Age of Edward Contest 2012
An Honorable Intention
American Civil War Edward
Disclaimer: Anything remotely resembling Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer. Any of the stories within, belong to me. Please do not copy or translate without permission.
An Honorable Intention
Fort Federal Hill, Baltimore, Maryland. July 14, 1863
I am writing to you this letter in hopes that you will do something for me. I realize now I will not be returning home.
I see you as a true and valued comrade, valiant and brave in every way. I hope you will not be offended as I ask you
to do this one thing: Please return to my home and take care of my beloved wife for me.
She is the most beautiful creature—exquisite in every way.
Golden Grove, Missouri. April 30th, 1865
Working the fields was a necessary way of life if one wanted to survive, especially in times like these. Today, barring any delays, we should finally finish turning the soil in preparation for planting sweet corn. Duped by the late frost, we had almost planted too early—which would have been a costly mistake on my part.
I paused, grabbing my apron to wipe at the sweat already forming on my brow. With the temperature already rising so early in the morning, I knew we were in for an unusually hot afternoon.
Our workdays started early on the farm, and I'd already fed the chickens and cows myself—normally a chore our Mister Jasper oversaw, but, as I'd sent him in to town at the first rooster crow for more seed, it was up to me to see the chores done.
I trudged up the back steps, into the kitchen through the screen porch, and narrowly missed Alice with her tray of bread. She juggled the warm loaves sliding back toward her apron with an ease of grace I'd never mastered.
"So sorry, mum. I didn't even see you coming."
"Oh, I'm sorry, too. I was lost in my own thoughts..."
Used to my scattered thoughts, she smiled at me and neatly rearranged the loaves of bread before setting them on the table to cool.
"Oh, Alice, I've no idea what to do! There are so many things that need done today. With your husband gone to Lamar and the late frost only just melted, I fear it'll never be done in time," I said tossing my hat on to the sideboard.
On days like today I wanted to wail at the Heavens for taking my husband—God rest his soul—for leaving me with a task so daunting. His parents were gone now, too, both passed just last year, but I felt a duty to carry on in place of my departed loved ones.
With the war freshly over, I was so incredibly fortunate to have anything at all.
It was a hardship to be a young widow in the current political climate. Work better suited to an able bodied man was always lurking, and my help was neither young nor able bodied anymore. While the remaining tasks were strength sapping, to be sure, I found that a certain sense of…pride came from being able to carry them out myself.
I missed my husband, the Lord above knew I did, but there was no getting around the fact that he was gone and I remained. If I wanted to keep the household and the income that came from it, I knew I had to be willing to share in the chores.
"You know," she said, coming back from the kitchen, "Missus Esme has taken in another laborer at her house down the way. There ain't much work around at the moment. Maybe you let her know you need help."
"I'm not sure if I can pay him what he may be seeking," I replied. Tapping my fingers on the table, I ran through a mental ledger and knew we were stretched this month with having to buy the planting supplies.
"You never know. He might just be the man you're looking for." Her tone was cheerful as she turned to fill the wash basin with water she'd brought in from the pump.
Maybe it wasn't such a terrible idea. I could use some help with the planting and other chores.
"When you take the eggs over, please let her know that I would like to meet her new boarder."
"Oh, I will, mum."
You will know her the minute you see her. I can guarantee she'll be working hard in the field,
face furrowed with concentration about what to accomplish next; her hands and clothes dirty from her work.
I could never get her to turn over the hard work to the laborers. I told her before we were wed
that it wouldn't be proper for a married woman to work so hard in the field. But what a sight to behold.
In the afternoon, I had plowed about all I could on my own and still Jasper hadn't returned from town. He'd been moving a little slower as of late, and I hoped we would be able to make it through another season of him overseeing the farm.
A few times I had caught myself humming a jaunty tune that had been my husband's favorite. The memory of his deep, strong voice calling out above the fields and making others laugh when he hit a wrong note was a happy one, and I clung to it for a little longer than yesterday. Every day it was a little easier to remember him and not feel pain.
I had just raised the reins to tap my geldings on their flanks when the seam on the side came loose, breaking the leather in two. Jake, my large black field horse, stopped dead in his tracks with no motivation to move any further, pulling his partner Sam to a halt.
"Damnation!" I blurted out as I surveyed the broken straps of leather, my frustration at full tilt.
