...Would you believe it if I told you the reason this took so long was because I had an impromptu trip to Ireland, and then I was hit by a hurricane and lost all computer access for days? Because it's all true.
Well, regardless of the lateness of this chapter, this is it guys. I hope you'll enjoy it.
Part 6 of 6
We were the biggest scandal of the season.
All of Devon, it seemed, said I had eloped with Edward Cullen, and now I was to wed him out of dire necessity alone. He had defiled me in a room at the castle, carried me by force to his home in Brixham where I then lived as his mistress for three months—explaining my sudden disappearance from society after the ball. And after discovering that I was with child, I begged incessantly for him to wed me, until at last he gave in.
They were outlandish tales, hardly believable, but that didn't ease my mother's tension. Accepting my engagement to Edward Cullen, whom she had declared on many occasions to despise, had been a great leap of faith for her. I could tell she was struggling with herself not to go back on her word and forbid our marriage. But the only thing that could have been worse than my engagement to the Colonel would have been suddenly not being engaged to the Colonel. So she pressed her lips together and remained quietly supportive of my choice.
True to Edward's word, he rode to Devon every Tuesday to dine in our home. It was easier for my mother to discuss wedding plans while looking at my fiancé over the brim of a glass of wine, and Emmett preferred the distraction of stuffing food into his mouth when he wished not to contribute to the conversation. Regardless, Edward acted quite oblivious to it all, smiling and thanking my family for their hospitality.
"Naturally, you shall be married here, in Devon," mother muttered over dinner one night, her eyes focused on the burgundy liquid in her glass. "Father Webster will agree to perform the nuptials, I think."
I sat up primly and nodded. "I shall write to him and ask."
"We'll have to decide upon a date, then," Edward added pleasantly, cutting into a piece of his chicken.
Mother took another delicate sip of her wine, but the wistful gleam in her eye led me to believe she was longing to down the alcohol in one gulp. "Well…" she began quietly. "I suppose a more… prompt… ceremony will be more… prudent…"
My brow furrowed, my confusion growing at her words. I had expected her to attempt to delay our matrimony as long as possible. And I didn't have the slightest idea what she meant by 'prudent'. Puzzled, I turned to Emmett, but he was sitting stiffly in his chair, his fist curled around his knife tightly, and his eyes locked on the side of Edward's head. For a moment I worried that he was considering doing my fiancé in, but then he turned back to his plate and stabbed the knife at his meat.
"Um, yes," I said, breaking the short silence. "I think it would be best that we did not drag out the engagement unnecessarily."
Mother grimaced uncomfortably, eyes refusing to meet mine. "And… and I suppose I shall need to purchase a… dress."
I nodded again, my gaze glancing between my mother and Edward. Whereas she seemed miserable and discomposed, Edward looked as if he were remembering a funny joke.
"I think…" I began, and then gave up, pressing my lips back together. No one was listening to me anyhow.
I was about to grab my own wine goblet when I felt something warm snake around my hand. I looked down and saw Edward's hand curled over my own, resting innocently in my lap. I cleared my throat and turned back to my plate of chicken, hoping that my reddening cheeks did not give us away.
Something loud slammed against the table, and we all flinched, our heads turning to Emmett, who had flung his fist, still gripping the handle of his knife, against the wood. "You're the lowest piece of scum I've ever seen!" he spat suddenly, staring viciously at Edward. "Are we all to sit here and discuss happy wedding plans as if we are all so pleased at your impending union?"
"Emmett, quiet!" I shrieked, my eyes widening.
A hint of a frown played on Edward's lips. "Emmett, control yourself."
"Don't tell me what to do! You're a soulless monster. How dare you seduce my sister like she's nothing more than a common harlot?"
It was the most Emmett had said since we announced our engagement. Something inside of him had broken, and all of the anger and hatred he was keeping bottled inside of him came pouring out.
"Stop it, Emmett, stop it!" I shouted, feeling childish. I looked towards my mother desperately, but she was staring vacantly at her lap, her face ashen.
"Emmett!" Edward warned again, his voice growing in volume, but my brother was already pushing himself out of his seat and storming around the table towards my fiancé, his fist curling in preparation to strike.
I reacted on instinct. I pushed my chair back, and then I was on my feet, standing in front of Edward. And just as Emmett was about to thrust out his arm, I felt my own fist fling itself upward and connect with his jaw.
"Agh!" I wailed, pulling my hand back to my chest and cradling it. My fingers were throbbing.
Emmett had taken a few steps backward, his palm holding his jaw. He looked both appalled and utterly shocked.
