Age of Edward Contest

Pen Name: Kare831

Title: Under the Cedars

Type of Edward: Irish Immigrant to the United States 1881-1934

HUGE thanks to darcysmom and twimom817 for their beta and prereading work - without them this story wouldn't have been possible. They are the best support team anyone could ever ask for.


I was ten years old when my father, Carlisle, brought me to America. I'll never forget how excited I was as I stood clinging to the guard rails of the ship we were on, anxious to make my way to the land of opportunities.

"There she is, Son – beautiful isn't she?" My father asked, nodding toward the blooming New York skyline.

For the first time in a long time I'd seen my father truly smile. I was just six when my mother died, and even as a young child, I could feel his heartache. So we looked to America for a fresh start. My father had secured a job as a stable master for an affluent family in Virginia, about an hour southwest of Washington D.C.

He'd found the job through a friend, Liam McCarty, who was a blacksmith. Liam had left Ireland not long after my mother died and he took his son, my best friend Emmett, with him. I was happy that I'd be reunited with my friend. I hoped it would make missing Ireland a little easier.

I felt like I was walking on air as I stepped off the ship, my father's hand clasped firmly on my shoulder.

"Stay close, Edward."

The immigration station was thrumming with people in addition to the ones like me who were just arriving. It seemed everyone wanted the same thing – a new start for a better life.

Once we had our affairs in order, we took a ferry across the river where we met a coach that would take us to a little place called Cedar Fork, Virginia.

"What are we going to do when we get there?" I quietly asked my father on our second day of travel.

"Mr. Swan has hired me to look after his stables. He's in the breeding and racing business."

"Can I help?"

"Of course, my boy! Every good stable master requires an assistant and as you get older you'll be able to do more things around the stable on your own, Son."

"I'll get to see Emmett again won't I?"

My father chuckled.

"Yes, Son. You'll get to see Emmett again. I'm sure you'll see quite a bit of him. He's apprenticing with his father, making horseshoes and one day he'll learn to fit them if he isn't already."

Four days later, we arrived in Cedar Fork. I took in the scenery as our coach passed a magnificent house; the likeness of which I'd only seen in picture books. Beyond the house there was a large stable and past that was a large red barn. To the left of the barn was a small house with a stone façade. Out in the pasture I could see horses grazing and there seemed to be several people bustling about the property.

We had finally made it and I was excited for our new start.

A stern looking man with a bristly moustache was waiting for us when we stepped out of the coach.

"Mr. Cullen? I'm Charles Swan. Welcome to Virginia. This is Esme, she'll show you your quarters where you'll stay. Benjamin here will show you around the stables and barn and he'll explain anything else you may have questions about."

"Thank you, Sir. It's a pleasure to meet you," He nodded toward Esme. "Ma'am."

"I'll let you get situated and then see you bright and early tomorrow morning."

"Yes, sir."

Esme led us down toward the small house by the barn and got us settled in.

"Edward, you should get some rest. It's been a long journey and tomorrow will be a long day."

"Yes, sir."

The next morning I was up before the sun rose. Esme was bustling around the kitchen and sweetly told everyone to eat up as she set down large bowls of oatmeal. She was English and appeared to have a soft side to her, but I wouldn't want to cross her. She welcomed my father and me again and told us to let her know if we needed anything. She worked inside the main house, but somehow still found time to put food on the table for the stable hands.

"Edward … my boy. Come and you can walk this horse. He's not been walked properly because of the shortage of hands. He'll be appreciatin' a good walking."

"Yes, sir."

I lead the horse out into an empty paddock that I was instructed earlier was strictly for walking the horses. This particular horse's name was Coco. He was dark brown with just a hint of red that only showed in the sunlight. He was just over a year old and he was beautiful.

"You take special care of that horse, son. That horse belongs to my Bella. He's important to her so you be good to him, 'ya hear?"

"Yes, sir."

His Bella. Other than the stable hands and an odd handful of people who I imagined were servants I hadn't seen anyone else go in or come out of the large beautiful house. I saw Esme come out a couple times to set pies on the porch railing and I heard her threaten anyone who dared go near them. I had to assume that Bella was the lady of the house and she didn't venture outside very often.

It was a warm spring day and the sunshine that rained down on my skin felt so good. I found I was enjoying myself as I led Coco around the paddock. I closed my eyes for a brief moment and I remember hearing the most beautiful giggle. I opened my eyes to see a pretty little girl standing on the bottom rung of the fence; her arms clinging to the top rail as the slow breeze blew long chestnut curls across her face.

"Bella!" I heard Esme holler as she swiftly made her way toward us. "Oh, sweet child you nearly gave me a heart attack. One minute you were helping me clean up our mess, and the next you were gone."

I watched as Bella pushed the hair out of her face and turned toward Esme.

"Sorry, Miss Esme, but I saw Coco out here and I just wanted to come see him. I hope Daddy will let me ride him soon."

Esme looked toward me and smiled.

"Edward, is it?"

I nodded.

"Bella, this is Edward. He's just come here from Ireland and he and his father will be tending to the horses. I'm sure with their love and attention that Coco will be ready for you to ride soon. But until then, I'd appreciate it if you'd keep your two feet firmly on the ground young lady."

"But Esme," Bella argued. "I can't see from there. I can see much better if I'm standing on the fence."

"I'm sorry, Miss Bella. It's not proper for a lady to be standing on a fence rail. You could hurt yourself and then what would your father think?"

Sufficiently chastised, Bella climbed down from the fence. She pouted for a bit until I led Coco over to where she stood against the fence with Esme beside her.

Esme reached up and patted his head while Bella pulled a couple of sugar cubes out of the pocket of her apron.

"So that's why you didn't want to take off your apron," Esme grinned.

Bella's smile in return was so pretty.

So it began that every afternoon I would take Coco out to the paddock and Bella would come down and watch as we walked. Occasionally I'd ask my father if I could take him out to the pasture across the drive to let him run but it was rare. I'd grown fond of the beautiful animal, and I was beginning to grow fond of the little girl who came to see him every day.

"Edward … don't tell me you've taking a likin' to Mr. Swan's daughter," Emmett chastised.

"I have not!" I argued.

"Good, because my father says rich girls are nothin' but trouble."

A few months later, I found myself teaching Bella how to ride Coco. She'd been fitted with a side saddle and was having problems controlling Coco.

"Can't we use the other saddle?" Bella whined.

"Absolutely not!" Esme cried. "Your father would have a fit if he were to catch you riding in any manner other than a dignified lady."

Bella huffed.

