Disclaimer: This is fanfiction based on Stephanie Meyer's Twilight, lemon added.
Cared Cullen was my beta and my banner maker, and she's just generally lovely.
This story won awards on the Mine to Mark contest! To read the other entries, which I recommend you do, put Mine To Mark Contest in the search box up there, but not before reading and reviewing here!
Kimberley, a booming diamond mining town in the Northern Cape, South Africa, 1872
Hans offers me his hands, and swings me down to the hard packed sand. I smile my thanks as usual, and he nods at me in return, having long established that we have no spoken language to share. He reaches into the covered wagon for what's left of my belongings while I take in my surroundings.
People of all hues appear to have little to do here this morning. Ragged little boys with skin the colour of strong coffee stare at me openly as they shuffle and scuffle on the wide-open street. White men with no coats doff their hats at me, sun-crinkled eyes displaying curiosity and appreciation, if I say so myself. There are few women about, but I do see a pair shake off their skirts before they enter what looks like a general store up aways from where we landed.
We are tethered to a post at the edge of what seems to be a trading district. My eyes are not yet accustomed to the strong sunlight, but if I look to the other side of the wagon, behind the drinking cattle, I can see the road leading out of town into scrub brush and rocky farmland. I suppose that is the way we came in, though I was not allowed to look out as we travelled.
Hans has been protective of me, a woman travelling alone in a horribly foreign land, and I appreciate that. It was nice to have someone to look out for me, even though we did not understand one another. I had no such protection on board ship, save the kind I sought out - and dearly paid for - myself. It will be hard to part with his fatherly presence, I have no doubt.
Well, chin up girl, because it looks likely that your time has come. A gentleman approaches us as Hans drops the carpet bag at my feet. He looks mightily disappointed, as well a man might who expected to greet not one lonely wisp of a girl from England, but five buxom wenches, ready and prepared to take on babies and farm work.
The gentleman, who has very kind blue eyes I may say, talks to Hans in that strange language briefly, then takes his hat off to me.
My first impression is that he is a little older than Mr Felix led me to believe. Not that I actually credit a word that fairy tale spinner ever said - not any more.
"Good day to you, Miss. Welcome to Kimberley. My name is Carlisle Cullen. I am very pleased to meet you."
Mr Cullen sounds like an English gentleman, which is quite surprising, given our African surroundings.
"Good day, Sir. I'm pleased to have arrived." I drop a little curtsey, only because it is so inbred that my body does it for me before I have properly considered the matter.
He takes my hand and presses the back of it to his dry lips. Good gracious, between his forward manners and his piercing way of studying a girl, I don't quite know where to put myself.
"You must have much to tell me my dear, so I suggest we set off immediately. I suspect you are very travel weary?"
It's not as though I have a choice in the matter, but Mr Cullen seems awfully sweet, so I smile and reach for my scruffy belongings. Being a gentleman, my sponsor - for I suppose that is what he is until we reach an understanding - takes the bag into his own large hand as though it weighs nothing at all.
"Where is the rest of your luggage, Dear?" he asks, and I smile wryly.
"That is one of the things I have to tell you, Mr Cullen. I wish I knew."
I am not a big talker. Any of my acquaintances back in England will tell you how I keep my own counsel, and they would be most surprised at the running barrage I subject my sponsor to on the hour long cart ride to his farm house.
I tell him about the disparate group of women who answered his advertisement for frontier wives back in the English spring. How Mr Felix selected the successful applicants based on their looks alone, and he assures me kindly this admission does not make me vain.
I tell him about how the five of us, Lauren Mallory, Jessica Stanley, Angela Webber, Beth Morecomb and myself, made friends and prepared ourselves for the journey to Africa together. How Mr Felix encouraged us, and helped us, and how deeply we came to trust the man with our very lives.
I tell him how nervous and excited we all were as we boarded ship, and how well Mr Felix ensured we were settled into our little cabin. I describe our anxiety when he left to oversee the stowing of our treasured belongings below decks, and did not return. I explain our speculation as to whether he jumped ship with our possessions or whether he was jumped upon himself, never able to return. And how shocked we were when the ship left port, leaving us on board with nothing but the few clothes we'd brought in as cabin baggage.
