"Showers to Flowers" O/S Contest
Number of Picture Chosen: 12
Title: The Consequences Of The Choices We Make
Word Count: 18,746**
** Please note this author e-mailed the contest organizers and received permission to go over the word limit. This courtesy would have been extended to anyone who inquired.
Pairing: Edward and Bella
Summary: Set in the time of duty where women didn't have a choice. In the sanctuary of her hidden meadow in the woods, Bella is surprised by an unfamiliar man who over time shows her she has a choice.
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight or the characters involved. No copyright infringement intended.
"Look at them, Isabella," my younger sister, Alice, gushed while jumping in her spot to get a better look at the carriage carrying the prince, and his entourage of guards and servants surrounding him. "This is so exciting."
"Can you believe the prince is coming to our little village to find his princess?" my other sister, Rosalie added to the excitement.
"He has been to at least a dozen other villages looking for a princess. What makes either of you think this will be the place he finds what he's looking for?" I asked with a rational tone.
"You never know what might happen. Maybe he'll ask you to be his princess,"Alicetheorized.
"Or maybe he'll ask you," I countered. "I'm heading home."
I walked past both of them and weaved my way through the crowd of townspeople to make my way home. I had no interest in the prince. We had all heard of his impending arrival and why he was coming. His father, King Carlisle, had given him permission to search the kingdom for a suitable bride. His father had been subject to an arranged marriage, which he despised, so he gave his son the option of finding his own bride. It had never been done before but had the entire kingdom in an uproar; especially the women.
I had even heard stories of young women refusing to be courted by a man in hopes of the prince choosing them. Or you had the overzealous mothers, like mine, who were planning to do everything in their power to get their daughters noticed.
Mother sent us into town with every last cent we had, to buy sewing goods to make us new gowns for the prince's ball. We were also subject to proper dance lessons and etiquette classes for the last three weeks.
I walked the familiar path to our humble abode on the outskirts of the village, carrying the packages for mother. I knew my sisters would be along shortly, as soon as they were done gushing over the prince with all the other young women in the village.
"Hello, Mother," I called stepping through the foyer.
"Oh, Isabella," she sighed dramatically. "You're back just in time. Where are your sisters?"
"They'll be along soon. The prince has arrived and they were busy with all the other townspeople watching his carriage ride through the streets."
"He's arrived already?" she gasped. She quickly grabbed the packages from my hands and scurried off to her sewing room. "I have to get started on these gowns right away. We have to make my girls beautiful for the prince."
Internally I scoffed at her enthusiasm. I'm not sure what made her think the prince was going to single out one of her daughters over all the other young women in the village.
I walked outside and saw my father working in the barn. My father was a hard working man who did everything in his power to provide a better life for his family.
He looked up at me from his work with a pleasant smile on his face. "How is my beautiful Bella doing today?" he asked. My father always called me Bella while everyone else called me Isabella. I preferred my father's pet name for me over my given name.
"I am fine, Father. The prince arrived today. Alice and Rosalie are in the town watching him ride through the streets in his carriage."
"Oh," he acknowledged. "And why aren't you with them feigning all over the prince like everyone else?"
"I'm not interested in the prince like all the other girls. I like my life the way it is now. I don't want to live in some palace far away and never see my family again. I want to stay here with you," I explained.
"You will have to marry some day. Marrying a prince would only bring better things for your entire family," he added.
"The prince is not even going to give me a second glance. I'm plain and nothing special. He would probably notice Rosalie or Alice before he ever noticed me."
He chuckled and walked over to me, placing his hands on my shoulders. "You are just as pretty as your sisters and the prince would be a fool not to notice your outer beauty as well as your inner beauty."
I blushed at my father's words and dipped my head. "Thank you, Father." He kissed me gently on the forehead and went back to his work. "Is it okay if I take Alistar out for a ride?"
"Of course it is," he agreed. "Just don't let your mother see."
"I won't," I giggled.
I walked past my father and into the barn to retrieve our horse, Alistar. He was a family horse, but I liked to claim him as my own. He liked me better than anyone else. I was the only one he allowed to ride bareback. My sisters tried riding him with a sidesaddle and he didn't like it. I, on the other hand, rode him the way I wasn't supposed to. My mother refused to let me ride him like a man would, so I had to sneak most of the time. Knowing my mother would be busy in her sewing room for the rest of the day, I knew I could get away with it.
I led Alistar out of the barn and mounted him. In the distance, I could make out the figures of my sisters coming up the road. I took off before they could see me. I rode Alistar through the trees and brush, until I came to my secret hiding place, hidden deep in the woods. I had been coming out here since I was just a little girl and no one ever knew about my hidden spot. It was a hard place to get to, and I found it by chance when I was just a small girl. I had to ride through thick brush and through a small crevice in the rocks to get to it. Once inside there was a beautiful meadow with an abundance of wildflowers. The backdrop was a calm and cool waterfall which led to the river. The water was always so peaceful and clear. The entire meadow was like a dream. At times I wondered if this place I had found was actually even real or just a figment of my imagination. Over the years I thought about showing my sisters or even my father, but I never did. This was my hideaway from the duties of my life. This was where I could be free to be me and do as I please. This was my sanctuary.
I reached into my small pouch I carried with me and sprinkled some seeds and old bread crumbs on the ground for the birds and small animals who lived in my meadow. I sat peacefully in the grass and watched the birds fly closer to retrieve their food. In the distance I noticed the young deer I'd been slowly coaxing out of its hiding place. I held out my hand of food and sat as still as possible. Slowly, he made his way closer and closer to me. Timidly, he grabbed one little bite of seeds from my hand with his mouth and ran a short distance away to nibble on it. I giggled as I watched him. He'd never gotten that close to me before.
As I watched the deer, I heard a branch crack in the distance. I jumped to my feet and turned my head towards the noise. Standing just a few feet away from me was a man I didn't recognize.
"Hello," he greeted with a sure, steady voice.
"Who are you?" I asked nervously. I stepped away and looked for some sort of stick or something for protection.
"I apologize if I frightened you," he said, moving closer to me. Instinctively I moved another step away. "My name is Edward Cullen. I'm here with the prince. I'm one of his guards." My fear subsided slightly after he told me who he was.
"How did you find this place?" I asked.
"I guess the same way you did. I was just out exploring the forest and somehow found myself in here." His eyes darted around the area taking it all in. "I don't think I've seen anything quite as exquisite as this before. I'm sure the prince would love to see this."
"No, please," I begged rushing towards him. "You can't tell him. This is mine. No one else knows about this place."
"Don't the King and his heirs own this land?" he asked.
"Yes they do, but no one knows of this spot," I said with a small, timid voice. I knew I didn't have much of an argument to stop him from telling the prince and showing him my meadow. "This has always been my special place to come. I know it doesn't belong to me, but it's important to me." While I spoke I kept my head down and never made eye contact with him.
"May I have your name?" he wondered.
My eyes glanced up at him from behind my lashes before I answered. "My name is… Bella." Unwilling to give him my full name, I gave him the nickname my father had bestowed upon me.
"Well, Miss Bella, if I don't tell the prince about this spot in the woods, would you mind if I came back?"
"Came back?" I questioned, looking up at him with a confused expression. He had a slight grin on his face when our eyes met.
"Yes, well, I guess I should be honest with you. I'm not exactly a member of the guard. I'm a painter and close confidant of the prince. He appreciates the arts and enjoys me painting landscapes and portraits for his collection. This spot is a painters dream. I'd like to come back to paint it."
"You want to paint my meadow?"
"Yes, if it's okay with you," he replied.
"I guess I don't have much of a choice. Like you established, I don't own this."
"You always have a choice. You have put your claim on this meadow and in any sense it belongs to you. I would like to have your permission."
No one had ever asked for my permission for anything. Could I really refuse to let him paint here? "If you painted this spot wouldn't the prince want to know where it came from?"
"Not all images I've painted have come from real life. I could always tell him it came from my own imagination."
"How long would it take you to paint?" I questioned further.
"There's no telling how long. This spot is gorgeous. I could spend days, even months out here and still have something to paint. However, I don't imagine we'll be staying in this village for very long. As soon as the prince has his ball and decides against all the eligible maidens we will be leaving for the next village. I will only stay as long as you allow me to, though, regardless of how long we stay."
I thought it over for a moment and had a sense of pride fill me to know this man was asking my permission to come into my meadow. I knew he could very easily take it from me since I was a woman, but he treated me like an equal. How could I deny him access to my little piece of heaven?
"Alright," I agreed. "You can come as you please, but all I ask is you never show anyone or tell anyone of this spot. I've been coming here since I was just a little girl, and no one has ever come here but me. No one even knows about it, not even my own family."
He smiled and nodded his head. "This will be our little secret. Thank you, Miss Bella for allowing me into your meadow." He bowed his head in appreciation, and I smiled at how polite and considerate he was. "Will I see you tomorrow?" he asked with a hopeful tone.
I nodded my head. "I'll be here."
"Good. I'll bring my supplies and meet you here."
He turned on his heel and walked towards the crevice in the rock which led back out into the woods. I waited a few minutes before following him out. I watched as he rode off into the forest on his horse.
"Come on, Alistar," I ordered my horse to follow me towards home. I couldn't help the apparent smile on my face while I rode home. There was something about this Edward Cullen I found appealing. He was kind and sweet. I couldn't wait until I got to see him again.
Back at home my mother and my sisters were all aflutter with excitement over the prince's arrival. There were bolts of fabric and streamers of ribbon all over the place. My father remained in his den while they worked on their dresses. I went to my room early to read since I really didn't care much for sewing or dress making.
The following day we were delivered our invitation to the ball. My sisters were giddy with excitement. I couldn't help but be a little excited myself, but not in the same way my sisters were. I left early in the morning knowing my family would be too busy to even notice my absence.
