Roaring Twenties One Shot Contest

Title: Mancanza di Rispetto

Your pen name: Sparabella (Sparagus and Clurrabella)

Characters: Edward and Bella

Disclaimer: We tried to capture the 1920's gangster/mobster accent for Edward's POV and dialog in our spelling and grammar, so if you see something that looks off—that's why. It was done on purpose to help capture the correct "sound". This story is Rated M for violence and a lemon; if you're under 18, please do not read.

To see the other entries of the Roaring Twenties One Shot Contest, visit the C2:

http://www (dot) fanfiction (dot) net/community/The_Roaring_Twenties_Contest/75957/

Edward's POV

I glared the clock intently. I knew something was brewing under the surface of everything, but I had yet to put my finger on exactly what it was. I was waiting on word from my two guys in the know, and I reminded myself to just trust them. I had to wait, had to bide my time.

You can't always take control of everything, I thought wryly.

I was born into the Masen family, but that didn't mean I hadn't worked damn hard to get to where I was today. There were times like these that I just needed to remind myself to step back from the situation and recollect my cool, but then again—then again, that's how I worked . Anyone 'round here would say that I earned my place fair and square. Just 'cause I was the boss's son, didn't mean I got preferential treatment. We didn't become the most respected, highest ranking family in Chicago through picking favorites. No, my old man brought us to this point through hard work and determination, and, one day, I hoped to follow in his footsteps.

Ever since I could remember, I knew what I wanted to be.

When my father asked me what I wanted for my fifth birthday, I told him, "I wanna be like you, Pa."

Everyone else laughed, but the quiet look in his eye that day, the look that held his pride, was something I held onto all these years. I knew right then and there that I wanted to see that look again. Every day since, I strived to gain and maintain his pride and respect.

See, my old man...he didn't give his respect to just anyone. It had to be earned, and even then, it took hard work to keep it. They always said he was ruthless, but they just didn't know what they were talking about. He hadta keep everyone guessing, keep people on their toes. It was like the saying, 'the bigger they are, the harder they fall'. Well, that was it; my old man was the biggest guy in town. He knew what it took to stay there, and if they thought that was ruthless, they just didn't fully understand the game.

I sighed as I stared at the clock, growing antsy. It was the same damn clock I sat staring at everyday at this time–like it was gonna vanish or vamoose or something. No...it never did. Instead, it sat, tacked to the wall above the bookcase, ticking away, marking every second my boys were late, just like always. Time was like that, see. It was consistent; it knew a deadline when it saw one. My boys, as much as I loved 'em, they weren't so good with time.

Emmett and Paul Masen were a couple of wiseguys if I ever met 'em, but they were the best damn brothers a guy could ask for. Emmett finally came 'round to the idea of working for a living, instead of blowing his pocket money on whores, and he had come knocking on my door looking for a handout a few years back. I'd been anxious to hear him out at first, but I saw his potential behind his comedic façade and knew he could be good, the best even, but we danced a fine line of authority and control for a few years to get to the understanding that we had now.

It was widely known that Emmett was a keen gambler; he knew the tricks of the trade better than any other guy on the block. If there were underhanded dealings, new groups coming onto the scenes, if people weren't paying up the money that wasn't theirs to begin with, Emmett always got the news first. Damn clown was a risk taker, a gambler by nature, but his strengths were also his weaknesses...not to mention, he wasn't one to take direction well, but, once we got past all that and saw him for who he was,it was obvious he was the best guy for the job.

I started him small, giving him a small gig downtown to look after. Emmett wasn't too happy 'bout it, wanting a wider area to begin with, and it took a little time for him to adjust. Once he got used to being given the run around by his little brother, he worked the books at the bars and quickly proved his ability in sniffing out the phonies.

See, Emmett was like that; he had a way with people. That smile of his could open up the tightest of lips, and people liked him; they really liked him. I had quickly bumped him up the payroll and extended his territory to the whole of Chicago after he pulled a few strings for me that landed us some major deals. He never looked back, and now he managed half the family business and answered directly to me. I approved his work before passing it on to our father.

Then, in-between Emmett and me, was our brother, Paul. He joined the family business before me, and was in charge of policing. I couldn't have picked a better guy for the job. I mean, I chose him myself. I hadn't meant for it to work out that way, the whole family working together like it did, but 'better the devil you know,' right? He was a funny guy, Paul. He never had much ambition, and it took a while for him to even accept the job, but no one could've done it better than him. He was a quiet one, Paul, but he was loyal and dedicated. I trusted him with my life.

And that was what my family was about, what we did, gambling and policing.

I raised a cigarette to my lips before lighting it and exhaling a plume of smoke. I watched as it swirled around me in a misty haze, clouding my field of vision, blocking the clock I had been so intent upon watching.

Sure, they're five minutes and thirty-seven seconds late, but who's counting?

I was irritated that time was once again passing me by–time I didn't have it to waste. I tried to cool my rattled nerves; it wasn't my style to let my emotions get the better of me. If there was one thing I was known for, it was my ability to remain entirely focused and professional at all times. People need an air of calm in their leaders, and I was more than happy to supply that calm. I had mastered it over the years.

I placed my smoke in the glass ashtray on my desk and cracked my hands together, my fingers lacing in and around one another as I leaned back in my office chair, my head swimming with thoughts. Emmett and Paul had been following up some leads of some suspicious activity and were due to report back to me today. I wasn't happy about my suspicions or the fact that they were late again, but I knew soon enough I would have answers.

The Russos been a part of our extended family for the past ten years or so, but that didn't mean I trusted 'em. See, it was all about who you knew and who you trusted around here. If you didn't have family, you didn't have much 'round these parts. As it happened, my family, well, we had a lot. We had a lotta people, a lotta money, and a hell of a lotta respect. It was them Russos I wasn't so sure about. I had asked Paul to look into a few details about the work Caius Russo was dealing with for us, and he had been following his whereabouts for the last few weeks.

Plain and simple, Caius' family did our dirty work. Between him and his three sons Anthony, Joseph, and Jacob, they took care of the things we knew better than to get involved with, the biggest of those things being bootlegging. Sure, it was good money, damn good money, but with the current lay of the land, it was something I was smart enough not to get our family directly involved in. Too many people got busted, caught red-handed, and I liked my record the way it was–clean.

Yet, I was also smart enough to know that we had to keep with the times, and if we wanted to keep on top of everything, we had to bring the people what they wanted. What they wanted now was liquor. The accounts had never looked so healthy, and we had quickly come to a deal where we would outsource the workload to the Russos. We had worked well together, the families coming together and having, by far, the largest deployment in the states. It was when the numbers started not adding up that things got testy, making me uneasy.

The sharp knock stirred my attention away from the clock. Two shadows clouded the frosted glass in the door frame before the door swung open. Had it been anyone else, I'd have been pissed at their lack of disrespect for my personal space, but as it happened, it was Emmett and Paul who came floundering in, slamming the door behind them. Only they were lucky enough to ever get away with such behavior. I was used to them regularly barging into my office.

I raised my brow, taking in their gleeful expressions as they landed in front of me.

"Well?"

Emmett punched Paul in the shoulder. He growled.

"We'd have been on time if someone didn't stop and make time for some broad on fifth avenue."

I glanced at Emmett and Paul, in turn, and smirked.

"Why am I not surprised?"

Emmett surrendered with a grin, his hands upright in the air in submission, while Paul took a seat in the chair on the opposite side of the desk from me, his hands now wound together as he watched me intently. Emmett took his usual stance, perching himself on the edge of the cabinet in the corner of the room, his jacket swinging casually over his shoulder as he grinned like an idiot.

"Not that I'm not happy for you two guys, but I've been waiting. You shoulda been here fifteen minutes ago. I don't pay you to go chasing tail downtown, ya hear?"

Emmett cleared his throat.

"Sheesh, alright Eddie, don't get your knickers in a twist. You want my two bits? You got 'em. I was over at Lombardi's today. They got those four new bookkeepers I was tellin' ya about working the shop. I gave the boys a run down, and we're good to go for the launch on Monday."

I nodded, pleased with his response, but my mind weighed heavily on other things.

"Paul?"

He swallowed.

"I don't know, Ed."

My words were quiet and cautious as I struggled to control my anger.

"What do you mean you don't know? You don't know, or you don't know?"

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, not something I had seen him do often.

"I did like you asked. I just...I don't know what to make of it all."

He looked up, meeting my eye before continuing.

"I followed Caius for a couple blocks this morning, but I think he's onto me, Ed...I don't know how; I never been caught before, but he took a dive into Ricco's place and didn't come out."

I finally stood, before meeting his eye once more. His brow glistened under the pressure, and his shoulders bounced with every word he spoke.

"I...I waited for six hours, ya know? Caius...he never stays anywhere, not even his home for that long. I couldn't see. I tried, Ed."