Mr Cullen looks sorrowful when I tell him that was only the beginning of our troubles. We were robbed twice, leaving us with so little money for food we were forced to beg for work and kindness. The officer we reported our loss to played us for the innocent fools we were, and Beth and Angela were the first of us to find ourselves horribly compromised. Mr Cullen looks stricken at this, but I do not stop there.
I tell him how quick the other passengers were to shun us all, given our reputation due to the rumours surrounding Miss Morecomb and Miss Webber. Then I tell him how fast they were to change their minds when the dysentery struck, and willing nurses were required.
Mr Cullen looks positively sick when I tell of little Jessica Stanley succumbing to the illness so very quickly, and how callous the sailors were when they tossed her remains overboard. How Angela gave up hope after that, and all the light left her soul. She was the next to follow Miss Stanley, and the three of us remaining made a pact to fight together to survive, no matter what.
Only, we did not reckon with the devil that Officer Newton turned out to be, so Beth and I were horrified when Lauren was arrested for stealing. When we went to beg for her release from the hold, we were convinced of her innocence; but when the Officer showed us the evidence he himself had found on her person, we were confused, and did not know what to think. When she had not returned after two days, we decided to take our complaint higher. We only wanted to talk to her, find out what happened, but we were refused.
I expect Mr Cullen to be shocked and dismayed when I tell of my protest on the upper deck, which brought me to the Captain's attention. However, he smiles at me with what appears to my eyes to be a hint of pride. I falter in my story a little, as I realise that this man holds my future happiness in his hands. But I have come so far now, and I honestly do not think there is a situation I cannot survive, so I continue bravely on.
I tell him of my fury at discovering how Lauren Mallory died. How she begged for release, but was beaten instead, and left to die with untreated wounds in unsanitary conditions. I explain how I forced the Captain to hold an enquiry into Officer Newton, who found himself in chains in the hold in Lauren's place.
Finally, I tell Mr Cullen how Beth and I were befriended by Captain Black and Officer Masen, which is a nice way of putting it. I explain that Beth opted to remain in port with her Officer. She believed she owed her sponsor in Kimberley nothing at all, based on the misery she had been forced to endure on her journey across the ocean.
I do not tell Mr Cullen the nature of my friendship with the Captain, because I was a foolish girl once, but I will never be that way again.
By the time I have completed my tale of woe, I have stunned my new travelling companion into contemplative silence.
We roll through an incongruous pair of gate posts in the middle of what looks to me like nowhere. There is no fence; no gate; no hedge; no avenue of trees - nothing else to mark the beginning of the homestead I suppose I will be calling my home from now on.
Eventually I spy a low dwelling in the distance, and nerves twist my insides into the snakes I have been warned populate the trees and grass and rocks of this forsaken land.
We draw up in front of a pleasant and sprawling house, with a wide verandah running the length of the property.
Four men in varying stances of anticipation adorn said verandah.
Mr Cullen turns to me and clears his throat, but I only see him from the corner of my eye, as I am mesmerised by the sight.
"I apologise Miss Swan, I ought to have taken the time to prepare you to meet my family. I think I was in shock. Stay there a minute, and I will introduce you." He jumps down from the open cart and makes his way over to the men, talking to them in a low voice.
The sun is fierce, and any uncovered skin on my body feels as though it has burnt to a crisp already. Perspiration tickles the back of my neck, and I am loath to lift my arms and risk exposing the damp patches underneath them.
I focus on these uncomfortable sensations to distract me from the attention I am being paid.
Two of the men resemble Mr Cullen, if not in colouring and height, at least in bone structure and a certain manner of carrying themselves. Of the two remaining men, one is tall and handsome in a rugged way, although his expression is a little mean and calculating.
The other man is shorter, but much wider across the chest. In fact, he looks a good deal like the bear at the London zoological gardens. He has dimples in his cheeks, and he regards me with open curiosity as Mr Cullen continues to speak softly to them all.