"Just hold the reins a bit tighter and try again, Miss Bella," I suggested.

It took weeks for her to get it right, but we persevered. I couldn't help but laugh at the adorable way Bella would scrunch her face up in anger when something I was trying to teach her wasn't going her way. It was the spark of rebellion I saw in her eyes that I truly loved.

Sundays were considered our day of rest. Granted my father and I still had to get up and make sure that the horses were taken care of and fed – the afternoons were ours. We'd get back from tending to the horses in time to go to church and when we came back, Esme usually had a grand spread set out for us to eat. We feasted on roasted chicken and potatoes, cornbread with fresh butter, and delicious blueberry cobbler. We had just sat down to eat when there was a loud knock on the door. My father stood up to answer it.

"Mr. Swan?"

"Hello, Carlisle. I was hoping we might join you all for supper today. I foolishly sent Mrs. Cope off to visit with her mother for a week and now Bella and I are without someone who knows how to cook."

"Oh dear!" Esme cried. "Please come in and sit down. I'll just get some place settings. We'd love it if you joined us."

Bella smiled softly at me and took the empty spot next to me.

After supper, we led the horses over to the pasture across the road. Esme brought a couple blankets for us to sit on under the shade of a cedar tree. I was surprised that once again, Mr. Swan and Bella had asked to join us. Mr. Swan joined us carrying a guitar and he sat and played, softly singing as we watched the horses run.

Sundays like that were few and far between but when they happened I relished them. I'd asked Mr. Swan if he'd teach me to play if I could save up enough to buy my own guitar and did extra things around the stable in exchange for the lessons. He agreed, but it took me four years to save up for a guitar and by the time I had the beautiful instrument in my hands, I didn't have time for lessons.

Mr. Swan added four more mares and a stud to his collection of horses that spring and three of our current mares were ready to give birth to their own foals at any minute. We had to add on to the stables to accommodate them all but Mr. Swan had anticipated that and had plenty of land to spare.

Bella had begged me to come and wake her up as soon as one of the mares went into labor. I'd seen plenty of horses give birth, but she hadn't and she desperately wanted to watch.

"Please, Edward?"

"No, Bella. Do you have any idea how much trouble I'd get in if I went running into your house to fetch you– no matter the hour?"

"I'll ask Daddy. I'm sure he won't mind just this once. I have to see. Please, Edward?"

I huffed and glared at her for a few moments watching her carefully as she pleaded with her wide brown eyes.

"Bella! I don't believe you young lady! Begging is certainly not proper for a lady," Esme chastised as she walked out of the stables.

"Edward, sweetheart, I've just left you a sandwich in there with your father's lunch. Please eat it, you're starting to look thin from all the hard work you've been doing."

"Yes, ma'am."

I turned and walked toward the stable but I heard a familiar squeal of delight as I'm sure I heard Esme promise that as long as Mr. Swan didn't mind, Esme herself would wake Bella to see the birthing of the foal.

One mid-spring morning, Bella and I sat together and watched as the first of our three expectant mares gave birth. I observed Bella carefully as her eyes lit with excitement and amazement as she watched the little foal struggle on its wobbly little legs. It would stand and fall, stand and fall. I almost had to hold Bella back from running toward it.

"But Edward, it needs help!" Bella cried.

"It's fine, Bella. Newborn foals are always wobbly. In a couple days, it'll be stronger and it won't wobble so much."

"Promise?"

"I promise, Bella."

That wouldn't be the first or last time I found myself making a promise to Isabella Swan.

Every spring and summer I'd find myself helping Bella with Coco. Mr. Swan was gone from home more often as he'd gotten involved in politics down in Richmond. He'd taken to staying in the city during the week and coming home on the weekends to spend time with Bella and go to church. More often than not, Esme was the only companion Bella had while he was gone.

My father and Esme had fallen into an easy rapport with each other soon after we arrived from Ireland. I watched as their relationship blossomed, and a week before my thirteenth birthday, I stood up for my father as he promised to love and cherish her in front of God and all our friends.

When Mr. Swan was away, my step-mother would have to stay up in the large house with Bella. My father hated being away from her, but she was always there at meal time, stirring whatever it was she was cooking with a smile on her face. I loved those times because Bella would join us, and she fit in flawlessly.

A few months before they'd married, my father and I were given permission to build a small house for our growing family. Mr. Swan's only request was that we build it with enough bedrooms for a family of four. If my father should ever decide to leave his employ it would be large enough to sell or rent to a family or even to house the next stable master.

The house wasn't far from the stables. It was close enough that my father could get there if there was an emergency but far enough away to afford us a bit of privacy.

That summer, I found myself sneaking away to the barn to lay in the hayloft and listen to the sound of the cicadas. Sometimes I'd even sneak off to sit underneath the cedar tree by the side of the pasture, but it wasn't often because the next morning Esme would take one look at all the mosquito bites and know exactly where I'd been. That didn't stop me. As time wore on, I did it more and more often. My father figured it out eventually and didn't seem to mind as long as I wasn't causing trouble. I think he was thankful for the alone time with Esme.

It was the third summer I spent in the barn that Bella found me and started joining me. I worried that she would get in trouble, but her father was still away in Richmond more often than not. Instead of having Esme stay with her, Bella had started staying in the guest room Esme had made up in our small house. Esme asked me to wait until she was sure Bella was asleep before I snuck off to the barn, but apparently, one evening I wasn't quiet enough when I left the house.

"Bella … if Esme finds you here she'll have my head … and yours."

"But it's so nice here. I never realized how peaceful it is out here. Please, Edward just let me stay for a little while? "

"Bella …"

"Please, Edward?" She begged.

That was the first of many nights Bella would sneak out to the barn with me. After the anxiety of Esme and my father finding out Bella was here waned, I found her presence soothing. Sometimes we'd talk quietly about everything. Sometimes we'd spin yarns of things we could only dream of. Bella was a very good storyteller. Sometimes she'd get very serious on me and ask me to tell her about Ireland; what it was like and how my life was there.

"I'd love to see it someday."

"One day you might. Find yourself a handsome fellow with a hefty pocket who likes to travel and you just might, Bella."

"Do you ever think about going back?"

"No. After my mum died, we didn't have much of a life there. Here we have a life, a future. Emmett and I have always dreamed of running a ranch together. We've been thinking about going to Tennessee."

Bella looked up at me with wide, concerned eyes.

"You mean you want to leave Virginia?" she whispered.

"Someday, perhaps. Don't get me wrong, I love it here and I love the life I have, but that doesn't mean that I don't want more."

