Nothing Gold Can Stay

Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight or any recognizable characters or plot references. I'm simply toying with Meyer's characters.

Summary: Bella's father, Charlie, got swept away with talk of gold and good fortune and unfortunately, Bella was swept right along with him. When they got to California, Charlie was sadly disappointed, but utterly broke. What can Bella do to keep a roof over their heads until Charlie makes his big break with the '49'ers?

A/N: This one is for NanMcCullen for being awesome. Woohoo.

Prologue

In December of 1848, President James Polk made an announcement that completely changed my life. For months, months, there was talk about a fever down in the California territory. A fever that spread worse than the plague or cholera. A fever that spread so far that it hit us, way up in the freshly liberated Washington Territory.

Since the Oregon Treaty passed, my father became a sort of deputy for the territory, and I, as his daughter, became a type of liaison for the natives in the area. My father was a simple man, ever since my mother passed in child birth with me; he'd never had eyes for any other of the female persuasion.

On my fifteenth birthday, my father and I went to the Quileute lands to celebrate. There, Harry Clearwater, an elder for the tribe, told us stories and legends passed down for generations. As we settled in, Harry began to tell us of the deadly fever that started at Sutter's place. He told us all, in his deep, scratchy voice, how even the strongest of men fell to their knees in the wake of the epidemic. He called it the Fool's Fever.

My father was not a fool. He was a good man with larger than life aspirations for his only daughter. That December, when President Polk made his declaration, my whole life was uprooted in less than three months.

"The accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are such extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by authentic reports of officers in the public service." -James Polk, December, 1848.

At first, Harry Clearwater tried to dissuade my father. He tried to talk him out of his ideas of grandeur, but unfortunately, my father could not be persuaded to stay in the Washington Territory any longer. He continued to pack and continued to listen to the town gossips about the fever.

By April of 1849, my father and I were wagon bound and on our way to California. Our horses were well trained, but still the voyage took a month's time. The chill of the Pacific Northwest was still biting and we had to go at a leisure pace so we didn't stress the horses.

When we finally arrived in what was once Sutter's place, we found mining town after mining town. As we passed through the camps, I knew that we were definitely not in the safety of the Quileute's land anymore. My long dress was no longer just a burden to me, but also a distraction to the men as I walked along side Nelly, my mare.

Now, I'd never been skittish around men, being raised by my father, but these…. Things, these miners, they were not men. They whistled and hollered, and as we passed a camp called "Rough and Ready" I had the extreme displeasure to see a naked man fondling himself to my image.

We'd gotten through the rougher townships and passed all of the burly action before my father found what he deemed a suitable location to stop. He found the man in charge of Whiskeytown and purchased a small starting plot of land, just outside the township. He'd also taken his earnings from Washington and put them into an already built abandoned saloon, so that we could have a business and have a place of residence.

We were there. We'd finally made it, and everything Harry Clearwater told me it would be, it was. Even in Whiskeytown, men were outspoken and disrespectful. Our saloon, which my father promptly renamed "Bella's Twilight" was opened within our first week, as a reminder of our new beginnings.

Our private quarters were directly above the saloon, behind the liquor closets and finance rooms. My father thought this would be a safe place for me, especially since our stay in California was a temporary one. He'd warned me to stay out of the saloon, and out of main corrals for my own safety.

For four months, my father used the summer sun and his gut's instinct as his guides and did fairly well in his pursuit of gold. By the time my sixteenth birthday rolled around, my father was the second richest man in Whiskeytown and more profitable still, the owner of the best saloon in the territory.

Bella's Twilight had the sweetest, coolest gin, the smoothest whiskey, and the sultriest ladies in the whole camp, and after a full day of mining, men flocked to the saloon to cool down, and relax. I'd asked when we were going home, back to the Washington Territory, but every time I did, my father kept saying, "Soon, baby, soon."

Soon never came, and his lucky streak left with the summer solstice of 1849.

**October 1850**

"Rosie, can you go get a bottle of Jim's Whiskey from the liquor closet?" I yelled over the ruckus of the bar, sliding down a shot glass of my best to Jasper, one of my regulars. Rosie winked at me, like she does, and swayed her hips out from behind the bar and up the stairs to the liquor closet.

"How's Mary Alice doing, Jasper? Heard from her lately?" I asked as I refilled his whiskey. It was a futile attempt to try to remind him of his girl. He talked about her sometimes, but mostly nowadays, just drank to forget her, and the rest of his life in the Southern Texas territories.

"Just fill up another, sweetheart, and tend the bar like you're supposeda," Jasper slurred, six in and still drinking.

"Alright honey, I'll make up your room before the night's done. No arguin', you know I won't want you out in the dust after you're pissed like you're gonna be."

He gave me a pained smile of gratitude, and nodded so I filled up his glass and left the bottle while I went to attend the other patrons.

Before Rosie got back, I'd filled up a glass for Bennie and Mike and some of their buddies. I also cocked my rifle at a new stumbling dead beat miner. As I'd set down his gin, he grabbed a hold of my wrist and licked his lips. The foulness of his breath surpassed that of his vile comments, and as I reached for my rifle, I told him to keep his mouth shut and to himself, and to get out of my saloon.

At first he looked amused, but then he saw the rifle, lined up at my shoulder, my head titled just so, and then he sobered enough to call me a crazy bitch, and then high tailed it out into the dirt.

"He's new in town, Bells, why'd you go and scare him like that?" Mike hollered over the noise. "Just got in yesterday."

"If he's new, he should still have his Mama's manners, Michael Newton. I don't want to see his face in my saloon until he apologizes, got me?"

When Rosie came back, liquor bottle in hand, she pulled me aside and whispered, "You've got a stowaway upstairs. Barely a child. She didn't think I saw her, but you should go check on her. She's maybe fifteen years old, I'd wager."

