Age of Edward Contest
Your pen name: AgoodWITCH
Title: You Are My Home
Type of Edward: Peddlerward/Oklahomaward
Total Word Count Minus A/N: 11,739
If you would like to see all the stories that are a part of this contest visitThe Age of Edward 2010 C2 Community.
Twilight is the property of Stephenie Meyer; no infringement is intended.
A ton of love to my beta/wifey, mizzdee, and TropicalSorbet for supporting me during WC's and Tkegl for the beautiful banner. Some liberties were taken with the facts that research left blank, and be warned there is some violence. I hope you all enjoy this and don't forget to vote!
You'd be surprised the living you could make off people's slothful nature. That was what my mother taught me. Of course, she would know, Elizabeth Smith was a dancer at a burlesque until she went a little too far with a patron and found herself in a family way.
When my Pa wouldn't make an honest woman out of her and the burlesque matron kicked her out for breaking the rules, she found her way into a bawdy house. That was where I spent my youth.
I worked in the house fixing things up and pretending to be anything other than Edward Smith when my mom was entertaining a 'gentleman.' It was earning the few bits I could doing odd jobs that I first met the old peddler man.
He was a peculiar man, but when he came calling, the people ran out to meet him. He sold everything from household items, to fancy underwear, to magic "cure all" elixirs and people bought them readily. He was having a drink in the saloon that took up the main floor of the bordello when I came in with a case of liquor.
Aro Volturi sat lamenting to my mother about the repairs he needed to his peddlers' cart, when she turned to me and offered my services. He didn't seem put off by the fact that she had a son of eleven years and agreed to let me look over his rig and settle on a price. It took three days for me to make the improvements to the man's carriage while he told me about his business. I was in love with the idea of getting away, so when Aro saddled up his horse to the cart, with the desire to relocate from New Mexico to Oklahoma and try his hand out there, I joined him.
For five years, I worked with him as an apprentice, until the day that Aro died. He had taken to drinking a lot of his own elixirs, but they didn't seem to do him much good.
When he was gone, I took over the route but it was difficult. Selling the "cure all's" could only last for so long before people realized they were little more than alcohol, cocaine or opium, and a few herbs and coloring. When my prospects in the eastern part of the territory dried up in 1898, I moved further west.
Using the knowledge I had from my youth, I worked odd jobs around Crescent and had myself a nice living. No one knew who Edward Smith was out here. Taking a lesson from Aro, I changed my name, using the name of one of the oft-used Mason jars from my peddling days and called myself Edward Masen.
I saved my hard earned money for two years, but then I started to see just how all the people around were their own worst enemies. They lived meagerly, crying about how hard it was, but they weren't willing to put out the extra effort they needed to make good money.
I watched it with growing frustration until one afternoon I saw a broken down Conestoga wagon and used a little bit of my savings to purchase it. It took me nearly three months of working on it when I wasn't earning my keep, but I finished it. I removed the ribs from the top and built a set of shelving and cabinets that rested on the middle of the walls. They left me with a good three and a half feet on the inside and only hung over the wagon bed about six inches on the outside. From there I built a roof out of wood instead of using a fabric and closed it in on the back, adding more draws and cabinets on the back wall. I was lucky that the bed and frame were still in great condition because it meant that it would easily hold the weight I planned to add to it. I'd seen enough of these travel filled to the gills with people and supplies to know I could never fill it that much. Once it was constructed and the wheels were reattached, I began to dress it up. With a proper wagon, I was able to try to get some wares to sell in it.
At first it was difficult, but after a few days some of the local merchants realized that they had better sell it at a discount to me than not earn the money at all. The last thing I needed was strangely enough the easiest to get. Old man Banner had a farm, but no family to leave it to, so he was settling up his lot now and doing the Christian thing, leaving all of his money to the local schoolhouse fund upon his death. He had found another local farmer who was interesting in the property for his younger son, but he sold me four good packhorses easy. Putting everything together, I had the beginning of a big peddler business, if it took.
Masen's Wares rode out for the first time headed northwest towards Hennessey. Arriving with the jams, vegetables, and other perishable items, I'd been surprised by the reception. This town was quite the opposite of the town I'd called home the past few years. With more merchants who were struggling with selling their wares, they were happy to sell me items at a discount because it was money they wouldn't have made otherwise. With the tailor willing to sell me their items, some of the racks and shelves were filled on the one side of my wagon with both men and women's work clothes: shirts, skirts, dresses, dungarees, aprons, and jackets. Then the leather goods store sold me some gloves, jackets and belts, along with whips, bags, saddles, holsters, and pocketbooks.
I was amazed that they were selling so much and so many things so early on. But Mr. Molina, the man who worked with his sons crafting the leather goods now sitting in my cart told me I could sell manure to a cowboy and that taking a chance on me was worth it to get me back in the town on my next circuit.
Once I was packed up and ready to ride on, I took two and a half days to arrive in Ames. Ames took me into their heart, looking over the clothing I had, buying most of the jam simply to show support at my stopping there. They had a few women who were famous in the surrounding area for their sweets, so I took some of my old jars out and filled them with the candies. There was also a supply of honey and molasses that I could easily sell, and spices that would add variety to what I offered.
Fairview housed an ironmonger who made some nice tools, as well as a crockery maker with some easy to store Dutch ovens and pans. The fact that there were these types of artisans within this area that would otherwise struggle gave me hope that I would thrive out here.
I'd had trouble finding people interested between Ames and Fairview, but luckily, I only traveled little more than a day before Longdale came into sight. Lauren Mallory designed some fine hats that I added to my stock, while picking an array of books from the bookshop and speaking to the Crowley's about the possibility of selling their jewelry. There was no way I could purchase that with the hope of selling it, but I told them that I would advertise it and come to them with requests from people I might run into.
Canton had a stationer half a day's ride south as well as a seamstress who made finer dresses than the daywear that I got in Hennessey and some undergarments that I'd been lacking until that point.
Hitchcock was a two-day ride heading east and offered a selection of toys, lamps and lanterns, and a variety of hand-braided ropes. Working my way back east, I wanted to see if I could complete my first circuit successfully.
