AN: I'm a glutton for punishment, so another new story. Actually, this was an entry for a contest called The Heart of Country Contest. I lost. I still love the story and hope you will too in its new reincarnation as a multi chapter story.
Thank you to mauigirl60 for liking it as much as I do and helping fix my mistakes. I also want to send a big thank you to all of you for reading.
The Sound of Steel Guitars on a Fallen Soul
The landscape was what made the first impression on Isabella Swan. It was arid and dusty, making her long for the woods she grew up in. A smile played on her lips as she imagined dew drops on blades of grass in the meadow that she and her Jacob would lay upon. They would stare up at the canopy of branches above them and joke about the phallic shapes of the clouds. Her Jake was always one for the dirty jokes. Except he wasn't her Jake anymore, he belonged to someone new.
The ranch she found herself staying at was large. Hundreds of acres of land spread out as far as the eye could see. Cows lazily chewed the grass and lumbered to their next feeding. Isabella raised her camera and with a click, captured the image with her lens. Checking the viewfinder, she frowned upon seeing a cow, using that exact moment to relieve itself. That wasn't at all the image to accompany her story that Travel Adventures wanted to portray to their readers on the blog site. She was certain they wouldn't be too keen to feature a story about the sweet smell of manure.
She took a couple of more shots and wandered around her new temporary home. This place was hot and humid. Her body rejected the heat and she was sweating like a pig. Isabella stripped off her tee-shirt and wandered around in the tank top she wore underneath. It made her feel naked. Isabella liked to feel as if she wore a coat of armor with her layers of clothing. There was protection in being covered.
There was no reason she chose this assignment, exactly. It didn't matter about the location, only that it was far away from home. If she had to see his face smiling down at his new baby and living the life that he promised would be theirs, Isabella would most definitely bludgeon something with her father's rusty old fishing pole. The thought of Jake and that...that...that...
Isabella started stomping toward the main house, to her soft bed and a particular vicious chapter of the Stephen King novel she'd brought with her. The book fit her mood to a tee. No e-Readers for Isabella; she liked the feeling of parchment under her fingers and the smell of ink. That's when she felt the squish between the toes of her sandals and the fragrant smell of shit wafting up into her nostrils. Isabella screeched, "You motherfucking, son of a bitch, fucking asshole cows! I will make you into my goddamned steak dinner, motherfuckers!
Isabella got her horrible vocabulary from her New Yorker mother.
"Darlin', ya better watch that pretty mouth of yours or Mama is gonna wash it out with soap."
She turned around slowly and was met with a sight that couldn't have been believed. An old claw foot tub sat outside the smaller of the red barns that were located on the property. It was the type that her grandmother had installed in the old Victorian home that Isabella loved using when she was a little girl. This one was not as nice, because it was streaked with dirt and the porcelain was chipped. It appeared to be slightly dangerous. A hose was snaked over the top. It wasn't the tub itself that was so surprising, because Isabella had been subjected to many odd sights since she arrived that morning, but what was lounging in the tub.
A man lay in the water with his head down and his long, lean legs dangling over the end of the tub. It was hard to see his face due to a dusty, brown cowboy hat concealing it. There was a pink washcloth dangling from his big toe. Isabella would have laughed if she wasn't in shock from finding that she had a companion.
The man continued, "Now, honey, that's horse shit, not cow shit. If you're gonna be livin' with us, you need to get it straight."
"I'm not going to be living here! I'm...I'm...who are you?" she asked, trying to not act annoyed.
The man slowly lifted his head and tossed off his cowboy hat. It landed by her feet. Isabella looked down at it and then back up to the most handsome man she'd ever seen. His green eyes sparkled with mirth. They looked like the emeralds that her mother adored. The hair that was wildly arranged on his head was the color of a brand new penny. Those eyes, that hair, the little smile playing on his kissable lips made Isabella feel poetic. She was horrible at poetry, but she was willing to write a dirty limerick about the man before her.
That was until he opened that pretty mouth of his. With a wink, he said, "Edward Cullen, darlin', Mama Esme's middle boy. Ya can call me Eddie. Mind washing a sweaty man's back? It's awful hot out here. I would surely be grateful."
Isabella was about to tell him where he could stick that pink washcloth, when a blond haired man with a halo of curls around his face strolled up with only a towel covering his body. "Howdy, brother! Why, what in God's green earth do I have standin' before me? Hiya, dawl! What's yer name?"
