A/N Welcome to the first chapter of The Marriage Contracts. This story will be very similar to Bride Price revised as far as content goes. I have altered the first few chapters so they are no longer plagiarized from Michelle Ried's The Price of a Bride. Thank you all for your support and encouragement through that difficult time. There are a few minor differences in characters and motivations, but I think you'll find it a better fan fiction this way. It was the premise that got me started writing. What if you were married and had made the commitment to stay married, but through lies and misunderstandings you were unable to start the marriage off well. Could the couple get past that and learn to love each other? In Bella and Edward's case, of course! But not without a lot of angst first. :-)
I know this chapter is short and a bit of a teaser, but I'm trying to make a decision and could use your help. I'm throwing out Greece so location options for their married residence, honey moon residence and the location of the property are up in the air. I'm not against forks for one of the locations and I'm not even against an island, I'm just not tying myself down to that since I'm no longer spinning off of someone else's (plagiarized) story. So, please send your suggestions. I'm all ears. Next couple chapters are also shorter and already written, I'm just holding them back for detail elaboration. Happy Reading!
Bella stood looking out the window at the storm raging on the other side of the glass. She listened intently to the rain pelting the window and to the thunder crashing in the distance. She had seen a picture once where if you trained your eyes properly you could see a different picture hidden within. She now trained her ears to hear only the the storm outside rather than the one within.
Behind her were two men who argued heatedly over the deal they were trying to make. The younger man had come to acquire property, the elder planned to sell his step-daughter instead, with the property to be given to her husband upon her marriage as a dowry of sorts. An offer which the younger man objected to most fervently.
"This is not the 1800's Mr. Dwyer! If you need a husband for your daughter, try a marriage agency!" Edward stated heatedly.
Philip looked calmly back and said smoothly, "You're really being quite unreasonable Mr. Cullen. You can have the land you desire at a very reasonable price if you could learn to think a little more practically."
Edward's voice lowered to hiss, "I will not marry someone I barely know just for a piece of property!"
"If so then our business is concluded. Good day to you. I have several other men lined up and I'm quite sure one of them will accept this deal and be quite pleased with the bargain." Mr. Dwyer was as cool and smooth as the ice of his heart. He had the upper hand, and he knew it. It mattered not to him whether Mr. Cullen accepted his daughter. He was more attractive than the rest of the other prospects and he had seemed the easiest to manipulate, but that mattered little in the grand scheme of things. Philip Dwyer just wanted his step-daughter properly disposed of before his marriage to Lauren Malory; properly married to a man who knew how to keep a woman in her place, such as Mr. Cullen. However, if Mr. Cullen wouldn't take her, he knew several others who would.
"This is ridiculous! I'm offering you much more than the land is worth!"
"If you are not interested, the door is to your left. Good day sir."
Bella breathed harder. She knew the next man in line for this offer. He was a disgusting, short, pudgy, dirty minded friend of her father's who made her skin crawl whenever he looked at her. She looked briefly away from the window to look at Edward Cullen, only to find him glaring at her. Her left hand clenched at the yellow curtain beside her and she held her breath, waiting for his answer. She had known he would refuse and argue at first, but out of all the men lined up he was her first choice, though she would rather not have chosen at all.
"Doesn't she get a say in this?" Edward asked harshly.
"She will marry the man I choose. She has already made her choice. What remains is for you to make yours." Philip leaned back in his chair, elbows on the armrests, hands steepled together, calm and disgustingly collected.
Edward and Philip were both silent and she chanced a glance at their shadowy forms reflected in the window she faced. Edward was still staring at her. She quickly averted her eyes again and adjusted her gaze to look back through the window at the rain swept landscape before her. The sound and sight of rain had always been calming to her. When Renee was still alive they would sit on the sheltered porch in the back and watch the rain fall around them. She'd done the same with Wren until she'd gone to boarding school.
"In that case I'd like to speak with Miss Swan in private. I'll let you know my decision once we have concluded our conversation." Bella swallowed. She felt her body begin to tremble and her fingers clenched the curtain tighter until her knuckles whitened.
Her step-father's low chuckle echoed through the room. He knew he'd all but won. He was getting rid of a piece of property that meant nothing to him for a good price, and getting rid of a step-daughter who was a liability to his future wife. A fabulous deal all around, for him at least.
