A/N: This was an honorable mention in the LDA contest. Good times.
Isabella, Princess of Forkshire, paused in the hall when she heard the commotion. The snarled shout was followed by the clap of skin hitting skin and a clatter. She gasped, retracing her steps and peering into the guest quarters.
The royal family of Nomadia was visiting Forkshire, and the youngest prince was quartered in this room. He was a good five years her elder and very handsome. The ladies at court were all abuzz about him, giggling and sighing over his genteel manner and his roguish grin.
Bella had always felt unsettled around him, though she couldn't pinpoint why. Now she understood.
As she peered in the doorway, she saw a horrible sight. Her heart lurched when she saw the boy who'd been sent up as a manservant to the visiting prince. Edward. Bella knew the boy well. They were friends, and when she saw the position he was in - on his back on the floor, his arm thrown up to protect his head from the prince's repeated blows - she could not stay still.
"Your highness!" she cried, pushing the door open. "What is the meaning of this?"
For a second, when Prince James looked up, his narrowed eyes glinted with malevolence. When he took in who had interrupted them though, his expression gentled, and he straightened up, dropping his hands to his sides. "Good morrow, princess."
"My lady." Her handmaiden, Alice, had caught up with her and tried to hold her back. "It's not proper to be in the prince's quarters alone, my lady," she said in her ear.
Bella purely didn't care in that moment. She yanked her arm out of Alice's hand and strode forward, kneeling at Edward's side. "Good God."
His lip was split, and there was an angry red mark on his cheek that would be a bruise soon.
He swallowed and looked at her, and she saw that there was fire in his eyes, but when he saw her, he seemed to calm considerably. "I beg your forgiveness, Princess," he said quietly, his voice as smooth as ever.
"He's a clumsy little fool," James inserted. "Servants shouldn't be coddled, Princess. It only serves to encourage slovenly, sloppy behavior."
"It's fine, Princess," Edward said under his breath, only for her ears. He cleared his throat and spoke louder. "The prince is right. See how his shirt is stained? If it weren't for my shoddy work, the good prince would not have to change." He was looking at her with an urgent expression, imploring her not to say anymore. He shifted, getting to his knees in a submissive stance before James. "Please, your Highness. If you'll allow me, I'll clean the mess I've made."
Bella knew him well enough to understand he was more concerned for her sake than his own, though she bristled at the thought. No one would beat a princess even for the things she wanted to say to this prince. She bit the inside of her cheek.
She'd known Edward since her girlhood. When they were children and it was permissible, they'd been playmates. As they grew and it became inappropriate for Bella to consort with a common child and, later, a servant, they still found time to talk from time to time. He was a clever sort - much smarter than any of the dignitaries he served gave him credit for.
How she hated to see him this way.
James growled. "If you were my servant, I guarantee this would not be the first beating you'd have received." He waved his hand. "Go fetch me a new shirt."
"Yes, my prince." He stood and made for the bedchamber where the prince's clothes would be. Bella's eyes followed him, hoping he would look up, but he did not.
"My prince, if you'll excuse my lady. We should be going."
There was an urgent note to Alice's tone that drew Bella's attention. Her handmaid was tugging at her arm.
When Bella turned, she gasped.
Prince James was out of his shirt, his eyes intense on her, his lips turned up into a leer.
Bella had never seen that much of a man before. She hadn't seen that much of any male since she was a child and she'd played with other children in the river. "P-please excuse me, your highness. It was not proper of me to burst into your chambers."
He waved his hand. "Your woman's heart goes out to dumb servant boys. You are young yet, Princess. You will learn that the lower class needs a firm hand."
Narrowing her eyes, Bella was about to tell him exactly what she thought of that, but Alice yanked on her quite hard. "His highness is very wise," she said demurely, but Bella knew the edge of sarcasm in her tone. "My lady will see you again tonight, I'm sure."
This time, Bella let Alice drag her away.
Back in her own quarters, Bella could breathe somewhat better. She sat still, gnashing her teeth as she replayed the scene. She wrung her hands as she worried.
"I should not have left him there," she murmured when Alice came back to tell her the bath was ready.
"There was nothing you could do, Princess," Alice assured, helping her out of her dress. "He will be fine. The others will take care of him."
Bella's head snapped up. "Has this happened before?"
Alice didn't look away quickly enough to cover her reaction. Grabbing her by the shoulders, Bella gave her a little shake. "Tell me, Alice."
"My lady," she began, her voice a plea.
"It will be all right," Bella said gently, trying to be soothing. "You can tell me the truth."
Her handmaiden's glance was furtive. "It was not that way when your father was alive."
