ONCE UPON A TWILIGHT CONTEST
Title:Bella and the Haunted Wood
Word Count: 9039
Summary: Bella and her father move to a small village to the south of a supposedly haunted wood. When her father goes missing, Bella takes a dangerous journey to rescue him, and discovers that even ghost stories can have a happy ending.
This story is being submitted as an entry for the Once Upon a Twilight Contest, hosted by wishimight and staceygirl aka jackbauer. For complete contest details, to read the rest of the contest submissions, or if you are interested in entering, please visit the contest community at:
Entries accepted until 8/20/09
Voting begins 8/22/09
Wishimight's profile page: www. fanfiction. net/u/1667613/wishimight
staceygirl aka jackbauer's profile page:
www. fanfiction. net/u/1683048/staceygirl_aka_jackbauer
A/N: This story is co-dedicated to Justine Lark:) Not only did she tell me about the contest, she introduced me to my friend and often collaborator, Gleena, who also shares this dedication:) Gleena's encouragement and ideas helped get this story done, and Justine's "Bedtime Stories" made me remember how fun fairytales could be:) Thanks ladies!
Bella and the Haunted Wood
Once upon a time…
There lived a handsome prince named Edward. He was admired by many of the courtiers of the kingdom. Many of the noble women sought his attentions, but none could tempt him. He became arrogant, and jaded because of the many women who tried to force themselves on him.
One dark and stormy night, there was a knock on his palace door.
The servant that answered the door was astounded by the beauty of the woman standing there; her black hair was luxurious and shiny, her lips a deep red compared to the exquisite paleness of her face, and her luminous golden eyes stood out from all the rest. The only thing that surprised the servant was the petite size of the woman. One might have mistaken her for a forest sprite, so small was she.
"Kind sir, I have a special message for your master," the mysterious woman said.
"Forgive me, beautiful lady, but he will see no one at this hour," the servant replied.
"He will see me," she insisted.
Prince Edward was extremely upset to be roused from his bed.
"What is the meaning of this?" he asked angrily.
"I am Alice, and I have a gift for you, kind sir," the woman responded.
"You can give me nothing," Edward said contemptuously.
"I can give you everything," Alice responded mysteriously.
"You are nothing but a charlatan; I suppose you would like me to take you to my bed, as all the noble women in my kingdom have desired?" Edward asked haughtily.
"I desire no such thing," Alice said indignantly. "I am more than happy with my choice of mate, thank you."
"Then you can truly offer me nothing, if it is not marriage you seek. Away with you," Edward turned to leave, though he was caught in a sudden terrible burning pain.
"When you find love from one who can return your affections, you will find that this is neither curse nor damnation, but a gift of unspeakable measure." Alice disappeared in an instant, leaving Prince Edward to find for himself what love truly was.
Prince Edward was horrified to learn after he awoke from three terrible days of pain that he could hear every thought of his palace servants. He was mortified at how little they respected him, and yet, how they feared him. He was disgusted to discover that he thirsted for one thing; blood. He was now a hellish creature of darkness; a vampire. He vowed that he would resist the hideous temptation; that he would not sink to the depths of the lowliest beast of the earth.
Years passed; Edward never aged, he never hungered, and he could never sleep. He felt certain that this Alice woman had cursed him with a terrible damnation on earth; he was the subject of nightmares. Decades before, the thoughts of a passing woodsman angered Edward so much that he killed the man in an instant, drinking every last drop of blood. Disgusted with himself, Edward sent away all of the servants and vowed to live his days alone. The gardens and surrounding forest grew untamed for a century, hiding the once grand palace in a shroud of darkness. Alice's final words mocked him, for who could ever learn to love a monster?
"Bella, we haven't got enough room in the cart for all your books, you will have to leave some behind," Charles Swan said softly.
"I know father; I just can't decide which to take and which to leave," Bella said sadly. So many of her treasured books had been given to her by her mother; now that Renee had passed away, she was having a difficult time parting with them.
"Bella, the town we are moving to may be smaller, but the sheriff's wages I'll receive will be enough to get you a few new books when we get there," her father promised. At his gentle remonstrance, Bella picked her well-read favorite off the top of the pile and left the rest behind.
Life in their new town was difficult at first; Bella could hardly find anything in common with those her age. The other young women in the town were merely waiting for marriage to elevate them from the mind-numbing inanities that the small town had to offer.
Bella was more at home in the tiny bookstore than in the millinery shop which attracted most of the girls in the village. Two other girls that Bella had come to know, Jessica and Lauren, spent many idle hours amongst the piles of ribbon and silks that they had neither money nor talent for, while Bella did her best to avoid being dragged into their plans.
"Did you find something that you like, there?" a quiet voice asked her. Bella turned in shock; she hadn't been aware of another woman in the shop. She was surprised to see the woman wearing voluminous riding breeches, and covered in ink.
"I'm sorry, I've not met you before," Bella stammered, embarrassed at her shocked reaction.
"That's alright, I'm used to it; what I'm not used to is seeing another female amongst the shelves in here. I'm Angela, by the way."
"Isabella Swan; but please, call me Bella. Might I ask you what brings you in here?" Bella was taken aback when Angela laughed.
"My grandfather owns this shop. My father is the parson, and I've no uncle or brother, so I'm taking up the shop as my grandfather settles into his old age," Angela said smiling.
"I'm relieved to find another woman here that isn't caught up in all the town gossip and ribbons and lace," Bella said, joining Angela in her laughter. "If I had to remark on blue lace and violet silks anymore I think I'd scream from the frustration!"
