Edited 6/4/11: I apologize if you are getting an alert for this story and you thought it was being updated. Since this was my first attempt at writing fiction of any kind, there were numerous mistakes. I'm going through and doing minor editing of things such as grammar, etc. I am choosing to leave the story as is with the exception of minor changes because I think it's kind of nice to see growth in an author's work.
Take a step back in time to 1849, the height of the Gold Rush in Northern California. Where the chasm between the simple bucolic lifestyle and the rough and tumble of the old west was about to be bridged and the two worlds would collide, threatening the innocence that permeates Bella's existence and sets her on a course that could lead to her destruction or her redemption.
The only child of widower Sheriff Charlie Swan, Bella grew up in the safety of a small town in the Sierra foothills knowing she would one day be the wife of Jacob Black, her childhood friend. But even though Bella didn't want a safe lukewarm marriage to her best friend, stuck at home cooking his meals and darning his socks, she never dared to challenge her fate as it was what was expected. Secretly she wanted passion and she wanted to make a difference in her world. Her passion is sparked when she meets the intelligent and charming Edward, who harbors a tragic and broken past and a longing for his own deliverance.
When a pivotal life changing event rocks her world, Bella is forced to make a choice, a choice that will alter her life forever and shake up her safe and untried existence. In a desperate move to take hold of her dreams, Bella finds herself completely and wildly out of control of her life. Will she find the strength to come back from her anguish and grow into a courageous and self-assured woman?
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight, not me. :) I'm just having some fun with her characters.
Thanks to BrattyVamp for prereading this for me and giving me her suggestions!
Chapter 1: New in Town
Rough and Ready, California ~ September, 1849
"Get up brother!" Emmett bellowed, pounding Edward on the back and ripping his blankets off. "You've got to go pick up the shipment or Esme's going to have our hides."
Edward groaned, annoyed with the way his brother favored waking him in the mornings. He was half surprised that Emmett hadn't used a basin of water, as he was so keen on doing at times. Edward always bolted out of bed swinging when that was the chosen method, and though he was certainly a force to be reckoned with, Emmett was stronger and it always ended with Edward pinned to the floor, his older brother laughing at his expense.
Edward rolled out of bed, chasing Emmett out of the room so he could dress. Then he went downstairs to grab a quick breakfast. Esme gave him something to eat and a kiss on the cheek.
"Thank you for going into town, Edward. I don't know what I'd do without you," she smiled lovingly. Her children were the light of her life and Edward in turn would do just about anything for her.
He put on his boots and went out to saddle up his horse, Chester, and be on his way. This was Edward's first trip into town. Emmett was usually the one to take care of business; however, today Emmett wasn't able to make it so the task fell to Edward.
It was a beautiful September day. The birds were chirping in the pine trees, the sun was shining, and the air was cool. The Cullens were new in Rough and Ready, a small town in the Sierra foothills with the bare essentials: a general store, a post office, a sheriff's station, a blacksmith and leather tanner, a saloon with a small attached inn, and of course a church. As Edward approached the town, he noticed that there wasn't much activity; a few people strolling down the street and a couple horses tied to a hitching post outside the sheriff's station. He nudged Chester to continue on when something, or rather someone, caught his eye.
She was sitting underneath an old oak tree, quietly reading a book next to the Sheriff's Office. Something about her enthralled Edward's attention. She looked completely absorbed in whatever she was reading, softly chewing on her bottom lip, while the breeze blew tendrils of her chestnut hair gently around her face. She looked at peace and Edward wondered what she was reading. She was beautiful, but not in an ostentatious way. Nevertheless, she was captivating. A compulsion to go to her and brush the windblown hair from her lovely face surprised him in its intensity. He had to tear his gaze away from her and force his attention back to the task at hand: collecting the mail. But as he continued on towards the Post Office, his thoughts kept returning to the beautiful girl under the tree.
Arriving at the Post Office, he dismounted his horse and tied him to the hitching post. He gave Chester a pat on his muzzle and strode in the building, hoping to finish quickly and perhaps get a chance to see the girl again. Walking up to the counter, he noticed the Post Master's name plate, Eric Yorkie. The man was friendly enough. Yorkie retrieved the package and handed it to Edward with a smile.
"Welcome to Rough and Ready, Mr. Cullen. I hope you and your family will enjoy it here. We're full of friendly faces, I'm sure you'll find."
"Thank you, Mr. Yorkie."
"Please, call me Eric," he interjected. "Everyone else does."
"Alright Eric, you can call me Edward. Have a nice day." And with that he left the Post Office, quickly mounted his horse, and returned the way he'd come.