Alice gave her a small, sad look. "It's different with your uncle. Much has changed for us." Bella narrowed her eyes, and Alice ducked her head. "Master Aro is very genteel, but his children are about as patient as Prince James."
"And he looks the other way?"
"Come, my lady," Alice deflected. "The bath water will get cold, and there's not so much time to dress."
Sensing Alice would say no more, Bella grudgingly gave in. She slipped out of her clothes and into the warm bath.
Edward of Masen could not be away from the Prince's quarters quickly enough. The man was completely insufferable. If he had to wait on him hand and foot for one more minute, Edward was fair sure he would earn more than a beating. To raise a hand to a royal would mean his death, and he wanted to do much more than that.
"Edward," Jasper greeted, not getting up immediately when Edward entered the kitchen. He was resting for the moment, reading by the fire, probably just come in from the cold outside.
It was easy to tell when Jasper processed what he was seeing when he glanced up at Edward. He was on his feet in a heartbeat. "Are you badly hurt?"
"No." Edward shook his head, warding off his friend's assessing touch.
"What's going on?" Emmett, another servant and a friend to them both, came in from elsewhere in the castle.
"It seems someone has mussed our fair Edward's pretty face some," Jasper filled in. He'd stepped back, and was looking him over head to toe. "The good prince, I'd assume."
"Aye," Edward confirmed, finally letting his irritation show. "The lout fumbled his drink," he said by way of explanation.
"And you were a convenient scapegoat," Emmett concluded. He took Edward's hand, not letting him pull away, and pulled the sleeve up. Sure enough, a dark bruise was setting in there. "Is it broken?"
"No," Edward said with a sigh, letting his friends lead him to a chair. "It's hard to move, but not broken."
"Two faced son-of-a-jackal, that one," Jasper spat.
Edward cleared his throat to get Jasper's attention before he could continue. Alice had appeared in a doorway, and the lady didn't need to hear his foul mouth. Anyway, the sight of the lass was enough to wipe the sneer off Jasper's face. Of late, the two were sweethearts.
Sure enough, Jasper got to his feet, taking Alice's dainty hand in his. "My lady. How may we be of service?"
She spared a smile for him and Emmett, but looked to Edward. "Her highness bade me come and check on our Edward. She's concerned for you."
The other two men chuckled. "You may tell the Princess her pet is fine," Emmett said with a chortle. Edward rolled his eyes, but didn't argue. Bella's affinity toward him was something he had grown up with, and he was used to the teasing of the others by now.
It was to be expected, or so everyone said. Edward had not been born into his servitude like so many of the others whose parents had been servants and their parents before them. No. As it happened, the royal family - King Charles, Queen Renee, and their children - had been enjoying a day out by the river. The story went that their eldest son - only a child then - had found a basket in the water, and in that basket, they found a baby.
The baby had ridden home side by side with the King and Queen's baby girl, Isabella. For a few weeks' time, until a proper foster family could be decided on, he and Bella shared a crib.
The queen still spoke of how they babbled to each other in baby-speak, as if talking in a language no one else knew.
Though it was no longer seemly for them to associate, they still managed a friendship. Before he died, the King had seen to it that Bella would be educated. She enjoyed telling Edward everything she learned, and they would often speak of these far off places, wondering what it might be like to see them with their own eyes.
There were many worse things than being Bella's favorite, her pet, as Emmett said, and so Edward did not argue.
Alice would not stop at that. "She said she would have naught but the truth."
Grudgingly, knowing Bella would find a way to come see him if she didn't receive a story she could believe, Edward catalogued his injuries. The split lip and bruised cheek were obvious. His wrist was likely sprained, but the boys would help him wrap it. He also knew from the way he ached that there were bruises about his back and shoulders.
"Tell the princess not to worry. It's nothing."
"Would that I knew the ways of the witch," Alice spat.
"Ali," Jasper protested in a hiss, automatically looking around though they were alone. "If someone heard you speak of it..."
"I know." She looked properly abashed. "But what else? That man is not fit to be among pigs, and yet he will rule a kingdom someday."
Edward's heart twisted, and he clenched the fist of his good hand.
If the gossip about the castle was right, it wasn't the Prince's kingdom Edward feared for.
"Jasper, what news?" he asked when Alice had finally gone to return to Bella's side.
His friend didn't have to ask to know what Edward was referring to. His expression turned dark, and Edward's stomach twisted. He had his answer before Jasper spoke. "I'm sorry. I'm afraid rumor is naught but truth. The kingmaker sought to solidify the ties between Forkshire and Nomadia. Our princess will wed Prince James before the year is out."
