Hello all...so this is just a 3 chapter bit of fun that was inspired by the pictures of Rob in costume on the set of Bel Ami. I hope you will enjoy it. It is all EPOV

Special thanks go out to GrayMatters Fanfiction, who has been my beta, my cheerleader, and supporter on this story. Really she should get a co-author line, although I know she would disagree with me. So go check out her story Never Enough, which I beta. It is fabulous.

I will admit I do not speak Italian or French...so if I butcher anything blame Yahoo.

Twilight character names belong to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. The intellectual property including but not limited to, all characterizations, plot lines, backgrounds, and details belong to Iadorepugs. Plagiarism is theft so please no copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without express written authorization. Thank you



Balconi, Braccialetti e Fidanzamenti
(Balconies, Bracelets, and Betrothals)

Chapter One

I leaned back in my seat and sighed. The noise of the crowd beneath us finding their seats assaulted my senses. The cacophony to my ears was bad enough, but hearing the inner thoughts in my mind was tiresome. Especially since these events were more about the elite trying to show each other up than the actual opera.

I rubbed the bridge of my nose and tried to ignore the harsh inner voices. The men who were thinking about their mistresses while their wives were on their arms. The women who were telling each other how lovely their gowns were, while inside they were looking for ways to tear each other down. It shocked me sometimes how brutal the fairer sex could be. They took the smallest flaw and used it to shame and humiliate, smiling while they did it.

Carlisle reached over and patted my shoulder. He knew how trying these outings could be for me. The music was the only attraction to draw me here tonight. Otherwise I would have preferred to stay home in peace, even if we were expected as wealthy patrons of the opera house. I took a breath and did my best to close my mind to the chaos below.

"Edward, do try to enjoy yourself please. It would be good for you to get out more. We talked about this the other night."

I gave Carlisle a nod, indicating I understood, but discussing it further did not appeal to me. He had mentioned his concern that I was without a partner, or mate, still. He had found Esme decades ago. He just did not understand how I never found any woman I had met interesting in the least, whether human, or vampire like us. There were a few of our kind here in Paris. We would see them occasionally at different parties. For the most part we rarely crossed paths with them due to our unconventional lifestyle and their desire not to mingle with humans much.

We fed from animals. Carlisle felt strongly that his existence as a vampire was redeemed somewhat by refraining from killing humans. He actually had learned enough restraint that he was able to be a doctor now. I chose not to kill humans because it was the only way I could stand to look at myself in the mirror. Carlisle still was far stronger than both Esme and myself in his ability to resist the call of human blood. The other vampires found our way of life odd, but they did not judge us for it either.

Esme peered over at me from the other side of Carlisle. "Edward?"

"Hmm?" I looked over and gave her a smile. Earlier tonight she had told us she was the luckiest woman in the room to be with such handsome men. As far as the outside world was concerned, Esme was my aunt, Carlisle my uncle. In truth there was no relation, it was just one of the ways we used to explain our living arrangement. They had also been my parents, my older brother and his wife, or guardians. It changed when we had to move on from where we were living since eventually the fact that we never aged would become evident.

"I am so happy you agreed to join us tonight. You should dress up more often, it suits you." Esme always loved to see us in formal wear.

"Well I am happy you are happy." I knew that the meaning behind that would not escape either one of them. I had done this to please them, not for me. Esme also hoped if she got me out in public more, I might find a suitable young woman to take as my mate. She would be shocked to know how unsuitable most of the women in our circle were. Their thoughts were viperous toward one another, and absolutely licentious towards me and my 'uncle'…and even occasionally my 'aunt.' The majority of the time I was embarrassed to be privy to their musings.

My eyes scanned the room restlessly, taking in the myriad of colors and textures around me. The opera house was incredibly beautiful, and gave me a visual distraction to occupy myself with for a few moments. My gaze fell upon the balcony directly across from us. The motion behind the red velvet curtains caught my attention.

Benjamin Cheney and his wife Angela stepped out onto the balcony. Benjamin, or Ben as he insisted I call him, saw me across the way and gave me a slight wave. Lord and Lady Cheney were two of the few humans we associated with regularly. Angela had one of the kindest minds I had ever had the opportunity to hear. She and Ben loved each other in a tender way that I envied.

Angela turned and spoke to someone behind her. "I am so pleased we could accompany you to your first opera Bella."

The voice that answered was soft and melodic to my ear. There was something else I was unable to place that was different. "Thank you so much for arranging this while I visit Angela."

"What are cousins for?" Angela moved to sit down next to Ben and the owner of that voice stepped into view. For the first time in my life, human or vampire, I felt my mind go blank. The young woman that I was looking at now had to be the most beautiful I had ever seen. I watched as she moved around her chair to sit down, catching her foot on the leg. She was forced to grab the back of the chair to prevent herself from falling. Her cheeks flushed a delicate pink as she glanced over to see if Ben or Angela had noticed. I heard her little sigh of relief when she realized they were looking the other direction.

I smiled watching her look around at her surroundings. She was wearing a dress of taffeta that was blue with an almost green iridescence to it. Delicate lace and white roses accentuated the cut of the dress. Her skin was ivory and stood out between her dark dress and dark hair. Chocolate curls were piled up on the back of her head, a few trailing down to frame her face. Her neck was wisely unadorned from any jewelry that would have interrupted its graceful lines. Bella definitely lived up to the meaning of her name, and it suited her perfectly.

Carlisle cleared his throat next to me and I realized he'd caught me staring. "Angela's cousin is a lovely girl."

"Um, yes she is." I ran my hand through my hair and tried to find my ability to speak. I knew Carlisle could hear every voice in the hall as easily as I could. I was also aware he would know more of the story behind Bella. As a doctor he seemed to know what was happening behind every closed door and in any corner of town. However Carlisle was conveniently blocking his thoughts from me. How to find out what he knew without having to ask…..I didn't want to give him any ideas with my sudden and uncharacteristic interest.

