna Green to elope.
Seeing their obvious love for one another only served to send another pang to my already wounded heart. However, now that they had gone, I found that being left alone with my thoughts of Edward was infinitely worse. God help me, but I missed him!
A knock at the door brought me out of my reverie, and my bedchamber door swung open before I even had the chance to slip out of bed. I quickly pulled the counterpane tightly against me, wondering who in the devil was inside the manor.
Edward–James–whomever he was–stood in the doorway, looking far worse than I felt.
"I'd apologize for letting myself in, but I knocked, and there was no answer; and forgive me, but I couldn't wait any longer to see you. To tell you."
My heart thrilled at his words, until I remembered his vow to me before he'd left the week prior. I blinked back the tears that threatened to fall and folded my arms across my chest. "You needn't have ridden all the way here to tell me."
His face fell at my words. "Bella, I–"
"I thought you were going to send your steward, Edward... James..." I laughed bitterly. "I don't even know who you are."
"I'm still me," he said quietly.
"The one responsible for my debauched reputation? Who let my father's killer go free? The same man who would've tossed me out of the home I was born in had we met under different circumstances?"
"I'm the man who loves you. The man who will spend every single day of his life apologizing and making it up to you... that is, if you'll allow me the opportunity."
I gaped openly for several moments. "But... the annulment..."
"I couldn't do it. I know I'm a selfish bastard, but I can't bring myself to let you go." He raked a hand through his bronze hair, which had grown even longer since I'd last seen him and was currently a beautiful mess atop his head. "I did, however, have Laurent arrested. Unfortunately, I am privy to more crimes he's committed besides your father's murder. I highly doubt he will ever again breathe the air outside the walls of a prison."
His confession took me by surprise, and all I could do was stupidly ask, "What?"
"I know that my actions to you in the past were despicable, but please tell me there's a chance you can forgive me. I love you, Bella," he murmured, his emerald eyes swimming with unshed tears. "I need you. Please, say you'll still have me."
"But... I..." He still wanted me? That thought both exhilarated and terrified me. Could I forgive him? And he was the duke of Forkshire. That would make me the duchess. Me! The penniless chit with the questionable reputation. "I don't even know how to be a duchess."
The same tender look he had given me the day he'd proposed flickered across his features as he crossed the room in a heartbeat. His hands cupped my face as he wiped tears from my cheeks. "Then, just be my wife."
The last remnants of bitterness dissolved that instant, and I pressed my lips to his, sighing as my senses drowned in his sweet honey-lilac scent. He groaned and slipped his tongue into my mouth, pulling my body to his. A moan escaped me as his tongue continued to ravish my mouth, and my hands flew to his hair, pulling on the soft bronze locks with my fingers. He let out another groan and pressed me back into the mattress, the weight of his body heavy yet heavenly against mine.
I moaned again as a fire began to burn deep inside of me, a searing heat that left me wanting more. And he was prepared to deliver, his mouth leaving mine to kiss a blazing trail along my jaw and then down even lower as he nuzzled my neck.
"Oh, James," I whispered.
His lips froze against my throat, and I panicked, wondering what I'd done wrong. I was suddenly all too aware of my inexperience and his rumored capabilities. He lifted his head, his lids low over his eyes, and I watched as his mouth curved up into that delightful lopsided grin. "Call me Edward."
"Edward," she said with a grin of her own, the sound of my Christian name on her lips doing delicious things to my body. A certain part of mine strained toward hers with such forcefulness; I worried it might burst from my trousers of its own accord.
My smile faltered as I took in the sight of the deep flush on her cheeks, her mahogany hair splayed out across the pillows, and I forced myself to pause. "Bella, we don't have to. I didn't come here for this; I swear it."
She sucked her lower lip in between her teeth, and I bit back a groan. "I love you, Edward. I want to become one with you."
My mouth found hers again as we began hastily grasping at laces and buttons, yanking on cotton and linen until we both lay bare, our garments in a pile on the floor. Though I had been with more women than I could count, it felt as if that moment were my very first encounter. I couldn't recall a time I'd been more nervous about what was to come or more enraptured by the beauty before me.