I wasn't able to take Alistar out so I had to walk the entire way to my meadow. I'd walked there so many times before but today seemed like it took forever to get there. I even ran part of the way. When I arrived, my meadow was empty other than the few birds scurrying around. Like I always had before I laid out a few crumbs for the birds. They expected their daily meal when they saw me coming.
"Good morning, Miss Bella," Edward greeted from behind me. I jumped when I heard his voice, but there was an excitement I felt and I wasn't sure where it came from.
"Good morning, Mr. Cullen," I greeted in return. "Do you have a title I should address you by?"
He chuckled and ducked his head. "No, I don't have a title. You can call me Edward. I don't typically care for the formalities of titles. I much prefer to be called by my given name."
"Then you can call me Bella, instead of Miss Bella, if you like," I offered.
"I would like that, Bella," he accepted. He walked past me and set up his small easel on the meadow. I sat down in the grass and watched him. He measured the look of the land with his fingers and his eyes to find the perfect spot. The way he concentrated on setting up his easel and planned out his paints was fascinating. I'd never seen anyone like him before.
His eyes darted towards me and he had a small smirk on his face.
"I apologize," I said. "Would you rather not have an audience while you work?"
He chuckled again and shook his head. "I don't mind. I just don't think it's going to be very fascinating."
"On the contrary, I find what you're doing very fascinating. I've never seen someone paint a picture before."
"Then you're welcome to watch if you want." He continued to set up his supplies and set out his brushes.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" I asked.
"Actually, there is. Could you fill this jar up with water from the creek?"
"Sure." I hopped up, grabbing the jar from his hands and ran to the creek. I carried the water back to him and placed it on his small work table.
I went back to my spot in the grass and watched. After careful consideration of where to begin, his brush finally touched the canvas. The brush strokes were so light and perfectly orchestrated. I sat there in awe of him.
"Have you always been a painter?" I asked.
His brush abruptly stopped when I broke his concentration. "I'm sorry, should I not have talked?"
"No, it's okay. I just got caught up in my painting. I sort of forgot you were here," he excused.
"Oh," I said disappointed.
"But I like the company," he added causing me to smile. "To answer your question, yes I guess I have. I was always drawing when I was a kid. My parents couldn't keep me supplied in art supplies since I used them so much."
"I wish I had a talent," I said. "My sister, Rosalie, plays the piano so beautifully."
"You have a sister?"
"I have two actually. My sister, Alice is very talented when it comes to dress making. She can make gorgeous dresses in a matter of a day, which is probably what she's doing right now with the prince's ball coming up. I, on the other hand have no interest in going."
"You don't plan to go to the ball?" he wondered while continuing to paint.
"I will probably be forced to go, but honestly I don't really have any interest in the prince."
He smirked and turned around to face me. "You don't?" he questioned skeptically.
"No, I don't. My sisters are the ones he'll notice. They're the pretty ones of the family. I'm the plain one with no talent."
On the contrary, Bella, I find you very pretty, and you do have quite a talent. The first day I saw you there was a deer eating out of the palm of your hand and the birds seem to have no fear around you. That, in my opinion, is one of the greatest talents I've ever seen."
I blushed at his observance of me. He's the only person who had ever told me I was talented. I'd always considered myself the black sheep of the family. Not good at anything and very rarely ever noticed by anyone. He chuckled and went back to his painting.
"Either way I find what the prince is doing a little degrading," I continued.
"How so?" he asked. "I think what the king is allowing him to do is a very commendable gift. At least the prince has a choice to marry whoever he chooses regardless of her status."
"But to parade around in the towns and get the hopes up of every eligible maiden, then hold a ball and decide on looks alone if there is a girl who he fancies is disheartening. He isn't even taking the time to get to know any of the maidens. What if his perfect match was passed by because she wasn't exactly what he was looking for on looks alone?"
"You make an excellent point. I would have to agree with you. However, the prince will not be told what to do. He does things his way unfortunately."
I sat silent for a while longer as I watched him and listened to the soft sounds of the waterfall. After a while I lied back in the grass and closed my eyes, letting the bright sunlight warm my face.
"Would you care to join me for lunch?" he asked standing over me and blocking my sun. I quickly sat up and dusted my dress off and tamed my hair. He sat down next to me and opened up a small bag, laying out some bread, dried meat and cheese, as well as an apple and a pear on a handkerchief. My mouth watered at the site of such a feast for the lunch hour. Pulling out a small knife he carefully cut the food up into small pieces and gestured for me to eat. I took a piece of cheese and devoured it before taking a piece of the pear. We ate in relative silence, enjoying the sunlight and the noon meal.
When we were just about done eating, I noticed my young deer friend watching us from a distance. I held out a small piece of the apple and coaxed him closer. I heard Edward shuffling his art supplies around next to me, but I stayed focused on the deer. Slowly, he made his way closer until he was nibbling the apple out of my hand. This time he didn't run so I slowly picked up another piece of the fruit and offered it to him. Every time I held something out to him he took the food from my hand. I couldn't help but be giddy with excitement. My deer was getting even more used to me. After the food was all gone and I had nothing more to offer him, he strolled back off into the woods.
"That was amazing," Edward commented. I turned in his direction with a smile. I noticed he held a small board with a paper. I peaked down at what he was doing and right there on the canvas was an outline of me and the deer.
"I hope you don't mind. I just couldn't pass up drawing such a remarkable image," he said.
"I don't mind at all. I'd actually love to see it."
"Give me a couple of hours and I'll have it done for you."
He sat there moving the pencil across the paper for hours while he filled in the details of the drawing. I sat very still and quiet as he worked, not wanting to interrupt him again.
In the late afternoon I must have fallen asleep in the sunshine because the next thing I knew I was being awoken by Edward. I sat up and looked around me trying to remember what happened.
"I finished the drawing. Would you like to see?" he asked.
"Yes, I would be delighted to see."
He took my hand and helped me to my feet, guiding me over to his easel. Right there on the canvas was the most beautiful drawing I'd ever seen. The portrait of me smiling while I fed the deer from my hand was perfectly executed. It looked so real, like I was actually watching it happen in the picture. The sight of it took my breath away. He was very talented at what he did.
"Do you like it?" he wondered.
"I do, very much so. I've never seen anything so amazing."
"Neither have I."
I turned towards him with a quizzical look. He was smiling down at me with such beautiful green eyes. I had to turn away in fear he would be able to see all of my thoughts in my own eyes.
"I'd like you to have it," he offered.
"I couldn't. It's too much."
"Consider it payment for letting me paint your meadow," he countered.
"I don't know how I would get it home without my family seeing. They would have far too many questions about where it came from. I don't think I should take it," I refused.
"Then I'll hold on to it for you until you want it," he compromised. I accepted his offer with a nod and a smile.
"It is getting late," I pointed out. "I should get home before my family wonders where I am."
"Alright," he said beginning to pack up his belongings.
"You can stay as long as you like," I offered.
"Nonsense," he refused. "I would find it very rude to stay in someone's land while they weren't here."
I smiled at his description of this place as mine. In a way it was mine, but in all sense of the word I didn't own this land and I could have it taken away so easily if anyone else ever found it.
"May I walk you home?" he asked.
"Maybe just part of the way," I accepted. "I wouldn't want my family to see you and start to question who it is I'm spending my days with."
"You have a very good point. Halfway it is."
We walked towards the crevice in the rock and slipped through into the open forest. We walked slowly and quietly halfway to my home. When we parted ways he mounted his horse and said he would see me tomorrow.
All the way home I giggled. I had one of the most amazing days of my life. I really liked Edward and his sweet, soft demeanor.
"Why do you look so happy?" Rosalie questioned when I stepped through the front door of our home.
I tried to cover my grin up and stay straight faced. "I just spent the day reading and the story was a very good one," I lied. She gave me a quizzical look but didn't question me anymore.
"Isabella," my mother scolded. "Look at you. You've been lying in the sun again, haven't you? My gracious, Child, you are going to burn up in the sun if you keep running off the way you do. Your features need to stay smooth and creamy for when we meet the prince."
"Mother," I whined. "I have no interest in meeting the prince. I'd rather spend time by myself."
"You ran off into the woods again, didn't you?" my dad questioned.
"Yes, Father. I like the forest and the animals. I feel at home when I'm surrounded by silence and sunshine."
"She needs to be focusing on her dance lessons. We only have a few days left before the ball and she's clumsier than a newborn foal," my mother scolded. "I want you to stay home during the day from now on."
"Renée let her go. She has already made it perfectly clear she has no interest in the prince. Let Rosalie and Alice pursue him. They actually have an interest in catching the prince's eye. Bella is our free spirited child. We can't force her to do something she doesn't want to do."
"Charles, she has just as much chance at catching the prince's eye, as any other maiden in this village. I will not let her skip it just because she doesn't have an interest. I don't care what her interests are. If she can bring honor and wealth to this family, I will do everything in my power to make it happen."
"Mother," I interrupted. "I'll go to the ball and be on my best behavior but please don't make me stay home all day. I might go stir crazy if I'm cooped up in the house all day. I like to be outside."
"It would be better than to have her under foot all day while you are so busy making these gowns for the ball," my father reminded.
She sighed while my father and I gave her a pleading look. "Alright, but the day of the ball you will not be running off into the woods and getting filthy."
I wrapped my arms around her neck and kissed her gently on the cheek. "Thank you, Mother."
The following day was quite like the one before. Edward painted his portrait of the waterfall while I watched and occasionally chatted with him. Mother insisted I wear a bonnet and bring an umbrella to block the sunlight from my face. I did my best to use them, but I didn't like to be confined.
