Title: Tethered

Rating: M

Word Count: 9,396

Pairing: Edward/Bella

Prompts used: Song- Jason Aldean – Don't You Wanna Stay Picture- #24

Summary: She's running from her past. He's tied to his.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, situations, etc. are the property of their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended.

teth·er [teth -er]– noun, verb, idiom

A rope, chain, or the like, by which an animal is fastened to a fixed object so as to limit its range of movement.

The utmost length to which one can go in action; the utmost extent or limit of ability or resources.

To fasten or confine with or as if with a tether.

At the end of one's tether, at the end of one's resources, patience, or strength.

Tethered

The old wood felt rough, splintering under oily pads of soft-as-silk fingers, as she held the four encasing slabs, with steadily shaking hands. If she wanted, she could take it, stash it away, buried between the small assortment of over-sized tops, and one loose-fitting pair of hand-me-down jeans. But, wanting had nothing to do with this; it never had.

Clasping weather-worn buckles closed, she gripped the ribbed handle, and lifted the boxed-out boulder with a grunt. Side-stepping, she tripped, kicking the rug to the side, and out of her way. And that's where she let it lie, not daring a glance back. Forward's the only way she was headed, the only way she'd look, as she swung open the screeching screen door.

The mid-morning wind soothed, blowing against the tiny hairs on her straining arms; tickling the goose-pimpled surface of sun-kissed skin, as she hauled the weighted case across dead patches of grass. She groaned as the warm sun burned, quickly wearing out its welcome with the first bead of sweat that scoured the nape of her heated neck. And as she hoisted the leathered pain in her ass into the littered bed of the rusted '53 Chevy Pick-up, she wondered why she didn't just throw all her stuff in one of those over-sized, black, trash bags they kept stashed under the kitchen sink.

Lifting the tailgate, it took a couple tries before the hinges caught, closing with a clank on the last, and final push. And she pats the back of the truck, sighing with their silent understanding, before tying her hair up, and off her neck.

"Damn."

Wiping her forehead with the back of an arm, she rested it there, catching her breath.

For two years she'd dreamt of this day, this moment, how she'd feel; happy, relieved to get away, to start somewhere new. Not once had she thought it'd be indifferent. But that's exactly what this was- indifference.

Grabbing the scorching, metal handle, she sucked shortly through clenched teeth as she pried the squeaky door open, and climbed into the suffocating heat of the cab.

"Come on, Baby." She cooed, tinkering with the tricky ignition, and quickly lowering the driver's side window. She only took a breath when she heard the grumpy rumble of the testy engine. Resting her head against the wheel she whispered a thank you, before shifting into drive- which is exactly what she did.

And, she didn't look back.

She never would.

.

.

.

Stirring with the taps of long-nailed paws across old, pine-planks, he groaned, earning a throaty whine. "Mornin', boy." His rasp burned, barely making it past cracked, dry lips that no lick could hope to cure. "What's for breakfast?"

Predictably, his lame joke fell flat with a high-pitched cry, and he hung a comforting arm off the edge of the bed, feeling the impatient tug of a rough tongue on the side of his hand. "All right, all right, I'm up." Wiping the slobber on visibly soiled sheets, he pressed his palms into palpable springs of the mattress. Everything he had, he needed another, only new. But he hardly had the energy to care- let alone get up, as he slowly lifted himself with another, hoarse groan.

Mornings were getting harder and harder; the aches, the pains, the buzzing in his still-dizzy head. He didn't want to get up, didn't want to start the day- not today, not any day, really- if he were telling the cold, hard truth.

With both, booted feet on the floor, he noisily made his way into the kitchen. His heavy soles beat against hard ground, stumbling on an untied shoelace, tripping over, and then kicking aside that one troublesome rug he kept meaning to throw away. He'd do it later, which is what he always said to no one in particular, no one was ever there.

"Yeah, yeah, calm down. When do I ever not feed you, huh?" Shaking his head with a breathy laugh through the nose, he rubbed the top of the hound's, soft head, and picked up the empty, steel bowl. His furry friend followed into the pantry, anxiously wagging, tapping the tempted two-step against the scratched timber below his paws, whining as he waited; comical really, how every morning it was the same. You'd think he was starving, the pitiful pup.

"Come on, boy."

Whining halted, he trotted in front, knowing exactly where this bowl was headed, and obediently plopped down before the word 'sit' was routinely uttered.

"Good boy." His proud owner rewarded, patting his head before placing the food at his feet. Water bowl notably full, they were a lot alike- too much food, not enough fluid- well, not the hydrating kind anyway. It was no wonder he couldn't keep his sore lips from cracking, with all the bitter, wheat whiskey he's poured past the back of his tongue. The same tongue he needed to brush, and thoroughly he decided with a good, waking stretch, and one ripe yawn.

"Damn."

Noisily trekking to the bathroom, he sniffed underneath both arms, and then doused each pit with Right Guard Power Play- unaware of anything powerful about it. He still dripped sweat like a spinning, stuck pig on the spit, when out in those golden fields in the hot, summer sun. Lastly lining the bristles of his brush with minty-fresh Crest, he stuck it in his mouth, making sure to scrub the coated length before spitting it out.

Leaving everything out where he found it on the sink, he scuffed back through the kitchen, forgoing a bowl of the same stale cereal, opting instead for a big glass of that hydrating water. And being that he was already behind, he poured half down the drain; setting the empty glass back on the counter before picking up his gloves, and that sun-shielding, straw hat, and heading back out for another, long day.

.

.

.

"It's rainin' like cats and dogs out there. I hope you ain't got far to go. Sweet little thing like you don't need to be stuck out in the rain- you'll melt."