"Isabella Swan!" Esme cried. "What are you doing out here young lady?"

Bella and I were so deep in conversation that we'd never heard Esme and my father ascend the stairs.

"I was … umm …. Edward and I got to talking and …."

"I don't care what you and Edward were doing. You are a lady and ladies do not spend their evenings with young men in a hayloft. Honestly, Bella you clearly aren't thinking with your head," Esme chided as she helped Bella free her dress of the hay that clung to it.

"Mrs. Cullen, I'm so sorry."

"Yes, yes I'm sure you are dear. Now up to the house with you. Your house, not mine."

Bella looked at me with teary, apologetic eyes, but I couldn't hold her gaze for long. Instead I looked at the floor boards and waited for my father to speak.

"Edward, I'm surprised at you. You know better than to have Bella out of the house. Having her here could cause more problems than we ever could imagine. She's a girl and you're nearly a man. What would Mr. Swan think if he knew you spent nights out here alone with his only daughter? You're askin' for trouble my boy and my advice would be to stay away from Miss Bella."

"But father! We didn't do anything wrong. It's peaceful out here and we just came out here to talk. I really enjoy her company. She's smart and she acts years older than her age."

"It doesn't matter, Son. The fact remains that ye need to steer clear of that girl unless you're leading her horse and if you can't manage to do that appropriately, I'll remove you from that detail and have Emmett do it. Understand?"

"Yes, sir."


That fall, things quieted down around the Swan Ranch. I was busy as ever, continuing to break new foals. Mr. Swan spent more time watching the horses – and me. Esme spent more and more time at our house. Only going up to the residence to oversee some things for Mr. Swan every day and then she'd return to the house.

One night at dinner, I couldn't help but inquire about the changes.

"Esme, why don't you spend much time with Bella anymore?"

Esme gasped as my father dropped his fork on his plate.

"Sweetheart, didn't you hear? Mr. Swan was supposed to tell you himself. Bella has gone to Atlanta to stay with her aunt and uncle for a while. She's grown out of needing a nanny and my assistance is needed elsewhere."

I felt like a hole had been punched in my chest.

"Bella's gone?"

"I'm afraid so, Son. Bella left a week ago, Tuesday."

"She never said a word," I whispered.

"It was a spur of the moment decision, Edward. She left while you were in Fredericksburg with the McCarty's getting supplies."

My chest ached and my heart sank. I hadn't realized how much I wanted Bella in my life until that moment and I missed her so much.

The next afternoon, I sat under the cedar tree watching the horses in the pasture when I felt a presence beside me. I looked up to see Mr. Swan with a sad look on his face.

"Edward."

"Mr. Swan, sir."

"I apologize for not telling you about Bella sooner. Truth is, I'm downright sorry she's gone. But I hate that I can't provide a strong female figure for her to look up to. When her mama died … I promised my girl she'd never want for anything. So I sent her down to Atlanta to stay with my sister for a spell. It'll be good for her – and you."

I had so many arguments running through my mind. What about Esme? Wasn't she a strong female figure for Bella to look up to? She came to America with nothing. She'd lost her entire family and what money she'd had she spent on her passage over. She found a job in New York City doing laundry. Esme worked there until she earned enough money to switch jobs. She worked as a nanny just outside of London and she figured America had plenty of need for nannies. So when she found Mr. Swan's advertisement in the Washington Post, she replied immediately. Bella was just two years old and Esme has been with Mr. Swan and Bella ever since. But my first argument was me.

"Me? What do I have to do with this?"

"Don't kid a kidder, son. I've seen the way you look at my daughter and she's not even fourteen years old!"

"Sir?"

"I know you have feelings for my girl, Edward. Even if you don't see them yourself, I do. As a father, I have to do everything I can to do the best by her, and if that means that I have to send her away for a while so you can both do some growin' up and see for yourselves what's good for you – that's what I have to do."

He handed me an envelope and walked away. I sat there, stunned. He sent Bella away because I wasn't good enough for her. I worked hard every day. I went to school and made good marks. I went to church every Sunday and said my prayers every night and still I wasn't good enough.

I could feel the wet warmth sliding down the cool skin of my cheeks. The sun was going down and the air was getting chilly. I clutched the letter to my chest before gathering up the courage to read it.

Dearest Edward,

It is with a heavy heart that I leave Virginia and in turn – you. Next to Alice you are my closest friend and mean so much to me. I wish I could be there to tell you myself that I have to leave. Father thinks its best that I stay with my Aunt Victoria and Uncle James. He thinks Atlanta will be good for me. I argued with him, of course. I'm only good in a place where I can be me.

Please look after Coco. I wish I could take him with me, but I don't have the heart to take him from you. Tell him I love him and make sure you tell him often because I will come home eventually.

I'll never forget the evenings we spent in the hayloft telling stories. I'll keep those moments with me forever. Make me a promise that you'll think of me often because I'll be thinking of you. I'm not even gone and I miss you already. Promise me that you won't go anywhere until I return and can give you a proper goodbye.

Yours,

Bella


Three years have passed since I've last seen Bella. I've gotten a few letters from her, but there's no pattern to it except for the letters she sent for my birthday. There was no return address for me to write her back. I thought maybe she'd come home for the holidays, but she didn't. Mr. Swan traveled to Atlanta. My chest still ached as much as ever; the hole only seeming to get bigger as time wore on.

The spring before my eighteenth birthday, the Swan residence was buzzing with excitement. It was a beautiful day outside and I was halfway through putting out oats for the mares when Esme came running into the barn.

"Edward!" She cried. "She's coming back."

I froze in place.

"Who's coming back, Mum?"

"Bella is, sweetheart. She'll be home this afternoon."

I felt like I'd had the wind knocked out of me.

"Edward? Are you all right?"

I turned to stand against the wall of the nearest stall and slid down to the floor – splinters be damned. They couldn't hurt any worse than the ache in my chest.

"Sweetheart, I thought Bella was your friend and that you'd be happy to see her again. It's been so long. Haven't you missed her?"

"More than anything," I whispered.

I wasn't ready to face Bella. I understand that it was a hurried decision to send her to Atlanta, and she left me a letter to say goodbye. She'd written me letters but left me no way to contact her in return. She may have been able to come to terms with the way things happened, but I hadn't. There was so much I had wanted to say to her but I couldn't. I wrote her letters but I had nowhere to send them so I tucked them into a crate under my bed.

"Edward … I know it was hard for you when Bella left, but you had to know that it was in her best interest for her to go. It was her father's decision – not hers. She didn't want to go. I've told you so many times she begged not to go. Don't be angry with her, sweetheart."