Before I headed home, I picked a handful of flowers for my mother. I hoped the flowers might contain her anger if my face was even redder than the day before. As Edward and I walked out of the meadow, he plucked a flower from the ground and tucked it behind my ear. I thought my heart might punch out of my chest from the way his fingers lingered against my cheek and his green eyes gazed into mine. If he had kissed me I would have allowed him, even if I knew it was wrong. My heart wouldn't have cared. However, he didn't. He quickly stepped away and cleared his throat before walking towards the rocks.
Again, he walked me halfway home and said he'd see me again tomorrow.
The small flower he tucked behind my ear became my most treasured gift. The drawing he had given me was wonderful and I wished so desperately I could actually bring it home with me, but at least the little flower I could keep without any questioning from my family.
The next day was so hot I couldn't sit out in the sun for very long without feeling like I really was going to burn up. In the mid afternoon, while Edward continued his painting, I waded around in the cool water of the creek. Just my feet being in the water cooled my whole body.
Edward walked over to the creek to clean out his brushes and his water jar. He had beads of sweat dripping down his forehead. I thought he could use some cooling off so I leaned down and splashed a little water in his direction. He stopped what he was doing and stared at me with a stunned look.
"You looked hot. I thought you could use some cooling off," I excused my behavior with a playful tone.
"Did I?" he asked with a smirk on his face. Before I could turn away a splash of water hit me and I squealed. I splashed back and we both laughed freely and loudly as we drenched each other. He lunged towards me and wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me down into the water. I screamed as my head went under. Edward continued to laugh while I gave him a questioning look. "You looked hot. I thought you could use some cooling off."
I smirked and splashed water in his direction one more time before climbing out of the water. I lay out in the hot sun trying to dry a little before I had to head home. Edward lay down next to me, drying himself as well.
"Did you get much done on your painting today?" I asked.
"A little, but I was distracted by another beautiful image I just couldn't pass up drawing."
I turned my head in his direction and smiled. "May I see it?"
"Of course." He stood to his feet and walked the short distance to retrieve the piece of paper. He walked back over to me and handed me the drawing. Today the drawing was of me wading in the cool, clear water of the waterfall with a pleasant smile on my face. I thought it looked even more exquisite than the one he drew of me the day before.
"It's beautiful, Edward. You have a way of making me look beautiful in your drawings."
"You are beautiful."
His words made me blush and turn my head away from embarrassment.
"The ball is tomorrow night," he reminded. "Are you going?" His question was casual but I felt like he was asking for more than curiosity. I wondered if maybe he was hoping I would be there.
"I am going, whether I want to or not."
"You still don't want to go?" he asked.
"Not really," I replied. "I'm not going to know anyone but my own family, and I don't care to compete with my sisters or any of the other maidens for the prince's affections."
"You'll know me," he pointed out hopeful.
"You'll be there?" I asked.
"I will. And I won't know many people there either."
"You know we can't act like we know each other. My family would become suspicious and I'm sure some of the townspeople would gossip."
"I'm aware. But I would like if I could have one dance with you," he requested.
I grinned at his request and nodded my head in acceptance. I would have answered in a more appropriate manner but I feared my words would come out as a high pitched squeal.
We laid there in the sun until we were as dry as we could possibly get before walking home. I reminded him the following day I wouldn't be able to meet him at the meadow because of the preparation I would be subject to for the ball. I told him he was welcome to go back to finish his painting if he wanted to but he said he would wait until I was there with him.
I was sure there were feelings there between us now. I wondered if at the dance he would make his interest more apparent. I wanted him to. I wanted him to ask my father permission to court me, and I wanted him to meet my family. All I could do was hope the signs I was seeing weren't my own romantic imagination reading too much into it.
The next day my sisters were up bright and early to prepare for the ball. I even got into the preparations more than I thought I would. I wanted to look my best for Edward. I wanted him to notice me and see me as beautiful. I wanted his eyes on only me the entire night.
I wore an elegant, light blue, silk gown. It was definitely the most exquisite dress I had ever worn. My sisters fussed over my hair, pulling it up into a loose bun and letting a few tendrils of hair fall against my back. Looking at my sisters, they were both much more glamorous but I felt beautiful regardless, and I was actually looking forward to the ball.
My father dressed in his best clothes and escorted his wife and his three daughters to the ball. The home the prince was staying at was like no home I had ever seen before. It looked like a palace. I couldn't even imagine what the palace back with his father looked like.
Everyone in the room looked nervous yet excited. As covertly as possible I searched the room for Edward. I had to stop when a trumpet suddenly started blaring and the crowd became completely silent.
A path was cleared as three men began their descend down the stairs and into the ballroom.
"His majesty, Prince Jacob," a man announced. I looked up at the men and saw Edward walking a few feet behind the prince. I was actually kind of shocked to see him have such a high place next to the prince. He obviously was a lot closer to him than he let on. As all eyes in the room were on Prince Jacob, mine were on Edward. He looked so handsome in his best clothes. Prince Jacob stood at the front of the room while everyone began to dance again. The most pompous families crowded around him, pushing their daughters out in front. As the night went on, the members of the prince's guard and some of the other men from the village began to ask some of the girls to dance. Prince Jacob looked overtly bored as one after another he was introduced to the eligible maidens of our village.
I glanced out on the dance floor and noticed both of my sisters were dancing with men from the guard and they looked to be having a wonderful time. I wondered why they weren't pushing themselves on the prince like so many of the other girls were. I assumed they would both be first in line to meet him.
"Would you care to dance?" a familiar voice asked from behind me. I did my best to keep the elation inside as I turned around and bowed at Edward in acceptance of his request. Even though I was holding in my happiness, he wasn't. He took my hand gently in his and led me to the dance floor. Thankfully, I knew the dance we were doing. We didn't talk much while we danced. Our eyes did all the talking. I could read his expression so well. After the dance was over, we bowed at each other and walked away so no one would suspect anything. I wondered if we might be able to sneak in another dance later on in the night, but if not I knew I would see him again the following day.
I spent quite some time talking with my sisters before we were all whisked away by our mother who shoved us towards the prince. We all curtsied as our father introduced each one of us to Prince Jacob. I did notice his eyes lingered on me a little longer than they did my sisters and he gave me a strange look. I felt a little self conscious about it but didn't think much of it as I walked back into the crowd to search for Edward. My sisters stayed and tried their best to charm Prince Jacob.
As hard as I searched the crowd I couldn't find Edward again. I wasn't sure if he left or if I just couldn't find him.
"May I ask for a dance?" a man asked from behind me. I had hopes it was Edward again but it wasn't his voice I heard. I turned around and saw Prince Jacob standing in front of me with an extended hand. My heart just about stopped. I couldn't dance with the prince. Everyone would be staring and I would probably mess up, making a fool of myself and my family. However, I couldn't refuse. If I did, that would be worse than messing up the dance. I bowed in front of him and took his hand as he led me out to the dance floor. Everyone who had been dancing cleared out, leaving an empty dance floor for just us. This couldn't get any worse. I noticed my mother and father watching with prideful expressions as he swung me around and brought me closer to him.
"Your name is Isabella?" he asked.
"Yes, Your Highness," I answered.
"Please, call me Jacob."
"Have you danced with anyone else tonight?" he asked.
"Only one," I answered. "It was a short dance."
"I'm surprised. Being the most beautiful maiden here I imagined you would have danced with just about everyone."
I ducked my head and blushed at his compliment. His words sort of shocked me as well. I was far from the most beautiful here. I became very shy and barely looked at him during the dance. I'm sure he saw me as cold and uninterested. In all honesty I wasn't interested. I wanted Edward.
After the dance, I bowed and thanked him for the dance before walking away. My family and even a few close family friends came rushing over to me and started asking questions about Jacob. We didn't talk much during the dance so I wasn't sure what they wanted me to tell them.
Throughout the night Jacob didn't dance with anyone else, and only chatted with members of his guard. I noticed every time I glanced in his direction his eyes were on me. Even Alice noticed and pointed it out to both me and Rosalie. I didn't want to think it meant anything so I ignored him.
As the evening came to an end we boarded our simple wagon and rode home.
"Did you see the way he stared at Isabella?" Alice questioned.
"He was smitten with you from the moment he met you," Rose added.
"No he wasn't," I argued. "Why would he be?"
"Isabella, are you blind? He watched you all night. I imagine if he saw you dancing with another man he probably would have cut in and staked his claim on you."
"He has no claim on me. We only danced once and we barely talked," I further argued.
"I was talking to a member of his guard and he said Prince Jacob never dances with any of the girls at these balls. Most of the time he looks bored, but not tonight," Rose continued.
"I think you may have caught the eye of the prince, My Dear Daughter," my father teased.
I sighed exasperatedly and crossed my arms in my lap. I didn't want to catch the eye of the prince. I already had my prince. Edward may not be a prince, but he was who I wanted. If he asked me to marry him I would do so gladly.
My sisters went on and on about Prince Jacob all the way home. I did my best to ignore them and pretend like I didn't care, but inside I wanted to cry.
The following day I got up rather early considering how late we stayed out for the ball. I worried my mother would make me stay home after such a long night and I wasn't willing to. I wanted to see Edward. I rushed to the kitchen to grab something to eat and dashed out the door before anyone else was up. Or so I thought.
"Where do you think you're going in such a hurry?" my father asked, stopping me in my tracks.
"I'm going out to the woods," I answered truthfully.
"You've been running off into the woods every day and staying gone all afternoon," he pointed out. "If I didn't know better I'd suspect you've been meeting someone out there."
I laughed and shook my head trying to hide my fear. Did he somehow know of my secret meetings with Edward? "I only meet with my animal friends."
"Animal friends?" he questioned.
"Yes, Father. I came across this young deer recently and he's slowly getting used to me. A couple days ago he even ate from my hand. And then, of course, the birds expect their daily meal from me. I wasn't able to go yesterday so they're all probably wondering where I am."