"I know well what you mean!" Angela laughed. Bella turned back to the shelf of books.
"Have you lived here all your life then? Perhaps you could tell me more about the area; my father and I have only just moved here."
"Well, I could tell you about the area, but there is a lovely history of our town that you would thoroughly enjoy. There is even a chapter dedicated to the legend of the haunted wood," Angela said enthusiastically. Bella raised an eyebrow at her new friend.
"Haunted wood? Whatever do you mean? Is it some sort of Sherwood Forest haunting? Would I find Robin and his merry band there?" Bella asked facetiously.
"Nay, I don't believe that it is any merry band in those woods. Many huntsmen have come home white as a sheet telling tales of the silent still wood. Even the animals dare not venture into some areas; the herds of deer have been tracked taking a long circuitous path to the drinking waters to the north. Not a soul dares to pass through the center; there is said to be a vicious monster that lives there," Angela said. Bella realized that they had leant close together as Angela's voice dropped lower with each word. Both women startled as the door to the shop burst open.
"Isabella!" cried a voice that Bella would rather avoid.
"Deputy Newton," she said in reluctant greeting.
"Your father has sent me to fetch you; he has need to leave town immediately," he said as he bowed low to both ladies.
"I shall be there directly," Bella promised as she turned back to Angela to purchase the book of histories.
"I would be remiss if I allowed my superior's fair daughter to walk unescorted through the village, Isabella. I shall wait for you," the deputy insisted.
Bella turned back to Angela with an indignant expression. Angela merely smiled and handed the book to Bella.
"I hope you have a pleasant day," Angela called as Bella left the shop with the obnoxious deputy following dutifully behind.
"Deputy," Bella began.
"Please, you may call me by my given name, Michael," he interrupted.
"Yes, well, I think I'm perfectly capable of walking to my father's place of employ in broad daylight without an escort," Bella said indignant at the interruption.
"Please, allow me to call on you, fair Isabella?" Michael asked without realizing what Bella had said.
"No thank you, I'm not interested in a suitor at the moment," Bella said.
"Of, course, pardon my impertinence; I'll be sure to ask your father before I ask you," Michael promised sincerely. This only made Bella angrier. Before she could answer, her father stepped out of the small sheriff's office.
"Bella, I need to take a prisoner to the town just north of us. I'll not be gone for more than a week, but this is something I must do myself," he said.
"Of course, father. Will you be taking the eastern road?" Bella asked. The eastern road was the largest road out of town, though it didn't cross a north-bound road for some miles.
"No, I need to transport this prisoner post-haste. I'm taking a smaller route straight north through the forest," her father replied. "Apparently, this prisoner sullied the wrong man's daughter, and now he's headed for the gallows there." Bella couldn't help but recall the conversation with Angela.
"Surely you're not crossing the forest with only a criminal for company?" Bella asked.
"Bella, I've heard the tales of the haunted wood myself. I assure you, I'm not a superstitious man. I'll be fine; I'll have the prisoner tied to another mount. Don't worry about me, Bella."
Two nights later, Bella was startled by a knock at the door of her father's house. Surely no one would call at this hour, knowing that the sheriff had left town two days previous. A peek through the window revealed a freshly washed Deputy Newton. In his shaking hands, he held a bunch of flowers that had surely seen better days. The cooler autumn winds had begun to wilt the area's wildflowers, so Bella wondered whose window-box had been vandalized in order to produce this sad bouquet. Hoping that if she refused to answer, he would go away, Bella slipped back to the chair she was reading in and silently prayed that the smoke from the chimney wasn't too obvious.
Unfortunately, not five minutes later, a tentative "Hello? Isabella?" sounded from the now open front door. Stunned and outraged by the deputy's audacity, Bella marched towards the front door and the relieved expression on Deputy Newton's face melted into fear as she stormed right up to him.
"I neither answered the door, nor acknowledged the fact that you had knocked; please leave my home at once," Bella fumed. Without even a squeak in his defense, he dropped the flowers and hastily shut the door behind him. Frustrated and alone once more, Bella brought the large locking bar down across the door and leaned against the wall next to it.
A few minutes later, Bella was pulled from her thoughts by the familiar sounds of rattling harnessing. Her father had taken their only horse with him through the forest; who could possibly be visiting on a horse at this hour? Anyone from town would have walked, as Deputy Newton had.
Cautiously opening the door after grabbing a fresh lantern, Bella was shocked to see her father's russet-colored horse, Jacob, pacing nervously around the front garden. He was without a rider, and one of her father's boots hung from the stirrup; it was ominously bloodied. Without any further thought, Bella reached into the door, grabbed her traveling cloak from the wall peg and convinced the skittish horse to allow her to climb into the saddle. Holding the reins tightly in one hand and the lantern in the other, Bella squinted into the darkness, determined to find out what happened to Charles Swan.
"Go to my father," she ordered Jacob, who took off at a lively pace towards the north.
Hours later, Jacob had brought Bella deep into the dark woods, though he had reduced his pace to a slow walk. He would stop intermittently as though he would rather refuse to take another step, but Bella was able to coax him forward each time. After the fifth pause, Bella dismounted in order to lead Jacob down the ever smaller road.
Low-hanging branches were stretched across the path and Bella was relieved to have gotten down of her own accord, rather than knocked flat in the ever present darkness. Bella was sure that it must be close to sunrise, though she doubted that any sunlight could pierce the thick canopy overhead.