The fellow I cannot take my eyes off is the tallest of the bunch. He hangs back in the shadows somewhat, and his hair and features would be nondescript if it were not for the sharpness of his jaw and the focus of his large, perfectly symmetrical eyes.
He nods at me slightly, as though to say 'how do you do' in the most familiar fashion. I have no idea what gets into me, but my eyes are locked upon this man as though the remaining four are of entirely no consequence to me. When one corner of his mouth turns up in a tiny, impertinent grin, I cannot quell the thrill that runs along my spine.
Finally, Mr Cullen stops his whispering, and turns around to help me down. I am a small girl, and the red earth is a long way away, but he puts his strong hands on my waist and swings me to the ground like a child.
"Miss Swan, these are my sons, and Mr Biers here works for me. Come inside, and I'll introduce you to them all properly."
My throat is so dry, when I swallow upon hearing Mr Cullen's words I choke a little. He offers me his elbow in sympathetic support, and I grasp it like a drowning woman.
Inside, the house is dark and surprisingly cool in comparison to the punishment the sun just bestowed on me.
I am offered a seat in a large, open parlour. All of the men stare at me as I sit, except the tallest, whose eyes are now fixed on the knife he plays with. Dangerous game, that. I would like to ask him to put it away, but I don't.
Mr Dimples offers me a glass of water, and I gratefully accept. He pours it from a covered stone jug, apparently laid out with several glasses in honour of my and my companions' arrival. Mr Cullen takes a glass as well, and swallows it all down before beginning his introductions.
He begins with his sons, Mr Jasper and Mr Edward Cullen. They bow their heads politely, as well brought up young men ought, but they do not speak.
Mr Dimples turns out to be Mr Emmett Cullen, although whether he is a relative or an adoptee is unclear to me. He certainly looks nothing like the other Mr Cullens.
Mr Riley Biers is last, and he calls me Miss and holds my hand, but it does not make me like him - there is something odd about him. I'm thankful when he moves away and resumes his seat at the edge of the grouping.
A silence falls, during which I become aware of the low hiss of the insects that seem to be everywhere in Africa. One cannot get away from them, I have discovered to my detriment. The mosquitoes are the worst, but they are mainly a menace at night.
"Well, are we going to fight for her, or draw straws?" asks Mr Jasper suddenly, and I am so startled my hand lifts to hold my jumping heart.
"Don't be absurd, Jasper. We will give Miss Swan a few days to settle in, and then she can choose from amongst us," snaps Mr Cullen.
"But that's not fair," says Mr Biers, the protest in his voice making him sound cold and hard rather than petulant, like the phrase he uses. "I don't stand a chance that way. I say we compete for her."
"No, Riley. I say we wait," says Mr Cullen, his tone firm.
"And leave her unprotected from your sly ways? I disagree," says Mr Jasper gesturing at all his rivals, his father included.
"Let her choose, Jasper. She must be stronger than she looks, to have made it this far," says Mr Emmett, winking at me and making me flush.
My head is whipping from man to man as they argue over my imminent future. When my eyes settle on Mr Edward Cullen, he looks up from the knife glinting in his lap as though I have touched him. He smiles lazily at me before he speaks.
"It doesn't matter either way," he says. "She's mine."
And as simple as that, for me, the subject is closed.
This is nothing short of astonishing.
Here I sit, as far as I know the only woman for miles and miles, at a table in a dining room in the very middle of Africa. There are five grown men seated around me, and they are fighting over me like children, Mr Cullen included.
If my poor mother could see me now, her heart would stop all over again.
Mr Emmett is the cook. He has made us some kind of stew, which I am too hungry to eat daintily. However, even if I exhibited the table manners of a peasant I do not imagine I would cool the ardour of these boys one bit.
It seems as though the competition has moved beyond whose wife I will become. I think these men spend their lives in competition with one another, and I am merely their latest, and perhaps most exciting excuse for a tournament of some kind.
Mr Edward remains supremely confident. He contributes little to the discussion about what form the championship will take, merely reiterating at regular intervals that it doesn't matter, as I am already his.