I closed my eyes, breathing deeply as my fingers pinched the bridge of my nose, before I nodded.

"You're right; he's a fast mover...Did anyone else see you?"

He shook his head.

"No, but I took the long way back here, just in case."

I ran my hands through my hair.

"Okay, good, fine. We can work with this. Emmett," I said, meeting his eye, "I want you to go downtown and pay Madame Rosalie a visit. See if she has any leads. I need some extra hours from you this week. You can help your little brother out, right?"

His face lit up with a binding white smile.

"You're lettin' me go see Rosie? Sure, Eddie, you know I'd do just about anything for ya for some time with her," he said with a wink.

I chuckled.

"Hows about you quit calling me Eddie? Go on, get outta here."

Without another word, Emmett jumped off the cabinet and made his way out of my office, slamming the door behind him.

I sat on the edge of the desk, offering Paul a cigarette in my outstretched hand.

"What's really going on, buddy?"

"I think it's bigger than we thought, Ed. Somethin' don't feel right, ya know? I don't know what, though. I saw him go into Ricco's for the third time this week. He's got no business there...somethin' ain't right."

I nodded as I lit my own smoke.

"Sure."

"I was thinking," he said, before glancing over his shoulder to the door and back to me, his voice lowering to just above a whisper, "Well, see that's the thing, I don't think. I know. I know that Caius is foolin' around with the books. Money's been coming in shorter every month since August, and this month has been our biggest loss yet. I spoke to a few people, and they all say the same thing, he's putting the money in his pocket."

I wasn't shocked by his revelation. Maybe I should have been, but I wasn't. I knew in my heart of hearts what Caius had been up to. I just didn't want to fully believe it. I'd had my suspicions and was very rarely wrong when it came to my intuition. In situations like this where I considered the truth to be the unthinkable, I had always been able to keep a firm check on reality.

It was well known that the Russos were often limited in their morals, but this—this was a step down, even for them. I couldn't believe they had finally sunk so low as to steal from my family, from their family. It was the greatest of betrayals, and I knew there would be serious repercussions for their actions. I just didn't know what yet.

Father was from a generation that took respect seriously, not like these new hotshots in town, and I knew he wouldn't take the news lightly, but there was little else I could do. I couldn't ignore Paul's words, and they had set in motion a series of events I wouldn't be able to stop.

"What do we do now?"

I looked up to see Paul watching me intently.

"I have to speak to Father."

He nodded, his eyes not meeting mine.

"I guess this means things are gonna change 'round here."

I swallowed.

"I guess so."

We both sat in a somber silence for a long moment, considering the implications of airing the news, before finally finishing our cigarettes. Paul stood and nodded to me. A small, lifeless smile graced his lips for a moment before he turned, swinging his coat around his shoulders. He closed the door firmly behind him.

"Dammit," I growled, hitting my desk in frustration.

Even though I had been steeling myself for this day, it didn't take away my acute anger. Paul was right. Things would be changing around here and soon. I had no idea what they thought they were doing, but the Russos couldn't betray the family and not expect severe repercussions. I knew this would cause a divide between our families, and despite the Russos being a shady bunch, they were essential to a lot of our future plans. For the first time in a long time, I didn't know what this meant for our family.

I left the office and focused my thoughts on preparing myself for the situation with my father. I knew that it was a conversation that wouldn't go down well, and I wondered if he would blame me for their actions, if he would finally blame my inexperience for not catching it sooner, for putting too much trust in a family that couldn't be trusted—there was any number of things in which he could find fault with me.

I made my way across the editing room floor, our guise for legitimate business purposes, of course. Running a newspaper meant we kept a tight leash on the news in the community, and we could maintain the morals within the community. Today, I didn't notice the loud typing or chatter within the room. I marched past the rows and isles of desks and typewriters and ignored the copious greetings of the workers as I passed.

My mind was entirely focused on the task at hand, and as I approached the stairs to the attic office my father held, I took a deep breath before finally climbing the staircase. I knocked twice on the door and waited for him to finally call me in. I entered the large, plush office and was greeted with the stern face of my father, sure to shut and lock the door behind me.

"This had better be good, boy."

I nodded.

"I need to talk to you about Caius, sir."

He watched me for a long moment before finally placing the papers in his hand down on the desk in front him.

He raised a brow.

"What about Caius?"

I knew it was no good talking around the subject. My father was a man of few words and little time. I watched for a long moment as his eyes blazed, before he finally looked at me.

"He's been laundering money, sir."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course, Pop. Paul has been following him for the last several weeks, and I've had my own suspicions."

He waved a hand in the air interrupting me.

"I want you to find Bella."

I blinked, unsure of what else to say or do. I had met Bella on several occasions at family functions and knew who he was talking about, but I couldn't work out why he wanted to find her now or why it was relevant.

"Bella?"

He nodded.

"Find Bella. I need you to take her to the house in Kansas. I'll deal with this."

I nodded, confusion covering my senses. His brow furrowed as he considered his plans, and I knew better than to interrupt him.

I knew that the deal was shady, at best. He was asking me to kidnap Bella. The actual words hadn't been uttered, but it was clear that those were his intentions. We had never crossed this boundary in our working relationship before, but I knew how to deal with it. Ever since I could remember, it had been an occupational hazard, and I had always known that one day, I would need to get my hands dirty and become involved in things that no law abiding citizen would be proud of. Yet, as I pondered his instructions, I couldn't help but wonder if I could actually kidnap someone, especially someone so young, so naive.

Bella. Beautiful. Even her name complimented her classic looks. Her long, brown curls fell easily to her shoulders and framed her perfect features. She was seventeen, almost eighteen, and she was Caius' only daughter. Her beauty had captivated me, as it had many other men, in a way that no other had before. Her brown eyes held more depth than I had never seen before, and I had quickly kept a firm distance from her, knowing her to be an unwelcome and dangerous distraction from my work.

Unlike the other flappers who threw themselves at me, Bella remained a constant mystery and gave very little of herself away. I only knew she was young and smart and easily as stubborn and determined as myself. That fact alone was a threat. I overlooked the pang of guilt as my resolve set in. It didn't matter my thoughts of the young woman; I would have no choice but to carry out my father's request.

"You know the plan, Edward. Don't let me down. The keys for the house in Kansas are out back. I'll tell Mom you'll be away for a while. I need you gone immediately, and I need you to stay gone until I tell you otherwise, ya hear?"

"Yes, sir."

He stood from his desk and made his way around to me before wrapping me in his arms and patting my back.

"Don't let me down, kid. I'll see you soon enough."

He patted my cheek affectionately. With that, he released me and returned to his desk and his work without another glance. I left the office without another word, closing the door quietly behind me as the severity of the situation set in around me.

*~*~*

The cool air of the evening circulated around us. Paul and I sat in the car, me behind the wheel and Paul in the passenger's seat, as we had done for the better part of the day. Neither of us knew what to say, so we sat in silence. We only knew what we had to do and that, in and of itself, was more than enough to think about in the moment.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Paul sitting, unmoving. The surge of guilt and anxiety hadn't lessened within me, and I couldn't admit to myself that something wasn't right about the whole damn situation. Then again, I wasn't one to just go ahead and kidnap some broad, either. Yet, here I sat, patiently waiting outside a house for Bella.

"How much longer, Ed?"

I glared in the rear review mirror at the guy who sat in the backseat. He had asked me the same question repeatedly, as though the answer would change.

"She's due to come out at six. Quit askin'."

Paul looked over at me with a smirk, his amusement apparent.

"What? How excited would you be if you had to whack someone? It ain't right," I said, shaking my head.

He chuckled before stiffening, his eyes going wide as his head nodded forward.

"There," he said. "Over there."

I looked across the dashboard and out at the pavement where Bella and the inconspicuous man who escorted her, walked down the sidewalk. Her hair blew lightly in the air, fanning around her face, and I shook away any thoughts of her from my mind as Paul nudged me.

"You ready?"

I nodded, all thought of Bella pushed out of my mind as Paul finally stepped out of the backseat of the car. My eyes remained focused on him as he walked down the street, lifting his collar to protect him from the wind. To a bystander, he would have looked like an innocent man walking home after work, but I knew better. Under his coat was a concealed weapon, loaded and ready to fire.

My eyes glanced over the road as I watched the scene unfold before me. With a morbid curiosity, I had expected to watch the bodyguard take the inevitable hit. Yet I was caught unaware as my attention was solely focused on Bella. I couldn't take my eyes away from her petite frame as she talked animatedly to the man beside her, and for a moment, I almost forgot why we were here.

That's when I heard it, the sound barely registering in my ears.

My eyes changed focus, and I watched in horror as the man beside her doubled over. Bella continued to talk for a few moments, before her actions slowed and comprehension circled around her. I felt like an asshole as she instinctively caught him while he fell to his knees, and I cursed under my breath. I realized that maybe I had made the wrong decision.