Bella was alarmed to discover a saddlebag lying beside the road as though dropped there. Closer inspection revealed her father's initials pressed into the leather. Bella hurriedly looked around further; she found a coat with a large "F" painted on the back, for "Fornicator." This had to have been the coat that her father's prisoner had worn. What worried Bella the most were the large gashes across the shoulder and front of the garment. They looked like claw marks, and they were stained with blood. Fear for her father caused her heart to pound.
Suddenly, the trees thinned, and Bella was met by an imposing wrought-iron gate set into a large wall of white granite. Muted sunlight was filtering down through the enormous, ancient trees surrounding and within the wall. Bella moved closer to the fence in order to peer through the bars, but Jacob reared back and let out a nervous whinny.
"Jacob! Jacob! Jake!" Bella murmured, trying to calm the huge horse before he pulled the reins from her hands and bolted. She moved towards Jacob making soft soothing noises as he pulled on the reins and snorted around the bit in his teeth. As soon as Bella pulled away from the fence the horse settled, though he was still uneasy.
"I'm just going to find out what is in there, you big lunk. Settle down, or I'll not feed you any more apple pieces!" she scolded. Jacob settled enough for her to grab a hold of the fence once more and lean as far as she could in an attempt to see beyond the seriously over-grown flora within. Bella smirked at Jacob's behavior; even a stallion could be lead by his stomach.
Bella realized that the fence that she had been leaning against had opened soundlessly. This puzzled her, as the state of the grounds would indicate that the gate hadn't seen much use in a few decades, though it had swung open on an obviously well-maintained hinge. Standing up on her tiptoes, Bella could just make out the top of a roof beyond the highest hedge.
Leaving Jacob tethered to the gate, Bella ventured deeper into the grounds. There were waves of ferns, over-grown rose bushes, thick brambles, and tall, bushy hedges all grown in an enormous maze. Turning another corner, Bella thought she heard a noise nearby. Whirling around, Bella could see nothing in the meager sunlight of the dawn.
Continuing forward with a pounding heart, Bella found a pathway that was lit at the end; she hoped that it was close to the house. As it turned out, it was the very front of a very large and once-impressive palace. It was less-maintained than it may have been in its heyday, but it was clearly not abandoned, much the same as the well-oiled gate.
Curiosity warred with her sense of fear for her father. Was he here? If he was, what happened to the prisoner he had been escorting?
"Hello?" Bella called softly. There was no answer.
Her feet carried her forward, deeper into the once-grand palace. After a few minutes of wandering the halls and occasionally calling hello, Bella thought she heard a strained, "Bella?!" Instantly, she turned to the sound of her name and raced towards it. "Bella?!" was called again.
Bella skidded to a halt just in front of an iron door with a grated window just off of the kitchen.
"Father?" she called, hoping that she hadn't imagined his voice.
"Bella! It is you! What are you doing here? You cannot help but find yourself in trouble can you? How did you find me?" Her father sounded pained. A cursory glance through the portal in the door revealed that her father's trouser leg was doused in dried blood. He was sitting on the floor of the small room, holding his leg with a grimace.
"Jacob came home riderless, except for your boot. What else could I have done?"
"Didn't you think perhaps to get Deputy Newton? To send him after me? Heavens child, why did you risk yourself?" Charles asked.
"Who else would I trust you to?" Bella pleaded. "How do I get you out of here?"
"Never mind that, hehas probably already heard you; I think he hears everything…he appeared out of nowhere…My prisoner tried to attack me with a knife when we stopped for a watering break. He managed to stab me in the leg as I was coming off Jake; that's how I lost my boot. I thought I was a dead man, so I said my farewell to you in my mind; then I fell to the ground and the prisoner was suddenly gone. The poor devil never had a chance…he killed the prisoner before the little wretch could utter another word," Charles explained hastily.
"Father, you're not making sense…who are you talking about? Who is this mysterious 'he' you're rambling on about?"
"That would be me," a smooth, velvety voice responded behind her. Her spine tingled, though with what she couldn't be sure. The obvious answer ought to have been fear, but she somehow knew that this mysterious stranger would not hurt her. Slowly, she turned around.
"Bella, you should not have come here," her father moaned.
"Your father is right, my lady," the stranger agreed, though he made no threatening movements. His hands, however, gripped the kitchen doorframe tightly enough to cause the ancient wood beneath his hands to groan in protest. He was glorious; his features were strong and masculine, his wild hair was the color of the shiny, new copper stew pot that Bella cooked in. His eyes were a reddish-gold hue, but as he took a deep breath, his eyes darkened perceptibly until they were black as coals. Bella noticed that he didn't take another breath.
Bella gasped at the sight, and took a step back. Pressed against the door behind her, Bella still couldn't find what she would call fear. Shock, amazement, and awe were what she would use to describe her current frame of mind, in spite of the obviously-inhuman god-like… creature…man…before her.
"You must release my father, he needs a doctor," Bella said when she finally found her voice. She was transfixed by the sheer beauty of the man.
"I'm afraid I cannot allow him to leave; he's seen too much," the man said reluctantly, as though he would rather not open his mouth.
"Please, you must see that he is ill! He's bleeding! He needs a surgeon, Mr…." Bella trailed off, hoping that the mysterious stranger would give her a name.
"Pri…Edward," he said.
"Edward, I demand that you release my father," Bella insisted.
"Out of the question," Edward argued, keeping his answers short, and holding his breath in between. Bella began to wonder if she needed to bathe.