He says, "She is mine," and I believe him, because every time he does, strange things happen to my body.
I imagine there is an imp living inside me. She spends much of the afternoon and evening wriggling around making me feel uncomfortable and excitable. Whenever Mr Edward declares ownership of me, the little imp grasps hold of my heart, my womb or some other part of me, and squeezes tight.
Apparently the usual measures of 'best husband' material have already been won by Mr Edward. He and Mr Jasper are the prospectors of the family, while Mr Cullen, Mr Emmett and Riley Biers work on the farm.
Mr Edward has been lucky enough to have found not only the most diamonds, but also the largest. Mr Jasper is evidently very jealous. Usually the richest man has first choice of a bride, but Mr Jasper argues that he ought to be given some kind of compensation for having the poorer luck, wealth-wise.
I am not fond of this attitude at all, but I say nothing. I am not sure that Mr Jasper truly believes his own argument, as he does not seem the type to feel that the world owes him any favours. I think he is arguing for the love of it.
It all seems to have little to do with me.
Mr Cullen mentions age as a measure of suitability in a husband. By this, he means he is the oldest and most respected, and therefore should be given the honour of my hand.
Mr Emmett counters that a younger, more hale man would be kinder to my prolonged happiness. Privately, I think that Mr Cullen seems very hale indeed, but I remain silent again, as Mr Edward merely states that he, being the youngest, is closest in age to me - and that I am his, so the argument is pointless.
Eventually a multi-skilled, medieval style tournament is decided upon, to be played the following day. The impish side of me is excited at the prospect, but the sensible girl I am more accustomed to shakes her head in dismay. Not one of these darned men has asked for my opinion, and I have come to the point where I would gladly give it.
I suppose boys will be boys, and there is very little to be done except mop up the blood.
I spend hours lying awake in Mr Cullen's bed. Every little noise frightens me. It is too hot to sleep, and the thin sheet covering me feels damp and heavy. When I remove it, dressed only in my petticoat, I feel vulnerable and exposed.
Frustrated, I stand up out of bed to fetch some water, and am distracted by the sight of a giant moon casting a glow on the strange landscape outside the uncovered window.
While I am staring out, pondering how on earth I found myself so very far away from all I have ever known, the eeriest cry echoes from beyond the darkness.
I can't help myself - I scream, and jump backwards onto the bed, which shifts on the polished wooden floor.
Mr Cullen's bedroom door opens almost immediately, and Mr Edward's silky voice calls out, "Miss Swan, are you alright?"
I am too frightened to speak. Mr Edward opens the door wider and slips inside, making his way over to me as my heart beats even harder.
"Miss?" His voice is a whisper, and how he can fit so much caring and compassion into one tiny syllable I will never know, but I feel such a need for his protection - from what, I could not say - that I throw myself into his arms, and attempt to bury myself in his chest.
A tiny part of me is mortified at my actions, but I am so distracted by the strength of his embrace, the smell of his skin and the sheer manliness of the hard muscles in his arms and torso, mortification is easily overcome.
He strokes my head, hushing me sweetly as he holds me so tight.
"I heard a ghost, or a monster, or some such creature of the night, and I was frightened," I mumble into his thin shirt.
I feel the rumble of his laugh in my lips, which are planted on his warm chest.
"That was probably a jackal, Miss Swan. Nothing to be frightened of. But don't tremble so, I've got you."
"You came so quickly."
"Yes, well I was right outside your door, and I could not sleep."
I find the strength to move my head back enough to regard his face. "What were you doing at my door?"
"Guarding you from the others, of course."
This frightens me anew. "Guarding me? Is that necessary?"
"I have no idea, but I wasn't taking any chances. You," he plants a kiss on my forehead to illustrate his words, "Belong to me. I am not about to give anyone else the chance to claim otherwise."
"But this whole stupid tournament..."
He snorts a laugh. "Pah, I've won already. It'll give them time to accept the idea." He grasps my head between his very large hands and looks seriously at me. "Don't doubt me, Isabella. As soon as we laid eyes upon one another, I knew you were mine, and I mean to prove that to you, as well as to the rest of them. If anyone else lays a finger on you, I'll kill them in a heartbeat."