He chuckled and shook his head in astonishment of my story. "Not only do I have to support and feed my family of five, but I also have to feed all the animals in the forest."
"It's only a few crumbs, Father. I never take anything I'm not supposed to," I defended.
"Go on and feed your animal friends," he said shooing me off with a nod of his head.
"Thank you, Father," I said taking off running through the trees.
"Try not to stay out too late today. There looks to be a storm coming in," he yelled after me.
"I won't," I yelled back.
By the time I got to my meadow Edward was already there. It's the first time he'd ever arrived here first.
He was sitting on the ground when I first walked towards him. He was so enthralled in whatever he was drawing he didn't even notice me come up behind him. I carefully sat down next to him attempting not to interrupt him, but when I saw the small grin form across his lips I knew he noticed I was there.
"I wondered if you were going to make it today," he said never taking his eyes off of what he was drawing. "I thought maybe your mother would make you stay in all day to recover from the ball last night."
"I left before she was even out of bed," I giggled thinking about how we thought the same thing.
"How did you like the ball last night?" he asked finally raising his eyes from his drawing.
"It was nice. I had a lot more fun than I thought I would," I admitted. "I was kind of hoping I would get at least one more dance from you, but you left shortly after we danced, and I didn't see you for the rest of the night."
"I apologize. I was in the balcony drawing. I was distracted by such beauty and I couldn't help but grab my art supplies to draw it before it left my memory." His gaze told me so much. I had a good inkling the drawing he drew at the ball was going to be of me.
"May I see the drawing?" I requested.
He smiled crookedly and had a twinkle in his eye. "Of course." He reached behind him and pulled out the paper from his sack. He carefully held it out to me and just like I expected it was a drawing of me from the ball. He always drew my happiness so well. Looking at his drawing of me I always looked like the happiest person on earth.
"It's beautiful, Edward. You are so amazingly talented."
"It's rather easy when I have such a beautiful subject to draw," he complimented, causing me to blush and look away with a bashful grin.
His fingers gently tugged on my chin and brought my face around to face his. "Please don't hide. Your smile is what has captivated me so ardently and I don't want you to hide it from me."
As I stared up into his eyes his fingers lingered on my chin. I thought for a moment he might try to kiss me. I wanted him to but the fear that rushed through at the thought of kissing him made me back away. I cleared my throat and stood to my feet in a hurry. He stared up at me with a confused expression as if he thought he did something wrong.
"I need to feed my birds and my deer. I couldn't come out yesterday so I'm sure they're hungry," I said in a jumbled mess to excuse my behavior. He nodded his head in understanding and watched as I sprinkled some crumbs on the ground in front of me and the birds swarmed around to get their fill.
Edward chuckled from behind me. I glanced back and there he sat with his head down and his pencil moving so quickly across the paper. He glanced up for only a second and caught me watching him. I couldn't keep the content smile off my face knowing he was in the middle of drawing me with my birds.
I looked all around my meadow for my deer friend but he never came for his morning snack. Edward obviously noticed the concerned look on my face.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"The deer usually comes out by now. I don't know why he hasn't come yet."
"Maybe this will help." He reached into his sack and pulled out an apple cutting into it with his knife. He continued to cut the apple into chunks until he noticed the deer appear in the distance. He slowly stood to his feet and handed me a handful of the chopped up apple. I leaned down and held out my hand as he slowly came closer.
"Edward," I called motioning for him to kneel down next to me. I reached for his hand and poured some of the apple on his hand, holding both of our hands next to each other to form a small bowl of apple. The deer carefully reached out his nose and sniffed at our hands before nibbling some of the apple from our hands. After a few minutes, I removed my hand and let Edward be the only one feeding him. I turned my head towards Edward and saw this endearing smile across his face. He even sighed happily as the deer took a few steps closer to take a little more food. He looked amazingly proud and pleased to be feeding the deer.
As soon as the food was gone the deer turned and slowly walked back towards the trees. Edward turned towards me and chuckled.
"You never cease to amaze me," he said.
"I'm full of surprises."
He nodded his head slowly and stared deep into my eyes. This time he pulled away, standing to his feet and walking over to his easel.
"I better get this painting done. I have a feeling we'll be leaving in just a couple days," he said.
"You're leaving?" I asked.
"It's what we do. Prince Jacob comes to these small villages, holds a ball, and then leaves for the next village a couple days later. I don't imagine this time being any different," he explained.
"Oh," I sighed disappointed.
For most of the day we were both rather silent. The news of him leaving soon devastated me. I didn't want to think about him being gone. I wanted him to stay. If there was a way for me to make it possible for him to stay I would. I'd do anything.
"I think I'm done with the painting," Edward announced suddenly, breaking me from my unhappy thoughts. "Would you like to see the finished product?"
"Of course I would," I answered, forcing myself to be excited. I stood to my feet and walked closer to him to have a look at the painting he'd been working on for days. I stared at the canvas in total awe. He depicted the waterfall, the trees, and the flowers perfectly. I was in such amazement of his work I didn't even know what to say. I just continued to stare at it.
"What do you think?" he asked.
"I think you are an amazing artist. Prince Jacob is going to love the painting."
"I think he will too."
"Does this mean you won't be coming to the meadow anymore?"
"Well, like I said we may be leaving soon anyway," he reminded with a nervous chuckle. "However, there's such great inspiration for other pieces of art here. If it's okay with you, I'd like to continue coming back until we leave."
I smiled ecstatically. "I would like that."
He smiled happily and looked over his painting a little longer. "Besides, there are still some finishing touches I need to add to this painting."
"Like what?" I wondered. "I think it looks perfect the way it is."
He sighed thinking it over for a moment. "I honestly don't know," he laughed. "It was just my excuse to come back."
"You can come back anytime you want whether you're painting or not. This place is as much yours as it is mine."
"Thank you, Bella."
As we stood there and gazed into each other's eyes there was a loud rumble in the clouds. We both looked up and were suddenly being rained on.
"The painting!" Edward exclaimed grabbing it off the easel to protect it from the rain. I grabbed my shawl and threw it over the painting before gathering up all his supplies as best I could.
"Come with me," I ordered, grabbing his hand and dragging him towards the waterfall. There was a hidden cavern behind the waterfall we could hide behind to get out of the rain. Once safely behind the waterfall we shook the water off of ourselves. I brushed my hair back trying to wring out as much water as I could.
"Is the painting alright?" I asked. With a heavy sigh he uncovered it and had a look.
"It looks fine. I think we covered it up in time."
"I never even noticed this behind the waterfall. How did you happen to find it?" he wondered.
"I found it by accident actually. On one particularly hot day I was playing in the waterfall to cool myself off, and while running through the spray, I happened to see the cave behind it," I explained. I giggled thinking back to my childhood. "When I was younger I used to bring stuff out here and made it into a pretend home. I even snuck out in the middle of the night and stayed out here all night hidden in this cavern."
"This is a perfect hiding place. No one would ever find you here, even if someone found the meadow."
"Well no one has found the meadow, except you," I said in a shaky voice.
"Are you cold?" he asked removing the shawl from around the painting and wrapping it around my shoulders.
"Thank you." I grabbed the corners of the shawl and pulled it around me tightly. His hands rubbed against my arms to help warm me up. We were inches away from each other and I could sense him moving in closer and closer. My nervous breaths washed over his face as he brushed my hair off my shoulder and rested his hand against my neck.
"Bella," he began. "I know it's inappropriate, but I would really like to kiss you."
"You would?" I asked timidly.
"Yes, I would. Would it be alright if I did?" he questioned.
"I don't think I have much of a choice," I whispered as he moved in closer.
"You always have a choice."
"Then I think I want you to kiss me," I breathed against his lips. The second the words were out of my mouth, his lips consumed mine in a passionate kiss. I hadn't a clue of what I was doing or how to kiss him properly. I prayed I kissed him the way he wanted me to. His hands wrapped around my head and pushed me back against the wall of the cave. His kiss was all consuming. I moaned out of enjoyment and most of all fear. When he broke away we were both panting from lack of oxygen. My heart was beating so fast, I feared it was going to punch out of my chest.
"Are you alright?" he asked tracing a finger down the side of my cheek. I nodded my head and looked up into his eyes to assure him I was fine.
"It's getting late and I told my father I would be home early, before the storm hit. I should go," I said.
"Will I see you again tomorrow?" he asked.
I smiled and gave him a quick little peck against his lips. "If it's not raining I'll find a way to come." His smile in return told me I didn't mess up the kiss. He wanted to continue to see me.
I ran home as quickly as possible knowing I was going to be scolded for getting drenched in the rain. It would be well worth it though. Edward kissed me, and I was sure he would kiss me again. I felt so alive and jubilant inside, I thought I might scream of happiness. I was sure my entire family would be able to read the signs across my face the minute they saw me, but I didn't care. I wanted them to know of Edward. I wanted them to approve of him so I could be with him.
I burst through our front door only to be grabbed by my mother and shoved into a side room. "What were you thinking going out into the woods with a storm coming?" she scolded. "Look at you now. You're drenched and filthy from head to toe. We have guests, Isabella and they are here to see you. This is no way to greet such important guests."
"Let her be," a voice called. I turned my head quickly to see who the voice belonged to and came face to face with Prince Jacob. "The unruliness only brings out her charm, which I'm rather fond of." My mother bowed and stepped away from me. I stood there stone-faced while Prince Jacob looked me over. "I like your free-spiritedness, Miss Isabella. However for a proper meal you should dress accordingly. Go get yourself cleaned up and join me for supper."
I bowed my head at his request and rushed off to my room to change out of my wet clothes. My mother followed close behind.
"What is going on?" I asked of my mother.
"The prince has asked to join us for supper. He specifically asked for your company. He had a rather long conversation with your father earlier and I think he intends to court you."
"Court me!" I gasped. "What about Rose or Alice?"