Ears burning, she kept from touching the apples of her cheeks, only looking as high up as the rectangular name tag on the left side of the boys chest- Mike. She wasn't used to such attention, and he had paid her plenty since the moment she set off the tinkering charm of the welcoming bell. She hadn't made it all that far before having to stop, and fill up, so yes, she did have far to go, but he didn't need to know that. Still too close to home, she was antsy; on edge, and shook as she took her change.

"Well, you take care now, and come back and see us- anytime."

Not saying a word, she gave a tiny nod, quick to go out the way she came in. Dropping the slippery bottle of water twice, on her way back to the truck, she hastily yanked on the whiny hinges of the door, and hoisted herself inside. As if it understood, the engine unnoticeably roared to life with a single turn of the key- requiring no encouragement from her persuading lips.

Heading South on I-35, she finally calmed, stretching away the tension in her neck, taking some deep, much needed breaths, while holding the jump in her heart, every mile marker or so.

Notably, everything was the same. All to see being fields, and farms, and the occasional passing car, as she noisily puttered along, bouncing with every bump of the thinned, threadbare tires. But as she lowered the cracked visor, to hide the glare of the setting sun, she smiled because really, nothing was the same at all.

.

.

.

Potassium Sorbate was a yeast killer.

"Ah, fuck."

Somehow, and he didn't know how, but somehow, he bought the corn syrup with Potassium Sorbate.

"Fuck!"

Now two steps behind, he mumbled needlessly, breathing out fruitless obscenities that had lost their bite. They no longer helped him to feel any better. Only one thing did anymore, and he had just fucked it up.

"Mother-fucking Potassium."

But, no matter, he had plenty barrels stored from his Papaw's long-gone, glory days, specifically the one's he helped with as a boy. And regretfully, this batch wouldn't be fully fermented, matured, and legally regulatory for another three years.

Mother-fucking regulations.

Bombing the boiling, brown ferment with the remainder of the yeast, he unremorsefully drowned the sneaky preservative, turning the temperature back up with a snarky, sarcastic smile. Take that you soluble bitch- he so smartly thought, turning on a booted heel to jump the three small steps above the dirt ground. His hardly-fancy schooling had obviously paid off, bestowing upon him the knowledge for such a resourceful wit. And he sighed with the long-forgotten memories of econometrics, and chemistry. Those really were the days; when he thought he had broken away, that he had choices, a life of his own- which, in a way he did. He was definitely on his own.

Bending with a groan, he swiped the fraying, straw hat, placing it back on top of his sweaty head. Skipping breakfast and lunch came with a dizzying price as he straightened, leaning against the open, barn door waiting for the swaying, gold field to stop spinning. Maybe he should have finished that half cup of water when he had the chance; maybe he should drink a few between rounds; maybe he should just drink them, instead.

Maybe.

Pushing off the supportive, wood frame he moved slowly, scuffing the ground with the thick soles of his loosened Red Wings. And if there was one thing he could count on, it was that big bear of a dog to faithfully greet him at the open, back door with the most pitiful whine. He was sure that if he ever allowed it, that hound would gladly sit there all day and eat.

Shameless, that bellowing, brown bloodhound.

Caving, he poured about a third of the daily allowance into the bottom of the bowl, pulling out some pre-packaged turkey and honey-wheat bread for himself. Eating it dry, he ventured into the temperature controlled basement, and brought up another, full bottle of home-brewed hooch, where he ceremoniously placed it in the center of the round kitchen table.

Every day, every night was unfailingly the same. He'd wake up still drunk, sweat it out in the field, only to soak it right back up again. He was nothing, if not reliable.

Pulling out his grandfather's inherited highball glass, he filled it to the rim. No need for propriety and tact around here, that was for sure. What no one knows and all, however, it just so happened that they did.

Raising the rye to his parted, parched lips, he ignored the shrill ring of the antique telephone, watching as the crystal caught the glow of the overhead light, casting a cataclysm of color across the copper hood above the unused stove.

He knew who it was, and they knew not to expect an answer. He never did.

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.

.

Dusk fell quickly, as she watched the sun, set behind the pointed mountain peak where it shyly hid, leaving the long, lonely road, dark and dreary. With a quarter of a tank left, she made it further than she would have thought, further than she'd ever been, and knew she'd have to stop soon. Not only was it hard to see with these dimmed headlights, but her eyelids were beginning to weigh heavy, even after a good, hard slap to the cheek.

Though she knew it was dangerous, she was stalling. With less than two hundred dollars lining her pocket, she couldn't afford a place to stay, couldn't afford not to be frugal, not with this burly beast of a gas guzzler that he so lovingly called Ol'Bess. And the last thing she needed was to be found helpless, sleeping on the side of the road. However, desperate times called for desperate measures, and this- if any- was a desperate time.

Pulling off onto what she thought were some hidden, overgrown tracks, she stopped, putting the idling pick-up in park, before hesitantly turning it off. She couldn't see a thing surrounding that conjoining, country road, just black, and black and black. However, she was too tired to care. And with a new appreciation for the burning discomfort of the hot, summer sun, she laid her head down against the scratchy surface, thankful for the cab's stored heat.

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.

.

Waking with the rising sun, she was sweaty and a bit out of sorts. Where was she? She wondered. Where had she stopped? Settling back against the seat, she took in her swaying surroundings. Was this wheat? Had she unknowingly parked in someone's field?

A bit embarrassed, she wiped her tired face, groaning into the damp palms of her hands before grabbing the key to start the ignition- which didn't turn over.

