AN: It's not very long, but I've always wanted you to understand that Edward wasn't an angel. This is the story of his transformation.
Something felt out of place. I couldn't put my finger on it, but something definitely didn't feel right. I looked over at Emmett as he stood with his back to me, looking out the window at his father's estate. His posture seemed rather stiff, as if he too could feel my discomfort. He swirled his glass, the dark liquid almost hypnotic as it caressed the glass.
"I wonder how she's liking Spain," Emmett finally spoke, breaking me from my trance.
"Spain?" I could feel my brow draw together.
Emmett nodded, taking the glass to his lips and finally turning to face me. "Isabella," he grimaced slightly from the burn of the drink spilling down his throat. "Her Majesty wished her to be in Spain in hopes of learning the ways of her homeland. Our Queen has a tender spot for my dear sister."
Spain, I repeated in my head. As she was my betrothed, shouldn't she have had to clear this with me? I'm aware that we are only betrothed and I have no intention of changing that status, but she still is mine. It was a strange thought. Isabella did belong to me. Since her birth, she had belonged to me. I'd never really wanted her, but she'd make a good wife someday. She'd be faithful, hopefully fruitful, and she came from a good family. As if that wasn't enough to recommend her, she was in the Queen's favor. All good qualifications for the Duchess of Mason. Yet it remained that she was still Isabella, Emmett's sister.
"I was not aware that she had gone to Spain," I tried to sound nonchalant, but I couldn't get over the feeling that I should have known the whereabouts of my betrothed.
Emmett looked at me strangely. "She's been gone nearly a fortnight. How could you have missed her absence?"
I shrugged, pouring my own glass and taking a sip. It wasn't really that strange that I wouldn't have noticed. I avoided the palace and all those who inhabited it. When the Queen saw me, she insisted on speaking with me about starting a family. She was aware of my betrothal contract to Isabella, as she herself sat with the King when he approved it. But I wasn't ready for that. She was just a baby. She would never understand my needs, or my mistress, or any of the other women that find their way into my bed from time to time.
"I know that you're not ready to marry her," Emmett stated what had so obviously been on my mind, "But you really should have known about this."
"Perhaps you or your father should have brought it to my attention." I narrowed my eyes at him. "After all, I should have been involved in the decision."
"None of us were involved in the decision," Emmett stated as if I'd missed the obvious. "The Queen said that she was to go, we made no move to deny the Queen her wish."
I took a deep breath. It would do me no good to speak to Emmett in such a tone, especially since this was a good thing. "How long before she returns?"
Emmett took a deep breath, he loved his little sister. I could understand the protectiveness he felt towards her. I couldn't deny that she sparked similar feelings within me as well. "A year she is to serve under the Spanish Court."
A year. I smiled. Her Majesty could say nothing to me for a year in Isabella's absence. After all, I could not marry her if she was in another country.
"Darling," Katherine ran her fingers across my cheek as we lay in what should have been the afterglow of a magnificent tryst. "What has you so distracted?"
"I don't quite know," I answered honestly. I'd felt off for several months now, and I just couldn't understand it. Katherine was always able to take my mind off the affairs of state, but I just hadn't been completely with her today. I twirled a piece of her blonde hair around my finger as she laid her head on my chest.
I'd met Katherine during the Summer Season nearly two years past. Her husband Garret, a friend of my father's, had recently passed. She had been over twenty years his junior, but they'd been close. He'd loved her thoroughly and taught her things in their marriage bed that even I had been shy to try. But she was beautiful and strong, knowing what she wanted, and teaching me how to give it to her. I had never known that there were so many ways to increase a woman's pleasure in a carnal relationship. The things she taught me, I would never forget. They were things that I hoped would improve my future marriage to my Isabella.
I sat up rather quickly, nearly knocking Katherine to the floor. She giggle slightly, pushing on my chest so that I'd lay back down on the bed. Reaching her leg across so that she sat astride my abdomen, Katherine leaned down so that we were nose to nose. "Where are you today, Edward? Though I will not complain about your performance, you're mind has been elsewhere."
Looking up into Katherine's blue eyes, I felt a strange sense of guilt wash through me, something I should never feel. Many men, both married and bachelors kept mistresses. Even my father had had one before he'd married my mother. It was just the way that things were done. Why should I feel guilty?