Fortunately Carlisle saved me from having to do that. "Apparently she is visiting Angela from the countryside. Her father feels she deserves an opportunity to experience city life. She is supposed to be here for at least a month."

"I am sure Ben and Angela will provide Bella with plenty of opportunities to do that." Ben may have been in the elite circles, but he was humble and still worked for a living. He refused to depend on what his father had left to him. I admired him for that attitude.

"I am sure we will run into her more than once during her time here." Carlisle's tone suggested he encouraged any interest I may have in Bella.

I fought the urge to give him a look and tried to sound impassive. "Likely."

I was saved from further conversation by the sound of the orchestra tuning their instruments. My eyes were drawn to Bella again, who was eagerly sitting forward, watching everything below her. That was when I realized what was different that I had noticed earlier. I could not hear her thoughts. As I attempted to single her mind out from the others, all I heard was silence. I shook my head a little and tried again. Nothing.

That had never happened before. Why was I unable to hear her? I found myself getting frustrated as I stared at her. I closed my eyes a moment and when I opened them Bella was looking right at me. If my heart still had the ability to beat, it would have started pounding. I found myself smiling at her before I realized I was doing so.

Bella's eyes widened as she realized I had caught her gazing at me and her cheeks reddened again. She gave me a shy smile before her dark brown eyes shifted away to look at the stage.

I may have been listening to the music of Rossini's opera La Cenerentola, Cinderella, but my eyes were hardly ever on the stage. They were on Bella, taking in her reactions to what was apparently her first trip to the opera. A mix of emotions kept crossing her face, and I found that even though I could not read her thoughts, I could read her expressions. I saw happiness, wonder, surprise, joy and awe all before intermission.

At intermission our eyes met again as Bella stood with Angela to visit the ladies salon. Bella smiled as she turned and spoke to Angela. "Angela, who is the young man sitting across from us?"

I could still hear Angela as they left the balcony. "Oh that is Edward Cullen. He is here with his uncle and aunt, Dr. Carlisle and Esme Cullen."

"He is very good looking, there is something about him." Bella's voice had dropped to a whisper.

I could hear Angela already wondering in her mind if she should introduce Bella to me. If she chose not to I had already decided that it was something that I was going to make sure happened. "He is very nice. A little quiet, tends to keep more to himself. Of course all the young women would give their right arm to catch his eye."

Bella's voice sounded a little subdued. "I can imagine. I am certain he does not lack for willing female companionship."

"That is what is so perplexing. Mr. Cullen is unattached and has never shown an interest in any of the available young women. He always attends events and parties alone. Perhaps he is very particular? There is constant speculation as to why he remains solitary." I chuckled to myself at her last statement and the truth behind it. Angela's inner thoughts were still focused on when she might introduce Bella to me.

"Oh." I was wishing I could see Bella's face. Not being able to hear her thoughts was most annoying. Why did she sound sad?

At least this one time Angela provided me with a clue. "Bella, I know what you are thinking. Stop it. You are lovely and your company is always pleasant. Any man would be lucky to have you."

"We know there is no prejudice to your opinion at all Cousin dearest," Bella answered drily, and I found myself smiling at her spirit. Angela let out a small sound of irritation. Clearly this had not been the first time this topic had been discussed between the two of them.

I forced my attention away from their conversation and stood to unnecessarily stretch my legs. I felt the need to move and organize my thoughts. My fate was entwined with Bella's, of that I was positive. I was not sure how, I just innately was aware of the certainty of it. Carlisle and Esme were leaning into one another speaking in loving tones. I had a brief image of doing the same thing with Bella, which I reluctantly dismissed quickly. For decades I had known and accepted that such a thing was an impossibility for me.

Bella and Angela returned and I felt Bella's eyes on me as I paced a little behind the chairs. Carlisle finally turned and looked at me with concern. I gave him a reassuring look and sat back down beside him to prevent an interrogation.

The second act of the opera passed in a blur. The story of Cinderalla was familiar and did not hold my attention. However the music wove its way into my mind and I knew from now on it would always bring me thoughts of seeing Bella. When the evening was over I watched her disappear with Angela and Ben, a final longing look over her shoulder in my direction.

Through the rest of the night I wandered in our library. My thoughts were chaotic. I sat down at my piano to play, the familiar strains from tonight's Rossini opera finally calming me. The only thing I was certain of was before I could decide anything else I needed the chance to talk to Bella. That was the only way I could be sure that what I was feeling was real. Maybe I was just imagining how she looked at me. Even if perhaps I was not, there was the whole issue of what I was.

Occasionally a vampire would meet a human that was meant to be their mate. In those cases it was inevitable that the human would desire to become a vampire as well. I had heard the stories, and even met the occasional couple that came together that way. I just never really believed it would happen in my world. I had accepted that maybe I was not meant to have a mate. Now that I had seen Bella, my entire view of my life and future shifted dramatically.

The next day I took a walk down to see Ben at his office. The sky was nicely overcast so that I could be outdoors without worry of my skin's appearance in the sunlight. Vampires had a great many subtle things that made us different from humans in appearance. There was one feature that was overtly obvious in the correct conditions. In the sun our skin took on a crystalline sparkle. Almost like seeing sunlight glinting off the snow. It was something that puzzled me from day one. No one could explain it to me other than to say vampires had always been that way.

Ben smiled widely at me when I entered. "Mr. Cullen, what a pleasant surprise. Did you enjoy the opera last night?"

I shook the hand he offered me. "Yes, immensely Lord Cheney. I was in the neighborhood and thought I would drop in and say hello. I hope I have not inconvenienced you with my unexpected visit."