It didn't stop me from placing my foot down on the pedal and driving closer to her for the next part of our plan.

Bella's POV

I heard the muffled sound of a shot tearing through his clothing before I noticed that Antonio, my assigned body guard, fell to the pavement. I didn't have time to process what it possibly could mean before I was grabbed from behind and pulled into the back of a black car, my heart pounding furiously against my chest. I was immediately blindfolded, and my arms and legs instinctively set out to hit or kick anyone in their path.

Anger boiled within me. I feared that my father's work had finally caught up to him,to me. One of the few organization families larger than the one my family associated with must have found a way to get to them. I couldn't understand why they would take me, for I was far less valuable than my brothers, than the children of the Masen family. Surely if someone wanted to get to our group, any enemy would have gone for one of them instead.

I wanted to scream at them, to shout at them and demand that they let me go, these captors. But I knew it would do me no good. They had killed my bodyguard, the same one that my father had assigned to me. He was gone now, and that alone made it clear that my kidnappers meant business. They would not release me without a fight, a fight that would probably require guns and death, something I was unprepared for and incapable of.

I heard harsh whispers of voices that I didn't recognize as my wrists and ankles were tied together. We drove for several minutes before the car stopped, and there were more furious whispers before the door opened and slammed shut again and the tires of the car screeched against the pavement.

I could sense that I was now alone in what must have been the backseat of the car. For hours I sat there until, finally, the car stopped.

"Listen, we're here now. I will untie your ankles, but you'd better cooperate with me. No whackin' me, or I'll let you stay out in the cold car by yourself all night, got it?"

I nodded, and the deep, smooth voice, so familiar to me but still unplaced, didn't answer. The door in front of me opened and slammed as the car moved with the motion. The door next to me opened, cool, spring air skimming over my heated face, and I felt the ties at my wrists and ankles being loosened.

I was roughly pulled from the car, surprised when my blindfold was removed, revealing a very familiar set of green, fiery eyes in the dark night. I knew those eyes. I felt myself gasp as I raised a hand to slap him. How could he do this? It was a betrayal, a slap in the face.

Edward Masen.

It wasn't an enemy; it wasn't a rival family. It was a member of an organization my own family was a part of. My hand stung as it made contact with his cheek, and his eyes widened, his hand roughly grabbing my wrist.

"Easy, Isabella."

"How dare you! What is going on? Does my father know about this, Edward Masen?!"

When he didn't answer, I kicked his leg, causing him to growl.

"You'd be wise to stop that right now, Isabella. It will do you no good to fight, and you'll just be putting yourself in a greater danger. Now, be a good dame and just cooperate, will ya?"

My eyes narrowed on his.

"This is low, Masen. I have no respect for you."

His eyes widened again.

"What?"

"You think you deserve it after this? How could you do this to my family?"

He closed his eyes, inhaling deeply, and kept silent as he grabbed a bag from the trunk, never loosening his tight hold on my wrist.

"Where are we?"

There was only silence as he pulled me from the car. I realized for the first time that we were in some sort of log shed, barely big enough to fit the car we'd just vacated. He dragged me out the door, pulling the metal door shut over the entrance.

"What are you doing with me?"

Still he didn't answer as he pulled me through a field of tall grass.

"Are you going to kill me? Where is my family?" I demanded, my voice growing louder.

He stopped short, and I nearly fell when he pulled me back to where he stood, his feet firmly planted, his eyes looking at mine with annoyed irritation.

"You're being slightly ridiculous."

My anger pushed through my blood once more.

"What?"

He sighed.

"Look...just cooperate with me, doll, alright?"

Edward flashed a crooked smile, and I settled somewhat—something about his expression calming me in ways that I didn't wish to be calmed.

"There now," he said, rather pleased with himself.

He pulled me along the length of the large field until we reached a very old, log cabin. It was completely dark, illuminated only by the light of the full moon. We reached the door, and he unlocked it, pulling me in after him.

"No lights," he said absentmindedly, almost as if he were talking to himself, "This house has got to be about fifty years old. Belonged to my grandfather."

I frowned.

"Where are we?"

I couldn't see him as we fumbled in the dark. His hand never released me, and finally, after what seemed like hours, the room immediately glowed as he held up a candle and shook out a match, again rather pleased with himself.

I glared at him, trying to shake him off once more.

"Let me go, Edward."

He frowned.

"You'd better get one thing straight, babe. We're here until I say otherwise, and you'd better get used to it. Come on."

Again I was pulled; this time, he led me up a set of creaky, wooden stairs and took me to a small room, pushing me inside. He shoved the door shut behind me, and I heard the turn of the lock. Anger pulsing through me, I hit the wooden door with my fist.

"Let me out!" I screamed, jiggling the door knob, pushing at the door.

It was locked, and nothing that I could do was going to move it from its place. My eyes quickly darted around the room. There was a small bed and a desk...that was it. There was one small window above the desk, and I moved quickly to it, clawing at it, but there were bars in front of it, and, again, it wouldn't be opened. Outside of the window was nothing but hills of tall grass, shaded blue under the light of the moon.

In resignation, I sighed, throwing myself against the lumpy mattress of the bed, adorned in an old, worn quilt. The day quickly caught up to me, and tears ran down my face, though I hated myself for them.

My family had always known the risk of what we did—of what my father did. He'd started in Italy and moved us to America just two years prior to this. My family and the Masen family stemmed back many generations, and because of that, they worked together when we arrived in their area. Something must have gone dreadfully wrong for something this drastic to have taken place.

My thoughts roamed to my mother and father. Surely they knew of Antonio now—of his death and of my kidnapping. Was my mother crying for me now? Was my father trying to console her while keeping his secrets of why I'd been taken in the first place? Were my brothers going crazy in their over protectiveness of me? Or did they understand what was happening, why it was happening?

And there was Antonio, poor Antonio, whose job it had been to protect me, and if necessary, die for me. He had done so today. His life had been taken, and I couldn't even understand why. I didn't know why his had, while mine had been spared, only to be locked away in this prison of wooden walls and floors, of iron-barred windows.

The tears flowed as I buried my face in the lumpy, musty pillow. My mind blurred and my soul ached as my chest heaved in sobs. My emotions had finally caught up as the adrenaline ebbed away, and I was left with fear and a sense of hopelessness so sharp that the physical pain threatened to tear me in two.

My heart sent out a prayer. A prayer for my mama, who would be mourning my capture, for Antonio, whose life had ended, for me—that I'd have the strength to get through this horrible nightmare.

I was startled from my pleadings with God by the melancholy notes of a piano, drifting from somewhere below on the first floor. My fury once again heated my cheeks as I thought of Edward Masen and the fact that he could so coolly play music while my heart ached more than it ever had before.

I fell asleep feeling my hatred for my kidnapper escalate. It overtook my thoughts even while I slept, for in my dreams I hit him and kicked him and was finally able to run away from him, to escape and find my way home to the arms of my mother. In my dreams I had made it home, but when I awoke the next morning, my swollen eyes opened to the same prison that I had fallen asleep in the night before.

*~*~*

One Month After the Kidnapping...

One month. It had been one whole month since we had been here. My shock had finally worn away, and after many failed attempts at escaping from this strange, old house, Masen had quickly denied me any freedoms at all. Locked in this room—in this prison, I had nothing to do but think and snoop around, bored. There was nothing to be found in the room but my extra set of clothing he'd conjured up from only the good Lord knew where. It had taken me a full four days of being locked away before I finally found a stack of paper and a pencil in a drawer within the tiny wooden desk.

My eyes stuck to the paper in front of me now as the sun rose. On it, I had created a makeshift calendar, if for nothing else than to keep myself sane. I looked at the dates, finding it hard to believe that it had only been approximately one month since we arrived here. It had felt like so much longer to me, and I didn't know where 'here' was, exactly. From what I could tell by looking out my window, I knew we were no longer close to Chicago. We were very much in the middle of nowhere.

Outside of my window was a world of blue skies, fresh air, rolling, golden hills. I saw no other houses, no people, heard no sounds apart from Edward. I had no idea what he did all day on the first floor of the house. I knew at times he would play the piano—as he had so often done at our families' gatherings in the past. He would make a ruckus once in a while, but for the most part, my prison was a silent one, lending me only to my thoughts.

In the quiet, I would think of my mother and how desperately I missed her. I would think of my father's laugh and how my brothers would pick on me. I would think of the sounds of home—of the smells coming from the kitchen at any given time of day. Before long, these thoughts, as they did every morning, brought me to tears. I didn't understand what was going on, and I was likely to never know. I knew enough about our families, about my father and Edward's, to know that I was a playing piece in an elaborate, all-human game of chess.

