Oh hey! Anyone still reading? I know it's been forever since I posted and I know I broke a few promises in regard to posting the last chapter (sorry! sorry!) but I have the best excuse in the world – she's ten weeks old now and has big blue eyes and is raaaawther possessive of my time. She wants, like, ALL of it, day and night. Seriously.
Ok, so I have three requests for anyone who has read and enjoyed Wrenfield Hall.
#1 – Remember that T rated stories can be good and give other ones a chance too – even write your own! Don't forget that if Twilight was a fanfic, it would have been rated T, and we all love us some Twilight (obvs). Alright, off soapbox.
#2 – If you read this whole story to the end, give me your reaction (please). I've never been one to ask for reviews (and I myself am quite terrible about reviewing, so I understand if you aren't much for reviewing), but if you have a minute here at the end, drop me a quick review. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
#3 – I think I may be writing a sequel to Wrenfield Hall, which may or may not be posted on this site. If you want to read it, no matter where it's posted, PM me with an email address and I'll make sure you know where it's posted. THIS IS IMPORTANT: fanfiction . net does not allow email addresses and websites to come through on PMs, so you have to write out your email address like this: janedoe (at) hotmail (dot) com. Don't worry, I won't send you any spam or anything – I wouldn't even know HOW to do that!
Also, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for reading and to those of you who reviewed or sent me messages encouraging me to FINISH THE DANG STORY, an extra special thank you. I read every single review, just couldn't reply.
Lastly, the biggest thanks goes to my husband, beta and co-writer (some of the words you read in this chapter are his). He's been such a dear to not only put up with this but to encourage it and make it far better than I could have made it on my own. As a side note, since he feels I cheated you ladies out of the lemons, he's threatening to write his own Wrenfield Hall fanfic. Soooo…yeah, I'll let you know how that goes.
xoxo, Charlotte (and all my babies…)
Bella sighed contentedly as she pulled the soft bed linens around her more tightly. It was after midnight and her mind still buzzed from all the excitement of the evening, as her women friends had gathered for one last night with Bella as an unmarried woman.
The evening began respectably enough, with special desserts sent up from the kitchen while Bella, Angela, Lizzie, Alice, Rosalie, Esme and even Tanya gathered in the drawing room and chattered excitedly about Bella's dress and how beautiful the rose garden looked in preparation for the next day's event.
As the night wore on and Esme excused herself to bed, the sweet wine flowed as did the conversation.
"Really?" teased Lizzie, her cheeks flushed and her eyes bright. 'The entire voyage back from Italy and you and Lord Masen managed to restrain yourselves?"
"Lizzie!" cried Bella, her face pink, as the women around her giggled.
"I believe you," said Angela, patting Bella's hand. "Well done. However…" she smiled mischievously, "given your general lack of knowledge on the subject, perhaps all of us married ladies here might give you some helpful hints for your wedding night."
"Oh my heavens…" murmured Bella, as she covered her face with her hands, much to the amusement of the gathered party.
"Well!" said Tanya importantly as she straightened up and prepared to take the stage. "As a woman who has managed to bring three children into the world in the last three years, I feel I might have some wisdom to share regarding the sacred nature of the union between a man and a woman in order to bring more of God's souls to earth – "
"Oh pshhh," said Rosalie, rolling her eyes as she poured herself another glass of wine. She sat down on the settee where Tanya was perched, forcing her to move to the side. "Bella doesn't need to worry about child-bearing just yet. She and Edward need to enjoy themselves and I'm sure we can all give a little advice in that regard. Am I right, ladies?"
"Well I do believe – " Tanya began again, but she was drowned out by the titters and giggles of the others as they all began talking at once, eager to bestow on the bride their knowledge of the mysteries of married relations.
Bella looked helplessly at Mrs. Cope, who had just entered the room with a plate of freshly baked lemon tarts.
Mrs. Cope winked and smiled at Bella, leaning down to whisper in her ear.
"Just listen and learn, dear. You can thank them later."
Alone in her bedroom, Bella felt her cheeks flush as she thought of the nuggets of wisdom shared by her friends. Did Alice really mean that she should try…? And Rosalie's suggestion...how would Edward react to that? It wasn't something Bella had ever dreamed of, but the thought of it made her heart speed up and she bit her lip as she stared at the darkened ceiling, imagining…
A soft knock at her door made her literally jump in her bed and she sat up quickly, her heart beating faster and her face warming even more than before. Hastily, she left her bed and opened the door to find Edward standing in dark trousers and a white shirt, a lamp in hand and a small smile on his face.