A frown flittered across Katherine's face. She nodded and sat back. "It will be difficult to find someone with your passion, Edward," she sighed.
"What do you mean?" I inquired, sitting up so that I was looking directly into her face.
Katherine placed her palm against my cheek. "You are in love, my dear Edward." She smiled sadly. "I will miss you greatly, but you are not meant to be here anymore."
Removing her warmth, Katherine began to move around the room, reacquiring her clothes so that she could leave. But I could barely comprehend her. "Love? I don't understand."
Katherine laughed, turning to look at me sadly. "It's okay my dear. You will soon. And I should step aside now, because I know that look. You will be a faithful husband to whoever she may be."
I was furious. What was happening to me? Five months ago, I had been deliriously happy. I'd had my betrothed, who I knew would be there when I was ready for a son. I'd had my mistress, who's only requirement was that I keep our affair quiet. She was in no need of funds as her husband had left her with the means necessary to live comfortably. And then there had been the women who'd occasionally come for me. Not debutants, I would not ruin an innocent that way. I kept to women of the stage or widows.
But since Katherine had left me in our little room at the inn nearly a month ago, I couldn't seem to find solace in anyone. I was ripping my hair out about what she had said. Love? And yet, I couldn't get the word out of my head.
I wished to speak with my father, but he was out of the country. He and Mother had recently taken up residence in Italy, leaving me the title and the responsibility. Not that I had minded. With the exception of court events, I rather enjoyed the respect that came with my name. Before the incident with that horrid L word, it had brought me more pleasure than I would have ever thought possible.
Since my own father was out of the question, I travelled to the Swan's estate, hoping that Charles would be able to attend the problem.
"What can I do for you son?" Charles asked as we sat in front of the crackling fire, enjoying the warmth that it provided against the winter chill.
"I seem to find myself a little confused and put out." I answered him honestly.
Charles chuckled. "Yes, I suppose you would be a bit put out. You were never one who appreciated confusion."
I found myself slightly surprised by this man's ability to read into my feelings this way, but pushed past it. Even as a young lad, I'd found myself at the Swan Estate, roughhousing with Emmett. Why wouldn't this man know me? "My mistress left me."
Charles nodded, and swirled his brandy thoughtfully. "I suppose that would be a bit disheartening. Did she find you," he hesitated, "dissatisfactory?"
"No," I answered so quickly that Charles had to hold back another chuckle. "No," I said again, more quietly. " It wasn't about my ability, it was about my feelings."
"It isn't uncommon for a man to grow attached to his mistress." Charles stared sadly into the fire. "I married mine."
I watched a small piece of the flame break away from the rest before fizzling out. "I didn't know that Mrs. Swan was your mistress."
Charles smiled, eyes misted over with tears that he would not allow himself to shed. "Renee was beautiful, a true Diva. I met her when she was performing in London during the Season. I saw her once, and I was never able to look away. I wasn't the most sought after man for the young debs, but their momma's were certainly upset to see me go." Charles took a deep pull from his glass and refilled it from the decanter on the table between us before continuing. "Renee had no intention of settling down. She had so much of a life ahead of her. I know now that was what I loved most about her, her love for life, for the uncharacteristic."
I wanted to know more, but it felt as though I should remain quiet and wait for Charles to tell me more. Which after a span of time, he did. "When she realized she was pregnant, she was so mad at me. How could I have screwed up? She didn't want to be forced to settle down, go to court events, and she definitely didn't want to have a child. Sometimes I think that's what killed her. The doctor could never understand what happened, but I knew. She said that she forgave me, even married me to prove it. But when she was giving birth to Isabella, she just gave up. Renee couldn't live her life anymore, because it wasn't a life to her anymore. She wasn't living for herself, she was living for us, for her children, and that was never what she wanted."
Seeming to remember that he was talking to me, Charles shook his head. "If you have come across such a connection with your mistress, I am sorry to tell you that it does not release you from the contract to Isabella. I will not allow her to be left to fend for herself during the Season. I need to know that she's being taken care of."
"You don't have to worry about that," I said ruefully.
"What is the problem with your mistress then?" Charles asked.
"My problem's not with her, it's with Isabella," I sipped the brandy, feeling a strange flutter as he spoke her name and wanting to squash it.