At the unexpected voice, I whirled around to find a tall man in a broad hat standing a few feet behind me. Backlit by the sun as he was, his face was hidden in the shadow of his hat. I shut my eyes against the embarrassment of being caught uttering oaths like a field hand.
"I understand you're looking for some help?"
I lifted my hand to shield my eyes to get a better look. "Are you from Mrs. Platt's place?" I asked.
"Yes, ma'am. Edward Cullen. Just came to the area."
I surveyed his clothing, surmising it would do. "Are you accustomed to working on a farm?"
"Yes, I am."
I'd heard that line plenty—somehow, it inevitably turned out that being accustomed to working on a farm did not necessarily translate to accepting back-breaking work for the little pay I could afford. It was a sign of the times, I told myself. Men needed work and weren't always honest in procuring it.
"What can you do?"
"Just about anything, I suppose."
"You suppose," I echoed. I looked at his hands, noting a few calluses and a recent scar on the back of his right hand. I also noticed that they were all gentlemanly-like: soft underneath with long fingers that looked more used to wielding a pen than a scythe.
I looked to his face again. "Can you mend leather?"
I could see his eyes more clearly now—green with a hint of gold. They were surrounded by long dark lashes against his not-so-pale skin. Too red to be natural, his skin seemed to be fair toned, though he'd obviously been working outside as of late. He also looked a little thin and somewhat weary.
Then again, most people did these days. The war had taken a toll on us all.
He held his hand out. "May I?" Holding the severed strands of leather out, I gave the pieces to him. When our fingers touched, I drew my hand back as if I had touched a blacksmith's iron and hid it under my apron. Though the touch had made my fingers tingle, my cheeks were the thing that flamed.
"We'll have to take the harness apart in order to fix this."
He was completely unaffected—it annoyed me for some reason.
"Well, I guess I'm done for the day. If you can fix this, sir, you may have well found yourself some work," I said in a clipped tone.
He gave me a thin smile and I moved to unhook Sam from the harness. Covert peeks as I turned to leave showed that he was talking quietly to Jake, stroking the horse's nose. The fickle beast shook his head, rattling the bit as he settled for Mr. Cullen to unlatch him.
"I'll take them both to the paddock and leave the plow. I'll need to start here tomorrow."
"Yes, ma'am," he replied.
He handed me the other lead rope and I made certain our fingers would not touch again. I hadn't given him an answer about the job, and I wasn't quite sure yet if I needed his help.
She'll resist help at first, but be persistent.
There was a soft knock on the back screen door and I looked up from the ledger I was trying to balance to see Mr. Cullen on the steps. Truth be told, he'd been in my thoughts just the minute past. As much as I hated to admit it—I wasn't one to poor-mouth if it could be helped—I had barely two coins extra a week for him. We needed the help, but I'd have to pass.
"I've finished with the harness, even reinforced some of the worn areas."
I opened the screen door to take the harness from him. The stitches were sure and firm. I regretted my flippant comment earlier about fixing the leather, especially when it wouldn't lead to work.
"I appreciate your handy work, Mr. Cullen. New leathers sure cost a lot these days. Thank you for giving it a little more life."
"You're welcome," he said, hesitating. He looked away and studied the family portraits on the wall. "Have you made a decision?"
"I…I think we'll be all right. I have Jasper to help me."
"I'm sure I could be of help," he pressed, turning his eyes to mine once more. "I have the knowledge of quite a few things."
Alice coughed and I turned to look at her. She made a waving motion with her hand and mouthed the words, "Go on."
The help would be nice…and it was so dreadfully lonely here day in and day out. A new face might make the planting pass easier.
"I'm not sure how much I can offer, but I ought to be able to pay you once a week. Can you be here early tomorrow? We need to finish plowing the field."
"Yes. I can be here at sunrise."
"Well then, good night, Mr. Cullen. See you in the morning."
"Thank you, ma'am. I sure do appreciate it." He tipped his hat and offered a small smile. "Good night."
I watched him walk away, noting there was an easy grace to his movement. I could tell that he wasn't a laborer by trade and I suspected he too was a former soldier… as most men his age were. There was something more to him, though, something deeper that he was holding to himself. I would do my best to find out what it was.
I think back to you, my friend and how we fought alongside each other in Chamberlain's regiment.