His smile faded, though, as he looked carefully at Bella's face in the lamplight.
"Darling? Are you alright? You look…startled."
Bella shook her head quickly. "No!" she said brightly. "I mean yes! I'm fine!" Her eyes gave an involuntary glance down his lean frame and she pressed her lips together.
For heaven's sake, Bella, she told herself. Keep your eyes on his face and your mind clear. Stop imagining…
But the harder she tried to push aside the images that were forming in her head the hotter her face felt.
Edward continued to look at her curiously but eventually shook his head. "Well if you're sure you're well…"
"Absolutely," said Bella with conviction. "But Edward, what are you doing here? You know it's bad luck for you to see me before the wedding."
"Ah, I know, sweetheart," he said, pulling her close to him, "but I was missing you so terribly and I had to see you just for a moment. This will be my last clandestine knock on your door and I've so loved our nighttime visits. "
Bella allowed herself to melt into his side and suddenly all of the suggestions and advice that had sounded so foreign earlier in the evening felt more than appealing…natural, even. She found herself humming happily as she wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face in his chest.
Edward returned her embrace tightly and the couple stood silently for a minute in the dark corridor, the glow of the lamp enveloping them in a soft halo.
"I had another reason for my visit," Edward whispered into Bella's hair as his fingers brushed down the side of her face. "I have a special gift for you and I want to show it to you now."
He smiled at her surprise and shrugged, "I'm impatient, I expect."
Bella returned the smile and reached down to take his hand. "Alright then, Lord Masen, lead the way."
Hand in hand, Lord Masen and his bride padded softly through the halls, jumping slightly when the clock in the front hall struck one and finally approaching the library.
They entered the library and as Edward lifted the lamp to illuminate the back wall, Bella stopped short, drawing her breath in quickly.
"Is that – did you really – how did you get it?"
Bella's voice broke on the last words.
Disengaging herself from Edward's clasped hand, she stepped forward toward a humble black bookcase set alongside the rich wood of the built-in library cabinets. Almost reverently, she reached a hand out toward the simple shelves.
"My father's books…" she whispered through her tears.
Edward stood back, watching her as she lovingly ran her hands over the spines of the books. Finally, she turned to face him.
"I paid your cousin, Mr. Newton, a visit after you left," he said. "I missed you so desperately and I wanted anything that had any connection to you. I knew you had read and loved them all and I had to have them with me. He was persuaded to sell the books and even the bookcase and I had it all brought here. I've read every volume a dozen times." He stopped and smiled. "Now I want to return them to you as your wedding present."
Bella closed her eyes, her lashes making soft shadows on her tearstained face.
"You amaze me, dear Edward," she said, circling his waist with her arms and kissing his neck softly. "This means more to me than all the jewels in the Tower of London. It's as if I have a piece of my father again."
Edward exhaled slowly and kissed the top of her head. "I'm so glad, darling," he whispered.
Bella squeezed quickly and then released him, turning her attention again to the bookcase. For several minutes she studied the books, occasionally crying out in recognition and delight.
"Westward, Ho!, Edward! I loved this book! My father read it to me when I was thirteen and my head was filled for months with thrilling ideas about the high seas and the kidnap of dear Rose by the Spaniard. Oh! Tom Brown at Oxford. My father bought this for me after I borrowed Tom Brown's School Days from the master at school. I didn't like Tom Brown at Oxford quite as well as the first book, but I still read it several times."
"And Edward, look!"
Edward recognized the thick volume that Bella slid from the case and held up to the light. It was Jacob Burckhardt's The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy - the book that first brought them together.
He smiled, deep contentment radiating from his face.
"It's where it belongs now, Bella – where all these books belong – here with you. In our home."
Bella smiled back. "It's absolutely perfect. Thank you."
Edward studied Bella for a moment in the lamplight, her face tilted down as she looked at the book she held in her hands, her long, dark braid contrasting sharply with her white nightgown. He didn't think he could love her any more than he did right now.
"I love you," he whispered. She looked up, still smiling.
"I know," she said.
He waited a moment and then spoke again. "Before I deliver you back to your room for some much-needed sleep, darling, I have one more thing for you."