Isabella Swan falls asleep in my arms.
The weight of her small body on my chest is both negligible and significant. She feels as delicate as the Swan she is named for, but at the same time a solid mass to hold on to. Someone worthy of my protection, someone who gave a jolt to my quiet heart as soon as I saw her.
No one else will have the opportunity to touch her. She is mine.
I lay her down on the mattress and she shuffles and mumbles in her sleep. I think she says 'Mr Edward', but that could be my own ears' wish fulfillment.
I slip out of my father's French doors that lead directly onto the verandah and stare at the moon for a while. Beetles tap their dumb heads repetitively against the glass, hoping to gain access to the pleasures within; they stand as much chance as Riley Biers, slinking off behind the outhouse, pretending he doesn't see me here. I spit over the railing, and settle down in Ma's old rocking chair to wait for the sun to rise.
There are five of us, so there will be five heats, the order of which will be chosen by straw poll.
The first vote is taken at the breakfast table. Miss Swan clutches the sharp blades of dry grass tightly, showing no favouritism, but she smiles at me when I take my long piece. I like the way her eye teeth jut out sharply when she smiles, like the most adorable little vampire.
Riley wins the first draw, and picks a horse derby as his game.
Of course he does, we all know he has the fastest mount, and for good reason, too. I am not concerned, however. Even if he beats me here, he won't win at any other game.
Pa asks Miss Swan to gather five tokens, one for the winner of each round. Whoever collects the most tokens supposedly wins her hand. I see him whispering to her, and I know he is telling her not to be concerned. He can't force marriage upon her, after all. If she doesn't take to the winner, she has every right to refuse him.
It will be my hand. She won't refuse.
We saddle up, and bring the horses around to the front of the house, the starting point. Riley explains the route in great detail, which is to end back where we begin. Miss Swan has tied a neckerchief around her slim neck, to keep the sun from burning her there. We mount up, and she asks if we are ready, untying the pretty fabric ready to wave us off.
Emmett is not quite there yet, and we make a few jokes at his expense. Finally, Miss Swan lifts the fabric into the air, and wafts it down again. How any of us is able to tear his eyes away from the sight of her bosom rising and falling again, is beyond me. In the slowest start to a horse derby in the history of Africa, we set off.
Emmett and Jasper bring up the rear, while Pa and I are neck and neck behind Riley. The route is short, but there are several points at which single file is the only option, and Pa whoops and hollers to urge his horse ahead of mine. I let him, because I happen to know I will beat him on the home stretch.
We reach the end of the course almost on top of one another, with Riley's backside pumping up and down in the saddle just ahead of me. We pile around the corner of the farmhouse, and there is Miss Swan, right in the middle of the dirt we are about to tear up.
Riley rears sideways to avoid her, and my brothers and Pa pull on their reins to draw their horses to a halt. Sally may not be the fastest horse in the stable, but I have more control over her than any of the other riders do their mounts. Instead of changing course, I continue towards the startled girl, and gently circle around her, before coming to a complete halt.
I lean over towards Miss Swan from my saddle, and offer her my cheek to kiss. I can feel her sweet breath on my skin as she hesitates, then her lips touch my cheekbone so quickly I might have imagined it, except for the burn her kiss leaves behind.
Emmett wins the next short straw, and picks wrestling. Pa decides to sit this one out, sensible old man.
I am to tackle Riley. Emmett and Jasper face off first. We set up a makeshift ring in the paddock, bordered by logs from the woodpile. Pa brings a chair for Miss Swan, and one for himself, and they settle down in the meagre shade of the thorn trees.
Jasper and Em strip their shirts off, but in the interests of Miss Swan's modesty, their undershirts remain. Emmett's broad chest ripples with muscle, but Jasper has great strength from prospecting the claim. Only he and I know the strain our bodies take when we work. We may be wiry, but Em is going to underestimate his opponent and lose.