Edward held his fist to his lips, closing his eyes as he tried to come to terms with his own impotence. Of course, when the royal family of Nomadia had come, he knew there was a chance the bachelor prince would be looking to marry. He had hoped the widow Queen Renee, still a young, vibrant woman, would make a better match than her seventeen-year-old daughter.
"I cannot allow this to happen. Not to her."
Emmett stood on his one side and Jasper on his other. They said nothing, but kept their hands on his shoulders, offering their silent support and what comfort they could.
"Come, child. Dry your eyes. This is unseemly."
Before Bella could snap at her uncle, her mother's arms tightened around her. "Let her have her tears, Aro." She gently wiped away the tears that Bella couldn't stop. "It's a frightening thing to be told you will be sent so far away from your home with a man you hardly know."
Bella wasn't frightened, she was furious. "Uncle," she protested. "You don't understand. The Prince..." She swallowed, steeling herself. "Today, I walked in on the Prince beating on a servant. Our Edward."
Renee's head snapped up. "Is that true?"
"Yes, Mother. Call him here. You'll see he's been beaten about the face, and his wrist has been wrenched."
"Did he tell you this?" Aro chuckled. "Edward has always been fond of telling you stories, Bella."
"He spins tales about people who do not exist for my amusement," Bella returned. "He does not make up stories of how his lip got bloodied." When he looked at her, reproachful of her tone, she took a deep breath. "And I tell you, I saw it with my own eyes. Edward was on the floor, and the prince was beating him."
"Aro. I will not give my daughter in marriage to a brute," Renee said sharply.
Aro's sigh was long suffering. "He is a prince. He will someday be king. This will serve to join our two nations." He huffed out a breath. "Your Charles was unique in many ways. Many households take a firmer hand in dealing with the help. But what of that, Renee? He would not dare raise a hand to his princess."
Standing, he took each of their hands. "My dear sister, my darling niece, you know I would never let anyone hurt you. You must do what is expected, the both of you. You've a kingdom to consider, of course."
Leaning forward, his expression became serious. "Your word is given. Do you understand? To refuse would be to insult all of Nomadia, and you know what that could mean."
Bella chuffed, closing her eyes. Her heart seized.
She may have only been a girl of seventeen, but she knew well enough the affairs of state. Insulting the Nomadian king at this point would be the first step to war where a marriage between her and prince James would be the first step to peace. "Of course, Uncle." She made her voice steady. "Mother was right. I was just frightened for a moment. I will know no one in Nomadia, after all."
At this, Aro's smile bloomed bright. "Ah, well, not to fret. Your handmaiden and some of the others will go with you. A full regimen of servants is to be part of your dowery."
"Which others?" Bella asked sharply.
"Oh. The Hales, I should think. Emmett." He nodded his head. "Your Edward, of course."
"Edward?" Bella was horrified.
"Yes, the Prince asked for him personally. I thought you might like it. I know you are fond of the boy."
"You must not let this happen," she protested.
Aro's smile turned again to a scowl. "Isabella. Done is done, and I will not go back on the word I gave in your mother's name."
Renee hugged her close, kissing her forehead. "I do remember this feeling. It feels as though the whole world is ending." She rocked Bella comfortingly. "It will be fine, lovely, you'll see. It will all work out."
Clinging to her mother, Bella tried to make herself believe those words.
"Now dry your eyes. The ball is beginning, and you are not dressed."
Renee pulled away from her. "Come now, lovely. It's time to play our roles."
Edward could not sleep that night. He rose and wandered to the gardens, remembering simpler times when he and Bella thought they could be friends forever. They'd played here amongst the flowers: hiding games and the like. He'd once caught a butterfly in his hands, and she'd looked at him as if he were the cleverest person alive.
He found the old willow tree that bent just so, concealing a small space they'd once called their own. It was dark, so he stepped carefully, his hands out.
The rustle of a step on the ground, a broken twig, made him stop short. "Hello? Is there someone there?"
There was a gasp, and then, "Edward?"
"Princess." He stepped to the sound of her voice until his hands encountered the soft fabric of her gown. He found her shoulders and settled his hands there.
"Thank God it's you," she said breathlessly.
"Yes. The hour is late, Princess. What are you doing about with no escort?"
"I could not sleep." Her voice trembled. "Oh, Edward. I'm so glad you're here. There's something I must tell you."
"Anything, Princess." Now that his eyes were adjusting, he stepped back. Under no circumstances was it permissible to touch her.