"I'll stay in his place! He won't say anything if I'm here, at your mercy," Bella said impulsively, trying to give Edward an inarguable reason to release her father.
"Bella!" her father exclaimed.
"No! I'll not let you sit and rot in there, when I can stay! I'm perfectly healthy; you, father, need to see a doctor!"
"I have not agreed to this! He has seen too much, and I don't want to trade! You've both seen too much, I can't let either of you go back!" Edward shouted, his eyes betraying his frustration. He took another deep breath, and gripped the doorframe harder.
"He needs help; if I stay, he won't say a word, will you father?" Bella turned and gave her father a pointed glare through the grate in the door.
"I'll not let you stay here for me, Bella. This man killed someone with his bare hands, right in front of me," he said.
"I'll let him go," Edward interjected.
"What?" Bella asked, surprised at his sudden change in opinion.
"Not so eager now, my lady?" Edward asked, his eyes narrowing at Bella.
"No, merely curious at your sudden reversal," Bella said indignantly.
"Your father said it well. I hear everything," Edward said. "Your father is an intelligent man; he knows that if he were to say anything, he would be in the asylum before twilight." Faster than Bella could see, Edward released the door, picked up her father, and was out of the room before the iron door shut with a loud, resonating clang!
The scent was overpowering; the glorious, delicious, forbidden scent of Isabella Swan. Surely she was sent by the devil woman Alice; meant to tease and test and torture him. Nothing promised to be as delightful as drinking the fragrant bouquet of Bella's blood.
Her father had been tempting; but she had smelled divine. It took every ounce of his restraint to keep himself from sinking his teeth into her neck and draining her. But, she was an innocent; he had promised himself long ago that he would only give in to the terrible temptation of human blood when he heard the black thoughts of those who already deserved a hangman's noose.
He had been hunting a few of the less-than-pleasurable deer in the woods when he had heard the thoughts of Sheriff Charles Swan and the filthy brute that he was taking north. Charles' thoughts were pure; he was a man of the law who truly believed in righteous principles. The man with him, however, was plotting how to escape the sheriff and the impending consequences of his vile actions.
Edward halted mid-pounce, allowing the fortunate buck to escape, and let out a feral snarl as he heard the man pull a hidden knife from his boot. He planned to stab the sheriff and make off with both horses, leaving the man to die in the woods. The sudden, nearly irresistible scent of human blood invaded his senses, and Edward was hard-pressed to take the criminal first.
He had half-drained the worthless cretin when he heard the thoughts of the sheriff.
Farewell, my Bella, my Isabella; God bless you and keep you in my absence.
Edward fought the bloodlust under control, not wanting to be more of a monster than he was. He looked to the man lying on the forest floor, bleeding heavily. He was missing a boot and his horse was gone, spooked by the superior predator that was Edward. There was no possibility of this man reaching either town in the vicinity on his own. Swallowing against the heavy flow of venom, Edward picked up the sheriff, who had passed out from shock, and carried him back to his home, pondering the whole way about what he could possibly do with a man who had seen what he could do, and more importantly, what he had done already.
"Please, please, don't hurt my daughter," Charles pleaded, puling Edward back to the present. He didn't respond, as he was still holding his breath to ensure that he wouldn't drain the sheriff in a moment of weakness. Instead, Edward merely placed Sheriff Swan into the saddle of the spooked horse and shoved the reins into Charles' hands. Then he stepped back before he slapped the horse's flank, causing the anxious animal to bolt eagerly southward.
Now, Edward had to decide what to do about the girl, nay the woman, who was at this moment throwing pots and pans around the long-unused kitchen. Edward was fascinated by this Isabella. His gift had never failed him before, yet he couldn't hear a single thing from the petite woman that she didn't speak from her alluring lips.
Edward was taken aback at that thought. He had never found any woman alluring; every last simpering courtier that had thrown themselves at him before he was turned into a monster had been no more tempting than his pillow. And as he had already had a pillow, he found no need to bed any of them, nor make any of them his wife. But now, not an hour after he had become acquainted with her tempting scent, he found himself thinking about Bella's desirability beyond her impossibly fragrant blood.
Before he realized where his feet had taken him, he was watching in amusement as the petite woman slammed around the kitchen and explored every inch of the useless room.
"Haven't you any food?!" she asked, impertinently.
"No, none. I find my meals in the forest," he replied.
"A man cannot live on venison alone, Edward," Bella responded. Before Edward could school his reaction, he found that he had released a dark chuckle at her lecture.
"I think you'll find that I can and do just that," Edward said, carefully drawing measured breaths, attempting to acclimate himself to her highly tempting scent.
"Well, if you expect to keep a lady here, we're going to make some changes; we're going to need a garden for fresh vegetables; it is of course too late in the year to plant anything, but I'll wager that we could find some edible plants in the woods around the house…Why are you laughing?!"
"Have you not lived in the village your whole life?" Edward asked cryptically.
"No, father and I only just moved to the village to the south of the woods. Why does that have any bearing on why you are laughing at me when I'm trying to provide healthful options for us?" Bella was frustrated, that was obvious to Edward. He wasn't sure how she would react to the truth though.
"Surely someone there, a well meaning suitor perhaps, has regaled you with the tale of the haunted wood?" Edward hinted.
"Now that you mention it, I just recently read a history of the area, which included a section on the very tale you speak of. Tell me again, how that relates to healthful eating?" Bella asked indignantly.