You were a fine lieutenant who always knew when to cover your men. Those early days in Gettysburg were uncertain,
but I knew we'd win; fighting for our home turf would put the spine in any man. If only we hadn't been separated
during the prolonged artillery attack by the Confederates on Cemetery Ridge, I may not have taken shrapnel to the hip…
I watched Mr. Cullen as he worked alongside Jasper. He seemed to intuitively know what was needed and was one step ahead of the task at hand. He didn't say much as he worked and had no qualms about the heavy labor. I even saw the two men laughing together on several occasions. Overall, he seemed quite agreeable.
After they had completed the turning of the soil, I watched the two men walk into the barn to where the supplies were. I clucked, watching Jasper rub his hand along his thigh as he walked.
"Alice," I said standing up from my place in the kitchen garden. "Your husband needs a break. Would you take them a bite to eat while I finish the weeding here?"
"Oh, of course. I told him not to work too hard today. His leg ached in the night somethin' fierce and he was in a heap of pain. But we ain't got any more laudanum."
"There is some whiskey above in the dry goods cupboard that I've no use for since..." I shook my head. Best not to think of why the whiskey wasn't being used. "Please take it to him. I'll see what I can do about getting more."
"You're a kind soul, you are. Thank you, mum."
After she had disappeared back in to the kitchen, I looked back to the barn. My new worker was doing his best to support Jasper to a seat on a tree stump. Mr. Cullen was a kind soul, himself.
I spent the remainder of my time alone in the garden planning the week ahead. As I finished with the last of the sweet peas, I stood up and removed my hat.
"Is that all for today?"
I whirled around with my hand on my chest, watching my hat flutter to the ground. "Oh! I…I didn't hear you!"
"I'm sorry to have frightened you." He bent over to retrieve my hat and handed it to me. "I'm finished for the day, unless you have something else you need help with?"
"No, we should be fine."
He smiled, nodded his head, and turned to go.
"Mr. Cullen?" I ventured.
I usually kept to myself these days, unknowing of how to behave now that I was a widow. My period of mourning was over and done with, black garments packed away in the chest my dear husband had made for me as a wedding gift.
I suspected Mr. Cullen to be well-bred and in possession of proper manners; in all honesty, I would be honored to have the company of a true gentleman. Not to mention that he was a good man, kind and polite and very, very handsome. It'd be so nice to have dinner with such a man as he.
He turned back around to listen.
"Would you like to stay for supper?"
"Thank you, but I need to be getting back to the boarding house this evening."
I smiled politely and sighed a little as I watched him head back down the road. I wondered if, like so many other displaced men of late, there was someone he was missing. Perhaps there was a sweet little gal who he wrote letters to every night. There probably was, and I was just being silly—too long alone, or something of the sort.
Most importantly, I wondered what had brought him here.
Tomorrow, I resolved, I would find out more about our enigmatic Mr. Cullen.
She is incredibly curious and always up for a challenge.
Alice's worried face at breakfast told me all I needed to know about how the night before had gone for her man. I would do just as well myself to head into town and procure him a bottle of laudanum—whiskey was all good and well, but Doc Gerandy would have something better for the pain.
My list of stops for the day included the feed store and the general store—it wouldn't hurt to have whiskey on hand also.
Outside the general store, I ran into none other than Mrs. Platt and knew I had to take this opportunity to feed my curiosity. A war widow like myself, she was my closest neighbor. Too old to be clucking over chickens the way I did, she ran a boarding house for the former soldiers and farm laborers traveling through on their way to and from the Southern states.
"Mrs. Platt! How nice to see you. I almost wrote a letter last night to thank you for sending Mr. Cullen my way. His help is genuinely appreciated."
"Oh, dear, it was my pleasure, truly. I see you work so hard and I was so thankful to hear that you'd asked for help. I'd send fifty more if I could."
"Now, I do not need fifty laborers. My, could you even imagine! The one will be fine. I haven't had the chance to talk with him much, seeing as we keep him so busy…do you know where he comes from?" I asked innocently.
"I gather somewhere in the northeast. He fought in the War, you know, but he doesn't talk much about it. Bless his heart. He's a bit of a loner. After supper he spends most of his time reading."
"Oh." Selfishly, I wondered what he read. I longed for some time to spend with a book to get lost in as I did when I was a young girl.
