Age of Edward 2010 Contest Entry
Type of Edward: Edwardian Edward
Thanks to WriteOnTime for beta'ing.
New York- 1899
"Edward, darling, do come and sit down for just a moment. Let me have Lucy bring you some breakfast."
Edward stopped in his tracks, in the doorway of the breakfast parlor, and turned to face his mother. Esme was resplendent in her morning gown, a frothy confection of cream lace and lavender ribbons. She was backlit with the brilliant morning sunshine coming in the windows, her copper hair in a soft upsweep, glowing like a halo around her head. Her calling cards from the day before were spread out on the table in front of her, next to her teacup.
"I was hoping to get to the office early this morning, Mother," he said, obediently changing direction and heading towards her. His spring-weight overcoat was slung over his left arm, and his hat and gloves were in his hand. "I have a lot of correspondence to attend to."
He stopped when he was next to her and bent to kiss the cheek she offered him.
"I know that, dear, but you mustn't run yourself down. You're just like your father. Neither one of you ever stops moving."
"I'm afraid that it's life that never stops moving, Mother. We're just trying to keep up," Edward smiled. Esme smiled back at her son, noticing how the morning light showed off every handsome feature to its best: his difficult auburn hair, currently tightly tamed with pomade; his bright green eyes, so like his father's; and his clear, pale skin. He really was the most handsome young man in New York society at the moment, and she didn't feel the least bit biased in thinking so. She knew every single young woman in their circle had set her cap at him. A few of the older, married ones as well, she thought grimly. All the better that he was soon to be married, and to such a lovely girl.
"But we need to discuss the plans for your engagement party, Edward. Word is out, even though no formal announcement has been made. The party will need to happen in short order."
Edward sighed and raised a hand to his head. He was about to drag his fingers through his hair, an old habit from younger days. But he remembered at the last minute that his hair was slicked back with pomade, so he resisted touching it. Best to break himself of the habit anyway, he thought.
With a sigh, he dropped down into the gilded, carved-back chair next to his mother and set his hat and coat on the table. Lucy appeared like magic at his side, in her crisp gray uniform and white apron, and poured him a cup of coffee.
"Can't you discuss the details with Rose? I'm sure she's got more of an opinion than I would," Edward said wearily, tracing a fingertip around the gilt edge of his coffee cup. The porcelain was so fine and delicate that he could see the sunlight through it.
"Oh, I've done that already, dear," Esme said lightly, waving an elegant, long-fingered hand in front of herself. "She and her mother have been over several times to discuss the details. But now we need your say before we send the invitations off to the engraver."
Edward squashed down the flare of irritation at the thought of his life being so neatly planned without him. Because, after all, this was how it was meant to work. He was supposed to head off to the office with his father every day to keep the family enterprise running smoothly and turning a healthy profit; his wife was supposed to run the complicated business of home and social obligations. He'd spent his whole life watching his father show up for the major events like a guest. His mother did the planning, drew up the guest lists, sent out the invitations to all the right families, and then she told his father when to appear. Carlisle obediently appeared in the appropriate clothes in the appropriate places, where he would quickly retreat to the study with the other scions of New York society and work out the next great business deal that would make them all rich.
No, this was all exactly how it was meant to be; Rose and his mother planning his life, while he made sure it was well-funded. So he brushed off the annoyance and focused on his mother.
"I'm sorry, Mother. What do you need from me?"
"Well, considering the timing, Rose's mother and I thought that the engagement party should be held in Newport."
"Newport? But what about all our business associates? Don't we want them all to attend?"
"Darling, by June, all the families will be in residence for the season anyway. We'll have the party on a Saturday night, so the men can motor up from the city on Friday. We've yet to have a truly grand event to debut the ballroom. It's the perfect time. The ballroom is a masterpiece. And we'll open the terrace doors so the guests can mingle on the lawn and see the ocean... Oh, Edward, it will be so lovely!"
Edward smiled fondly at his mother's enthusiasm. The family "cottage" at Newport had been completed for several years now, but last year, Esme had McKim, Mead & White come back and design a grand ballroom extension. The original house had a ballroom, but Esme quickly deemed it substandard and too small to fit all the Newport families who would surely be in attendance at any event they would host. It was true that they hadn't had a good excuse for a party since the renovations had been completed.
"It sounds absolutely lovely, Mother. What did Rose say?"