"Not at all, I am so glad you are here. We are having a little soiree Friday night. You may have noticed our guest last night."

I kept my voice as even as I could. "I did, Carlisle said she is Angela's cousin."

"Yes." Ben nodded and then moved around to stand on the same side of the desk as me. "She's here to have some new experiences. Since she grew up in the country there has been much she has not had the opportunity to see. Personally I think her father sent her to find a husband." Ben paused and then quickly said, "Please don't mention that to Lady Cheney. She would be most displeased I was sharing that thought, even with a friend."

I inclined my head in acquiescence. "But of course Lord Cheney."

Ben shook his head at my continued formality. "Ben, please call me Ben Edward. Anyway, my wife is insisting we have a gathering for Bella, and we would love you and your family to join us." I could also tell from Ben's thoughts Angela had informed her husband he was responsible for ensuring my attendance. He would not have trouble convincing me since it was a chance to see Bella again and be formally introduced.

I tried to keep my composure and not look overjoyed at his words. "Where is it being held?"

"Our house at seven. Will you be able to be present?"

"I am sure we have no other prior engagements Friday evening. Thank you so much for your gracious invitation." I gave him a small smile that was just a hint of the happiness I felt inside. "I should leave and not disturb you any longer."

Ben laughed. "Trust me, any distraction from work is a welcome one. Feel free to stop by anytime. I will see you as usual Monday at Gray's?"

"Of course. I look forward to our weekly conversations over cigars." Ben gave me a wave as I headed out, walking down past the shops. In a few nights I would see Bella again. Time, which was something I always had too much of, could not pass by fast enough. I was trying to decide if I wanted to head home when I unexpectedly heard Angela's mind. I looked around and located her with Bella, coming out of a shop a few doors down. Angela was trying to convince Bella to let her buy her a particular dress for Friday. Bella was stubbornly refusing.

They were paused on the sidewalk and as I stepped up Angela saw me and her eyes lit up. "Mr. Cullen, perhaps you can help me convince my cousin."

Bella let out a little gasp that only I could hear before she turned. I met her eyes briefly before I bowed to both of them. "Lady Cheney if I can be of any service you know I will try. But I have not had the pleasure of meeting the lady I am to help you convince."

Angela curtsied towards me. I saw a look of panic flash through Bella's eyes. She hesitated a moment before she mimicked her cousin and quickly gave me an awkward curtsy, her eyes avoiding mine. I could tell she was unaccustomed to the rituals that were second nature to most of us. That naturalness was fascinating to me. In a world where I was surrounded by artifice, Bella was real.

Angela smiled, not having noticed Bella's lack of comfort with the encounter she now found herself in. Once again I caught Bella staring at me when I looked back at her. "Mr. Edward Cullen, may I present to you my cousin, Miss Isabella Swan."

I took Bella's gloved hand in mine and kissed the back of it, watching her eyes widen. "It is a pleasure to meet you Miss Swan."

Bella seemed lost for a moment before she finally answered, "The pleasure is mine Mr. Cullen." Her cheeks flushed a becoming shade to match the pink dress she was wearing.

I released Bella's hand reluctantly. "Now, Lady Cheney, why do you require my assistance in persuading Miss Swan?"

Bella gave Angela a sidelong glance that seemed to be pleading with her not to say anything. Angela's thoughts told me she noticed it, she just refused to acquiesce to Bella's silent wish. "Well Mr. Cullen, has my husband spoken to you about our party this Friday?"

"Indeed he has. I have just come from his office. I must say I am very much looking forward to it." I looked at Bella again as I said it and smiled at her. Bella self consciously looked down at her fidgeting hands and entwined them in an effort to keep them still.

"Excellent. I was trying to convince my cousin here that I should be allowed to buy her a new dress for the occasion. There is the loveliest dress in Mademoiselle Holly's that was meant for her. The maroon color alone is perfect. Yet she refuses to let me. Please help me persuade her."

I looked at Bella who was appearing slightly embarrassed. "Ah, I see. Miss Swan I can see nothing better than allowing your cousin the enjoyment of gifting you with this dress. I'm sure she is correct in how lovely you would appear in it."

Bella took a deep breath before she spoke. "Yes Mr. Cullen, the dress is beautiful. However I was raised in the country, where things are different. I'm not used to the level of generosity in my cousin's gesture. I feel it is not proper to accept." Bella's eyes betrayed exactly how much she wanted the dress though. I could only imagine how perfect it would be on her.

Angela let out a little huff. "You see Mr. Cullen, she is absolutely stubborn about this."

"Now be fair Lady Cheney. Your cousin is not stubborn. She has a well defined moral character, something more women should have." I caught a small smile of triumph from Bella out of the corner of my eye.

"However Miss Swan," I turned back to her, "even though you are unaccustomed to that kind of gesture. I assure you no one would find your acceptance of your cousin's gift improper in the least."

Bella looked up at me, a stubborn set to her jaw that I found absolutely entrancing. "Mr. Cullen, while you make a good argument, I cannot accept the dress."

"A shame I am sure. I know I would have liked to see it on you." Bella's mouth fell open a little and before she could say anything I spoke to Angela. "My apologies in failing you Lady Cheney."

"You tried Mr. Cullen, and for that I am grateful."

"I must be on my way. I look forward to seeing both of you on Friday night." I gave them a slight bow which they returned. As I walked away I could feel Bella's eyes on my back. I cast a quick glance over my shoulder and caught her stare. Quickly she turned away and I grinned to myself.

