I checked my hair in the mirror and smiled at my reflection. For the first time in a very long while, I felt beautiful. My hair fell perfectly in soft dark curls over my shoulders and down my back. My make up was perfection, the soft blush of my cheeks complimenting the sparkle of my eyes in the light of the hallway.
Edward's boots made a familiar tempo on the floor as he moseyed through the house from the kitchen. He stopped behind me, and our eyes met in the mirror as his arms wrapped around my middle. I watched as his head dipped, and he nuzzled aside my hair to kiss my neck. I shivered as his lips touched my skin, and the smell of his cologne filled my nostrils. It was fresh, and woodsy, and so completely him.
My heart fluttered and I considered asking to ditch the dance and stay home, but I knew this was far too important to Edward. Although he hadn't said anything specifically, the fact that he was going to this event for the first time in several years showed how much it meant.
His lips moved to my ear, and I closed my eyes and leaned back against him.
"Are you ready to go, sweetheart?"
"Yeah." My whisper was breathy and soft, and I heard his soft chuckle before he kissed my skin one last time and then straightened. He released me but I stayed leaning back against him for a moment, reluctant to break the contact between us.
"We better get goin', darlin'." His fingers brushed over my arm, and I shivered.
My eyes met his in the mirror, and I pouted slightly but stepped away from him to grab my clutch from the hall table. Edward was fixing his black Stetson on his head and smiled at me as we made our way out the door.
Hand in hand, we made our way down the porch steps. Before I could set a foot onto the gravel drive, Edward bent down and scooped me up in his arms. I gasped and then giggled at the grin on his face.
"Pardon this Cowboy for assuming the worst, but darlin', those heels, your balance, and this drive just don't go." His boots made crunching noises over the rocks as he carried me to the passenger side of his truck.
I looked at him in mock surprise. "Are you implying that I'm clumsy, Mister Cullen?"
"I don't think I need to imply. But don't you worry, I told you before I won't let you fall."
His eyes turned serious and my heart paused at the deep, meaningful look in his eyes. My breath caught, and my heart skipped a beat as my tongue involuntarily wet my bottom lip. His eyes left mine to follow the movement of my tongue as I felt butterflies take off in my stomach.
How did he do that?
He chuckled under his breath, and I realized I had spoken the thought out loud.
I cleared my throat in embarrassment as I felt my cheeks flush. "Turn me on with just a look."
He cocked an eyebrow at me, and his lips parted in a smile. "Reckon it's in the codebook somewhere."
I giggled and he set me down, making sure I was steady on my feet before opening the door to the truck and helping me inside.
There was something about him tonight, something I couldn't quite put my finger on. He seemed nervous, but happy at the same time. He was humming lowly with the radio, but his hands were really fidgety on the wheel. The set of his shoulders seemed tense; I wondered if he was more nervous about going to this than he was letting on. He caught me studying him as we drove to the dance.
"I could ask you the same thing. Are you sure you're alright about tonight?"
"Guess I'm just a little nervous." He shifted in the seat restlessly. I scooted over to him as close as I could and placed a hand on his knee.
"We don't have to do this, y'know. If it's too much at some point, just say the word and I'm your getaway driver."
Edward flashed a smile at me. "I love you, darlin'. I can't think of anyone else I'd want to be my getaway driver."
My face flushed for a second time within the hour. "I love you too."
We arrived at the County Hall, and Edward helped me down from the truck and escorted me inside. I had never been to the Rancher's Ball, but assumed it would be the same amount of fanfare that the Policeman's Ball was for our county.
I smiled as I recalled my mother dressed to the nine's, and my father in his full dress uniform. The local newspaper usually had a big article on the awards given and if any special guests had attended.
Edward had explained that the same would happen tonight: awards given, congratulatory back slapping, and then a dinner and dance. As we walked into the room, it was full with what seemed to be all the important faces from town.
I blinked, not quite sure why the prominent members of the social group from our church had a table, and I could see a few other familiar faces that seemed out of place for a Rancher's Association but figured prominent members of the community must have been invited to the occasion.
I smiled as Emmett McCarty walked towards us, a huge grin on his face and Rose on his arm. She looked at me with cool disdain but made no comment. It wouldn't have mattered, her exuberant husband eclipsed her.
"Bella! How the heck are ya?"
I smiled at him, I couldn't help it, and any ill will I may have ever harbored for him melted at his genuine smile.
"I'm good Emmett. How are the babies? They must be so big."
Emmett launched into a story about the twins, and I saw movement behind them and spotted my mother along the back wall.
What is my mother doing here? And why didn't she tell me she was going to be here?
And sure enough there was my father next to her, tolerating those horrible women from church.
Emmett finished his story and was interrupted by Rose who nodded over at the bar. Emmett put his arm around her and smiled back at Edward and me.
"If you'll excuse me, I'm the designated driver tonight and Rose wants a big glass of wine."
Edward showed me to where we were sitting, Eli and Carmen were already sitting at the table, and I waved at them as Edward pulled my chair out. As Edward sat next to me, I noticed the other familiar faces were the Whitlock's from next door. I nodded politely to the Whitlock's, and noticed there was another two empty chairs at our table.
"Do you know who's sitting there?"
"Not too sure, darlin'. Probably one of the neighbors."
He wasn't able to say much more as the ceremony started, and went on for nearly an hour of speeches, and awards, and more speeches. I could feel my backside starting to get stiff and I shifted in my seat. Edward squeezed my shoulder, and there was something unreadable in his face.
Finally, the host was wrapping up the ceremony with the final speaker of the night.
"Ladies and Gentleman. I have one final request before we can open up the bar and enjoy the rest of the evening. May I pass the mic to Edward Cullen from the Cullen Creek ranch?"