"My God!" I cried, my nose wrinkling from the pain. "Emmett, you oaf!"
"Let me see it," Edward murmured from behind me, out of his seat as well now.
I ignored him, turning back to my brother. "And I'm not with child, you arse!"
I did not bother to see the expression on Emmett's face. Instead, I turned on my heel and faced my fiancé, whose face was an odd mixture of amused and concern. Reluctantly, I held out my aching hand and let him take it for examination.
"It's not broken," he said after a moment. Then he grinned. "That was very impressive, you know. I don't think I've seen a man yet who can exert that amount of force on a first try and not end up with their arm in a sling."
"I'm not so sure I won't need a sling," I grimaced, my face still wrenched in pain.
Gingerly, he cradled my hand in his, his thumb brushing over my knuckles for a moment, and then he brought it up to hold against his lips. Despite everything, I felt my face turn pink at his touch.
"Isabella," my mother said softly from behind us, her hesitant voice breaking me away from the tender moment. She had risen from her seat too now, though she still hovered close to it, afraid to move. "Are you… quite sure you are not with child?"
"Of course I'm sure!" I bellowed, my temper flaring.
Mother's face paled again, her lips thin. "Oh," she whispered, and then, at length, she added, "I see."
"Yes, well, now that we are all indeed certain that I am unsullied, can we all just eat in peace?" I pulled out my chair roughly and took my seat again, grabbing my fork with my uninjured hand and stuffing a too large piece of meat into my mouth.
Emmett let go of his jaw, which was sporting an angry red mark, and lowered himself back into his seat as well, his head down like a scolded child. He picked up his glass and drank quietly.
We all sat in silence, the loudest noise in the room being our silverware as it clanked against our plates. Tension was thick in the air, but I promptly ignored it, refusing to look up at anyone.
My mother hesitantly cleared her throat. "We should make an appointment at a dress shop in London immediately. Those things take time, you know, and you'll need to be there for fittings."
And just like that, we were back to normal, quietly discussing wedding plans as we finished the last of our meal.
During the month that followed, the Swan residence became a place of wedding madness. Papers were signed, and our official request for a marriage license was sent. A letter was written to the reverend of our local parish, asking him to perform the ceremony. A tailor in London was contacted, and our dining room table quickly became overrun with samples of white fabric and delicate laces. Invitations needed to be sent, flowers needed to be purchased, a honeymoon needed to be planned...
It was chaos, but my mother seemed pleased enough to throw herself into the preparations. It was a suitable distraction from the uneasiness that now existed between us. She did not dare to speak of her disapproval of Edward again, yet she showed no outward signs of warming towards him. Instead, she busied herself with choosing flower colors or creating elaborate dinner menus for our guests.
On the rare occasion that Emmett spoke to either of us, it was usually to relay a warning. In one instance, I heard him mutter to Edward, "I should warn you, should Isabella bear a child in less than nine months from now, I will be compelled to kill you."
Edward replied with a sardonic grin. "I wouldn't expect anything less."
But even Emmett knew better than to try and dissuade us any longer. Edward and I made it quite clear that, with my family's approval or without, we would be married by the month's end. It was easier to support our marriage than continue to fight against us.
And then the wedding day approached. The marriage license had been validated, the guests were arriving, and my mother was putting together the last button at the top of my long white dress. Nothing remained but to bring the bride and groom to the alter.
Emmett was waiting for me behind the doors of the church, ready to walk me down the aisle in place of my father. He looked dashing in his suit, and he even offered me a slight smile as he held his arm out for me to hold. "You can still change your mind, you know," he whispered to me, his face quite stern and serious. "You only need to say the word."
I shook my head. "Never in this world."
The doors were opened, and our guests slowly turned their heads to smile at me. I could see Lady Cope amongst them, looking quite pleased, and the Duke of Buckingham sitting off to the side, his expression very bored. I saw the faces of my childhood friends, the ladies from my mother's book club, men in military uniform. And they were all seated in the pews, grins on their faces, their eyes alight as I swept past them, long white skirt trailing behind me, moving towards Father Webster.
And then my brother released my hand, and I felt someone else take hold of it. I looked up and there was Edward, my husband to be, his lips curling upward slightly as my face flushed pink with joy.
The ceremony was very plain, very simple. The reverend ask us questions about faith and love and sickness and health. Edward made his responses in a clear, decided voice, his eyes on me, deep and green, and then grinned as I repeated the vows with as much conviction. A buttery gleam of sunshine filtered through the stained window and onto the whitewashed walls. Outside, I could hear birds singing from the cluster of elms beside the church, and the distant baa-ings of the sheep in the fields.