Watonga had a chemist from whom I only bought known medicines, hoping to distinguish myself from the average peddler with their elixirs, like Aro had been. The town that had until recent years been an Indian village still had the tobacco to give me another staple to sell anywhere I went.
I was slowed down from what could be a day or day and a half ride by a wild goose chase, but eventually ended up in Greenfield. The blessing of this town was that they were weavers, so I immediately got a variety of fabric, knowing that I had at least two possible buyers, not to mention all the women who couldn't afford premade dresses. Their fabric came from both the south and the east, so there was a variety for the people I would be peddling to.
Kingfisher was my last stop before I returned home, and it was the one that changed my life.
The three days of riding with no side trips or excursions had me entering the town ready to see what would come of it. The people seemed eager enough, and the Black sisters made soaps and the like that I knew would sell, so I took some of their goods and promised to make a return visit on my next circuit.
It was while sitting in their living room, their mother and father close by, that I first met Isabella Swan. She was all sweetness and innocence as she walked in with a tray of freshly baked tarts and other sweets. Blushing when she noticed me, she introduced herself as Rachel Black offered me a blueberry tart.
The dessert was the most delicious thing I'd ever had, and I told her as much when offering my thanks. Rachel and her twin Rebecca both asked Isabella if she had any extras that she could sell to me. Ruefully, she didn't have any remaining, but I told her that I would be in town until tomorrow evening before I started my way back to Crescent.
Rachel left Rebecca to sort through their supplies so that she could aid Isabella in her baking.
From that first trip with a supply of Isabella's treats in my wagon, I never had to rethink my decision. I had the variety and the charm to sell whatever I had and there were often times that I kept several of Isabella's goodies inside so that I could enjoy them while on the road.
She was a delicate flower, only fourteen years to my nineteen when we met, but the draw I felt kept Kingfisher on my route even though my sales were lower there than any of the other towns.
I made my rounds for three years, save for the winter when it was too treacherous to venture out on my own, and the highlight of each five week trip was the three days I spent in Kingfisher with Isabella. Her father was the local lawman and he was often at the saloon with Mayor Black and his son, so I would tell Isabella and Rachel about my journeys while they worked on her baked goods. I always tried to bring Isabella a little something, whether it be a diary, or a new book I thought she'd like, and they seemed to please her enough.
Rebecca had married a cowboy from a ranch further south that spring, so the two girls had grown even closer now. Rachel had her sights set on a farmer about ten miles east, so Isabella was soon to be left alone.
It made me sad for her that all of her friends were moving on to become wives while such a pillar of perfection was left to wilt in the shadows. Perhaps it was just how different she was from my own mother, but I felt the need to protect this girl from what the world could do to you.
December was my last ride through Kingfisher before digging in on the outskirts of Crescent for the winter months. As she always did, Isabella bade me to be safe until I returned, a promise I always kept.
The winter was harsher than most, 1904 coming in with a fierceness that I hadn't seen since my youth.
Dusting off my salesman gear and hitching my wagons, mid-March saw my return to the road and my loyal customers. I was well stocked by the time I arrived in Kingfisher, but there was a chill in the April air that had nothing to do with the weather.
"Edward," I heard her call from atop her horse, and as the light surrounded her, I saw Isabella with new eyes.
Gone was the sweet girl I saw as a bastion of virtue, and in her place was a woman I wished that I could be worthy of. Her riding costume was one she had purchased from me in the late fall, and I was glad to see that she'd grown into it.
Pulling my horses to a stop, I bowed my head at her and offered her my greeting. "Miss Isabella, it's a pleasure to see you again. I'm glad to see the winter was kind to you."
"The winter was no such thing," she argued. "It was long, cold, and kept a good friend from being able to visit."
"I'm sorry Rachel was kept away by the snow, dear," I told her.
"Rachel? Silly, I was speaking of you. You're one of the only people I get to really speak to anymore, and I missed your company." Her blush bloomed as she rode beside me and I wondered at her comment.
"Well thank you. I've missed your wit as well; it can be cold seeing to the horses in the public stable."
"You still spend the winter in the boarding house?" she asked and I nodded.
"Wouldn't be right to build a home I'd hardly see, it doesn't bother me much as I never really had a home," I told her truthfully.
"Father is busy with the Mayor, but if you like, I could bring you some dinner." Her eyes scanned the horizon again and I told her I'd be grateful for some food.
An hour later, I had my wagon set up and a plate of the finest food in my hand as some of the women came around to see what the spring brought with it.
Isabella was hard at work in her kitchen as I spoke about bits and baubles with my various customers. I did well for my first day and was converting my wagon for the night when Isabella came by with my nightly meal. When she mentioned that her father was still not in, I offered her a seat on the bench at the front of the wagon.
"I have a present for you," I told her, slipping her the turquoise ring I'd purchased just days earlier. I knew she liked natural jewelry and the moment I saw her that morning I resolved to give it to her.
"Edward, it's beautiful," she beamed as she slipped the ring onto the first finger of her right hand.
"It suits you, Isabella. You've grown into a beautiful young woman these past few years, and I feel blessed to see what you've become."
"You flatter me, Edward. No one sees me like you do; the two or three days that I see you hardly seem enough time."
"I know, Miss Isabella," I admitted. "It's a lonely life on the road, but the people along the route make it worth the effort. You're one of the highlights of every trip."
It looked like Isabella was about to speak when her father called out for her. "Isabella! Where are you?"
"I will see you in the morning, Edward. Pleasant dreams." Before anything else was said, she climbed down and ran in the direction of her home.
That night I lay asleep thinking of Isabella. She was a beauty both inside and out and even though I had nothing to offer her, I would give it all to her if she asked.
The morning came and I was surprised to find a plate on my bench, and the one I'd finished last night already removed. I dipped my cloth into the bowl of water that I had to bathe in, preparing for the day before sitting out to eat. What surprised me even more about it was that Jacob Black, the Mayor's son and the younger brother of Rachel and Rebecca, came to see me. He never came to shop at my wagon, so I assumed there was something particular he was looking for.
"Mr. Masen, can I speak to you a moment?"
Climbing down to speak to him, I offered him my hand and spoke honestly. "Of course you can. It isn't often you shop with me, Jacob, so it must be important."
"It is. I need you to find me an engagement ring for my girl." He was wearing a goofy grin and I tried to remember Isabella mentioning who her friends' brother was courting.