"He doesn't want them, he wants you. Now don't embarrass us, and do whatever you can to make him happy. This is for all of us. This is for the honor of your family. Don't mess this up," she ordered.
Tears stung my eyes at the thought of being courted by him. I didn't want him. My mom brushed my tears away and again reminded me how important this was for all of us. If I messed up in any way I could destroy our entire family. I had no choice in the matter. If the prince wanted to court me then I had to accept.
I remained silent through all of supper and barely ate anything at all. My stomach hurt at the thought of what I was being subjected to. After everyone finished eating, we sat in the sitting room listening to my sister Rose play the piano.
"May I take a walk with you around the room?" Prince Jacob asked of me. I nodded my head and took his hand while he helped me to my feet. "I wondered if you would like to accompany me on a picnic this coming Friday."
"You want me to accompany you on a picnic?" I asked avoiding my answer.
"Yes, well I thought a picnic might be more to your liking instead of something formal."
"Why do you want me to accompany you?" I questioned knowing I shouldn't.
"Because I would like to court you," he explained with a chuckle. "There's no reason to be nervous or shy around me. If these next few weeks go well you will be my princess and the future queen."
"I guess I would like that very much then," I accepted even though I didn't want to. On the inside I was screaming no, but I didn't have a choice here. If I refused his request my family would be ruined, and I would ridiculed for years to come.
"Very well then," he said with a grin across his face. "I will have a carriage come by to pick you and your sisters up on Friday. Hopefully by then this rain will have let up and we can enjoy a peaceful day out in the fields.
I curtsied in front of him before sitting back down and listening to my sister play. I did everything in my power to hold in the tears threatening to fall. In an instant I felt like my life was over. My life was no longer mine. I belonged to the prince now.
After Prince Jacob and his few men he brought along left for the evening, my mother brought me upstairs to have a serious talk. She explained again how I had to do this for my family. I had to do whatever the prince requested. I had to make him happy. Then she went into the talk of what a husband and a wife do in their wedding bed. She wanted me to be prepared since she suspected this would be a short courtship. After everything that happened and everything I was told I felt numb. Even if I wanted to cry I couldn't. I felt as if I died that night.
I didn't sleep at all during the night. I thought about everything– Edward, Prince Jacob, my family, the courtship, the kiss, and the meadow. Everything ran through my mind. I knew I couldn't refuse the prince. I had an obligation to my family to accept his courtship whether I wanted to or not. However, in another thought, if the prince stayed to court me, then Edward would stay too. I could continue to meet Edward secretly, while the prince courted me. If God was on my side, then he would make the prince change his mind and not want to marry me. I had to be strong.
The following day my mother and my sisters fussed over me almost all day. My mother insisted I needed a new dress for the picnic I was subjected to with the prince so she sent my father off to sell Alistar. She argued that in a few months time, or even sooner, we would have a whole fleet of horses and we could make do without one for now. I let one single tear fall down my cheek as I watched my father take Alistar into town. My entire world was collapsing around me and no one cared what I wanted or what I thought. Everyone made the decisions for me. I didn't have a choice.
It was late into the afternoon until I was able to slip away into the woods. My mother and sisters were once again busy in the sewing room making up gowns for us so they never noticed I left.
I ran to the meadow knowing it was the only place I could truly be free. I cried all the way there and once I was safely in my sanctuary I broke down into loud sobs.
"Bella," Edward's voice soothed while rubbing my back. I collapsed into his arms and cried. He soothed me with his soft voice and words of encouragement even though he had no idea why I was crying. When my sobs finally did subside I sat up and brushed my tears away.
"Would you like to tell me why you're so upset?" he asked.
I knew I couldn't tell him the whole truth, so I only told him half. "My father took our horse to sell. We need the money and he's about the only thing we own worth anything."
"You got this worked up over a horse?" he questioned with skepticism in his voice. I didn't answer. I dipped my head and let a few tears fall at the fact that I was lying to him. I should have told him the truth and broke things off with him, but I couldn't. "Well then, if this beloved horse means so much to you I think I need to go retrieve him for you."
"What?" I asked standing to my feet to look at him.
"I won't have you crying. If you want a horse then a horse you shall have." He placed a simple kiss on my forehead and walked towards the opening by the rocks. He was gone for a couple hours and I spent most of that time looking up at the clouds picturing myself as a princess or even a queen. I didn't want that life. I didn't want to be restrained to duty. I wanted to be free to make my own decisions without the threat of retribution.
Edward returned a little while later leading Alistar behind him. I ran to my beloved horse thanking Edward profusely for getting him back. However, I could never take him back home. There would be too many questions asked, and I wouldn't have an answer.
"He can stay here in the meadow," Edward suggested. "Or I thought maybe I could offer him to your family as a gift in exchange to court their daughter."
The lump in my throat felt like it was suffocating me. "We can't do that. He can stay here."
Edward's face looked like he just had the wind knocked out of him. He looked hurt and confused by my refusal to be courted by him.
"Did I do something wrong?" he wondered. "Is it because of the kiss? I apologize for being out of line. I know it was wrong to kiss you, but I couldn't help myself. It won't happen again if you'd rather wait for proper terms to be established."
"No, it has nothing to do with the kiss."
"Then what is it?"
"I can't really explain. Just… kiss me," I ordered.
I wrapped my arms around his neck and stood up on my tip-toes. "Kiss me." I didn't wait for him to make the first move. Instead I pressed my lips to his and moved them in sync with his. We kissed for a long time only breaking momentarily for air. We sat in the grass and kissed until it almost dark. He finally suggested we head home even though I didn't want to. If I had my way we would both stay here in my meadow and never face the outside world again.
Before we parted ways where we normally did, he gave me one last kiss. The rest of the way home, I could still taste his lips on mine and it brought a welcome comfort. At supper my entire family discussed their potential class in the kingdom. Not one of them ever asked if it was what I wanted. They barely noticed me the entire night. I was left to my own thoughts of dread and fear of what was to come.
The following days in the meadow I pushed aside what I was feeling and just enjoyed my time with Edward. I tried to have fun with him and pretend like nothing was wrong. He made me a crown of flowers and then drew a picture of me with it on my head while beams of sunlight hit my face. Even with just a pencil and some paper he was able to capture the sunlight perfectly. I enjoyed my time with him and spent hours laughing and feeling free. With him I was happy but as soon as I left that meadow my happiness was replaced with sadness.
On the day of the picnic my mother and father looked so proud and excited for me. They continually told me to do whatever the prince requested and not to make a fool of myself. I was to remember all of my etiquette training and remember that even though it was a picnic I was to act properly.
My sisters attended as chaperones which delighted them to no end. Apparently I'd been so wrapped up in my own troubles I hadn't heard of their impending courtships with two of the prince's guards. First the guards needed to attend to the prince then they were free to engage in a courtship of their own.
As we got out of the carriage, Prince Jacob took my hand and kissed it gently while he led me out to a small blanket set up in the grass. We sat down to a feast of food. I'd never seen so much food for one meal in all my life.
My sisters sat at a nearby blanket with a few of the prince's guards, which kind of surprised me. "I hope you don't mind but I thought this would be a nice way for us to get to know each other without the distraction of other guests."
"Please, help yourself," he offered gesturing to the food. I carefully placed some food on my plate and ate silently while I avoided making eye contact with him. I kept thinking of Edward out in the meadow. I purposely didn't tell him I wasn't coming today. I wanted him gone. I knew he was close with the prince and I didn't want him to see me with him. I would come up with some excuse for Edward later on.
"Is the food to your liking?" he asked bringing me back to the here and now.
"Yes, it's all very delicious," I answered.
"It appears the weather held out for our picnic today," he commented looking up at the sky.
"Yes it has."
We were silent again while nibbling on our food.
"You'll have to forgive me. I'm not familiar with proper courting discussions. I've never done this before."
"Why don't you start by telling me why you chose me?" I requested. "Out of all the maidens you've met why did you chose me?"
"When I was introduced to you, I never got the sense that you were after the crown. Every maiden I've been introduced to practically throws herself at me, willing to do anything I ask without the promise of anything in return just because I'm the prince. You never did. You acted as if you didn't care what I thought of you and how you came across. I actually feared you might refuse my request for a dance," he chuckled. "I'm thankful you didn't."
"If you saw me as uninterested then why are you pursuing me now?" I questioned. I knew I shouldn't but I couldn't help it.
"I never said I didn't see you as uninterested, I meant I saw you as someone who looked at me as just another face in the crowd. You didn't look at me as royalty or a prize to be won. I found that admirable."
I ducked my head and sighed heavily.
"Are you trying to tell me you aren't interested?" he questioned with a serious look on his face.
"No, Your Highness."
"Jacob," he corrected.
"Jacob. I'm not trying to say I'm not interested. I just don't quite understand why you chose me over every other maiden you've been introduced to. There must have been hundreds who I'm sure are far more beautiful than I am."
"I wasn't looking for outer beauty. I was looking for someone with inner beauty and someone genuine, which led me to you."
I smiled bashfully at his compliment and continued to eat. For the rest of the day he talked of his father and his life back home. I barely said two words to him other than agreeing with him or acknowledging whatever it was he said. He talked about hosting another ball to make it known he had chosen someone to court. He also asked if I would be free for an entire day so he could show me around the grounds of the home he was staying at. I knew I couldn't refuse any of his requests so I accepted every one graciously and did my best to pretend as if I had fun with him.
At the end of the day he thanked me for the wonderful company and kissed the back of my hand before helping me into the wagon. My sisters were exuberant during the entire drive back. They were both smitten with a member of the guard and had every intention of marrying them once I was married off to the prince. Once again my life was being decided for me and their happiness depended on my destruction.
I decided the following day I needed to be honest with Edward. I needed to tell him of the prince's courtship and how I didn't have a choice. I was only doing it for my family.