"That's hardly a kid, Rosie. I'm only seventeen myself, and look at me."

"You've gone above your expectations and made something of yourself after Charlie's accident, Bella Swan, but this girl," she pointed up the stairs. "She looks like she's been runnin' for days."

When Rosie mentioned Charlie's accident, my eyes blinked hard to push away the tears. "I'll go see what's going on. Watch out for Jasper, ok? He's halfway through a bottle of my best whiskey, and he's barely older than me." I looked back at the blonde, wiry young man, eighteen, dirty as all hell. He'd been out every day for the last four months looking for easy work, trying to make a name for himself here before he called for his girl. The first month wore him under, and now, he was just trying to forget everything by diving head first into my liquor.

He was a sweet man, like an older brother to me these last two months, and I loved him dearly. Rosie, even though she'd never say it, felt just as protective of him as she did of me.

Winking, Rosie's signature, she walked away from me and straight to him, pulling the bottle back behind the counter, and slapping Jasper to make him snap out of his stupor.

"Follow Bella, Jasper Whitlock, you're mopin' is making me sick. She'll draw up your room and get a bath goin' for you. God knows you need it. You smell worse than the outhouse right about now."

He stood obediently, kissing Rosie's cheek as he did so to follow me up the stairs. I opened up his room and pulled down the linens, setting a box of matches down by his oil light. "I'll get your bath ready for you, Jasper, go ahead and take off your boots. Pile your clothes up by the door and I'll make sure Angela gets them washed and pressed for you. You've got your pajamas by the sink."

I filled up his tub and poured in some lavender sprigs and rosemary to get rid of his smell. I folded up a towel for him and left the room, locking the door from the outside. "I'll be back to check on you in an hour, Jazz," I told him, knocking through the door as I walked away.

I always locked the door when I had people staying in my saloon. It wasn't that I didn't trust Jasper, or any of my residents, it was that I didn't trust the floozy women who walked through my doors half past eight o'clock. They'd walk up the stairs and try to take advantage of any young man. I loved Jasper too much to let his drunken stupor be taken advantage of.

I walked into my liquor closet and closed the door behind me. It was quiet and dark, but after a moment, I adjusted to the lighting and heard soft breathing. I walked down the aisles toward my back office and saw her crouched body, shrouded in shadows.

"Honey, you're not foolin' anyone, hiding up here. Stand up."

I heard her gasp and spring to her feet, her long black hair filthy and tangled. "Please, Miss, don't make me go back out there. I'm so scared, Miss, please."

Her eyes were bright blue, light and innocent, but the bruises along her cheekbones told me everything I needed to know.

"I'm Bella, honey, this is my saloon. I don't just take in strangers. Who are you?"

"Al-Alice, Miss Bella. I'm Alice," she said, her eyes dropping to study the dusty floors of my liquor.

"How'd you get in here, Alice?"

"The lady, yesterday, with the glasses, who was here for laundry? I followed her upstairs and hid as soon as I could. I'm sorry Miss Bella, honest. I just couldn't go back out there. The men are monsters."

She reached up with her left hand and covered a spot on her right arm, and I could see, even with the poor light from the setting sun, the deep blue bruises on her arms and chest. I gasped in horror and walked to her, gathering her up in my arms gingerly, and hugging her to me as fiercely as I dared.

"Did they… take advantage, Alice?" I asked, holding her out at arm's length.

"No, Miss Bella, they got angry when I wouldn't lift my skirts and this is what happened to me. They beat me and tossed me to the dirt."

I brought her close again, and held her tightly in my arms. She reminded me of my not too distant past. I couldn't shake the feeling in my bones, and knew immediately that I couldn't turn her away.

":You can stay with us here at Twilight until you're back on your feet. We'll put you to work where you're suited, and when you're healed, if you want to go back on home, I'll help pay your wages, so you get there safely."

" Miss Bella, you're the kindest, sweetest person on this Earth," she cried into my shoulder. She hugged me back tightly, just as I held her. "I don't have a home to go to, Miss Bella. I ran away, they were fixing to marry me off, and I… I couldn't do it. I'm already in love, so I ran away from home. I got nowhere to go from here."

"Well, we can talk about all that later, little Alice. For now, we'll get you up in a room, and then when we close up tonight, I'll have Rosie come up to help clean you up, ok?" She nodded into me and kept thanking me, over and over. "For now though, let's get you to your room. I'll lock the door behind me to keep you safe, alright?"

After getting Alice situated, I went back to the bar and helped Rosie finish serving and cleaning. I pushed the last drunken oaf out to the dirt and locked the doors, as Rosie left to check on Mr. Emmett McCarty, one of my other regulars. Emmett was no more than twenty-three, bulky, about six-four, with curly brown hair and a scruffy five o'clock shadow.

When Rosie came back down, we went to Alice's room and tried to persuade her to get out of her dirty, tattered clothes. It took us an hour just to get her into the bathtub. She was afraid we'd turn her away if we saw her scars and bruises. Truth be told, I had to look away when she finally did undress, but it wasn't because I wanted her to go.

After getting her cleaned up, Rosie and I attempted to clean up her hair, but it was a lost cause. "It's gonna have to go, Ally," Rosie told her. "To about here." She pointed to Alice's chin and grimaced. That prompted more of Alice's tears.

After cutting her hair, to her chin, just like Rosie said, we played with her hair and styled it a few feminine ways, until Alice's tears were abated. Rosie's clothes were too big, as she was a tall, busty, blonde with a tiny waist and wide hips. Alice was maybe nine inches shorter than Rosalie, petite and thin and incredibly pale.

I was a few inches taller than Alice, but closer in body size than Rosalie, so I gave her one of my night shirts so that she can have clean clothes for the night, until Angela came in the morning.