As though she were completely unaware of how inappropriate it was to be standing so close, she stepped back into his bubble space. She surprised him when she took his hands, squeezing tight. "You must run from here."
"You must leave as quickly as possible," she repeated more urgently. "I've some coin to give, but you must not dally."
"Princess... forgive me, but what has happened?"
Even in the darkness, he could see her face fall as she looked away. "You've heard about my betrothal."
Edward's throat was tight. "Of course. I-"
"You are to be part of my dowry, by special request of the prince."
For the second time in one evening, he was struck dumb. "What?"
"Don't you understand?" Her hands on his shoulders, she shook him. "He made sure you would come with us when we leave for Nomadia. He-"
"Oh, thank God." Edward's relief was so profound, he acted without thinking, wrapping his arms around her and holding her close. "Thank God. Thank God." He cupped her face in his hands.
And then he kissed her.
It was a quick kiss - it was only a second before he remembered who she was and that she was well within her rights to order his death for what he'd done - but it was firm and fervent.
He stumbled backward. "Princess. I'm so sorry. I-"
She interrupted him by closing the space between them. Her fingers were in his hair as she pulled his head down to meet hers. Her kiss was hungry, passionate, and every ounce of decorum fell away in a single breath.
It was not so many years before he'd begun to notice her in the way a man might see a woman. She'd grown from a gangly, awkward little girl to a pretty, enticing young woman. She was warm in his arms, and fit just as he always imagined she would against his body.
Instantly, he was completely lost in just how incredible it was to kiss her. They both sunk to their knees together, as if they were entirely incapable of concentrating on anything except the way their mouths were moving together. "My Princess," he rumbled against her lip. "My Bella."
Only when they were both dizzy and panting did they let up. He leaned his head on her shoulder, and her cheek rested against his hair as they caught their breath.
"You must go," she whispered against his ear, her voice small and desperate. "You cannot come with me and the Prince."
Pulling back, Edward cradled her face in his hands again. "Tell me why," he prompted gently.
She put her hands over his, her eyes wide and frightened in the dark. "He will hurt you."
"That is the only reason?"
"That is reason enough," she said, her voice raised ever so slightly.
"I will go." His tone was firm, brokering no room for argument. "And I swear to God, if he ever raises a hand to you, I will end him."
She gasped, shaking her head. "If you touched the prince, it would be the end of you."
"If it keeps you from harm, it would be a fine death."
Her eyes closed, and she leaned forward, wrapping her arms around him. "I could not bear it, Edward. If you were dead, what would I do?" She pushed away from him all at once, reaching out to run her finger along his bandaged wrist. "My uncle has sworn the prince knows better than to show his temper to me. I will be fine." The way her voice trembled spoke volumes. She didn't believe her own words any more than he did. "But no one will stop him from hurting you."
With the utmost of tenderness, he brushed the back of his knuckles down her cheek. "Isabella, did my kiss mean nothing to you?"
She ducked her head, looking down to where her fingers were clenched in his shirt.
Cupping her cheek, he tilted her head back up to look at him. "My Princess, I have loved you since we were little children, and I will love you all the days of my life." He knew the words were true as he spoke them. This was why, when other boys his age were bedding shop girls and chambermaids, he had ignored temptation. There had only ever been Bella in his world. She was everything.
"Believe me, no blow could bring greater pain than being unable to see you. I will not run away, but will bear my lot gladly if it means I may be near you."
She melted against him with a soft cry, tilting her head up she kissed him softly. "I do love you, Edward. I do."
He could live the rest of his life on the strength those words gave him.
For long minutes, he merely held her. All afternoon, his overactive mind had concocted one horrible image after another. It was enough that he could watch her. It was enough that he could protect her.
It had to be.
After a time, Bella sighed. "I must return. If I'm found missing, it will be bad for you." She pulled back, and this time it was her who cupped his face. "What do we do?"
He sighed, kissing her sweetly one last time. "What we must," he said gravely. Taking her hand from his cheek, he kissed her fingertips. "Would that things were different, my princess. There's nothing I wouldn't do for you."
"This is madness," Renee spat, pacing the room. "They seek to rile us."
"Aye, that is true," Aro said calmly. "But as we've naught to hide, there's no reason not to rise to the challenge." His eyes landed on Bella. "Isn't that right, Princess?"
Bella, who had been staring at the floor to that point, looked up and narrowed her eyes at him. "You question my virtue, Uncle?"
"Of course not, child. Your mother is right. The king is attempting to insult us. Should we rise to the bait, he will have reason to call off the betrothal."
"If it will ease his royal highness's mind, I shall submit to the test," Bella said shortly and strode quickly from the room before she could faint, as she very much felt like doing.