I walked out to the meadow rather slowly and slipped through the crevice in the rock. I noticed Edward was standing in the meadow already setting up his easel. I wondered what he planned to paint now. As soon as he saw me he grinned and ran towards me.
"Bella," he greeted excitedly. I couldn't help but smile at his excitement. I rushed towards him a little quicker and as soon as we met he wrapped me in his arms and kissed me tenderly against the lips. His arms tightened and he picked me up in his arms. I grabbed on to his neck tightly and squealed as he swung me around. After chuckling at my apparent fear of being swung around in the air he placed me back on my feet and kissed me a few more times.
"What is with this new joy in you?" I asked.
"I missed you," he replied sincerely. "Where were you yesterday?"
"I couldn't come. I had to go into town with my sisters," I answered knowing full well I wasn't being entirely honest. I had to find some way to tell him.
"I figured as much," he said. "I was almost tempted to go to your house and find you."
"I wouldn't have been there."
"I have some news. The prince informed me today he's chosen a girl to court. We'll be staying for a few more weeks, which means I can stay with you," he explained. I forced a smile at his answer. I knew I couldn't tell him now. I would only break his heart if I did. His gentle hands cradled my face and he leaned in to steal yet another kiss. "I want to paint you." His forehead rested against mine as he confessed his request.
"You want to paint me?"
"Yes," he replied with a smile. "I want to paint a portrait of you with your beloved horse. Would you be willing to let me?"
"I'd be delighted to have you paint a portrait of me," I answered.
He grabbed my hand and led me over to Alistar by the water. I rubbed his nose and greeted him with soft words. He whinnied at me and rocked his head back and forth. I glanced back at Edward who was already at his easel and measuring out the frame with his hands. I smiled at his excitement of painting a portrait of me.
"Stay just like that?" he ordered. "Smile and look directly at me. I want your beauty and your happiness to be the most important focal point in this painting."
I laughed at his compliment but did as he asked. I gently brushed my hand over Alistar to keep him calm and still so as not to mess up the portrait Edward was focusing on so diligently.
Every time he looked up at me he would smile crookedly, only causing me to smile even bigger. He worked on the painting all day long, only taking a break a couple times to eat and rest his hand.
"I think this is my best painting yet?" he admired. "I'll have to come back tomorrow to work on it a little more."
"You know you're always welcome," I reminded.
"Bella, I want to ask you something," he began nervously as he continued to pack up his paints and canvas'. "Since I'm going to be staying a little longer than originally planned, I want to ask your father for permission to court you. The other day when I mentioned it you seemed against it. I pray it was only because of being so upset and not because of my request. Would you allow me to speak with your father?"
I sighed trying to come up with a good enough excuse. "I don't think it would be a good idea for right now. My father is under a lot of stress and might be jaded in his answer."
"It's not just because I'm a poor artist who would have nothing to offer you?" he questioned.
"No," I assured. "It has nothing to do with money. I have never looked at you as a poor artist. You are so much more than that."
"Then what is it?" he questioned further.
"Just let me ease them into this new development. If they find out we've been meeting secretly then they'll think wrongly of you."
"What an excellent idea," he agreed. "The prince was just talking about hosting another ball to come out with his new potential bride, and while we're there I can talk to your father."
The fear of what might happen at this ball knowing I was who the prince would be coming out with almost knocked the wind out of me. I wanted to cry but I couldn't. Instead, I held it together and nodded my head in acceptance. I would have to figure out what to do before then.
The following days with Edward were pure bliss. I loved him. I loved his kisses against my skin. I loved the way he made me laugh. I loved the way he always made me feel beautiful. I loved how he could so easily make me forget the outside world and just be happy with him. However, the minute we stepped out of the meadow I was forced back into the real world and my impending doom.
A few days later, a letter arrived from the prince asking me to join him for brunch the following day. My heart sank as my sisters and my parents danced around in excitement. How could I continue to do this? It was only a matter of time before both Edward and Jacob found out the truth.
The carriage arrived the following morning bright and early to accompany me and my sisters to the home of the prince. My sisters kept insisting I needed to smile and be happy, but how could I be happy when I was dying inside?
Prince Jacob greeted us at the front entrance of his home and took my hand to help me out of the carriage. With my sisters following at a safe distance behind, we walked closely together through the grounds of his temporary home and talked about the weather and the flowers blooming all around the perfectly manicured grounds of his home. He gave me a small tour of the inside of the home and his collection of paintings. Many of them I recognized as Edward's work.
"These are beautiful," I complimented of the paintings.
"I have many more at home. This is just a small collection I take with me. Some have even been painted along our travels," he explained.
"How long have you been traveling?" I asked.
"Two years," he answered with a chuckle. "It seems like such a long time to find the right maiden, but I think my searching is finally over."
"Isabella, I have a gift for you," he announced, stopping me from my stroll through the halls of his home. "Come with me, please." He took my hand in his and led me down a hall and into a large room. Right there displayed so eloquently was the painting of my meadow. I swallowed against the lump in my throat and fought to find air in my lungs. "My brother is a wonderful artist. He surprised me with this painting yesterday and I would like to offer it to you as an engagement gift.
"An engagement gift?" I repeated unwilling to give him an answer.
"Yes, but there's more. I've asked him to join us this morning for a very special surprise."
"No, please," I cried, barely coherent. Jacob ignored me, if he even heard me at all. He snapped his fingers and one of his servants opened the door to let Edward in. I turned my head away unwilling to look at him.
"Edward, just in time," Jacob greeted. "I want you to meet my Isabella." Jacob placed his hand on my back and guided me closer to Edward. The shock on Edward's face mirrored mine. He looked as if he wasn't breathing and I was sure I wasn't.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Isabella," he greeted forcefully.
"Edward has agreed to paint you in the painting. This place looks so peaceful and magical. It needs a queen to represent it," Jacob expressed. I felt like I was going to faint from all the emotions and thoughts going on inside my head. "I thought at the ball coming up we could display it for all to see in a way to announce our engagement." I forced a smile and a small nod of my head.
"Edward, where would you like her to stand?" Jacob asked.
Shaking his head and taking a deep breath, he walked forward and instructed me to sit down on the floor in any position I liked. I looked up into his eyes and he refused to meet my gaze. His eyes were downcast as he set up his easel and paints in front of him.
"Turn towards the wall, please," he requested still unwilling to look me in the eyes. I did as he asked and turned my head placing my chin on the palm of my hand.
"She's beautiful isn't she, Edward? Such a work of art," Jacob complimented.
"Yes, she is."
Edward didn't speak for the rest of the day, nor did I. He diligently worked on his painting while everyone around us gushed over his work and how perfect of a model I was for him. I wanted to scream at all of them and rush to Edward's arms in hopes he would still want me after what I'd done to him.
"We should take a break to get something to eat," Jacob suggested. "We'll come back after we're done enjoying the fine meal my cooks have made for all of us." I stood from my place on the floor and glanced back at Edward. He never moved to follow them out. Instead he continued on the painting without looking up.
"Are you coming?" I asked as covertly as I could.
"No," he replied without making eye contact.
"Don't worry," Jacob said placing his hand on the small of my back. "When Edward gets into his paintings he doesn't leave until he's done. He'll join us later."
"Maybe I should stay too in case he needs me as a model," I suggested.
"Nonsense, Edward will be fine for a short time," Jacob refused guiding me out of the room.
I took my place at the table but barely ate anything. I just wished there was one person in this room who could see how much I was dying inside. No one seemed to care. They all just continued to laugh and talk of random goings on. After we all ate we joined Edward back in the room, and I sat back down on the floor posing like I was before.
"How long will it take for you to finish this painting up?" Jacob asked of Edward.
"I can be done in a couple days."
"Excellent!" he expressed. "Just in time for the ball."
At the end of the day everyone began to get restless and started making their way out of the room leaving Edward and I alone.
"Why did you want me to look away?" I asked.
"Because I can't look at you," Edward replied.
A small sob left my throat and my head dropped in shame.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he whispered.
"I couldn't. I didn't want to lose you," I whispered back.
He sighed and began to gather up his painting supplies.
"Edward, please understand," I began.
"I understand perfectly."
"No you don't. Please, let me explain. Meet me at the meadow tomorrow."
He shook his head and closed his eyes in frustration.
"Please," I begged.
"Done already?" Jacob asked walking back into the room.
"For now, yes," Edward answered.
"Will you need Isabella any more after today?" Jacob asked.
"No, I have everything I need from her. I can work on the rest from memory," he responded walking out of the room.
"Well, I guess we should get you home now," Jacob suggested. "I'm sure your parents are wondering what happened to their three beautiful daughters."
I bashfully smiled and ducked my head away from him. He took my hand in his and led me out to meet with my sisters by the awaiting carriage.
"I have asked your father to join me tomorrow for some hunting where I will be asking his permission to ask for your hand in marriage at the ball," Jacob informed.
"Okay," I replied simply before stepping into the carriage and taking my seat next to my sisters.
We drove off towards home, and I sat silently for the trip while my sisters discussed the wedding. They both wanted to be as involved as they possibly could with the planning.
After pulling into the yard of our home, I stepped off the wagon and walked out into the fields.
"Isabella," Rosalie called. "Where are you going?"
"What is she doing?" Alice questioned loudly enough for me to hear.
I walked out into the middle of the field, looked towards the dark sky and screamed at the top of my lungs. I screamed and screamed until I had no breath left. My sisters were both at my side questioning what was wrong with me. I couldn't answer them. I threw myself onto the ground and cried hysterically.
"What's wrong with her?" my mother questioned.
"She's going into hysterics," my father pointed out. "We should get her into the house." My father picked me up and carried me into the house where he placed me in bed and covered me up. My mother got a cloth and washed my face. After a while I calmed down and just stayed numb while I stared up at the ceiling unmoving.