I checked on Jasper, just like I promised, and found him asleep in bed, smelling sweet like lavender and rosemary, infinitely better than the dirt, piss, and drink that he smelled like before. I pulled his comforter up over his shoulders and kissed his forehead. He smiled in his sleep and curled into the blankets.

I grabbed his soiled clothes and closed the door behind me, locking it before I walked away. I took the dirty clothes and dipped them into the clothes basin, and rinsed them before hanging them up for Angela. She was gonna have a field day with the dirt on his clothes this time.

Bright and early the next morning, I unlocked Jasper's door and handed him a glass of raw egg and horse radish to get him over his hang over. He groaned, but drank it down anyway, as always, and got ready for the day.

"If I can find steady work," he told me. "Or get lucky on Miner's Row, I could send for Mary-Alice, Bells. We could finally be together again. I just don't want her to see me like this. I'm a deadbeat, Bella. I want to prove to her that I'm worthy of her love."

"So shape up, Jazz. You're a great guy, and Mary-Alice is smart to love you. I know I tell you this, but you could work here, you could do my inventory and stock, Jasper, it's a real job, and you'd have steady wages. Mary-Alice could be on the next coach out here."

"I don't want her to be in a saloon," he confessed. "It's not that I don't love you, and your hospitality, it's just… she's perfect, Bella. She's innocent, and her blue eyes, they just… shine. I don't want her to get tarnished in a place like this."

I smiled sadly, knowing exactly what he meant. "I take no offense, Jasper. I understand. This isn't a life I would have chosen for myself either. Just promise me you'll stay out of the mines. Don't make a fool's choice, Jasper, you saw what happened to Emmett."

After Jasper left for the day, I walked to Alice's quarters and unlocked her door. I handed her one of my work dresses, one that got a little too snug after I started working in the bar. "It's not much, but until Angie gets here, it'll be alright for you for now." I gave her my crude excuse for a sewing kit, and then left to let her change. "I'm going to get breakfast started, and finish cleaning. Holler if you need me."

I met Rosie down at the bar and got started on breakfast. She gave me a quick count for inventory and left to tend to Emmett with his bowl of oatmeal. About a month after Jasper got into town, Emmett was in a bad mining accident, his ore car toppled over on him, fractured his leg. He made it back here, and I patched him up as best I could. I called the township's doctor and had him reset the bone, me holding Emmett's huge hand in my own. Emmett cried that day, but I never told anyone. He'd been holed up in his room ever since, unable to walk. The doctors said there was a chance he'd never walk on the bum leg again, but we held out hope for him.

Rosie didn't tell me herself, but she's sweet on Emmett, has been for seven months, since he first came to Whiskeytown. She's been a sort-of nurse for Emmett, ever since the accident, takes him three meals a day, visits with him during the afternoons. He's sweet on her too, but neither will say anything about it.

I was washing down the bar, soap and suds from end to end when there was a knock at my door. Now, we never opened before supper, so getting someone at the saloon at ten in the morning was a rarity. There was another knock, louder this time, so I grabbed my rifle and walked to the door with caution.

The man standing on my porch had the greenest eyes I'd ever seen. He had a pressed suit jacket and smelled like fresh soap and fresh linens.

"Whatever it is, we're not interested," I said warily, the rifle hidden by the skirts of my dress.

"Good morning, Miss. I'm looking for Mr. B Swan, the owner of Bella's Twilight. I'm Edward Cullen, do you know where I can speak with the owner?"

"Good morning, Mr. Cullen, how can I help you? I'm B. Swan."

Edward Cullen's eyes widened and he coughed into his fist, his other hand pressing down at his lapel. "You're the owner of Bella's Twilight?"

"Owner and namesake, Mr. Cullen. Now, would you like to come in, or are you here to waste my time?"

That seemed to shake him, because he picked up his small suitcase and walked into the bar, taking off his hat as he crossed the threshold.

"I've only got a single room left, it's running for a quarter a night, or a sixteenth in gold. Meals aren't included, neither are my taps. Water's brought in fresh every day. If you want, you can get three meals a day, but that's an added dime a night. Meals are home cooked, by me, and served down in the kitchen."

I continued walking, the rifle at my side now, for him to see. I put it back behind the bar and continued cleaning.

"I don't open the saloon until supper, close half to eleven, seven days a week. Yes, even on Sundays, Mr. Cullen, you're in Whiskeytown now, not from whatever Eastern city you hail from."

"Mrs. Swa-"

"Miss Swan, or Bella if you're comfortable with it. I'm not married. Now, do you need a room, or not?"

Edward Cullen put down his suitcase and reached into his pocket, pulling out a still photo. "I talked to the sheriff of these parts, he said if anyone'd know, you would. I'm looking for someone, Emmett." He turned the black and white in my direction and looking back at me was Emmett McCarty, the man who saved my life. The man who was currently disabled in my upstairs quarters.

"He in some kinda trouble?" I asked, cleaning out a gin tumbler, drying it and putting it away.

"I hope not," Mr. Cullen said, turning the picture around again to look at it. "He's my older brother. He's been gone a full year, left last October on some pipe dream. We haven't heard from him since March, so here I am. I've been going through all the mining camps, and no one's seen him."

"Mr. Cullen, I don't know what to tell you. I get a lot of men comin' through my doors and I don't exactly catch a name and face," I said, winking at him. "If you plan on staying in town, my rates are the best you'll get for what I'm offering. The rooms are clean and you'll get your privacy. I can ask around, talk to a few of the men and see what they know. So, do we have a deal?"

I watched as he deliberated on it for a second, and then pulled out a ten dollar bank note. As he handed me the note, he sighed, "I'll stay a month, with the meals, Miss Swan. I'm afraid if I don't come home without news, my mother will die of heartbreak."