On my way home, I passed by the dress shop and I paused for a moment. Struck with inspiration, I knew what I was going to do. I stepped inside and was immediately fawned upon by Mademoiselle Holly. I shut out her tawdry thoughts about how I looked under my suit as best I could, thought her filthy imagination was relentless as it assaulted my mind. I kept trying to block the images she was conjuring of us in various intimate acts. I was sure her creativity would make some man very happy some day, given the tenor of the thoughts I was subjected to. When I inquired as to the dress, she knew instantly which one I meant and showed it to me.

The dress truly was meant for Bella. The idea of it gracing anyone else seemed blasphemous to me. Purchasing the dress, as well as Mademoiselle Holly's silence, was easy enough, and would hardly dent my substantial back account. I would have paid ten times that for the opportunity to see Bella in that dress. I arranged to have the dress delivered on Friday in time for Bella to wear it to the evening's festivities.

I wondered if she would refuse to wear it. Clearly she had strong opinions about accepting gifts. If she would not accept the dress from her cousin, would she accept it from someone who remained anonymous? I would find out Friday night.

Friday night I stood adjusting my starched white collar and tie. Formal dress could be tedious, but tonight it did not bother me. My thoughts were strictly on seeing Bella and perhaps having a chance to speak more with her. I pulled my watch out of my waistcoat pocket and checked the time. I made one more final check of my appearance in the mirror. My bronze hair was tamed as best as possible. I could never get it to lie completely smooth and had long ago given up.

Carlisle was waiting in the parlor with Esme. I approached them both and took in the dark navy dress Esme wore. "You look wonderful Esme."

"Thank you Edward." She smiled and gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek.

We rode to the Cheney's home in our carriage. I was silent the entire way, actually feeling a bit nervous. Once we arrived I followed Carlisle and Esme inside, turning my cloak and hat over to the servant at the door. Angela was standing with Ben in the entryway greeting her guests. Her dark brown dress with cream accents suited her perfectly. When she saw me she subtly waved me over.

"Good evening Lady Cheney."

"Good evening Mr. Cullen. I have been awaiting your arrival to inform you that are a genius and a devious one at that." Aha. The dress had arrived. I could see her memory of taking it up to Bella.

I put a look of confusion on my face. "Why is that? I do not know what you mean."

Angela shook her finger at me. "I know what you did. Thank you."

"You are welcome. Although I am quite sure I do not know what for." I gave Angela a smile that said I knew exactly what she was thanking me for.

Ben and I chatted for several minutes when I spotted Bella descending the stairs in the dress. My imagination had not done justice to the vision that was before my eyes. I had no words fitting enough to describe the beauty that was now crossing the parquet floor towards me.

Bella paused in front of me and I bowed. "Good evening Miss Swan."

"Good evening Mr. Cullen." She graced me with a more practiced curtsy and my eyes fell to the view she inadvertently gave me of her cleavage. I could not help but let my gaze linger there.

Bella cleared her throat and my eyes shot up to meet hers. "I apologize Miss Swan. I'm afraid Lady Cheney completely understated your appearance in this dress." I smiled at her and couldn't resist saying, "Did you finally allow your cousin to purchase it for you?"

Bella's eyes narrowed a little at me. "Actually no. It arrived as a gift from some anonymous benefactor. I have no idea who gave it to me."

I raised an eyebrow. "Really? Well how fortunate for us since we are the ones who benefit visually."

Bella gave me a little smirk as she opened her fan. I allowed my admiring look to wander over the maroon satin as it fell in gathers and folds, accentuating her trim figure. The color was striking on her. Although I had to admit I found it hard to believe there was a color that would not be. The small cap sleeves were adorned with rosettes of a paler pink color. The same rosettes were scattered all the way down the dress. I was in awe of her small waist and the way the dress accentuated the swell of her breasts. Even though the gown did not show too much skin, I found the elegance of the dress on Bella more provocative than the most revealing gown would have been. The baser side of my imagination went into overdrive. A woman had never affected me like this before and I was a bit staggered.

"Thank you Mr. Cullen, although I am certain you exaggerate."

"I have seen a great deal in my life Bella, trust me, I never exaggerate." She had no idea exactly how much I had seen.

"Wise beyond your what….twenty years?" Bella tilted her head and studied my face carefully.

"Twenty-one. Yes you could say that."

Somehow we had begun to wander away from the crowd side by side as we talked. I realized that I was taking her away from Angela. "I am sorry Miss Swan. You are the guest of honor. I probably should not abscond with you and prevent you from meeting other guests."

Bella shook her head and a curl fell from her bun. I fought the urge to sweep it back up with my fingers. "No, believe me it is fine. I detest meeting strangers and being forced to make small talk. Angela knows it too, but insisted on tonight regardless."

My eyes traced over the lines in her neck as Bella spoke. "But I am a stranger."

Bella paused and looked up at me, her dark brown eyes warm and soft. "You have never felt like one."

"I see. So you are agreeable to the idea of occupying a quiet corner with me where I may force you to make small talk?"

A smile came over Bella's face. "Yes I am." I offered her my arm and Bella slipped her small hand in the crook of my elbow. "Lead the way Mr. Cullen." This was the closest we had been and that was when I realized how wonderful Bella smelled to me. Her blood appealed to me stronger than any human I had met, which caught me off guard. But it was not just her blood. Bella smelled feminine, like roses and lily of the valley. I found myself taking in a deep breath, even though I felt a tiny burn in my throat from her blood. The burn was worth being able to enjoy Bella's innate fragrance.

I brought us over to a small settee in an area that was out of the way. Bella sat down and I hesitated. "May I join you?" Bella nodded. I sat down, not nearly as close as I wanted to. "Did you enjoy the opera the other night?"

Bella's eyes lit up instantly. "Oh it was amazing. I do wish I had been able to wander around the theater more. It was so beautiful. I feel like there was more than I could possible absorb."

"You would enjoy a chance to explore a theater like that? Do you wish to be an actress?"