"Isabella, what happened?" my mother questioned. I didn't answer. "Did Prince Jacob do or say something to upset you?"
"She doesn't want to marry Prince Jacob," my sister Alice announced from the doorway. "She doesn't love him."
"What's not to love?" my mother questioned. "Love will come in time. No one is ever truly in love when they get married."
"Maybe Isabella wants to be," Alice suggested.
"What a selfish thing to do," Rose sneered. "Think about us for a change instead of yourself. Jacob is a good man who will provide you with everything you ever dream of. Alice and I will have prospects lining up at our door. Mother and Father will no longer have to work so hard for what we have. You're willing to destroy the happiness of your entire family just because you aren't in love with the prince? Do have any idea how many maidens would die to take your place and you sit here acting like a spoiled brat because you don't love him?"
I single tear fell down my cheek from her scolding. I turned my head away and closed my eyes attempting to sleep and get all of them to leave me alone.
"You will marry him, Isabella. I don't care if you don't love him right now. You will in time. To refuse the prince will destroy your entire family. I will not have that," my mother warned.
Since I didn't sleep at all during the night, I left before the sun was even up and went to my meadow. I planned to hide out there all day, even all night if I had to, so I didn't have to listen to my family anymore. I even brought a blanket out with me so I could stay. I didn't want to go back.
I prayed Edward would show up. However, when I arrived, sitting next to the tree was a small bag. I picked it up and opened it. I began to cry before I even took out the items inside. What I pulled out of the bag were the pictures Edward had drawn of me in the meadow and the unfinished painting of me and Alistar. In that moment I knew my life was over for good. I hid the drawings away behind the waterfall and walked home with Alistar closely behind. I had thoughts of never returning again. I couldn't be in the meadow and not think of Edward. In a few days I wouldn't be able to return anyway. I'd be forced to leave with the prince for his palace where we were to be married.
My parents were surprised to see Alistar, but I told them he was a gift. They both assumed it was from Jacob and I never attempted to correct them.
A couple days later, was the ball. I was wisped away early in the morning by the prince's guards to have his servants prepare me for my entrance as the future princess. I stayed numb the entire day while servants dressed me, did my hair, and fixed me up to the prince's liking. As the sounds of the music and loud guests filled the house Jacob came to get me.
"Are you ready?" he asked. I nodded my head and took his arm as he led me towards the stairs. Edward and his closest guards, Jasper and Emmett, stood at the top waiting to follow us down. I glanced in Edward's direction and his eyes remained on the floor.
The trumpets sounded and Jacob led me down the stairs in a slow and steady pace. The crowd gasped when they saw me walk into the room on the arm of the prince. We made our way to the far side of the room and had a look at Edward's painting.
"It's exquisite, Edward," Jacob complimented. "What do you think Isabella?"
"It's lovely. You do amazing work, Edward," I replied. Edward turned away still unwilling to make eye contact with me.
"Why does she look so sad in the portrait?" my father asked admiring the painting with us.
"I only painted what I saw," Edward answered before walking away.
I watched him throughout the night and he appeared to be just as heartbroken and dead inside as I did. While Jacob was busy talking with my father and a few other men, I snuck away and stood next to Edward to watch the dancers.
"Edward, please meet me at the meadow," I begged. "I have to talk to you."
"There's nothing more to say," he refused.
"I have tons to say. Please, meet me there in an hour." I walked away and went back over to stand next to Jacob. I feigned exhaustion and quickly began to tell everyone I wasn't feeling well and needed to rest. Jacob escorted me up the stairs and into a room where I could lay down for a while. I knew it wouldn't be hard to sneak off if they all thought I was upstairs sleeping.
As soon as the door was closed I slipped on a thick shawl before sneaking out of the house. I found Alistar with our family wagon and undid his harness to take him. I took off through the woods until I reached my meadow.
I waited for Edward to arrive, and just as I was about to lose hope he showed up. I rushed towards him and threw myself in his arms. He quickly released my grasp and pushed me aside.
"I know I should have told you. I just couldn't after everything we'd been through. I couldn't lose you."
"You don't need to explain. I understand perfectly. He's the prince, I'm an artist. Any maiden would be a fool not to marry him over me."
"It's not like that. I never wanted to be courted by him. But I don't have a choice in the matter. I can't refuse the prince. My family would be ruined. I would never have any prospects, nor would my sisters. I would become a burden to my family."
"You already had a prospect. You had me. I wanted you. But you lied to me."
"I'm sorry, but you lied to me too. You have to understand my position. I didn't want this to happen. I wanted you too, but I didn't have a choice."
"You always have a choice," he reminded.
"No I don't. Here I do, when I'm with you, but out there I don't. I'm a young girl who comes from a poor family. If the prince chooses me, I have to accept. I have an obligation and duty to my family."
He shook his head and walked towards the waterfall slipping behind it into the cavern. "Edward, please forgive me," I begged following behind him.
"If things were different and you did have the choice what would it be?" he asked with his back to me.
I walked closer to him and placed my hands on his arms, resting my chin against his shoulder. "I'd choose you," I whispered. "I love you."
Slowly he turned and for the first time in days he looked me in the eye. His hand brushed against my cheek and tangled into my hair. He swallowed hard before leaning forward to kiss me. I wouldn't let him pull away from me once our kiss began. I wrapped my arms around his neck and held him close. Our kiss was all consuming and full of passion and desires. I was planning to give myself to him willingly if he would have me. I wasn't sure what to expect but I just wanted him to know how much I loved him regardless of where my life was going.
My fingers traced down his chest and began to unbutton his shirt. Our kiss broke while he watched my fingers work against his buttons. I pulled it from his pants and lifted it over his head. I pulled the shawl off of my shoulders and laid it out on the ground below us. His fingers traced along my exposed arms taking my hands in his.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm giving myself to you. I want you."
I undid the clasp of my dress as he gently pushed the straps off my shoulders and dropped my dress to the ground. His lips brushed against my shoulder, causing me to gasp from the sensation it gave me. I was shaking like a leaf, but I did everything to hide it. I didn't want him to think I was afraid of him. His arms encircled me in a tight embrace as he kissed along my shoulders and neck. I let my head fall backwards allowing him better access to my body. My breath was erratic, as was his. He dragged his lips across my chest and back up to meet my lips in a fiery kiss. Slowly he lowered me to the ground and laid me across my shawl. His hands moved across my body in gentle caresses, taking in every bit of my naked body below him. His hand moved to the inside of my legs and down to the back of my knee, pulling one leg up at a time and pushing them apart. I closed my eyes tightly, fearing what would come next.
His fingers brushed against my cheekbone causing me to open my eyes again. "Don't hide from me," he asked in a tender voice. "I won't hurt you. I could never hurt you."
He hovered over me kissing my lips and down my neck. His kisses and touches were so sweet and tender. The fear I once had was replaced with complete adoration and love for him. I believed him. As much as my mother warned me my first time would hurt I didn't think he would hurt me. I felt his manly parts rub against me and cause me to jump slightly from the sensation. "Relax," he whispered before pushing into me just a small amount. I gasped and almost screamed from the pain. He quickly pulled out of me and hushed my cries with his lips against mine.
After a long time of kissing and enjoying just being in his arms he tried again, pushing a little farther this time. I tightened around him and hissed through my clenched teeth. Again, he pulled out and continued to kiss me all over my body. I moaned in pleasure from just feeling his lips against my body.
"Bella," he whispered against my skin. "I love you." I sat up, causing him to sit up with me and took his face in my hands to look into his eyes.
"I love you." I kissed him fully and let myself go to him. He grabbed my thighs and carefully helped me to sit in his lap. We wrapped ourselves around each other and once again he pushed into me. I gasped a little, but let him in freely. It hurt for a moment but Edward was so gentle and patient with me. We started to make love slowly and tenderly. I still had discomfort, but I wasn't in pain. I was happy to give myself to him. I loved him and no matter what my duty to the prince or my family was they couldn't take the love I have for Edward away. I would give myself to Edward in every humanly way possible before my life was no longer mine.
We panted and our soft moans washed over each other's faces as we rocked and kissed our way into a sensation I'd never experienced before. I couldn't tell if it was pain or pleasure, but I didn't care. As long as I was with Edward it didn't matter what the emotion I felt was. All I needed was him to get me through it.
With heavy sighs and loud grunting noises Edward collapsed around me, holding me tightly against his body. He laid me back down on the shawl and curled his body around mine as he continued to kiss me tenderly.
"Are you alright?" he asked. I nodded my head and turned my head slightly to look at him. I gave him a smile before leaning up to kiss him. "Are you cold? I'll make a fire." He jumped to his feet and pulled his pants on before going on the other side of the waterfall. After a few minutes he brought back some scraps of dry wood and quickly got a small fire going next to us.
"Thank you," I said.
He came back and lay down next to me, holding me close to his body.
"The other day before you worked on the painting, Jacob said something about you being his brother. Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"Because I didn't want you to know what I really was," he answered.
"What do you mean?" I asked resting my head against his chest as I looked up at him.
"I'm a bastard, Bella. King Carlisle is my father, but I don't have the same mother as Jacob," he explained. "My mother was the woman Carlisle loved. However, he was subject to an arranged marriage and forced to marry Jacob's mother. I was born three months before Jacob. When Jacob's mother died shortly after giving birth to him, my mother became his wet nurse. My mother raised both of us as her own and our father treated us equally. But it didn't change the fact that I'm a bastard son of the King while Jacob is the rightful heir to the throne. Jacob and I have grown up as brothers and we have always been close, but the last few years, when the truth of our birthright came out, Jacob changed. He resents me and thinks somehow I took his mother way from him. He thought I didn't have a right to be as close to our father as I was, considering my birth. This is why I travel with him. He feared if I stayed behind while he traveled I would try to take our father away as I did his mother. I would never do anything to hurt my brother, and this is why I do so much to support him and give him gifts. This is why I had to let you go. I can't take you away from him."