Not wanting to wait to find out who she was, he silently prayed that the girl would still be sitting there. As he rode his horse back up the dirt road through town and neared the spot where she had been, he saw the sheriff roughly exit his office and call over to the girl, "Bella, let's go!"
"Okay, Pa." The beautiful girl jumped to her feet, pausing to brush the grass and dust off her dress and ran to meet him. When she reached his side she looked up and caught Edward's perusal.
He tipped his hat with a small smile and even from his view on the horse he could see that the most alluring pink blush accented her face. And what a beautiful face it was, containing deep brown eyes the likes of which he had never seen before. She was stunning.
Bella. Her name was Bella. Perfect.
THB~ THB ~ THB
Over the next week he couldn't shake the images burned into his brain of Bella: her brown eyes gazing up at him, the pink stain of her cheeks, and the wind in her hair. Edward had never before believed in love at first sight. Love was something that grew slowly over time, getting to know another person, learning to trust and respect them. He still believed that and yet he was nagged by the strange connection he felt with her. He thought he must be going crazy. He had no idea of her situation or even if she'd been promised to another. The idea of her with someone else was repellant to Edward. He was eager to make another trip to town in hopes of catching another glimpse and perhaps learning a bit more about the lovely Bella.
Unfortunately, there was no chance to go to town as Edward was needed at home to work on the houses. There was much work to be done if they were to be finished in time.
Carlisle had hired the local boys to help with the building to make sure it was done before winter and it was a good thing he did. These "boys" weren't really boys, to be honest. Each of them were mountains of men, their frames even larger than Emmett's. Their help was invaluable; they knew all the ins and outs of building on this rugged terrain. And with their assistance, it was estimated that the last of the houses, Edward's, would be finished by the end of October, before the heavy rains and snows of winter arrived.
It was Saturday and the boys had the day off. Edward was spending the afternoon burying his ax in the pieces of wood that were too small for using to build, splitting logs to store up for the winter when Emmett boomed, "Hey Edward! What do you say we go to church tomorrow?"
"Yeah, well, I don't really care one way or the other, but we've been here for a couple months already and we haven't been and Esme is insisting that we need to go. She said something about being embarrassed and needing to socialize with the locals. I don't know, anyway, she's been wanting to go for a while now and she'll have a conniption if we don't go."
It suddenly occurred to Edward that his beautiful girl would probably be there. Surely the sheriff would have to put in his appearance at the Sunday meeting and his daughter would dutifully be by his side. "Sure Emmett, that sounds great," he said, a smile creeping across his face.
"Really? That easy, huh? Well, Esme will be happy," he said. "Say, maybe you'll even catch the eye of a nice girl. You seriously need to get yourself a woman!"
Edward groaned. "Emmett, don't. Just…. don't." His brother could really be obnoxious and he didn't want all the single girls in town getting the idea that he was on a wife hunt. Although, the prospect of attracting the attention of one girl certainly was intriguing.
THB ~ THB ~ THB
The next morning, the Cullens arrived at church just as many other families were walking into the building. Edward grimaced when he saw many young female heads turned in their direction, eyes alight, smiles growing, whispering and giggling. None of these were the girl he really wanted to see.
The pastor quickly approached the new family. "Welcome to our church and to our community. I am Pastor Webber," he said, extending his hand in greeting.
Carlisle and Esme smiled. "Thank you very much, Pastor. I am Dr. Carlisle Cullen and this is my wife, Esme. These are our two boys, Emmett and Edward. And this is Emmett's lovely wife, Rosalie. We have one other child, a daughter, Alice. She is still in Missouri with her husband, Jasper. They will be making the trip out in the spring, Lord willing."
The pastor warmly greeted each person in turn and even managed a small smile from Rosalie.
"I hope you will be very happy here. Please if you need anything, let us know. We want to help you get settled in."
The new doctor and his lovely wife were quite the commodity; everyone wanted to meet them and their children. Emmett was energized by meeting all the new people; his smile contagious to those around. That is until they met his wife. Rosalie was cool and detached, as usual. She intimidated both men and women alike with her beauty and icy disposition. Edward found it almost comical watching the way people exuberantly greeted Emmett and then immediately paled upon meeting Rosalie.
Just then an enthusiastic woman stopped them. "Hello! I am Mrs. Stanley and this is my daughter, Jessica," she said, looking pointedly at Edward. Jessica stood next to her mother smiling up at Edward and batting her eyelashes.
He greeted them as was polite, but tried to maintain the line of disinterested courtesy without appearing rude while his eyes scanned the crowd. Neither Bella nor her father were anywhere to be seen.