"Sure, I have a jeweler on my route. What were you looking for, and who's the lucky girl? If I'm allowed to ask."
He laughed, swatting his paw of a hand on my back before he leaned in. "Of course you can, she keeps you well fed on your travels. It's Isabella. We have been paired up since we started crawling and I'm ready to make it official. She's has grown into a fine woman this winter and I have to stake my claim on her. You know how that is, right Ed."
I was appalled at how he spoke about Isabella to someone he barely knew. I was also shocked that Isabella had never mentioned the betrothal, but at the same time, why would she tell me something like that. Trying not to seem rude, I put my head back into the conversation. "She is a sweet girl, you'll be mighty lucky. Now do you want a particular type of ring? A gem that you favor for her, or anything?"
"No," he said confidently, "just a plain band of gold. She's not one for anything flashy, and all I need is something that will mark her as mine to anyone who might see her."
The idea of him wanting to possess her had my hands curling up of their own accord, but again, I hid my feelings hoping to get him to go on his way so I could finish my day.
I dropped my plate off at the Swan house, but it appeared that Isabella was running an errand, so I simply left the dish in the washbasin and returned to work.
The day moved quickly and I was closing up when Isabella walked over. "You're packing up? I thought you would be staying until the morning?"
"I need to get an early start, so I want everything ready before bedding down. Did you need more time for the pastries?"
"No, I can bring them out to you. One moment," she whispered as she walked rapidly back to the house and returned a few minutes later with the crate and a wrapped sandwich. "I didn't want you to ride out on an empty stomach."
"Thank you, Isabella. I will see you soon." With a small nod, Isabella left me to pack her treats and close up for the night.
The following morning, I left without seeing Isabella, but it was a needed break. I had to come to grips with the emotions she evoked because she would never be mine. I was a wayward traveler, a wanderer, what kind of life could I give her.
I tried to put Isabella out of my mind while on the road, but that sweet smile and soft voice haunted me until the morning I pulled into Longdale. Mrs. Crowley was eyeing me as I bought another ring, this time an engagement ring, but as I explained that a young man was about to propose to his gal, she eased off the interrogation. I selected the simple ring that Jacob had asked for and on an impulse, I purchased an additional pearl engagement ring. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but I felt compelled to buy it.
The two weeks of travel had me pulling back into Kingfisher with a heavy heart. I parked my wagon on the end of Main Street, next to the sheriff's office as I did every time I came to through.
I wasn't surprised to see Jacob Black waiting for me when I brought my horses to the stable. He silently offered to take Midnight and Shadow, my leaders, while I returned to free Thunder and Lightning. I didn't rename my horses when I purchased them, liking that they were named strongly. The wheelers came loose easy enough and soon I was returning to my wagon to fetch his ring.
I handed him the pouch, and he emptied it into his hand. "This is just what I was looking for, and it looks like it's a perfect size. How did you know?"
Freezing, I went with a little lie. "I asked her to see that ring she wears, and I fit it on the end of my finger. Then when I was looking at the ones the jeweler had, I sized it the same way."
"Smart man." Jacob sounded astounded. "I hadn't thought of it until after you left town. But even so, I never would have thought to do anything that clever."
"I've been doing this for a while so I've gotten pretty handy at coming up with little tricks like that. If you want to buy it, it's -"
Before I could finish, Jacob slapped down fifteen dollars. "That's well worth the trouble. It isn't more than that, right?"
"No, that's more than enough," I told him.
"Good, then it takes care of the ring," Jacob said. "Now, I'm off to speak to the sheriff."
I watched him lop off to the sheriff's office and I started opening my cabinets to get to work. Isabella didn't come out in the morning as she usually did, so I just went to work. A few women came to replace the odd pot or piece of crockery, but there wasn't much selling. I was starting to rethink Kingfisher's position on my route when Isabella came out with a plate in hand.
"I'm sorry I wasn't able to come and bring you breakfast or dinner, but please allow me to give you a hearty supper."
I noticed the ring sitting on her finger and I knew what had delayed her. "That's okay, it was a worthy delay. Let me be the first to congratulate you on your impending marriage. I wish you both happy."
"No you don't," she accused. "You hate this as much as I do, I can see it written on your face. I've told my father that I don't want Jacob as a husband and he told me that I will be his whether I care to be or not."
"He's from a good family," I tried to tell her.
"His father bought his position and then bought my father, that's why I'm set to marry his son. I won't do it, Edward. If I have to I'll swallow lye to avoid being his wife."
"Don't say that!" I scolded loudly. Just the thought of her dying was too painful to think about. "I know you've got a romantic idea in your head about my life, but Isabella, I travel constantly and I have no home. We would be apart most of the year and I could never leave you unprotected like that."
"I could ride with you," she tried. "We would be a team."
"The road isn't any place for you. And I'm not the type of man you should be settling for. I'm not good enough."
"You're the only one who believes that," she told me. "You're a self-made man and you have a successful business."
"I'm a bastard that changed his name to escape the shame of having a whore for a mother," I told her cruelly.
"And I'm the daughter of a drunk who reluctantly took his daughter West with him after his wife died during childbirth. If you leave me here, I'll die."
The tears were threatening to overflow as I tried to calm her down. "Isabella, you'll be fine. I promise that when I come back into town -"
"Nothing will make this better, Edward. Not time, or distance. There's nothing left for me."
"Please, Isabella," I begged her. "For me, try to talk to them. I can't steal you away because they'll follow us and say that I forced you. Your father's the sheriff of Kingfisher, there's no running from that unless we mean to never come back."
"I have the tarts already," Isabella told me. "Are you staying until tomorrow, or leaving early again?"
"No one purchases from me much here and beside your pastries I don't have any other goods that I buy from the town." I had to be truthful; it seems that she had learned my secret despite my attempts to conceal it.
"Promise me that you'll come back on your next trip. Don't leave me alone." The tears overwhelmed her and I heard myself promising to see her in five weeks as she cleaned up her face and promised to bring me her food for me to store away.
She was back soon with the sweets for me to sell, but instead of leaving, she watched my every movement. I got to the end of the crate and noticed a tightly wrapped sandwich. "What is this?"