The test to prove her chastity was vile. It was, far and away, the most horrendous experience of Bella's young life, and she had been present for her father's death.
She'd never felt so utterly wretched. She had kept her eyes opened, trained and intent on the stained glass windows as the priest examined her. It was a horribly degrading process, and despite the priest's declaration that she was a virtuous girl, Bella had never felt more ashamed.
Unable to stand anyone's touch, she fled from the room as soon as she was able. She only barely had the presence of mind to curtsey to Prince James and his father - she had to pass them, as they were waiting for the priest's word - before she hurried toward her quarters.
"Go away, go away!" she snarled at Alice before she sunk to her knees in her chamber, bursting into tears. She crumpled forward, her hands over her eyes, her forehead touching the cold stone ground.
For a long time, she could do nothing but sob. She had no other way to express her disgust and shame, but when that finally relinquished a fraction of its stranglehold on her, another emotion began to seep in.
She was so furious, she thought she might go right out of her skull with the rage that filled her.
Never in her life had she felt hatred, but God how she knew it then. She hated the King of Nomadia and his son.
Prince James, who had leered at her when she left that horrid room.
Prince James who was to be her husband, who would have dominion over her body.
Even the thought made her feel violated. She had no choice here, none. As terrible and sickening as that thought was, it was made ten times worse because there was someone she would willingly give her virtue. She was not only willing, but since she learned of his feelings over a week before, it was what she most wanted.
Sharing her body with Edward would not fill her with dread. It was not a disgusting thought as imagining James's touch was. It would be an expression of the love they shared, not a duty she would only submit to because God and the church said she must.
She writhed with the injustice of her lot in life. She was a highborn Princess whose every beck and call was answered, and yet she was entirely powerless to stop a fate she would not wish on any enemy.
To marry a man she loathed with everything inside her while the man she truly loved would be forced to watch her walk into the Prince's bedchamber... The thought was unbearable.
"My lady?" Alice's gentle, worried voice interrupted Bella's desperate thoughts. Apparently, Bella had been in hysterics long enough that the girl would risk disobeying an order to see if she was still sane.
Bella straightened only enough to fling her arms around the other girl's neck. Clinging to her like a frightened child to her mother, Bella babbled the whole story - how much she detested her betrothed, the love she'd found with Edward, their stolen kisses - too few and far between - and how much his love would cost him in the end.
"Would that I could lay with him first, him above all others," she murmured, hiccuping now as hysteria gave way to a tired, defeated sadness. "It's not what I want. I would be his forever if fate allowed it, but it would be something."
But if she reached her wedding night without virtue intact, she knew instinctively that the prince would not hesitate to have her executed. Maybe that would be a mercy, but there was still her people, her mother's kingdom, to think about.
"I want so much for him to be the first to touch me."
It took her some time to notice Alice looked uncomfortable.
Sniffling, she nudged her handmaiden and friend. "What is it?"
"I should not tell you," Alice hedged. "If anyone knew I told you..."
"I would die before I betrayed your confidence, Alice. You know that."
"Aye," Alice said slowly. "There is a way for you to lay first with Edward and still reach your marriage bed with maidenhead intact."
"Are you mad?" Edward demanded when he finally understood what Bella was talking about. She'd been babbling and blushing and dancing around the topic.
He regretted the words when they left his mouth. Bella ducked her head, looking as though she wanted to melt into the ground. He was quick to put his arms about her. "Bella, you know there is nothing I wouldn't give to be with you in the way a man should be with his wife. If we were any others but who we are, I would move heaven and earth to provide for you, to be with you. But this..."
"My heart and soul belong to you," she murmured, looking up at him. The shy bashfulness was gone from her eyes, leaving only a steadfast determination. And love, of course. Always love. "It's only right I should want to give of my body." She took his hands, taking a deep breath and standing tall. "You said there was nothing you'd not do for me. If my virtue is pledged to him, this is the only part of me I've left to give."
Edward swallowed thickly. The idea he could touch her, lay with her, made him dizzy with want, but when he'd fantasized of these moments with her, this had not entered his mind.
He'd heard of this act. Emmett and Jasper made crass comments about not wanting the servant girls to get with child, and so taking them elsewise. It seemed unnatural, and yet it wasn't unheard of. The priest might have a thing or two to say, but then he usually did.
Sitting up against their willow tree, he held her in his arms, rubbing his hands up and down her back as he thought.