"She loved the idea. She has the most exquisite taste, Edward. Such a lovely young woman."
"I know she is," Edward smiled fondly. There was no arguing with that. Rose was indeed a lovely young woman. Stunning, really. One of the prettiest girls in their social circle. They'd known each other in passing for years. After all, in their set, everyone knew everybody. When his father launched a new business venture with her father, Arthur Hale, they'd been thrown into each others' company at various dinners quite a bit. She was beautiful, accomplished and socially, a perfect match. Edward didn't even recall having to think about it; he just knew he was supposed to ask Rose to marry him. It made perfect sense. So one night, in the parlor after dinner, he just did it. She said yes, and since then, they'd been thrown into this machine that was a grand society wedding. He felt like he'd scarcely had a moment to speak to her since that night.
But the season at Newport was coming up. He'd still be working in the city during the week, but he'd spend the weekends in Newport, and surely, with all those social functions, they'd find the odd moment here and there to speak. He night even finally be able to steal a kiss, if Rose didn't think him too impertinent.
"Well, then," he finally answered his mother, "You have my blessing. Just let my secretary know the date."
Esme smiled blissfully at Edward, "I'm so proud of you, Edward."
Edward glanced down at his hands to try and banish the color he felt tinting his cheeks. He cursed the blush he'd always had when he felt emotional, and fervently hoped he'd grow out of it soon. "Thank you, Mother. Now, I really must go."
"Oh, one more thing, darling."
"You remember Charles Swan?"
"Of course I do." Charles Swan was a fixture in New York society. He was a bit eccentric, since he was a middle-aged bachelor, but he came from a good, old family and still had the money to back it up, so he was socially someone to be reckoned with.
"Well, I'm sure you've heard the talk about his wife over the years," Esme cleared her throat uncomfortably and cast her eyes to the side, the way she always did when something unpleasant was discussed.
Edward remembered it well. Because technically, Charles Swan wasn't a bachelor. There had been a wife once, years ago. A young French dancer that he'd met when he was on a tour of the Continent. He'd married her abroad and brought her home. It had been the scandal of the day at the time. Mrs. Renée Swan lasted two years as a virtual pariah in New York society before fleeing back to Europe. Charles Swan had never pursued her to bring her home and had made no move to divorce her. Such a thing would have been unspeakable anyway, no matter what kind of disaster the wife was.
"I've heard the stories," Edward muttered, because discussing such unseemly subjects with his mother was distasteful.
"The wife recently passed away," Esme continued. "And his daughter has come home to live with him."
Edward's eyebrows shot up sharply. "They had a child?"
"Yes," Esme sighed, "No one spoke of it, because it was so…But yes, she had the baby just after she ran away. Lord knows why Charles didn't go after her and bring the baby back, but he chose not to, for his own reasons, to be sure. And it's a shame, because the girl has been raised amongst the most disreputable people. She's a near-bohemian. So wild. Her prospects are dismal, but still, Charles must do what he can for her, and she has no other family."
"I'm not sure what this wretched girl has to do with me, Mother," Edward sniffed.
"They'll be in Newport by then, darling. I know having her at the party might be awkward, but I hesitate to snub her, for Charles' sake."
"Have you asked Rose? It won't bother me, but I would hate to offend Rose by inviting a young woman with a questionable reputation."
"I've spoken to Rose and she isn't bothered. I think she feels sorry for the poor creature. I mean, really, who will have her with her past? The daughter of a French showgirl?"
"Indeed. It seems quite bleak for her," Edward agreed absently. "Now, Mother, I really need to be going."
"Of course, darling. Don't spend another moment thinking about any of this. Rose and I will take care of everything."
Edward smiled and put his hat on, fully intending to take his mother's advice and not devote another thought to the engagement party.
Edward's mother was beside herself. The engagement party had exceeded even her expectations. The new ballroom was filled to capacity with the elite of Newport society and the French doors leading to the Great Lawn had been thrown open to accommodate the overflow. The golden glow from the gas-lit crystal chandeliers made the polished parquet floor glow, and illuminated the tromp l'oeil painting of the sky overhead. The crowd was a sea of pastel evening gowns, black tuxedos, and glittering family jewels.
