Disclaimer:I own nothing. Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight, not me. :) I'm just having some fun with her characters.
A/N: I'll save the lengthy author's note for the end. But if you had questions about the story, I have tried to answer a few of the questions I received from readers at the end. Also, if you liked this story and want to be alerted when I post a new story, put me on Author Alert. If you read nothing else of the final author's note, please read the last part of my A/N at the bottom about sex trafficking.
Alright, enough of that. Now on with the story.
San Francisco, CA ~ June, 1855
Edward knocked his boots against the porch just before stepping through the door of the large brick building. Bella would have his hide if he dragged mud into the house. Exhausted, he let out a heavy sigh, glad to be home. It had been a long day – well a long week, actually. He'd been out making house calls to the poorest of the poor, diagnosing illnesses and prescribing remedies for all sorts of ailments. Since he and Bella had come to San Francisco four years ago, he had plenty of patients wanting to see him. He refused to let money be an issue and he saw anyone that needed the help, regardless of their ability to pay. This meant that his load was full but the money wasn't necessarily steady. Thankfully, he had a few wealthy and generous patients that brought in little surges of money every now and then, usually right when they needed it the most. In addition to all the house calls to the public, he also needed to be available to see the girls as necessary. And two of the girls had gone into labor and given birth that week, both in the middle of the night, as luck would have it. So Edward was functioning on very little sleep.
As he walked down the hall he looked into the kitchen and saw that Bella was working with Bree and showing her how to roll out dough. She loved teaching the girls to cook. She was so patient and always kind and they loved her for it. She also taught them sewing. But her favorite instruction by far was reading. She loved opening up the written word to these girls, many of whom had never before had any kind of formal education.
Their little home had begun in quite a small place, indeed. At first, they had just taken in one or two girls at a time. But after they had been able to have a margin of success with a few girls, some missionary groups had discovered their program and had begun funding them. Now they operated out of a four story building and usually had about ten or so girls and a number of babies living there with room for a few more.
Trudging up the three flights of stairs to their private living quarters on the top floor, Edward thought about how much he missed his wife. They had been so busy of late and he physically ached to hold her in his arms, feeling her soft body pressed against his own, laughing and talking and loving together.
Since their move, their time together was not as frequent as when they were in Rough and Ready. The year they had spent at home after their true marriage had been happy and full. Jasper and Alice had made it out west that summer of 1850 and Bella and Alice had hit it off right away. Edward couldn't help but take pleasure from their relationship. Alice was his little sister and had always held a special place in his heart, so to see Bella and her get along so nicely felt good. Alice had actually had a hand in their home for lost girls as well. Bella was quite adept at sewing but Alice could have been a high fashion seamstress working in Paris if she wanted. She worked with Bella, educating her more fully in seamstressing and was even able to come down to San Francisco with Jasper each year for a couple months to give classes to the girls in addition to the superb instruction that Bella gave.
Arriving on the top floor and entering their room, he changed his clothes then wandered out into the living area. He noticed a letter lying on their dining table. Walking over to pick it up, he saw that it was from Billy Black. Bella still kept in touch with Billy, sending him letters often. While they were still in Rough and Ready she made a point to visit him and the one time they'd gone home since they'd moved she spent an afternoon with him as well. He had been her father's best friend and practically family to her so Edward didn't begrudge her that. As his eyes skimmed over the letter, one paragraph caught his attention.
Jacob is doing fine. He sends me letters every few months. San Francisco didn't take for him so he's gone up the coast to log the giant redwoods. I know he's glad that you are happy in your new life.
Edward did still feel a bit badly for Jacob Black. But he couldn't truthfully say that he wasn't pleased that he had moved on from San Francisco. He had never relished the possibility of running into him on the street.
Just then Bella came into the room, looking weary yet altogether tempting. She saw he was reading the letter and raised one eyebrow at him, but the slight smile on her face told him she didn't mind him reading her correspondence.
He set the letter down and went to her, quickly putting on a playfully contrite expression. "So… Billy is well?"
"You tell me, you read it," she said, slightly shaking her head in amusement.
"I just glanced over it," he said taking her into his arms, unable to keep from touching her for another moment.
"Well, I'm sure you glanced at the part about Jacob," she said with a knowing grin. Shrugging one shoulder as she placed her hands on his chest, she sighed. "I do hope he is happy."