"She left me with no way to contact her. Why was she the only one allowed to say goodbye?"

Esme knelt down to me and pulled me into her motherly arms.

"Mr. Swan had his reasons, Edward. No matter how wrong they were, he had them none the less. But please, sweetheart, don't blame Bella."

She hugged me once more before kissing the top of my head and leaving me to stew in my hurt. Eventually I picked myself up off the ground and finished my task. Later that afternoon I was walking one of our two year old colts in the paddock when I turned to see a beautiful brunette standing against the fence.

Bella.

She was older and more beautiful than I remembered. Her once long hair was swept up on her head in a mess of curls; her dress pale lavender and much more refined than the dresses she wore before she left. She was a lady now but she still took my breath away.

"Bella …." I whispered

"Hello, Edward."

"Hello."

"You look well. Tending to a new horse I see?"

"Yes. This is Max. Short for Maximus. Your father's been running him in various races lately. He's very fast."

"I see," Bella smiled.

"It seems as though Atlanta has been treating you well."

"Yes. Very well as a matter of fact. I've been going to school there and reading and learning so many things. The world really is a fascinating place, Mr. Cullen."

"Apparently," I snipped as I took Max's lead again and resumed leading him around the paddock.

"Edward … you're angry with me. Why?"

"I'm not angry with you, Bella. I'm angry at the situation. But you're back now so it's all better I suppose?"

"Please don't be angry with me, Edward. I really didn't have a choice. My father had made all the arrangements before he told me. You were gone to Fredericksburg and he wouldn't let me wait for you to come back. I hated that I couldn't see you before I left," Bella said quietly as she walked, following along the paddock fence.

"So am I to forgive and forget? Go back to how it was before you left?"

"Can you forgive me? You don't have to forget, Edward but could you forgive me at the very least?"

"Maybe … eventually I can."

"I hope so. Maybe then we can start over?"

"And do what Bella? Get caught in a hayloft late at night as we tell each other stories of how we'd like our life to be? Do you need to relearn how to ride a horse? Maybe I can teach you that," I spat bitterly.

Bella looked at me with a hurt expression and tears welling up in her wide, lovely eyes.

"I cherish every moment I spent with you in that hayloft telling stories, Edward. I missed that time I spent with you. In fact, I've spent a great deal of my time in Atlanta writing down those stories because I don't ever want to forget them. As for riding a horse, I'd love it if you taught me how to ride a horse properly – not sidesaddle."

"Yes, because that would go over so well with your father."

"It's not about what he wants, Edward. This is about what I want."

"What about what I want, Bella? Does that count at all?"

"Of course it counts, Edward," Bella said softly.

"Well in that case, I'd like to keep my job, Bella. I'd like to stay here for a bit longer and save money while I can. If I do what you ask of me your father will have me out of here faster than I can blink."

"He wouldn't do that Edward."

"Oh he wouldn't would he? When you left Bella, he all but told me that I wasn't good enough for you. I'm not enough for you. If I taught you to ride like that he'd consider it reckless and it would only seal his already low opinion of me, so pardon me if I don't want to give him any more ammunition."

Bella sadly nodded her head.

"So …" Bella began. "Max here takes up all your time now does he? What about poor ole' Coco? How is he? I really want to see him."

I stopped in my tracks. Could she really not know? Mr. Swan was saddened and disappointed when we had to shoot Coco, but it was the most humane thing we could do. Coco had developed laminitis and while my father worked fervently to treat it, Coco's condition continually worsened and Mr. Swan made the decision to put the animal down.

I found tears falling from my face at the thought of how Bella would take the news. When I asked Mr. Swan about Bella he said he would make sure that he delivered the news himself. But now it seemed as though he hadn't told her at all.

"Bella … I thought you knew."

"Knew about what?"

"Your father was supposed to tell you."

"Tell me what, Edward?"

"Bella … we had to put Coco down. He developed laminitis. My father tried so hard to make him better but nothing he did worked. Coco just kept getting worse. No one could bear him being in pain, Bella. It was the most humane thing we could have done."

Bella gasped and seemed as if she'd collapse to the ground at any moment. I let go of Max's lead and reached out for her arm.

"I'm so sorry, Bella."

She took in a quick breath before the sobbing began. I quickly hopped over the fence and pulled Bella into my arms. Other than Coco being the first horse that Bella truly called her own, I didn't understand the significance of the animal to Bella. As if she was answering my thoughts I heard her murmur.

"My mother was a fantastic rider. She loved horses and because she loved them, my father loved them. He bought this ranch for her. My mother had a beautiful mare named Sadie and Coco was the last of her foals. Sadie died a few months before you and your father came. Sadie was a piece of my mother and Coco was a piece of Sadie. He was the last thing I had left of my mother."

I held her tight in my arms and began to hum an Irish lullaby that my mother would sing to me when I was upset.

"As long as you have a memory of your mother Bella, you'll always have a piece of her with you. Don't ever forget that."

I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and panicked for a moment before I realized that Esme was walking toward us and when I explained what happened she was filled with understanding.

"Oh, Bella. Sweetheart, I'm so sorry," Esme cooed.

Bella hugged Esme tightly and whispered, "I've missed you all so much."

"We've missed you too, Bella. Come now let's not waste the time we have to visit being sad."

Visit?

I didn't get another opportunity to speak to Bella again until Sunday afternoon after we'd finished supper. Mr. Swan had joined us for our meal, but left soon after needing to attend to urgent business. I led the horses from the stable out to the pasture and I'd just sat down under the cedar tree when I heard her sweet voice.

"Things were so chaotic the first day I came back otherwise I would have told you that this was just a visit much sooner. Please don't be angry with me, Edward."

"I'm not angry with you Bella. I'm angry because your father was too much of a coward to be honest with you. He doesn't give you enough credit. You're stronger than he thinks. As for you just being home for a visit, I should have suspected as much. I'm sure Atlanta is much more appealing than Cedar
Fork."

"I'm going to finish school in Atlanta, Edward. I'm coming back here as soon as I'm done."

I nodded. Education for someone as intelligent as Bella was a good thing. With her sharp mind and way with words, I was sure that she'd do something important with her life; just as her father expected her to. I'd watch her from afar with admiring eyes and be there when she needed me but when it came down to it – her father was right.

The second time Bella left for Atlanta, I got to say goodbye. I was thankful that Esme had thought to give us a few moments alone before the rest of the household staff descended upon Bella to see her off.

Bella found me down in the stables tending to Max – much like I was the day she'd arrived.

"Edward …" She whispered.