"Back off, Jasper. Mama toldja 'bout Bella Swan comin' here to stay." Edward growled at the blond man. "Darlin', this is my idiot brother. Pay him no mind. He's not the brightest boy. Mama dropped him on his head when he was a lil' baby."
Edward stood up and got out of the tub. He was as naked as the day that he was born, and Isabella swallowed hard. He was beautiful. He would put Michelangelo's David to shame. The bonus was he was much better endowed then that statue. Bella quickly looked down at her excrement-covered toes. "It's Isabella."
"Bella suits ya better, honey. Jazz, pass me yer towel and the hose." Bella kept her head down knowing that the only other towel was now residing on the other brother. Where was she? It was like a western nudist colony. That would completely take her story in a whole new direction.
She refused to look up, until a burst of wet water hit her feet and then the rest of her body. "What the motherfucking hell, asshole!"
He grinned impishly at her with Jasper's towel wrapped around his waist. "I needed to wash the shit off yer feet, darlin'. The rest of ya looked so hot that I thought ya'd like a cool-down."
Jasper, who was now settled in the tub, laughed and added, "Ya might want to spray her again, Eddie. She's madder than a wet hen! Looky how red her face is!"
"I...I...You..." Isabella stammered. She'd lost her use of the English language. Damn, handsome men and their ability to make her feel like an idiot.
Edward sauntered over and held out his hand. "How 'bout I help ya dry off, honey?"
She stomped on his foot.
"Ya got yerself a spitfire there, Eddie!" Jasper crowed.
Isabella pushed Edward in the chest. "I suggest you keep your distance, Edward."
"It's Eddie, Bella darlin'," he corrected with a dazzling grin.
"Your name is mud as far as I'm concerned!" she countered and headed toward the main house, sopping wet.
She heard the brothers laughing hysterically, as she jogged away. Then Edward called out, "See ya at dinner, honey! Mama's making chicken and dumplins'. We need to get some meat on those purty bones!"
Isabella knew for a fact that she was going to sit far, far away from the beautiful man whose soothing voice made her tremble with both anger and desire. She had that once and it bit her in the ass. It was a road she was unwilling to travel again.
Sometimes the best laid plans are the ones that fail epically, and that was how Isabella Swan found herself sitting right next to Edward Cullen. Luckily, this time he was dressed.
The large dining room was rustic in appearance. The walls had oil paintings of desert landscapes and bovines wandering through brush. A large pair of antlers or horns, Isabella wasn't sure which, hung prominently where the patriarch of the family sat, smiling gently at those around him. Isabella found this unnerving. Her father only smiled at cans of beer and big screens that had football or baseball games on them.
"Bella, darlin', how ya findin' the ranch?" Carl Cullen drawled. His dirty blond hair was like that of his youngest son, Jasper. He was a hardworking man whose weathered face was still surprisingly youthful with sparkling blue eyes. He reminded her of Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This was definitely a family with an amazing gene pool.
"It's wonderful, sir. The accommodations have been lovely," Isabella said politely. "My name is actually, Isa...ahh!"
A hand was placed high on her upper thigh. It squeezed.
She looked over to the grinning Edward, who proceeded to give her a wink. He explained to his father, "Miss Bella here must've got a frog stuck in her throat. Have some iced tea, sweet girl."
"I'm fine, thank you." Isabella glared at him and tried to pry those long fingers from her leg. Did the man have claws? She turned her attention toward Carl, who was slowly chewing. "Am I the only guest? I thought there was supposed to be more guest rooms."
Mama Esme, with her auburn curls and eyes that were the same shade as Edward's, wiped her hands on her floral apron which was covered in violets. She went over and spooned another big serving of chicken pot pie onto Isabella's plate. She made Isabella feel like a much-loved child and provided a sense of calm. Isabella's mother Renee was like a snare drum played by the street musicians who frequented the New York subway. Their energy was a frenzy of rat-a-tat-tats. Mama Esme, in contrast, was the soothing trill of a flute. Her voice relaxed her nerves and made Isabella feel like she was being given a hug by the woman's voice alone.
"You need to eat more, sugar." She gave Isabella her trademark smile. "The rest of the guests are down the road a ways. Our boy, Emmett, and his wife, Rosie, run the guest house and activities over there. You'll meet them tomorrow. We have to get you on a horse."
Isabella looked at her in curiosity. "The story I'm writing is about being a guest on a ranch. I really should be over there."
"No, dear child, you are right where you should be. Charlie let us know exactly what you'd need," she replied sagely.