Edward craned his neck to look for his fiancée and spotted her across the room in a cluster of girls in near-identical pastel gowns. Rose was resplendent, her creamy skin set off by the pale pink of her dress. Her glossy blonde hair was upswept, soft and graceful. She had left off the long white kid gloves that most of the other women wore for the sole purpose of displaying the most important piece of jewelry she was wearing tonight— the reason they had all gathered here— her magnificent engagement ring. It had been ordered from Tiffany's: four carats in a gold filigree setting. He'd watched Rose's friends titter and squeal over it all night long.
"She looks exquisite, dear," his mother said at his side.
"Yes, as always," Edward replied. "Congratulations, Mother. This is sure to be the event of the season."
Esme flushed with pride, as she brushed an invisible speck of dust from the shoulder of Edward's black tailcoat. "Indeed. And such a magnificent way to debut the ballroom. There can be absolutely no doubt about this family's importance and standing in society. Maybe this will make that Whitlock man re-think his inappropriate interest in your sister."
Edward scowled at the sudden venomous tone of his mother's voice and turned to see his younger sister, Alice, across the room. Jasper Whitlock was bent down over her dark hair to hear what she was saying. They were both smiling shyly, and Alice was positively glowing. Her evident happiness made Edward smile.
"Mother, Alice could do a good deal worse than Jasper Whitlock."
"She could do a good deal better, too."
"Jasper Whitlock is more than able to provide Alice with the life she's used to," Edward said, exasperated, "He's quite wealthy, you know."
Esme raised her chin. "His grandfather was a farmer, Edward."
"That's your problem with him? His money is too new?"
"Our family is about more than wealth, Edward. It's about tradition. Your forefathers were on the Mayflower. Jasper Whitlock's were herding cattle. He's from Texas, Edward. I mean, really..."
"But if he makes Alice happy…"
"Consuelo Vanderbilt married a duke!" Esme exclaimed "Alice could do at least as well."
Edward looked at his mother, aghast. "And you know as well as I do that Consuelo had to be forced to do so, and she wept while she walked down the aisle. Is that really what you want for Alice, Mother?"
Esme sniffed and drew herself up. "Consuelo was being overly-dramatic, and I'm sure you'd find that she has little to complain about now that she's comfortably ensconced in Blenheim. I hear the estate is magnificent after the recent renovations."
"It had better be magnificent," Edward nearly growled. "It was Consuelo's money that paid for it. I can't believe you'd be happy to sell Alice off to some impoverished European royal just for the sake of adding a title to the Cullen dynasty, Mother."
"Edward, now really…"
"Mother, I think I'd better go find Rose," Edward muttered, swallowing the impulse to rake his hands through his hair. Instead, he kept his hands clasped tightly behind his back and strode away from his mother. He was still shaking with rage, and in no frame of mind to speak with Rose yet, so he stopped and ducked behind a large potted palm, letting his eyes flit around the ballroom while he got himself back under control. Alice was still talking to Jasper Whitlock. Edward felt the anger gripping his chest lighten a bit when he said something to her and she threw back her head and laughed. Jasper's whole face lit up as he smiled down at her.
A flash of dark red, wholly out of place in the sea of pastel young women, caught his eye, and he turned to look.
She was absolutely lovely. Dark hair and dark eyes, like a gypsy. And pale, pale skin, set off against the deep, dark red satin of her dress, which was the same color as claret. Her face was delicate, like the French porcelain dolls Alice played with as a girl. She stood across the room, against the wall, her eyes moving over the crowd, her expression faintly bored. The light from the wall sconce over her head made the ruby combs in her upswept hair glitter every time she took a breath. She wore no gloves and no other jewelry; just her perfect self in her striking red dress.
Edward didn't know her, which would have been unusual at a New York society event. But in Newport, people often had friends and relatives coming to stay, so you were more likely to see unfamiliar faces at parties. Edward was quite certain that he'd never seen her face before. It wasn't one he could ever forget.
As if on cue, to remind him of the inappropriate nature of his thoughts, he noticed Rose, standing in the group of women just to the stranger's right. Rose leaned forward to hear the whispered comment of one of her companions. The women around her erupted into giggles behind their white-gloved hands. Rose took one surreptitious look back over her shoulder at the girl in the red dress, turned back to her friends to whisper something, and then she laughed, too.
The dark-haired girl turned her head slightly in their direction and color flooded her cheeks. Her eyes flashed, and then, without a glance at anyone in the room, she pushed through the crowd and out the open French doors, into the night.