"I'm sure he is just fine," Edward reassured her. "But more importantly, I need some time with you, Mrs. Cullen." Then he took her lips in a heated kiss. He ran his hands across her back and down her curves to rest on her hips. She gave a little sigh as he kissed the sensitive spot where her neck met her shoulder. She could never refuse him when he started that.
"Edward," she breathed. "I miss you."
"I know. You have no idea how much I want you right now," he groaned, pressing into her.
"Oh, I think I have a bit of an idea," she said, giggling. He took her earlobe into his mouth and lightly bit it. "Oh… but… mmm… Edward, wait."
"Nnnn," he grunted but continued.
Her head fell to the side, betraying her words. "No, wait. Edward, you have to stop."
Reluctantly he pulled away and looked her in the eye, groaning. "This had better be good, love."
Her eyes were hooded and she shook her head a little. "There's a new girl that Irina brought in. She seems quite traumatized, the poor thing. I need to go see to her, she has several injuries. I'm glad you're home because if I can get her to agree to it, you may need to see to her too."
He was frustrated to have the time with his wife cut short but nodded his agreement. They'd known when they'd opened this house for girls wanting to get out of prostitution that they would have to lay aside their own needs and desires sometimes.
He watched the gentle sway of her hips as she left to go back downstairs and raking his fingers through his hair, he turned to pick up a book and wait for her return. Tonight, he resolved.
She came back after an hour or so to get his help with the girl, Kate. When Edward walked into the sitting room, Kate was cowering on a chair by the fire and Bella was kneeling next to her, holding her hand and speaking soothingly to her. Girls often came to the home as a complete last resort and as a result were in bad shape physically and emotionally. They were severely distrustful of men and Edward had learned to be exceedingly cautious with them.
Kate's frightened eyes darted to Edward as he slowly approached her.
"Kate, my name is Dr. Cullen. I'm going to see to your injuries, if you'll allow me," he said in a soft voice.
Her fear was palpable but she looked to Bella who was patting her arm and jerked her head once in silent assent.
Bella's brows were pinched in concern and Edward knew that seeing the girls when they first came in was difficult for her. It was too much of a reminder of where she once had been.
Edward came up to her and kneeled on her other side. Setting his medical bag on the floor, he saw that she was a complete mess. Her eyes were blackened with bruises and her lip was swollen. Dried blood mottled her chin. The arm opposite the one Bella held was dangling limply by her side and Edward wondered what other injuries she had sustained.
Upon examination, Edward found that in addition to the visible bruises and cuts she had a broken arm and cracked ribs.
Bella's eyes were sad and he could tell she was close to tears. She took a towel and wet it then she began cleaning Kate's face as Edward fashioned a sling out of linen. The battered girl's expression took on a faraway quality as Edward tenderly wrapped her arm in the sling and Bella lightly dabbed some salve on her cuts.
Many of the girls came to the home out of complete desperation. None of them were happy with how their lives had turned out and they wanted a fresh start. Unfortunately, it was sometimes difficult to protect them from their "owners." It was a dangerous job that Bella and Edward had undertaken and they had to keep a low profile. It was strictly by word of mouth that the girls would hear about their home. But they had been able to educate many already in trades that they could make a living off of and they had several girls who were successfully managing to keep themselves away from prostitution. Seeing the change in their lives was all the reward they needed. Bella especially felt a sense of accomplishment, overcome with pride whenever a girl began a new life with work they could be proud of.
After they were finished tending Kate's wounds, it was time for dinner. They went and joined the rest of the residents at the large table and enjoyed a meal. It was always interesting to watch the dynamics playing out during meal time. At the moment there were twelve girls, a few with babies living with them. The babies babbled and cooed, one cried, while another slept. The girls who had been there a while were comfortable and heartily engaged in warm conversation while the newer ones sat quietly, preferring to stay on the periphery.
After dinner, Edward went upstairs while Bella settled Kate into her room. He was sitting in his chair by the fire in the sitting room, reading when she returned, looking tired and burdened with the weight of the world. He knew she was thinking about Kate. Sitting on his lap, she dropped her face into the crook of his neck and he wrapped his arms around her waist. This had become somewhat of a ritual for them whenever a new girl came into the house. Bella always needed extra comfort at these times.
"She's in so much pain," she said, her voice muffled and her hot breath on his neck, stirring his husbandly desires.
"I know, love. I know. But she is safe now. She has the opportunity to heal and make a life. Just look at Irina. She was in much worse shape when she arrived and now she's almost ready to move out on her own. It is your passion that has given these girls a new life." He knew she gained much satisfaction from helping them find a place in their world where they had a measure of freedom, where they could work hard, and feel good about their labors. Edward was also happy to do his part in ending the slavery for these women.