"Isabella's been gone for nearly half a year," Charles said, clearly confused. "What could she have done to irritate you?"
"I wish I knew." Leaning forward, elbows on my knees, looking down at the glass in my hands. "My mistress left me because I wasn't able to concentrate during…" I trailed off, not really sure that I should say such things to my future father in law. "And when she questioned me about it, all I could think about was Isabella, and how it seemed wrong to be keeping a mistress." Grabbing the ends of my hair roughly, I tried to pull the answer physically from my head. "This isn't normal. There are many men who keep mistresses, even after they get married. I shouldn't feel any sort of remorse for it."
It was silent for a moment too long, so I looked up to see Charles smiling into the fire. "You won't be one of those men, Edward. You will be a lot like your father."
"Why?" I growled.
"Because somewhere along the way," Charles said, dragging the thought out so as to torture my further, "you fell in love with your betrothed. It doesn't happen to many men, but those who do experience it are lucky. To find a marriage where you actually want to be with your wife, that is the ultimate goal."
"That can't be possible." I shook my head fervently. It just wasn't an option. I couldn't love Isabella. This is the little girl who used to trip over her own skirts when she would chase Emmett and I around the estate. We would intentionally hide so that she would give up and leave us alone. I had seen her grow up, and she most definitely was not someone who I wished to bed. How could I possibly have fallen in love with her?"
"You'll understand, Edward." Charles smiled and lifted himself out of his chair. "When she comes back from Spain, you will understand."
Remaining in my seat, I continued to stare at the fire, coming to terms with what he had said. Isabella and I were to be wed. That, I had always known. Even when we were younger and I'd pull on her hair, I'd known that we were to be married one day. I'd never really thought about it. But now, there was no denying the slight squeeze in my chest at the thought.
No, I wouldn't think about it now, .
Anne Bolyn. I had thought that the King would go through her just as quickly as he had gone through the others, including her sister. But no, she was still here, standing strong. Especially since rumor the of the Queen's miscarriage had begun to spread. The King's favor may have been lost to her forever.
All of this had happened, and yet my Isabella had not returned to me. I did not understand why her Majesty had not summoned her back. Isabella should have been there to ease Queen Catherine through her pregnancy, not on another continent.
I growled as I passed through the corridor that I knew her quarters used to be. Where was she? It had been more than half a year. I had to see her, had to know if this knawing in my gut was truly due to her absence. I was done fighting it. I had to know the truth.
But alas, I would not know for months to come. I closed my eyes and tried find a steady rhythm for my breath. It couldn't be healthy.
Suddenly, a small form collided with my back. The form was obviously feminine, but I knew without looking that it was not the form I wished for. She was about the right height, but something about her was just off. Turning, I saw a tiny girl with small black clumps of hair peeking out from beneath her cap. "Lord Cullen, please accept my apologies. I should have been paying attention."
I smirked as I took in the disheveled state of her dress. Clearly, her mind had been elsewhere. "There's nothing to apologize for, Miss…?"
"Brandon," she supplied for me.
"Brandon," I nodded. "Miss Brandon, may I suggest a trip to the washroom before you return to your duties? You seem a bit mussed."
"Oh," she gasped and began to pat herself down frantically. "Oh, this will not do. Her Majesty will not be pleased with me at all."
I glanced at her livery for the first time. She wore the colors of the court, and the quality of her gown alluded to a position high within the court's servants. "Miss Brandon, I suggest that you hurry along. You do not wish to keep the Queen waiting."
"No," she shook her head and dropped a curtsy as if she weren't really thinking about it, and then was off
I chuckled as I watched her go, feeling oddly light after the conversation. I'd seen her before. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I knew who she was."
"Lord Cullen," Sir Whitlock slapped my back harshly before taking the seat next to me in the great hall. The feast was due to begin as soon as the King entered, the witch sure to be on his arm. "What brings you to court? You usually keep to yourself during the season."
"If only," I whispered.
Whitlock watched me for a few moments, making me squirm, then a smile spread across his face. "Who is she?"
"Who?" I asked before downing half my goblet of wine.
"The maiden with the skirt that you're chasing." He said smugly. "There's no other reason for you to be here. With all the Mama's after you and your title, you wouldn't dare set foot in the castle."