Though the memories of my past shamed me greatly, for the first time I sought to give pleasure, rather than receive it. Bella's moans and whimpers spurred me on, and I basked in the glory of worshiping on the altar of her body with my hands, fingers, mouth, and tongue. As I drank in the essence between her thighs and curled my fingers in the valley of her innocence, she cried out and practically yanked the hair right out of my head.
I climbed up her trembling body, settling my hips between the cradle of her thighs, and paused before capturing her lips in another heated kiss. I'd never before regretted my size, but in that moment, I feared the pain I would undoubtedly inflict upon her. Pressing my cheek against hers, I whispered my love for her as I tilted my hips and slowly slid inside her searing heat. She whimpered and tensed around me, squeezing her eyes shut as I broke through the barrier of her maidenhood.
"We're halfway there. Lift your hips for me, love," I murmured, kissing away the tears that trickled down her cheeks, holding her tightly to me as she took me deeper inside, inch by glorious inch, until I could finally go no further.
My memories vanished once again. Hell, I couldn't even remember my own name. The only thing I was aware of was how unbelievably good it felt to be sheathed inside her, where no other man had ever been before–where no other man would ever be so long as I lived.
Though the urge to slam into her tenderness was all consuming, I managed to keep myself painfully still until her body adjusted to the invasion of mine. She drew in a shuddering breath as her eyes fluttered open, and she locked her chocolate gaze with mine. "I love you, Edward."
I couldn't keep the grin off my face as I answered back, "As I love you, Bella."
I brought my lips down to hers once more as I began to slide in and out of her liquid heat in slow, deep, delicious strokes. She writhed on the bed beneath me, uttering unintelligible words and phrases before wrapping her legs around my waist and encouraging me to move harder, faster against her.
Her nails dug into my back as my hips collided frantically with hers over and over and over again until she came undone in my arms, crying, "Edward!" repeatedly, as if in a chant. And I knew in that moment that my Christian name had never sounded so glorious.
I thrust feverishly into her several more times before burying myself as far as possible and throwing my head back, roaring her name. Completely spent, I collapsed against her, trembling body against trembling body, as I whispered how very much I loved and treasured her.
She held my damp head to her breasts as we recovered from our heated lovemaking. When I'd finally recovered my strength, I reluctantly slid out of her with a groan of protest and rolled over, immediately pulling her sated body to mine. We drifted off to sleep not long thereafter, and I didn't know about her, but I had no plans of leaving this bed. Ever.
I stretched my body, arching my back and curling my toes as I slowly moved toward the edge of the bed. The strong arms around my waist tightened as my husband quickly pulled me back against his chest in a possessive grasp that left my lower body aching for his expert touch. I shook my head to clear it of my thoughts. I didn't know who was more insatiable these days, he or I.
"Edward James," I chastised with a smile. "We can't stay in bed forever, you know."
His lips pressed against the back of my neck as his hand massaged and kneaded one of my breasts. His other hand slid down my torso, pausing to caress the swell of my rather round abdomen, before reaching the nest of damp curls at the apex of my thighs. "Says who?"
Before I could remind him, his answer came bounding through the door, and we quickly yanked the counterpane up over our bare forms as two bronze headed moppets climbed the bed.
"Mama! Papa!" Marie called out.
"Uncle Carlisle and Aunt Esme will be here soon," Anthony reminded.
"And Jasper and Alice, and Emmett and Rosalie!"
Anthony shuddered. "That Rosalie frightens me so."
Edward grinned, pressing a kiss to Anthony's forehead. "Me, too, Son."
"Off you two," I said with a smile after I kissed them both. "Go get dressed, and your father and I will be down shortly for breakfast."
The twins bounced off the bed and scampered out of the room. Just as I moved to climb out of bed, Edward pulled me back to his hardened body once again.
"Edward! What do you think you're doing?" I asked with a laugh.
"Bidding my wife a proper good morning."
"No," he disagreed, trailing his lips across the expanse of my swollen belly. "I'm just in love, sweetheart. Madly, deeply, fervently in love."
What did you think? Review please! :)
** Just editing to add a huge thanks to those who voted. A Kiss to Remember won 1st place in the Age of Contest! **