Not to worry, it had played this game a thousand times before; moaning and groaning till it gave up the good fight with a reluctant roar. All she had to do was lay her head against the wheel, whisper a reviving breath and a plea. "Please." Turning the key once, twice, three, four times, she whispered again, "Fuck." Hitting her head where it rest. Swallowing the burn of unshed tears, her head fell back, lulled to the side, and she glanced at the blurry, red image in the driver's side mirror. Blinking, she sniffed, and wiped the wetness away. She couldn't do it- please don't make her.

"Come on, Baby." Trying a couple more times, she finally gave up, once the engine succumbed to just a ticking click. And with a rough shove of her shoulder, she pushed open the screeching door to slide down into the tickling, tawny grass. Memories of her as a girl, running through her father's own flaxen fields, flooded her- spanning open palms as she ran, feeling the straw stems between her spread fingers. And she'd laugh, and hide, and let out a high-pitched scream when he finally found her. But, that was before..

Shaking the thought that she promised herself to never think of again, she set across the old, country road towards the one, lone, white farmhouse. With any luck and a kind stranger's pity, she'd be back on the road in no time.

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Waking once again with the subtle sequence of light taps, he groaned- not again, not now, not yet. He wasn't ready to get up; never really was. Light taps turning into impatient pounds, he picked up his head with a scowl; now awake, but still not ready for this.

"Shit." Resting his forehead against cruddy sheets, he cringed. He needed to brush his teeth. Hell, he needed to brush his everywhere, not quite sure when he had last bathed. There wasn't really all that much point- except for his monthly trip into town, and that wasn't for another two weeks. With no covers to throw off, he lifted himself from the poking springs, placing both booted feet on the scratched-up pine. Scuffing his way through the cluttered kitchen, he stopped by the round, wood table; picking up the spilled bottle, downing what little was left at the bottom. He needed it to deal with her. Who was he kidding? He always needed it to deal, period.

Placing a hand on the chipped frame of the door, he let her knock, hoping, praying she'd just give up, and go away. It's what she usually did. Why wasn't she doing it now?

"Godammit, Alice!" Wrenching the door open, he roared one hell of a greeting, sending the stranger back a few steps.

This definitely wasn't Alice.

And, he definitely wasn't the kind-hearted stranger she had hoped for.

Definitely not.

"Who the hell are you?" He unmistakably growled, not sure why he did it. Her wide, brown eyes already looked scared enough.

"Uh.. I, uh.. I'm sorry to bother you, Sir." Her timid voice started, stopping when he shifted uncomfortably.

Sir.

He didn't like the title.

"But, uh.. my truck.. It won't start." Pleading with her eyes, she bit at the shortened nail on her thumb. If he didn't help her, she was stuck. Who knew how far she'd have to walk to the nearest town, or the nearest neighboring house. Would he even send her in the right direction? Could he? - The smell of liquor heavy on his breath.

Leaving the door open, he retreated back inside without a word. Did he want her to come in? Did he want her to follow? Still biting that thumb, she stepped uncertainly through the threshold, taking a glance around the room. It didn't look like it belonged to him, with the plastic-covered couch, flowery touches, and cream-colored lace. The smell, however…

Jumping with a wet nudge of her hand, she looked down, finding a wiggling, russet blob with big, floppy ears, and weary, brown eyes.

"Moose, get!" The old grump ordered, sending the sweet hound scampering out the open door. "Where's your truck?"

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Stepping over groundhog holes, and through browned, dead grass, he followed the small woman with stomping feet and wandering eyes. Though her clothes hung loose, they blew in the wind, hugging and lifting to show her soft curves, and sun-kissed skin. Her long, brown tresses whipped right along with them, surrounding them both with her strong, honeysuckle scent. Never before had he thought of a woman's hair; that it was beautiful, that he wanted to touch it, to smell it. How drunk was he?

Crossing into the field, they found the dead truck hidden in his un-harvested wheat. He held his tongue as he took in her tracks and the row of bent stalks below those thread-bare tires. She couldn't have just pulled off to the side of the road? It's not like anyone ever traveled it. Setting his toolbox on the ground, he had her pop the hood, and laughed; amazed she even made it out of her own driveway.

Not really wanting to know, she silently watched as he worked, poking and prodding at every last corner. She couldn't help but notice the movement of his muscles under smears of oil, and sweat. How that glistening perspiration dripped from every surface, even the tip of his bowed, straw hat. She'd surely seen a man sweat under the hood of this truck, but not this man, all fit and surly- no, nothing like this man.

"You live 'round here?" He asked, whirling the wrench around in a tight circle.

She shook her head, shielding her squinting eyes from the sun. "No."

Huffing through his nose, he grabbed the front of the truck, propping himself up as he took a look down. "You need a new radiator hose, bearings, and probably an alternator. But, first you'll need a new battery."

Coming to stand beside him, she sat on the front bumper of the truck, making sure not to touch his outstretched arm.

"I don't have any of that shit, but I know someone who does." Closing his troubled, green eyes, he pushed away, causing the truck and her to bounce. The slam of the hood only minutely settled his qualms. He didn't want to make that call. "C'mon."

Following him back the way she led, she struggled to keep up, tripping over missed mounds of dirt, and hard clumps of grass. He could hear her struggle, but no way was he stopping, no way was he slowing down. He needed to get this over with and her out of here- and fast.

As always, he left the door wide open in an unspoken invitation. And this time, she didn't hesitate, sticking with the friendly dog, while she waited. That smell was familiar, yet sour, and she couldn't quite place what it might be; most likely spoiled food from the stacked, dirty dishes, piling up in his scum-covered sink.

Not knowing what else to do, she stood beside the counter, searching for and finding the grimy, unused plug. Sticking it in the drain, she turned on the hot water, bending down, opening the lower cabinet where she luckily found a full, un-open bottle of dish soap, and poured a liberal amount in. She was half finished, and elbows deep in the lavender-scented bubbles, when he finally reappeared.

