Many thanks to VampiresHaveLaws for her rec on "Cracks in the Pavement".
Many thanks to Kitsu Shel for the kind mention in her interview with the Southern Fan Fiction Review.
Thanks for all the well wishes, I'm feeling much better. :)
This fic is rated M for Manorward. And sexual content.
Chapter 16 – The Confession
"I regret that our meeting was cut short unexpectedly..."
Why did you leave?
"...I appreciated our lively discussion on books and literature..."
I miss you.
"A few issues were brought up but not resolved."
We're not done yet.
"I feel we should discuss the matter properly..."
Talk to me.
"...imperative that we arrange another visit at the earliest opportunity."
Come back to me, come back.
Shelly Cope looked down at the man-boy seated at her kitchen table, his broad shoulders hunched intently over her famous berry crumble. The trick to good crumble texture, she thought rather smugly to herself, was to rub the butter in by hand the old-fashioned way and give the topping mixture a quick blast in the freezer before baking. She heard that the Cullens' cook, competent as she was, was not fond of making traditional English puddings. The rumour seemed confirmed by the speed at which the boy was inhaling her crumble, which had been liberally doused with her home-made custard. In the Swan household where Shelly Cope reigned supreme as housekeeper and cook, there was a constant flow of puddings and baked goods, much to the consternation of the figure-conscious Renee Swan.
"Owww...I buurnt my tonngue..."
"Slow down you silly boy! The crumble's not going to grow legs and run away, you know."
"Only because you make the best puddings, Mrs Cope."
He turned the full beam of his gaze on her and broke into a heartbreaking grin. Shelly's breath caught. She noticed for the first time that his jaw was dense with stubble, and that his arms and shoulders looked strong, no doubt because of the rowing he had been doing at Oxford. When did the shy, gangly boy turn into this quietly handsome man? She had heard rumours in the village about his girlfriends at Oxford but never knew whether to believe them.
Shelly remembered the first time they met, so many year ago. She had been walking back to her cottage, arms laden with groceries when she slipped and fell. Shelly had been impressed by the calm concern shown by the precocious boy, then only eleven. So when he helped her up and insisted on carrying her groceries back for her, pointing out very reasonably, that she shouldn't strain her ankle further, she, Shelly Cope, had meekly complied. What began as tea and cake to thank a helpful boy became a summer ritual for them. He would knock on the door of her cottage on the summer weekends when he was home from boarding school; she would feed him whatever pie had been cooling on the sill and grumble about her work.
The truth was, Shelly needed to vent. Her workload kept increasing over the years as the Swans quietly reduced the size of their household staff by not replacing the ones who left. She couldn't complain to her staff; she was their supervisor and it would be unseemly. She couldn't talk to the villagers; the Swans hated to appear diminished in any way to the village. So she complained to him. The boy was discreet and attentive, a good listener. She sometimes felt slightly disloyal complaining to a member of the "rival" Cullen clan, but quickly brushed those feelings aside. The feud was ancient and silly anyway.
He thought he was being stealthy, but she noticed the way he leaned forward whenever she mentioned Bella. Silly boy. You couldn't hide anything from Shelly Cope. She wondered if it was cruel to encourage his little infatuation by talking so much about Bella. But she couldn't help herself, she loved the girl. Why, she practically brought her up. Of course the girl could be difficult; she was spoilt by her father, neglected by her mother. She could be stubborn and a little impetuous, too proud for her own good. But Bella was also clever, loyal, and had a good heart. At seventeen, she was blossoming into quite the little beauty, though she resisted all her mother's attempts to primp her.
She loved them both dearly. Would they be a good match? Shy, steady Edward. Headstrong, sharp-tongued Bella. She would swipe at him for sure, but the boy was no pushover. He would give as good as he got.
As she straightened her body, a heavy soreness settled on her back and would not go away. She felt the years in her bones and remembered her own dear John who passed away so long ago. Really, life was too short for all this hemming and hawing.
"You could just talk to her, you know."
The boy started, scoffed, and then looked down miserably at his spoon.
"You could talk to her about books. You have that in common."
Shelly knew he wouldn't. She patted him on the back and gave him a second helping of crumble with extra custard by the way of consolation.
The drive from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye took six hours. After her phone call with Alice, Bella borrowed Zafrina's creaky little car with nothing more than her handbag and enough money for petrol and started driving north. The moment she decided to find Edward, the stifling weight that had been sitting on her chest lifted, and was replaced by an acute, palpitating anxiety. What if he did have something to do with her father's heart attack? What if...what if he didn't want her any more?
By the time she reached Skye, it was completely dark and raining heavily. She followed Alice's directions to the north-west of the island, making a few wrong turns off the narrow main road to even narrower lanes before she finally found the right one. It was pitch-black, and she could see no more than the few metres in front of her illuminated by the car beams. There was only one faintly lit window in the distance, and the little hope it gave her was all she had to cling on to as she turned onto the unmarked dirt track, vulnerable in her rusty steel shell, the wind and rain lashing from all sides, the stone and gravel crunching and bumpy beneath her.