Coughing, I looked at the bank note and held it to the light. It had been a while since I'd seen a note come through my saloon. Most of the men paid in coins, some in gold. I got out my top shelf whiskey and poured two shots.

"You got it, honey. Now, drink on it," I told him, pushing the shot closer. "Deal's done when we shake on it. No refunds."

"I don't drink, Miss Swan," Edward said, looking down at the shot. "Not before the afternoon, anyway, and not for leisure, only for social engagements." He looked almost disturbed.

"Unless you drink, you'll stay elsewhere, Mr. Cullen, that's how I do business. You drink my whiskey, you stay with my hospitality."

Reluctantly, Edward picked up the shot and drank it down, coughing and choking as he did so. I tossed my own shot back and took a breath, the effects of the whiskey still fresh, even after seven months of this life.

"Now," I said, sliding out empty glasses into the water basin. "Lunch is at noon, supper's at five, and I open the bar at six. You're welcome to come down after we open the saloon, just lock up your rooms unless you want visitors. Drinks aren't included, but we can set up a tab for you to pay weekly. Now, let's show you to your room."

As I led Mr. Cullen through the saloon and up the stairwell, I pondered on whether Emmett would agree to see his estranged brother. Before I could dwell on it too long, Alice came out of her room, wearing what I thought looked like my old dress.

"Miss Bella," Alice called, smiling at me brightly for the first time. A real, wide genuine smile. "I hope you don't mind terribly, but I've hemmed your dress and fitted the bodice to my frame. My Mama taught me to sew and truth be told, I love it dearly. Are you angry with me?" The smile on her face faded with her question, but I shook my head quickly.

"No Alice honey, it looks almost like new! You're amazing with that needle. When you're feeling up to it, I'll put you to work with Angela. She's a fantastic seamstress, but oftentimes is overwhelmed with orders."

I grinned as I twirled her around, looking at her handiwork. She'd taken the bottom hem a good foot, the dress coming to mid calf. With the extras, she'd sewn on sleeves, to cover her brusies, but the ones on her face and chest couldn't be hidden. She still looked beautiful. "Alice, this is Mr. Cullen, he'll be staying in the room across from yours for the month, and I wanted to introduce you."

"How do you do?" She asked politely. "I'm M- I'm Alice Brandon, Mr. Cullen, I'm sure we'll be fast friends."

Although she didn't notice, I caught her slip and thought about it to myself. Despite his formal outward appearance, Mr. Cullen smiled wide at Alice and took her hand in introduction. "Edward Cullen, pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Brandon."

I showed Edward to his room and allowed Alice to help me around the kitchen for lunch. I wasn't able to think about Emmett's reaction to Edward's presence until after lunch was prepared. Instead I asked Alice about her family and where she was from.

She talked about the love of her life, told me about his beautiful brown eyes, how she got lost just thinking about them and how she was being forced to marry another just months after her love left. As she continued to cook and chop up the vegetables, she talked about the things they did together, how he'd walk with her around the grounds, and sing to her, and brush her hair.

"He loved my long hair, thought I looked like a princess," she whispered, playing with the now short tips. "He'll think me hideous now, if I ever see him again."

"Now Ally, that's not true," Rosalie told her, pulling fondly at the short hair. "I think you look beautiful like this, and I'm sure it's going to be very fashionable soon, just you wait."

The three of us continued to work in the kitchen quietly for a while, until lunch was about done. That's when I got to thinking about Emmett again.

"So, Emmett thinks he's ready to socialize again," Rosie said, kneading out the bread for supper. "Says he wants to come to supper tonight, see Jazz again."

"Jazz?" Alice asked, eyebrows raised high, hopeful almost, not just curious.

"Oh, Jazz is one of our regulars. His room's just down the hall from yours," I told her. "Sweet guy, stuck with no luck here in Whiskeytown."

She nodded her head and went back to plating.

"Rosie, Emmett and I need to talk. Can you and Alice handle serving for a bit? I'll take Emmett's plate."

I knocked on Emmett's door and walked in, smiling at him even as I walked in. "Hiya, Bean, did Rosie tell you?"

"Yeah, Em, she did, but we gotta talk," I said, my smile fading. "I'm happy that you're feeling like yourself again, you know I am, but we've got some trouble." That got his attention instantly. He was always so protective of me, ever since he got here.

"Who's giving you trouble, Bean, you know I'll knock some sense into them, right?"

"Not trouble for me, Emmett, trouble for you," I told him. "There's a good looking, green eyed suit staying here for a month, looking for his big brother. Wanna tell me if that rings any bells?"

Emmett blinked, eyes wide and sat up fast. "Edward's here? Here at Twilight?"

"I didn't tell him you were here, but yeah, just gave me a X-Note, wants to stay for the month, see if I can dig anything up on your whereabouts," I sighed. "Do you want me to call for him?"

Emmett's silence told me that, no, he wasn't ready to see his brother yet, so I nodded. "I'll send Jasper up here with your supper, and come call on you tomorrow."

Lunch was a rush of staff and vendors, dropping off liquor, proteins, linens, and fresh vegetables.

"Do you always feed your vendors, Miss Swan?"

"Oh, Mr. Cullen, you caught me by surprise! I thought maybe you'd fallen asleep, so I was just gonna bring you up a plate for lunch. And yes," I said, composing myself. "I do always feed my vendor if they're here during meal times."

Later that afternoon, after Edward finished his lunch and went back up to his room, Angela and Alice got together for some fittings so that Alice could get some new clothes. "And, Angie, can you please make me those trousers? You don't even want to know how difficult it is to tend bar in these," I grabbed for my skirts and sighed.

"Rosie doesn't seem to have a problem with it," Angela laughed.

"Rosalie Hale is a goddess and could do anything in a dress. Now, you know I'm not a frilly girl, so please help me out here."