It was, as Emmett had once pointed out, a loophole. Not only was there no chance to get her with child, but according to the good book, she would still be considered virtuous on her wedding night. Not that the Prince deserved such a gift - Edward believed he would be a goodly, devoted husband like he believed the moon was made of cheese - but Bella's immortal soul would be secure. What they were doing, meeting like this, stealing kisses and cuddles, was dangerous enough without endangering her soul.
Edward didn't delude himself into believing the Prince would be gentle with her. The thought made him unbearably furious. He wanted to rail against the knowledge in his head, that a man so vile would have such control over the woman he loved.
If he could let her know a loving touch, perhaps that would be some consolation.
Exhaling in a gust, he squeezed her tighter, closing his eyes and kissing the top of her head. "If this is what you want, Princess," he whispered against her hair. "I am yours to command."
Taking his hand, she pressed it to her chest over her heart. "And I am yours. Heart and soul, I will always be yours."
For weeks, they'd planned, knowing that to be discovered would mean their deaths.
Tonight was the night.
Bella claimed illness, excusing herself from dinner and the evening she usually spent getting to know her husband-to-be. She did not want to look at him or even think of him tonight. She did not want to dwell on what her life would be like with this boor of a man.
In her chambers, Alice had the bath water heated and perfumed. As Alice helped her get every inch of her skin clean and soft, Bella wondered if she should feel nervous. Far from it, she felt quite sanguine.
She let the warmth of the water soak into her bones, let the sweet perfume and oils chase away any semblance of frustration from the day.
There was no one else, nothing else. Tonight, she would go to Edward. If they had nothing else, they would always have this one night.
As Alice helped her dress and brushed every snarl out of her hair, Bella let the bitterness of that thought fall away leaving only the sweet. When she peered in the looking glass, she was almost startled at how different she looked. Her cheeks were pink, her eyes bright, her skin glowing.
When she was ready, Bella took a moment to hug Alice to her. "Thank you, my friend. For everything."
Alice had calmed her every fear - Bella knew so very little of any kind of relation between a man and woman - and recruited the others to help ensure their getaway for the evening.
"I only wish I could give you more, my lady. Edward is a good man."
"Yes," Bella said on a breath, releasing her friend. She took a deep breath, and then went out into the darkness.
Edward paced the floor of the groundskeeper's house. The old man had gladly given over his dwelling for the night. Most the servants were protective of Bella. Like her father, she had always been kind to them.
Still, the place felt too small, too cold. He wanted to give her a fancy room and a soft mattress. She'd assured him repeatedly she would lay with him in the fields like the peasants at Beltane and be content.
When he answered the soft knock at the door, his every worry faded away. She was all he saw, all he knew, and she was right; it didn't matter where they were. As long as they were together, nothing else mattered.
He pulled her inside quickly so he could stare at his leisure. Her hair fell loose and long down her back. Her shy smile when she looked at him was as lovely as she was, and that was saying something.
Taking her hands, he brought her knuckles to his lips. "You are so beautiful."
Overcome with the need to take care of her, he swept her up into his arms, putting his lips to hers as he carried her into the bedroom. He sat her on the edge of the bed and sat down beside her, his arm around her shoulder and his forehead resting against hers as he caught his breath.
He was nervous.
She touched her fingertip to his chin. "We belong together," she whispered.
It was exactly what he needed to hear. It was the most natural thing in the world for one being to love another. There were so many ways to express love.
What they did together this night was only about that: a physical expression of the love they shared. He loved her so much, it frightened him at times, but it also made him stronger.
He had to laugh a little when she moved her hands to his shirt, tugging upward. "Eager, are we, Princess?"
Even in the soft candlelight, he could see the deep flush of her cheeks, but the smile she gave him was mischievous. "I'm not used to being made to wait."
Standing, he pulled her up with him, his hands going around to the ties on her dress. "My life is but to serve you, my lady," he rumbled as he pulled the strings. The silky fabric fell to her shoulders, and Edward found himself enraptured. It was not so much more skin than he was used to seeing, but it seemed made for him to kiss.
Ducking down, he did just that. Brushing her hair over one shoulder, he kissed from her neck on down. When he nipped and sucked lightly at her collarbone, she whimpered. Her hands rested lightly against his back, but when he moved to push her dress down, her fingers clenched in his shirt.
Just holding her against him, feeling every line, every curve of her body, made him regret he hadn't taken his shirt off to begin with. He wanted to feel her, skin to skin. Closing his eyes, he skimmed his nose at the juncture between her shoulders and her neck, breathing in the sweet scent of bath oils and Bella. He swayed on his feet; just feeling her like this, letting his hands run down the length of her nude body, was enough to do him in if he wasn't careful. He breathed.