"You read?" Edward asked in surprise. Too late, he realized his mistake.
"I am no fool, Edward. I may be female, but I am neither stupid nor ignorant," Bella hissed.
"You've got a temper," Edward groused. Bella merely growled in frustration, which caused Edward to laugh darkly. Bella was not one to take ridicule. She stomped her way out of the kitchen towards the main staircase.
"Where are you going?" Edward demanded.
"To my room!" Bella huffed.
"You haven't got a room," he said, frustrated that she had walked away from him.
"I am certainly not staying in yours!" Bella exclaimed, red-faced. Then she continued up the stairs, stumbling twice before she finally made her exit.
Edward stopped, struck speechless for the first time in a hundred years. Never had anyone been so forceful with him. As a human, his rank had always demanded respect; as a vampire, his nature had always commanded fear. This delicate human creature had defied normal. Edward was rather taken aback when he realized, he liked it. He had an inexplicable urge to march up the grand stair-case right behind her and provoke another argument. That was something he could not allow; he was a monster. He could not allow himself to fall in love with an angel.
Bella fumed silently as she walked down the corridor looking for a room to use. Most of the doorknobs and fixtures in the hallway were crushed, as though they were made of clay. Several doors throughout were ripped completely off their hinges. Several paintings were hanging in tatters; a tapestry was in shreds. A suit of armor lay in pieces, tarnished and dilapidated.
Finding the last set of unharmed doors, Bella entered into a spacious and well-decorated room. Edward seemed to have a taste for antiques though, as many of the pieces that Bella had seen were very old-fashioned. After exploring the room thoroughly, Bella reached for the handle of the large armoire in the corner. Once it was opened, Bella gasped in astonishment. There were dozens of gowns hung with care in the armoire, but they too seemed to be at least a hundred years old. They were all meticulously maintained, and showed little wear for how old they had to have been.
Bella let out a sigh as she imagined how her father was doing, and gave a quiet sob as she hoped that he was safe.
"Bella? Are you crying?" came through the door. Bella quickly wiped her tears, perturbed that Edward truly did seem to hear everything.
"I'm fine," she called back. Edward didn't answer, but somehow, Bella knew that he hadn't left the doorway.
"I'll be downstairs," he finally grumbled. Bella gave one last sob and lay down on the bed. She was asleep before she hit the pillow, since she hadn't slept at all the night before.
Several hours later, Bella woke to find a tray at her bedside adorned with bread, cheese, and a generous helping of field greens. She couldn't help but laugh; it was a sweet gesture, though she couldn't decide if the gesture had been for her benefit, or at her expense.
Hours turned to days which turned into weeks. Edward had been accustomed to spending long stretches without any sort of companionship. It was all he had known for over ninety years; from the time he had sent away the servants. But, Edward hadn't been prepared for the depth of his desire for Bella's companionship. It pained him to allow her out of his sight, though he was sure that the feeling was one-sided.
Bella had turned out to be a competent sparring partner in a challenge of wit, which only served to endear her to Edward further. She was in fact as well read as she had boasted, and it delighted Edward to incite a touch of Bella's temper. He suspected, and perhaps even hoped, however, that she responded with her highly entrancing ire because she knew he was provoking her.
Every hour of every day, Edward found that he was more and more drawn to Bella. He could not deny her beauty had him spellbound. Her mind was curiously silent to him still, but her sharp wit and tongue had only caused him to be hopelessly addicted to her presence. He had taken to stealing into her room in the night to watch her every breath and sigh as she slept. Edward had been delighted to discover that Bella was a somniloquist. Her nocturnal ramblings gave Edward a rare insight into Isabella's mute thoughts and he found that he could not pull himself away from her after she first whispered his name in her sleep.
He had been less than honest about his true nature. Edward knew that Bella suspected that there was something otherworldly about him, but she had not as of yet pressed the subject further. He had been careful to restrain his extraordinary strength, though he knew she was suspicious over his constant lack of appetite. He had been hunting every night since Bella's tantalizing scent became his daily torment, willing torture though it may be.
Edward wasn't sure if he wanted Bella to know what he was or not. He so thoroughly craved her companionship, that if she rejected him in fear and disgust, he didn't think he could bear it. He couldn't help but hope that after all of her observations, her continued presence was a good omen.
Bella hadn't seemed unhappy in the weeks that she had spent with Edward; though he was aware that she hadn't been entirely happy either. It was evident in her eyes that she missed the beloved father that she had so selflessly sacrificed for. Edward was cautious in his affections. He understood that he had never felt such stirrings in his heart, and that it was Bella who caused them, but he wasn't sure how to show such things.
That morning, he had taken her on a walk with him in the garden, fighting the ever growing temptation to hold her hand, caress her skin and declare his feelings. Bella had commented that the grounds were looking more groomed. Edward was pleased with her observance until she voiced curiosity on who had done it, as Edward had been with her every day.
She was still unaware that sleep was impossible for him; and that when he wasn't watching her sleep in her bedchamber, he had begun to take care of the grounds again. He felt the urge to make the palace someplace desirable; he had hoped that it would raise her spirits and encourage her to feel at home here, to want to stay because of him, rather than because of her love for her father. Edward knew that she couldn't possibly come to care for him, or love him as he assuredly loved her. He was a monster; he was Prince Charming no longer. However, Edward could not deny any further that the longer Bella stayed the more melancholy she became.