Edward was mortified and furious. It was obvious something had been said— some slight was overheard by the dark-haired girl. And the idea that his fiancée had been a part of it enraged and embarrassed him. He pushed through the crowd in Rose's direction.
"Edward!" she said brightly, as he approached. "There you are!"
"What's going on, Rose?"
"Pardon?" She blinked her wide blue eyes at him in confusion, her expression innocent.
"One of our guests just left the party, apparently quite insulted by something you and your friends said."
Rose's eyes narrowed and her lovely face grew hard. "Oh, her. Can you believe the nerve of her?"
Edward shook his head in confusion. "Who was she? What did she do?"
"She's Isabella Swan, Charles Swan's daughter. The one from France. Can you believe she had the nerve to show up at my engagement party in a dress like that? Like she was some French whore?"
Edward's head snapped back, horrified both by Rose's crude language and by her ugly, venomous thoughts. "Rose, she's lived in Europe. Perhaps the fashions are different there. I'm sure she meant no disrespect."
"If that's how respectable young women in Europe dress for an event like this, then perhaps it's best that she go back where she came from. It's clear that there will never be a place for her here."
"There might be a place for her if young women such as yourself set a good example and welcomed her instead of judging her."
Rose straightened up as if she'd been slapped. No one had ever spoken so sharply to her before, certainly not Edward. She began to sense that she'd gone too far with him and reached out to lay a hand on his arm. "Edward, be reasonable…"
"Rose," Edward said, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose, "I don't wish to see your 'reason' at the moment. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm feeling in need of some air."
Edward turned on his heel and marched out of the ballroom, leaving a stunned Rose in his wake. As soon as he stepped out onto the marble-tiled terrace outside the ballroom, he sucked in a deep, cleansing breath. It was true that he'd needed some fresh air, but he'd also needed to escape— from his mother's proud, heartless plotting over Alice; from Rose's narrow-minded cruelty— escape from all of it. This was supposed to be the happiest night of his life, and right now, he felt like running across the lawn and never stopping.
He settled for a brisk walk, out across the dark lawn, towards the cliffs that overlooked the sea. The lawn was smooth and neatly landscaped, with the light from the ballroom spilling out across it. But as Edward moved further away from the house, it grew darker, with only the moon to light the way. The manicured lawn gave way to uneven ground as the cliffs grew nearer. A scattering of short, sparse trees, bent and gnarled from the relentless ocean breeze, grew out of the rocks at the cliff's edge. Edward stopped there, staring out over the ocean, thinking. No, not thinking, because his head was too crowded for rational thought. All he was capable of at the moment was trying not to panic at the feeling of walls closing in around him.
The sound of tiny rocks breaking loose and cascading down the cliff a few feet away made him turn his head and peer into the darkness. He could just make out the dark red of her dress, billowing forward around her body in the wind. Isabella Swan. He was afraid he'd find her out here weeping after the snub she'd just received, but she was dry-eyed. Her chin was up and she was staring stonily out to sea.
"Pardon me," Edward said, "Miss Swan?"
She jerked her head towards him in surprise, her eyes expressionless in the dark.
"Yes? Do I know you?" she finally said slowly. Her voice was a low tenor, not at all the high-pitched squeal he'd been braced for. And she didn't have a trace of an accent.
"I'm afraid I owe you an apology. You're a guest in my home tonight, and I'm terribly sorry if anyone inside made you feel unwelcome."
She stared at him for another moment before the corner of her mouth curled up a tiny bit. "So you're him, then?"
"Edward Cullen, heir to the Cullen empire and betrothed to the glorious Rosalie Hale."
The sarcasm was evident in her voice and Edward supposed that after tonight, she was entitled. They were all worthy of her scorn.
"Ah, yes, that's me. Again, I'm sorry if Rose made you feel unwelcome."
"Don't feel sorry for me. You're the one who should be sorry. You're the one marrying her."
Edward had absolutely no response to that, shocked both by her audacity in saying it, but also, because that was exactly what he'd been thinking just before he saw Isabella out here.
Isabella shook her head slightly. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that. I'm still not quite used to how polite everyone is here. No one ever says what they're really thinking."
"No, you have every right. And yes, at the moment, I am feeling rather sorry, to be quite honest."
"Is she always that mean?"