I couldn't help but chuckle. "The Mama's can hang it all. I've been betrothed most of my life."
Whitlock hummed as he thought about that. I was surprised that he'd let me get away with not answering his questions. Peaking at him sideways, I saw the reason. Across the room, his eyes had locked with the young Miss Brandon's who I had not too long ago had an encounter with. "You seem quite taken with her." I said pulling him from his distraction.
"What?" He blinked a few times as he turned to me. "Who?"
"Miss Brandon," I said nodding my head in her direction. "Are you…?" I trailed off, knowing that I should keep some decorum within the castle walls.
"I," he hesitated. "I don't know what it is about her, but I can't get her out of my head. Mary is just…" he didn't seem able to finish his thought, instead drifting off as their eyes caught again.
Shaking his head, Whitlock turned toward me again. "And who is it that you are here for?"
"My betrothed," I gave in. I knew that if Miss Brandon wouldn't be able to distract him long enough to make him forget, nothing would. "Isabella Swan."
Whitlock's brow furrowed. "Mary says that she's not even in England."
I nodded, "Spain. Catherine sent her to Spain." I glanced at Miss Brandon. "Does Miss Brandon know Isabella?"
"They both attend to the Queen," Jasper glanced in the same direction. "When she was here, they shared living quarters. Mary says that they are quite close. But she never mentioned Miss Swan's betrothal to you."
I felt a strange squeeze in my chest. Did Isabella not want people to know that she was intended for me? I knew that we'd never discussed it, but surely she was happy to know that her future was set. I would never back out of that agreement, Even before she'd gone, I knew that I would someday marry her. It was just the way that things had been. "Perhaps they've never discussed it."
Whitlock nodded, "Perhaps." He began to fill his plate from the platters that were being placed on the table. "But if she's not here, then why are you?"
"I don't want to miss her return." I answered simply.
Whitlock smiled, "I see."
I had lost count of the days since my Isabella had disappeared from my life. I couldn't handle it anymore. Each day made it harder to breathe. I was done fighting it. I loved my betrothed. Isabella had somehow stolen my heart, and I was losing the ability to simply function without her.
"Lord Cullen," Miss Brandon approached me hesitantly. "Might there be anything that I could assist you with?"
I shook my head, "Nothing, Miss Brandon. Unless of course you can bring Isabella back."
Miss Brandon smirked, the strangest expression that I'd ever seen cross an unmarried woman's face. Katherine had smirked, but only when she'd…. And surely Miss Brandon did not have such things on her mind. "She is due within a fortnight, Lord Cullen. And she will be pleased to know that her presence was missed."
Strangely, I felt my cheeks began to heat. Surely I wasn't blushing. No, that was a maiden's act. Not a 'rogue' such as myself. "To what are you referring, Miss Brandon?"
She simply smiled and shook her head. Then she turned on her heels and entered the room which I was almost positive Isabella had once inhabited. Hadn't Whitlock mentioned them sharing a living quarters?
Speak of the devil, and he shall appear. Just as I'd turned away from the door, for what felt like the fifteenth time, I came face to face with Sir Whitlock. "Mason," he steadied me slightly. "What brings you here?"
I glanced him over, noticing his slightly rumpled attire and his cap which sat precariously on his head. "I could ask you the same thing."
Whitlock's eyes flashed to the door behind me, and I wanted to laugh. "Ah, so you're the one who's been sneaking around with the maiden."
His mouth gaped open for a moment as he tried to come up with something to rebute what I'd said, but simply closed his mouth and nodded. I shook my head as we both eyed the door, each of us for a different maiden.
"I asked her to marry me," Whitlock finally spoke. "I've grown tired of sneaking around. Her blood may be in no way noble, but she still comes from good family. And I love her." Whitlock shook his head, smiling. "She's agreed."
I clasped Sir Whitlock's shoulder and shook it in comraderie. "I suppose congratulations are in order. How long until you do the deed?"
"As soon as possible," he glanced back toward the door before walking off in the direction of a different corridor. "I'll have to get the proper documents drawn up. I need to find somewhere far from court to take her."
"Why would you remove her from the court?" I could not understand. Even after I married Bella, I would never think to remove her from serving our Queen. Catherine took great comfort in my Isabella's presence as I understood.