"What the hell are you doing?" He didn't necessarily sound angry, but surprised. What the hell was she doing?

"I, uh.. I.." She fumbled, pulling her hands from the lukewarm water, and wiping them on the front of her shirt.

"Why are you doing my dishes?" He asked.

Now standing right in front of her, he was taller than she had realized.

"I, uh.."

"You what?" With a racing heart and labored breath, she looked up to find him breathing just as hard. "What's your name?"

The glistening, pink tongue peeking out to wet dry lips caught his full attention. "Bella."

Bella.

She was.

"What's yours?" She whispered, curious, yet losing her nerve. She wasn't used to feeling like this. She wasn't really used to feeling at all.

His shifty eyes briefly lowered to her chest, the cooling moisture outlining two perfectly, pebbled nipples. It was his turn to wet dry lips. "Edward."

She liked his name; it was different- much more original than say, Mike or James.

"Why are you doing my dishes, Bella?" The low roll of her name sent shivers down her sweat-covered spine.

"I, uh.. I can't afford any of those parts I need. So, I thought maybe.."

Maybe what?

She could make her own way, earn her keep?

Crossing oil stained arms over his stretched, white tee; he smirked at the braided rug at their feet.

She could earn it.

But not by cleaning these dirty dishes.

"Don't worry about it." Stepping back, he left her standing there once again as he fixed to feed his whining pup, and head out for the day. He didn't expect anything in return, just wanted her out of there. Besides, he wasn't that type of guy.

No matter how bad he may have wanted to be.

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.

Many mid-morning hours passed, before his much needed help came barreling down the dirt drive, stirring up rocks and dust in its wake.

"Bout damn time."

Lifting the sticking, straw hat, he wiped his brow; spreading a streak of oil across his sweaty forehead. Slowly scuffing the ground, he moseyed his way across the land, meeting the smiling pair on the back porch- not very happily either, since he was only expecting one. "Who the hell invited you?" He barked at the unfazed visitor he now hardly recognized. She'd exchanged her long, black hair for a short, red bob.

"Aw, I missed you too." Toothy grin still intact, she set her bug-eyed glasses above her head. "Where is she?"

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.

.

Everything about the house was exactly the same, right down to the light, lavender aroma. She'd never understood what Edward had against changing it. Sure they had a load of wonderful memories from bunking over- her helping M'amaw Elle in the kitchen- him helping Papaw Ed out in the field. But, that plastic-covered nightmare needed to go.

Averting her eyes from the remaining drastic décor, she clickity-clacked her way down the hall and into the kitchen where she found the unsuspecting waif of a girl- guessing that she wasn't yet passed the tender age of eighteen, maybe, but just barely.

"Hello!" Extending her hand in greeting, she startled the young woman, causing her to drop the slippery crystal tumbler, which luckily landed with a muted clank on the thick, braided rug below the kitchen sink. "I'm Alice, Edward's sister." Quickly picking it up, she wiped her hands clean before taking the outstretched appendage. "Oh God, you're bleeding!"

Well no, she was Bella. And, she was just about to tell her so when Alice dropped straight to her knees. "This looks deep, what happened?" Lifting Bella's right leg, she assessed it, pulling open a drawer to fish out a dishrag before wiping the area clean.

"Uh.. I don't know, maybe I scraped it getting out of my truck." Bella shrugged.

"Well, have you had a recent Tetanus shot?" Alice asked, earning a confused look. Bella had never heard of such a thing.

"I've never had a shot, that I can remember."

That was all that Alice needed to hear before getting to her feet, and grabbing the girl's hand to lead her back out of the house, a curious Moose bouncing along behind them. Luckily the boys were still lounging around the porch.

"Edward, I'm taking Bella to my office. She's got a nasty scratch, and needs a booster." Opening the door to the fancy, white Explorer, she shooed Bella in the back seat, leaving the door open just a crack. But, that was all Bella needed to hear the exchange taking place just outside. "Jasper told you he has to order the parts, right?"

Hanging his head, he cursed under his breath. "No."

"Well he does, so I was thinking Bella here, could stay with us. We'll just put the two kids together, and she can take Rosie's room. Ya know, so she won't be a bother to you."

With that suggestion, Edward's head snapped up, the tortured green in his eyes meeting the long, lost brown in hers. Even though it was true, he hadn't liked the way Alice called Bella, a bother. And, for some reason he felt a little reluctant. He didn't want her to leave, didn't want her to go. The thought of walking back into that lonely, old house without her following just didn't sit right in his chest, and the better part of his stomach. But, he knew he was being unreasonable. He knew she'd eventually have to go, so why not now? Why not today? If she stayed it would only cause problems. He'd only grow accustomed to the reliance in those pretty, brown eyes, the pucker on those pouty, pink lips, the warmth of her loosely-clothed body. He'd caught a glimpse of what she had to offer, and he found himself wanting more. So yes, she definitely needed to go.

"She's stayin' here."

Well.

Being female and having eyes, Alice saw right through him, silently staring him down before softening, and giving a curt nod. "Okay then, we'll be back." Jumping into the elevated passengers seat, she knew her brother was lonely, but hardly a lost cause. And, if this girl could light him up with that small spark, in such a short time, she'd have this whole farm set on fire by the time she tried to leave.

And yes, she had meant tried.

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.

.

"How old are you, Bella?" Alice wondered, keeping the girl's mind occupied as the needle pierced her skin. Tetanus shots were tedious, painful things, to not only receive, but give.

"Eighteen." Bella answered, not flinching in the slightest.

"And have you been to the lady doctor before?" Alice pondered, not only worrying for the girl's health, but her brother's hopeful extracurricular activities, as well. She wasn't stupid. Even without the lengthy eight years of schooling she would've seen it.