Riley and I stand on opposite sides of the ring to referee. He is angry with me for winning his round, and glowers. His back is to Pa and Miss Swan, so he doesn't see how she stares in my direction. I fold my arms casually across my chest and smile.
Emmett and Jasper nod.
Riley barks out the order, and Emmett lunges for Jasper. Barely three minutes later, he is on his front, face pressed into the dirt, a triumphant brother astride his lower back.
"Jasper has it," laughs Pa.
I look in his direction again, and mark the flush on Miss Swan's face. Our eyes meet, and stay connected as I loosen my braces and unbutton my shirt. Her flush deepens, and her tongue flicks out to moisten her lips. I have to work very hard not to display my arousal. A sweat forms on the back of my neck. I rub it off with the shirt before throwing it on the ground.
Riley and I face each other, and I flex my arms to loosen them, flicking the bones in my wrists. I am still mid-stretch when Biers attacks, his temper besting him. I manage to sidestep him, grasping his upper arm as he passes, and taking him into a lock hold from behind. His resistance is impressive, and we dance a shuffle with our feet, attempting to knock one another to the ground but failing.
Eventually he wrenches free from my hold, and seconds later has taken me in a headlock.
"Not so cocky now, are you Edward?" he hisses in my ear.
His arrogance makes me laugh. I find it relatively easy to knock him off balance, and almost toss him over my lowered back and onto the hard ground. He is winded, but otherwise unscathed.
"Mr Edward has it," calls out Miss Swan, and when I turn to grin at her, she looks mightily embarrassed.
Jasper and I are well matched, and we both know it. I have a few inches of height on him, but in hand combat, that is not necessarily an advantage. I have great incentive to win, but my brother has his jealousy to motivate him. This could be interesting.
Emmett counts us in. For a moment, the world stops. Blood slows in my veins, silence surrounds me and every movement Jasper makes is magnified a hundredfold.
Then we slam into each other, and this fight is not about who gets the girl any more.
This is about who earns more money, and why; who works harder, at the claim and on the farm; which man is more respected in town, at the bank, in church and at the tavern; who does more for Pa; hell, probably this fight is about which of us our mother loved more, God rest her soul.
I have no idea how long we wrestle, but eventually Jasper locks me in a fierce grip I cannot shift. I will not let him win though. Suddenly I recall exactly what - who - this fight is about. For two of Emmett's counts, I relax my body entirely, sinking into Jasper's arms as though into an embrace. It is enough. He relaxes too, and I use all of my strength to throw him off, rolling on top of him and pinning him down.
My lips are at his ear as Emmett begins the count again. "Give in, Jasper. Isabella Swan belongs to me. You will never have her."
My brother smiles at me. "All right," he says. "I concede."
We clamber back up to our feet and throw our arms around one another. When we pull apart, laughing, I notice my undershirt is torn almost right off, and dirt is smeared all over both of us.
There is a gasp to my left; Miss Swan has come to check we have survived intact. Her face is pale with a red cherry on each cheekbone. Her eyes are bright, and her bonnet has been pushed right back, as though she has been pulling at her hair.
"Are you hurt, Mr Edward?" Before I reply, she adds as an afterthought, "Mr Jasper?"
Jasper slaps me on the shoulders. "You are quite right, Ed. I concede again."
I have earned a small, embroidered handkerchief and a silver teaspoon with an enamel inlay proclaiming 'Hever Castle' in blue and white.
It strikes me that with the little Miss Swan brought with her, expecting her to give us tokens is asking a lot.
I only need win one more, however, and the tournament is mine. We can stop all this nonsense, and I can claim my bride.
Pa wins the next straw, and suggests shooting at targets. By the time Jasper and I have returned, water still dripping from our heads onto our clean shirts, he has changed his mind. We are throwing knives at a target instead.
Well now. I don't have a clue why the rest of them even bother - they all know I'll win this game blindfold.
A target has been set up, and the others begin practising while I fetch my knives. When I return, Miss Swan seems to be enjoying herself immensely. I stand back awhile and watch.