"All packed and ready to go?"

"Packed? Yes. Ready to go? No."

"Why not?"

"Because it's hard to say goodbye to this place; home … you," Bella faintly whispered the last word.

My breath caught in my throat at the idea of her thinking it was hard to say goodbye to me.

"You're not exactly saying goodbye because you'll be back right?"

"Yes, but …"

"No buts. No leaving here with tears in your eyes," I smiled as I wiped away a few tears that slipped down her beautiful face.

She grabbed on to my forearms, pulling the fabric of my shirt into her fists.

"Please, Edward … promise me that you'll still be here when I come back."

"Bella, what would make you think that I wouldn't be here?"

"It's just … it's just that I know you had plans with Emmett. It's not that I don't want you to go and follow your dreams – I do. I just don't want you to leave before I come home permanently."

"Bella …"

"Just promise me, Edward. Please?"

I looked into her wide, chocolate eyes and I knew that I'd never ever be able to say no to anything she asked of me. Not when she asked to stay with me in the hayloft, not when she asked me to teach her to really ride – I never told her no outright just that her father would never allow it and I certainly couldn't tell her no now.

"I promise," I whispered.

I reached out and pulled her into my arms hugging her and holding her to me. I softly kissed the top of her head.

"You'd better get going or they'll be wondering where you are."

Bella nodded and touched my cheek ever so gently with her hand.

Once again, I felt the hole in my chest. This time it hurt worse than it ever had before.


I spent the next two years trying not to think about Bella too much. She'd written me letters, more often than before but there was never any indication in any of her letters as to why it was so important for me to stay and wait for her. Bella had finally given me a return address so at least I was able to write back to her and tell her what was going on in Cedar Fork. She already knew most of that from her friend Alice, but Bella wrote that she loved to hear my point of view because it was uninhibited.

Emmett gave me grief day after day for keeping my promise to stay until Bella returned. He was anxious to make plans to head to Tennessee.

"Edward … why are so you insistent on keeping your promise to that girl?"

"Because, Em. I promised her – I gave her my word and I won't lie to her. We can leave as soon as she's back, yeah?"

"Yeah."

I could tell he wasn't happy about it, but he didn't bother me about it again after that conversation.

"We should pack up a wagon and go to Tennessee for a few days to see if we can find some land," Emmett suggested.

"If we do, then what? Send a telegram back to my parents saying that we bought some land and we're staying?

"Why not? We've got nothing to lose," he shrugged.

"I do," I whispered.


Esme looked out for Mr. Swan as his health declined. Finally, his doctor urged Esme to send word to Bella in Atlanta.

Bella arrived a few weeks later, in mid-March of 1893 with her aunt and uncle in tow.

Bella's Aunt Victoria was a formidable woman, devastated by the news of her brother's ill-health. However, it didn't stop her from ordering everyone around, including everyone who worked in the stable.

Four of our mares were expecting and between caring for them and the other horses we were too busy to worry about Victoria Riley nee Swan. I wanted so badly to see Bella, but she stayed by her father's side as much as possible. It was probably a good thing, if Mr. Swan was opposed to me, surely his sister would be even more so.

Every evening, Esme would give us updates on Mr. Swan. In truth, he'd lived much longer than the doctor hoped he would but he was still deteriorating.

"Bella's uncle James informed Mr. Swan that a Major Jasper Whitlock has asked for Bella's hand in marriage. Has Bella said anything to you about this potential fiancé?" Esme asked.

I nearly choked on the stew I was eating.

"No," I stuttered. "Not a word."

"Mr. Riley asked me to prepare one of the guest rooms for Major Whitlock. He said he will be arriving Saturday afternoon."

I took a deep breath. Saturday afternoon. Three days from now. If Bella was getting married I wanted to hear it from her – not my mother.

The next morning, I was out in the stables putting out feed when Bella's friend Alice came to visit. I'd met her on more than a few occasions and she'd occasionally come by to let me know that she'd heard from Bella and that she was doing well. She was a sweet girl, but much too excitable for my liking. She was a good friend to Bella and it was good of her to come by and keep me updated so I'd sort of befriended her.

"Good morning, Alice!" I smiled as I saw her poking her head around the stable door.

"Hi, Edward! I just thought I'd stop by and see you for a few minutes before heading for home. I came by to see Bella and Mr. Swan but I couldn't stay long because the doctor is here."

"Oh. How's he doing? Erm … Mr. Swan I mean."

"The same as yesterday, I think. No better and no worse. Bella on the other hand looks awful. She looks as though she hasn't slept in days. I'd never tell her that of course, but it's the truth. Bella would probably love to see you though."

"I don't know about that. Esme told me some Major something or other has asked for her hand in marriage. Bella's an engaged woman now, I guess. At any rate, he's supposed to be here on Saturday so I'm sure she'll be glad to see him."

"You should still make it a point to go see her, Edward. Her aunt is as awful and as cold as they come. She's too wrapped up in what's proper for a lady to be of any comfort for Bella. Her father's dying, Edward she needs someone to comfort her."

"I'll see what I can do." I nodded.

Alice's words haunted me for the rest of the day. She didn't deny that Bella was engaged, yet she encouraged me to go see her. It took all I had not to go to her. I didn't think it was my place and I'm sure Bella's aunt Victoria wouldn't hesitate to throw me out the door by the scruff of my neck.

By Saturday morning, the house was bustling with activity. The doctor had come sometime around seven. My father had sent me up to collect his horse and tend to it while he examined Mr. Swan. The doctor remained at the house for most of the day. Shortly after noon, Esme emerged from the house and stood for a long while on the back porch. Even from far away I knew she was crying. I hollered at my father and together we walked up to the porch.

"He passed about a half hour ago," Esme sobbed quietly.

"Shite," my father and I said in unison.

"How's Bella?" I asked softly.

"Completely inconsolable," Esme replied. "Her aunt is busy with making the arrangements until Bella can tell us what her wishes are. Mr. Swan left behind some specific wishes of his own and it's up to Bella whether she wants them to come to fruition or not. She's got a lot on her shoulders for such a young girl. Have you seen her yet, Edward?"

"No."

"Come, she needs a friend at the moment."

Esme led me into the house. In the nearly ten years I'd lived on this farm, I'd only been inside the house maybe half a dozen times. I followed my mother up the staircase and into Mr. Swan's private quarters. Mr. Swan lay on the bed covered with a plain white sheet while Bella stood at the picture window that overlooked the barn and pasture.

"Go on," Esme whispered, urging me toward Bella.

"Bella?"

I walked several steps toward her.