"But you had me first," I reminded.
"I know, and I can't give you up. As much as I want to, I can't," he admitted sighing in regret. "What do we do now, Bella?" he questioned. "You know Jacob will never have you knowing you've laid with another man. By lying with me you've made your choice."
"Jacob will never know. I've thought about this for a while now and I think I know how to get around this." I gently drew circles across his chest trying to figure out how to tell him what my plan was. "I love you, Edward, but I have to marry Prince Jacob. If I marry him, and my family has everything they need, I can still meet with you secretly and we can be together," I explained. "This way no one gets hurt."
He jerked to a sitting position, staring at me with his eyebrow furrowed and his mouth agape. "I'm not going to share you with my brother. I'm not going to sneak around and meet in secret places to have a few minutes to be with you while you remain married to my brother. I'm sorry, but I can't do that. I'd be no better than my father when he was sneaking around with my mother. I can't do that to my brother or to you. If you chose him, then so be it. I won't tell a soul about what happened tonight. I'll take it to the grave. Just be honest with me and with Jacob."
I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him down next to me. I brushed my fingers across his forehead relaxing the wrinkles he had. "Either way someone is going to get hurt."
"It's a consequence of making the ultimate choice," he pointed out.
A tear streamed down my face as I stared at the fire. "Just lay with me tonight. Let tonight be about us and our joy, and tomorrow I'll face the consequences."
We kissed one last time before we curled up around each other to sleep. I didn't sleep at all. I stared at the fire until it was out thinking about my choices. I had to make a choice which ultimately was going to hurt someone. I had this huge burden put on me and I didn't know how to get out of it.
Early the next morning, I slipped out of Edward's arms and gathered up my clothes. I dressed quickly and grabbed the drawings I had hid in the cave when Edward left them. I slipped through the crevice taking Alistar with me and headed through the trees towards the home of the prince. I had made my choice. Now I just needed to figure out how to live with it.
I walked through the doors of the prince's home and walked towards the dining room where I expected he might be.
"Isabella, you're up bright and early this morning. Are you feeling any better today? I sent your family home after the party and told them I would get you back home once you were feeling better," he explained.
"I wasn't here last night," I confessed.
"What do you mean? I escorted you up to one of the rooms myself."
"I snuck out after you left. I needed to do something rather important," I answered.
"Oh?" he said in a questioning way.
"I want to show you something but I need you to make me a promise first."
"I'm afraid I can't make a promise if I don't know what the promise is for," he replied.
I took a deep breath and walked closer to him.
"Isabella, are you alright? You don't look well. Can I get you some tea?"
I shook my head and pulled out the drawings from the sack I carried.
"When you look at these what do you see?" I asked placing all the drawings Edward had done of me out in front of him. He studied them for a moment with a quizzical look.
"Where did you get these?" he asked.
"Please answer my question first," I requested.
He looked back down at the drawings and studied them for a moment longer. "It's the same meadow and waterfall from the painting Edward did and of you."
"What do you see in my face?" I further questioned pointing out the focal point I wanted him to see.
"I'm not sure what you're asking," he admitted. I walked through the dining room and into the room the painting was. I picked up the painting and carried it into the dining room.
"What do you see differently in this painting compared to those drawings?"
"Isabella is this some sort of game?" he questioned with a chuckle.
"No, it's not. What you're not seeing is the expression on my face. In those drawings I'm smiling. I'm happy. But in the painting I'm sad. Do you understand?"
"Who drew these?" he asked with anger rising in his voice. Tears welled in my eyes and I bit my lip nervously.
"Edward did," I confessed.
He stared at me with wide eyes before standing with a shove of his chair. He paced in front of me as the truth slowly revealed inside his head.
"How long?" he asked.
"From the first day you arrived," I answered. "We met out in the woods and we formed a bond, a friendship. The day you came to my house asking to court me, was the day it turned into more."
"Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't he tell me?"
"He didn't know. Please, Your Highness, don't blame him for any of this. He didn't know."
"Then why did you engage in a courtship with me if you were already involved with him?"
I sighed unable to speak from the fear I was feeling. I could sense his anger rising with every word he spoke.
"Why!" he shouted making me jump.
"How do you expect someone of my stature to refuse the prince and not be ridiculed and destroyed? My family would suffer the same fate as me if I refused you. Do you not understand that?" I asked.
"I can't even look at you," he shouted. "How could you do this to me?"
"I'm so sorry, Jacob."
"What was your point for coming here?"
"I'm asking you for forgiveness for my family. Don't let them suffer because of my wrongdoing. They had nothing to do with this and don't deserve to be ridiculed because of me. I will accept my consequences, but please don't make my family suffer.
He scoffed at my request and shook his head. "What kind of consequences are you expecting?"
"I don't know. All I know is I can't marry you when I'm in love with another man. I know I hurt you, but I'm trying to make you understand, when I'm with Edward I'm happy…"
"And when you're with me you're not," he finished.
"I'm so sorry."
"Get out," he ordered.
"Jacob," I said.
"I said get out!" he shouted. I turned on my heel and walked out of the front door only to come face to face with a frantic Edward.
"Bella," he said breathlessly. "What did you do?"
"I told him the truth. I made my choice and I chose you. I begged him to spare my family, but I don't know if he will. He just told me to leave. He's very upset."
"Come with me," he ordered taking my hand. We walked back through the house and found Jacob pacing the room.
"What are you doing here?" he asked with a sneer. "I can't believe you'd show your face here after what you've done."
"Jacob, we never meant to hurt you," Edward said sincerely. "I can't help falling in love with the same girl you did. She's everything I've ever wanted."
"And she was everything I wanted," he shouted. "Growing up we used to talk about the type of girl we wanted to marry and she is exactly who I wanted. You stole her from me."
"No, I didn't. You don't truly know her, Jacob. You've never taken the time to get to know her or find out what she wanted. You just made her choices for her and made her feel like she had an obligation to do as you say in fear of what will happen to her and her family. Is that really who you want to marry? Someone who's terrified into marrying you? If you would have taken the time to get to know her, you would know living in a palace with servants and restrictions is not what Bella wants. She's a free-spirit who enjoys riding horses and running through the fields and taking care of animals. You can't coop her up in a palace and expect her to be happy. If you truly ever had feelings for her you'd want her to be happy, regardless if that was with you or someone else."
Jacob glared at Edward from across the room in a threatening manner. "From this day forward you are no longer my brother," Jacob said angrily. I gasped and began to cry.
"If it's what you wish, I'll accept your decision," Edward replied with a strong stance. I grabbed Edward's hand almost begging him to let me go. If I married Jacob and it meant he could keep his family, I'd do it. I couldn't let him give up everything he's ever known.
"You're giving up everything for a poor, unfortunate girl like her? You're willing to live like a pauper from this day forward?" Jacob asked.
Edward turned towards me and smiled. "If it means I get to spend the rest of my life with her then yes, I am. We'll make it work. I don't mind living like a pauper."
"You're a fool," Jacob mocked.
"On the contrary, Brother, I'm a man in love. And I think for once you need to stop and ask yourself that same question. Would you be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the love of a woman? When you can answer yes, truthfully, that's when you know she's the one."
"And what about you, Isabella?" he questioned. "Are you willing to choose Edward knowing he has nothing to offer you and will live as a poor artist? Who will forever be known as the bastard son of my father?"
"What he has to offer me is far more than I could ever ask for. He loves me for me and has always given me the choice to do as I please without the fear of retribution.
"Gather up your belongings and get out," Jacob ordered. Edward bowed and walked out of the room.
"I'm sorry, Jacob. I pray someday you'll be able to forgive us," I pleaded.
"Excusing your transgressions and not destroying your entire family is forgiveness enough," he scorned. "Now get out and take all these drawings and paintings with you." He shoved them off the table scattering them across the floor. "I don't want to look at them."
I walked over to the drawings and picked them up, folding them and sticking them into the sack I carried.
I walked up the stairs searching for Edward and found him in one of the room packing up his stuff. "I can't let you do this."
He walked across the room and his hand cupped my cheek. "It's already been done. You of all people know I don't care about being a member of the royal family. I'm sorry I can't offer you a better lifestyle, but I'll work hard to give you the best life I possibly can if you'll have me.
"I don't need anything. We can live at the meadow and make the cave behind the waterfall our home. You of all people should know I don't need a large home or anything glamorous to be happy. All I need is you."
He gave me a quick kiss before going back to packing up his stuff. When he was done we walked out of the house, packed as much of Edward's belongings on the back of Alistar and walked away, never looking back. I felt sorry for Jacob, and I couldn't help feel responsible for his pain. But I loved Edward and I realized during the night there was no way I could live the rest of my life with someone I didn't love.
"Will Jacob be okay?" I asked.
"I imagine he'll go on to the next village and continue searching until he finds what he's looking for," Edward answered.
"You were right about what you said in there. He never took the time to get to know who I truly am. He only saw what he wanted to see. You saw me for me."
"And I fell in love with who I saw," he added.
I rested against his shoulder as we walked down the road.
"Where to now?" he asked.
"I think you need to meet my family," I answered.
He smiled and nodded his head. "I think I'd like that. I would like to ask your father for his daughter's hand in marriage. I hope he can accept a poor artist as a son-in-law over a prince."
"If he doesn't then we'll leave."
"You'd leave your family?" he questioned.
"You left yours. If I have to make the ultimate sacrifice for you I gladly will."
He nodded his head prideful. "I love you, Bella."
"I love you."
He took my hand in his and gently brought it to his lips, kissing it and holding it tightly against his chest as we walked the familiar path to my parent's home. It was no longer my home. My home was wherever Edward was.
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