A/n: Thank you very much to everyone for all of the reviews, they really are great to read! Sorry for the cliffies, but hopefully it keeps you coming back for more.
The characters of Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer, but Edward and Bella from Blighty are all mine! Enjoy!
"He isn't home, though the car was there. I took the liberty of having a good look at it. He really does have some serious money." James continues to talk, a hint of the 'green-eyed monster' clearly audible in his voice. Oh thank God Edward wasn't home! I find myself saying a silent prayer and pretending to listen as James prattles on.
Having finished assessing Edward's wealth aloud, James addresses me directly. "Can you call round tomorrow Isabella and invite him for dinner on Friday night? What did you say his name was again?" James looks at me expectantly. I hate it when he focuses all of his attention on me.
"I'm sure he said his name is Edward Cullen." I answer, trying to appear nonchalant. "Of course I can call round tomorrow. That wouldn't be a problem at all. Perhaps I could bake something to welcome him to the area?" I'll have to get the container back and try and get some sort of story straight with Edward.
"Well, as long as it doesn't slow down your progress on the list of chores I gave you. It's been at least a fortnight since you last cleaned the windows inside and out. It's meant to be a clear day tomorrow as well." James waits for me to agree with his observations. I decide to take a chance.
"Do you really think the windows need doing? They look fine to me." I speak quietly and look at my feet.
James sighs heavily and begins to speak "Isabella, we've been over this before. Your standards are much lower than mine and if it wasn't for me this house would be a mess! You need me to keep an eye on things so that you can stay on top of them." He crosses the kitchen towards me and wraps an arm around my shoulders; tucking me into his side, his chin resting on my head. "Don't worry your pretty little head about whether something needs doing. I'll make decisions like that for you." He squeezes me tightly and then trails his hand down my back to smack my bum playfully. Leaving my side he wanders towards the front room whilst calling over his shoulder "Can you bring me a beer please, Isabella. I'll be in the front room."
"Yes, James. I'll just be a minute." Well it was worth a try, I really feel like stamping my feet and throwing a tantrum. Looks like the windows have gone straight to the top of my list tomorrow! I uncap the beer and decant it into a glass, resisting the urge to spit in it – don't lower yourself to his level Bella!
Sporting my housewife uniform of yellow marigolds and an apron, I struggle with a bucket of warm soapy water as I scramble up the ladder to reach the top floor windows at the rear of the house. Annoyingly he was right, it is a perfectly clear day and the sun is so nice and warm on my skin. If only I could be outside under a different set of circumstances – like lounging on chair, wearing a sunhat, reading my book and sipping a glass of chilled elderflower cordial.
Dipping the rag in the bucket, I wring it out and lather up the window. Then tip-toeing and overstretching dangerously I manage to reach the top of the window with the squeegee. I hate this job more than all of them put together and I'm sure James knows this. I don't see why we can't just pay someone to clean the windows. Moaning about it won't get the job done Bella. I force myself to finish cleaning the windows and then I will go and see Edward. It'll be a sort of treat, something pleasant to look forward to after such a thankless task.
I descend the ladder clumsily and reposition it, so that I can clean the other upstairs window. Just as I am about to start, I hear a voice calling out to me.
"Bella! Do you really think you should be up there? It doesn't look very safe." I recognise his voice immediately and find the hint of concern it holds to be flattering. I look down and off to the left to see Edward, standing at the beginning of the small orchard in his garden. He's craning his neck so that he can see me and one of his perfect hands is shielding his eyes against the sun.
"Oh, yes thank you Edward. It's fine. I clean the windows like this all the time." I plaster a smile on my face and try to make my voice sound upbeat so it doesn't give away a hint of what I am really feeling.
"If you're sure. But between you and me, I thought your windows looked perfectly clean before you started." Edward states with a small shrug. Hmph! Typical! If only James were around to hear him say that!
I grit my teeth and with my back to him I shout, "Well up close they really were quite grimy." I finish the final window with a flourish and make my way down the ladder. When I get to the bottom I look round and Edward is still watching me. He's leaning on the short garden fence that separates us, wearing a lightweight jumper, his hair peaking out from underneath a baseball cap. I slowly remove my gloves and apron, smooth my hair and walk over to him.
"I was meaning to pop round and speak to you today." I say.
Edward looks bashful, "Oh?"