"You may kiss the bride," said the reverend.
And then his lips were on mine, and our world was perfect.
The reception was a blur, and I can not recall much of it. There were seas of faces, many of them unknown to me, greeting us one by one to wish us many happy years together. We were seated together at a table, hands entwined, thanking them, and holding out our wine glasses to cheer our good fortune. There was a shake of hands between Edward and Emmett, and the warm arms of my mother as she hugged me close and kissed my hair. And then we danced and danced, my eyes never leaving Edward's, my feet feeling as if they never touched the floor.
But I can recollect the evening that followed as if it were yesterday. Back in Edward's home in Brixham, the servants had all went to bed early, giving us privacy for the night. I sat in the center of the large bed, still dressed in my white gown, pillows packed behind me. Edward stood by the window, gazing out towards the forest.
I stared at his form, the way the moonlight made his hair seem darker, the attractive hunch of his shoulders, the straightness of his sharp nose. Thoughts flooded through my mind, more romantic than I thought myself capable of. We might have known each other fifteen years, instead of four months. He was so familiar to me, so comfortable, though I never quite knew what to expect from him.
He started walking about the chamber, his eyes looking down at the floor. "Do you think," he began, his voice soft, "that we will be happy?"
His question startled me, and I watched his face for a moment, noting the crease between his brows, before replying. "Yes, I do."
"So do I," he answered.
He came and stood beside the bed, looking down upon me and smiling slightly. "Has no one told you how lovely you are?" he whispered.
I felt my face heat with color as I looked away, feeling young and foolish.
"There is no part of you," he said, still hushed, "that I do not love."
"Edward," I murmured, still unable to meet his eye. There was something in his voice, a deepness in his tone, that clenched at my heart.
And then he knelt at the bed, reaching out his arms to bring me close, and I felt my sudden shyness fade away in an instant.
He wiped away the silly childish tears that pricked my eyes and laughed at me and smoothed my hair. "My wife," he said close to my ear. "It will not always be easy, you know. I told you once I must marry an heiress to live, and though the circumstances have changed greatly, my funds have not."
I thought of why he'd mention this matter now, of all times. And then I thought of the wedding reception and the empty chair somewhere to our left. Edward's father had not attended the ceremony, and I had not even bothered to notice. Edward spoke so rarely of his own family, and curiosity began to bite at me, but I pushed it away.
"It's your person I want," I told him, remembering how he had taken me in his arms and told me nearly the same thing when I mentioned my lack of dowry only weeks ago. "Money doesn't mean a thing to me."
"That is a lie, Bella."
"Well, it means a lot less than being with you. I'd rather be with you than have all the gold in England."
I put my two hands on his shoulders and stared straight at him. The auburn hair, the green eyes, the little pulse that beat in his right temple. He was the only one I could ever dream of wanting, the only man I could ever imagine loving.
"Yes, Edward. Now stop being so somber."
"And you will never change your mind about me?" he asked hesitantly.
He looked back towards the window for a moment. There were candles lit throughout the room, and they flickered orange light against his cheek.
Then he bent suddenly and kissed my cheek. "Whatever you suffer you shall share with me from this day forward." He said, his voice hushed again, but his tone fervent. "Will you promise?"
"I promise," I said.
Gently, he drew me closer. I rested my head against his chest and sighed as his lips touched my temple.
"I feel very lucky," I told him, smiling against his shirt. And I truly meant it. Yes, we had many obstacles before us. There were payments to make, a house to keep clean, letters to write, food to cook, clothing to mend. My mother and brother were still hesitant to accept us, and Edward's father was still an enigma to me. There was gossip and rumors, and a world of obstacles trying to drive us apart.
"As do I," Edward replied, grinning as well, and tilting my chin upward to capture my lips.
And yet, we were lucky, because in the end, we were simple, and we were perfect for each other. A man who taught a girl to laugh, and a woman who gave an indecorous man a sense of honor.
Thank you so much for reading. It means the world to me that someone could find amusement or entertainment in something I do just for fun. It's been a blast!
Keep a look out for more short stories, one-shots, and full length fics. I'll keep my profile updated with my projects.
And I need to make a shout out to ExquisiteEdward, who is a fabulous writer, a fantastic friend, and the best beta I could ever ask for. She is truly amazing, and I'd never get a single thing done without her support and patience. She read about 10 versions of this last chapter... if that isn't patience, I don't know what is.
So thank you, everyone :) I hope you've enjoyed the ride.