I blinked in surprise as Edward smiled at me before standing up, and an obligatory round of applause erupted over the room. I watched as he walked towards the podium at the front of the room but was distracted by the empty chairs in front of us suddenly being filled.
I glanced at the newcomers but ended up doing a double take as Alice winked at me and wrinkled her nose as a huge grin spread across her petite face.
What in hee haw was going on here?
I tried to pay attention as Edward spoke about his dream to reopen the ranch as a tour and riding ground, and that with my help he would finally be able to do so. This elicited another round of applause from the people, and I looked down at my hands as the eyes of the room suddenly turned to me.
"She's shy, folks. And she's probably gonna wanna have me hogtied and skinned alive for what I'm about to do."
I felt my jaw lock as he winked at me and chuckled nervously.
"Darlin', if you could join me up here, please?"
This time, I turned absolutely scarlet. Surely he wasn't going to pull me out in front of what seemed to be the whole town crammed into this hall.
But he was. He stepped out from behind the podium, and brought the cordless microphone with him. I felt like a deer caught in headlights.
"Please, sweetheart. I promise this will be quick."
On shaky legs, I stood up, and made my way to the center of the cleared area in front of the podium. My heart was beating against my ribs, and a cold sweat broke out over my skin. I could feel every eye in the room on me, and I brushed my hands against my dress to make sure it wasn't suddenly tucked into my pantyhose.
I stood on trembling legs as Edward's apple green eyes looked into mine. I tried not to be mad at him, and I wondered if he could tell I was about to hyperventilate.
"A man suddenly knows what he's got when he hits rock bottom. I knew I had nothing, and I was letting everything slip from my hands until I saw a pretty little thing fall on her backside in the grocery parking lot last January. It was the first time in a long time I felt anything other than sorry for myself.
You brought so much back into my life that I didn't even realize was missing until you gave it to me. You helped me see that I was being a darn fool and that there was more to life than just barely existing.
You gave me that second chance, Isabella Marie Swan."
Tears welled up in my eyes, and I watched in confusion as he pulled something out of his jacket pocket. My heart stopped as he knelt in front of me, and held out the small box in front of him, opened to reveal a beautiful diamond ring.
"Bella, will you marry me?"
I nodded, and managed to croak out a yes as the roaring approval of the crowd around us filled my ears. I felt the ring slip onto my finger, and Edward swept me up into his arms, my feet leaving the floor as he swung me around.
I was in shock, but the world melted away as his mouth kissed mine.
When he put me down, I felt like I was walking on air. Alice flew at me, and all I could hear was her swearing at me that I was a fucking lucky bitch.
The sea of faces swirled, and my mother hugged me, her familiar perfume comforting me.
"Baby, I'm so happy for you."
As I hugged her back, I heard Eli's crackling laugh, and his gritty voice.
"Well, son, you finally done good. Your daddy would be proud of you, and your momma too."
Eventually the crowd of people drifted back out, and Edward led me over to our seats, his hand at my back. I all but collapsed in my chair.
Vaguely, the host confirmed the bar was officially open, and that the music would start soon.
Edward put his arm around the back of my chair, and his closeness centered me. He leaned down to whisper in my ear.
I nodded. "Still processing what just happened."
The lights dimmed, and the music started as couples moved on and off the dance floor. The song that played the night I told Edward I loved him came on, and he dragged me out onto the floor to dance with him.
I got some of my gumption back as he lead me around the floor.
"I should be mad at you, Cowboy."
"Why's that, ma'am?"
"Dragging me up in front of all those people. You're lucky I love you so much."
He stole a quick kiss before he spoke. "There was a reason for all these people."
"You mean, other than, come watch me embarrass my girlfriend by asking her to be my wife?"
He cocked an eyebrow at me. "Yes. Other than asking you to be my wife. You ain't gonna sass me like this when we're married, are you?"
"No, I'll probably sass you worse."
"I sure as heck hope so."
It was quiet for the moment as he continued to move us across the floor. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore.
"So. Why is everyone in town under one roof?"
He pursed his lips, and then looked at me squarely. "You gotta promise not to be mad."
I considered it for a moment and then caved at the look in his eyes. "I promise."
Those green eyes of his, they turned so serious for a moment, and there was something quietly angry in them, like a passing thundercloud.
"I know what those old hags were saying to you. And I know about Rose, and the rest of the women in town."
I felt sick for a moment, that he would know about some of the awful things some of the women had said to me. I was embarrassed, and I looked away from his eyes. His hand reached my chin and lifted it up so I was looking at him again.
"You are worth ten thousand of any of those women, darlin'. Don't you ever forget it. If I have to spend the rest of my life reminding you, then I will. I love you, and I wanted the whole town to know, if not the whole world."
I realized then, that he had known for at least a few weeks, and I wondered back to the night of our fight if he had known then.
I also realized what an amazing gift I had been given in the man who held me like a precious gem in his arms.
If someone had told me a year ago that things would get better, I would never have believed they would be this good.
The night wore on into the early hours of the morning. Edward eventually had to carry me to the truck, and when we were home, he carried me upstairs to our bed.
The next day dawned slowly but brightly, and I lay in bed watching the sun rise, the dark of night fading as the sun split the sky with radiance. Wispy clouds lingered in the cool morning air just as Edward moved behind me, his arms pulling me closer. The dawn light caught the diamond on my ring finger, dazzling the bedroom with small rainbow colored lights.
As for the clouds, I watched them roll away.
Thank you for reading.
A massive thank you to twilightmomoftwo, snshyne, and lambie for their amazing support.
And a huge thank you to you, gentle reader.
I have finished all of my works in progress as far as fan fiction is concerned, and I'm going to attempt to branch out with original fiction.
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