"My father?" Isabella asked and her mouth dropped at Mama Esme's nod in affirmation. "How do you know him?"
"He came here on his honeymoon with Miss Sue," Carlisle explained. "Nice man. We remain friends."
"Yer papa is a hoot, girl," Jasper chimed in. That weird man was a hoot himself, Isabella had to admit to herself.
Esme grabbed Isabella's hand. "He worries about you, sugar. Says you need to find family again and that this might be a good fit. It's time to put a real smile on your face. Edward, move your hand off of Bella. I swear that boy is fresh. You aren't too big for me to tan your hide!"
Edward slowly moved his hand away, giving his mother an apologetic look. Once Mama Esme returned to her seat, that offending hand quickly returned to the spot on Isabella's leg. She turned to glare at him and he gave her another annoying wink.
Dinner for Isabella was finished quickly. There was much to ponder about the admittance if her father knowing the Cullens. What if she wasn't here by accident? It wasn't fate, because she thought that was just a pile of malarkey. She was convinced that she was set up by that sneaky mustached man, whom she called 'Dad', in order to find her a husband. Did he suggest the ranch to her boss? If that old man was trying to make things up to her, he had another thing coming.
She reached her bedroom door, when a finger tapped her on her shoulder. Jumping up in the air and stifling a scream, Isabella turned to find Edward's arms on her waist, steadying her. She was upset to find how nice those hands felt there.
"Whoa there, darlin'! I just wanted to let ya know I'm teaching ya to ride a horse tomorrow."
Isabella looked at him like he was crazy. "No, thanks. I'll just watch."
"Ya scared?" he inquired.
"Yes." She had no reason to lie. Those large, brown-eyed beasts were terrifying.
He grinned and pulled her closer. "Ya can ride something else. Legend says I'm hung like a horse."
"I'll take my chances with the real ones then."
"All right, but I'll get ya to see my way." He kissed her quickly on the lips. "Dream of me, Bella!"
Edward let her go and jauntily walked away. Isabella gripped her doorway and she knew for a fact that her dreams would be filled with that green-eyed cowboy.
The next morning, Isabella stumbled into the kitchen. She had dreamed of Edward Cullen. It was a dream about him wearing only a cowboy hat and nothing else.
His long fingers ran down her bare back, as he peppered Isabella's skin with kisses. Rubbing her breasts all so softly, she felt the need for a more forceful touch.
"Eddie, more please," she whispered.
He readily agreed and put his mouth onto her breast, sucking and licking. Her whole body was flushed with desire. His hands started moving down to where she needed his touch the most...
"Bella, sugar, can I get you a mug of coffee?" Mama Esme's voice startled Bella, who flushed a deep red. "You rememberin' a good dream?"
"Umm...yes...silly...ahh...dream," Isabella stammered and sat down at the kitchen table. Her fingers played with the red checkered tablecloth, as a steaming mug was placed in front of her. "Thank you. I really do love...umm...coffee."
Actually, Isabella almost let it slip and said Mama Esme's son's ass, but that wouldn't be at all proper.
"We need to get you fed, child. The boys are already gettin' your horse ready." Mama Esme placed a large plate of eggs, bacon and toast in front of Isabella that could feed a dozen people. Lastly, a newspaper was placed in front of her guest. "I think you might want to take a gander at the part I circled."
A large, red circle surrounded an ad that read:
Please inquire at The Sagebrush Oracle office between 10 A.M. to 3 P.M. Ask for Sadie Cope.
"I don't understand." Bella looked at it in confusion. "Is this for me?"
"Your daddy said you were the editor of your college paper," the older woman stated proudly, as if she were Isabella's actual mother.
Isabella played with her mug. "I have a job. I'm only here for a few more days."
"We'll see," Mama Esme said, as if Isabella was delusional.
Before she could protest, a familiar and beloved voice called through the door. "Hello! Oh, hell, I stepped in shit!"
Running to the door, Isabella swung it open. Standing on the doorstep of the porch, looking sweaty and uncomfortable, was her best friend and occasional writing partner, Alice Brandon, who was still talking as if she'd been in the room the whole time. "What the fuck kind of dogs do they have at this farm? The load looked like they have an elephant out here. Stinks like those ones we saw in India, remember? Stinky bastards!"
"Alice, not that I don't want to see you, but what are you doing here?"
Alice took a deep breath, straightened her wrinkled sundress and kicked off her stinky flats before coming into the house. "Right! Our next job is cancelled. No Thailand for us, Annie Oakley. I decided to join you here and vacation. We need to regroup and plan our next steps."