Five nights previously, Edward had been distressed to hear Bella tossing and turning in her sleep. Her nighttime murmurings had always before reflected what they had done during the day. Rarely did anything she said make sense, but Edward's dead heart was lifted every time Bella sleepily whispered his name. That night, however, Bella had cried out in her sleep for her father. She had carefully avoided any mention of Charles Swan, and Edward was heartbroken to see that not knowing her father's condition was hurting her more than Bella would admit. The nightmare had repeated every night since.
This evening, as they settled down to read together by the firelight, Bella sat down on the great rug before the hearth, rather than in their usual armchairs. Edward joined her a moment later, unsure of how she expected him to respond to the new arrangement.
"Edward," she began. He tensed at her cautious tone.
"Isabella," he replied.
"Is there any way to know how my father is?" Bella asked in a tortured whisper. Edward felt utterly helpless as she met his gaze and he saw the dark circles that underlined her eyes. They mirrored the deep purple smudges that lined his own eyes at the depth of his thirst. It was then that Edward realized that as much as he enjoyed her company, as much as he was infatuated, nay, in love with Isabella Swan, he could not keep her from her father any longer.
"Yes, Bella, Love," he struggled to get the words out. He could not imagine returning to his lonely existence, but he couldn't allow his beautiful Bella to wither away in her sorrow. "You can go home," he finally choked out.
"What?" Bella asked, confused.
"I shall not keep you here any longer, Isabella. You are free to leave. I shall take you home directly."
"But...I..." Bella couldn't get any other words out. For some time now, she had felt tenderness in her heart for Edward. She was desperate for news of her father, but she had become accustomed to the breakfast tray that Edward prepared that awaited her each morning, the walks that she took with him, the lively discussions that they had, the books they had read together. Bella felt a moment of panic; she was only just realizing that she had fallen in love with the mysterious man sitting beside her, and he was offering her to take her home to her father. Was that something she truly wanted? If Edward took her home, would she ever see him again?
Edward watched the myriad range of emotions play over Bella's face. For a brief moment, he felt elated that she didn't immediately jump to his offer; then he recalled the anguish of her nightmares, and looked again to her exhausted features. His still heart died again, knowing that it was wrong for a monster like him to keep a living, loving creature such as Bella away from the people who loved her.
"I can see now that it was wrong of me, a terrible mistake, to make you stay here with a monster; you may take whatever you wish, but please be ready within the hour. Goodnight, Isabella."
Edward was on his feet and exiting the room before Bella had truly registered what he had said. She hung her head in dismay; if he felt any level of affection towards her, he wouldn't have said that it was a wrong for her to have stayed here. She had thought that he enjoyed her company, but certainly, if he had, he wouldn't have dismissed her so readily. Her mind seized upon his words once more.
I can see now that it was wrong of me, a terrible mistake, to make you stay here with a monster...
Bella remembered her father's insistence that Edward had killed the rebellious prisoner with his bare hands. Bella knew that Edward was extraordinarily strong. He was also incredibly fast. More than once during the weeks that Bella had stayed with Edward, he had startled her with his abrupt movements. His senses were exceptional; he could hear her softest whisper from anywhere in the palace it seemed; and he could see the finest of print by the glow of the burning embers when the fire had burned low. Of course there was also Edward's beauty. His skin was flawless; neither scar nor blemish marred his features. He was also cold to the touch, as though he had spent all night in the chill of the icy stream. But most of all was his eyes; luminescent gold on some days, black as night on others.
Bella had deduced a long while ago that Edward was not human. At the same time, she had decided that it didn't matter to her. He'd had ample opportunity to harm her if that were his intention; they had been isolated in his long-forgotten palace for several weeks. But she could not refute that Edward had confirmed her suspicions about his regard for her...it was wrong of me, a terrible mistake...
If Edward could not return her affections, she wouldn't force herself upon him a moment longer.
"I'm ready now; I came with nothing, and I will leave in the same manner," she called out, knowing that Edward would hear every word.
Edward was instantly before her; his eyes burning. Bella was not certain whether it was anger or anguish that cause such a fire in his now black eyes, but she couldn't think a moment further on the subject. Without any further warning, she was suddenly in his arms, and they were running through the wood. She could not discern how fast they were moving, though she was certain that she had never moved so swiftly in all her days. Before she could comprehend anything further, Edward broke through the trees; her father's house stood just yards away. On foot, Edward had easily traveled a journey of several hours by horseback within half an hour.
Edward set her carefully on her feet and steadied her when she swayed ominously.
"I'm alright," she said. Edward stifled a snort at her insistence, regardless of the fact that she could hardly stand on her own. Then, Edward stiffened while his eyes suddenly seemed to focus far away. Bella was speechless as she gazed upon him. Here, outside of the dense shade and indirect sunlight of the woods surrounding Edward's palace, his skin took on a luminescent quality. He was indescribably beautiful, and Bella gasped in amazement.
"I'm sorry, Isabella..." he murmured.
"Edward? What is it? What's wrong?" Bella asked nervously. Edward merely blinked his eyes and focused once again on Bella. His whole countenance faltered with the anguish now etched into his features. He slowly raised a hand to Bella's face as though to cup her cheek; then he realized the impertinence of such a gesture. Instead, he turned his hand at the last moment and gently caressed her cheek. Then, he froze again before turning and quickly darting back into the trees.
"Edward!" Bella called, wishing that she had given him a proper adieu, though she feared that she had forever lost the opportunity. Her legs finally gave out as she released the strangled sob that desperately clawed from her throat. She hadn't realized how loud she had been until the front door to her father's house was flung open.