"Breakfast. I know you'll be leaving before I can get breakfast ready at the house and I wanted you well fed." She toes the ground a bit and I climb down to return the crate.
"Thank you. You always take such good care of me. I do not know what I'll do when the time comes that this town no longer stands on my route." I bring up the possibility now that she knows I am still returning, hoping it will ease her into it.
Isabella looked around quickly before her eyes met mine. "Do you think you may want to kiss the bride before you go?"
"I think that may be agreeable," I told her and leaned in to give her a gentle peck on the lips.
What I hadn't anticipated was Isabella's strength. The moment my lips brushed hers, she opened her mouth to me and her hands found my hair, pulling me closer. She was heaven in my mouth from the instant I gasped in shock at her actions, and she pulled away with a smug smile. "That will be the kiss that keeps me warm at night and gives me strength to talk to my Pa again. I will be waiting for you in five weeks."
"I will return as soon as I am able. I have some things that I will need to discover, but it should not delay me. I will see you in July." With a final kiss to her forehead, I climbed up and closed myself in for the night.
I had my horses harnessed and my wagon rolling out of town with the breaking dawn that morning as I made the turn that would bring me to Crescent in two days' time.
Pulling into my old home, I was greeted by the Esme Cullen. "Edward Masen, what is the matter? You look like you've been gutted."
"If I'm honest, Esme, I have been. I'm in love with a girl that loves me, but her father has her engaged to a family friend."
"Have you spoken to the father?" Esme asked.
"No, he doesn't think too highly of me. He barely tolerated me coming through town except that my selling his daughter's pastries means that he doesn't need to give her purse money." I scratched at my scruff along my jaw, the distance filling me with an uneasy feeling.
"What are you going to do?"
"I honestly don't know? Is Carlisle around, I'd like to ask him his opinion on it."
Esme smiled and lead me into the boarding house and back to Carlisle's study. He was looking over his ledgers, but he happily closed them when we entered the room. "Edward, how are you doing?"
"He's got a broken heart that's in need of some guidance," Esme offered as she left us be.
"What seems to be the problem, Edward?"
I sat there and told him everything, how much I loved Isabella and the miraculous fact that she somehow loved me as well. I told him about the gifts I had bought her and the return visits I made to Kingfisher when it was no longer financially beneficial. Then I told him about the betrothal she didn't want and the problems we were now facing. All the while, he sat their listening intently, and when the story was done, he smiled compassionately at me.
"When you arrive in town the next time, you must go with her and speak to her father. I hope that he will take her opinions to heart, but he doesn't have to. Maybe knowing that you are serious about being with her will make him reconsider it. The important thing is that people know about it."
"Once I have their permission, how can I keep her safe? My job would get in the way of it." I still didn't see how we could be together with me travelling.
"You take her with you. Women aren't the fragile creatures that we're led to believe. I do not know your Isabella, but I'm sure she'd be happiest at your side. If you want, we could arrange for one of the rooms here to be available during the winter months like we have for you these past years. The room is practically yours even when you aren't staying in them, as we're never completely full up. Anything we would be able to do to help you it is done. You've done more for this town and the area than any other person and I'm sure you have more support out there than you know."
"You all see a better man in me than is actually there," I told him, but it was Esme that responded this time.
"You're wrong, Edward. We all have our troubled pasts, that's why we came out here to try our hands at something new. Now go and set up. Give Isabella time to tie up things on her end and then bring her here to meet us. We shall have your wedding party here before you take your bride on the road with you."
"You're an eternal optimist, Esme," I told her.
"That wasn't an idea, young man, that was an order," Esme countered and we all laughed.
Leaving Carlisle's study, I settled my horses and came back for supper with the Cullen's. I had saved my money well over the years, and was within my means to provide for Isabella, I just had to get through the next few weeks until I saw her again.
After leaving Crescent, I moved to Hennessey, seeking out the advice of the federal lawman that had his office set up in town. Jasper Whitlock and his wife Alice were good customers, but more importantly, he knew me to be an honest salesman. I wanted to see what would happen if Isabella ran away from her father and Jacob to live with me, and he spoke plainly.
"They can cause you some problems, but it all depends on how everything goes down in Kingfisher. She could be kicked out, or left alone, you never know." Jasper sighed. "You have to be careful with people when they feel cornered, Edward. And if something goes wrong, you come straight here. That's a little more than a day's ride if you come straight across the land. Don't try to face them on your own because I can't help you if it gets out of hand."
I nodded as Alice came in with some of Isabella's sweets along with a strong pot of coffee. "You better bring her here no matter what. With the way she bakes and the way you speak of her, even taking into account a man in love, she is a girl I need to know."
"I will, Alice. Now let me show you what I have to offer."
I worked through much of my route, pushing myself to keep from arriving a week early. My customers noticed that I seemed a little anxious, but I informed them that they would soon see my reason for being anxious to complete this circuit.
I left early from Greenfield and rode through the night, taking the time to rest during the second day before riding again in the evening.
I was about a mile and a half out of town when I first noticed the flicker of light. I slowed down and then I saw it more clearly, a lamp in the brush. It didn't take long until I recognized the person holding it and I turned the wagon and climbed down to greet her. She moved slowly towards me and as I got close enough I noticed the limp and the first of the bruises.
"Isabella? What happened to you?" She crumpled against my chest as I took the lamp and sat it on the wagon's bench.
"I tried talking to them, Edward, I really did. I told my father that I didn't want to marry Jacob and I told Jacob that I was in love with someone else but neither one of them listened to me. So two weeks ago … they walked me into the church and when the preacher asked if there were any impediments to the marriage, I told them that I couldn't marry Jacob because I was already engaged." She sobbed against me as I pulled her closer. "They called me a liar. Then I told them that you were the one to buy me the turquoise ring and that you and I had kissed and were planning our future when they sprung this on me. Jacob raised holy hell about you selling him that ring and then after we left the church my father laced into me."
"Your father did this to you?" I could barely get the words out past my anger.
"And Jacob." she nodded. "They've been brutal. I took off his ring and left twenty-eight dollars on the table this morning. I have a suitcase and a carpetbag over in the brush; it's all I care to take with me. Please Edward; tell me that you won't leave me with them."
"Never," I growled. "Stay right here and I'll collect your things."
