A/N: Oh man I've been away so long! Excuses excuses and more excuses. But I'm back. Thank you for continued reviewing and liking my other fics, Upside Downtown and The Most Beautiful Widow, in particular. It makes me so happy that they're still being read and getting love. So without further ado, here's a quick chapter to get you back in the Stable Boy mood.
There's no eloquent way around it. No Jane Austen-channeling or Walt Whitman-plagiarizing will suffice. No poetic verbiage will adequately articulate the current rush of emotions coursing through every tingling fiber of my being. There's only one way to express my feelings right now. The way of a humiliated seventeen – soon to be eighteen – year old girl. And that way is…..
I hate Edward Cullen.
Hate that smug face and sassy smirk.
Hate his stupid voice and condescending stare.
Hate the all-encompassing mystery that surrounds him.
...those smoldering eyes and succulent lips.
...the way he draws me near and then pushes me away.
...the air of boredom he carries around the ranch day in and day out.
These are the thoughts that buzz around my head as I take my own unique walk of shame through the dewey northfields at one-thirty in the morning.
Maybe I asked for it. After all, I was late meeting him.
"Climb down the window ledge after your father goes to bed and I'll be waiting. You don't have to bring anything. I'll bring a towel for you. ...What do you say? Will you come? It'll be fun."
"Yes, yes I'll come."
But Daddy had come home early and proceeded to spend the entire dinner service and two hours after lecturing me on how I need to spend less time hanging out in the fields acting like a "wild boy-child" and more time inside behaving like a "young lady focused on her studies".
A proper young lady. Head of the manor and next in line for all that comes with it.
Whatever that means.
It's a talk I receive at least once a month or whenever my father is home long enough to notice that his little girl is growing up to have a mind of her own and maybe the college he's picked out for her and the course of study he's planned to go along with it is not necessarily what she wants to do anymore.
Anyways, when I'd finally pried myself out from under my father's disapproving stare and managed to slip out the side entrance, it was well after midnight and Edward was already gone.
"He knows you're a virgin, stupid," Alice says dryly. She's been propped in the middle of my four-poster bed painting her toenails a nauseating shade of watermelon for over an hour now. Every few minutes she stops to take a sip from a sweaty bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade that she swiped from Esme's secret stash in the basement cooler.
"He's a stable hand, sweets, not a Sex Ed teacher. Maybe he doesn't want the responsibility of being the first to cram his giant cock into your tight virgin vag," she hiccups. The .02% alcohol-content has apparently gone to her head.
"Ugh God, Alice. You make it sound so gross. Is that how you felt about letting Jasper cram his into yours?"
"That's different. We'd been with other people."
"So Edward doesn't want to have sex with me cuz I'm not a slut? That's fucking interesting," I sneer.
Alice's injured frown tells me she's not amused.
"Sorry. I don't think you're a slut, I'm just…confused, frustrated, and horny as hell."
She finishes blowing on her toesies, scoots across the comforter to the edge of the bed and slings her arm over my shoulder.
"What I mean is, Edward obviously really likes you. He totally could have taken advantage of you in the water last night or when he was your wedding date that time or every time you pass each other in the stable and give each other those weird swoony gaga faces. But he hasn't. I wonder why? Hmm?"
"Ok but then why invite me to the swimming hole at midnight? Why get naked with me? And swim naked with me? Why kiss me…oh god Alice he kissed me so sweetly…like he really meant it, y'know?" I touch my bottom lip hoping to reignite the feeling of Edward's hot tongue gliding over it.
"I'm sure he did really mean it."
"Yeah, right," I groan, flopping onto my mattress like a sad beached whale. "He's just bored here. You see how bored he looks all the time. He's playing mind games with me for a sick thrill or something."
"You don't know him, Bella. Not really, anyway. No one around here really knows him. He won't let anyone get close to him. Don't you think that's strange? There's all these rumors swirling around about him but no one knows the truth. I dunno...maybe it's for the best. If he's pushing you away it's probably because he's afraid of hurting you. And if he's afraid of hurting you," she burps and flops down next to me. "It's probably because he knows he can."
I hate it when she's right.
"How'd you get so smart, huh?" I sigh, swiping her bevvie and taking a swig.
"Eh, I'm making it all up as I go along."
Deliveries are late this week. Not only are they late but when they finally do arrive, they arrive all at once, they need to be unpacked and checked and counted and signed for all at once.
It's what us folks on the ranch call, ALL HANDS ON DECK.
Feed. Seed. Frozen goods. Perishables. You name it and it is currently being unloaded onto the front lawn of the manor house. Japser and Emmett and the rest of the guys are quick to help pull bales of hay, feed bags and sacks of seed from the semi's and load them onto our own trucks to be hauled to their destination.
Esme signs the invoices and puts them in a folder to give to my father when he returns from meetings in town. Everyone does their part to move the process along quickly and I'm right there with them.