"Yes, I wanted to apologise if anything I said yesterday, upset you." I fiddle with the hem of my cardigan, my eyes downcast. I continue "And I wanted to ask if you are free on Friday night, to have dinner with myself and James, my husband." When I finish speaking I look up at him, he's smiling and watching me intently.
"Firstly Bella, you didn't upset me. I'm sorry for how I reacted. I still struggle to...," Edward clears his throat before continuing, "talk about Tanya." I open my mouth to speak again, but Edward holds up his left hand to stop me.
"It's something I need to work through; it was a long time ago now and I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable." I nod my thanks at him and smile sadly, feeling awful for his loss. She clearly was the love of his life.
He continues, "And, I would love to come for dinner on Friday. If your cake is anything to go by, I would be a fool to pass up the opportunity of a home-cooked meal made by Bella Smith." He smiles warmly at me and I blush at the compliment. He remembered my full name.
Uncomfortable with all of the attention, I decide to change the subject. "So what are you planning to do with the garden?"
"Well I'm actually a huge Cider and Perry enthusiast, so I was thinking of getting the orchard going again and then producing my own." His eyes light up and he looks at me expectantly.
"Oh Edward that's a wonderful idea. I adore Cider and Perry. Decent ones are so hard to get hold of! I've been known to fall victim to the odd pint or three in the past!" I giggle and look at Edward.
"Now that I would like to see! You'll have to taste my first creation. "He says chuckling. His words excite me. Does this mean he wants to spend more time with me? I need to keep the conversation going.
"Do you have any idea what varieties you are going to grow? I love gardening." I smile at him, eager for more information.
"To be honest, no. I have an idea of some of the flavours I like. But it's all fairly undecided at the moment. Maybe you'd like to help me? I could use another pair of hands and someone with horticultural knowledge would be a great advantage." He becomes more animated as he talks, as though he'd be mute if he couldn't use his hands. I love watching him speak.
"Oh Edward, that sounds wonderful. I'd love to help you with the orchard." I'll have to check with James first. Perhaps I could mention it at dinner on Friday. If I put James on the spot, surely he'd be forced to agree.
"That's settled then, we'll have to draw up some sort of calendar to fit in when we are both free." Edward seems happy with this development and I am giddy with excitement at the possibility of spending huge chunks of time with this wonderfully interesting man, working on something I adore that has nothing to do with James.
Slyly checking my watch I realise that the day is running away with me and I still have so much to finish before James returns. As much as it pains me, I'm going to have to cut short this conversation with Edward, without seeming rude.
"Ah, yes I must be keeping you from your windows." He grins at me. He must've seen me check my watch. Not as sly as you thought there Bella.
"Thankfully that was the last set; I do have a few other things to get on with." Reluctantly, I take a couple of steps back from the fence. "So about Friday, would you be able to come for dinner at 7.00?"
"Yes that's perfect. Can I bring anything? A bottle?" Ordinarily I don't like wine, but I'm sure he has exquisite taste.
"A bottle of wine would be lovely. " He nods his head and begins to step away from the fence.
"Excellent, I'll see you on Friday at 7.00pm sharp!" He starts to make his way further into the orchard, when it suddenly occurs to me that I haven't asked him the most important thing; the main reason for talking to him today.
"Edward?" I call out to his retreating back, praying that the desperation in my voice isn't too obvious.
"Yes Bella?" He shouts, turning and beginning to walk back towards me, looking at me expectantly.
"The tea and cake yesterday..." I look at him and trail off nervously, he waits for me to continue. "Can we keep that just between you and me? I-I...don't really want James finding out." I hold my breath as I wait for him to reply.
He looks confused and tilts his head to one side. "Umm sure. But...can I ask why?"
"You can ask..." I answer him quietly. "But, I'd prefer it if you didn't...because I wouldn't know how to answer you." I look down at my feet sadly –please don't cry Bella.
I hear the sound of leaves rustling as he seems to be shuffling them with this feet, it seems to take forever before he answers "Of course Bella. It'll be our secret."
When he says this, I look up at him, the relief clearly evident on my face. "Oh thank you so much Edward. That's such a weight off my mind!" He smiles softly and I think I see a hint of pity in his eyes but I can't be sure. I turn and begin to gather my window cleaning items and prepare to make my way into the house. I assume Edward has made his way further into the orchard, but it's not until I hear his voice that I realise he must have been watching me this entire time.
"Bella, what's your maiden name?" He calls out to me.
I spin round quickly to look at him, completely caught off-guard by his question. "It's Swan. Why?"