"I've never been to a doctor that I can remember."

That's what she was afraid of. "All done." Placing a Band-Aid over the tiny spot of blood, she ran her thumb over the area, repeating the expected side effects, mainly the inevitable pain.

"Are you sexually active?" Alice bluntly asked, noting the girl's discomfort, however, it had to be done.

"I, uh… I've had… sex." She whispered the last part like it was a terrible secret.

"And did you always use a condom?"

Nodding, she bit at the nail at the end of that thumb.

"That's good." Squeezing the bend of Bella's knee, Alice smiled, happy to hear it, but not completely convinced. "Would you mind if I run some tests, and do an exam? I want to start you on some medicine. It's called Depo-Provera, and it will protect you from getting pregnant if you choose to continue having sex. However, it's still important to use a condom to protect from unwanted diseases, especially if you're not in a monogamous relationship- as in, only one partner. And, that goes for the both of you."

Nodding her consent, Bella remained silent, only speaking when spoken to, just wanting to get it over with. All this talk of the things she'd rather not discuss, were weighing heavy on her mind. Yes, she'd had sex before, but it wasn't something she necessarily enjoyed, or planned on having again, at least, not until she met Edward. He'd made her feel things she'd never felt before, especially down there. And she wondered if it would be different- if he would be different. She wanted to know, which was unsettling. She thought about it the whole ride home.

Home.

She had no real right to call it that, but that's what she had thought while sitting in the back of that oversized SUV. She couldn't wait to get home- to him.

Edward.

He was out in the field when they pulled up- shirt off, skin shining in the sun. From the quick, lithe movement, and jagged cut of his muscle, she could tell he was a hard worker, probably spent hours out there every day, sweating in the dry heat. The thought didn't disgust her.

Thanking Alice, and her mechanic, husband Jasper for their kindness, she jumped down from the cab to go in search of something to contribute. She had to earn her keep somehow, and she could cook, so that was what she'd do. She'd cook for him.

Easy.

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Eight hours and thirty minutes later, she had dinner ready, and set out on the table. Hickory smoked turkey, on two heels of honey-wheat bread, and a side of Herr's chips. As it turned out, cooking for a man with no food wasn't all that easy; just convenient. She had been looking forward to showing off her skills, doing something nice for him, and this was all she had to show. It wasn't good enough.

"What's this?" His deep voice cracked from behind her, probably dry from not drinking all day, which made her feel guilty. She should have taken him a cold beverage.

"Dinner." Setting a cold glass of water next to the plate, she pulled out a chair for him to sit. "It's all I could find."

Removing his dusty gloves, he threw them on the clean counter, not paying any mind to her hard work. It had taken the better half of the day to scrub the scum from that surface. At least he had the decency to hang his hat before disappearing into the basement, and leaving her alone once more. She waited with bated breath until she heard the clunky soles of his shoes coming back up the steps. She wished he would stop leaving her. She liked having him around, lousy manners or not.

Passing her by, he placed the bottle in the center of the table, turning to open the cupboard, and pulling out his Papaw's crystal tumbler; the same tumbler that had slipped from her hands; the same one she had almost shattered. She briefly wondered- what if she had? By the way he so gently plucked it from the shelf, and softly set it down; she guessed it was probably important to him. And, she'd be right.

They sat in silence while he poured and drank, not touching the food she had made for him. He even went as far as to push it out of his way.

Well.

"Aren't you going to eat?"

Lowering the glass from his lips, he shook his head.

"You were out there all day, you need to eat. So, eat." She timidly ordered, pushing the plate back in front of him.

"Not hungry." Pushing the plate back in front of her, he downed the whole bottom half of the highball in one gulp. "You eat." Coming off as a petulant child, he was truly just concerned. The girl was thin, curvy but thin, and he knew this was all he had in the house. She needed it more than he did. He wanted her to have it, not figuring her pride was as profound as his. But he'd be wrong. That full plate was still sitting on the table when he stumbled out of bed the next morning.

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.

.

All day long out in the piping, hot field, he thought about her.

Bella.

He liked her name. He liked her, and he felt like an ass for not eating that sandwich. So all day long, that's all he thought about. And when the time came to go back, he was more than ready to apologize.

Walking through the door, he found her sitting at the kitchen table, glass of water in hand, plate still full where it sat. Removing his gloves, he still placed them on the counter, and hung his hat on the rack. He was a creature of habit, and it would do her some good to get used to it.

"You gonna eat that?" Pulling out a chair, he lifted his long leg over the back, plopping down with a huff.

Not bothering to look any higher than his chest, she shook her head, swallowing some of that cheek-stored water. He hadn't put his shirt back on since yesterday morning, and she had noticed. Given the sculpted chisel of his exposed upper half- who wouldn't?

The scraping of the plate against polished grain brought her back, and she watched as his dirt covered hands grabbed hold of the bread, bringing it to his mouth. She barely held back a cringe. That sandwich had been sitting out in the open for a while now.

"Storms comin'." Oblivious to the repulsion in her stare, he devoured the warm meat, leaving the chips for later. He had a fifth with his name on it, waiting for him down in the cellar.

.

.

.

Distant thunder rumbled, rolling in from the east as he stirred, snorting lightly, and feeling a little warmer than usual. Shifting onto his side, he felt the easy slide of skin against soft, skin that he knew wasn't his. Opening tired eyes, he saw the span of brown hair splayed across the unused pillow. Her head was resting on the underside of his arm. He never thought of waking her, the thought never crossed his mind as she nuzzled in closer, laying an arm over his bare middle, snuggly lining her body up against his. A certain need stirred inside him, not just lust, but comfort, companionship, to be held just like this, to smell her honeysuckle scent. So, he didn't wake her. He let her stay. He let her cuddle, and comfort, and console. And, not surprisingly, soothe him back to sleep.