I ran to the brush she'd been hiding in and found the bags easily. Doubling back, I opened the door to the wagon and unrolled the mattress. "Change out of those clothes and put them on one of the shelves. We'll need to show them to my friend Jasper Whitlock. I'm driving straight to Hennessey and I need you to stay inside the wagon."
"Edward?" She was so broken and I wanted to console her, but first I had to put distance between those bastards and us before I took the whip to them.
"I need to get us on the move. Once we're at a safe distance I'll let the horses' rest and we can talk." I leaned in to kiss her briefly, pulling away to close her in the wagon with her lantern to give her a little light once she hung it from the hook on the roof.
It took me most of the day before I had to give the animals their rest, so I tied them up to graze and then turned to the woman I loved. Knocking on the door, there was no answer so I opened it a crack and saw Isabella sleeping on the feather bed. There was something so beautiful and pure about the woman lying before me, but at the same time, I had a primal urge that kept me sitting on the bench so I didn't frighten her worse.
When the horses were reattached to the wagon and I felt good about the amount of time I had left them to rest before moving on, I rode the last four and a half miles under the cover of darkness. It was about eight in the morning when we pulled into Hennessey and I was finishing the business of parking my wagon when Jasper came out.
"I'm assuming there was some kind of trouble?" he spoke as I rounded the front of the carriage.
"Go fetch Doc McCarty. Isabella's been injured by them. I arrived to find her bruised and beaten."
The gasp behind Jasper signaled the emergence of Alice. "Alice, help Edward with Isabella, she may need a woman's assistance."
Alice rushed to my side and I helped her up onto the wagon so that she could help Isabella. A few minutes later, the two of them were emerging and Emmett McCarty was coming out to meet us. "Edward, bring the patient in here."
Isabella looked over to me and I guided her. "We need to know that you're okay, and we need to establish your injuries in case Jacob or your father comes after us."
Nodding, Isabella went inside with Alice and Emmett while I went to speak with Jasper. When all was done, Isabella slept in the spare room in the Whitlock house while Emmett joined us to discuss what could be done.
"Isabella said that it was okay to discuss it with you. Her injuries were overlapping. Some were nearly healed, while others were only a few days old. You were in town here when she likely sustained the first set. Not that any of us would think you capable of it, but if they were to blame it on you, it is obvious that they are nearly a month since the injury occurred. I'm sorry to have to say it but the attacks were brutal. She was hit with both their hands as well as objects that luckily were not as severe as they could have been."
"When will you marry her, Edward?" Jasper asked.
"Excuse me?" was my brilliant response.
"I'm the law in these parts and their actions will be enough to throw them in jail once I get my hands on them. We don't take to kindly to striking women and buying your position out here. The question is, when will you marry your girl?"
"As soon as she'll have me." It was the truth; I'd marry her yesterday if she'd have me.
"Well, go talk to her and I'll speak to the preacher so he'll be ready as soon as we've got them in custody." Jasper walked off while I went in search of Isabella.
She was awake when I went to check on her and the smile on her face was radiant. "What did Jasper say? Alice said that he's going to help us."
"He is. With your story and Emmett's evaluation, he has enough evidence to arrest them both."
"What? How is that possible?" Isabella's questions surprised me and I let her know as much.
"You aren't worried about the fact that they're going to jail?"
"No, my father deserves a taste of his own medicine and so does Jacob. But how will he do it?"
"Well, the Mayor and your father have never held an election because they've scared the townsfolk out of trying to run against them. They used their influence, which is a big no-no. Jacob on the other hand struck a woman, and even though there are times that it's allowed, as loathsome as that fact is, the two instances are when it's a wife or a daughter and since you were neither, that's assaulting a lady. Jasper has half a mind to seek them out, but he wants his men concentrated here in case they start trouble."
"What does that mean for us?"
I smiled at Isabella. "It means, darlin', that as soon as the men Jasper sent to round up the Mayor return and Jacob and Charlie waltz in here demanding that I be arrested for kidnapping, he'll arrest them. And he's got a mind to send them off to the military outpost to do manual labor for their time."
Isabella's giggle warmed my heart and I saw that she wanted to ask me something by the way she played with the edge of her blanket. "You still haven't said how it will affect us."
"As soon as they're convicted, there will be nothing standing in the way of us getting married."
"You really want to marry me?" Her shock was amazing to me, like I was the one who would refuse her.
"Yes, but let me get on one knee and make it official," I dropped to one knee and took her hands. "Isabella, please do me the honor of being my wife."
"Of course I will," she squealed, hugging me to her.
Soon I left her to rest while a few of Jasper's men returned on the path I had taken to fetch the Mayor while another rode to the military outpost to get a transport vehicle. Evidently, Jasper didn't want those type of men around his town, and as there were years of labor at stake, it was best to have them a ways off.
I watched with nervous energy every day until the third morning when the horses came riding in from the South. Jasper was happy to see the Mayor was the first to arrive and he quickly set to explaining the reason behind his request.
"So I hear you needed some information on what's been happening in my town of late? It truly is a terrible business having one so dear to me and mine kidnapped." Billy Black smiled as though he was discussing the matter at hand.
"I'm sorry you're confused as to the reason you were called here," Jasper began. "It was actually the matter of your sheriff's abuse of his power and his daughter, as well as your son's attacks against the girl. Isabella Swan is a guest in my house and she has talked with me at length about the crimes that were committed against her for wanting to marry the man she chose."
Seeing the color drain from his face, he quickly backpedaled. "I wasn't aware that things had gotten so bad. I know that my son is a little emotional, but the fact that Charlie Swan was so out of control is disturbing. We've been trusting him with the keeping of our peace for as long as I've known him."
"And neither he nor you have been contested by another resident for either position?"
"People have liked what we've done with the town. Our people are safe and the residents are happy," Billy said.
"That isn't how we heard it, but that's something that we can discuss when the rest of our guests arrive. For now, we have accommodations for you in the jail."
"How dare you?" Billy roared.
"I'm a federal marshal; I can dare to do whatever I like. It is people like you trying to make your own laws that gave me my job. Now, show him to a cell."