"Why?" Isabella asked. She was frustrated for so many reasons. Thailand was her next escape. How was she supposed to quickly get away from the lovely man who looked so sexy in cowboy boots? She groaned. "Unless you're telling me there's a war or some diplomatic snafu, then Ali girl, we are on the next plane to our destiny of eating spicy, exotic foods."
"No can do, Iz, our tickets are gone. It seems that boss man Molina thinks Thailand is for manly men. He's sending the adventure duo on our job! We need to find a new dig, because he wants to send us on spa weekends for the duration."
"Alec and Riley did it again!" Isabella yelled. "They're taking away all of our stories!"
"Sugar, every ending has a spectacular beginning. I figure this one is yours." Mama Esme came over, wrapping her arm around a cranky and morose Isabella's shoulders. She looked at Alice and added, "Howdy, little one, welcome to my home. You can take the room next to our sad-faced Bella. I think you and the boys can cheer her up."
Alice started bouncing in excitement, earning a glare from Isabella. "There's boys? Big boys?"
"Oh, little one, I have sons just about your age. Jasper would love to show you around." Mama Esme gave Alice a wink.
Isabella just sighed and internally cursed the cosmos. Obviously, fate was conspiring against her at every turn. "Come on, Alice, let me show you to your room."
"What's in the water that makes them so handsome?" Alice asked. The women were sitting on a wooden fence watching the three Cullen brothers working with the horses inside the enclosed pen. "You don't find things that gorgeous in New York. We were close to that type of bronzed male sexuality in Australia, but that was nothing close to what I'm looking at right now."
"It might be genetics," Isabella said, pointing over at Carl, who had joined his boys with the horses. He took off his hat and ran his fingers through that blond hair, making Alice gasp. "It's not fair."
"Hello there, Papa," Alice announced, grabbing Isabella's arm. "Which one is yours?"
Truthfully, none of them were hers. She didn't miss Edward winking in her general direction, but if she was honest, it could have just been the sun in his eyes. Edward, Jasper, Carl and the large brother, Emmett, whom Isabella hadn't met yet, were making the horses travel in a circle slowly, commenting on their gaits. It was strangely seductive, watching the handsome men glisten in the hot sun. Isabella didn't even mind sitting and roasting herself, even though she was sure she was starting to smell.
Edward jogged over with his brothers. "Hey there, honey, I want ya ta meet...ya seem to have found a friend!"
"This is my best friend and co-writer, Alice Brandon. She'll be vacationing here with me," Isabella stated, trying to not look at Edward. She decided to stare at a piece of dirt on the ground instead.
"I thought ya were up and leavin' us tomorrow. I was..." Edward began to say.
Isabella looked up into his beautiful eyes and couldn't help smiling a little. "The trip's been extended a bit."
"I'm so glad, Bella darlin'. That really makes me smile." Edward grasped her hand. It made Isabella feel safe.
"Damn boy, stop blubberin' all over Bessie! She's gonna high tail it outta here if ya keep it up!" Edward's big brother was all muscles, big blue eyes and dark curls. His dimples would make the most hardened soul soften. "Did ya see, Jazz, Bessie has a tiny friend! How ya doin', Li'l Bit?"
Jasper jogged up and kissed Alice's hand and in the worst French accent ever said, "Enchante, me amour. I'm Jasper. I'm the handsomest of the Cullen boys."
Isabella laughed so hard, she fell off the fence and right into Edward's arms. He exclaimed, "Ya gettin' overheated, Bella?"
"I bet you could cool Bessie down at the crick." Emmett gave Isabella a wink.
"Why are you calling me Bessie, and what's a crick?" It sometimes seemed to Isabella that they were speaking a different language. Edward was still holding her tightly. "You can let me go, Edward!"
He laughed. "Not until I getcha into the crick."
"I seriously have no idea what you people are talking about!" Isabella exclaimed. "What's a crick and who's Bessie?"
"Who cares, Iz!" Alice was running her fingers through Jasper's hair and he was holding her tightly. It was the fastest courtship ever in Isabella's mind. "Go enjoy the crick and relax. Jasper, that's a good thing, right?"
"Sure is, pretty girl. A crick is a stream. Ya have 'em where yer from?" Jasper pushed his body closer to Alice, making her giggle.
"Oh… You're talking about a creek! New York City's an island, but no creeks. We do have a fantastic sewer system," Alice announced, her eyes bright.