Bella shuddered delicately. "Heavens no. I am far too clumsy and shy for that. I just like beautiful buildings."

I nodded. "You have not seemed that shy to me, if you do not mind me saying."

Bella thought for a moment, "I do not feel shy around you Mr. Cullen."

I smiled at her. "You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear you say that."

Bella blinked her eyes hard and looked down for a moment before she asked, "Do you realize how dangerous that smile of yours is?" She gazed up at me through her eyelashes.

"Dangerous? How?" My smile was the least lethal part of my being in my opinion.

"It is completely disarming. It is almost as if you dazzle me."

Bella's statement confounded me. I have never had a woman tell me that. Not that I had spent much time in private conversation with them. "I dazzle you?"

"Since the first time I saw you." Bella looked down at her lap and played with her fan.

"Well I will have to remember that. How long do you plan on staying with your cousin?"

Bella finally returned her gaze back to mine. "There is no set date for my return to the country. Whenever Angela tires of entertaining me I suppose."

"Tiring of your company seems an impossibility to me Miss Swan." Bella looked at me out of the corner of her eye, a half smile on her face.

We were quiet for several minutes before Bella suddenly said, "There is something different about you."

I kept my expression smooth in spite of her announcement. "What do you mean?" I waited patiently while Bella formed her answer.

"I cannot explain it. It is how you look and how you speak. I feel like you have lived longer than your twenty-one years. There is something about you that pulls at me." Instantly she blushed. "I am sorry I should not have said that."

"No it is quite alright. You did not offend me, quite the opposite actually," I found myself confessing. "Has anyone told you how perceptive you are?"

"Yes." Bella looked at me with a hint of suspicion. "What are you trying to tell me? You are really thirty-five?"

I chuckled. "No, I am not thirty-five."

"But you are really not twenty-one are you?" Bella was watching my reactions intently. Most people were easy to distract or steer away from questions that hit too close to my true nature. Bella was relentless. I was not entirely sure I wanted to try to distract her anyway.

"No." I smiled at her and watched her take a sudden breath.

"Mr. Cullen, your smile will not divert my thoughts from wondering about you."

I just kept smiling and leaned against the back of the settee. "I am simply enjoying your speculation Miss Swan."

Bella gave me a look, "Are you going to tell me or try my patience all evening?"

I was taking pleasure in teasing her. "Depends on if you ask the right questions. You may not like the answer." Most people would not, especially a woman. Though I had suspected since the opera that Bella was not a conventional young lady. Those suspicions only fueled my growing affection and attraction for her.

I could tell this had given Bella something to ponder. She sat back and tapped her fan in her hand. "Why would I not like the answer? Is it going to frighten me Mr. Cullen?"

"It should. It would frighten almost anyone." This conversation was getting closer and closer to dangerous territory, and I glanced around to make sure we were not being overheard. The minds around us were clearly not paying attention to the two of us, except for the occasional woman jealous that Bella was sitting with me.

"Hmm." Bella absentmindedly fingered the curl that had fallen down earlier. "I take it then that this is something that is not common knowledge?"

"Definitely not Miss Swan."

"Then why answer my questions?" Bella's brown eyes looked sincerely at me. "Why grant me the honor?"

I realized I was falling harder every moment for this woman in front of me. I had never met someone with her mind and heart. "You are different from any woman I have ever met. I answer your questions because I feel I can trust you Miss Swan. You are the first woman I wish to share this with and I am honored you want to listen. I answer because I feel the pull between us as well."

Bella's eyes grew wide as she listened. "Really? You feel it too? I am not imagining it?"

I shook my head. "No you are not. I have never been acquainted with anyone that affects me as you do, and I have known a great number of people in my life Miss Swan."

I suddenly recognized we had been sitting there for quite a while talking. "Would you like some wine, or punch? I am not being very considerate keeping you here talking without some refreshment."

"Some wine would be lovely, thank you Mr. Cullen."

As I returned with Bella's wine I heard someone's thoughts about Bella...and her figure! Very male and entirely too forward thoughts. My eyes narrowed as I watched Sir Michael Newton introduce himself to Bella, his covetous gaze fixated on her cleavage. Oh for the love of...of all men. Sir Newton was the laziest, least educated, and most boorish fop I had ever met. No doubt the braggart had already told her he was a Knight of Ni and had his own chateau. Loathesome toad.

Bella stood to curtsy and dropped her fan. I could see she was uncomfortable and uncertain what to do until her eyes met mine. Was I imagining it or did she look considerably calmer once she spotted me?

I stepped up and retrieved Bella's fan. "My dear, you dropped this." I unfolded it and handed it to her so that her bare skin was shielded from Sir Newton's lecherous stare. Only then did I turn and acknowledge his presence. "Good evening Sir Newton. I'm surprised to see you here."

Sir Newton was clearly disappointed at my return. No doubt he had been waiting like a vulture from some other area, hoping I would leave Bella alone. Apparently he thought he had the charm necessary to pull Bella from me in the few minutes I was absent. Not only was he an idiot, he was delusional too. He gave me a forced smile and a bow that I did not return. "Good evening Mr. Cullen. Why are you surprised?"

Bella took her wine from my hand and quietly watched the two of us with curiosity. I gave her a mischievous look before I turned back to Mr. Newton. "I was under the impression that you were usually otherwise occupied on Friday evenings, at Club Menage?"

His face went instantly red the moment I said the name of one of the brothels he visited regularly. "I do not know what you mean sir." He sputtered, attempting to stand taller as he changed the subject. "I was just telling Miss Swan how it was a treat to see a lovely country flower here in town."

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Bella roll her eyes behind her fan and I fought the laughter that welled up. Clearly she was not impressed at Michael's overzealous and pathetic attempts at flattery. I knew she was an intelligent woman.