Bella looked both surprised and curious as Edward stepped into the shadows to the oak table in the middle of the room. As he returned to the light, Bella stared curiously at what he held in his hands – a small rag doll.
"When the bookcase was moved from the wall by my men, this doll was found hiding behind it. It looked as if it had been tucked in there years ago, in a little space made by this broken side board."
"I don't even know if it's yours…"
"My Annie!" Bella cried, taking the little doll from Edward's hands. Tears welled up yet again as she took in the stitched face, the gingham dress and the little white linen apron.
"I used to hide Annie behind the bookcase in this little spot. I pretended she was a squirrel and this was her tree-hole – I must have forgotten her in there one time."
Bella sniffed quietly. "My mother made her for me."
Edward nodded. "I wondered." He watched her as her fingers traced the outline of the doll's friendly, primitive smile and wide eyes. After a moment she stepped closer to him and rested her head against him.
"I wish I could have met them, Bella," he said. "I wish they could be here to see the woman you have become."
Bella smiled into his chest. "I think they know," she whispered. "And thank you, thank you for bringing a piece of them into our home."
Edward kissed her forehead and wrapped one arm around her, his other hand still holding his lamp. Its glow spread out around the new family they were creating – the family of Edward and Bella Masen.
Morning dawned bright and clear and Bella was up as soon as she heard the birds outside her window. She felt surprisingly rested, despite her late night with Edward in the library and she fairly danced to her wardrobe to select a dress for breakfast.
Her hand reached for a pale blue dress as she heard an energetic knock at the door. She had scarcely turned to look when it opened and Alice flew through the door, an excited smile on her face and a satchel in her hands. Following her was one of the housemaids, carrying a tray overflowing with breakfast foods. Rosalie rushed in behind her with a small bag.
"We're here!" announced Alice setting down her satchel and closing the wardrobe doors. "No need to get dressed, we'll breakfast in here and then you're straight to the bath. We'll need the time for your hair to dry. Rosalie, will you please put the soaps and perfumes in the bathroom? Harriett, will you draw the bath?"
Alice began unpacking the satchel enthusiastically, pulling out combs and ribbons, bottles and jars. After a moment, she turned to see Bella standing hesitantly at the edge of the room.
"Bella! Dear girl, we must get moving – I've only a few hours to make you the most beautiful bride Wrenfield Hall has ever seen! Breakfast!"
The wary look on Bella's face gave way to a smile as she took in the scene around her. Yes, this was her family now. She belonged here at Wrenfield Hall with these women. With an amused sigh, she sat down to a plate of eggs as Alice prattled on.
"I know we discussed putting curls in your hair for the wedding but I don't think that's really you, Bella, dear, do you agree? I was thinking of something more like this…"
Edward stood in the center of the rose garden, smelling the perfumed air as he looked out at the assemblage of family and friends who had gathered at Wrenfield Hall for the wedding. Esme and Carlisle held a place of honor near the front of the bowery of roses where the ceremony would take place, and, excepting Alice, who was still with the bride, their children and spouses were seated around them. The other chairs were filled with Masen family friends from London and from neighboring estates and Bella's friends from the village. Even the staff was seated, looking happily at ease in their Sunday best. Bella had insisted they attend as guests and Edward had been more than happy to agree.
"I don't know, Edward," whispered James, who stood at his side. "The garden is lovely and the flowers really are quite appropriate for an occasion of this import, but I feel that we're missing something out here – the décor is a little…boring, wouldn't you say? I think it could use…I don't know, a monstrously large African creature standing up behind Reverend Webber?"
Edward nearly snorted with laughter at his memory of this morning's surprise. A curiously large crate had been delivered from the village after arriving on the early train. He and James had craned their necks as the front panel was pried away and then stared in astonishment at the angry glare of a stuffed rhinoceros, glassy eyed and ready to charge, nestled in a mountain of packing grass. A note hanging from its impressive horn read, "Best wishes from Africa to my dear Lord Masen and your lovely bride. I wish you every happiness and look forward to calling on you in the future. Warm regards, Charles Winters."
"Well, consider yourself lucky," James had noted wryly, between chuckles at Edward's disbelieving face. "We opened an enormous crate he had shipped to us in Hong Kong and it turned out to be a giraffe! It didn't even fit through the front door."