Jasper was ready to settle down to a nice supper with his wife, Isabella and I when the commotion rolled into town. Laughing at their timing, Jasper went out and told his men to put the sheriff and the Mayor's son into the cells next to Mayor Black, and then to have someone inside the jailhouse overnight.
He returned to the table with a smile. "By morning they'll have spilled enough of their secrets to have them jailed for the rest of their lives. It should be a day or two before the prisoner transport cart arrives from the outpost, so we'll have to deal with the yelling, but after that you'll be free of all of this insanity."
"I never thought any of this could be possible, thank you all." I could feel the emotions welling up as Isabella took my hand, "Especially you. I promise we'll be married as soon as we are able and then I would like to take you to Crescent, because there's a couple there that wishes to throw us a wedding party."
"That sounds lovely, Edward." Isabella got misty eyed and I couldn't be happier to see her smiling again.
"I say that it's time to retire, don't you, my dear," Jasper said to Alice, who smiled demurely at him as she rose to clean up, shooing off Isabella when she tried to help.
"We'll see you in the morning?" I asked.
"Yes, we'll need to wait for the afternoon so that I have a chance to get statements from them, but there is little that can save them with the evidence we have against them. Some former citizens made complaints against them in the past; I just needed a little more proof to make my move. Goodnight, Isabella, Edward."
"Goodnight, Jasper, and thank you again for everything."
I walked Isabella upstairs to her room, but not trusting Jacob or Charlie Swan when it came to Isabella's safety, I took a chair and slept outside her room. Of course, in the morning she had something quite interesting to say.
"Edward, I won't have you killing yourself when they're locked up. I know you rode longer and harder than you should have coming here and it has to stop. Now, you can either sleep in the other spare room, or you can come to bed with me."
"I'm not going to ruin your reputation after everything else you've suffered. We'll soon share close enough quarters. But, if it will ease your mind, then I will sleep down the hall."
Isabella smiled sadly and took my hand in both of hers. "I'm not used to someone listening to me so easily."
Leaning in to kiss her, I quickly said, "Your thoughts and feeling will always matter to me. Are you ready to face your father and Jacob?"
Isabella stiffened slightly and shook her head. "I don't know if I will ever be ready to see them again, but let's get down there and get it over with."
Alice was already bringing in breakfast when we came down, but Jasper had taken a plate with him to the prison so that he could find out what happened overnight. I went out to the cart to purchase some items from Mr. Molina, who was quick to offer any support I might need, but I assured him that at this point, the trial was a formality.
The few minutes of time away from the insanity was nice and before the midday meal, I brought Isabella to meet Mr. Molina and Jess and Michael Newton, the tailors that made her riding costume, among other things I'd sold over the years. I let them talk for a short while before pulling Michael aside and asking him to make Isabella a few new dresses as a wedding gift from me.
Most of her clothing was old and a little threadbare, so I hoped that the new clothing would be a new part of the fresh start. I overheard her telling Jess to call her Bella, and while it was an apt name, I wondered about the sudden change. I didn't have time to ask her though, as we returned for a quick dinner before Jasper and his men assembled for the trials.
Mayor Black was first, confessing to his crime in the hopes of getting off the hook, but all it did was buy him three years instead of five.
Charlie Swan came forth stating he didn't know that the Mayor had been keeping people from opposing him in any elections, but that crime was minor in regards to the other crimes he was being charged with.
"Charlie, you struck your daughter on multiple occasions, a punishable offense in these parts, but more heinously, when she told you about her lack of affection for the man you had chosen for her, you forced her into the arrangement and then punished her for speaking the truth when she did. Beside the physical evidence, and the eyewitness testimony my men brought back with them after leaving Kingfisher, you openly admitted it in clear view and hearing distance of the deputy in charge of guarding you." Jasper stepped closer and spoke with a slight growl in his voice as he finished his condemnation of Isabella's father. "You enjoyed dealing out your own brand of justice in Kingfisher, a thing that my men are working to remedy even now, but that will not save you. Charles Swan, I sentence you to seven years of manual labor at the military outpost."
With Charlie gone from our lives, Jacob was the only one who needed to be held accountable for his crimes, but the day was growing late so Jasper decided to hold Jacob's trial in the morning.
After a quiet dinner, I kissed Isabella goodnight and walked down the hall to my own room.
The night was quiet, but sometime after midnight I heard a noise that woke me up. Not able to place it, I decided to use the privy and then try to fall asleep again. I finished my business and turned back to the house again when I saw the flutter of fabric. I saw Isabella's window open and something didn't feel right. Walking quickly back into the house, I opened Isabella's door to see a shadow looming over her.
In a split second, Jacob had Isabella by the waist, a knife held close to her throat, and my world was literally falling apart around me.
"You thought you could take my girl and my freedom? Well it's about time you learn what a bastard gets when he tries to reach beyond his grasp."
"Let her go, Jacob. Your quarrel is with me." I held up my hands, hoping to show that I wasn't armed.
But he took the moment and made his move, cutting a tiny slit into Isabella's neck and then throwing her aside as he rushed me. Where he assumed I would rush to Isabella, I lunged at him knocked him to the ground, the knife sliding across the floor. We both struggled against one another, arms grabbing, pushing, reaching, until he landed a solid kidney punch and scrambled for the knife.
He was over me before I could get my balance back and I knew that I'd failed Isabella. With all my strength, I held off the blade, Isabella's screams echoing around the room until a shot rang out, silencing everything.
Isabella's hand-muffled scream lasted long after Jacob fell beside me. I clambered to my feet to reach her, our hands checking for injury as my eyes landed on the cut along her neck. "Don't move, darlin'."
"Edward, I'm fine. It isn't even bleeding anymore," she said as I examined it, seeing that she was right. "Let me see that you are well."
Allowing her the same time to look me over, I saw the tears well up in her eyes as she collapsed into my arms. "Everything's okay, we're okay."
"No it isn't," she sobbed. "He was going to kill me … and he could have killed you. I've brought so much turmoil into your life."
Knowing exactly where her mind was drifting, I collected her in my arms and sat down on the bed with her in my lap. "You are my life. You are my home. In fact, you always have been. You're what kept me returning to Kingfisher long after it was financially beneficial. In this world of strangers, I belonged to someone. It has always been you, Isabella."