"Bella?" I asked again.

"Edward …" she whispered. "You're here."

I nodded as she turned toward me.

"Where else would I be?"

She launched herself into my waiting arms and I held her tight as she sobbed into my chest.

"He's gone, Edward. What am I going to do?"

"You still have time to worry about that Bella. You don't have to make any decisions right this minute or today even, okay?

She nodded into my chest as I rubbed circles on her back in an attempt to soothe her. Bella's hair that was usually perfectly coiffed hung loose down her back and floated around her face. I tucked a few loose strands back behind her ear and softly kissed her forehead.

We stood like that for a long time. Though I hated the reason it was necessary, I loved the feeling of holding Bella so close in my arms. I reveled in her scent, the soft feel of her petite body against mine and her arms wrapped around me, grasping the back of my shirt in her fists. I heard someone clear their throat behind me and I raised my head from Bella's and turned to see who the sound was coming from.

"Edward, they're here to take the body," my mother said softly. "Also, Major Whitlock has arrived. I should help Bella freshen up and let her receive him on the porch."

I nodded and focused on Bella once again.

"Bella, love," I said softly. "They're here for your father. Major Whitlock has also arrived. My mother's going to help you freshen up so you can go downstairs and receive your guest."

"Can I say goodbye to him before they take him?" Bella whispered, her eyes wide with panic.

"Of course, Bella."

"Stay with me, Edward. Please?"

She released her grasp on my shirt and took my hand, leading me over to her father's bedside. I watched as she pulled the sheet away from his face with an unsteady hand and bent over to place a kiss upon his forehead as a single tear slid down her cheek.

"I love you, Daddy," she whispered. "I promise I'll follow my heart."

Bella slowly replaced the sheet and turned toward me again.

"I'm good now."

I wiped the tears from her porcelain cheeks and led her to my mother.

"Come, Bella, sweetheart. We'll get you cleaned up. Major Whitlock is eager to see you."

"Jasper?"

"Yes, he's downstairs, sweetheart. Didn't you hear Edward tell you that?"

"No, I suppose I didn't. I … I need to speak to Edward. Alone. Please?"

"Of course, sweetheart. Just move to another room, please."

Bella reached out for my hand once again and she led me out of the room, down the hall to another room. She quietly closed the door behind us.

"Edward, I'm sorry I didn't tell you about Jasper. I didn't want you to find out about him the way you did."

"Are you really going to marry him?"

"I … I don't know. My aunt and uncle think he's perfect for me. He's sweet and kind. He's well respected and an honest man. He's been very good to me these last few months. I love him. I do, it's just that I'm not sure it's enough."

"Why do you think that?" I asked quietly.

"Because I love someone else too, and I love that someone more than I could ever possibly love Jasper. He deserves for someone to love him with their whole heart."

"Does this someone know that you love him?"

"I don't know," Bella sobbed, sitting down on the settee.

"Does he love you?"

"I hope he does."

I took her hand in mine as she continued to sob.

"Who is it, Bella? Do I know him?"

She nodded.

"Do you really not know, Edward?"

"Me? You love me?" I asked, hoping with all my heart that it was true.

"Yes," Bella nodded.

"Oh, Bella," I whispered, pulling her into my arms. "How could you not know, love? I couldn't ever tell you no and I promised not to leave until you came back. I think I've loved you since I was ten years old, but your father always made me feel as if I wasn't good enough for you, so I've loved you from a distance. I feel as if I've done you a disservice in not making it blatantly obvious but I suppose that's because in some strange way I felt I was trying to spare you the heartache that I felt so desperately even if I didn't know you felt the same way."

"Oh, Edward. Why do you think I asked you to stay? I knew if I asked and you actually stayed like you promised that you felt something for me. Please, please don't feel like you aren't good enough. I'm sorry you ever felt that way. I'm sorry my father made you feel that way."

"Did your father know about Jasper's proposal?"

"Yes. My uncle informed him. My father asked me if marrying Jasper was what I really wanted and when I didn't answer right away he told me it didn't matter to him who I married as long as I was happy. Did he know that you love me?"

"He did, I just don't know if he realized how much."

"So now what?" Bella laughed humorlessly.

"Do you think we could be happy together, Bella?"

"I think we could be very happy, Edward." She smiled. "But I suppose that means I need to speak to Jasper as well. He deserves my honesty."

I kissed her cheek softly before letting myself out of the room while Bella freshened up a bit. I waited for her at the bottom of the stairs like she'd asked me to and together we made our way out to the back porch to find Alice and Major Whitlock in deep conversation.

"Bella, darlin' there you are," Jasper said as he rose to greet her.

"Jasper. Thank you for coming," Bella said softly as she kissed his cheek.

"I'm sorry to hear about your daddy. I wish I could have gotten here sooner."

"It's not necessary to apologize. There isn't anything that you could have done."

Jasper nodded and looked toward me.

"Who's your friend here, darlin'?"

"Oh, Jasper. I'm so sorry. This is Edward and I see you've already met Alice."

"Yes," he chuckled. "I've met the lovely Miss Alice. She's been good to keep me company while you've been taking care of matters upstairs."

Bella asked Jasper if he would take a walk with her and she gave me a pleading look as she took his arm and stepped off the porch.

"I hope you told her that you're in love with her," Alice said softly.

I raised my eye brow at her. "I did. But what does it matter to you?"

"It matters because I've watched the two of you dance around it for years and never say a word to each other. I'd hate for you two to avoid the inevitable and end up with someone else and be miserable."

"Regardless of how she felt, Alice, I would have told her how I felt before she left or I left – whichever one came first."

"Good."

My mother stepped out onto the porch and suggested that I walk home with her. It was getting to be late in the afternoon and Bella and Jasper would probably be talking for a while.

"Bella knows where to find you if she needs you, sweetheart."

That night I couldn't sleep. I went over to the McCarty's and found them sitting around the fireplace drinking ale. They offered me a pint and I sat and chatted with them for several hours. Mr. McCarty retired eventually, leaving Emmett and I.

"So … Bella's back and Mr. Swan has passed. Does that mean that you're going to propose and marry her?"

"I don't know what's going to happen yet. Bella and I are just figuring this all out. She's overwhelmed enough as it is, I don't want to add more to the list of things she has to worry about."

We finished our ale and I said goodnight, making my way back toward the stables. I pulled a lantern out of the tack room and lit it making my way to the hayloft in the barn. It was still cold with it being the end of March but I'd grabbed plenty of wool blankets from the tack room to make myself comfortable. I had just fallen asleep when I heard her sweet voice.

"Edward?"