Edward's first response was to say that no, ordinarily Rose was never that mean. Except suddenly, he wasn't sure if that was true. Was Rose mean? When he got right down to it, he barely knew her. He had been drawn in by her beauty and good breeding and had stupidly assumed the rest, trusting that their social circle would have formed her into a person he could love. He felt sick with the dawning realization that he was now bound to a woman that he was no longer sure he even liked. He raked his hands through his hair and closed his eyes tight, not even caring that he was ruining his careful grooming. "I don't know," he whispered hoarsely. "I don't think I really know her at all. Oh, God…"
"Oh…" Isabella's hands fluttered in his direction. She was caught off-guard and unsettled by his sudden display of genuine feeling, the first she'd felt she'd witnessed since arriving in America. "Don't….I didn't mean to…Oh, dear."
"It's not your fault, Miss Swan," Edward said, clamping one arm down over his midsection, twisting the fingers of his other hand tightly into his hair. "I just…" He drew a deep breath through his nose, trying to stave off the panic he felt creeping in at the edges of his mind. What was he going to do?
"You'd better sit down," Isabella said, nudging him by the arm towards a large rock to his left. Edward stumbled back and let himself be pushed down to sit. Isabella stood for a moment, watching him, his head in his hands, before she sat down abruptly on the rock next to him.
After a few moments, Edward sighed and looked up. "I'm sorry, Miss Swan…is it Isabella?"
She nodded. "Bella, actually. My friends in Europe called me Bella."
Edward smiled faintly, forgetting for a moment about the catastrophe he'd just found himself in. The moon made her pale skin glow like a pearl. Her dark eyes shone with the light bouncing up off the waves below. She really was the most extraordinarily beautiful woman he'd ever seen. "It suits you," he said softly.
Bella froze, her eyes fixed on him. Edward swallowed thickly as the night seemed to close in around them. She finally cleared her throat and dropped her eyes, and Edward leaned back. They were sitting entirely too close together. In fact, it was completely inappropriate for them to even be speaking alone together out here.
"We should go in," he said roughly. "You shouldn't be alone out here. People will talk."
She snorted ungracefully. "And exactly what will they say about me that they're not already saying? That I'm a whore? According to those girls in there, I'm already dressed like one. I'll have you know that this dress was all the rage in Paris this season! It's not my fault that girls here choose to dress like pale little flowers." Bella sniffed in indignation and raised her chin. Edward couldn't help but smile at her show of defiance.
"Your dress is absolutely lovely, Bella. Please don't listen to them. They were just jealous that you outshone every woman in the room in it."
Bella cast him a sly, sideways smile, "You're quite the charmer, Mr. Cullen."
"Edward," she repeated faintly. Their eyes met again and they both felt the same contraction of the air around them, the sudden awareness of hands too close together, and of hips nearly touching.
"Your English is very good," Edward said abruptly, and then winced at how obvious he sounded.
But Bella just smiled. "My mother insisted. She knew I'd come back to see my father one day, and didn't want language to get in my way. She hired an English nanny for me, to make sure I grew up fluent."
"You must miss her."
Bella nodded, looking out at the water, "All the more at times like these. I know what everybody is saying about her— what they call her. And yes, maybe our life was unconventional. But Renée loved me. And we had fun. I saw the world. Although I'm beginning to understand that being acquainted with the world isn't necessarily a good thing for a young woman here. We're supposed to be sheltered and innocent, right?"
"You should be just who you are," Edward said with conviction. "To hell with them. Oh, I'm sorry. Please excuse my language."
Bella laughed, a low rich sound that sent a thrill through Edward's body. He was beginning to understand the expression he'd seen on Jasper Whitlock's face earlier tonight when he made Alice laugh. Edward was certain that he'd happily do whatever it took to hear Isabella laugh like that again. He knew now that he was in trouble with her, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
"Edward," she sighed. "Didn't I just tell you that I'm hardly one of these sheltered innocent flowers you're used to? A little coarse language is hardly going to shock me."
He could only smile, feeling completely out of his depth with Isabella Swan, but liking it nonetheless. "I'm sorry you're so unhappy here," he finally said.
She shrugged one pale shoulder, and Edward fisted his hand to resist reaching out to touch her skin. "It's alright. I'm glad I came back to get to know my father a little. He's a good man, although a little stuffy. But maybe he'll come visit me someday."
"You mean you're not staying here?" Edward said, feeling a rising panic that he knew he had no right to feel.