As he opened his eyes, he took a step back. He focused his gaze on hers first, checking that she was still there with him. Just the look in her eyes did incredible things to his body. She was right with him. The expression she wore was the perfect manifestation of what he felt: passion, nerves, eagerness, excitement.
The intensity of what he felt for this woman could never be replicated; he had never been more sure of a fact in his life.
Licking his dry lips, he let his eyes drift lower.
Her breasts were small, but he found they were a perfect fit to his palms. They stood like her: proud, firm, and beautiful, and he was fascinated at the way she wiggled, the little noises she made, when he brushed his thumb over her pretty, pink nipple.
"Edward." The way she said his name, like a sigh and plea all at once, was one of the more perfect moments in all his life. She tugged at his shirt, and he managed to let go of her long enough to pull the thing over his head. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulled herself up, her kisses hungry.
Catching up with her, Edward quickly turned from savor to devour. They stepped over the puddle of her dress, and he pushed her back on the bed, quickly moving to cover her with his body. As he'd suspected, the feeling of her pinned under him was a great pleasure in and of itself. The way her fingers ran along the muscles of his back sent thrills through his body.
This was perfect. She was perfect.
She brought her hands between them, her fingers combing through the sparse hair just below his belly button.
When she reached lower, he sat up ever so slightly, swallowing a groan. "Not yet, my love," he said in a strained voice.
Her hands relocated instantly to his back. "Are you well, Edward?"
He had to laugh. "Yes, Princess." He opened his eyes. "I am so much more than well." He lowered his head again, kissing her more slow and sweet this time. "I would like to try something," he mumbled between kisses.
"I trust you," she whispered. She stroked his ears, and he wanted to moan, it felt so good.
Instead, he concentrated on her.
He'd spoken to Emmett and Jasper, wondering if it was true what people said. Sex was not something women were meant to enjoy, but that seemed so off to him. The other two had taken him remarkably seriously. They had a thing or two to say about the existence of female pleasure.
There was some veracity to their claim, he found. He closed his mouth over her nipple, and she gasped, yanking a little on his ear. His questing fingers tickled the skin over her belly, and she writhed. When he worked his hand between her legs, she was incoherent. "Edward. Oh, God. What?" she babbled nonsensically.
Edward had no words for the immense satisfaction he found in giving her this pleasure. He took one more kiss from her before he traced a line down her body with his lips.
"Sweet Mary. Mother of madness," she cried when his mouth closed on her. Her fingers were in his hair, alternately stroking and tugging. "This is... This is..."
He loved the way she tasted. It wasn't so much the flavor of her sex, but the whole sensory range of the experience. That he could have her undone like this made him proud and awed all at once. The noises she made, the tiny whines and the guttural moans were better than any song he'd ever heard. Her scent unearthed something in him that was all animal, and everything in him cried out to possess her.
What he wanted more than anything was to be deep inside her.
Quite suddenly, her thighs clenched around his head and her body bucked beneath his mouth.
"Oh," she said softly. "Oh, oh. Oh!"
Her body quaked.
"Oh, God," she mumbled when her body was still again. Edward sat up on his haunches, and she rolled to the side, hiding her face. "I don't know... I..."
He lay behind her, putting his arm around her and kissing her shoulder. "Shh, love. Everything is fine." He tucked her hair behind her ear so he could kiss her there before speaking. "You are glorious."
She huffed, but his words soothed her. "I did not know..." She trailed off again, and he understood; he didn't have enough words either.
"I love you," he said, kissing her cheek, her neck.
She raised a trembling hand behind her, cupping his cheek, stroking his hair.
Edward was lost for a moment, as he pressed his lips to her shoulder blade, in the fine lines of her back in the candlelight. He hadn't realized she could have this pleasing a shape, hidden as it was behind puffy gowns. His eyes roamed hungrily over her, and he splayed his hand across the small of her back, absurdly obsessed with that small expanse of skin.
Sliding down her body, he kissed her there. Her skin was salty. He drew his tongue down, feeling the way her muscles tensed at whatever sensations she was feeling.
When he rested the pad of his finger against her nether entrance, she froze.
He kissed each of her ass cheeks. "I will stop, Bella. If this is not what you want..."
"This is what I want," she said quickly. "I want you."
"You have me, Princess. You have no idea."
She reached back, her fingers tracing his face, his cheek, before tangling in his hair. "I love you."
"I love you. So much." He walked his fingers up her back and pressed between her shoulder blades, silently directing her. She rolled onto her belly, offering him yet another wonderful view.