"He's done quite well for himself down there in Africa after being shunned at the Admiralty and nearly everywhere else in London. He slunk off in shame but now seems to feel the need to share proof of his African 'conquests'. He must be under the illusion that sending memorable 'gifts' like these will get him back into the good graces of everyone he stepped on in his scramble to the top." James had said, "I don't think he's gotten over the humiliation of his fall. He's still desperate to repair his reputation and redeem himself to London society."
"That explains the hippopotamus the Commodore said showed up at his home," laughed Edward, "although, even an elephant wouldn't have been enough to repair that relationship."
"If Armstrong didn't like it," James whispered, "perhaps he brought the hippo with him to pass along to you as his wedding gift? Have you seen any other large crates in with the gifts? We could put it up there with your rhino."
"I'm just terribly afraid Alice couldn't possibly be convinced that your safari vision for this ceremony will fit in with what she's planned here." Edward smiled, "You know her . . . ever the traditionalist!"
Suddenly a hush fell over the crowd, pulling James and Edward out of their nervous banter. The littlest Cullen cousins skipped excitedly into view, scattering rose petals haphazardly over the lawn and laughing with each other. The smiles of the crowd turned to awe, however, as a slender figure in white appeared under the rose-laden archway.
Edward held his breath.
Bella approached with a quiet confidence, smiling as Commodore Armstrong led her solemnly to the front, his own eyes glistening.
And then she was at his side. Bella looked up at Edward through the gauzy film of her veil and all of her beautifully arranged wedding finery melted away. He did not see her in the maid's cap and apron of years past, he did not see her in the smart dress of a Venetian businesswoman. He did not see her in the elegant gowns of recent days and he did not see her in her simple cotton nightgown, as he had seen her more times than anyone would ever know.
He simply saw her.
The round moon shone quietly over the fields and fences of Wrenfield Hall, a bright disc of marble in a black sky. The pure white light filtered through the woods and onto the small stream that meandered through, its watery song hushed by the masses of lush green leaves and grasses that grew in abundance at its banks. On the small stone bridge that spanned the stream sat two dark figures, their bodies so entwined they appeared as one.
"Mmmm…your hair still smells like orange blossoms," murmured Edward quietly as he buried his nose in his wife's silken tresses, winding his fingers through possessively.
"Did you like the blossoms in my hair today?" Bella asked, her voice slightly breathless as she felt his fingers eagerly exploring her neck, her shoulders, her face. "Alice says they're terribly fashionable for weddings these days…"
Edward nodded as his head dipped down and found the curve of her neck, trailing his lips along her white skin. "Lovely…but I look forward to your usual scent of lavender. It's my favorite in the world."
Bella drew in a breath as his head moved further down her collarbone, her chest…
"Is it?" she whispered. "I've always loved it, but I didn't know you noticed."
Edward laughed softly. "It's been my favorite since the day I smelled it in your room, almost four years ago. Did you know I told Thomas to put in a large bed of lavender the following spring? We'd never grown it here before but now I can't imagine the gardens without it."
She smiled in the moonlight. "Thank you, Edward."
"And speaking of rooms – and beds," he said, quietly in her ear, "I do believe we have both of those waiting for us. This nighttime walk has been wonderful, but I'm feeling like it's time we reacquaint ourselves with our accommodations."
Bella giggled. "Dear husband, it's only been a short while since we left that lovely bed. Do you really think there is more to be done there?"
Edward gave a low growl and quickly swung her up over his shoulder, standing and walking quickly off the bridge in one smooth movement.
"Yes, dear wife, I believe there is much, much more to explore!" and he broke into a run, his arms clasping her firmly to him.
Bella shrieked with laughter and clung tightly to his back, her thoughts alive with the delicious possibilities of the soft bed back at Wrenfield Hall.
In a moment, Edward and Bella left the wood and came to a field, still and silvery in the moonlight. The far edge of the field gave way to manicured lawns and gardens.
Edward slid Bella carefully down and set her gently at his side, keeping her hand tightly in his. Together they looked silently at the massive stone house, its great windows dark save for the occasional lamplight in a bedroom window.
"I remember the first time I saw this house," said Bella softly. "It seemed so cold, so imposing, so intimidating. I couldn't believe that I was actually to live there."
"And now?" asked Edward, watching his new bride intently.
"Now…now it is home. I wouldn't choose to live anywhere else."
He gripped her hand and she squeezed it back. He placed a gentle kiss on her forehead and together they walked in the moonlight through the field and across the soft, cool lawn back to Wrenfield Hall.