I threw myself onto my bed, letting my tears flow onto the sleeves of my dress, feeling so very hopeless and alone. Before long, I heard his footsteps on the stairs, and I quickly sat, straightening my dress and wiping my eyes dry. Edward Masen would not have the pleasure of seeing my weaknesses. I would rather die.

He opened the door without so much as a warning knock, the key sliding into the lock and clicking before the large wooden door swept open, revealing the arrogant man himself. It took every ounce of my control to keep from grimacing at him. I hated him. Yet, I knew that this was no more his fault than my own. In spite of the fact that he would someday take his father's place, for now, he, too, was just a piece of the game in our world.

I sat on the edge of my lumpy, hard bed, stiff and unmoving. I could not find it in me to fight with him today. I was exhausted of asking him questions every day, the same questions that he would never answer. I trained my eyes on the window so that I wouldn't have to look at him. If my eyes were to meet his, I doubted that I would be able to control myself, and as much as I hated him, I would not disrespect him.

He stood, and from the corner of my eye, I watched him place the tray down on the surface of the wooden desk several paces away from me. I looked at my hands, folded neatly in my lap as the silence engulfed me. Still, he stood quietly.

"What, doll, no twenty questions today?"

My heart pounded wildly as my ears processed his voice, his words. I couldn't think when he was so close to me. Finally, my eyes slowly traveled to his face, my hands shaking with my nervousness.

Why does he have to talk to me today? Why can't he just leave me alone?

I couldn't keep myself from biting my bottom lip as he looked at me expectantly.

"There's not much point in asking anymore," I said, my voice surprising me.

It was dull, lifeless, and I hated that my sadness came through so strongly. I did not want him to know how deeply I was being affected by this hideous game. I hated myself for the tears that brimmed in my eyes, threatening to embarrass me, threatening to spill over and show me for the child that I was.

Something flashed in his fierce green eyes before they took on a look I had never in my life seen from him before. They were soft...compassionate. The expression made my stomach lurch in a way that it never had. If his expression was surprising, I very nearly fell over dead when he took three steps toward me and sat next to me on the bed. My eyes followed him, wide and unsure of what he would do next. Yet that look—that look that engulfed the outside of him, the strong, confident and cold man that he had been, had left someone softer...someone I felt safe with. The rapid change made my head spin.

He inhaled deeply, and I forced my eyes to stay on his.

"I can't give you answers, Isabella. You know I can't."

My head nodded in agreement, and I bit my lip again. I did know. In our world, knowing was a risk, a liability, yet, I couldn't stop the tears. They fell from my eyes without my permission, and I noticed Edward's gaze soften even more. Shocking me further, I could see his confusion mixed with compassion, and I didn't know how to react to that.

"Look," he whispered, his eyes fixing with determination, "once things get straightened out, you can go home, okay? It's just some unfinished business, is all. After they get things situated back home, things'll go back to normal."

I frowned at his words, angry with myself for the hope that filled my chest with longing, a longing for him to be right, and a prayer that it would be soon, that my family would remain safe. He smiled, just a small smile, and I hated that my body reacted to him so. I had no idea which to hate more, the fluttering in my stomach or the smile that I sent back to him in response. Both were infuriating.

Edward stood and paced back to the door before pausing for a long moment. I was surprised yet again when he turned back toward me, meeting my eye once more. The fiery green eyes darted to my tray of food and back to my eyes.

"Listen, doll, if you'll behave yourself...if you promise me you aren't gonna go running the moment you hit those stairs, you can come downstairs for the day if you want."

I felt my eyes widened, surprise nearly killing me for the fourth or fifth time in such a short while.

"Really?"

He smiled, nodding his head away from us and toward the hallway outside my door before finally his eyes met mine again. "But you gotta promise—give me your word."

I nodded. "I won't run," I said, a little too eagerly, even for my own liking, "I give you my word, Edward."

His grin widened, and I took several large steps toward the desk again, grabbing the tray he had abandoned several minutes ago as he gestured for me to leave the room first. I couldn't help but smile at him for his kindness. I knew that he didn't have to be so kind to me—that even while being held captive in my room, I could have been treated so much worse than I had been. Those reasons were enough for me to give him my word of honor. I would behave, if nothing else, to make this whole ordeal easier—on both of us.

We ate our breakfasts together, sitting at a rustic wooden table in a beautiful room that had large windows looking out over the landscape.

I cleared my throat, and his eyes met mine.

"Can I ask where we are?"

He smiled a little. "Kansas."

Kansas. I'd heard about it, knew that it was farm country and that it wasn't very populated...that was the extent of my knowledge.

I nodded, unsure of what to say in response. We ate quietly without further conversation, and after we finished, I cleared the table, cleaning up the mess that Edward had made while cooking. My back was turned to him as I washed the dishes.

"Thank you," he murmured.

I turned to look at him, only to find he had already left the room. With a sigh, I finished my tasks and looked around me. The house was very basic, simple. Every wall was built from logs and undecorated. The cabin was small and cramped, in spite of the two levels—it was a classic getaway house.

Edward hadn't wandered far. He was sitting in the next room on the couch, book in hand. He glanced at me from above the pages as I entered the room, and my hands knotted together. I was still nervous around him, unsure of how to act, what to say or do.

"There's a small library through there, on the right, if you like that sorta thing."

I smiled. "I would, thank you."

Edward nodded, turning his attention back to his own book, as I went in search of one for myself. We spent much of the day like that, sitting on opposite sides of the room, quietly reading, neither of us speaking a word. I frequently stole glances at Edward from over the top of my book. I found his very being entirely distracting to be in close proximity to. I watched in wonder as his brow would furrow or his lips would twitch as he read. He was so very full of expression, and I couldn't help but wonder what troubled him so. Whether Edward knew that I was watching him or not, I didn't know. I assumed he knew, but he didn't comment or return the gesture.

He finally stood, and without a word, he made his way to the kitchen to prepare our evening meal. He had once again proven to be more than proficient, as he had for all of our meals of the previous month, and the two of us sat at the old wooden table, eating in silence.

After our meal, I once again cleaned up the kitchen, smiling at the sauce that had spilled from the pan on the stove. Such a simple task forced nostalgia shaking through my body. Back home, I often cleaned the kitchen for my mama. It was one of the few things I could do alone. Growing up with three older brothers meant that, even at home, my every move was watched. It had been so very long since I had seen anything so familiar to me. I wondered if Edward knew that, on some level, I needed to do something to remind me who I was, before I ran the risk of going crazy in this prison.

Edward, again, mumbled a quiet thank you before retreating to the other room, but this time, silence did not follow. Beautiful, dark notes fell from the piano and into the small house we shared. He played a sad song, and I wondered what inspired such music.

I dried my hands and walked slowly into the adjoining room to where he played. He was sitting at the piano, his back turned to me, hunched slightly, as his long fingers caressed the keys.

Edward was deep. It was clear that he was a compassionate man, regardless of the things I knew he had to have done, being from the family that he was in, the world that we existed in. He was thoughtful, passionate...and it was all there, reflected in the way he played that instrument.

I watched him move as he played, sure that he must have sensed my presence by now...That's just how they were, all of them. They always knew what was happening around them, even if they weren't able to see it. I sat quietly, listening to Edward play. I had no means of keeping track of time, but eventually, I noticed that it had darkened outside, the sun almost completely beneath the horizon.

It was late, and Edward noticed as well. As his tune drifted off, his fingers rested on the keys, and without moving or turning to look at me, he spoke, voice quiet and serious.

"I think we'd better call it a night, Isabella."

I didn't answer him; I was frightened to disturb the peace surrounding us in that moment. I simply stood, waiting for him. He finally slid away from the piano, his eyes meeting mine, before he smiled. He was still sad, that much was written clearly in his eyes. I had never before noticed how expressive they were, and I wasn't sure if that was because I had never paid attention, or because he'd never allowed them to speak in such a way before.

He followed close behind me on the stairs, his hand on my elbow, guiding me as we made the path back to my room. We stopped at my door, and our eyes met once more. Edward offered another small smile before walking into my room, lighting the candle beside my bed with his own before walking back to the door.

"Goodnight, Isabella," he said quietly.

I smiled slightly. "Goodnight, Edward."

He closed the door behind him, locking it securely, and I sighed, stripping from my clothing and into my nightgown. It had been such a peculiar day. I had seen something in Edward Masen that I was certain not many had ever seen before, something that I was sure he would see as weakness. Compassion.

I wasn't sure if I would be granted the same freedoms tomorrow that I had been today. I held onto a hope that I would, and as I knelt by my bedside, as I had done every night since I'd been a little girl, I prayed that I might be able to go home soon, that Edward would be able to go home soon, and that maybe the two of us could find some solace in one another in the time it took for that to happen.