The house sat on a slope and her little car would not make the incline in the mud. Bella decided to make a run for the house. The moment she stepped out of the car, she realised her mistake. The Hebridean gust nearly blew her off her feet and she discovered that Edward had not been exaggerating when he said the rain was horizontal. She smelled the sea rather than saw it - she must be near a cliff. The knowledge added to her sense of displacement and desolation, and she tried to fix her eye on the light in the window as she tripped and blundered her way up the slope, her hair and her coat growing more sodden by the second.
Adrenaline carried her up the slope, but it was the letter in her pocket that gave her the courage to pound on the heavy door.
The man who greeted her had bloodshot eyes, rumpled clothes and the beginnings of a neglected beard, but he still made her heart stop. He stood at the doorway, blinked impassively at her for several moments, stared at the glass of whisky in his hand, and then back at her.
The sound of his name broke him out of his trance. His good sense and manners prevailed and he quickly stepped aside to let her in and took her dripping coat.
The house was a converted crofter's cottage, whitewashed and sparsely filled with books and sturdy furniture. As with the library, the heart of the living room was the fireplace, around which two armchairs and a large sheepskin rug had been placed. Even with its few elements, the space, like the library, was undeniably Edward's. For some reason, Bella found that fact immensely comforting.
"Here." He handed her a towel for her hair and a cashmere blanket. "Sit by the fire. It's the warmest place in the cottage. I'll make you some tea."
It broke her heart how careful he was not to let their fingers touch when he handed her the tea. She curled up on the sheepskin rug and wondered how best to broach the subject she had come all the way to discuss.
He did not sit near her. He would not even look at her, choosing instead to pace back and forth along the far side of the small room. The blanket keeping her warm belonged to him. She was reminded of the fact every time she moved and the familiar smell of him enveloped her. Yet, its owner was so far away.
"I got your letter." Her voice was raspy from disuse.
He stopped pacing and braced his hand on the back of a chair.
"Yes. I wrote that...what was it? Weeks ago? Before I heard." He still would not look at her.
"About you and Garrett. I wouldn't have believed the rumours, but your mother was quite happy to confirm to everyone that you two have been seeing each other."
"What? No! Edward! I wouldn't...Garrett and I were never together!"
For a long minute, all the movement she could see was the rise and fall of his chest as he stared at the chair-back he was clutching on to.
"Alright then. If it's not Garrett, why did you leave?" He finally looked at her. Any relief she felt was obliterated by the fury she saw in his eyes. "You resigned and just disappeared. After everything. After I've basically told you..."
It was time.
"You countersued my father, just before he died. I found the documents."
Edward frowned and then sighed. "Ah. That."
The pacing resumed. "When your father first started legal action, we didn't take it too seriously. The case had no merit anyway and we didn't want to antagonise a neighbour. But he kept dragging it out. Then things started happened. Building work that had been approved for months had to be stopped because someone complained to the council. Our farmhands were getting harassed by thugs as they left work. One of our small barns mysteriously burned down. Each incident coincided with correspondence from your father's camp. There would always be some small throwaway reference, of course nothing that could be pinned to them."
He clenched and unclenched his hands on the back of the chair, his face wearier than Bella had ever seen.
"We went to the local police of course. But they are used to dealing with missing animals, the occasional pub brawl, not arson and harassment.
"We changed the workers' schedules, made sure they travelled in groups, hired security for the first time. But Father thought we should also countersue to show that we wouldn't be intimidated. He was impatient with me that I hadn't been more aggressive earlier. I objected, but it's still his estate." He rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes. "I'm sorry you had to find out like this."
"You've never told me any of this before." Could he be telling the truth? She resisted his words instinctively, but she also remembered that her father had lied to her about the state of their finances for years before his death.
"How could I bring it up? When we first met you were still mourning your father. Later, when things were going well between us, I couldn't...was that it then? Because we sued your father?"
Bella focused on the flames blazing on the blackened logs, her voice low. "My father suffered his heart attack the morning he received the countersuit letter from your lawyers."
"Oh God! I'm so sorry! We couldn't have known...I'm so sorry."
"No, you couldn't have known. Frankly, after what you've told me, I don't know what to think any more. I believe you, but my father...it doesn't sound like my father."
They had reached an impasse. Bella was relieved that it was Carlisle and not Edward who had initiated the countersuit. But could her father really have done those things to harass and provoke the Cullens? Could Alice's account of Garrett be trusted given that the incident took place years before and the relationship had ended acrimoniously? With Garrett's character now cast into doubt, she was no longer confident that the heart attack was directly caused by the Cullens' suit. What else had her father been involved in? She was too weary to take it all in.
"How did you find me?"