"Bella? What are you doing here?"

"I needed to see you. You were gone by the time Jasper and I came back. I'm glad you're here instead of at home. I don't want to wake Carlisle and Esme."

"You're shivering. Come on, there are plenty blankets for the two of us."

Bella sat down beside me and I wrapped a blanket around her shoulders. I sat as close to her as possible but I was scared as to what she might have to say.

"I spoke to Jasper."

I took her hand in mine and urged her to continue.

"I think he was relieved. He didn't want to push me into something I wasn't one hundred percent sure of. I told him that I was in love with you and that you love me too."

I blew out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding.

"Please don't doubt that, Edward," Bella said, kneeling in front of me and cupping my face in her hands.

"I don't, Bella, but it's good to hear it none the less."

I leaned over and kissed her sweetly before resting my forehead against hers.

"What are we going to do? I mean, my father left me his estate which includes the house, stables, barn and all the surrounding property – not to mention the horses. I don't know that I can part with the horses. Both my parents loved them so much."

"Why would you have to part with any of it, Bella?"

"Because you're leaving here and going to Tennessee with Emmett. I was hoping that you'd take me with you. I was thinking of asking Carlisle and Esme to run the farm in exchange for the house. Not the house they're living in now, but my parent's house."

"But isn't that your home, Bella?"

"Not any more, Edward. My home is wherever you are. If you are in Tennessee then that's where my home is."

I learned that night that Bella didn't want anything more from her aunt and uncle. It was her father's wish for her to stay with them so she did because he asked her to.

We buried Mr. Swan two days later. He was buried beside his wife beneath a cedar tree at the far edge of their property. I sat beside Bella for hours as she quietly wept, mourning the loss of both her parents.

In the days after the funeral, Bella was urged to make a decision regarding the estate and after speaking with my mother and father she'd decided to educate herself on the way the ranch was run and go from there. Bella's aunt was appalled that Bella didn't want to marry Jasper and return with them to Atlanta.

"Atlanta will offer you a better life than this farm in the middle of Virginia, Isabella," Victoria reminded Bella.

"Atlanta doesn't offer me Edward. I'll be wherever he is," Bella said firmly.

"You're a minor so you're still under my care!" Victoria shrieked.

"Actually, Ms. Riley, Bella's under my care. Mr. Swan stated in his will that if Bella decided to stay in Cedar Fork she would remain with my husband and me until her eighteenth birthday. However, if Bella should marry before then she has his blessing as long as she's happy."

"My brother wasn't in his right mind when he had those papers made up!"

"Actually, he was and I was there to witness it," my father said firmly.

"This is preposterous! James! Prepare the carriage and we'll be on our way. It's apparent that our opinion isn't worth anything here."

Bella was obviously beside herself at the thought of losing the only blood relative she had left but she stood firm on her decision.

Spring was in full swing and we birthed four healthy foals in the weeks following Mr. Swan's death. My father and mother had moved into the large house and I stayed behind at the house that my father and I had built. It was more than enough room for me, but I knew I wouldn't be there long.

Emmett and I continued to plan our future in Tennessee. He'd also proposed to Rosie Hale. They were planning on a small wedding in early June. Bella and I continued to get reacquainted and I fell in love with her a little more every day.

My father took me aside one day and asked if I planned on marrying Bella. I told him it was something I wanted more than anything.

He handed me a tattered box that held my mother's wedding ring.

"Then what are you waiting for?"

The next afternoon I found myself leading Bella down to the stables.

"Where are you taking me?" she giggled.

"For a ride." I smiled.

"You're going to teach me to ride?"

"Mmmhmm. If you insist on helping out around the stables you're going to need to know how to ride."

I helped her up onto one of my favorite mares who I knew would be gentle with her. I took the lead and led her across to the pasture where Max was already waiting.

I mounted Max and came up alongside Bella. She giggled again and it was nice to see her smiling and happy. We trotted around the pasture for a while until Bella asked if I would show her how to really run.

Until she had the feel of it, I was nervous about letting her go on her own. I climbed down off of Max and helped Bella off her horse.

"But … I want …" She began, but I pressed my finger against her soft lips.

"I know … you want to run. But I don't want you to get hurt. I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you. So we'll run together until you get the feel of it."

I helped her up on Max and I climbed up behind her.

"Hold on tight to the reins," I instructed her. "To get him going, just nudge him with your heels. Not enough to hurt him but so he'll know what you want him to do."

She did as I instructed and Max took off. I held onto the bridle and we flew. It was invigorating having my body so close to Bella's. I could feel the pounding of her heart – a reflection of the adrenaline pumping throughout her entire being. I took over the reins and slowed us down; gradually coming to a stop. Bella crossed her hand over her heart.

"That was … amazing," she said breathlessly.

"You're amazing, Bella. You're so fearless and trusting. I love you so very much."

"I love you too, Edward."

"Bella … will you … will you marry me?" I asked quietly.

"Yes! Yes, Edward Cullen. I'd love to be your wife."

Her smile was radiant as she beamed at me and I'm sure my own mirrored hers as she wrapped her arms around me and we kissed.

I hopped down from Max and Bella reached for me to help her down as well. I took her hand in mine and we walked back toward the stable excited for our future together.

In August of that year, Bella and I were married in a small ceremony at our little church in Cedar Fork. Surrounded by my parents, Alice and Major Whitlock, Liam, Emmett, and Rosie McCarty and a few of the other stable hands, Bella and I promised to love and cherish each other always.

At Bella's request, we rode Max back to the farm so we had a few moments alone before joining the rest of our friends and family for lunch.

That evening, I checked to make sure our front door was locked and that the curtains were drawn before I joined Bella on the floor in front of the fireplace. She was mindlessly brushing her hair; her eyes focused on the flames before her. Wearing only her underclothes she looked beautiful in the firelight.

"Love? Are you alright?"

"I'm perfect."

"Nervous?" I asked.

"Maybe a little."

I pulled her into my arms and softly kissed her shoulder. Her skin was warm from the fire and she smelled heavenly. I laid her back against a soft blanket and a few pillows I'd brought from upstairs. I kissed her full lips, meeting her tongue with mine and sliding them gently against each other. I broke the kiss and whimpered softly from the loss of her lips on mine, but I wanted to explore the rest of her lovely skin.

I slowly began to untie her corset and my eyes met hers as she gasped.

She ran her fingers gently through my hair silently letting me know I could continue. I pulled the thin fabric of Bella's camisole from her bloomers and ghosted my fingers along the smooth skin of her stomach.

"So soft," I murmured.