.

.

.

A lasting storm brewed every day that week. Luckily he woke early that first morning, no sleeping beauty in sight, and made it into town to stock up on some pre-packaged turkey and honey-wheat bread. Unluckily, he ran into Alice, who proceeded to scold him for his poor choices, while simultaneously filling his cart with raw meats he'd never cook, and healthy veggies he'd never boil. Turned out, however, Bella would, and did. They were the best, fifteen meals he'd eaten in his life, the first time he'd eaten all three in one day since his sweet M'amaw Elle had passed. It made him miss her.

"What do you do out there all day?" Bella passively pondered, looking up from her half-eaten plate. She'd been eating more and more every day, but this was the first time she'd really paid any attention to him, besides the nightly crawl into his bed, that is. She didn't like thunder- that much he'd gathered.

"It'd be easier to show you." Poking at the steamed greens, he waited to hear that voice- her voice again. He wished she'd use it more often, but he'd never tell her that. And she'd never know it with the distance he kept, and the way he drank himself to sleep every night. She doubted he realized how much attention she actually paid, let alone snuck into his room while he soundly slept, only to sneak back out every morning. She didn't like thunder, no. However, that wasn't her only reason.

"Then show me." She craved his closeness more than she cared to admit. And, she never would. How could she explain it? She hardly understood it herself.

Leaving their dirty plates on the table, they walked out together, her following closely behind him, as the wind picked up. Her batting, black lashes fluttered with a gust, and the light scent of lingering soap, and sweat; how she loved the way he smelled.

"Sad excuse for a distillery, but it gets the job done." Eating up his words, she tore her stare from his stonewashed-jean backside, taking in the sight. Eighteen feet of stainless steel, and shiny copper would get anyone's attention.

"You mean you make it?" She questioned, walking ahead to run her fingers along the base before turning back to face him with a flash of a smile. He answered with a single, curt nod, removing his sweat-soaked hat, and hanging it on an old, rusty nail in a supporting, wood beam. For the first time in a long time he felt it.

Pride.

Pride for what his grandfather did, pride for what his father refused to do, pride for what he was stuck doing.

"C'mere." He motioned, and she followed him up three, short steps to the wiry platform, and without asking, climbed up on a steel bar to peek inside the still. "Be careful." He warned, grabbing her by the hips, and holding her tightly in place. The back of her bare legs just touched the naked skin of his chest, the curve of her backside so very near to the side of his face. He averted his gaze, lightly pressing his cheek against the rough denim of her high-cut shorts. This wasn't helping his resolve at all. Lying next to her sleeping, squirmy form every night was one thing. But having her so close, and being aware that she was so willingly letting him touch her like this was driving him crazy.

Damn Alice, and her barely-there, hand-me-down clothes. She knew exactly what she was doing when she handed them over, telling Bella they were hers now. All Bella did was bounce around the house in tank tops and daisy dukes, bending low to love on that damn, lucky dog.

Damn.

Did she even know how she had affected him? Did she even know what she was doing?

Easing the grip of his paling fingers, he stepped back, taking her with him to place her safely on her feet. Silently turning away, he found her hand, and pulled her along, down the steps and out into the pouring rain. The weather had called for sun, and it shone brightly through the streams, causing wet skin to glisten, glow with every trickling drop. She looked beautiful standing in the rain, wetting those white teeth while she squinted, smiling up at him. And as grumbling thunder rumbled above them, she impulsively grabbed him, clinging to his middle, trembling with fear, and maybe a little bit of excitement. His wet skin warmed her, inside and out, soaking into the deepest pit of her stomach, and through the sopping wet of her clothes. He wanted her to pull back, to have her look back up at him again. He wanted to kiss her. And as if she could hear his thought, that's exactly what she did. Keeping one hand firmly wrapped around him, she let the other wander slowly up his slender side, and over the bulk of his chest, where she stopped- right above his pounding heart.

Thunder cracked across the sky with the crash of their lips, his restless mouth keeping her safe from the rumbling sounds as they tripped and stumbled, fumbling their way into the house. Breaking away from her following lips, he pulled at her soaking, wet shirt; lifting it up and over her head before taking her mouth back with his. It was warm, and wet, tasted like honey on the tip of his tongue. And he wondered how much of her tasted like honey. He wanted to know, wanted to find out.

Nipping down her neck, he dropped to his knees, leaving her red mouth open to mewl as he licked each hardened nipple, and worked the button of her cut-offs. Impatiently, he pulled them down the length of her smooth, bronzed legs. Her wet, cotton panties were next to go.

Sitting back on his heels, he tenderly nudged her knees apart, sliding his large, rough hands up to where her open thighs met. She moaned out as he touched her, nuzzling his nose into soft, brown curls. She whimpered as he pulled away with the intruding whine. "Get, Moose!" That curious dog had enough of her attention, now it was Edward's turn for some much-needed affection.

Not waiting for the hound to obey, he dove in, spreading her swollen lower lips to slip his tongue deep into her dripping entrance. Sliding up, he flicked her nub causing her to spread, and sharply suck in the humid air. She could hardly breathe as he licked- bringing her to the brink of what, she didn't know, only to pull away and sweetly kiss her inner thighs, and along her lower belly. Body humming, nerve building, she forcefully guided him back to where he was needed. "Please."