"Dear, it's been a joy to see you, but I must head over to the post office. Do come and visit after church on Sunday, won't you?"
Truth be told, I hadn't attended church as much lately. I threw myself into the preparations for spring planting on the farm and I wasn't up to any social gatherings. I hoped my dear neighbor did not look down on me for pulling away from town life.
"I'll try. I have plenty to accomplish before the summer sun is upon us."
She waved goodbye and headed across the way.
When I returned home, I noticed that most everything was done for the day, and except for the unloading of the wagon, I had plenty of time to spend a relaxing evening inside—a luxury I was not accustomed to.
Mr. Cullen immediately appeared to help unload the wagon, carrying most of the items himself into the barn or up to the house.
He was always there and ready to help without my needing to ask.
Make sure you engage her in a lively conversation about books or current events and she will be most pleased.
And so it went that, after a day of hard work, I'd invite him to stay and he would politely decline and return to the boarding house.
Though he refused my polite invitations, I didn't mind. He was helpful and a good worker, and he talked to me often about the travels he'd taken—leaving out the less-than polite details about the war not fit for delicate company—and books we'd both read. I'd come to enjoy his company around the farm most exceptionally.
One warm spring day, I found on him working on the proper carriage in the barn. It hadn't been used in some time; the brake piece was bent, rendering it unusable.
"May I help you with something?" I asked.
"Yes, ma'am. In a few moments I may need an extra pair of hands," he said from underneath.
I was excited to have a few moments with him here—alone. My curiosity was burning a hole right through me. I'd no real clue as to how he felt about being here, and hadn't been sure on asking.
It wasn't that he was unapproachable, rather the opposite, but my habit of asking leading questions was best left to those who knew me. Today, though, I didn't worry about being impertinent and felt quite comfortable in his presence.
"How do you find working for us, Mr. Cullen? Are the conditions agreeable?"
"I like it quite well, ma'am. Things run efficiently and it seems like you do well with Jasper and Alice to help."
"They are truly invaluable to me. I don't know what I'd do without them."
"I hope you don't mind me asking, but are Jasper and Alice… how did they come to be with you, here?"
"They were a part of my husband's parents household before they both had passed. Even though they were free to go, they chose to remain here with me on the farm. They are truly like family to me, and here of their own volition. I provide housing in return for their labor. Prior to that, Mister Jasper fought in the war for the Union with my Father-in-law's blessing, although secretly. He was shot in the leg and returned home last year.
"He did tell me a little about that."
"We were very quiet about our choices. As far as the war itself, I'd done well remaining publicly neutral in the conflict, although it was almost more dangerous to do so—I learned early on that people didn't trust you if they didn't know what side you were on."
"How did you fare during the war, if you don't mind my asking?"
"We did our best to keep things running when my husband died, but the Estate Tax I had to pay upon his death about did us in. Last year, the fighting in Westport ravaged local farmers for miles, and the Border Wars were devastating before that, but luckily we were spared. Many people suffered on both sides. After my in-laws passed, and I took over the farm full time, it kept us out of trouble selling what we could."
"I imagine it was not very safe with just you and Alice here."
"My brother-in-law was here for a time, but he left shortly before my husband died. I don't even know if he knows. He clearly had no interest in the farm. We managed with other laborers for a short while. Most people saw our place as relatively safe, and my neighbors watched out for us."
"What about your family? Surely they—"
"No," I interrupted him. "There's no one but me."
"They relocated to what they call now the Dakota Territory several years ago. I've been so busy here that I haven't had time for a visit. But we attempt to correspond with letters monthly; sometimes the letters pass each other on the way. It is often old news."
"It is quite admirable that you've taken this on all on your own," he said as he bent back toward the wagon.
"I do what I must. I was never one to sit idly and partake in church functions or sewing circles. I wanted to see progress, make things move forward."
He chuckled lowly. "Yes, I have noticed that."
There was a clank as he freed the bent piece of metal. "Can you hold this for me?"
I grabbed a hold of the lever and pulled as he slipped the new piece into place.
Reminded of my family, I once again wondered about those he'd left behind and why he hadn't returned home.
"There. Should be good as new." He stood up and walked to the other side of the wagon to inspect the wheel.
I didn't want to press him any further, so I turned to look for the pitchfork I'd come to the barn for and noticed I'd left it in the loft. I reached for the ladder to climb without looking to see if it had been steadied. I was barely off the ground before my weight caused the ladder to shift.