"I just hope it will be enough," she said sniffling a bit.
"I know, sweetheart. You are doing all you can for her. We can only hope and pray for the best."
She nodded and sat up to look into his eyes. Her hands rested on his chest and she leaned in to kiss him. Her lips were warm and salty from her tears and Edward hummed his appreciation. They'd both been so busy lately and he longed to really be together but he took his cues from her. The kiss was slow and healing but after a few moments turned heated. She shifted in his lap to straddle his legs and plunged her fingers into his hair, tugging and twisting. Oh how he loved her fiery side. He should have known the capability was there by her passionate diatribes on literature earlier in their relationship. But he was delightfully taken by surprise soon after their marriage to find her zeal transferred to the bedroom as well.
"I've missed you, Edward," she whispered before crashing her mouth onto his.
He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her body into his, and plunged his tongue into her mouth, groaning with raw need. His blood hammered through his veins and his breath became labored as he roamed his hands all over her body, unable to get enough.
She fisted her hands in his shirt and stood to her feet, breaking the kiss. He complied as she yanked him up from his position in one swift movement. Coyly she backed away, a sultry glint in her eyes. Turning around she walked slowly to the bedroom, daring him to follow and he could do nothing but oblige.
Their clothes quickly discarded, she pushed him backwards onto the bed and he delighted in her enthusiasm. Damn, she was beautiful and he met each of her advances with his own eager responses.
He wanted her fiercely but she was teasing him, prolonging the sweet torture. He groaned in frustration and she took pity on him. She whimpered as he pulled her down to kiss her neck. They moved together in simultaneously languid and tremulous motions until they fell together, hearts pounding, blood rushing in their ears and floating on a gentle tide.
She snuggled up under his arm and onto his chest and he lazily kissed her forehead. He could think of nothing better than that moment. He was in awe that he had managed to win her love and he knew he would never take it for granted. She had saved him. They had saved each other, and they would continue to do so.
After all, they were in this together.
Final Author's Note: If you read nothing else in this ridiculously long author's note, please read the bit at the end about sex trafficking.
EPIC THANK YOUS!
I first want to thank Bratty-Vamp for helping me get started with this fic! Thank you for encouraging me, for giving me advice, and for generally being a listening ear when I first started out with this story! You were so kind and helped me to be brave enough to post at all! Thank you for pre-reading this story for me!
Next I want to thank LJSummers for being my beta starting in chapter 14. You helped me to make it so much better. I really valued that you are a scholar on this particular time and place and also the little side foray into weaponry that we took. Thank you for always being honest with me and for helping me work out some of the finer details. Oh, and thank you for being patient with my ok/okay/OK thing. ;)
Thank you to everyone who read my story! I am honored that you took the time to read it! Thank you to everyone who reviewed! You made me smile and it was so encouraging to know that people were actually reading this thing that I wrote! Thank you to everyone that recc'ed TtHB! I think I actually squealed in delight whenever I saw someone rec me. What an honor to know that not only did you enjoy my story, but you wanted others to know about it too!
By the way, just because this story is complete doesn't mean I don't care what you think about it. I still want to hear what you think and to know that you are reading! I'd love it if you dropped me a note.
I have lots of ideas for more stories ruminating in my little brain. If you want to be alerted when I start a new story, make sure to put me on author alert. I will probably take a bit of a break to develop the ideas more fully and to read some stories I've been wanting to read but will be back at it when I have something that might be worth sharing.
Just to address some issues and questions that have come up over the course of writing this little story.
Why did I title it "To the Highest Bidder"? I titled it "To the Highest Bidder" because in the beginning of the story, Bella is a pawn to the whims of the men in her life, which is completely normal for women in this period, and it is most tangible, obviously, when she is being auctioned off. My goal for her through this story was that she have some choices in life and learn to have some control and become her own person. This is quite progressive for a woman in her time but it was important to me. By the end, Bella will have used her adversity; have come full circle in having chosen Edward on her own rather than having Jacob chosen for her or having been James' slave. She is helping other women who had no voice and were literally owned, to break out. So – as LJ keenly observed – you could also say that Bella, herself, is the highest bidder in her own life because she paid more for what she has in life than anyone paid for her.