It almost felt wrong touching Bella's perfect skin with my coarse hands. If it bothered Bella she never mentioned it. It was almost as if her body craved my touch as much as I craved hers. I pulled her up enough to tug the camisole over her head revealing her beautiful breasts. They were round and full, her nipples rosy and erect. Bella immediately covered her chest under my obvious perusal of her exposed skin.

"No, Bella. Don't hide. Please?"

I reached out for her hands and gently pulled them from her body as I laid her back and kissed her once again. I nipped at her bottom lip sweetly before kissing down her jaw to her neck and collarbone. I left a trail of wet kisses down to the swell of her breasts and I couldn't help but swirl her rosy nipple with my tongue before pulling it into my mouth and sucking on it gently.

I felt her warm hands tugging at the hem of my shirt and I smiled against her skin before rising up and pulling it off.

"Take off your pants," Bella whispered.

I did as she asked leaving me completely bare before her. I knelt above Bella giving her a moment to take in my form and my more than prominent erection. I watched her carefully as her eyes moved down my body and I watched them grow wider as she focused on my groin. Bella seemed to stop breathing for a moment before she exhaled and her eyes met mine again. She reached out for my hand and pulled me back down to her.

Bella ran her fingers through the downy hair on my chest and traced the defined muscles she found there, as if she was trying to memorize them immediately.

"I'm not going anywhere without you, Bella."

Bella looked up at me with wide questioning eyes.

"You looked like I was going to disappear before your eyes, love. You seem like you're trying to memorize every part of me in this moment when we have our entire lives."

"I love you so much, Edward. Please make love to me."

I untied her bloomers and carefully pulled them down her slender legs. As I took her in, I made note to make love to her often. Bella's legs were long and shapely and it was a shame they had to be hidden under long dresses. I kissed both of her feet before placing her legs on either side of me as I knelt between them. I hovered over her and kissed her, our tongues tangling together. I ghosted my hand down her body until I found the soft curls above her apex. Bella gasped but didn't break our kiss. I parted her lips and ran my finger through the wetness I'd found there.

I thought about the advice that my father and Emmett had given me; to make sure that she was ready and taken care of because intercourse for the first time wouldn't be pleasant for Bella. My father also reminded me to fight against the urge I'd have to just take her and be as gentle with her as possible.

I pushed a finger inside her and her body tensed at the sudden intrusion. I circled her nub with my thumb and as Bella gave in to the pleasure I felt her body relax. I slowly pushed a second finger into her and she bucked her hips against my hand. I continued to push and pull my fingers in and out of her, working her into a frenzy.

"Edward …" Bella breathed as she held onto my shoulders tightly.

"Let it go, love. I'm right here, I've got you."

I felt her muscles contract around my fingers as she squeezed her eyes shut and let her orgasm wash over her. She whimpered quietly and I peppered her face with kisses, slowing pulling my fingers out of her. I took my erection in my hand and ran the tip through the slickness left in the wake of Bella's orgasm. Bella gasped again, and looked at me with wide eyes.

"It's just me, love. Are you sure? I won't force myself on you just because you're my wife. I would like for you to want this too."

"I do want this, Edward, so very much."

I positioned myself at her entrance and slowly pushed myself inside her. I whispered quietly that I loved her and tried to get her to focus on my voice rather than what was going on inside her. She was incredibly tight and felt so good. When I reached her barrier, I reached for both her hands and tangled our fingers together before pushing through it. I kissed away the tears that slid down my beautiful wife's face. Bella remained quiet and when she began to squirm beneath me, I took that as a queue to move. She surrounded my entire being without even knowing it and I was completely lost in her. Moving my hips against her I found a rhythm we both seemed to enjoy and I found myself falling over a ledge I barely saw coming. I nuzzled her neck as I spilled into her, softly whimpering her name.

After allowing us a bit of time to gather our wits, I picked up my wife and carried her upstairs to our bed where I curled my body around hers and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

The next morning, I woke to find my Bella looking at me sheepishly.

"I got you a wedding gift," she whispered. "I hope you like it."

"What is it?"

"It's a surprise," She giggled as she climbed out of bed and began to get dressed.

"Come on, Mister Cullen."

We walked up to the stables where I found Max already saddled up and ready to go. I helped Bella up onto the saddle and climbed on behind her. She grabbed the reins and led us down the dirt drive

"So I've come to a decision about the ranch," Bella said softly, stopping where the drive met the road.

"What did you decide, love?"

"That I can't possibly run this ranch by myself, but I don't have the heart to sell it either."

"So what does that mean?" I asked confused.

Bella pointed up to the sign that designated this the 'Swan Ranch' and it now read 'Cullen-McCarty Ranch'.

"Bella?"

"Edward, I've already spoken to Emmett about it. In fact, he's the one who put up the sign. Why should we take off to start all over again when there is a perfectly good ranch to run here? We'll split everything with Emmett and Rosie. He agreed if we gave him our little house."

I laughed. "I hope you told him yes!"

"I did," Bella giggled. "We'll move up to the main house after a little bit of renovation. Some of those rooms hold too many memories."

"I know, love. We'll do our best to make new memories of our own."


We did exactly that. I lived in the main house with my Bella long after our children had grown and gone. Our first little one had come the spring after we were married and we were thrilled. My mother and father stayed until they both passed away and we buried them next to Bella's parents under the old cedar tree. Emmett and I flourished with our breeding business. We even had a couple horses that entered and placed well in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

When the market crash of 1929 hit, Emmett lost everything; he'd invested every cent he had that wasn't tied up in the ranch and lost it all. Bella and I offered to buy his half of the ranch so they'd have money to live but he wouldn't hear of it. Emmett committed suicide three months later.

The wounds of losing my lifelong best friend were still fresh when I lost the love of my life. Bella had caught a cold that she just couldn't get rid of and developed pneumonia. There wasn't much the doctor could have done for her.

Our children gathered around and we told her we loved her. She pulled me close to her and whispered, "Be happy, Edward. Promise me. I'll see you again, my love."

Our oldest, Lizzie and her husband took over the ranch. That spring, one of our mares gave birth to a female colt. I claimed her and named her Belle. It was fitting because she had the same fearlessness and trust that my Bella had, and she kept me running until I could run no more.


A/N: Just a few notes:

Cedar Fork, VA is an unincorporated town located in Central Virginia northwest of Doswell, VA home of Secretariat - the greatest race horse that ever lived.

The inaugural race of the Kentucky Derby was held May 17, 1875

The inaugural race of the Preakness Stakes was held May 27, 1873

Thank you for reading.