"Perhaps I was mistaken. Is it Club Menage on Wednesday's and Club Domme on Fridays?" I ignored the murderous look he gave me and continued on. "Miss Swan and I became acquainted several days ago. I have enjoyed every moment of time I have had in her company." I made it sound like we had been spending hours together. I turned and took Bella's hand and tucked it in my arm. "I hope you have too Miss Swan?"

Bella had realized the game I was playing and was clearly enjoying it. "Quite thoroughly Mr. Cullen And I am looking forward to more." She gazed up, her eyes only focused on mine.

I gave him a smirk and Michael huffed angrily. "Montre vous-même Monsieur Cullen. J'ai les amis poissons."

I barely had time to respond before Bella's voice piped up next to me, in perfect lilting French. "Monsieur Newton, sûrement vous avez voulu dire les amis puissants de poissons d'amis pas?" She looked at him with innocent wide eyes and I was unable hold back my laughter at his expense.

Michael stammered a moment, his face red, before he turned on his heel and departed. Bella had completely flustered him in one swift move. He quickly escaped with a hurried excuse. I turned to Bella. "That was brilliant. You speak French beautifully Miss Swan."

Bella blushed but looked proud. "I just could not resist correcting him. His accent was atrocious. I cannot believe he tried to tell you to watch yourself because he had fish friends. I think if he had remembered the proper word for powerful was puissant, not poisson, it might have made more of an impression." Bella smiled up at me, "However I doubt you would ever feel the least bit threatened by him."

She had no idea how little of a threat that insipid twit was to me, in any way. Bella sipped her wine as we sat back down. "No wine for you?"

"I do not drink wine." I could see the wheels turning in her head at my words.

We were back to Bella's line of questioning. "No punch?"

"I do not drink punch either," I answered quietly.

Bella sipped her wine again as she thought, "Does this have to do with why you are different?"

"Yes." I checked the room again for the proximity of other people and their thoughts. The only one that caught my attention was Carlisle. His eyes met mine and he smiled. His thoughts reached me.

It is meant to be Edward, I can tell. She is destined to be your mate. I gave him the slightest of nods in response.

Bella drew my attention back with her next question. "Is your unusual eye color part of it? I have never seen eyes the color of yours."

I smiled to myself. "As I said earlier Miss Swan, you are very perceptive." Bella took my answer to mean yes. I watched her continue to think over everything I had shared with her so far.

"Will you tell me here?"

"I would prefer to tell you in the presence of others, so that you feel…safer. But it is something that once you know it, you cannot reveal it. If you reveal what you know, you could be in danger."

Bella gasped, "From you?"

"No, not from me. But there are others that do not look fondly on outsiders knowing. However, once you know, I would endeavor to protect you, even if you chose never to speak to me again." On that point I was serious. I would never let anyone hurt her.

"Mr. Cullen, how old are you, chronologically?" Bella had asked the right question. I knew she would eventually.

I leaned in a little closer, noting Bella shifted closer as well. Lowering my voice I told her, "I am one hundred years old." I moved back to give her space to absorb that revelation.

Bella's mouth dropped open for a second, but she closed it quickly. She whispered, "One hundred?" I nodded. I could see she was trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, and she was beginning to understand what I was hinting at. "Are you telling me that you are a mythical creature that perhaps I have read about in novels? But it is not really a myth is it?"

I shook my head. "You would be correct. It is not a myth."

"Do you…..I mean…what do you drink?" Her eyes were wide and she actually was looking at me in wonder.

Bella had figured it out. And she had not run away yet. I was impressed. "Your bravery is admirable Miss Swan. I am surprised that you are still sitting here. I drink what you suspect, but from animals. If you want to ask me more we need to move to a more private area. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have." Bella just nodded. "Are you comfortable taking a walk in the garden with me? I assure you, you will be quite safe."

"Yes, I would like that. I know I will be safe. You would not hurt me. I know it in my heart." The sincerity in her words struck me to my core.

I stood and Bella wandered over to Angela just to let her know we were taking a stroll outside. Propriety dictated that she at least give her cousin the chance to object or request she accompany as chaperone. Angela just smiled and patted Bella's arm, telling her to have a nice walk.

Bella picked up the loop holding the train of her skirt and took my arm again as we went outside. I was surprisingly happy she knew my secret, at least parts of it. She knew what I was, and yet she still was here walking with me. Once we were a safe distance from the house Bella asked, "To be clear with what you have told me, you are a vampire?"

How easily the word vampire rolled off Bella's tongue, as if it were any average word. "Yes."

Bella's fingers tightened slightly around my arm. "You feed from animals, and you are one hundred years old?"

"Yes."

"Incredible." Not exactly the word I was expecting to hear. We came to a gazebo with benches and I helped Bella up the stairs. We sat down next to one another.

I was still incredulous at her reaction. "I do not frighten you?"

Bella shook her head. "No, I cannot explain why. Actually I seem to feel safe with you. Will you tell me more?"

"I will tell you whatever you would like to know." I pulled my gloves off since we were out of the public eye.

"Are any of the myths true?"

That made me laugh and Bella smiled when I did. "No. Most are just fictional folly. No coffins, no problems with garlic or crosses. I have to avoid the sun but not because it is harmful."

"Why?" I knew I was going to answering a great many questions that I had never had to answer before. Bella was very inquisitive.

I paused searching for the best way to explain that phenomena. "It is just that, vampires, our skin reflects sunlight in a distinctive way that would instantly reveal we are not human."

"Oh. Will you show me?" Bella's looked at me eagerly.

"If you would like. I have to be honest with you Miss Swan…."

"Isabella please. I'm unused to all this formality. It makes me feel at a distance from you."

"Isabella then. Or would you prefer Bella?"