"I've always wanted to sew men's clothes. All I know how to do is mend them," Alice smiled, holding a swatch of cloth. "I want to be able to be a good, providing wife one day, I'll need to learn, Angela. Maybe you can just make them to teach me?"

I grinned at Alice and winked in her direction before Angela looked up. "If I've got time," Angie said. "I'll get to the pants, Isabella Swan."

Supper got on the table while Alice was still up with Angela, so instead of introducing her to her other floor mate, Jasper, like I'd planned, I sent Jasper up to Emmett's room with two hot plates.

He'd come in with great news, begging to use my Morris telegraph. "I'll pay you back as soon as I get my first pay off," he'd promised, twirling me around. "I owe you so much, Bella. You're a godsend." He'd asked me to send word to the Southern Texas Territories, where his family was, to send Mary-Alice to Whiskeytown as soon as possible. I sent out the telegram before supper, to the operator of his township.

Alice had opted to retire directly after supper so that she didn't have to come in contact with any of the drunks in the saloon, so after taking her plate from her, I locked her in her room and check on her every hour. By nine, she was sound asleep.

Jasper came down about that time with a smile on his face and two dirty supper plates. He'd washed them at the sink and put them away for me while I checked on Mr. Cullen for the evening.

As I entered his room, he asked if I knew where he could send word back to his family, on his whereabouts. Since the bar was busy, I walked him to the back room and told him to lock up when he was done. Before I'd even gotten to the stairs, Edward caught my arm and said, "Miss Swan, there's an urgent message from the Southern Texas Territory Operator."

When I got back to the room, I watched the code and whispered the message to myself. "Miss Mary-Alice has run away. Stop. Feared dead. Stop. Deepest apologies to Mr. Whitlock. Stop."

In an instant I sent back another message, asking the operator if they knew a particular reason for her running away. Minutes later another message came through the wire. "Arranged to be married by Father to local banker. Stop. Assumed dead after three months of no word. Stop."

I didn't reply to the message, but after this afternoon, all the pieces started to fall together, forming a perfect puzzle.

"I'm sorry, Miss Swan," Mr. Cullen said softly, his hand on my shoulder. "About Mary-Alice."

"Don't worry, Mr. Cullen, things aren't as they appear to be. I think we're in for a very pleasant evening. Now, if you'll excuse me."

He nodded, curiously, and I fled from the room, looking for Jasper. I found him at the bar, a grin on his face and a tumbler in his hand. "Jasper, tell me what Mary-Alice looks like. What color eyes, what color hair?"

Jasper looked confused, a little weary from his drinking, but smiled a big lazy smile and said, "Long, silky black hair, bright blue eyes, just shorter than you." He grinned and pulled me close, hugging me to his chest. "I want you to meet her. She's so beautiful, like a princess."

I dragged him away from the bar and up the stairs, pushing him into his room. "You stay here, wash your face, and don't move a muscle, do you understand?"

He nodded, sobered and confused as I locked him in his room, hurriedly going to Alice's quarters and knocking lightly.

"Mary Alice, you wake up this instant," I said, my voice loud enough to penetrate her sleep, but not loud enough to travel past the walls of her room. She sat upright and held the blankets to her chest.

"Oh, Miss Bella, you scared me terribly, I thought you were my mother, it must have been a dream. What's wrong?"

"Nothing, Mary Alice, now, tell me more about Jasper," I said, waiting for it to click. She smiled lazily, still half asleep, and told me all about how handsome he was, and how they were meant to me. Then she looked up at me with wide, frightened eyes, and said. "You called me Mary Alice, didn't you?" I nodded and crossed my arms, waiting for her to continue. "And you knew his name, didn't you?"

"Not only do I know your name, and his name, Mary Alice. I happen to know where he's staying."

"You do?" she asked, screeching as she jumped out from under her blankets. "Oh my word, where?"

"Two doors down," I told her. "Would you like to see him?"

She nodded immediately and got up from her bed. As soon as she reached the door, she stopped, frowning. "What about these," she said, pointing to the marks on her face and chest. "And I'm certainly not dressed for seeing him again, am I?"

"Mary Alice, it doesn't matter what you wear, I know for a fact that Jasper Whitlock loves you with his whole heart."

She smiled dreamily at me and walked to her cabinet, pulling out the dress she wore that day. "This will do for now, right?"

After she was dressed, I tied a ribbon in her hair for her and led her to Jasper's room, unlocking the door. "Jasper, I want you to meet our new guest. She'll be staying here awhile, came in last night," I said, stepping into his room. He was lying on the bed, hands behind his head.

"What was all that about Mary Alice?" Jasper asked. "You caught me off guard, drunk, and now you're introducing me to a new guest? What's going on here, Bells?"

I opened the door all the way and pulled Mary Alice inside. "Jasper Whitlock, this is Mary Alice, Mary Alice, this is Jasper."

Jasper sat up quickly and looked at little Alice with complete adoration. "Mary Alice? Ally? What, why?" he was off the bed in a second and at her feet, kneeling in front of her, arms wrapped around her middle. "What's happened to you?" He asked her, looking up at her face and short hair. "Who did this to you?"

"Mama wanted me to marry Mr. Lipton, the bank owner," she whispered to Jasper, her fingers running through his unruly hair. "Mr. Lipton's son is older than me, but since his wife passed, he's been lonesome, and asked Mama for my hand, I couldn't Jasper, I simply couldn't marry him, I ran away."

"She's been runnin' to find you, Jazz, and here she is, none of the rest matters now, does it?" I asked, stepping back out of the room to give them their privacy. "Mary Alice I want you back in your room in ten minutes. If I come back up here and you're not in your quarters, I'll be mighty upset."

"Yes, Miss Bella," Alice said, never taking her eyes away from Jasper's. "Back to my quarters, ten minutes."

I closed the door to Jasper's room just as I saw Jasper begin to stand, happiness and concern lacing his face in a flash.