"The court will ridicule her," he said simply. "They will not feel that it is appropriate for me to take her. They will think that she is with child, and I do not wish such slander upon her. A house in the country, that's what I need."
"You expect the king to let you out of his service so easily?" I couldn't see how his plan would work, though I could respect it.
"No," Whitlock stopped at the great hall, looking in where a feast was already being prepared. A feast that the Queen would again not be present. A feast where, if the King joined his court, would be accompanied by that Boelyn witch. "I don't expect that he will ever release me from his service, and I do not wish to leave. But it doesn't mean that I have to be so close to the court all the time. I can have a home with a family."
"I suppose you can," I sighed, because I realized that I too wanted nothing more than the scene that he painted.
Smiling politely, I watched as Lady Hale and Emmett bantered playfully. I knew that Emmett had a great deal of affection of the woman, but I had always found her to be quite vain. Everything that the woman thought about revolved around her looks, or the looks of peope around her. I'd even once heard her telling my Isabella that she wasn't working hard enough to find a husband, that she let herself appear to be plain.
Finally Emmett turned away from his fiance to look at me. "I recieved a letter from Isabella yesterday morning," he said, making my stomach churn with jealousy. Why was I not worthy of recieving such correspondance. "She said that she was preparing to return. I imagine that she should be here any day now."
Lady Hale glanced between the two of us. "I'm sure Lord Cullen doesn't care about Isabella's whereabouts. He's got most of London's debs after him. Why should he worry about this one?"
"Because he's going to marry this one," Emmett said simply.
"Isabella is to be Duchess of Mason," Rosalie asked in shock. By the way that she spoke, she coveted the title.
"It's been her destiny since she was born," I said, wondering how it seemed that no one knew this. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops so that no one would question it again. "All that is missing is a ceremony."
"Huh," she tapped her finger to her chin. "Well I suppose it's a good thing that she never took my advice and made herself more available to the men of the court."
I clenched my fists and took a few deep breaths. There was nothing I could do about Lady Hale. I would leave her in Emmett's hands and hope that he would be able to deal with what he had gotten himself into.
Emmett chuckled next to me. "Do you recall how clumsy Isabella used to be? The chit could not take more than a few steps without falling on her rump."
I couldn't stop myself from laughing as images of a young Isabella flitted through my mind, falling time after time. She had always lacked the grace required of the Ladies of court. But I wouldn't change it. I never wanted her to be exactly like the others, because then she wouldn't be mine.
Light footsteps could be heard rushing toward us. I didn't look toward the door, but I knew the moment that Emmett looked, that it was her. The one day that I had strayed from court, she had returned.
As Emmett stood to greet his sister, I finally looked at her, and felt as if I had never seen her before. She had grown, she had softened, and she had changed. And yet she was still my Isabella. A year apart, and she was no longer the little girl that I had set aside for marriage one day. She was now the woman that I loved.
I watched as Isabella spoke to her brother and the woman who would soon become a sister to her. And for once, Lady Hale seemed to be treating my Isabella with the respect that she deserved.
I cleared my throat, needing her to see me, to acknowledge that I existed. Finally, finally she glanced my way, "Isabella, 'tis a pleasure to see you again," I said, bowing my head in respect toward the Lady that my Isabella had become
She curtsied, her balance seeming much improved since the last time that I'd seen her. I could never go so long without looking upon her face again. No one, not even the King himself would be able to seperate us now, "And I'm delighted to see you again, Lord Cullen."
I quickly looked up at her. No, she was not to adress me that way. People who were beneath me, or people who only wanted something from me because of my title were to address me that way. She was my equal, my love. I would not see her lowered to such a level. "When have you ever been able to call me Lord Cullen?"
She smiled, and I felt my heart stutter. How could she grow more beautiful with each passing second. It did not seem possible. "My apologies, Edward. Habit of the court."
I took her hand and brought it to my lips. The air sparked between us, and I wondered if she too could feel it. "I believe that the Spanish air has been good to you, Isabella. You have grown more beautiful, if that is possible."
Isabella looked as if she wanted to laugh, as if such a statement were laughable. "You flatter me too much, Edward. If I didn't know any better, I'd believe you were trying to woo me."
How could she not know? "I believe that's exactly what I was trying to do."