Surprise crossed Bella's face. "How did you….." She paused, trying to understand how I could possibly be aware of that bit of information. "Bella is fine, but how did you know I prefer Bella?"

"I have excellent senses, sight, hearing and so on. I also have the ability to hear what people are thinking, except for you. I cannot hear your mind and I have never met anyone that I was unable to hear. So when I saw you at the opera, I knew you went by Bella because Lady Cheney used it."

There was silence while Bella digested all that. "You could hear us from across the opera house?"

"Yes."

Bella hid her face for a moment. From behind her hands she muttered, "Did you hear everything?"

I fought the desire to laugh at her discomfiture. "Well I heard you ask who I was and heard Angela's reply. But not much beyond that."

Bella's cheeks were flushed when she looked back up at me. "Why do you think you are not able to hear my thoughts? Although, frankly Mr. Cullen, I am grateful you cannot."

"Please, call me Edward. I do not have an answer for that question. Why are you grateful?"

Bella bit her lower lip a moment, her blush deepening. "Because you would know what I think about you and how often. I have to confess my thoughts have not been those of a virtuous young woman of eighteen Edward."

"What is wrong with that? I must admit my thoughts of you are not always gentlemanly. Society insists thinking that way is improper, but I think it is natural. It flatters me tremendously that you have thought of me that way." I knew other women had, but it had never affected me. The idea that Bella had considered me in that way just fueled my baser side.

Bella stared off over the garden. "Ugh these gloves," she muttered, "I cannot stand them." She looked down and pulled them off and set them down with her fan. "I never thought a man would see me that way."

For a moment I was dumbstruck at her quiet statement and the certainty with which she made it. "Well nothing could be farther from the truth. Remember," I tapped my temple, "I am able to hear people. In fact that was why I was so rude to Sir Newton. His thoughts about you were completely improper. I will admit I feel a sense of protective possession for you Bella. The only person I want thinking about you that way is me." A little smile crossed her face but she did not look over at me. "Why would you think that you would never been seen in that way by a man?"

Bella continued to gaze off into the distance. "I just never did. I am just a plain country girl, as my father repeatedly reminds me. There is no shortage of women more attractive or cultured than I am."

I felt a moment of anger that her father seemed to be the one responsible for Bella's low opinion of herself. "Look at me." Bella sighed and met my eyes. "You are most certainly not plain. You are an exquisitely beautiful young woman. It is not just your outside. I can see you have a good heart and a caring soul. That just adds to your appeal Bella."

Bella gave me a little smile and with one finger she reached out and touched the back of my hand. Her eyes grew big and she looked up at me.

"Yes, my skin is colder as a general rule. Another vampire thing." I gave her a gentle smile as she ran her fingers over my hand again.

"Do you mind Edward?"

"If you touch me? No. You are the first human I have allowed to do so." I watched her strokes grow bolder. Finally she just picked up my hand and looked at it. The heat of her hand holding mine, with no gloves separating us, felt so nice I closed my eyes and focused on the sensation.

"Edward?" Bella's voice was as soft as her fingers on my skin.

"Hmm?"

"I apologize if this question steps over the line, but given your long life, why have you not married?"

I opened my eyes and slowly entwined my fingers with hers. "You may ask me anything Bella. I said I would tell you whatever you wanted to know. Given that I never age, and humans do, it has never been something that seemed possible to me. Although to be perfectly honest, I have never met a human that led to that idea crossing my mind, until recently."

Bella smiled to herself. "Oh." She rubbed her thumb over mine. "Is it not possible to…..make another person like yourself?"

I sighed. "It is, but it is not something that we do lightly or on a whim. Eternal youth is often sought without the consequences being considered. Although literature claims otherwise, the life of a vampire is not a glamorous one. Sometimes it is lonely and tedious. There are very few ways to bring about our demise, so it truly is forever."

Bella looked up at me, her dark brown eyes boring into mine. I felt my breath catch. "Eternal youth holds no appeal to me. Being with you does. The idea of forever, with you….." Bella's voice trailed off for a moment before she continued in a whisper, "You would not have to be lonely….that is if you wanted me?" I could not believe what I was hearing.

I lifted her hand to my mouth and kissed it, watching her eyes darken as I felt her warm flesh under my cool lips for the first time. "Those words have made my heart feel more than I ever thought possible, and I thank you for that."

Bella started to speak and then stopped herself. Then she asked cautiously, "Would you want me, forever?"

I reached up and lightly stroked the side of her face with my free hand. I had wanted to touch her cheek since we met on the street. "I would. But this is not a decision you make suddenly Bella. You may change your mind after a good night's rest."

"And you may as well. Perhaps after a good night's sleep you will decide you do not want me forever." A flash of sadness crossed Bella's face that most would have missed, but I saw it.

"Neither of those will happen." Bella looked a little confused so I continued. "I already know I want you forever Bella. That I am certain of, and it amazes me to actually feel something I never thought I would. And sleep will not alter how I feel because I do not sleep."

"Never?" Bella scooted a little closer to me.

I shook my head. "Never. You should know, that if we move on from here, I will not change you unless you are my wife. So you need to think on that as well."

"Is that your idea of a proposal?" Bella raised an eyebrow at me, a little smirk on her face. I could hear the acceleration of her heartbeat at my words, and knew she was as affected by the idea as I was.

"No, it is not an official one yet. Just giving you more to think about. I want you to know all you need to know, before you change your life and your world irrevocably. You will never be able to have children Bella. Eventually you will have to lose contact with your father. Within a few decades, all the people you know now will be dead." Bella started to speak but I stopped her. "Just promise me you will think over all these things carefully before you tell me what you want."

"I promise."

"Now, onto a completely different topic. May I pick you up tomorrow to join me on a little excursion? There is something I would like to show you that I feel you will enjoy tremendously."