Emmett was chatting charismatically with Mrs. Stanley, answering all her questions about how the family with "two handsome young men such as themselves" ended up in town. Before too long she turned her focus on Edward. He had to fight not to roll his eyes as she not so subtly tried to get him to show interest in her daughter. He stood in awkward silence, Emmett trying to cover for his cool demeanor, until it was appropriate for him to get away from the conversation. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to escape before Mrs. Stanley secured a date for him to come to dinner the following night. Fantastic. Edward thought. I'd rather eat boiled water soup and charcoal biscuits than listen to her prattling.
Just as they were finding their seats, Edward heard soft feminine laughter coming from behind him. He glanced back and there was Bella, looking beautiful alongside Jacob Black, one of the Cullens' hired men. Jacob had his arm slung casually around Bella's shoulder and the two of them were laughing and chatting. It was obvious that they cared for each other a great deal. Edward's eyes narrowed. Was she spoken for after all? Bella looked up and, seeing his glare, blushed and looked at the floor. Jacob didn't miss a beat; glaring right back at Edward, possessively placing his hand on the small of her back and ushering Bella into her seat.
"Hey man, what's your problem?" Emmett asked, pulling Edward's gaze away from Bella and Jacob.
"Nothing," he muttered.
"Right. You were rude to Mrs. Stanley, who is nice enough to have you over for dinner. You completely ignored her daughter, who was pretty enough. And now you're glaring at our hired help? Brother, something's up." Edward ignored Emmett's surprisingly keen observations as the music started up and he suffered through the rest of the service.
He reluctantly went to the Stanleys' house for dinner the next night, enduring Jessica's inane conversation. But he politely declined any further visits, citing too much work back at the homestead and earning a disappointed look from Jessica. But he didn't care, preferring to appear rude so that he could stay at home and do anything other than have Jessica Stanley foisted upon him.
He returned home, well to Carlisle and Esme's home anyway. Their house as well as Emmett and Rosalie's house was complete. Edward's home was well under way and he looked forward to having it done and having his own space.
He stalked into his bedroom at Carlisle and Esme's house that night and collapsed onto his bed. He was in an irritable disposition and slept fitfully all night long.
THB ~ THB ~ THB
Drip, drip, drip, drip. What is that? Drip, drip, drip, drip.
He heard soft sniffling and quiet sobbing. Confusion clouded Edward's brain as he tried in vain to figure out what was going on. An unwelcome sense of familiarity and foreboding invaded his senses.
Cold, hard ground was beneath him as he shivered under a worn and dirty coat.
Then suddenly, a loud noise jolted Edward awake as Emmett burst into his room pounding on his back and whipping open the curtains. "Wake up brother, the boys are here and it's time to work! Get your lazy behind out of bed." Edward squinted against the early morning light streaming through the window, the dream still churning in his mind.
He fumbled out of bed, muttering to himself as he threw on his work clothes, fighting back the images that wouldn't stay gone. I thought those dreams were finally starting to go away.
THB ~ THB ~ THB
His mood was foul that week. Between the ridiculous envy he was feeling over Jacob's apparent relationship with Bella and the dream he had, he could barely stand to be around himself. He couldn't even so much as look at Jacob much less work alongside him. To make matters worse, he overheard a conversation he would have much rather never heard. He had just been about to enter the barn when he heard Jacob and one of the other men, Quil, inside.
"Back off, Quil, she will be my wife!" Jacob's voice rung out with conviction.
"I don't know, Jacob. You're practically a brother to Bella. Mind if I give it a try?" Quil asked playfully.
Fortunately, the growl erupting from Edward's chest was drowned out by Jacob's territorial retort of "Don't even think about it, man! We're friends, but I wouldn't hesitate to bury my fist in your face and take you to the ground!"
"Easy there, Jacob." Quil laughed. "I'm just saying, the two of you practically shared a cradle. Do you really think she likes you that way? But I can't blame you, she's beautiful. Any man would be lucky to have her."
"It doesn't matter. Any man isn't going to have her because Charlie has all but promised her to me. I have his full blessing to propose marriage and I intend to do so at the Harvest Dance."
Edward felt sick, which made him feel ridiculous since he had never even spoken with Bella and here he was getting possessive over the poor girl who probably didn't even know he existed. She'd probably be better off with Jacob anyway, Edward thought bitterly. But that didn't mean he liked it.
The following week dragged on. Edward determined to put the girl out of his mind and focus on finishing his house. It really was coming along and should be done within another week. Emmett was excited about the perfect dream house they'd made for Rosalie and couldn't stop talking about how much she loved it and how much he loved her, which only irritated Edward. He didn't want to hear about his brother's love for his wife when his own...
What am I thinking? I don't know the least thing about her. She could be unbearably insipid or worse, malicious and spiteful for all I know. Not to mention that she might not be interested in me anyway. Even if she were interested, her father has basically given her to Jacob Black!