I almost laughed. This morning I had hated him. At some point in the day, catching me unaware, the hate had turned to like, to understanding. I understood now. Edward wasn't the bad guy, and I didn't think he wanted to be here any more than I did. With a deep sigh, I closed my eyes, wondering what tomorrow would hold.

*~*~*

Two Months After Kidnapping...

I smiled at the knock on the door, excited to see Edward this morning. I had just finished dressing, and as if on cue, he was there, just like he was every morning, to unlock the door. The two of us had settled into a comfortable routine; well, as comfortable as it could be for two young people in the middle of nowhere, cut off from our families, civilization, and any other soul within miles.

"Come in, Edward," I called.

I had quickly learned in the last month of spending my days with him, that Edward had good days and bad days. On his good days, he was funny and intriguing, and on those days he and I would talk for hours. We would talk about our pasts, our families; I told him of growing up in Sicily and of my nonna, who I hadn't seen since moving to America.

Edward would tell me of his family, his mother and father, his brothers and sister. I knew all of them, of course, but when Edward told me stories of when they were but children, I felt connected to them in a way I wouldn't have otherwise. He told me of his love for music, how he enjoyed playing the piano and writing songs. We never spoke much of our situation; never spoke of the business that brought us here, never spoke of how or when this would end. I was to a point that I didn't long for home as much, and I soon found myself looking forward to Edward's companionship each morning when I woke.

But then Edward had his bad days. These days didn't come often, but when they did he spoke very little. We would continue through our routine together, but instead of us talking, I would read and Edward would play his sad songs. I was quiet on his bad days and would think in great depth about the unspoken need pouring from him. A need for silence? To be alone? I wasn't sure exactly what he craved but gave him his distance, not knowing what else I could do for him.

With one look into his eyes this morning, I could tell it was a bad day for Edward. I smiled slightly, trying to give him a bit of the sunshine I had felt upon waking, and felt a little reassured when he smiled a small smile back at me. I followed him silently down the stairs, and we sat together at our table. I watched him, and his eyes would occasionally meet mine, sad and lonely.

Something within me ached to make it better, though I didn't understand what caused these days for him. I wanted to know. I wanted to know what had changed within him so much and what had happened to cause such sadness to emanate from him. Edward was naturally outgoing and confidant, so to see him like this was unnerving. I wondered if he had heard news from back home, or if he knew something that I didn't. Or maybe it was simply that beneath his calm facade, he was actually like me, homesick.

Once again, I assumed responsibility for cleaning up our meal as Edward left the room after a simple, "thank you," for my effort. It was the same routine we followed every day, and I knew this morning would be no different as I cleared the table. However, when I didn't hear his piano play, the notes having become so familiar to me after our meals, I assumed he'd found a book to read for the morning instead.

When I finally made my way into the room, I was surprised by what I saw. Edward was sitting at his piano, his elbows resting on the lid that still covered the keys, head in his hands. I stood for a moment. I didn't know what to do, but I longed to go to him. I couldn't take my eyes from him as I watched the sun bounce off of his rusty brown hair. Before I realized it, my feet had moved without my permission, and I found myself standing next to him.

It took me a long moment before I could find enough courage to sit, and I was cautious of his reaction as I slid onto the bench next to him. His head popped up as if he were surprised. His eyes met mine, and we shared a long, searching look. What either of us were looking for, I didn't know.

"Are you okay, Edward?" I finally asked, unable to keep from biting my lip, nervous, unsure, but so full of a longing I didn't understand.

He didn't take his eyes from me as he sighed.

"I'm tired, Isabella."

He paused, frowning with a large swallow that made his throat bob.

"I honestly don't know how long we're gonna be here, doll, and...I wanna go home, you know? I miss home, and I'm not sure why it's takin' so long. I hate being so outta the loop."

With that, he pulled his long fingers through his hair, tugging roughly at it. I watched him, and my heart melted. I swallowed, my heart pounding, and I reached out to lay my hand over his.

"I feel the same. I miss my family terribly."

His eyes locked on mine and searched once more before he finally nodded.

"I know, Isabella. I...I am sorry."

The spot above his nose wrinkled as he looked away.

"I wouldn'ta done this to you if it were up to me. You know that, don't you?"

I nodded. I had learned enough of him to know he wouldn't have done this to me unless his father had ordered him to do so, though it was something he had never actually admitted to me until now. His eyes met mine again, and he offered the same charming smile that I longed to see. I returned it with one of my own.

"I'm glad that it was you, Edward," I said, finding confidence from some unknown place inside of me. "I'm glad it was you instead of anyone else that it could have been. I think that you're honorable."

His face transformed as something new fell upon his eyes. He squeezed my hand and lifted it to his lips. My stomach flipped nervously as his mouth pressed into the skin of my fingers, and I couldn't stop the slight tremor that ran through me.

"Isabella."

His voice was soft and smooth, his warm and moist breath falling onto my hand.

"You're an amazing woman. I'm very glad that it's you who's here with me."

I smiled softly even as my cheeks flooded with familiar heat. He smiled against my skin, kissing my hand once more before releasing it, and sliding the lid up from the piano keys. His fingers were long and thin and splayed across the keys before pressing down, notes dancing in the air.

The song that he played as his arm brushed against mine was lighter than any he had played during our time here. It was almost a happy song, and the smile that turned his lips made my soul joyful. He should have looked like that all of the time. He was a beautiful man always, but there was nothing that compared to a blithe Edward.

"This is for you," he said with a wink, "the only light in my life these last two months."

I flushed, smiling foolishly as he played the most beautiful song my ears had ever heard. When the notes finally ended, I glanced at him.

"That was beautiful."

He smiled softly.

"Ispirato dalla bellezza."

My heart jumped within my chest.

Ispirato dalla bellezza. Inspired by beauty.

Our eyes met, and his sparkled with a look I had never seen before. The air was full of an excitement that surpassed anything I had ever known. I wanted to touch him, to see that expression he had for me in that moment always. My stomach flipped in nervous churns as he smiled a smile that took my breath away.

Edward's expression changed as excitement crossed his face.

"Wanna go for a walk?"

I was unable to stop my eyes from widening in surprise.

"Really?"

His small smirk caused yet another flutter within me.

"That's if you like me enough not to run away from me, doll?"

I nodded, unable to find my voice.

He reclaimed my hand and stood, pulling me with him.

"Com'on, I think we could both use some fresh air. What'd ya say?"

"Okay," was the only word I could find.

Without removing my eyes from his face, his smile, his fierce green eyes, I let him lead me out of the small, log house for the first time in two months. My skin soaked in the sunshine, and I closed my eyes at how wonderful it felt. I couldn't help but hum my joy.

I felt a hand, smooth and warm, bush against my cheek. Stunned at his touch, I opened my eyes to find his intense stare upon me.

"Bella."

I sighed, swooning much like a school girl and all of my friends who had adored the beautiful bachelor, Edward Masen. Yet I couldn't stop myself. He pulled me in, and something was changing.

"I'm sorry," he said softly.

I bit my lip again, frowning and not understanding what he could be apologizing for in a moment like this. He had given me the gift of warmth and sun and air.

"We'll come out every day from now on, okay? Look at you. You're beautiful."

I blushed, and he smiled lazily, leaning toward me. When his lips brushed against my cheek, my breath caught, which caused another smile from him.

"Walk with me," he said, pulling my hand as he began a stroll through the field of golden grass blanked between us and the horizon.

I nodded again, allowing myself to feel. The rays of the sun warmed my body, the rays of Edward's smile and the feeling of his skin against mine warmed my soul. I had no idea what it meant or how it would fit with our lives, but in that moment, I had it didn't matter, because everything that I needed.

*~*~*

Three Months after the Kidnapping...

There was a knock on the frame of my open bedroom door, and I turned to see Edward, hat tipped lowly over the left side of his face, legs crossed as he leaned against the frame, arms crossed in front of his chest, with an incredible smile. I smiled back at him, my heart near bursting with joy....and love. I was sure it probably was the most foolish thing that I could have let myself do, but I had fallen in love with Edward Masen. I hadn't told him. It would only complicate things.

Other than the kiss to my cheek all those weeks ago, Edward's lips had only ever been on my hands. He had remained a complete gentleman, and I had no reason to believe that he felt anything other than companionship between the two of us.

"The sun is shining, gorgeous. You ready for our walk?"

I grinned with a nod, meeting him at the door and letting him take my hand as we glided down the stairs and through the front door into the warm, summer afternoon sunshine. It was a beautiful day, and as Edward and I strolled along a path across one of the many golden hills, I inhaled deeply, appreciating all of it, the warmth, and the love...Edward.