"Fair Isabella…is it truly you? Your father refused to search for you, even after you had been missing for so long! I've had him taken to the stocks for the extreme negligence he's shown his post as sheriff! I've sworn to uphold the law of our village, and to take your hand as my wife, no matter the tragedy that has befallen you. How did you escape your abductors? Was it the gypsies? Too many of our fine women are taken and made unclean by those filthy…"
Bella could take no more of Deputy Newton's repulsive speech. The words I've taken him to the stocks rang through her mind, piercing the cloudy fog that had enveloped her the moment Edward had left her. Gathering all the force and strength she could muster, Bella slapped Deputy Newton in the face with a resounding SMACK!
"Whatever was that for, woman?! Have you gone mad during your time with the gypsies?!"
"Never again address me simply as, "woman," Bella growled angrily. "You will release my father at once, you foolish knave! I will never consent to be wed to you, nor any other man in this village," Bella realized as she declared the last that her heart was torn; Edward was the only man that she would ever truly love, and she was certain that he could never hold her in such regard.
"You've taken up with the gypsies then?! Am I then to assume that your belly is full with the child of a vagabond?" Deputy Newton sneered.
"You may assume no such thing," Bella hissed. "I have been with no Gypsy band. Take me to my father at once!"
Deputy Newton begrudgingly turned on his heel and marched towards the center of town. There, on a raised platform, stood her father, locked in the stocks with a few other men. The parson stood near the men, giving them sips of water between scant mouthfuls of bread. He turned at Newton's approach, and it was obvious that he was trying to hide his disapproval for the new sheriff's actions, lest he too end up in the stocks.
"Father!" Bella cried out as she lifted her skirts to her knees and ran to him, nearly stumbling several times in her haste, but miraculously, she stayed on her feet. As soon as Bella reached Charles Swan, she was in tears. Hot, angry drops streamed down her face. Grabbing the largest stone she could find, Bella raised it as high as she dared and slammed it down again and again on the lock as Newton looked on with anger. As soon as it had broken off, Bella wrenched the stocks open and helped her stiff father to stand. Parson Weber was already doing the same with the other men. Deputy Newton stood angrily to the side.
"Bella! I thought I'd never see you again; I thought that monster would never release you," he said deliriously. Bella tried to warn her father with her eyes, but it was too late.
"Monster? Isabella, you have been brainwashed, that's all there is to it! We ride at once to dispatch this monster before he makes off with all of our women in the night!" Newton roared. Those that had helped him to take over the sheriff's post were eager and ready for a hunt; the haunted wood seemed much less daunting during daylight.
"NO!" Bella shouted. "You cannot do this! He is a man of integrity and honor! He is stronger than any ten of you together, and faster than your liveliest mount! You will not survive should you attack him," Bella argued fiercely, knowing that the men before her were eager for a hunt. They were more bloodthirsty beasts than Edward ever could be.
"That is no man you describe!" one villager that Bella had never met shouted. "That is a vampire that is! A devil if ever there was one!"
"Gather your crosses, men!" Newton shouted. "Today, we defeat the creature of the wood! The hideous, terrible, bloodthirsty VAMPIRE!"
The mob, for that was what it was now, shouted its agreement and dispersed to collect the traditional wares of fighting one of the undead. Bella held her father in tears. Parson Weber shook his head sadly and helped the rest of the stiff prisoners down from the platform and to the church.
"Father, we must warn Edward! It is several hours ride, if we move swiftly, perhaps we can warn Edward!" Bella insisted, pulling her father towards his home.
"Bella! How can you defend this, monster, this vampire, if that is what he is?!" he asked disbelieving. Bella stopped in her tracks and turned towards her father.
"I was with him for weeks, father, and he never hurt me. Edward is the one that brought me home; he is so very kind and gentle. I…love him," Bella said at last, shocked at the surge of elation that flowed through her heart as she said those words. "I love him," she said again more firmly.
"Is this what your heart truly desires?" Charles asked his daughter. Her answer was immediate.
"Yes. I've no doubt in my mind."
"Let's get Jake ready to ride, then, he'll be eager to see you after all this time," he said, a touch of sadness filtering into his tone. Bella beamed at her father and threw her arms around him.
"Thank you, father," she whispered, then they both hurried home to get Jake saddled.
Edward lay in the grounds of his palace, unable to move. Not because he lacked the strength to stand, but because he lacked the motivation to. He had left his entire reason for existing back in the little village to the south. It may have been hours, or it may have been days for all that he was aware of the passage of time. He lay there, still as death, occasionally shaking in tearless sobs as he wondered how to live without Bella.
Suddenly, Edward heard hoof beats in the distance. Rarely had he ever heard a horse without hearing the thoughts of the rider. Edward sat up hastily as he realized that there were really only two possibilities. Either this was a wild horse, and therefore had no rider, or this horse bore the only person that had ever remained silent to him.
Shaking himself from his despair, Edward darted to the gate to find out. What he saw both elated him and caused him pain. Her face met his and her features were alight with joy. He was a monster; she could not, should not, find joy in his presence.
"Isabella? What are you doing here? Is your father all right?" Edward asked worriedly. He could never forgive himself if Bella's father had died because he had selfishly kept her with him. He should not have yearned for the affection that was now playing across Bella's face.
"I had to warn you," she whispered, her expression suddenly giving way to anguish. "There is a mob coming; they mean to kill you, Edward."