He grins broadly at me "No reason!" he answers and winks. "I'll see you Friday. I'm looking forward to it." He shouts to me as he turns and walks away, effectively ending the conversation. I drop the items in my hands to the ground and wrap my arms around myself and squeal quietly. Edward is going to keep my secret and he wants to know my maiden name! I don't know what the latter means, but at least I can breathe a little easier now.
Friday evening comes around so quickly it almost takes me by surprise. I have a beef joint roasting in the oven and the eggs are lightly poaching for our starter. I add the finishing touches to the hollandaise sauce and then remove my apron, hanging it on the back of the kitchen door. I have a few minutes before Edward is due to arrive, so I sneak into the downstairs bathroom to apply some lipstick and check on my reflection.
I am wearing my favourite ivory cashmere twinset with a string of my mother's pearls, a black pencil skirt with seamed stockings and for James a pair of stupidly high black patent heels. I apply a pale pink lipstick, some mascara to my eyes and run a brush through my hair quickly.
I hear the doorbell ring and rush out of the bathroom almost breaking an ankle in my excitement. James gets to the door before me. Damn him! I make my way to the hallway towards James' and Edward's voices as I hear them greeting each other.
"Ah here she is." James looks in my direction, his eyes surveying my appearance, he stretches out his right arm. I walk to his side and he puts his arm around my waist, staking his claim, marking his territory, call it what you will. "Isabella, I believe you and Edward have already met." I nod and look at Edward. He's dressed impeccably, wearing a white linen shirt, dark-wash jeans and a black blazer. In one hand he is holding a bottle of wine and in the other a bouquet made up of pink roses and white phlox intermingled with forest green fronds of fern. I remain mute, looking at the floor, waiting for one of them to speak, I know my place.
"Edward will you join me in the front room? Isabella will come and get us when dinner is ready." James' arm drops from my waist and he motions towards the doorway. I feel Edward watching me the whole time.
"Yes, that would be lovely. I bought a bottle of Riesling, it's already chilled. I thought perhaps we could have a glass before we eat?" Edward offers the wine to James and looks at him expectantly. Normally James would make me open the wine and wait on the guests, but Edward hasn't given him much of an option.
"Certainly...I'll just get this open and I'll be right back." James stalks grudgingly into the kitchen, I can tell from his body language that he is angry. The corners of my mouth turn themselves up to form a slightly smug smile.
Edward whispers to me, "You look beautiful tonight. These are for you, but they pale in comparison." He extends the bouquet towards me. Tentatively I take the flowers from his fingers and lift them to my nose. I close my eyes and breathe deeply. They smell divine.
"Thank you Edward, you didn't have to. They're beautiful." I smile at him, overflowing with happiness.
"You're most welcome." He leans forward and whispers in my ear "So...its Isabella is it?" I jump a little, shocked by his proximity and I flush bright red as I feel the warmth of his breath on my ear, tickling my hair. He rocks back on his heels and grins at me waiting for an answer.
I am saved from answering by the sound of James cursing from the kitchen; no doubt trying to find the corkscrew. He then calls out to me through gritted teeth. "Isabella, darling. I think something needs your attention in the kitchen. I can smell burning."
I know nothing is burning. He just wants to talk to me alone, redress the balance, remind me of my place and generally reaffirm who is in charge around here. "Just coming James!" I call out to him. "Edward please make yourself comfortable in the front room. One of us will join you in there shortly." I motion to the doorway, grateful as Edward begins to walk towards it.
"Sure, Bel-la." He overemphasises the syllables in my name and instead of sounding childish it comes across as cheeky. "Oh, and whatever you're cooking smells delicious to me. Not a hint of burning." He adds conspiratorially. I watch open-mouthed as he wanders into the living room and settles himself on the sofa, seeming completely at ease.
I don't know what has got into Edward, but I pray he doesn't call me Bella in front of James - another error on my part, I must be more careful around him.
I wander towards the kitchen to appease James, locate the corkscrew and add the finishing touches to dinner – while also attempting to take my mind off the beautiful playful man sitting in the next room.
A/n: Is everyone ready for awkward dinner table conversations in the next chapter?
Just to let you all know what marigolds are: www(dot)ketteringcleaningsupplies(dot)co(dot)?prod=HHY
I've had an area created for me on twilighted(dot)net for this story, check it out at: www(dot)twilighted(dot)net/forum/viewtopic(dot)php?f=44&t=9753&start=0&st=0&sk=t&sd=a&hilit=A+form+of+escapism
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