People hating on Jacob: I understand why some people were so antagonistic towards Jacob. My intent for his character was that he was someone Bella cared for very deeply. And he cared for her very much. His actions were not really too out of line for his time. Yes, he should not have forced the kiss with her. But he believed they were getting married. Bella had never told him that she didn't want to marry him. At that point in the story had just gone along with the plans that Charlie, Billy, and Jacob had been making like an appropriate daughter would in that time. So he had no reason to believe that she didn't love him as he loved her or at least that she would learn to love him.
Suspicions over Charlie's death: Charlie's death was a pure and simple accident.
What brought on Charlie's last words – "Be happy"? Charlie had gone and arranged the final details of Bella and Jacob's marriage with Billy and Jacob. I don't really want to interpret the "Be happy," line because Bella didn't have any more interpretation and she made decisions based on what she thought he meant. In my mind it could have been "Be happy in your marriage to Jacob," or "Do what makes you happy." However, Charlie did not have the benefit of knowing that there was another potential suitor – that perhaps Bella would have preferred – in the mix. As her father it was his duty to make sure that she was taken care of and Jacob would have taken care of her. He wanted her to marry Jacob but he also wanted her to be happy. I believe that given some time and if he had have known about Edward, he would have considered her feelings, even though he really wanted her to marry Jacob.
Who followed them from Sacramento? What was James doing during those months? The person following Edward and Bella from Sacramento was one of James' "goons." He went back and reported to James who went to Rough and Ready at his leisure and began stalking. He took his time. He was patient and enjoyed the hunt just like canon James. So he watched Edward and Bella. He got to know their patterns and whom they associated with. There were times when he could have acted more quickly but as I said, he was patient and enjoyed causing fear once he started leaving clues for Edward and Bella that he was there.
People thinking the false marriage would come out: As far as I'm concerned, their original false marriage won't come out. No one could prove that they didn't actually get married when they said they did, nor would they have reason to doubt them. They are the kind of people who are honest, their families and friends would believe them if they told them they got married. Also, as I posted in an author's note after their real marriage, at that time in California marriage licenses were not required. California was not even a state at that point and marriage laws were not set in stone. The only record of a marriage would be in the book the minister carries with him and there were a lot of itinerant clergy and the whole area was just rough and tumble. It would be highly unlikely for it ever to be found out, in my opinion.
Victoria and Laurent's fate: Victoria and Laurent and all the other workers at the brothel are still in business and making a profit on the girls that work there. Many people expressed the desire to see them pay for what they did. While that would be nice, it's not really realistic. People like this existed and still exist. People with evil intentions and who act in a deplorable way get away with their crimes every day.
Sex Trafficking: As I explained in an author's note on Chapter 8, prostitution and human trafficking is something I have a deep burden for. This kind of thing still happens in the world and it still happens in the United States.
Here are some facts on sex trafficking taken from the International Justice Mission's Fact Sheet available on their webpage - .org/
• After drug dealing, human trafficking (both sex trafficking and trafficking for forced labor) is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today, and it is the fastest growing. (U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services)
• Worldwide, there are nearly two million children in the commercial sex trade. (UNICEF)
• There are an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 children, women and men trafficked across international borders annually. (U.S. Department of State)
• Approximately 80 percent of human trafficking victims are women and girls, and up to 50 percent are minors. (U.S. Department of State)
• The total market value of illicit human trafficking is estimated to be in excess of $32 billion. (U.N.)
• Sex trafficking is an engine of the global AIDS epidemic. (U.S. Department of State)
Here is one personal story that IJM shares:
Manna's Story - INDIA
When 14-year-old Manna* ran away from her abusive home, she met a woman who offered her a job selling fabric. She accepted the position, and the woman provided her a place to sleep for the night. When Manna awoke in the morning, the woman was gone, and Manna discovered that she was in a brothel. For the next two years, she was held in the brothel and raped by customers for the profit of the brothel owners. She was freed when IJM investigators discovered her captivity and alerted local authorities, working
with them to release her and three other young girls from the brothel. The brothel owners each received five-year sentences for their crimes, and Manna was brought to an aftercare home to heal in security.
If you would like to know more about human trafficking and the sex industry and how you can help, check out these organizations. I do not endorse any of these organizations. As always, be wise about whom you give to and whom you get involved with.
http : / / www . ijm . org /
http : / / www . notforsalecampaign . org /
http : / / www . salvationarmyusa . org / usn / www_usn_2 . nsf / vw-dynamic-index / ? Opendocument