She smiled wryly at him, the sardonic curl of her lips that he already knew and liked immensely. "I think tonight proved to me once and for all that there's no place for me here. At least, not one I would ever be happy in. Do I really want to stay here and hang around the fringes of your society, tolerated, but never welcomed? No, I'd rather go back to Europe."
"What will you do there?"
"I don't know. I'll figure it out. I have friends I can stay with for a while. Something will turn up."
"You're very brave."
"Am I? I suppose to you, I might seem so. It's just the way I was raised. My mother and I never had a plan, and yet things always seemed to work out for us. We had faith that the road would rise to meet us and it always seemed to do it."
Edward shook his head in wonder at her. She was the most remarkable woman he'd ever met. "You're incredible," he murmured without thinking.
Her eyes flashed back to his and grew wide, and again, the air grew thick between them. "What are you going to do, Edward?' she asked softly.
"Change," he answered succinctly. And suddenly, he knew it was true. He was going to change everything— how he lived, what he did…all of it.
"Change is good."
"Is it wrong to say that I'm afraid?" he whispered, feeling oddly comfortable in baring his soul to her.
She shook her head, "You wouldn't be human if you weren't. You're braver than I. I was raised to be unpredictable. You haven't been. It's a bigger risk for you."
"Then I'll have to learn how. Would it be…"
"What?' she prompted, when he didn't finish. He was so close to her. They'd moved closer as they talked and now, somehow, his face was just inches away from hers. He could feel the heat of her body next to his, the warmth of her breath against his mouth.
"Would it be impertinent of me to try something unpredictable right now?"
She smiled, his favorite wry smile, "Edward, you don't ask permission to be unpredictable. You just do it."
So he just kissed her.
Bella gasped as his lips came down on hers and his hand came up to cradle the back of her head, then she sighed into him. She tasted of champagne and something sweet he couldn't identify. And then he stopped trying and just lost himself in the intoxicating feeling of her mouth under his. He kissed her closed lips, he pulled her top lip between the two of his, and in a moment of complete abandon, he let the tip of his tongue slip out and touch her bottom lip.
She inhaled sharply and he pulled back quickly.
"I'm sorry," he rushed. "That was unforgivably forward. I can't believe that I would take advantage…"
Bella raised her hand, pressing the tips of two fingers to his mouth to silence him. Edward wanted to wrap his tongue around those slender little fingertips, but he crushed down his rampant, lustful thoughts.
"I liked it," she whispered, and then her mouth was back on his. Edward moaned in surrender to the elemental part of himself that he'd been trying so desperately to suppress. He reached out for her, his hands finding her waist, his fingers finally touching the sensuous red satin of her dress. His palms slid across it and around her, pulling her in tight against him. He could feel the firmness of her corseted body under the fabric, and his mind raced with images— of her tiny, cinched-in waist that his hands could nearly circle, of the creamy swells of her breasts pushed up above it. His whole body went rigid at the thought.
This time, when he tentatively opened his mouth over hers, her lips parted, too. And when, a moment later, he slipped his tongue inside her mouth to taste her, she met him with hers.
He groaned and plunged one hand into her hair, into the dark silkiness of it that had called to him all night. The ruby combs holding it in place fell out, and her hair tumbled down her back, a thick, dark curtain. He pulled her closer, and then lifted, sliding her onto his lap. She came willingly, throwing her legs across his, angling her body towards him. Every thought about appropriate, gentlemanlike behavior had fled his brain. The impulse to touch her and to have her touch him overrode everything else.
Bella's hands gripped his shoulders and then slid up to cup his neck, her thumbs tracing the firm line of his jaw. And still, he kissed her, never getting his fill of her perfect mouth. His tongue stroked hers, teased it, coaxed it into his own mouth. Bella moaned and tightened her grip around his neck.
One of Edward's hands left her waist and slid down to grip her hip through the layers of satin and petticoats. He pulled her body in tighter against him, against the swell of his crotch, seeking the pressure of her. Some part of his brain, the well-brought-up young man, protested that this was wrong— that it was wrong to touch her this way, to use her body to fuel his own lust and desire. But he wasn't using her. He knew that. This was no illicit grope in the dark. He was tumbling out of control and into a whole new life, which thrilled and terrified him. So he hung on tighter to her, now the only true thing he knew.
They broke apart to gasp for air and his mouth moved down, to the pale curve of her throat, to the elegant shape of her shoulder. Bella closed her eyes tight and tipped her head to the side, offering herself up to this stranger who seemed meant to hold her this way.