Essence trickled, as he conceded, coating the scruff on his chin as he bobbed, and licked, lapped at her pert, pink flesh. "Oh, God!" Running two fingers up the inside of her thigh, he teased, earning a sharp cry as they slowly entered her, flooding her with this unfamiliar feeling of battling ice and fire. Collapsing with the unexpected quake between her shaking thighs, he caught her, effortlessly picked her up, and carried her to the unmade bed, where he stood and stared. Working quickly at his buckle and fly, he took in the span of her mahogany hair, and how it shined against the white of his sheets, how it surrounded her fully, flushed face, and matched the darkened irises of her eyes. She was beautiful, and for the moment- his. And as he lowered the drenched jeans, he took those holey, cotton briefs right along with them, not shy in the slightest when it came to his fully-hardened body. Years of hard work and manual labor had taught him a few things, and not giving a shit was one of them.

More than ready to feel, what she'd never felt before, she widely spread her legs, inviting him as he crawled up the bottom of the bed, and between them. Eager, he entered, stretching as he sheathed, kissing pink, parted lips to hush her whimpering cries. The pain was short-lived- worth it, as he started to move, thrust; losing himself inside her with rumbling grunts, and groans, the sloppy slapping of joined, wet skin. She liked the sounds he made, that they made together. Edward liked them as well and probably a little too much, his release sneaking up on him a little too quickly.

"F-uck." He stuttered, halting his movement before he burst. He wanted her to come first, wanted to feel her come all around him. Holding himself up, his hand traveled lower, skimming soft, sweaty skin to get to where they met. Easily finding her swollen nub, he swirled it with his thumb, conjointly pumping short, deep thrusts. He watched with lidded eyes, as she moaned, and squirmed, fisting the bunched up sheets. In seeing himself buried deep inside of her, he couldn't hold it back, and with a feral growl- rocked roughly into her parted thighs. Lips falling open, she mouthed a silent cry, clenching, and convulsing- milking him for his long, hot stream as he stilled, then settled his weight down on top of her. Kissing her lips, he stroked the hair at the nape of her neck, resting there as they caught their breath- only rolling off once he started to tire.

Lying silently beside him, she didn't know if she should stay. Yes, she'd snuck into his room every night prior, but he hadn't known. He had always been asleep. And she always made sure she was gone before he woke. All she knew was what had always been expected of her before. So sitting up, she placed her feet on the floor, stopping when she felt his hand wrap firmly around her wrist.

"Stay."

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Over the next three days, Edward spent less and less time in the field, going out late, coming in early; spending all that well-earned, extra time with Bella, wrapped up between the sheets. He hadn't drunk a drop in three whole nights. And on that fourth day it was starting to show.

"I don't know, Bella, Jesus Christ! Are you in that big of a hurry? How 'bout I drive you myself, huh?" Stomping across the kitchen floor, he grabbed his keys off the rack, dangling them for her to see. "No, I know. I'll do you one better." Tossing them at her trembling form, they fell to the ground at her feet. As soon as he let them go, he wanted to take it back. But he didn't stop, couldn't stop. "How 'bout you take my truck, and I'll keep that piece of shit you parked in my wheat, how's that? Sound good?" Edward spat, unable to contain his anger, unable to reasonably discuss his concern. He didn't care if Jasper never found those Goddamn parts. He didn't want her going anywhere, but he'd never tell her that. Both too proud, neither knowing how to use their words, they just let their bodies do the talking- unaware that sometimes that just wasn't enough.

Staring down at the ring of keys, she bent to pick them up and placed them on the table, confused. All she did was ask if Jasper had heard about the parts, nothing more; nothing about leaving. She didn't want to leave. But, how would he know when she'd never told him?

"I-" She didn't get to finish before there was a knock. Both stood quiet, while they listened, knowing exactly who it was, and not wanting to answer.

"Looks like I'll be keeping my truck after all." Whiskey-bent and reckless, he turned to open the door, not seeing the hurt in Bella's watery, brown eyes, not feeling the warmth of her outstretched hand, which she was getting ready to place against his strained back. She didn't want him to be angry with her. She wanted to stay, for him to tell her to. She needed to know that's what he wanted. And she needed to know, before it was too late.

Too late.

"James?" Bella's timid voice was the loudest he'd ever heard it. "Wha- What are you doing here? How did you find me?"

With a crooked smirk, this James stepped inside; uninvited, and most definitely unwelcomed. "Ain't many people got them spare parts for Ol'Bess out back there, darlin'. Her and Jasper here, done led me straight to ya."

Poor Edward, in his irritated haze didn't know what to think. For as much time as they'd spent together, he didn't know the first thing about Bella or her life before him. And while this man looked it, he doubted it was her father, with his graying sideburns, and full beard- an uncle maybe. "I take it you two know each other?"

Raising his bushy brow, James' smirk turned up into a full-fledged smile. He had a secret to tell. "What, she didn'tell ya.. Bella here's my wife."

Steadying himself, Edward grabbed the doorframe, sure that his heart had stopped. "Your what?" Turning back towards Bella, he was asking, pleading with those wide, green eyes; tell him it wasn't true, pinch him, and let this all be a bad dream. But her silence said everything, everything he feared, and everything he could never imagine. Not his Bella. He was losing her, lost her, never really had her- had he?

"My wife, and if ya don't be mindin', I'll be taken'r home." Peering over Edward's shoulder, James held out his ring-less, left hand. "Where she damn well belongs."

Finally feeling Bella's outstretched hand, he moved away, away from her touch, away from her comforting warmth. It'd do him some good to forget it. "Excuse me."

Grabbing his keys, he brushed by the man who just waltzed right in, and turned up his life, to push past a gaping Jasper, and jump into the waiting cab of his truck. Not thinking twice, he put it in drive and drove, stirring up a cloud of dry dirt, and spinning out small puddles of mud. He couldn't be there. He couldn't look at her, knowing she belonged to someone else this whole time. What was she thinking, showing up on his doorstep, turning his world upside down, and him inside out? He would never get over this- never- not as long as he lived, which he didn't want to, not without her.