Before I knew what was happening, I felt his arms wrap around me before I landed on the ground.
I could barely catch my breath in his tight embrace, then he loosened his grip and I noticed he didn't let go. My hands held fast to his biceps as he lowered me to the ground. Our eyes were locked together in a mutual trance, until his wandered to my hungry lips.
He lowered his mouth to mine and I met him eagerly, wanting more than anything to feel his lips on mine. Heat flooded my body as I melted into him.
He broke away from me, his forehead briefly touching mine before he gently pushed me away. His face looked anguished and I hoped he didn't regret kissing me—unexpected as it was, I surely did not regret kissing him. His lips were nice, strong and sure, and it had been so long...
"I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have done that."
Yes, you should have. I wanted you to, I answered in my head. My muted declarations went unheeded. He stepped back from me and quickly left the barn.
My hand rose to my lips, feeling the burn that remained. My insides churned with need. He'd stirred something up in me, something I thought long buried.
The next few days, I barely saw him. He showed up at dawn, worked all day and left right before supper, always completing his tasks, but making a quiet exit. I never saw him for any length of time until the third day.
He looked tired but walked to the house purposefully. "I'm done for the day, ma'am."
I was surprised he came to the house, his formal tone wasn't a mystery—he really did wish he hadn't kissed me.
Something inside me fluttered closed.
I noticed there was a book in his hand. He stepped forward to hand it to me and quickly stepped back again. "I hope you don't mind, but I brought you something you might find useful. I know you like to read…I thought you might enjoy this one. I finished it just last night."
I looked down at the book in my hand. Great Expectations. "Mr. Cullen, I don't know what to say. I've been looking forward to reading this for a long time." I looked back to him and he was fidgeting as if he had something more to say.
"I—" he cleared his throat, shook his head. "It is yours to enjoy. Good night." He turned to head through the gate.
I softly whispered, "Thank you, Edward," liking the way his given name passed through my lips. I absentmindedly lifted the book to my nose and inhaled, hoping to catch a hint of him there as I watched his silhouette grow fainter in the dim evening light.
The next night I found him outside the paddock and insisted he stay to eat. "Please. After such a kind gift, I'd ask you allow me this."
"Thank you. It'd be much appreciated, ma'am," he said, giving me a shy smile. I was thankful that after our awkward encounter in the barn, he'd chosen to finally relent and come in for supper.
"Please, call me Bella."
And so our quiet nights together began.
Do not be afraid to love her. I would be comforted to know that it would be you who were caring for her.
Every night that week, he'd come to say goodbye and I'd invite him in for supper. He would eat quietly, be polite in conversation and dutifully go on his way. We'd discuss passages from the book he gave me and it felt so good to have some real conversation.
I found my mind increasingly occupied by him; his breadth of knowledge on all subjects was intoxicating. When he left at night, a piece of me seemed to go with him.
The nights were spent in quiet contemplation of this very new development. While I l had loved my husband, rest his soul, I knew I was ready to move on from the memories of his ghost. No longer was it a painful hurt to think of him, but instead steady warmth lingered, a recall of happy memories that, while cherished, were better left in the past. Kind friends to remember on occasion, to be sure, but I was no longer that same young girl who'd fallen in love with dancing eyes and a joyful smile.
I was older, more mature, and life had changed me for no better or no worse. It simply had.
One particular evening, with Alice and Jasper gone for the night, it was just Edward and I dining in the kitchen alone. I caught myself again, as I'd taken to calling him by his given name both in passing and in my private thoughts.
When I placed his plate in front of him, I could feel the energy pass between us—a strange draw, almost palpable. The ache to touch him intensified when I moved around him and drew me in to the point where I could not stray far.
We ate in silence, the sounds of the silverware clinking on the plate loud and intrusive. I thought best to come up with some sort of conversation.
Feeling comfortable enough at this point to ask him more personal questions, I asked softly, "I understand that you, too, fought in the war."
He hesitated for a moment, not looking up, and replied, "Yes, I did."
I could tell that the memories were still sensitive to him, so I changed my line of questioning. "What did you do before then?"
His shoulders relaxed some. "I studied law, but was only in practice for a few months before the war broke out. I joined my local regiment and haven't returned home since."