He pushed up onto one arm, studying her for a long moment, just wondering - so unfathomably glad she was his to see like this. Again, he felt that stirring in his gut, the feral need to claim her as his own.
Lowering his head, he brushed his tongue along her crack, and she gave a little yelp. He thrust his tongue into her entrance, and she whimpered.
It was a different taste, but again, it was the full experience he appreciated. She wasn't as responsive, though she did seem to enjoy the sensation of his tongue inside her. He used his fingertips to press randomly along her back, her sides.
When she was properly lubricated, he kissed up her body, bringing her onto her side as he nestled himself beside her. Slowly, he dipped one finger, then another inside her.
How incredible it was, feeling the way her muscles tightened around his fingers.
"Am I hurting you?" he asked, taking the shell of her ear between his teeth and biting ever so gently.
"No." Her voice was breathy. "I want..." But rather than tell him, she reached down, tracing his body until she found his cock. He was surprised when she wrapped her hand around him. His instinct was to thrust into her palm.
For a few moments, she felt him hot and hard in her hand, and then she wiggled, making him groan as she adjusted herself so he was lined up with her entrance.
She kept her hand around him, feeling as he slid into her.
Edward had never imagined anything could be so tight, so hot, so absolutely incredible wrapped around his cock. "Christ," he muttered against her shoulder. "Sweet, merciful Christ. Bella."
Her hand moved to cup his ass, pulling him closer.
"Oh," he breathed.
It was all he could do not to thrust, not to give in to his base instinct to bring on his release. As it was, just the feel of her surrounding him was almost too much. "Bella. My Princess. My lady. My love."
She craned her head back, kissing him briefly. "Take me. I am yours."
He groaned and gave in.
Setting a steady pace, he began to move in her. With the newness of this, and all he had already done, he knew he would not last long. He wrapped his arms around her, as though he could completely possess her. His hands were cupped over her breasts, her nipples rolling between his thumb and forefinger, and his lips were at her neck. He murmured sweet things to her, told her again and again how much he loved her.
She'd been right about one thing, he reflected. The profoundness of this act was no less. They were joined, connected, one in those perfect minutes. She was his, and he was hers, and they were bound together in heart, spirit, and body, even if it was only for this night.
When he began to jerk as she had, began to spill into her, she moved her hands to his over her breasts, threading their fingers together as they rode out his orgasm. Spent, he leaned heavily against her, and she played with his fingers, waiting for him to catch his breath.
With a groan, he slipped carefully out of her, rolling her back toward him so he could gather her in his arms. "Bella... I didn't... Are you all right?"
She cupped his face in her hands. "I'm just fine."
"Did I hurt you? Please, tell me the truth."
She eyed him carefully. "It aches," she said quietly. "But no more than I expected." Pulling his face down to hers, she kissed him. It was a slow kiss, very serious and passionate.
Edward quite forgot the dismay that had begun to build in him when she said it had hurt even a little.
"I am fine," she said firmly when she broke their kiss. "Now hold me, for we have precious little time left."
Closing his eyes - he did not want to remember the world outside this beautiful bubble - he tugged her closer. Hooking his leg up over hers, he wrapped her up in a cocoon of his body, wishing with everything in him he would never have to let her go.
"Edward," she murmured some time later, in between deep kisses.
"Hmm?" He was running his finger along her chin.
She took his hands, bringing them down between them so she could play with his fingers. "After I am married... if you will still have me..." Her voice tapered off, but she drew in a deep breath. "If you will still have me, I will still be yours. I don't know how, and I know it's a risk, but..." She looked up, and he saw tears welling in her eyes. "I cannot imagine going the rest of my life without this. Without you."
With tender fingers, he brushed away her tears. "My Bella," he whispered. His heart pounded. He wanted nothing more than to take her so far away from here, from all of this, from the Prince and her duty to her people. It was so dangerous. If she was found to be having an affair, she would be killed. Already they had pressed their luck. To do it for the foreseeable future...
But what if...
What if they could have a semblance of a life together? What if he could have her in his bed again? What if there was a chance the children she would bear would be his?
It wasn't what he wanted for her, for either of them, but given the reality of their lives, it was a more acceptable option than simply letting Prince James have her.
At least she would know love.
He exhaled slowly, forcing down his anger and frustration. He wrapped himself around the love he felt for this woman.
He could do it. For the chance to be with her at all, he could do anything.
"Yes, Bella," was all he said, kissing her soundly. "Yes."
A/N: I am considering continuing this. I do, of course, have more in mind for these two. We'll see how it goes because I have my other fics plus my original fiction to consider. For now, I'm marking it complete. Thanks to all who read and voted during the contest.