"Miss Swan."

Turning around, I saw Edward Cullen waiting on the stairs, his hands wrung together at his front. I raised an eyebrow in question and walked toward him, leading him away from the saloon and away from Jasper's quarters, toward my own.

"Yes, Mr. Cullen?"

"I appreciate everything you've done for me, but I've got to ask you if you have any news on my brother? I know I just got in, but maybe you've heard something?"

"Honey, in Whiskeytown, things don't work like that. Gimme some time, and I'll do all I can, but for now, you need to loosen that neck tie and relax."

His sigh made me want to tell him the truth, but my alliance wasn't with this brother, it was and always would be with Emmett, my big brother, my savior, my friend. I smiled sadly at him and lead him to his rooms, just as Jasper and Mary Alice emerged, a bright blush on the younger's cheeks. I nodded at the two of them as I passed, smiling brightly for the two of them.

"That was what the telegraph was about, wasn't it? That's the girl?" Edward asked, smiling alongside me.

"Yes. That was Mary Alice."

"Are you going to inform her parents that she's not dead as they fear?"

"That's Mary Alice's decision, not mine, Mr. Cullen, so if she doesn't wish to tell them, it's not my choice."

"But, Miss Swan, surely you'd want your parents to know you were of good health, would you not?"

I stopped in my tracks, turning to face him swiftly, making him halt his step as well. "My parents, Mr. Cullen, are dead."

I left him on the stairs, and all but ran toward the final corridor, knocking briefly on Emmett's door before rushing inside and curling up next to him, tears in my eyes. Emmett automatically turned to me and pulled me into his arms and rocked me gently.

"What's wrong, baby, what's going on?"

"I miss my daddy," I told him quietly. "I miss him so much, Emmett. I… I want to go home, I want to leave this place, I hate it."

Emmett held me close for the rest of the night, and after closing, when Rosie came up to check on Emmett, he told her what happened, and offered to take me to my room. I didn't want to chance it, with his bum leg, and tearfully got up and went on my own, heading off to my own quarters. Rosie made sure the bar was closed up and cleared out, and I couldn't be more thankful for her.

That next morning, I couldn't fight off the mood I was in, and because of it, tried my damndest to stay out of people's way. I unlocked Jasper's rooms and left a new set of clean clothes for him, pouring out a fresh basin of water so he could clean up, then followed suit with Mary Alice, who wasn't awake yet. I left her another dress, and a note telling her to mend it to her fit until her new clothes arrived.

I left a parcel of clean clothing outside of Edward's rooms, along with a tray for breakfast, and walked down to the kitchen to get started with the lunch and supper plans. Not too long after I'd begun, Angela came, holding in her hands a larger wrapped package for me, her eyes mischievous, but light.

"Just as you requested, Bella love, not that I'm happy about it," Angela told me, unwrapping the package and showing off four pairs of trousers, one denim, one khaki, and two light cloth material. I quickly lit up, just for a minute, to thank Angela for her hard work, and hugged her fiercely.

"I've just had the most rotten morning," I confessed to her. "It's only just begun and already I want this day to be done!"

"That's no good," Angela said, patting at my hair. "I'm sure I can handle things until Rosie comes along, why don't you run up to your quarters and draw yourself a fresh bath? How long has it been, Bella, months since you've had a day to yourself, not since…"

"Angela," I warned. She nodded and didn't continue, just started taking over the food preparations as she pushed me out my kitchen. After being made useless in my own place, I decided to take her advice, making a quick stop at Emmett's room first.

"Em," I whispered, kneeling in front of him. "Thank you for taking care of me last night." He nodded, sleepily, and reached his hand out to cup my cheek.

"You're my girl," he told me easily.

"Rosie's your girl, Emmett, not me, but I love you anyway."

He rolled his eyes, but nodded just the same, so I left him to go back to sleep before I headed up to take the day to myself.

Bath drawn, hair pinned, robe tied tight around my waist, I was just stepping into the tub when there was a knock at my door. I hastily pulled at the ends of my robe, tightening it around my naked bodice and walked to it.

When I opened it a crack, I sighed when I saw Edward's face looking tired and worrisome.

"Please let me express my apologies, Miss Swan, I am dreadfully sharp tongued, and my mother tells me I never speak before I think, and I don't want you to think I don't respect you or your decisions."

"Slow down, Edward," I told him, opening my door a bit wider, despite my state of undress. "I'm not offended by your presumptions, and have to deal with men who speak first, think second every day. Don't worry yourself over this."

"I just, I'm sorry about your parents, it was unwise for me to speak so freely."

"I already told ya that it was fine, Mr. Cullen. Now, was there something else, or can I take my bath yet?"

"Oh," and then it was as if he hadn't realized I was in a cotton robe. His eyes trailed down my figure slowly, and I rolled my eyes at his wanderings. "I'm terribly sorry, Miss Swan, really."

Then he nodded his head, his eyes never returning to mine as he turned and walked away from my quarters, back toward his own. The day picked up from there, after my bath, Mary Alice went off to work with Angela, and Rosie left me to my space, knowing about the previous night. Around supper, Mike and Ben came up to the bar and said they had their friend with them.

The man approached, the same drunk from the other night, who's foul breath and vile comments made him victim to my pointed rifle, and he nodded his head. "Ma'am, I'm awful sorry about them things I said that night, really, it was the drink talkin, not me."

"Excuses don't make any difference to me, you understand? Don't do it again, or I'll have to use my rifle next time, and it won't just be sittin pretty on my shoulder, you hear?"

"Yes Ma'am," he said, nodding nervously as he turned back toward Bennie and Mike, where they were seated at the table.

"You're fiery tonight, Bella," Rosie laughed, winking at me like she does, and slid a tumbler toward one of the patrons.