"They cannot hurt me with their arrows or daggers or swords, Bella. Only fire and you hold the power to destroy me, sweet, sweet angel Bella," Edward whispered as he took Bella's face into his hands and reverently bent to kiss her lips.
It was both heaven and hell; the kiss was indefinable in its glory yet Edward knew that a monster like him could never find such pure love. His self-hatred was what finally allowed him to pull away from the delicious taste of Bella. He was so entranced by the taste and feel of Bella's sweet lips that he had failed to hear the approach of the mob.
"You cannot deny that you are under the monster's spell any longer, Isabella," Newton's voice called across the distance.
"I am under no such spell, and you will desist this action at once," Bella angrily stated, placing herself in front of Edward.
"Bella!" Edward growled, forcing her behind him as he moved forward to face the villagers. Several of them bore torches, others large crosses constructed hastily of rough sticks lashed together. Edward nearly laughed at the ridiculousness of the attempt to lynch him.
"Edward, I want to stay with you," Bella said hurriedly, from behind him. "I don't care if you're a vampire!" That got Edward's attention.
"You don't care?!" Edward turned his back on the murderous mob, blocking out the din of the villagers thoughts as he looked at her incredulously.
"No," Bella insisted. Then her eyes grew wide as she looked beyond Edward; then she screamed, "NO! DON'T! I LOVE HIM!"
Her shouted declaration stunned Edward so thoroughly that he didn't attempt to hold her back when she ran forward. Her startled cry pulled him from his statue-like state. Edward was horrified to suddenly smell the delicious aroma of blood in the air.
His eyes darkened as he whipped around and let loose a deep growl. Edward's love for Bella held the torturous burn of the hellish monster at bay, though he was nearly overwhelmed with rage. At the sound of Edward's feral anger, the mob quickly lost their courage and disbanded, dropping their useless weapons as they disappeared into the trees. Every one of them was gone in an instant, except for the now wide-eyed Michael Newton. The fool's eyes darted from Edward to Bella to the blood-soaked wooden stake he still held in his fist.
Edward rushed forward; pulling Bella into his arms as he struggled to keep his tenuous hold on the monster within. Bella was leaning heavily on him now, her breath coming in sharp gasps. Edward looked down at her, ignoring Newton for the moment, and moaned at the red stain blossoming across the bodice of her gown.
Using the last of his restraint, Edward gently laid a trembling Bella on the ground and rose to his full height while a menacing snarl echoed from his chest through his clenched teeth. Newton's eyes widened even further in fear as Edward stalked towards him. This simple fool had hurt his mate. When exactly he had claimed Bella as his mate, Edward didn't know, but the instinct to protect her was undeniable.
Realizing at last that his compatriots had left him behind, Newton started to stumble backwards as Edward advanced on him. Edward grabbed him by his jacket and had hissed a low warning to him, about to end his life when a weak, "Edward…" broke through his clouded rage.
Instantly, Edward dropped him, and then Newton scrambled into the woods, never to be seen again. Regaining some of his composure, Edward rushed over to Bella. He could not hold back the sob that tore though him at the sight of his love, broken and bleeding before him. Edward pressed his hand to her chest, hoping to stave off the bleeding when he was suddenly surrounded by six extraordinarily beautiful people. Edward understood immediately that they were like him; that they were vampires.
"You can save her, Edward," said the one he knew to be Alice as she stepped toward him. Edward snarled at her in response. The other male vampires stepped forward to protect her, but Alice held up her hand. "I saw this day many ages ago, Edward; she is to be one of us. You were destined to change her, just as I was destined to change you," Alice explained.
"Not her…I cannot make her a monster…" Edward moaned.
"You are prepared to lose her then?" one of the largest males of the group asked from beside Alice. He was heavily scarred and had a certain omniscient feel to his mind. Edward understood from the strange tenor to the scarred one's thoughts that this man knew that Edward could not go on without Bella.
"Jasper is my mate, Edward," Alice explained. "He understands what you are feeling; each of us does. We are not complete without our mates."
"Edward…" Bella whispered.
"Yes, Love?" Edward asked anxiously.
"Please…make me like you…" Bella begged. Edward could not deny such an earnest plea. Without thinking any further, he bent down and sank his teeth into her neck. For a moment, the sweet ambrosia of her blood filled his every sense, and it was with great effort that he pulled himself back before he drained Bella completely.
"Thank you, Edward, Love," Bella whispered before she succumbed to unconsciousness.
"And so it was, that after three days, Bella awoke to find Edward at her side. The others stayed to introduce themselves; Carlisle, Esme, Emmett, Rosalie, Jasper, and of course, Alice. They became a family to Edward and Bella, who lived happily ever after…"
"Aunt Rose, that's not how it goes," Nessie said indignantly.
"Yes, well, it was close enough, sweetie."
"Daddy tells it different…he never makes Jake a horse either," Nessie said.
"Well, a horse is better than an ass. Goodnight, Ness."
"Why would Daddy make Jake an ass?"
"I don't know, sweetie, when he and your mommy get home this weekend, maybe you can ask him," Rose said with a chuckle.
"Make sure you tell your daddy that Aunt Rose said it, not me! Though while you're at it, maybe you should ask him what a fornicator is too!" Emmett shouted from the other room before he started laughing gleefully.
"Ok Emmett, whatever you say… Rose?" Nessie hesitated. "Will you tell me that story again tomorrow night?"
"As you wish, sweetheart. As you wish."
A/N: Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed it:) Please review!