Summary: When he asked for her hand, she refused him. Now a scandal throws her on his mercy, will he marry her or leave her to her fate? Will she let him?
Disclaimer: I don't own anything Twilight.
Chapter Six: Swan Dive
Following Bella's graceless fall from the platform into Edward's waiting arms there was one, single, precious moment of absolute quiet. It was that particular silence of people who are not quite sure their senses are telling them the truth about what they see and hear-and in Bella and Edward's case smell and feel.
In that moment every person in the shop, Renee Swan, Mrs and Miss Mallory, old Mrs Cope, and of course Bella and Edward themselves took stock of their individual senses, verified the information relayed, and, almost simultaneously reacted.
Surprisingly it was Renee Swan who was the first to recover her wits.
"Oh Bella dear! Are you alright?"
The woman fluttered over to her daughter, still held motionless in the shocked embrace of her sometimes suitor.
Edward felt more than heard Bella take a breath. It was her first voluntary movement and it pressed her chest against his stomach. Edward felt light headed. Luckily this notion passed quickly when she followed her breath by trying to back away from him.
Muffled against him her voice peaked out.
"I'm okay," she pressed back from him again, "I'm so sorry Edward. You can . . . you can let me go now."
Edward kept his arms tight around her, refusing to move anything but his head which he turned up towards the ceiling.
"Um, no." He said eloquently, his voice strained and pitchy to his own ears. "I can't."
"What?" She shifted against him now, evidently trying to at least right herself from his slanted catch. The actions caused her dress to shift as well, and Edward knew the exact moment she caught on to their predicament. Around them the other occupants came to life, but all Edward and Bella heard was each other against an unpleasant, high pitched buzz of other people.
"Not where it should be."
He was positive the heat blooming against his chest was either her blush or his impending heart attack, quite possibly both. Frankly it was hard to tell for sure as she was taking quick, panicky breaths. The motion, coupled with his firm, if tense, hold on her torso had the effect of pressing her chest against him in a tantalizing rhythm.
He focused with all his might on the hard, uncomfortable edge of the corset, tried to wonder whether it was authentic boning or that new metal replacement his sister had been complaining about a few weeks earlier. He tried very hard not to notice how low that edge was, pressing into his stomach almost at his navel. Bella was shorter than him, surely, but nowhere near that short.
Eyes still held upward, it took Edward several moments to realize that the new heaving motion of soft, firm flesh against his midsection was no longer caused by Bella's erratic breathing, but by her mother's attempts to right the infernal dress to some semblance of modesty.
"Edward can you ease up just a bit? I've nearly got this sorted." Renee's voice was carefully calm, she spoke as if tending to a wild animal.
He did as she asked, willing his tense arms to release their catch. It was an awkward and twitchy movement, and one that inadvertently caused him to run his palms over the smooth skin of her back, but he slowly relaxed his hold.
Renee was quick with her movements and righted her red-faced daughter as soon as there was space to do so. In the fall, Bella had caught her foot on the overly long gown, and the force of it had torn the bodice laces in two places but not unwound them. Luckily the chemise underneath had not torn, only been pulled violently down, so that at least was available for immediate coverage. The rest sat well enough in place, though it would require some time to be wearable again.
Throughout all this Edward kept his face pointed to the ceiling. It was the only way he could be sure his eyes, though closed as extra precaution, did not light upon something they were not supposed to see.
Even when the sounds of rustling fabric had all but stopped and his arms had lost the lingering feel of Bella's warmth, Edward remained eyes shut and facing the ceiling.
Even when Renee quietly stated "Well now, you're all back together right dear?" he stayed put, just in case.
In fact, left to his own devices Edward was very much prepared to stay in his current position until all possibility of impropriety had passed. And with Bella around, that was possibly a long, long time.
But he was not left to his own devices, for somewhere in between the captivating sounds of Bella's breathing and the overwhelming thudding of his own heartbeat, or hers, perhaps, Edward had failed to really take in the words being spoken too loudly not five feet from him.
"—threw herself right at him!"
The Mallorys. Edward had forgotten about them. Edward was jolted from his position as he turned to defend the girl now rapidly being shuffled off to the back of the shop by her mother, no doubt mortified and hearing every word.
Determined to defend her, Edward faced off against the youngest and loudest gossiper, Miss Lauren Mallory. Still on her raised platform and tied in to some monstrous ruffly pink thing that looked, to Edward, at least two sizes too small, Miss Mallory was hunched over and talking with her face very close to her mother. They were both nearly panting as they riled themselves into frenzy over what they had just seen, and Lauren was fanning herself frantically with a lace hand fan even as she talked herself breathless.
Edward cleared his throat.
Both women turned to look at him, eyes bright and cruel looking.
"Oh but of course you had nothing to do with it Mr. Cullen! I don't know how you put up with the girl!"
"She attacked you, we all saw it! Tore her dress right off and jumped right at you! Frankly I'm appalled—"
Edward had grand plans of rebutting their already twisted spin on events he certainly didn't need them to describe to him, and he definitely meant to cut off Lauren's rant with no regard for what was so appalling to her, but mid-sentence the thrill of such gossip—and possibly her rapid speaking coupled with her overly tight dress—overwhelmed Lauren Mallory and she fainted straight away off the dressmaker platform and directly toward Edward.
It wasn't the gentlemanly thing to do, and he certainly cringed when the sound of her hitting the ground echoed in his ears, but really his good breeding could only be expected to go so far.
Edward stared, shocked at himself, as Mrs. Mallory fussed over her daughter on the floor and turned her over to reveal the beginnings of what would likely become an impressively broken nose.
"Somebody get the doctor!"
Edward turned to the door, planning to fetch Carlisle himself, only to meet the clear blue eyes of an unexpected witness.
"Well, that was certainly interesting."
The woman tipped her head in imitation of a bow but did not bother to change the smirk on her face. She made no move to fetch Carlisle herself, so Edward continued toward the door, greeting her as he passed and praying her presence did not somehow manage to make this day worse.
Author's Note: Again a day late. Maybe I should just switch to Thursdays? Then again if I do that I might end up always posting on Fridays. Fyi, I'm going overseas for a couple weeks toward the end of the month (I'll be traipsing across Spain and Portugal if you're wondering) and I haven't decided how to handle posts then. My internet access will be suspect at best, so if I can finish them in time I might post those two weeks of chapters early. No promises cause I have a lot of planning stuff to do still, but honestly I usually write more when I should be doing other things.