Jasper had been absent from his normal spot at the bar, and while I was surprised, I knew exactly where I could find him, so I let him be, knowing that Mary Alice was safe under his supervision.

One particularly bad night, after all had been asleep and the candles had gone out, I woke up in a fit, sweating and tangled in my sheets, my eyes puffy and swollen from tears. It wasn't that that woke me up though, it was the knocking at my door, the beating of a fist, and the calling of my name.

"Bella, please, Miss Swan, open the door," the voice – Edward – called to me as I sat up, and opened the door. His eyes looked me over once, briefly, and then he scanned my room, as if looking for intruders. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," I said, wiping under my eyes, wiping at the tears.

"You're not fine, I heard screaming, were you dreaming?"

"If you call memories dreaming, I suppose I was," I answered, shivering. "Please, come in, I don't want to wake Mary Alice or Jasper."

He entered the room and walked toward my oil lamp, lighting a match to the wick until it burned and illuminated the room. "I studied medicine," Edward whispered, walking toward me. "Please, can I just… Can I make sure you're alright?"

"It's completely unnecessary, Edward, I said I'm fine, but if it will let you rest easier, you may look me over." His cheeks flamed, even visible through the dim lamp light, and made me laugh. "I'm only teasing, Mr. Cullen, I'm afraid I'm not much of a lady, and I don't remember my manners much, not after running such a place."

Edward watched me as I retreated toward my bed, his hands at his sides, and as I laid back down, curling my legs underneath me, he sat at my bedside and ran his palm over my forehead. "You're warm," he told me, moving his fingers to the pulse at my neck, counting the beats as the seconds ticked on. "And your pulse is quick, but other than that, you look sound."

"I told you I was fine," I whispered. "I was just dreaming, is all. I've got a load of bad memories since being in Whiskeytown, and sometimes, they slip back to the front of my brain, that's all."

"What was it about?"

"My father," I started. "We came out here temporarily, so that he could make somethin' for himself, so I would have a better life. My mama died during childbirth, so it was just him and me." I sighed and looked away from Mr. Cullen. "My daddy did well, and then, seven months ago, a man called James came into Twilight, tellin' everybody my father was a claim jumper, stole his fortune. James shot my father the next day, during dinner time, before the bar was open for the day. He saw me in the kitchen and started to beat me, tellin' me I was his now that Charlie was gone.

"He'd almost got my dress off when-" I paused. I couldn't tell him about Emmett, not yet. "When one of my regulars came down from his room, waking up from the hollering. He saw Charlie's body, and raced to find me. I was bloodied and bruised, but my father taught me a few things, so James wasn't completely unharmed neither."

"Miss Swan, I'm so-"

"I'm fine now. My regular killed James, smashed his head in against the kitchen floor. The sheriff of the township came by later that day, lookin' for the culprit. Turns out, my father left everything in my name. His fortune, his bar. The money he'd collected from mining wasn't enough to get me home, back to the Washington Territories, so I was stuck here. And still I am. My dream was about that day."

Edward looked down at me sadly. I'm not some helpless filly, Mr. Cullen. Surely you've seen me work."

I watched as Edward removed the look from his face, leaving a carefully blank expression instead. "I fear that's what's happened to my brother, out in these parts, Miss Swan. He's burly and outspoken, and my mother's mighty sure that's exactly what's happened to him."

Edward wiped at his brow and moved to stand. "Perhaps I should get you a sleeping draft, Miss Swan. I've got some in my trunk."

"That's not necessary, Mr. Cullen, but I appreciate your assistance."

I walked Edward out of my quarters, into the hallway and smiled at him thankfully. "Mr. Cullen? You should hold out home for your brother. I'm sure everything will turn out well enough in the end."

"I hope you're right, Miss Swan."

The next morning, I was up early, not really goin' back to sleep after explaining out my nightmare to Mr. Cullen. I got breakfast ready, unlocked the rooms of my patrons, and took Emmett his plaste.

"Emmett," I said softly. "You've gotta talk to your brother, honey. He's so worried about you."

"What makes you say that, Bean?"

"He thinks you'll end up like Charlie did. I had another nightmare last night, he heard me screaming, came to check on me."

Emmett looked at me, and I knew what he was thinking. "Don't even blame yourself, Emmett. You couldn't have stopped James, just as I couldn't. You saved me, that's enough."

"I'll see him," Emmett decided after a minute. "My brother I mean. I'll come down for dinner."

"Are you sure?" I asked, looking at his leg. "Is your leg alright?"

"As good as ever, I'm sure. My brother's schooled in medicine, he might be able to look it over too."

I left him then, after his decision was made to go tell Rosie, have her help him get ready for the afternoon meal. I wasn't too keen on Emmett comin' down the stairs with his bum leg, but I had to trust that he was ready."

Mary Alice and Jasper came down for breakfast a little after that, followed by Edward. Jasper had grand plans of matrimony, promising to marry her before the year's end. As soon as he had the means to do so. Mary Alice didn't look at all concerned with marriage, more like she was just glad to be with him.

Edward looked torn, like he couldn't forget what he'd seen the night before in my chambers, and like he wanted to pretend that nothing happened. I was much more comfortable with the latter, so I got the morning started normal, made everyone their breakfasts, then went upstairs to fasten my new trousers. They fit perfectly, as did everythin' Angie made. Along with the trousers, there were a few blouses, and a corset for modesty.

I didn't have any of that, so the corset sat untouched as I buttoned the shirt around my midriff, fucking in the tails to my pants. I looked into the mirror glass and smiled, fastening my hair up high on my head with pins.

When I went back downstairs, Mr. Cullen was finishing up his breakfast, the others already done and gone. "Everything to your liking, Mr. Cullen?" I asked as I walked behind the counter to take the dirty dishes to the sink. "Somethin' you're lookin' for?"