Isabella had never seen her friend so happy. The women became family soon after they'd met. Isabella swore off ever returning to her father's home and Alice became her new family. Alice had been an orphan, so she was happy to have met a kindred spirit. They spent every holiday together and, when not on assignment together, the girls shared a tiny apartment near Times Square. They were two peas in a pod and so very happy to be that way.
"Eddie, I suggest ya just toss Bessie right in. Girl needs to cool off!" He guffawed, looking at an angry Bella.
"It's Isabella. Not Bella and certainly not Bessie!" Isabella roared.
"She's a keeper, Eddie." Emmett grinned at Isabella. "Bessie is my prized heifer. Ya have big ole cow eyes, girlie!"
Then he pinched Bella's bottom.
"Emmett Jeb Cullen, I see you over there!" A beautiful woman with hair the color of straw came stomping over. She was dressed modestly in a tee shirt and jeans, but she looked like someone who belonged in a high fashion magazine.
"Aww damn, Rosie's all fired up! I damned well forgot to hang up the wash! Pa, I'll leave the horses to you and the boys." Emmett scurried away from the group and toward one of the barns.
The woman named Rosie ran past them, as Carl yelled out, "Rosie, darlin' say howdy to..."
"Hey," she stated apathetically, continuing on her quest to berate her husband. "I'm gonna whoop your ass, Emmett!"
"Wow," Isabella said, watching the woman follow Emmett into the barn. "He's going to be cornered in there."
Jasper laughed. "If the barn's a-rockin', don't come a-knockin'! Em does that to Rose on purpose. She's a wildcat when she's angry."
Carl hit him on the head with his hat. "There are ladies present! If ya boys can behave yerselves, ya can take Miss Bella and Miss Alice here on a tour of the grounds..."
"We'll see ya at dinner!" Jasper swooped up Alice and ran off towards a horse. "Let's ride, pretty girl!"
"Bye!" Alice squealed.
Isabella looked in shock. "Ali, you don't know him!"
"She'll be fine with Jasper. I believe he's quite smitten with your friend." Edward wrapped his arm around Isabella's waist and led her toward a large black horse; she looked at it as if it were a monster. "Up you go!"
"Are you on crack?" Isabella was petrified. Those big eyes were looking at her and the beast snorted, making her jump. She was positively certain that the horse was giving her a menacing look. "Can't we just walk to this crick?"
"New plans, Bella honey, I think ya need somethin' more relaxin'!" He lifted her up and onto the saddle. He quickly followed her up, with his body pressed tightly up against Bella's back. His one arm held the reins and the other wrapped around her waist, his fingers gently brushing against her stomach. "How does this feel?"
Without thinking Isabella admitted, "Absolutely perfect."
A quick ride later that was, in turns, terrifying and exhilarating, the duo were at a watering hole that was surrounded by wildflowers of relaxing lilac, charming blue and sunny gold. They sat upon a large rock with their feet dangling into the cool water. Isabella swirled her toes in it, making small circles. Edward's hand brushed against her fingers that were resting upon the warm stone.
"Ya have a sad face, Bella. It's much too pretty ta be frownin'," Edward said, linking his pinky with hers. "I can listen if ya need kind ears."
She took a deep breath, letting out a small shudder. "Have you ever been in love?"
"I thought so once. She was a feisty thang...married my big brother," Edward admitted, with a small smile.
"You dated Emmett's wife?" Isabella was shocked, but also dismayed by this turn of events.
Edward laughed at the look on Isabella's face. "Put that grumpy face away, honey. I'm fond of brunettes. I dodged the bullet on that one. She's a holy terror. I was also twelve. I was in love with baseball, too, and ya don't see me wantin' to marry that."
He continued on, "It appears that ya were in love."
"I don't think so now, but back then, it was pretty close. He'd been my best friend, since we were babies. I think my feelings were confused on the subject," she said, kicking her feet and making the water splash up.
"I take it that it ended badly."
Isabella closed her eyes, trying to find a way not to sound like a fool. "It was my wedding day. I was standing next to him, ready to say my vows, when it all ended so very quickly."
The minister announced, "If anyone has any reason why these two should not be wed, speak now..."
"Jake, please, no! Don't marry her! I'm having the baby! I was so wrong to tell you I couldn't go through with it," Leah Clearwater, Isabella's stepsister, called out from the end of the aisle. She was supposed to have been a bridesmaid, but had never shown up, even after repeated calls from various members of the bridal party.
Jacob didn't take a second look at Isabella. He ran to Leah and embraced her. He kissed her hard. "I knew you would keep our baby! Love, I'm so happy!"