"Do you not miss your family?"
He hesitated for a moment. "Yes, but there are things I need to do before I return home."
"Where do you come from?"
"Maine. However, my regiment fought in Pennsylvania, mostly."
"Might you have known my husband? He fought there, too." It was out before I thought better of it. Guilt must have washed across my face, because, in reality, I rarely mentioned him at all.
To distract myself, I moved to pick up the basket of rolls and gestured to him. He shook his head and set his fork on the plate. Rising from the table, he looked uncomfortable, his hands tightly fisted at his sides.
"Thank you, Bella, for dinner. I must go. I—"
"Is something the matter?"
He turned and almost ran out the back door. Thinking I'd asked too much, I jumped up after him and darted to the door. Both of my hands were braced on the door of the screen porch, and I called quietly after him, "Please…please don't go."
He stopped at the gate and I watched his back and shoulders droop slightly as if in defeat.
I was feeling brave now. I couldn't keep this to myself this any longer. "I can't stay away from you anymore. My heart hurts when you leave day in and out. Please come back."
He stood facing away from me and then turned slightly, the torn look on his face no doubt mirroring the same on mine.
He came back to the house and, in two strides, bounded up the steps and took me into his arms, lips crashing down on mine.
Weightless, light, and free as a feather in the breeze. Joy bubbled up in my heart, tined its way through my lungs, and escaped in a happy sound. I clung at his clothing, my hands wandering over his body, feeling, touching anything that would let me know this was real. His hands moved to cup my face and he placed warm fresh kisses from my ear to my lips and back. My knees were weak, trembling things that could not hold onto me as my elation threatened to carry me off to the sky.
"Edward," I gasped. "You make me feel so much…more. More than I've ever known."
My words, true and painfully honest, did not feel like a stone cast against my husband. We'd married so young, had only a few weeks together as a married couple. Our intimate acts were fumbled and full of laughter, one inexperienced soul trying to guide an equally naïve lover in things they knew nothing of. I cherished those memories; saw them as something good before our lives were turned upside down.
Now, though, I was ready for new memories; to learn and experience things at the hand of this man.
He softly brushed his knuckles across my cheek. "Darling, my heart is so incredibly full at the moment I don't have the words to begin to express it."
With his declaration, I turned to look into the depths of his jade green eyes. "I don't want to wait anymore." I cast my eyes downward. "I am a widow, it wouldn't be considered entirely scandalous," I whispered.
He gathered me in his arms, kissing me lightly on the top of my head. "I have…things, important things, I need to tell you first."
I placed my fingers on his lips. "Please, can they not wait? I want this to only be about us."
I reached up, put my arms around his neck, and pulled him to me. He hesitated and then kissed me soundly on the lips, and swept under my legs. The feeling of weightlessness I'd felt only minutes before magnified. He carried me to the stairs and I tucked my head into his shoulder, breathing the smell of earth and manly musk.
Once inside my room, he placed me on my feet at the foot of the bed. I turned to the window while he went to lock the door, wondering, hoping, that someone else in the world was as happy as I at that moment. When warm hands wrapped around me from behind I started slightly, and then melted into the embrace.
"Are you okay?"
His lips were on my neck then, placing light, feathery kisses that sent shivers racing down my spine. He turned me to face him and his fingers reached for my buttons. "May I?"
I smiled as I remembered that first day he touched me and I knew it was indelible. New memories—we would make new memories together. Not to replace the old, of course, but to add to the bank of good things to be thankful for. His fingers moved to unfasten each button slowly, exposing me to his gaze. I reached down to undo the waist of my skirt as he slowly pushed my blouse off of my shoulders.
I stood there in only my chemise, nervous but comforted by his presence. I only hoped to please him.
"So beautiful," he said, the look on his face soft and unguarded.
Warm lips lightly brushed my arm as they moved up to my shoulder and neck. He cupped my face and leaned in to softly kiss me on the lips. I reached out to pull him closer, knowing that I would feel the whole of him pressed to me, including the intimate parts of him.
He sat down on the bed and pulled me on to his lap. I ran my fingers into his hair while we kissed, the heat in my body growing. It was a glorious thing the way his presence filled the spaces of me I'd thought long dead, reigniting my soul and leaving me yearning to feel him against me fully. We lay back on the bed loving, kissing, sharing touches that made the other gasp or groan.