He reached the hollow at the base of her neck and didn't stop. She didn't stop him. The hand on her hip fell to the hem of her dress, brushing past layers of satin and cotton, past her silk, low-heeled shoe, closing around her delicate ankle in its thin silk stocking. He traced the shape, the swell of her calf, the dip behind her knee. She shifted on him, against him, and he groaned as his hardness pressed up into her. His tongue darted out to taste the swell of pale skin just above the edge of her bodice. Her hand slid up into his hair and fisted tightly. Edward imagined laying her back on the grass and stripping this red dress from her body. He imagined his bare skin brushing her bare skin as he pushed himself between her legs, where his hand currently was. He felt hot and stretched taut with her little body weighing him down, holding him to the earth.
When his hand reached the edge of her stocking, and the garter that held it in place, when his fingertips brushed the warm, smooth skin of the inside of her thigh, he stopped.
She picked her head up and finally opened her eyes. They were dark and glinting in the moonlight. He looked back as her fingertips traced down from his temple, across the high, sharp angle of his cheekbone, dipped into the hollow underneath, ran along the hard ridge of his jaw, and trailed across his lips, wet from her kisses. Edward felt cherished, as if, for the first time in his life, someone were truly looking at him: not as the youngest in a long line of Cullens, not as a desirable society bachelor, not as a piece to be played in the elaborate game of high society. Bella looked at him and saw him. Just Edward.
"Let me come with you," he whispered, kissing her fingertips as she traced the shape of his mouth.
"Anywhere you go," he said, catching her wrist in his hand and pressing his kiss to her palm. She slid her hand to cradle his face and kissed his temple gently.
"What about them?"
"Who?" He turned his face up to press into the curve of her neck, kissing the hollow under her ear, breathing in her hair. She smelled of orange blossoms.
"The people inside."
He sat back slightly to look at her face. She was looking back, smiling softly, patient while he worked it all out in his head. Edward's face grew determined. There was a mess and it had to be cleaned up, without delay. He could at least do that much.
"Right," he said firmly. "Let's go."
She scooted off his lap and he wrapped his hand tightly around hers. He stopped long enough to look at their joined fingers, the missing piece he hadn't even known he needed. He stalked off across the dark lawn. Bella had to jog to keep up with him. But now that Edward had glimpsed his future, his true future, he was desperate to just get on with it.
When they reached the terrace outside the ballroom, they stopped.
"I have to go do this," he said, taking her face in his hands.
"I know. I'll be right here when you come back."
"You can come."
"I don't want to. Just hurry."
He pressed one brief, hard kiss to her lips. "Don't move."
Edward pushed his way through the ballroom, past the frothy lace and pastel silk, looking for the bright gold gleam of Rose's hair. He finally found her, still with her clutch of friends.
"Edward, there you are! Where on earth have you been?"
"I need to talk to you."
"Later. Your father wants to make the announcement now. We were just waiting for you."
"No, Rose. Now."
Rose took in Edward's bright, determined eyes, his flushed cheeks, his ruined auburn hair, and she felt the ticklings of foreboding, of knowing her life was already beginning to change forever around her.
Fifteen tense minutes later, Edward stepped out onto the terrace again and he finally exhaled. He had a moment of panic when he couldn't see Bella anywhere.
"Bella?" he called into the dark, fear pounding in his chest.
"I'm right here," she said, and stepped out of the shadows in the corner. The euphoric relief he felt at the sight of her was all he needed to be sure he'd just done the right thing. He'd left a disaster behind him. Rose was alternately screaming and weeping. He waited just long enough for one of her friends to find them and then he ran. He avoided everyone— his parents, her parents, everyone. It would all have to be faced. There would be ugliness, tears, threats and recriminations. And he'd deal with all of it in time. But for tonight, he wanted nothing more than to escape this exquisitely beautiful prison with the woman who just unlocked his soul.
He reached a hand towards her and she took it, wrapping her warm, delicate fingers around his.
"Let's go," he said.
She looked up at his face, already becoming intimately familiar to her, and smiled the smile that was already his favorite. "Where?"
"I already told you. I'll follow you anywhere."
He smiled back at her, the first genuine smile of his new life, and they walked together across the lawn and into the dark.