"I met Alice in Edinburgh." She added softly, "she told me about her and Garrett."
"So you understand what I meant when I said it wasn't my story to tell."
Bella nodded. She had one more question in her mind. "Garrett was the one who told me about the countersuit." She could feel the tension radiating from him across the room. "He also said that I was just your type. The latest in a long line of your little brunettes."
"And you believed him."
"It never made sense." It was her turn to look away. "It never made sense for you to want me."
Edward finally approached her. He sank down to his knees on the rug in front of her, so that their eyes were level. He was so close she could see the flames from the log fire flickering in his eyes. So close she could reach out and cup his cheek.
"If I weren't a Cullen, and your name weren't Swan, if we were just Edward and Bella..."
He moved closer still. "Have I not shown you, in a thousand different ways, what you mean to me?"
She tried to turn away, but he wouldn't let her. "Bella, if there's no hope, don't leave me hanging. Tell me now, what am I to you?"
She stared back at him, pleading silently. Don't make me say it. Please don't make me.
"I need the words."
She knew she was lost. She knew the moment she got into the car. She knew the moment she read his letter.
She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against his. Even that little bit of contact felt like...home. She was a coward, she knew. She would lose her nerve if she had to look at him.
She whispered the three words like a secret. It was at once the confession of a proud woman and a plea for mercy from a frightened little girl who had nothing but her pride left to lose.
She felt the air rush out of him, but he remained frozen. Say it back, she wanted to shout.
Just as she was about to pull away, she was stilled by a gentle hand on one cheek, and then another. The first brush of his mouth against her upper lip made her gasp. The second, a slow graze along her lower lip sent a tremor down her body. By the time he finally pressed both his lips against hers, she was near collapsing with the relief, hope and fear overwhelming her body. He steadied her with one hand on her back, crushing her body against his. His other hand moved to the back of her neck, deepening the kiss. His mouth was as sweet as she remembered, only more urgent.
When they finally broke apart, he rested his forehead against hers and said the words back, only this time, he looked straight into her eyes. Maybe because he had never been afraid to tell her, or perhaps it was because he had waited so long to say them.
She stood up on the sheepskin and began tugging at the buttons on her top, eyes never leaving his.
"My clothes are soaking wet. I could catch hypothermia." Her clothes were barely damp. Her coat had taken the brunt of the storm.
"Hypothermia is a serious problem around these parts," he concurred. "You should take good care of your health." He swallowed as he watched the pieces of garment fall onto the rug.
One moment, she was standing on the rug. The next, she was in the middle of the bed, being pressed into its soft depths by the weight of his body.
She was naked. He was trying to get naked. She might have helped, she wasn't sure. It was chaos. Lips kissing bare skin, fingers tearing at clothes, bodies trying desperately to get closer, but never close enough.
His stubble left marks on her neck, her breasts, her stomach but she didn't mind. The Edward in her fantasies was always clean-shaven. The burn on her skin meant that this was real, that he was really here with her.
She had played this scene in her head a hundred times, but there were so many details that her imagination had left out.
Like the way his lips parted when he was fully inside her for the first time.
Or the pleasure and the sting between her legs that made her dig her nails into his arms when he finally started moving.
The way his body caged hers.
His skin, his smell, his breath, on her.
His heat, around her, inside her.
She stared at his face, all tension and restraint. She wanted him. She wanted everything he was holding back. "Edward." She touched his mouth. "Take it. It's yours."
He stilled his movements and gently repositioned her legs. It exposed her to him in a way that would have made her blush if she still had her senses about her.
He lowered himself to give her a deep, bruising kiss. "I waited. I waited years for you." He whispered against her mouth.
She began to wonder about his words but the force of his thrust knocked the breath out of her. The raw power latent in his body, which she had only ever caught hints of, was now focused entirely on her. A feral energy took over. It guided his body into her slowly, deliberately, before releasing it forward in a surge of power, hitting her in a spot so sweet, her toes curled and her world went black. He drove her into the bed over, and over.
She clawed at him. She screamed until she was hoarse. She pushed back at him, not to make him stop, but so she could feel him overpower and consume her. She fought it and chased it, so that when she came, it was both violent and unexpected.
When it was over, she wrapped her sweaty limbs around him and wouldn't let him go.
In the scene with Mrs Cope, Edward was around 21, Bella 17. Though he had always been fascinated by her, he did not start having romantic feelings for her until she was 17 and he realised she wasn't a little girl anymore (Chap 8). Nothing dodgy or underagey going on around here.
Their reunion kiss gave you deja vu? It's a deliberate echo of their first kiss in Chap 6.
I only realised afterwards there are a couple of similar bits between the sex scenes here and in "There is a Light". One is a coincidence, one's possibly not, but of course belladonnacullen is a much, much, much superior writer.
Assume safe sex. I leave the details to your imagination, if you like imagining that sort of thing.
Thanks for reading.