Breaking from my lips, he stood and motioned for me to move to the side and get under the bedclothes.
"Shall I tamp down the light?"
"No. I want to see you."
A small smile appeared on his face and he pulled his suspenders off of his shoulders and grasped the hem of his shirt to pull over his head.
Mesmerized by the lean lines of his torso, I blushed even though I openly perused-he'd put on some weight since the first time I met him, had filled out into a lovely man. He turned to remove his pants and I did close my eyes at the appearance of his backside, so embarrassing but so wonderful at the same time. Maybe in time I would be more comfortable with his nakedness…
He crawled into bed with me, folding me into his arms. His fingers brushed over my nipples through the thin gauze, sending fire throughout my body. He looked down at me, the expression on his face so reassuring. "Are you sure?"
"I've never been so sure about anything in my life, Mr. Cullen."
He chuckled. "I think we're a little past the formalities."
I smiled as his lips descended onto mine. Our tongues found each other in a slow, mingling dance at the same time his fingers wandered over my belly and between my legs. I gasped at the touch of his hands, yearning for more all the same. I wanted to touch him, to make him feel as good as he made me, so I did.
I memorized his sounds, tried to catalogue what made him groan and what made him shudder. I wasn't perfectly knowledgeable in properly pleasing a man, not yet, but I would learn with him.
When he perched himself above me, I knew there was no going back for me.
"I'm so thankful to have found you."
"As am I," I said earnestly, holding on to his hips.
Looking into his face, I saw tenderness there, a look surely reflected in my own eyes.
You will be enchanted by her beauty because it not only comes from her heart but from her soul.
Afterward, we lay facing each other in the morning light. The warm breeze of the summer morning lightly blew the curtains and made them dance in the wind. His fingers gently drew a line down my temple, sated green eyes following in their wake.
"You are simply the most beautiful woman I have ever seen."
Bolstered by the compliment, I raised my hand to touch his cheek and rub my thumb along his brow. He turned his face to kiss my palm and, in that very moment, it felt more intimate than anything we had just done.
We lay there quietly stroking, touching, and feeling each other until he fell fast asleep My mind was awash in memories, so happy and carefree that I could not join him in sleep. I thought to get up and bring him some breakfast before Alice came up to the house, so I moved from his embrace and set about finding something to wear.
In our haste, we'd left clothes strewn about the room and I tiptoed around, picking things up and separating them in to piles—his I placed in the chair, folded neatly, mine I bundled to be carried to the wash later.
I wasn't a vain woman, had no use for pretty fripperies, but I pulled my nicest things from my bureau and donned them just the same. Done with my own trousseau, I reached over for his jacket to place it on the chair with the rest of his things and a letter slipped out and fluttered underneath the bed.
My gut lurched. I did hope it was not from another woman. Curious, I picked it up, noting that it was quite worn from being carried around. When I turned over the envelope, I noticed the familiar but shaky handwriting, and my breath whooshed out heavily.
I looked back to the bed and noticed that Edward was still asleep. Something told me I needed to see this, so I tucked it in my skirts and headed to the kitchen.
Do not be afraid of her fire. Her spirit is a force to be reckoned with.
Bacon slices placed in the warmer, I finished with the biscuits and left the eggs until he came down stairs.
My hands shook as I placed the warm bread into a basket and covered it with a cloth. I felt foolish, betrayed, and altogether silly.
Perhaps I was really still a green youth, wet around the edges and unaccustomed to the ways of the world. Too easily taken in by whispered words of praise and not yet sophisticated enough to know when I was being made a fool of.
Hands slipped around my waist and I stiffened at as he placed a kiss underneath my ear.
"Good Morning," he said in a low voice.
My heart was twisted in to knots. It wanted to melt at his touch, in spite of my head's ire. "Have a seat, I'll bring you coffee."
Deciding I would do my best to hold a straight face until he had eaten before I confronted him, I turned to place his mug on the table.
His expression dropped, concern clearly written on his face. "Are you all right? I mean, are you…hurt in any way?"
I turned back to the stove to drop the eggs into fresh bacon grease.
"Yes, Edward, I am."
The silence that followed was filled with the popping and crackling of the grease. I scooped his eggs onto the plate filled with bacon, fresh biscuits and white sausage gravy.