"It has always been that way for me too, even though you were too self-loathing to let me in. But I wish to ask you something. I started it the other day, but would you mind terribly if I asked people to call me Bella? Isabella is so tainted with memories of them -"
"I don't care what name you want to go by. I was born a Smith, until I changed it to Masen. As long as you're mine, I am happy."
"I'm sorry," Jasper interrupted, "but we need to get the body out of here and think about contacting his next of kin. You both know more about it than I do."
"Oh God," Bella cried. I had to admit, the name change suited her nicely. It took a few minutes for her to regain control, which was long enough for the body to be removed and some sawdust to be thrown down to absorb the blood. "His mother lives in Kingfisher and he has two sisters living relatively close. I would send a few of your men down with the body and they can either bury him there or close to his sisters."
Jasper nodded. "Thank you, Bella. Why don't you two move into Edward's room? We'll be having the preacher perform the ceremony tomorrow, so I think one night will be allowed, all things considered."
I knew there was no way I was letting her out of my sight, so I led her out of the room and into mine. Climbing into bed, I hugged her to my chest and watched as she fell asleep. I spent most of the night watching her sleep, until slumber took me as well.
Bella and I both woke up later than normal after the night we had and I was happy to know that the town was already plenty busy.
Two of the men from Jasper's posse went down to Kingfisher with Jacob's body, hoping to settle everything with Mrs. Black so that the town could hold a true election among some of the younger residents and get themselves on track.
The prisoner transport arrived at first light, and was waiting on a packed up meal from Alice and Bella before they took their charges with them to the outpost. By noon, the last of the men that had terrorized Bella would be gone and we could walk over to the church to exchange our vows.
Our wedding had turned into quite a little event, with the Newton's arriving to deliver the clothes I'd ordered for Bella, as well as a suit for me, and Rosalie and Alice making a fine dinner for us. We still didn't know where we would be staying, besides the offer from the Cullen's at the boarding house. But a part of me liked the idea of Bella and I having a house of our own.
I was getting my things together when Bella came in with a fresh pitcher of water and a towel. "May I shave you?"
The simple question stirred such profound emotion in me because no one had ever cared enough to worry about things like my clothing being clean, or my face being shaved, but Bella was the exception. Sitting down so that she could do a good job, I watched her movements as she tended to me, her every action so nurturing and kind. I had known that I loved her before, but it only seemed to grow in a moment like this.
I let her finish and then she excused herself, one of the new dresses in her hand, to change in Alice and Jasper's room. I took the time to bathe and then dress, attempting to calm my unruly hair as I made myself up for my wedding.
I walked with Jasper to the church, seeing the entire town had come out in their Sunday best, and it only a Thursday, to see their peddler marry his girl. It felt like a year had passed, but when Bella walked up to join me it was a feeling of completeness I'd never known.
The words were simple, Bella took Edward, and Edward took his Bella. The pledges truer than many spoken prior, because we'd suffered through this life apart and nothing would make us go back to those ways. I slipped the new pearl ring onto her finger and kissed her just as the preacher instructed, and then we moved out to the town square for a supper in the warm July sun.
"Well, Mrs. Masen, we've got to get us an early start if we're going to be arriving in Crescent on Sunday."
"Well then, Mr. Masen, we best get our things packed so that we can head out at first light." Bella's eyes danced with mischief as we walked back to our room to get our things together.
Bella went through her new clothes and the old ones that she had bought off my wagon, or made using fabric she'd purchased from me, leaving the pieces from her father and Mayor Black for Alice to use as rags. The three women were sad to see themselves parted, but I reminded them that Bella would be back in six weeks when we arrived back in town.
One more night in Hennessey and then Bella and I were packing up and riding off in the wrong direction as we went back to my old home. The ride was nice with someone to talk to and breaking to rest the horses was easier with two people. The day turned to night and soon I was rolling out the feather mattress and waiting outside in my union suit so that Bella could change for bed.
I knew what was expected of our first night alone as man and wife, but it didn't make the reality any easier. When she opened the door, I checked to see that the wheels were blocked one more time before climbing up to join her. I checked the panels that were opened to get some air in the box and was pleasantly surprised to see Bella sitting up.
"I didn't know if I was supposed to keep this on or …" she started, letting the sentence fade as I took her hand.
"Whatever you're more comfortable with. If you want to leave it on, or take it off, if you want to wait until -"
"I don't want to wait," she whispered as her fingers worked on the top button of my undergarments. Helping her along, I lowered the lamp on and then slid my top half out of the union suit as I lie next to her.
"We'll go slowly," I told her, earning a nod of approval.
My hands traced along her sides and down to her legs, allowing several passes before I let my fingers catch the hem of her nightgown and bring it up a little as I traced her skin. Bella's soft sighs were encouraging as she guided my right hand to her breast.
Feeling the reaction her body had to mine made me proud, and urged me forward as my left hand grew bolder along the edge of her clothing. Our lips met and the openness with which she greeted me was more than I could have ever imagined.
Moving closer to her, we worked together to rid ourselves of the last of our clothing and then body to body, I teased her until she was ready to receive me. It was the first time in my life, I was happy for my childhood home, because living around loose women, you learn about what makes sex enjoyable.
Pressing against her, I cradled her head in my hands as I pushed forward, pausing at each sign of discomfort. When I met the evidence of her innocence, I offered a silent prayer of thanks and then moved again, kissing away the few tears to fall.
All the while, Bella was urging me on as though I was the one who needed the reassurance, but in a way, I did. She knew that I wouldn't move on if I thought she wasn't ready, so my wife guided me through the first moments of our coupling.
When we were fully joined, I gave us both a moment to recover before I moved. My retreat was slow and short-lived as I pushed forward, finding the ebb and flow of our bodies. Bella rose and fell with me, an active participant in our lovemaking, until I felt the buildup begin.
"Bella … darlin', I feel … I'm -"
"I know, please, faster Edward … I feel it too."
Amazed that she was able to experience this much, I quickened my pace as she asked and soon the slow burn became an explosion as my bride clung to my body and called out my name into the silent night.
After a few minutes of recovery, I reached for one of the flannel rags I'd sat aside and helped Bella set out bed to rights. Once it was done, we cuddled together and with a quick puff of breath, we were alone in the darkness, asleep and content.