"You sure you can handle that, Miss Isabella," Edward smirks as he watches me lug two bags of seed into the barn. "You're awfully fair...skinned...to be unloading a trunk in this hot sun. Wouldn't want you to get sunburnt."
"I've been doing this long before you decided to show up here," I groan, shuffling past him into the barn. We haven't spoken since that night at the watering hole and THIS is how he choses to address me? The balls on that boy. ...don't get me started.
"Is that so?" he answers back, not even bothering to provide any assistance. He just stands there squinting in the bright afternoon sun with his strong hands on his narrow hips, thoroughly amused as I trudge back and forth.
"Yes. That's so," I pant, dropping two bags at his feet. I wipe the sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand and tighten my wilting ponytail. "Is that so hard to believe?"
He dismisses the question and looks through me towards the empty trunk behind us.
"Mmmhm...well, not that it's any of your business, but I didn't decide to show up here. It was decided for me."
"Ha. Yeah right. No one is making you stay here. You can leave whenever you want."
Edward smirks and takes a slow, predatory step towards me.
"Shows how much you know." His skin is tanned from being out in the relentless sun and heat. His short-sleeve white shirt is drenched and clinging to every defined muscle in his chest and back. I'm breathless and just a little bit scared right now. I think I smell a hint of old alcohol on his breath and my heart cracks a little. He went out last night I bet.
"Your father is making me stay here. And I don't get to leave until I've worked off my debt. What do you have to say about that?" he challenges.
"Your debt?" I gulp. "Debt for what?"
Oh god. Why am I asking? I don't want to know.
For a moment I think he might bolt and run, leaving me standing here with my thumb up my ass waiting for an answer. His breathing is ragged and there's something like electricity in the air around us. Even though I'm frightened, I'm more than turned on.
"Stealing," he says finally, with something akin to torment boiling behind those eyes. Something closer to fear.
"Nosy aren't you?" he snaps and the familiar animosity is back.
"You brought it up-"
"A horse from your father. I tried to anyway, but your cook caught me as she was coming out of the market."
"Esme?" I chuckle and shake my head in disbelief.
"Yeah I don't think she likes me very much."
"No way. She likes you alot. When I go through the kitchen in the mornings I always see her setting aside extra food for you. Like you were her son or something. And when you got hurt," I wince at the memory, the blood, Edward's pale face. "...she took care of you."
Edward shrugs, doesn't smile, and I can see he's trying not to show how touched he is by what I just said.
"Maybe cuz she knows I wasn't stealing just to steal."
"Why were you stealing?"
"That's none of your business, Miss Isa -"
"Stop calling me Miss and STOP calling me Isabella! I'm Bella."
"Not to us."
"Oh yeah? And who's us all of a sudden?" Tears prick my eyes. I just don't understand him. Why is he doing this?
"What's happened to you, Edward?" He doesn't answer. It's not a rhetorical question. I really want to know.
"I don't understand your games. I don't know how to play them." I choke back a sob with the palm of my hand. "And I don't know why you're trying to hurt me." Without another look in his direction I step around him and over the feed bags, rushing out of the stable before he can answer, before he can see me cry.
"You win," I say over my shoulder. "Congratulations."
I think I hear a curse, a slam, a kicked over bench, but I don't look back. I don't care. I can't.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I demand, bursting through the screen door into the kitchen all red-eyed and puffy-faced.
"Bella?" Esme wipes her hands on her apron and rushes towards me, her eyes full of concern. "Are you alright? Are you hurt? What happened, honey?" She tries to touch me but I pull away and dart to the other side of the kitchen. Her eyes are wide, her face drawn and I'm guessing my appearance has something to do with it.
"About Edward, why didn't you tell me?" Tears stream down my face. I do nothing to stop them.
"Tell you what?"
"You knew all along," I sob, borderline hysterical. "And you kept it from me. You knew how I felt about him! You knew!"
"Bella, calm down."
"I won't calm down! Let me guess. You wanted to protect me. You didn't want me to get hurt by the big bad new boy. Poor precious, Isabella. Poor fragile little girl." There's acid and sarcasm and anger in my voice, venom dripping off of every word. Esme hasn't moved closer. She knows what I'm talking about now. She knows she's been caught.
"This so typical," I spit. "This whole place and everyone in it - you all treat me like I'm a child!"
"Bella, I never said -"
"You're not my mother. You don't have to protect me."
Esme's face falls and I know I've crossed the line. I want to take it back but I can't. She looks so sad now. I was trying to hurt her and wouldn't you know it, that's exactly what I did.
"I know that," she says, gathering herself together and returning to the stove where she had been stirring her famous collard greens.
"I know I'm not your mother, and if I've treated you like a daughter it's because I've loved you like one and that's my fault."
"I'm sorry," I say weakly, my voice hoarse from crying and yelling. "Esme, I'm sorry, I didn't mean for it to come out like that. I just...I don't understand why you didn't tell me what you knew. I asked you. I trusted you and you kept it from me. If you wanted me to stay away from him you should have told me-"
"Bella! I didn't tell you because I wanted you to give him a chance!"