When Emmett hits the target with his knife - in the corner, mind you, not in the centre - she laughs and claps with delight. She spurs Em on to show off, and he demands that Pa hand him another knife. He is overconfident though, doesn't test the weight, and consequently it flies off to the left. Everyone laughs, but Miss Swan does commiserate with him a little.
Riley refuses a turn, not wanting to be shown up any more, and Pa claims to have unsuccessfully attempted his go. Jasper gestures for me to go next.
I walk up to Miss Swan first. "What will you give me if I win this game, Miss Isabella Swan?"
She is shy and bold all at once when she considers me before making her reply. Her eyes are still very bright, and though she chews on her lip, she regards me with excitement and anticipation. I can't help leaning into her, to breathe in her perfect scent.
"I was going to give you my neckerchief, Mr Cullen, but I think it is a little dirty. Would you accept a kiss instead?"
Roars from my brothers make us aware of our audience again, and we both see fit to pull away from one another. Her blush is fierce, but her smile doesn't falter.
"A kiss? I will count on it."
"If I win, will you kiss me, Miss Swan?" Jasper is deliberately provocative, but we both know the outcome already.
I am the only man this little beauty will be kissing. I wink at her.
My first knife, the smallest, sails right into the centre of the wooden board, and Miss Swan claps her hands together happily.
I am not done though. Two slightly larger knives sail through the air in quick succession, above and equidistant from each other and the first. Finally, the two larger knives from my set thud into the wood directly below the middle sized ones. In the harsh light of the day, their shadows fall almost straight below, making the slightly misaligned shape of the letter 'M' I have designed quite clear.
I am congratulated by my brothers, and Pa shakes me by the hand. "Go on, boy, go and claim your kiss."
I gesture towards Jasper, but he just grins and motions for me to go ahead.
Miss Swan is fairly glowing with anticipation, making me want to laugh, but I bite my tongue.
I reach her and drop to one knee in front of her.
"Miss Isabella Swan, do you see the shape of the letter I carved for you over there?"
"Yes Sir," she says, "I see the letter 'M'."
"Do you know what that letter stands for, Miss?"
She puts her finger to her mouth, pretending to contemplate. "Mincemeat? Miracle? Mercantile?"
"No, Miss Swan; that 'M' over there stands for 'marriage'. Will you marry me?"
Her face softens; we seem to have returned to that quiet world in which only she and I exist. She puts her hand to my face and gently strokes my cheekbone.
"Yes, Mr Cullen; I will."
I stand up to claim my kiss. My hand grips the back of her neck, I bow my head and my lips reach hers.
They are succulent. She tastes of rainwater and roses, sweet and clear and velvet. She gasps into my mouth. Her body sways into mine, and my other hand supports her lower back, but also presses her into me, making my sudden desire as obvious to her as it is, burning and pulsing in my groin, to me.
Eventually, Pa's sharp voice penetrates my lust. "Edward! Enough. Take Miss Swan back to the house. We'll eat in an hour."
I pull away from her; we are both panting. It was not my intention to embarrass her. I offer her my arm, and we retreat to find a modicum of privacy in a very full and busy farm house.
Mr Cullen and Mr Edward are having words. Loud words. Shameful words. Words which leave me trembling and incapable of remaining still.
Edward refuses to wait two days for a marriage certificate. Mr Cullen insists he will not lay a hand on me until we are legally bound to one another.
Edward says we can be married in the eyes of God merely by exchanging vows in front of witnesses, and as he says, we have plenty of those.
Mr Cullen retorts that he has waited this long for a bride, how hard can it be to wait another two days?
Mr Edward says, "Very hard, Pa. Very damn hard indeed. I am going to make that woman mine tonight, and there is nothing you can do about it. You are frightening her with your threats, old man. Give us your blessing, instead of delaying the inevitable and frustrating us both."
Mr Cullen says, "Enough boy, that's enough. We'll ask Miss Swan her opinion, and what she decides is final. Understood?"
"Yes Sir, I understand."
So we are to be married tonight, then. I see no need to delay.