I wasn't foolish enough of a girl to think that I wouldn't get my heart broken. Once we were back home, Edward would have his responsibilities to return to, and I mine. I knew he would not hurt me intentionally, but it would happen nonetheless. Our families were political, ranked, and very much in control. Though my father would probably leap at the chance of something between Edward and me to raise the Russo family through the organization's ranks, but Edward's father would not see it the same.

It didn't matter. I would take what beautiful piece of him I could, while we were here, away from everyone and everything else in our lives. Here we were not Edward Masen and Isabella Russo. We were Edward and Bella, simple and uncomplicated.

"You look beautiful today, Bella," Edward said quietly, the sun glistening off of his stunning red-brown hair.

I smiled, feeling the familiar heat flood my cheeks. He had said it every day since that first day we'd ventured outside together, yet, my heart's reaction never dulled, never changed.

"Thank you. You look rather handsome, yourself."

He chuckled, squeezing my hand. We walked in silence for many minutes, enjoying the air and the peace of the country hills.

We had traveled into town several miles away just two weeks prior. Edward bought us both new clothes, more appropriate for the hot summer months ahead. He hadn't heard from his family, and mine was still unaware of our location and even our well being. I didn't care so much anymore. I missed my family greatly, but an ever-growing part of me longed to never go back, to stay here with Edward in our quiet, peaceful world, for always.

I was pulled out of my thoughts by a joke that Edward was telling. I laughed easily enough. I had learned in the last several weeks that he had such a colorful sense of humor. Edward could always make me smile.

My laughter died as he stopped abruptly, pulling my hand back. I glanced at him in concern, but when my eyes met his passionate green gaze; my worry disappeared, leaving behind it a burning within my stomach at the look splayed across his face.

"Bella," he breathed, and I had no time to ask him what was wrong with him before he dropped to the ground in front of me, landing on one knee.

My heart raced frantically.

He can't be...no...he isn't...

"Isabella, you are the most amazing gal I have ever met. I can't be without you, Bella. I love you, and I need you. Marry me."

I stared at him, wide-eyed as my tears gathered.

He was. He did.

I didn't care. In that moment I didn't care about our families or how our future would work with fathers who could barely stand to be in the same room as one another. None of it mattered, because Edward wanted me. And I wanted him.

Without thinking through one more complication, I threw my arms around his neck, only slightly embarrassed of the squeal that erupted from my chest as I whispered, "yes," into his neck.

Edward chuckled, wrapping his arms around me and standing, pulling me up from the ground and into the air. Then his lips were on mine. It was the first time I had ever experienced such a feeling, but had I prior, any experiences would have dimmed in comparison with his kiss. It was smooth and confident, passionate and loving, just like the man who owned the lips from which the kiss came. His mouth worked against mine, and my lips melted to his, completely surrendering to him in wonder.

He ended it too soon, placing me back on my wobbly feet with a grin that lit his entire face. I had never seen him so happy, and I couldn't believe that it was because of me. He wanted me.

Edward grabbed my hand, kissing it with vigor, before meeting my eyes.

"I love you."

My breath caught at the declaration, and I smiled through my tears.

"I love you, Edward."

He grinned.

"Good. Marry me."

I frowned at him. Had he not heard me agree to marry him?

"Yes, Edward, I told you—"

He shook his head wildly.

"No. Marry me now. Let's go to town now. Marry me now, Bella."

My stomach fluttered at the thought and how fast the world was suddenly spinning around me. I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself before nodding.

"Okay."

We raced back to the house, laughing like children as we ran through the grass. I changed into a white sun dress that we had purchased when we last went to town, and hurried down the stairs to meet him at the door. Edward dressed in a pair of tan pants with a white, long-sleeved shirt covered by a dark brown vest. He wore his hat, and looked devastatingly beautiful.

"Good Lord, Isabella, you take my breath away."

I blushed once again as he took my hand and kissed it with his warm lips before they traveled to my cheek.

"Are you ready?" he whispered next to my ear, causing me to shiver slightly at his, still very new, closeness.

We drove the hour-long drive that it took to get to the nearest town, and Edward hurried us to the only Catholic chapel. We stormed through the doors, flushed and excited, and Edward removed his had as were met by the kind, compassionate eyes of the priest.

"Hi," Edward greeted him with a nod.

The man smiled.

"Hello. I am Father Carlisle."

His eyes studied Edward for a moment before looking at me and then between us a few times.

"What can I do for you this afternoon?" Father Carlisle asked in English more broken from his Italian accent than my own was.

"We want to be married, Father," Edward said, still slightly breathless from our very hurried expedition.

His eyes widened slightly before he glanced at me.

"Alone? Where are your families?"

Edward sighed.

"In Chicago. They...they don't know."

Father Carlisle frowned as he studied us, and I feared he would turn us away. Finally after a long moment, he spoke.

"Marriage is not to be entered into lightly, young man," he said to Edward.

I glanced to Edward's face, his serious gaze meeting the father's with a steady determination.

"I love her, Father. I love her, and I wanna love her always. I'd die for her."

A small smile played at the father's lips before he looked to me, his eyes searing into my very soul.

"And you, child? Are you, too, in love with this man? Ready to dedicate your life to him?"

"Yes," I said, trying to match the strength of Edward's voice.

With a few more minutes of quietly studying us, he finally nodded.

"Come, my children," he said softly, "today you will be married in God's holy unity."

I bit my lip, the words causing a fluttering once more within the depths of my being. I glanced at Edward. His eyes were on me, piercing and full of passion, and his smile was so very bright. I smiled at him in return, my cheeks flaming excitement.

Father Carlisle led us to the sanctuary of the small chapel, and we stood before him and the altar and God as Edward held my hands in his.

It was not a usual Catholic wedding. When my oldest brother, Anthony, was married, it had been a weekend celebration. The ceremony was large and elaborate with all of our extended Italian family, not to mention friends. Edward's family had been there as well. The ceremony was a full service that lasted three hours, not uncommon for families like ours.

Edward and I would have a different wedding. There were no boisterous family members, no friends to celebrate our union. We would not have a party or a cake or wine. We were surrounded only by the priest and God himself. It was just the two of us, but that's all that we would ever need.

The Father read from the Holy Book in my native tongue, and I watched Edward's eyes, serious and intent upon my own.

"Edward," Carlisle finally said, "repeat my words, per favore."

He spoke, and Edward squeezed my hands, taking a breath before repeating, his gaze set on mine, green eyes fiercely burning and a small smile on his lips.

"Prendo te, Isabella, come mia sposa e prometto di esserti fedele sempre, nella gioia e nel dolore, nella salute e nella malattia, e di amarti e onorarti tutti i giorni della mia vita," he said solemnly as a tear slipped down my cheek.

I take you, Isabella, as my bride and promise to be faithful to you always, in joy and in pain, in health and in illness, and to love you and to honor you all of the days of my life.

He gazed at me softly as I repeated the words, embarrassed that I had to clear my throat free of the tears welling before I could speak.

"Prendo te, Edward, come mio sposo e prometto di esserti fedele sempre, nella gioia e nel dolore, nella salute e nella malattia, e di amarti e onorarti tutti i giorni della mia vita."

The words echoed through my soul.

I take you, Edward, as my groom and promise to be faithful to you always, in joy and in pain, in health and in illness, and to love you and to honor you all of the days of my life.

"Edward, Isabella," Carlisle said, turning to each of us and smiling softly, "With authority given to me by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, I declare you man and wife. Who our Father has bound together, let no man set apart. Bless you my children; go with God."

Edward leaned forward and kissed me for the second time. This kiss was different than our first. It was slower and full of promise, but ended quickly. He smiled at me.

"I love you, Isabella."

"I love you, Edward."

Edward shook Father Carlisle's hand, thanking him, before we were out of the chapel and driving our way back home. The trip home seemed to take so much longer than it had earlier that day. Edward and I couldn't keep our eyes off of one another, and his hand held tightly to mine. It felt different now. He was mine. I was his. I still couldn't make myself believe it was true. Surely I would wake up, having this whole ordeal be but a dream of an overactive imagination.

But it wasn't a dream. We finally reached the house, and Edward picked me up in his arms, carrying me across the threshold, and not releasing me until we reached the small sitting area by the piano. He kissed me once more, his lips slow, passionate and pouring off love. His hands finally touched me, brushing against my arms, cradling my neck, stroking my cheeks before fully wrapping around me and pulling me against him tightly.

My heart skipped a beat as his tongue brushed my bottom lip, and on instinct, my mouth opened to him. Feeling his tongue in my mouth, against my tongue, my cheeks, was unlike anything I had ever imagined, and he tasted so sweet, so wonderfully Edward.

He pulled back from me, leaving me with a ragged breathlessness that matched his own. His long fingers stroked through my hair as he smiled, his face full of the love that I had caught small glances of over the past several weeks.

"Are you hungry?" he asked quietly.