Isabella watched the scene as tears silently ran down her face. The arrangement of tulips and daisies fell to the ground at her feet, as her father escorted his devastated daughter from her heartbreak.
Edward embraced Isabella tightly. She could feel him kiss her head. "They're no-good monsters, sweetheart!"
"It was mortifying. I left with my mom that very night to live in New York with her and her husband. Mom and Phil were in a car accident a couple of months later. They didn't make it. I have Alice though, so I'm good."
He rubbed her back. "I have a feelin' ya haven't seen yer pa. He seemed to have a look in his eyes that he missed ya somethin' fierce."
"Having family holidays with the happy couple and their baby? No thanks. Sue wanted to be close with her new grandchild, but expecting me to watch with a smile on my face? No way. I miss my dad, but he made his choice." She shrugged and then stared into his lovely face. "I wish I were stronger, but I just can't go back there."
"Yer daddy loves ya, Bella. Ya could tell how proud he is of yer writin'." Edward gave her a grin. "I think ya need to give him a call."
"And say what to him? Hi, Dad, your gypsy daughter has no steady home base and absolutely zero love in her life?" Bella rolled her eyes. "Then end the conversation about how he should have chosen his daughter and not the people who hurt her? It's up to him to apologize. I'm not doing it."
"That's understandable. I just want ya to be happy. Maybe, ya should start thinkin' about settlin' down. Settlin' down here," he suggested, but before she was even able to open her mouth to protest he cupped her face in his hands. "I'm playin' at the Golden Horseshoe tonight. Say ya will come listen to me sing."
Isabella was about to make a stupid joke about the name of the establishment to cover up her nerves, but instead, she peered into his relaxing eyes and said, "Of course."
"He doesn't know who Tribe is," Alice stated, her big eyes wide as saucers.
Isabella looked over at her friend and frowned. She had been trying to take in the ambience of the bar around her. The wood floors were covered with sawdust and peanut shells. The walls were covered in old posters from movie westerns and a couple of antlers. The music that filled Isabella's ears were tales of heartbreak and honky tonk. She was used to sleek and modern dance clubs with pumping beats and sweaty bodies pressed against each other. She felt much more comfortable here.
"What are you talking about?" she questioned.
Alice threw her hands up in the air. "A Tribe Called Quest! The Roots! Busta Rhymes! He's never had a hot dog from a street vendor! He's never beat a mugger with his purse in a large metropolitan city! He's never wanted to see the Eiffel Tower! I just met the most perfect man and we have nothing in common! The worst part is I don't care! I don't want to live anywhere but here! This is insane...I've only been here one day!"
Isabella watched as Alice started hyperventilating. Her friend had been alone for so long that, other than Bella, she never let anyone get close. There must be something very special about Jasper to get Alice to be having such a massive panic attack. She took Alice's trembling hand.
"You've just spent one day with the guy, Alice. You realize that automatically thinking he's perfect is crazy, right?" She whispered to Alice, "Let's go back to New York. I miss the subway. Let's start our own travel magazine! How about we head to Chile?"
"You don't want to go to New York, Istanbul or even Taiwan, Chicken Little. You're scared of Jasper's handsome brother. I have never seen you get as flustered as you do when you're around him. I don't know...my head is so out of control right now. It's pretty here and the air smells nice. Like when we went to Holland. I don't want to leave in three days, but it would be so nice to stay in one place for a while."
Isabella agreed in her heart, but her head was flitting in different directions. This place had the potential of breaking her more than she was already. It scared the hell out of her.
Rosie and Emmett sat across the table, watching the women whisper to each other. Emmett thought they were funny and Rosie was annoyed.
"What the hell is wrong with those damned girls," she scoffed. Her perfect little nose turned up at the women. "They should go back where they came from. Idiots."
Emmett looked at them and grinned. "Best get used to them, Rosie. Those little ladies are gonna be family. Mark my words."
Rosie just rolled her eyes, as the lights dimmed. Isabella looked up to see Edward and Jasper sitting on the rickety stage on bar stools that were worn with age. The men both held guitars on their laps. She was expecting the men to be wearing cowboy hats like the majority of the audience in the bar, but the spotlights hit their hair of copper and gold. She glanced over at Alice and saw her friend was transfixed on Jasper. It was clear that Alice would be staying wherever Jasper was.