New York, 1901
"Who is this just coming in now?" Mrs. Cope elbowed her cousin to get her attention. Mrs. Webber turned away from her plate of petit fours to look. Both ladies were well past the age for dancing at balls. Mrs. Webber had long been widowed, and preferred to sit on the sidelines, eat, and gossip. Her cousin, coming to visit from Boston, had proven to be a most satisfactory companion on that count, because Mrs. Cope liked nothing more than to listen to gossip. And, as Mrs. Cope was a stranger to New York Society, Mrs. Webber could talk for hours about old tales that had long grown stale in her circle. They were all new and fresh to Mrs. Cope, who listened raptly.
"Ah, yes, that's Mrs. Jasper Whitlock. Alice Cullen was her maiden name. And that tall, handsome fellow with her is Mr. Whitlock."
"And the older couple coming in behind them?" Mrs. Cope asked.
"Her parents, Carlisle and Esme Cullen."
"Doesn't she look a bit peaky?"
"She's had the spirit taken out of her, to be sure. She was always a bit too proud, if you ask me. But that was before the scandal."
Mrs. Cope's eyes lit up at the promise of a juicy story. "What scandal?"
"The son… Edward," Mrs. Webber whispered ominously. "On the night of his engagement party, he up and ran off with a French girl he just met. Have you ever heard of such a thing?"
"Yes! Oh, it was the biggest scandal you ever did see. He was engaged to Rosalie Hale, the belle of the social circle that season. You never saw such a lovely girl. They had a grand ball at their house in Newport to announce it. And this slip of a girl, the daughter of Charles Swan and some French ballet dancer, shows up and steals his heart right away!"
"How did it happen?"
"No one's quite sure. He disappeared for hours, then he comes back in as nice as you please, and tells Miss Hale that the engagement is off. Then he turned around and marched back out with the girl. Isabella, was her name. Oh, there was such a to-do! Rose's father raged, Edward's father raged, but he would not be moved. In fact, no one heard hide nor hair of them for months! It was as though they walked out of the ball and vanished into thin air! They finally turned up in Paris, announcing that they'd married."
"Oh! I can hardly believe it!"
"It was quite a tale," Mrs. Webber nodded sagely. "And that one, little Alice…her mother had such high hopes for her. That Jasper Whitlock had always had an eye for her, but his money was too new for Esme Cullen's tastes. She wanted nothing less than European royalty for her girl. But of course, after Edward, that was out of the question. She was lucky to get Jasper to take her on, if you ask me. But then, he married her for love."
"And what of the fiancée, Rosalie?"
"Oh, she married the heir to a railroad fortune. Rich as Croesus, to be sure, but New Money. And Irish, to boot. I suppose, after being jilted like that, it was the best she could do. McCarty was his name. Emmett McCarty. He took her off to California."
Mrs. Cope shook her head in wonder. "What's become of them now? Edward and Isabella?"
"Oh, they live in the south of France somewhere, in some tiny place that no one's ever heard of. She writes novels. Can you imagine? And him! He plays the piano! For money! They're regular bohemians!"
"How very shocking!" Mrs. Cope tittered behind her fan.
"Yes, so shocking."
"But…" Mrs. Cope sighed softly.
"Don't you find it…well, just the tiniest bit…romantic?"
Mrs. Webber sighed and looked across the ballroom, at Alice Whitlock, née Cullen, dancing with her handsome husband, her face alight with happiness. "Yes, Michelle, I suppose it is rather romantic. If you believe in romance."
-There are links on my profile to pictures of Gilded Age mansions in New York and Newport, Rhode Island, as well as fashion from the period.
-The wealthy New Yorkers who built summer homes in Newport during this era referred to them as "cottages", although they were, in reality, lavish mansions.
-The Cullen's house, as described, borrows features from several Newport mansions. The ballroom is from Rose Cliff. There's a picture on my profile.
-Consuelo Vanderbilt was a real person and that was her real story. She was heir to the massive Vanderbilt fortune. Her mother arranged a marriage to Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough, in 1895. He had a great family estate, Blenheim Palace, but he was broke. Consuelo was in love with someone else and so was he, but they went through with it anyway. Contemporary reports were that Consuelo wept so bitterly before the wedding that the ceremony had to be postponed for an hour so that she could pull herself together, although she had to wear her veil down for the entire ceremony to hide her tears. They were predictably unhappy, and separated after eleven years. Eventually, she was granted an annulment on the grounds that she had been coerced.