"Just thinking, Miss Swan," he replied. When I turned back, his face was contorted in a strange expression, eyes on me. "Are those... pants?"

"I don't have much need for propriety in these parts, Mr. Cullen. Conventional dresses are hard to run a saloon in."

He nods and clears his throat, looking back down at his empty plate. "So, Miss Swan, uh, that regular, that... that helped you, the day your father.."

I looked at him fiercely. "What about him?"

"Is he still in these parts?"

"Could be, why?"

"Well, he obviously cares a great deal for you, and if you wouldn't oppose, I'd like to ask him to court you," Edward answered.

I just blinked, lookin' at him like he was crazy. "Was there somethin' funny in your breakfast this morning?"

"What? No Miss Swan, it was delicious."

"Are you sure you're feelin' alright?"

"Miss Swan?"

"You're lookin' to court me? Me?"

"If you're not opposed," Edward repeated. I just shook my head.

"I'll see if he's around. He's very protective of me. He might say no."

I walked out of the kitchen, still shocked and headed straight to Emmett's room. Now, convention wasn't somethin' we took to highly to in Whiskeytown, but the way he'd asked me if I would oppose, I felt like I was a lady again, untarnished by men and miners, and drunks.

I knocked on Emmett's door, walked in just in time to see him completely dressed, sitting up. "Emmett?"

When he turned to face me, he grinned and stood. He didn't rest much weight on his bum leg, but he was standing. He pointed to the walking stick the township's doctor left, so I walked it over to him. "You looked flushed, Bean, everything all right down there?"

"Well, uh, someone's downstairs, asking to see you. He's gonna ask you for permission to court me."

"Court you?" Emmett laughed. "Bean, you're serious?"

I nodded. "It's your brother, Emmett."

Emmett didn't look too surprised, and when he began to walk, I was instantly at his side, walking beside him out of the room. "No one in Whiskeytown would be expecting a courting, 'sides my brother."

The steps proved to be a little tricky, but I used all my strength to help him. It was a miracle he was even walking in the first place, let alone taking the stairs. At the bottom of the steps, he looked back up, his face and hands sweaty, and grinned with triumph.

"Look at that, Bean, I'm plum exhausted now."

As we walked into the kitchen, where Edward was still waiting, I laughed with him about how well he was doing. I grabbed a stool and helped Emmett lower himself down onto it.

"Mr. Cullen, you were asking for the regular who helped me that day? This is him, Emmett, this is Edward."

"Miss Swan?" Edward looked completely confused. "You knew him from the beginning, and you didn't tell me?"

"It wasn't my secret to tell."

I defended myself and walked back to Edward, handing him his bank note. "I wasn't planning on keeping your money. Any relative of Emmett is a friend to Twilight."

I walked out of the room and let the boys talk, telling Emmett to holler for me when he was ready to go back to his rooms.

I went up to the finance room, looking down at the black and white of Charlie from when he struck it big. Sometimes it was so hard to see his face, remember what happened. Today though, it was comforting, knowin' he was up there watching down on me. I knew this wasn't what he wanted from me, that he wanted more for me, but at the present, it was all I could do to stay alive. I didn't have the privilege to be picky.

I thought about Edward, looking shy and bold at the same time, down there, askin' for the man who saved me. Someone wanted to court me, like a proper lady. "Daddy," I whispered. "Someone wants to love me."

I finished taking an inventory, finished writing out the list of things we needed, and walked back downstairs. I could hear the two brothers still talking. I didn't want to interrupt, but I had to get dinner started, so I walked in, hands in my trouser pockets, and gave them both a weary smile.

Emmett called me over, hand over my shoulder, and held me close to him. "I'm talkin' about goin' home, Bean, back to Chicago."

That threw me through a spell. "What about Rosie?" I asked, looking at him. "You can't just leave Rosie behind."

"Well, I was thinking about takin' her along, marry her finally."

I grinned, overjoyed and overwhelmed. "That's great, Emmett. She'll be so happy." I looked to him, the smile infectious on his face. "You think you're up for travelin' with that leg?"

"Edward here's offered me a coach," Emmett says. "There ain't no way I'd be able to ride horse back anymore. You saw me down the stairs."

"Hm, you're takin' my best saloon girl, you should have to ride horseback, just for makin' me place an ad out for another helper."

"Miss Swan? If you'd. We. We'd like you to come with us. Emmett refuses to leave you in Whiskeytown alone, and I'd. I mean, if you're still willing, I'd be able to court you properly."

I had a lot of decisions to make. I knew this was my one and only ticket out of Whiskeytown, but... it also held all of the final memories of my father, both good and bad. I didn't know what I would do about the saloon, but I didn't really care about it all that much.

So, two weeks later, Edward had squared away everything to get us out of Whiskeytown. Jasper and Mary Alice were comin' with us, up to Chicago, and I sold Bella's Twilight to a woman lookin' to open up a burlesque show. I made a pretty penny when I'd sold, and gave a good, hearty chunk to Jasper so he could marry Alice proper after the move. I gave him enough so that he could build something small, for the two of them. The rest of the money was saved away for something else.

I wasn't sure if I could be happy with Edward. No, that's not true. I knew I'd be happy, but I didn't know if I could make him happy. I was rough around the edges, hardened by what had been done to me.

We'd been in Chicago for two weeks, his parents both relieved and ecstatic over the fact that their sons had brought home women.

Our courtship didn't last long, and by year's end, there were three weddings, all of us devoting the rest of our lives to our significant other.

I knew my father had higher expectations for me. He'd never wanted the miner's life for me, but couldn't think of another way to make a good life for me. Things happened the way they did for a reason. I knew, despite it all, that because of the events of my past, I was brought to Edward, and he to me. It was a rough start, but in the end, we all got our happy ending. I was sure my father woulda been proud of me.