Her insides were in turmoil because, truthfully, Isabella didn't know her own heart anymore. Edward sat on the stool looking down at her, as he ignored the catcalls of the teased, big-haired women who surrounded the stage. It made her stomach erupt with fluttering wings of butterflies. The man made her feel alive again and it was the most terrifying feeling in the world.
"This song is for two special ladies that have come into the lives of our family," Edward said confidently into the microphone.
A woman shouted out from the crowd, "You talkin' 'bout me, sugar pie?"
Jasper laughed and answered for his brother, "Naw, Mrs. Cora, ya know better. What would Jim say if he caught us flirtin' with ya? He's the best shot in these parts!"
The crowd burst into laughter. As the laughter died down, Edward started playing, softly at first. His fingers strummed the guitar with a skill that Isabella found admirable and admittedly sexy. Jasper joined in and the two brothers filled the room with a melody that filled Isabella with joy. She watched intently as Edward began to sing, his soft lips moving seductively. His voice was a deep baritone that made her want to leap onto the stage and shower him with affection. It moved her to her very core. Jasper joined in the harmony with his higher and softer voice. Isabella felt Alice's hand clutch her arm tightly.
The words that were sung had the greatest effect on them. Two lonely girls traveling the world followed a star toward their unexpected home. Underneath those stars is where love waited with gentle, but urgent kisses. The vision of sweaty palms and moist lips fusing lovers together into an everlasting commitment made Bella want to weep. The song ended with the word 'forever'.
It was beautiful and moving, which led to Isabella hyperventilating. She stood up quickly clutching her neck; the chair fell to the floor, the sound muffled by the applause and whistles. All breath left her body.
"Bella, you okay?" Emmett asked in concern. Even Rosie's face softened at Isabella's distress.
Isabella pointed to the door and gasped, "Air."
Alice stood and tried to help her to the door, but Isabella shook her head no. She motioned toward Jasper and Edward, who were surrounded by the adoring crowd. "Stay, Al."
Pushing herself out the door, Isabella's sandal-clad feet crunched on the gravel. She was gasping for air and stumbled onto the ground, falling to her knees in between rusty pickup trucks and dirt-caked Jeeps. The tiny rocks cut into her bare knees, but that pain was minimal compared to the crushing melancholy that filled her soul.
Isabella Swan was a runner. She tried to be strong, but when things became too joyful or happy, it was time to find a new, non-permanent pillow to lay her head. This place and that man made her want to settle down. It was appealing to her every wish for a home and a family. It scared the hell out of her. She didn't want to leave Edward and head to destinations unknown. She wanted to feel every contour of his beautiful body. She needed to learn all the secrets that he held in that intriguing mind. She wanted a couple of little ones with his hair and her eyes running around the yard while they stood and watched, with Edward's arms around her waist. She began to cry.
Hands touched her head and looking up through watery eyes, she saw a distressed Edward looking down at her. "Oh sweet one, what's with these tears? I wasn't tryin' ta make ya sad."
He helped her stand up and she wrapped her arms around him. "I can't stay. I need to leave in the morning. I'm feeling too much and if I have to leave in three days...it...it…it...I...can't."
"Then don't leave in three days. Stay and show me the brave woman I see behind those big eyes. Darlin', I'm a simple man, but if ya let me, I can be everything ya need."
She looked up into his face. "This is insanity. I just met you!"
"Your daddy showed us a picture of ya when he came here. You were the purtiest thing I ever did see," he stated, and rubbed his cheek against hers. "I knew if fate eva gave me the chance to meet ya, then I would do everythin' in my power to get to know ya. I'm so glad I did, because I never want to be away from ya. If ya leave, I'll just follow."
She murmured into his skin, "This is too wonderful to believe."
"Then believe this."
Pulling back, he captured her lips with his. Their mouths melded together and Edward moved his body flush with hers. His hands gripped her waist, as Isabella's hands weaved through his hair. Their tongues met and danced together, making them both dizzy from need. The stars from the sky above made a canopy of lights that even the most hardened drunk stumbling from the bar would find beautiful.
Edward stopped the kiss and took a deep breath. "Let me get ya home."
The couple rode in Edward's old red pickup truck on the dirt roads back toward the main house. Isabella was surprised when about five miles away, they pulled up next to a log cabin. "Where are we?"
"Home," he stated simply with a little smile upon his lips. He got out of the truck and Isabella watched as he walked purposefully around the truck and opened her door. "My home to be exact, but maybe yours someday. Mama isn't a fan of livin' together before gettin' hitched. We'll play it by ear."