Our second day was filled with quiet conversation until the moment we pulled into Crescent. Our late arrival and the direction from which we entered town only seemed to add to the confusion.
Esme quickly brought us inside, setting down two hot plates of food as she called out to Carlisle. "They've arrived, come out here."
Carlisle walked in from his study, a warm smile on his face. "You two had us mighty worried when you didn't come into town on schedule."
Squeezing Bella's hand, I explained. "We ran into quite a bit of trouble, but it has been taken care of with the help of the marshal in Hennessey and Mrs. Masen and I just stopped by to make our visit, as promised, before we set out on the road."
"Oh that does my heart good to see that everything worked out for you. Now, let me show you to your room and then you can go about your business after a nice sendoff in the morning."
"Thank you kindly, Mrs. Cullen," Bella offered.
"It's Esme to you, dear."
Smiling, she responded, "Then call me Bella, Esme."
The women chattered while I went out to sell a few things before dark and then I returned to the boarding house with our bags.
"They're nice people," Bella said, "I'm glad you had them to help you out all these years."
"They've been wonderful to me, and now they will do the same for both of us." I watched patiently as she finished her nightly routine and then stood behind her, taking the brush from her hand. "Are you ready for bed, darlin'?"
"I am, husband." A thrill shot through me at the title as I whisked her off her feet and over to our plush bed.
It seemed hard to believe thinking back over the past year and a half, but so much had changed in that short period of time.
Bella and I traveled for the rest of the year together, watching the summer turn to fall and then begin the change to winter. We took Carlisle and Esme up on their offer and spent the New Year and the cold winter months at the boarding house, before setting out again.
Upon our arrival in Hennessey, we were greeted warmly, and after a lengthy visit with Doc McCarty and his wife Rosalie, Bella blessed me with news that she was in a family way. I was both thrilled and terrified by how this would alter our lives, but my wife was certain that things would fall into place.
Miracle worker that she was, Bella found a way to use fireside cookware to make her desserts and they sold even better now that there was a sweet smile selling the goodies. Mrs. Angela Cheney and her sisters, who still sold their candy from my wagon, nearly ambushed my Bella to catch up with one another, giggling the entire time.
I found out after we left Ames that Ben Cheney was finishing work on a larger house for his family, as the addition they were expecting in the fall would be their fourth, and Bella asked for my opinion on settling there. I had to admit it was a good opportunity, and promised to speak to Ben when we returned the beginning of May.
It was on this circuit that we heard about the town of Okarche, and taking the detour around Kingfisher instead of cutting past it, we were surprised to find a jewelry maker who specialized in handmade beaded and woven jewelry, and a new soap and candle maker to fill the void Rachel and Rebecca had made when they married.
Ben Cheney and I were able to settle on a fair price for his house, with me paying him a lump sum now and the remainder as I was able to. I wasn't a fan of being in debt to anyone, but we needed other things to prepare for the baby and I didn't want to dip into Bella's money unless we had to.
By the circuit that went through the second half of September and into the beginning half of October, Bella was too round with child to be comfortable on the road, so I begrudgingly left her in our new home to set up for the baby. It was a hard trip, but I returned to find her hale and hearty and urging me back out on my route.
We discussed it while I was home, and I began to inform the towns of the changes that would come in the following year. I was cutting my circuits down to five, from the eight I had been making, with my alterations coming in the middle so that there wouldn't be any longer of a wait for my return after the winter.
My customers offered me congratulations, and some of the women even sent me home with little packages for Bella and the baby, insisting I take the gifts. My arrival home in November was a happy one, Bella having used her time to make clothes for the baby and a few flannels for the pair of us as well.
I had told people that I may not return for a final pass, but Bella was firm, sending me back out to supply our neighbors for the winter and make a few more dollars for us.
Those five weeks were the longest of my life, December coming in with a cold snap that had me waiting for the security of my wife's embrace and a warm place for both my horses and me to bed down. It was nearly Christmas when I arrived in Hennessey to see a few citizens missing.
"Jasper, where are the McCarty's and your wife?"
"Rosalie has been staying with your wife for the month, but Emmett and Alice rode out to check on your family just this yesterday. They said they would stay until you arrived, so I suggest you come in and rest, because it will be the last time you'll sleep for a while."
I wanted to ride off and push the horses until I was back in Ames, but I knew that Jasper was likely right. His son Garrett had given him quite a few grey hairs since his birth in the spring and he was basking in the bachelor life again for the few days he could.
My visit with Jasper was brief and at first light I rode to Ames, making it sixteen miles before having to camp, cursing the need to rest my horses due to the wagon's weight. Another early morning had me spending another day traveling, but just as the evening started to settle in, I saw my home come into view.
Quickly parking the wagon near the barn and taking care of the horses, I washed up in the pump house and brought my bags inside to meet my child.
Emmett greeted me at the door, taking my things and silently pointing me to the large bedroom. Practically running for the door, I pushed it open to see Bella sitting up with our baby in her arms.
"Come meet your daughter," Bella whispered as I passed Alice and Rosalie on my way to the bed, happy for the private moment with my family.
"Have you named her?" I asked, looking down at the tiny bundle with hair that matched mine.
"I've always favored the name Katherine," Bella said, looking to me for approval.
"Kate is a perfect name for our beautiful little girl," I told her. "I'm sorry I didn't make it back in time to be here for the birth."
"Rosalie would have barred you from the house anyway. I'm just glad that you were able to be on the road and come home to everything right as rain," Bella admitted as she rocked our daughter softly.
"Let me lay her down in the cradle over there and then we can rest a little before supper." I carried Kate to the tiny cradle a few feet from the bed and settled her in before returning to my wife's side to inquire about our houseguests. "Will Alice and the McCarty's be staying in the spare bedroom and the main room?"
"The McCarty's are staying here; Alice will be over at Ben and Angela Cheney's. Then they will ride out in the morning. It's amazing how much slower we move because of the wagon. They are able to make it in one day, as long as they leave first thing."
"Well, we will have to send them off with a hearty breakfast and a good packed lunch for their travels. Then I shall have you all to myself until March."
"That you will, welcome home, Edward."
I looked down into her and leaned in to kiss her soundly. "It is good to be home, darlin'."