I took in a deep breath as I considered my answer. We hadn't eaten since breakfast, and though the last thing on my mind was food, I decided eating may not be a bad idea. I slowly nodded.

Edward smiled at me, holding my cheek in the palm of his hand, and I couldn't help but lean into his touch.

"I'll make us dinner, Bella. There's twenty-year wine in the cellar, my love, be a doll and go get it for us."

I smiled, my stomach fluttering at the endearment from his lips. It was for me. I was his love. I nodded, and he kissed me softly, quickly, before I traveled down the narrow steps to the cellar and retrieved the lone bottle of wine.

When I reached the kitchen, Edward was at the small stove. Noodles were boiling and he was chopping fresh vegetables that we'd picked up before leaving the village. I watched him work, noticing the same confidence was in his every move. He was the same Edward, but my eyes saw him differently now. I tentatively walked toward him, and he noticed my movement, raising his eyes to meet mine and smiling warmly.

His lips met mine again, another quick kiss, before turning his attention back to chopping. I nuzzled against his shoulder, smiling into the sleeve of his shirt. This caused him to chuckle.

"Ya know," he said, his voice low and deep, "I like it when you're shy, but you don't have any reason to be, babe...Mrs. Masen," he said with a wink.

My face flooded with heat. My teeth captured my lip so roughly it almost hurt, though I was too nervous, too embarrassed to notice the pain. Something had changed in the air as his lips had earlier moved against my own, and an unspoken need filled my very being.

"Bella," he said, leaving the knife on the wooden board and turning fully toward me. His fingertips brushed against my cheek, then to my lip, pulling it from my teeth. "Relax, sweetheart. You trust me?"

I frowned slightly.

"Of course, I trust you."

He smiled gently.

"Then relax," he whispered, kissing me lightly.

"I think there are a coupla wine glasses up in that cupboard," he said, nodding toward the upper left cabinet, "Would you mind pouring some wine for you and me?"

I nodded with a small smile and poured our wine. I'd never had wine but for the sips here and there when Mama and Pa weren't looking. They didn't think it appropriate for young ladies, though my brothers had been able to have it once they turned thirteen.

I handed Edward a glass as he stirred all of the ingredients together on the stove.

"Thank you, sweetheart," he said with a wink.

He raised his glass toward mine.

"To my beautiful bride. I love you, Bella."

Edward touched the rim of his glass to mine as I smiled. I took a tentative sip, watching as he, with his ever-present confidence, swirled the red liquid before bringing his nose to the glass, closing his beautiful eyes for a moment before humming.

Opening his eyes with a raised eyebrow, he smiled.

"Good year."

I grinned, enjoying the warmth that spread through me as I sipped the wine.

We ate, sitting close to one another. Edward's hand never left my knee, and his touch caused my heart to pound and blood to rush throughout my body. It was difficult to concentrate on the food before me, my mind reeling with thoughts of what was to come in just a short time from now and my body begging for something I couldn't name.

I didn't understand it. I knew very little about that, and what I did know, I had learned from overhearing my brothers' rather vulgar conversations. I was nervous and apprehensive, feeling more vulnerable than I ever had. But I trusted Edward, and I knew he would never hurt me, never tease me for not knowing what to do.

"Bella, you haven't had much. You okay, babe?"

I nodded, taking in a deep breath as I met his gaze. It was soft, understanding, and I knew that he knew what I was feeling.

He smiled, grabbing my hand and kissing my knuckles as he had so many times before.

"Are you finished, then?"

I swallowed and nodded.

"Com'on," he said gently, standing and taking my hand in his.

We went up the stairs slowly, and he pulled me into his room. I had never stepped foot inside of it before that night, not wanting to invade his privacy or make him angry. The room was mostly bare and basic, just like mine, though the bed was slightly bigger, as was the window. His window didn't have the bars that mine did.

His hands slid from mine, up my arms and to my shoulders, leaving goosebumps behind them. My mind fully focused on him, my eyes meeting his to find the same fiery passion that had existed there earlier in the day. He smiled softly, his arms sliding around my shoulders and one hand cupping my neck as his lips returned to mine. A strange, long and needful sound escaped my lips, and I tensed, embarrassed.

Edward pulled his mouth back from mine, his eyes searching mine with a slight smile.

"What is it?"

"I'm—I'm sorry, I...I don't know where that...where that came from," I stuttered, my nerves beginning to cause my muscles to shake.

"Bella," he said softly, smiling as he stroked my hair, "Don't ever apologize for that, my love. That sound..." he paused with a smile, "it's beautiful. Does things to me that you couldn't even imagine."

I felt my eyes widen as I sucked in a breath, the center between my legs growing quite warm.

"Really?" I whispered.

Edward's smile grew.

"Really."

His lips crashed upon mine then, full of passion and much rougher than before. It coaxed more sounds from me, which Edward seemed to enjoy, just as he said. His tongue danced in my mouth again, and soon Edward was making noises of his own, long and pleasured sounds that made my body long for something. For what exactly, I didn't know.

When his hands reached behind me and I heard the zipper on the back of my dress sliding, I froze, suddenly paralyzed with my nerves.

Edward pulled back from our kiss once more.

"Trust me, Isabella," he said softly, walking around to my back.

The zipper slid further, and then I felt his warm hands. They slid over my back for a few moments, leaving my skin screaming for more of his attention as he brushed beneath the shoulders of my dress, coaxing it away from my skin and down my body. Even the light fabric of the dress seemed to leave a fiery trail down my body as the white folds fell to the floor.

My breathing sped, chest heaving as my heart pounded wildly throughout my body. Edward stayed behind me, increasing my anxiety as his fingertips glided from my shoulders to my fingers and settled at the sides of my waist, before hooking into my hose and pulling it down. I sucked in another deep breath when I felt his mouth on the backs of my thighs. The room began spinning.

"You're so beautiful, Bella. So beautiful," he murmured against my legs as I stepped out of the last material that had covered my body.

I was now bare, fully exposed to the man who had kidnapped me, made me fall in love with him...who had married me.

Edward kissed my flesh and circled around to the front of me, kissing up my legs, his hands following not far behind his mouth. His lips caressed their way up my stomach and then reached my breasts. His eyes met mine as his mouth enveloped my nipple. I gasped at the incredible sensation it created as my hand shot to his hair.

"Edward," I said, again embarrassed by the drawn out, breathy way that his name escaped my lips.

My worries eased slightly as he moaned against my skin, pulling me tighter to him. Before my brain could catch up with my fingers, I was boldly unbuttoning his vest and underneath it, his shirt. My hands slid beneath the material and pushed it all off of him, and all I could do was stare at his smooth, beautiful chest, his strong, defined arms, and his stomach.

I swallowed, my eyes tracing back up to his. He smiled as his hands reached the button of his trousers, tugging them and his underclothing down. I sucked in a breath, forcing my eyes away as fire flooded my entire being.

His hand brushed my cheek.

"Sweetheart, look at me."

I forced my eyes back to his, smoldering green and flooded with compassion, with love and adoration. He smiled again.

"Come here," he said softly, pulling me toward him.

I couldn't stop myself from melting into him as his arms enveloped me. The direct contact of our overheated skin caused an unknown desire to well up within me.

Edward walked us back a few steps and lifted me slightly, his strong arms gently easing me against the mattress of his bed...of our bed. He held himself above me, and in that moment my fears fell away. It was as if he had blanketed me in reassurance that didn't require words. Everything was there in his eyes, looking back at me with a love that overwhelmed my heart.

His lips brushed against mine in a fluid motion before making a trail across my cheek, down my neck and returning to my breasts. Noises fell from my lips, but I was far beyond even thinking about that anymore as I allowed my hands to venture through his soft hair, down the curls of his neck and his solid back, feeling the muscles ripple beneath my fingertips.

His hands left trails of fire on every inch of my skin. They drifted to my thighs and up to the place that cried out the most for his touch. Modesty had fled me, and I couldn't stop my hips from pressing into his hand as his lips recaptured mine. He groaned into my mouth, increasing the throbbing sensation throughout my entire body.

He pulled back away from me, his chest heaving with short breaths and his eyes searching mine.

"This may be a bit painful for you at first, sweetheart, but it won't last long. I promise."

I nodded, unable to find my voice.

Edward shifted his balance as he reached between us. I felt him press into my center and moaned, my entire body screaming at me, electric and tense. Slowly, he pushed forward, and my body responded as he slid into me. My breathing hitched as I watched his face, forehead furrowed.

Suddenly he stopped, and my eyes darted to his.

"What is it?" I whispered.

"I love you," he responded in a husky whisper of his own, his green eyes so intense that I lost myself within them.

"I love you, too."

He pressed into me further, and my body clinched in pain as tears welled in my eyes. His body went still, and he rested his forehead against mine, kissing small, sensual kisses across my lips.

"Are you okay?"