Edward's bedroom is smaller than Mr Cullen's, and more cluttered. It has the lingering aura of a boy's bedroom, although the man who inhabits it left childhood behind some time ago.
"It's in need of a woman's touch, I know. We can make a trip into town as soon as you like. I can buy you whatever you need."
He sounds desperate to please me; it's sweet, and contrary to the manly display he has shown throughout the day.
Or perhaps my experience of men is more limited than I thought.
He stands very close to me at the foot of the narrow bed. His eyes are on my lips when he asks me what I need.
I can't answer his question. What do I need?
Instead of waiting for my reply, he leans his lovely head toward me. He grasps my lower lip between his teeth and bites me.
I become a wild woman.
My hands are first in his hair, then tearing at his shirt, pulling him against me, digging my fingernails like claws into his flesh.
He grunts, and yanks my body hard against his. Fire spreads down my spine and floods my belly. I can't reach enough of him, so I stand on tiptoe and almost climb up his thighs until my legs are around his hips.
He thrusts against my sex so hard it hurts, but instead of slowing me down, the pain inflames me further. I have turned into a banshee, moaning as my teeth find his neck. He thrusts again. And again. Nothing has ever felt so good.
He grabs hold of my arms and tears them from his hair, not without a struggle. I find myself thrown onto the mattress, breathing heavily, bereft.
He grasps my skirt, pulling the material this way and that. "How do I get this off you?" he growls.
I flip over onto my front to show him the fastenings at my back. His huge hands slide roughly up my thighs, pushing the material away from me until I am bare from the waist down, as undergarments are a luxury I have long since foregone.
I can feel his eyes burning into my backside. He rubs me there with one hand, while the other attempts to undo hooks and eyes until he is so frustrated, he uses both hands to rip the material away from me.
The same hands quickly find their way back to my bottom. He thrusts my legs apart while I thrash in front of him, desperate to feel his hands on me there. Oh lord in heaven, yes, right there - he pushes two long fingers deep inside of me. I freeze - the intrusion is rough and painful and I have never wanted anything so badly.
Words fall from his lips, but I can't hear what they are for the pounding of my own heart. He withdraws his fingers - I want to cry at their loss - but he lifts my hips instead. Because I am still face down, I momentarily imagine he is going to take me where Captain Black did, and disappointment stabs at my chest.
I was mistaken. He opens me with gentle fingers, then pushes himself forcefully inside my sex.
I scream. I have never felt anything like it. He fills me so completely, and it hurts, it hurts, it hurts so very beautifully.
He moves. I want more. He moves faster. I ask for more. One hand grasps my hip and pulls me backwards and forwards against him. The other reaches around me and sends exploring fingers through my sex, until he finds a part of me that makes me scream even louder. I bury my head in the mattress, and cry his name into it.
He shouts out, making a sound I have never heard before, low and animal-like, desperate and fulfilled simultaneously. I feel him grow inside of me, I feel his release, and it takes me over into a place I have never been before. White light surrounds me. I may be dead.
We collapse together into the bed. Edward is kissing me, and biting me. He apologises between nips and kisses. I wish he wouldn't, because I floated into some kind of heaven and I want no regrets for his sending me there.
"Hush, Edward. Let me enjoy you. Let me wallow in this delirium of pleasure."
He laughs. "Pleasure? Truly? I behaved like a beast. I don't know what came over me. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you."
"Hush. Pain was inevitable. Hold me. Leave me be. I don't know what came over me either, but it was wonderful. I hope it happens again." I know I make no sense; I am almost incoherent.
Edward pulls me tightly against him. I feel so warm and sore and secure.
"Again, and again and again. You belong to me now. I can do what I like to you. I guarantee you there is not a man within a hundred miles who is not aware of that, after the noise you made."
I suppose his words should frighten me or make me feel ashamed, but they don't.
Edward Cullen has marked my soul. I do belong to him. Forever.
A/N: Thanks so much for those who voted in the Mine to Mark contest. To read other sexy entries, head over to the contest page on this site (Mine To Mark Contest) or their blog of the same name. Thanks also to the lovely contest organisers.
Want more? Let me know. I have ideas.