In an instant, Isabella was pulled out of the truck and into Edward's arms. She pushed him half-heartedly on the chest. "I can walk, mister!"
"Nah, honey yer knee needs to be cleaned up." He moved his hand up her thighs.
"You just want to have your hands on my legs."
He moved his hands further up, closer to the edge of her dress. "Yup!"
Isabella did the unthinkable. She giggled.
"That's the loveliest sound I ever did hear." He kissed her soundly and muffled her laughter.
Once inside, Isabella took in her surroundings. The furniture was comfortable looking and simple in design. It reminded her of the Shaker furniture her mother was so fond of when she was a little girl. In the middle of the room was a brown leather couch that stood facing a stone fireplace. It looked so inviting. Edward settled her onto the couch and started building a fire. She missed the feeling of his hands on her skin and let out a small sigh.
Edward struck a match and lit the fire. He looked at her with darkened eyes. "Let's get that knee cleaned up."
He retrieved a first aid kit and a damp washcloth. He pushed Isabella's dress up to her waist and gently washed her knee. Taking antibiotic cream, he gently dabbed it onto her wound and covered it with band-aids. He kissed the bandages softly.
It was at that moment that Isabella wanted him to have every piece of her. Isabella stood up, with Edward still kneeling on the floor, and pulled off her dress. Edward took one look at her standing before him in only a pair of panties and he pulled her body to his, his head was buried into her waist and he peppered her stomach with kisses.
"I want you, Edward," Isabella admitted, holding his head and rubbing it gently.
Edward let go of Bella and stood up. He grasped her shoulders and rubbed them. "I won't do a one nighter with ya, sweet one. I want to be part of yer life for the duration."
"Yes." She unbuttoned his shirt and it fell to the floor. She felt his hands gently kneading her breasts as she kissed his neck, moving her hands to his belt buckle. Undoing it and then moving to his pants, she smiled as she accidentally stroked him. She had forgotten how large he was and moved her hand to wrap around him.
"Not yet, darlin'," Edward stated. He lifted her up and she wrapped her legs around his waist, rubbing her body on him and reveling in the friction she found.
Grinning, Edward lowered her onto the couch. His mouth captured her nipple, as he pushed her panties off her body. His long fingers caressed her clit and as she enjoyed the pressure, he put two fingers into her warm center. She was a goner. Her body was responding to the pressure and was coming undone quickly.
"I need you," she panted. Pulling him toward her, she latched her mouth onto his and he entered her swiftly.
In and out. Out and in.
Kissing of lips, neck, mouth, fingers, bosom.
Whispers of their mutual love and devotion.
Fingers gripping tightly on waists, shoulders and backs.
Gasping of the names Edward and Bella.
In and out. Out and in.
Coming together in the first expression of their love.
The next morning, Isabella woke up in Edward's warm embrace. It felt so perfect, but the morning glow from the window was calling her into the fresh prairie air.
She found Edward's shirt from the night before and wrapped it around herself. Going out onto the front porch, she held tightly onto the railing. The open space before her held mountains far into the horizon, blue sky with clouds floating merrily and the ground covered with wild flowers that should never be picked. Its beauty took her breath away.
It occurred to her that for the first time, in a long time, she was happy.
The smell of coffee wafted toward her and she turned to see another beautiful sight. A shirtless Edward was holding out a cup of coffee to her. Instead of taking it, she hugged him tightly.
"Not that I mind this one bit, but what is all of this about?" he asked, kissing her nose. Placing the coffee onto a small table on the porch, he moved to place both hands on her back. He rubbed it slowly.
"I'm feeling complete. I would even add in joyful."
He gave out a whoop and hugged her tighter. "That's what I like ta hear, Bella...no...Isabella."
She pinched his behind, making him jump a little and laugh. "Call me 'Bella'. I like it coming from you, Eddie."
"Then you call me 'Edward', because it's music ta my ears when ya say my given name so lovingly," he declared, rubbing his nose with hers in a simple Eskimo kiss that meant so much more. "Are we stayin' in bed all day? I think that sounds like a mighty fine idea."
"Not all day, because I need you to take me into town," Isabella announced, her heart beating rapidly.
Edward grew grave. "Yer not leavin' me, are ya?"
"I heard the local newspaper needs a new editor. I think I'll be the perfect girl for the job." She smiled so brightly that it made the man before her grin right back.
Letting out a final whoop, Edward swung Isabella around in a circle.
She was a woman who thought her broken soul was forever lost, but found her heart again in a melody played by a steel guitar.
Isabella Swan had found her home.