A good twenty miles out, he was calming down as he passed the old, abandoned, Baptist church, and turned into the overgrown, gravel lot, remembering the services he attended with his sweet M'amaw Elle as a boy. He had never understood the supposed power of prayer, and it had never done him much good before. But in that desperate moment, all he could do was hang his heavy head. And he prayed; prayed for her to be there when he got back, prayed for her to stay with him if she was, and then he prayed for strength if she didn't. He didn't see why she would.

Pulling out, he turned the way he came, feeling stupid for even leaving. He should have stayed, should have let her explain. Just because she was married didn't mean she was always going to be, didn't mean she was happy. They weren't even wearing their rings. Cursing his rash behavior, he floored it, going at least ten miles per hour over the limit, as he passed the local sheriff. And he prayed once more that the pot-bellied, old bastard wasn't paying any attention. Lord knows, it'd be the first time.

The closer Edward got, the more he sweat- berating himself for selfishly abandoning Bella. Feeling no better than his lousy excuse for a father, he remembered his mother, and how she needed him, how he took off right before the cancer took her. And while these were completely different circumstances, it didn't make what Edward did any less wrong.

Passing the empty, bent stalks of his wheat, he panicked- tearing down the beaten, dirt path- right behind that flashy SUV. What the hell was she doing here?

Before Alice even had time to get out and onto her feet, he was laying into her. "What the hell are you doing here?" He growled, storming right passed and into the house to look for Jasper, hoping and praying he didn't let her go. If he knew what was good for him, he had better not had let her go. "Where the hell is she?" Grabbing Jasper by the strap of his grease-stained overalls, he pressed him up against the front of the refrigerator, noisily knocking it into the wall. "Where the fuck is she?"

"That'll be quite enough." Clickity-clacking her way across the echoing, pine planks, Alice calmly sat at the kitchen table, waiting for her brother to take his dirt-covered hands off her husband. And she knew he would. "Sit."

Both man and hound obeying, Edward let go- causing the tilted fridge to slam to the floor, jiggling all the contents inside.

"She's married, Alice." Holding his throbbing head in his hands, he plopped down on the chair. And even though she could clearly see he was hurting, she bared no sympathy- given her stiff tone.

"She is not."

Looking up, he squint his blood-shot eyes, finding her unfazed, chipping at the shiny, blue paint on her nails.

"Come again?"

Rolling her hazel eyes, she sighed. "She's not married."

Leaning back, he waited for an explanation that never came. "And how would you know?"

Pursing her paling lips, she looked everywhere but at him.

"Alice.."

Closing those wandering, hazel eyes, she blew out a held breath. "He's not her husband… there." She finished, like she'd conquered a real feat, like she'd done him a real favor.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Leaning forward, he rested his arms on the table, more confused than ever. How did Alice know all this? And what wasn't she telling him?

"She told me not to tell." Pleading, she very nearly pouted, earning no sympathy from him- given the spite in his glare. If he stared long enough, she would spill. She always did.

Always.

Kicking a leg of the table, Alice cursed under her breath, and straightened in her seat. "James, the guy that came to get Bella, is not her husband. He was her father's friend, who took her in after her parents died."

Tugging at that copper-colored hair, Edward dropped a tight fist on the table. "Did he?"

Alice shook her head. "I don't know for sure. She's said he's never touched her, but…"

"But, what?"

Rolling her neck, Alice flashed a look at her ready husband. She knew Edward had started withdrawal- knew he was feeling unstable. And what she was about to tell him would surely set him off. "He was planning on marrying her once she turned eighteen- it's why she ran away."

Shooting straight out of the chair, Edward knocked it to the ground with a loud crack causing both Alice and Jasper to flinch. Startled, Moose scampered out of the room, as Edward stomped across the kitchen floor to pick up his keys.

"Edward, where are you going?"

"To go get her." Wrenching open the door, his anger faded into more confusion, coming face to forehead with the beautiful, brown-eyed brunette. And reflexively, his burning, green eyes searched for the deranged man who came for her.

"He's not here."

"Wha-"

"I walked." Licking dry lips, she hugged her own, small form. There were so many things to say, so many things left unsaid. She wasn't sure where to start, wasn't really sure if he even cared to hear it or not. She hoped he cared.

"James means well. He's really not all that bad. And uh.. when I told him that I uh.. that I wanted to uh.. stay here.. with you, he stopped the truck and let me out. So.. here I am."

Yes, there she was. She was really there, standing on his doorstep, saying more than he'd ever heard her say, saying everything he ever wanted to hear.

She wanted him.

She wanted to stay.

"And I'm not married, never have been, never wanted to be- not to him."

Edward's smile went unseen as Bella shyly toed the ground. He knew he hadn't said anything- hadn't uttered a word since he found her there, right in front of him, on his doorstep. And he realized he probably should, but couldn't, just wanting to hear her voice.

"I just thought you should know."

Maybe if he stayed perfectly still. Maybe if he stayed perfectly quiet, she would keep talking. Maybe she would tell him her favorite food, favorite color, favorite flower. He wouldn't mind buying her some, just to see a flash of that rare smile that she would sometimes give him. Maybe she would tell him everything- everything he wanted to know. And he wanted to know everything. Now, if he would only tell her.

Already feeling unsure, Bella waited- waited for him to say something- anything. His face was giving nothing away. Or, maybe it was.

Shrinking back, she went to turn away, only to be stopped by that single most important word. "Stay." And his warm hand, as it wrapped firmly around her wrist.

"I want you to stay."