"I'll leave you two to your discussion. We can go over the details of our contract when you're finished. I'll be in my library." He made his way to the door and cast a dark look at the young woman he'd long wished to be rid of. "Bella will show you the way."
At the sound of the door closing Bella took a deep breath and turned, alone with a man she was sure was every bit as ruthless as her step-father.
Philip had been so pleasant and charming when he'd first met Renee. He'd been a bit cold to her, but that had been played off as simply not knowing what to do with a teenage girl. Besides, he'd made her mom so happy that Bella was not about to jeopardize that simply because of a little awkwardness. She was sure that he would eventually warm up to her, and if not, she'd be gone to college in a few years anyway. Instead, shortly after they'd married, Phil began to show his true nature. He would lose his temper often with them, demand they behave according to his exacting standards, and controlling their every move in and outside of the house. He was a tyrant, and he owned them. When Bella had come upon Renee crying one morning after Philip had left, she'd begged her mom to leave with her. It was then she learned that the entirety of Charlie Swan's fortune had been signed over to Phil after the marriage and was now inaccessible. In addition, Renee had just learned she was expecting. Bella was still underage and completing high school. There was no one else they could call on to help them. They were alone.
A month ago Bella met Edward at one of Phil's business parties. It was her job at these meetings to mingle, listen to gossip and private discussions, and to report back to Phil everything she overheard. But at this meeting, she'd felt someone's eyes on her. It caught her off guard. Typically, she was able to stay in the shadows, unseen and unnoticed. Her attire discouraged interest, making her someone you'd rather not look twice at. Though she could easily have chosen to wear tailor made suits to show off her full bust and trim waist, she instead wore garments to hide those assets. To a casual glance she appeared barrel shaped and like an illusion, touch was the only way to tell the difference. She made sure no one ever got close enough for that. Her long brown hair was up in an unflattering bun, chocolate eyes hidden behind unflattering frames and clear glass lenses. It was her camouflage, her armor. If she was unattractive, she would not attract unwanted propositions or requests for an evening or night spent in male company. Philip was always looking for ways to use her to his advantage and she reluctantly accommodated him, in all areas save this. Her one and only sexual experience had been so horrifying and painful that she avoided even the possibility of that happening again. Besides, the only men she encountered these days were of Philip's ilk, and she had no desire to spend any time getting to know someone like that.
Bella turned around slowly to gaze at Edward. His piercing gaze still took her breath away, but this time he was angry and frustrated rather than charming and suave. Well, at least this way she'd learn about this side of him before they married. Even though she had little choice in this marriage, she'd rather go into it with her eyes open rather than be surprised and caught off guard. If there was one thing she'd learned from her stepfather it was that she dealt better with unpleasant situations when she was prepared for them.
"So, did you get what you wanted then?"
She blinked at him in surprise. Where ever did he get that idea? "I beg your pardon?"
"I would have been happy to take you out on a date had you simply said yes when I offered a month ago." She had been shocked when he'd asked her then. She'd been afraid he saw past her facade. She'd turned him down cold, acting disgusted and had not spoken to him since. She couldn't afford to get romantically involved with anyone when she didn't even have to freedom to accept a date without her step-father's knowledge of permission. Edward had not offered again, though she still felt his eyes on her whenever they were in the same room. But it looked as though Philip had noticed Edward's attraction and now Edward had been pulled into Philip's games though she'd tried to prevent it.
"Why did you feel the need to play this game?" She could only shake her head as he continued heatedly. "Is that the kind of woman you are?" He sneered as his gaze raked her form. Bella had worn her most attractive suit, which was to say, her least repulsive one. It still hid her figure thoroughly, but at least the emerald and cream complimented her skin and hair. "Your face is moderately attractive though what the rest of you looks like is impossible to tell in that get up. Are you so repulsive that you had to have your father buy you a husband? Is it that no one else would take you? Or could you not find someone rich enough for you?"
His questions were so utterly absurd she couldn't help the laugh that escaped. But when his expression changed from anger to utter disgust her throat tightened and she stopped breathing. Caught in his piercing gaze she made herself turn around and look out the window. It was easier to think when she wasn't looking at him. Taking a deep breath she gathered her thoughts.