He looked at me warily for a moment and took a few bites, clearly not enjoying what passed his lips. After a few moments he put down his fork and patted his jacket. Understanding dawned in his eyes.
"I won't pretend to not know what you're upset about. It's obvious now. However, I feel obliged to add in my defense that I was determined to talk to you about it, so I brought it with me last night."
"And you didn't see fit to tell me sooner? After we've been intimate? How could you do this?"
"If you recall, Bella, I tried and you asked me not to."
"You should have tried harder," I said, almost petulantly.
His hand wrapped around his coffee cup as if he was going to take a drink, but he hesitated. After a few moments he sighed.
"I received the letter a month after he died. I wasn't with him when he was injured at Cemetery Ridge. Our men were forced apart during an attack, and by the time I caught up to him he had been moved to a hospital and I had to move on with the regiment to Manassas Gap. It was then I lost contact with him."
I winced, not wanting to think on what my husband must have suffered.
"When I received the letter, I was shocked and saddened. He was a good friend to me, especially in a time so brutal and harsh. But knowing him the way I did, knowing how unselfish he was as a friend and fellow soldier, I knew it came from his heart. The very moment I was released from duty, I made my way here to see what I could do for you."
I looked down at my plate and considered his words. They hurt more than I thought possible. Fate had not brought us to each other. Obligation had.
"As you can see in the letter, he didn't want me to say anything about it because he knew you'd be angry. But I came on my own free will, as a favor to a lost friend. But once I was here, and with you every day, I fell in love with you," he said quietly.
Put off my earlier train of thought, I looked up, taken aback. "And I you. But that doesn't make this all right. I am mad as hell," I said, in a low, thick voice.
I spun away from him, my chest heavy from the shock of the betrayal.
Was it, though? I wasn't quite sure. Everything was so fresh and new, and I didn't know the way up from the way down. Deep down, I felt a sense of guilt at replacing my husband so readily.
The room was silent for several minutes before I heard the chair scrape across the floor as he stood up.
"And you should be. I know it doesn't look good from your view point…" he paused. "I'll go now, but I need you to know one thing. It was never my intention to come here and take advantage of you. I came out of goodwill for a friend. But seeing you, how beautiful you are, strong and determined, kind and giving, I would have done anything to make you mine..."
I closed my eyes as he spoke the next words.
"And I do love you."
I heard him leave through the screen porch, the door catching his boot on the way out.
I couldn't move. I stood there frozen like a statue not sure what to do. It was so much to process. The fact that my husband took great measure to make sure that I was cared for and looked after, in as much as he could, moved me. It brought to light how incredibly unselfish he was.
My husband had been unselfish. I, however, was not. I was upset at not being told, but I was not unreasonable. I wanted the life I'd thought in my grasp the night before. I wanted to be loved and love in return. I wanted to face this in the same manner I had faced every other thing life had thrown at me: face forward, and with dignity.
Pouting was for children, and I was surely no longer a child. It was time to be a grown woman and face things head on.
Simply put, I would not, could not, give up on Edward. He'd come here, not returning to a life back home that any man would so surely want after fighting for years. He came for a friend, but remained here for me.
He loved me. My soul felt complete when he was around, my heart was sure of it.
Tossing my dish towel to the side, I sprinted for the door. It banged shut behind, and I saw Alice and Jasper just coming out of their little home across the way. I paid them no mind as I ran down the lane. I called after him and he kept walking, already a quarter mile down the road.
"Edward!" I shouted again as my lungs burned from running. "Stop, please!"
A look of anguish that melted into relief was on his face as he turned to face me. I barreled right into his chest, and his arms wrapped around me to keep us from falling.
I breathed in his scent as I gasped for air. My words were muffled in his shirt: "Please, please don't leave."
His grip on me tightened as we stood there in the middle of the road. After a moment he said softly, "Where else am I going to go, when you are here?" as he kissed the top of my head.
My body sagged in relief, my heart beating out of my chest. "Know this, my love: wherever you do go, I will be by your side."
We turned back toward the house, my arms wrapped about his waist and his arm around my shoulder. Who knew what our future held…although, I had a feeling someone was watching over us.
If I am to pass today, I am ready. I do not fear any longer what may come. And to know
that the one I love shall be cared for shall leave me in peace.
Thank you nic for indulging me when I wanted to spread my wings a little... xo