THB ~ THB ~ THB
At church that Sunday, everyone was abuzz about the upcoming Harvest Dance the following Friday night. Many of the girls flirted with Edward, batting their eyelashes and smiling. Edward kept his eyes down through most of the service, only looking up occasionally to catch a glimpse of Bella. She was sitting with Jacob again, but he noticed that she glanced over at him several times. Each time he caught her, she quickly looked away, that same beautiful blush coloring her cheeks. The depth of frustration he felt that she was with Jacob surprised him and he left as soon as he could get away once the service was over.
On Tuesday he had to go to town to pick up an order from the General Store. Thoughts of Bella flitted across his mind as he passed the Sheriff's Department but she was nowhere to be seen and he quickly redirected his thoughts to the upcoming completion of his house. As he walked into the small store he spotted Mrs. Webber, the pastor's wife, at the counter. An older woman with a kind face, she had her dark hair pulled into a bun and a pencil behind her ear. His boots clicked against the wooden floor as he walked over to inquire about his order.
"Of course Mr. Cullen, it arrived just this morning. Let me go fetch it in the back for you." She left quickly to retrieve it, leaving Edward to look around.
As he was glancing around the small store he heard something drop behind him. He turned around and saw a pair of wide brown eyes he'd know anywhere staring at him, a book lay on the floor at her feet. The ubiquitous rose blush appeared in Bella's cheeks and Edward acted on impulse, bending over to pick up the copy of Romeo and Juliet to hand it to her.
"This is yours?"
"Yes," her voice squeaked out and her cheeks grew impossibly darker. "Thank you."
Edward's heart began to race. Despite all attempts to the contrary, Edward had completely failed at shaking her from his thoughts. He couldn't help it; he had to keep her talking regardless of the consequences.
"I'm Edward Cullen."
"Bella Swan," she said, looking anywhere but at Edward.
"So Bella, do you always read boring old English men?"
He wasn't sure where that came from but if his goal was to get her talking, that certainly did it. She rose to her full height of what couldn't possibly be more than 5'4" and looked boldly into his eyes, her cheeks reddening again.
"For your information, Shakespeare was a genius, truly amazing. Apparently, nothing you would understand."
Edward smirked, enjoying the rise he got out of her. For crying out loud she's beautiful.
"Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night." Edward breathed, looking deep into her warm brown eyes. Had he really just said that out loud?
For a moment, she said nothing, her mouth open slightly, eyes looking a bit startled. Then she seemed to regain control.
"Go ahead, mock it," she huffed.
Apparently he had said it out loud. "Forgive me. I'm not mocking. I actually have a great appreciation for Shakespeare." Now there was a man who clearly understood the way in which a beautiful girl in such a short space of time could wholly arrest the attention of a man.
The spark in her eyes softened and her blush abated. "Oh. I'm sorry, I… I spoke out of turn."
"No, I was out of line, I apologize," Edward insisted, the corner of his mouth turning up into a half smile.
Again, Bella looked stunned and Edward couldn't bear to say goodbye and so he said the first thing to come to mind.
"So, have you lived here long?" Stupid! Edward berated himself. What a great conversationalist I turn out to be.
Now it was Bella's turn to smile. "Yes, I've lived here my whole life." She was so unbelievably beautiful. "And you are new to town. Where did you and your family come from?"
"Missouri. Our sister and her husband are still there. They will be joining us next year."
"Oh how wonderful for you all. But you… you have no wife?" she asked shyly, and then her cheeks colored again. Edward was really beginning to love that.
"No. Not yet that is," he answered. He had always longed for a wife and family that he could cherish and provide for, but he had never met anyone in whom he had been interested enough to pursue as a potential partner, not until now anyway. He very much hoped for the chance to rectify that. His thoughts returned to Jacob Black, the man who would stand in his way. The man who probably deserves her more, his thoughts nagged.
"Well, here it is!" Mrs. Webber chose that moment to reappear with Edward's order.
Bella was fidgeting now. "Well, I should be getting back, I suppose. My father will be wondering where I am." She looked down at her book and a stray piece of hair fell into her face.
Edward's hand was itching to smooth it back away from her face but he restrained himself and instead nodded his head giving her a much more appropriate, "Good day then." But he couldn't resist adding, "I very much hope to see you again soon and become better acquainted with you, Bella."
At that, her eyes shot to his, which were gazing intently back at her, and she responded, "I would like that, Edward."
Those eyes and that blush will be the death of me, Edward thought. At that, Bella took her leave, walking out the door, onto the street, and out of sight. He forced his gaze back to Mrs. Webber, who stood quietly observing the interchange that just took place in her store.
A/N: So, how did you like it? Let me know in the form of a review!