"I would be delighted. What time will you be calling?" Bella slid her gloves back on and it reminded me to do the same. It would be bad enough if people wondered where we had been alone, and downright scandalous that we had been without our gloves.

"Would two o'clock be acceptable?"

Bella grinned. "Yes."

"We should probably take you back inside so that they do not think I have kidnapped you." I stood and offered Bella my hand and helped her up. She put one hand on the center of my chest and stopped me from moving forward. I looked down at her questioningly. I watched as she pulled a small pink rose from her hair and slid it into my lapel.

"There is something I want Edward." Bella's voice was husky and I felt my body tighten in anticipation.

"Just tell me, and if I can provide it to you I will."

Bella tilted her head as she gazed up at me. "Will you kiss me, please?"

Oh God in heaven. I reached up and cupped one hand around the back of her neck. Bella stepped closer into me with a look of expectation. "Bella, I have never…."
"Neither have I Edward." She gave me a shy smile.

I leaned in and just barely touched my lips to hers, sensing a hint of the warmth I was about to encounter there. Softly I kissed her and Bella let out a little sigh, causing her mouth to relax further under mine. It was easier than I thought it would be, and infinitely more amazing than I could have imagined. Our mouths blended together seamlessly as I put my other hand on the small of her back. Ever so carefully I ran the tip of my tongue over her lower lip before I pulled back.

We stood there staring at each other for a moment, our breathing rapid. Without another word Bella moved so that she could lean her head up against my chest. This was the closest I had ever been to a woman. I closed my eyes and memorized how every inch of her body felt against mine. "Thank you," she murmured.

"Thank you." We waited until we had regained our composure before we made our way back inside. Carlisle and Esme were standing nearby, no doubt waiting for us. I made the introductions and we enjoyed a pleasant conversation. I could tell Bella quickly took in the similarities in our features and accepted what they were without batting an eyelash.

Finally it came time to part for the evening. I had caught Bella yawning more than once. We stood at the base of the stairs and I took her gloved hand in mine. "Sleep well tonight, I will see you tomorrow."

Bella's face lit up. "I am really looking forward to it." I gave her a small bow and turned to leave. "Oh Mr. Cullen?" I turned and faced Bella again. "If you should run into Mr. Anonymous, would you please tell him that the dress is lovely, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart?" Her chocolate brown eyes sparkled with mischief as she dropped into another curtsy before me, her fan poised just below the creamy skin of her cleavage. The little minx had noticed my admiration earlier and was teasing me!

I gave her my most dazzling smile. "I can guarantee you Miss Swan, he knows it." I gently patted the rose she had placed in my lapel.

Before I left the house I found Lady Cheney to thank her for the lovely evening. Her thoughts told me exactly how happy she was to see Bella and I had spent so much time in each other's company. "I was wondering Lady Cheney if I had your permission to call on Miss Swan tomorrow. I was thinking a walk in the park would be enjoyable as all the spring flowers are emerging. Of course I would expect you to accompany us."

Angela gave me a wide smile. "Mr. Cullen, I think that is a wonderful suggestion. In fact I think my husband would benefit with some fresh air as well. Did you have a time in mind?"

"I was thinking two o'clock? Would that be agreeable?"

Angela nodded. "That sounds perfect."

"Until tomorrow then." I bowed and took my leave.

The ride home was quiet, but Carlisle's and Esme's minds were not. Their thoughts were synchronous, revolving around me, and Bella, and what they had witnessed tonight. I knew Carlisle wanted to speak with me once we arrived at home.

I went into the library and removed my jacket and tie. I settled in a chair and patiently awaited his arrival. Carlisle entered the room and gave me a smile. "I would say tonight was full of surprises. Would you agree Edward?"

I nodded, "Yes, pleasant ones."

Carlisle sat across from me and watched me. "Well?"

I tried not to laugh. "Well what? I assume you would like to know what if anything there is between me and Miss Swan."

Carlisle raised an eyebrow. "That would be helpful. Do you feel that she is your mate?"

I leaned back and pondered my response. "She is. She knows what I am, and in turn what we all are. Bella is as drawn to me as I am to her and we did discuss the potential of a future together."

"And she knows the consequences if she decides to remain with you, and I am assuming become one of us?"

"Of course she does Carlisle. I tried to give Bella all the details she needed to be able to make a choice. I was very careful to ensure she understood what that decision entailed, including the fact that we would be married."

Carlisle's eyes widened briefly. "You proposed?"

"Not officially. I told Bella if she wanted to be with me forever, as I hope she does, it would be as my wife."

"I hope you spoke with a little more grace than you are now Edward."

I rolled my eyes. "Carlisle, what do you take me for? Of course I did. However I am not going to share all the details of my conversation with Miss Swan. I am adjusting to all that has happened tonight, and trying to understand it. Until then, some details will remain private." I had opened my heart to Bella tonight. I was not up to opening it up for everyone else. Carlisle knew me well enough to understand that.

"I am not trying to pry Edward. I am just ensuring all aspects that need to be covered have been."

"I know Carlisle. Please just allow me a little time to absorb all this please."

Carlisle nodded. "I heard you talk to Miss Swan about meeting her tomorrow."

"Yes. I am taking her to the park."

"Is Lady Cheney accompanying you?"

"Yes I believe both Lord and Lady Cheney will be joining us

Carlisle put one hand on my shoulder. "Edward, enjoy this. You have every right to be happy you have found your mate. I know Esme and I are both overjoyed. Now I need to go fill her in before she breaks in here and demands the information from you in person." Carlisle made his way out the door.

I laughed as I called after him. "Please, spare me that torment for the night." Esme's laughter floating down from upstairs at my comment made me smile.


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