"You are mistaken about a great deal sir." She tried to keep her tone even and calm though her body betrayed her. She wrapped her arms around her waist to still the tremors that had overtaken her form. "My father is dead. Philip is my step-father. I did not choose you. As a matter of fact, were it my choice I would remain unmarried altogether. However, just like you, I have my price. Philip is a skilled negotiator and I have never seen him offer a deal that he did not get the better end of."
"And just what was your price?" he sneered from just behind her. She could feel the heat from his body behind her.
Her price? She got custody of Wren, uncontested. She couldn't tell Mr. Cullen that though. He already considered her a liability. How much more of one would she be if he knew she came with a 5 year old girl? He would learn of it at some point, but now was most definitely NOT the time to tell him.
She would also be out from under her step-father's thumb. He was a dictator of the worst sort, using her time and labor to suit his purposes with no reimbursement whatsoever. She had little doubt he would have even pimped her out to the highest bidder if he thought it an option, hence her manner of dress. Also not a great answer.
"I'd rather not discuss it." She felt strong hands grip her shoulders and wobbled as he spun her around sharply, his hands now gripping her upper arms.
"I'd rather you did."
Her heart raced at his closeness as her mind scrambled for an excuse he would believe? Money? Most everyone in her father's circle did everything for money. It was their primary motivation. How much could they get, how much could they avoid paying, how much could they convince someone else to pay instead. It ruled their lives. It would have to do.
"I get to become a millionaire."
His eyes narrowed as they stared into hers. Bella struggled to present the calm, self-possessed facad that the other women she met had worn. Money was what mattered. Not the loathing she saw in the face of the only man she'd ever desired. Something about him had called to something in her. It aroused both desire and fear in equal measure.
His hands fell from her arms to cross over his chest, one that for some unfathomable reason she wanted to run her fingers over to find out if it was as muscular as it seemed. "Why would Dwyer give you a million dollars to marry me?" Damn. Good question.
Was a million enough? Might as well go for broke. She tried to shrug carelessly. "Five million. And not to marry you, but to marry whomever he chose." She corrected. "You are simply the first in line. As for why, you'd have to ask him. I could care less. Probably has something to do with Ms. Mallory and the engagement ring she's wearing. Too many women in the same house perhaps? She and I don't get on very well you know."
She'd known something was coming when she saw Lauren sink her tallons into Phil. A more mercenary pair you've never seen. They were a perfect match and she was more than ready to leave them both behind.
"You know, there's something about you that has puzzled me since I first saw you." His gaze was calculating.
"What would that be?"
His hands reached towards her and she backed into the window. He followed and placed his large, slender, muscular fingers upon her waist, wrinkling her suit and forcing the empty fabric against her skin. She struggled to control her breathing as his face came closer to hers. She'd not been so near anyone save Wren in over four years.
His face lowered until his lips were near her ear. The delicious smell of Edward and whatever cologne he wore made her so dizzy she was grateful for the window at her back. Her fingers searched the glass behind her for purchase, finding none. "Why someone with a figure like yours would dress in an outfit like this."
Her eyes flashed to his as he pulled back just enough to look in her eyes. She looked past his shoulder quickly, every instinct screaming at her to run as fast and as far from him as she could.
"I have no idea what you mean." She denied pointlessly.
He stepped back a pace and crossed his arms, all self-assured masculinity. "In that case, Ms. Swan, I believe I need something from you before I can agree to this marriage."
Relief flooded her. He would marry her. "What is that?" She asked a bit too quickly.
"I need to see what I'll be getting in the bargain."
What did that mean? Her brow furrowed in confusion. "I'm right here."
"Yes, and would you buy a piece of art while it's still covered in canvas sheeting?"
Oh, Lord. Surely he didn't mean... Her head shook slowly from side to side.
"Exactly right Ms. Swan. Strip."
A/N Yes yes, I know, evil place to leave off. But so very fun too. (Evil grin). So, do you like it so far? Better than the original? For those of you who read it anyway. And please please, leave suggestions for places to go (See AN at the top). I'm seriously begging for input before I continue. Thanks!