He breathed the question against my cheek before kissing the tears that had fallen from the corners of my eyes.

I nodded; wrapping my arms around his neck and pulling his lips back to mine. What started out as a delicate brushing of our mouths increased with renewed passion. I needed more. I wasn't sure what, exactly, but my hips moved on their own accord, pressing into Edward's. He moaned into my mouth, causing my stomach to tighten and my heart to flutter.

Slowly, so very slowly, Edward began to move above me. His body slid against mine, within me, creating feelings I hadn't ever imagined possible. He kissed my face over and over as his movements quickened. My body responded to his, acted on its own in movements that melded my skin into his.

Edward soft noises became louder, turning into grunts and moaned words of his love. I was overwhelmed at the wonderful feelings taking me over as the burning in my stomach grew and finally exploded into a million pieces. Edward's name fell from my lips, and he thrust into me one final time, tensing on top of me, his face a beautiful contortion.

"Oh, Bella," he said in a throaty groan.

He collapsed onto me, the silence enveloping us and our heavy breathing. After a moment, he lifted himself off of me, falling to my side as his hands danced across my skin.

"Are you okay, sweetheart?"

I smiled, turning into him and nodding. "Yes."

"I love you," he whispered to me again.

"I love you."

He smiled in the moonlight, caressing my face and hair. I closed my eyes, concentrating on his touch, amazed that I could feel his love radiating into the room and hoping he felt that same love from me.

We laid together in silence for a long while, our bodies tangled together beneath the white sheets. As my body calmed, my mind sped.

"Edward?" I whispered into the quiet room.

"Hm?" he responded, tucking my head under his chin, his arms wrapping securely around me.

"Do you think our families are going to react okay to this?"

Edward was silent for a long time, and I wondered if he was going to answer me when finally he pulled back slightly, resting his head next to mine on the pillow and meeting my gaze.

"I really don't know, babe, but it don't matter. It's you and me now, right? We'll stay away if we have to, but you are my life now, Bella."

I took in a deep breath and nodded.

"You're my life, too, Edward. I can't live without you now."

"You'll never have to. I promise you."

*~*~*

Warm, soft lips peppered against my eyes, my cheeks, and my forehead. I smiled as the sunshine soaked into my skin.

"C'mon, Mrs. Masen. Open those gorgeous eyes."

My smile grew as his voice caressed my soul. I squinted an eye open, then both, meeting Edward's gaze and warm smile.

"Good morning," he whispered, pressing his lips to mine.

"Mmhmm," was all I could muster from my throat.

His eyes searched mine for a moment.

"You okay, sweetheart?"

I smiled and nodded, pulling myself into a sitting position and wincing at my aching muscles.

Edward chuckled.

"I made you french toast, mia amore."

The sound of the door opening downstairs startled us both, and instinctively I pulled the sheet up around my body as Edward's entire body stiffened.

The footsteps on the stairs made my heart pound furiously in my ears. I glanced at Edward, who was still tense, taking a protective pose in front of me. I placed my hand on his arm, my muscles shaking with an overwhelming sense of fear and foreboding.

Then he walked through the open door, his face immediately hardening when his eyes fell on Edward and me.

Aro Masen.

"Pop," Edward said, his voice surprised, almost relieved, but he kept his place in front of me.

"What in God's name is going on, Edward? Just what the hell do ya' think you're doin', kid? I said to take her to the country. To keep her away until I came for you, and you bring her into your bed?"

My stomach lurched at his tone. Something wasn't right.

"Listen, Pop...we, uh...well, Bella and I...we got married."

"What?"

Mr. Masen's face contorted in anger, his eyes burning a hole into the both of us.

"Damn it, Edward. You know what her father did to us. She is the enemy, and you betrayed me. You betrayed our family by marrying...this."

All blood ran from my body. I had no idea what he was talking about, wasn't sure what my father had done. Yet, I knew that look in Mr. Masen's eyes. I had grown up in a world where that look meant nothing good.

Edward's fists clinched.

"I don't need the family if you can't accept her, Pop. She's my wife, and I love her."

"You know nothing, you ignorant moron. You think her family's gonna accept you, Edward? You think they'll welcome you with open arms? They won't, Edward. They won't because her family is dead. All of them."

I gasped, my stomach spinning wildly, threatening to empty its contents right in front of the both of them. I grasped onto Edward.

"No, Edward. No..."

I couldn't keep the tears from falling as Mr. Masen's eyes darted toward mine in disgust. He was going to kill me. That had been decided before he made the trip to retrieve Edward. That had been decided the moment he had killed the rest of my family.

Edward scooted back toward me, wrapping an arm around my shoulders, and I sank against him, unable to keep my sobs from spilling into the room.

"I'm so sorry, Bella. I...I swear to you, I didn't know...."

I couldn't respond. I knew within the depths of my soul that he didn't know what had happened, what his father had done.

"Shh, sweetheart, it will be okay. I'm so sorry."

"Edward," Mr. Masen nearly growled, "Get away from the girl. I have some unfinished business with her."

"No," Edward growled. "No, I won't let you do this. I won't live without her."

His father's eyes blazed.

"So be it. You are nothin' to me, Edward."

Everything happened so quickly after that. I heard the deafening noise before I registered what had happened. Edward gasped, his hand grabbing tightly to my arm. His eyes darted first to me, full of disbelief, fear...pain, before darting to Mr. Masen, who stood just in the doorway of our bedroom.

My heart pounded wildly as something flashed in Mr. Masen's eyes before a mask fell across his face, and he turned and walked away, down the stairs, and out the door.

Edward groaned, and that's when I fully realized what had happened.

"Oh...oh my God, Edward," I breathed, tears falling down my cheeks as I looked down at him in my arms, blood staining his smooth skin.

"Oh, God, no. Please, not him. No."

I turned him in my arms, my hands flying to his chest.

"No!" I screamed, my heart ripping, burning intolerably.

"Bella," his weak voice made me focus, "God, Bella, look at you," he whispered, his fingers reaching for my body, but I never felt them against my skin.

I followed his gaze down to my own body, my now exposed stomach covered in blood, blood that wasn't just Edward's. The moment I realized what had happened, the pain shot through me.

"No," Edward whispered, weakly pulling my body to his, "God, Bella...I'm so sorry."

Tears fell, but I was unable to get enough oxygen to sob. I was so tired, but forced myself to stay awake, to look into Edward's beautiful eyes.

"I love you," I whispered, "Thank you. For...loving me."

"No, Bella, damn it," Edward sobbed, his voice full of his pain and weakness, "No."

"Shh."

My hand ran through his hair as he sobbed, the sound weakening so fast. I knew it was over...for both of us.

"I love you, Bella," he whispered, "I love you always....Always."

"I love you," I whispered, finally able to sob just once as his eyes closed and his body fell limp in my arms.

I fell against him, tears falling, mixing with the blood and flesh of the only man I had ever loved. The pain ebbed away as my vision blurred, and I was consumed by the bittersweet darkness. Edward's sweet voice called my name, extending his hand to me. I took it in my own, and we were enveloped by peace.

*~*~*

Father Carlisle's POV

The chapel was cool with the morning air. I sat, my soul heavy and burdened as I prayed. Never had my heart felt such sadness as it did on this day.

They had been brought here to me by our local dairy peddler, who had found them in their bed, cold and lifeless, not twenty four hours prior. The two young lovers had died in one another's arms only hours after their wedding, the wedding that I had officiated.

The man and the woman, both young and both beautiful, rested in their simple casket, built large enough for the two of them to share for the remainder of earth's life. They were but bodies now.

A sob escaped me as I spoke words into the quiet. The words, the sayings were things my mouth had spoken before, but today, they were different.

Edward.

Isabella.

I didn't know anything of them except that they were alone in this world. They'd been murdered by gunshot, that much had been clear. Questionable things frequently happened in and around our small area. No one knew what happened, yet everyone knew what happened. The family that owned most of the land surrounding our small town held a quiet and sinful power.

I had never been a man to question my faith, to question my God. Yet as I sat this morning, staring at their lifeless forms lain together, side by side, I questioned why. With the love, the true and incredibly powerful love, which had beamed from them, why had their lives ended so tragically when they'd really only just begun?

They had no family here to say goodbye. They had no one to grieve their departure from this world. No one but me, and my own soul was greatly troubled.

I was brought from my quietly murmured utterances to God, to the lost lives in front of me, to myself, by the sharp ray of sunshine that pierced through the stained glass window behind the altar. The light cast shadows of colors over the entire room.

I inhaled deeply as I felt a familiar peace blanket me in warmth and love. One thought, one whisper in my soul, gave me solace. These two souls were Home now; they were together, and they would have peace, they would have one another, for eternity.

*~*~*

A/N: A/N: Thanks so much to NCChris-the fastest, greatest beta in the world. We love you!