By the time we arrive back at the station, the party has well and truly started. People are flooding through the gates to the marquees where the stage is set for a band. Tubs filled with ice and alcohol dot the perimeter. I guide the girls toward one, where Rose reaches for a can.
"DON'T!" I screech at her, scaring the poor girl half to death, "You don't want the VB, or as we call it, Vomit Bitter. It tastes like shit. We don't call it the green death for nothing," I tell her, a smirk forming on my face. "Only the southerners drink it. Us Queenslanders drink Fourex. Trust me, it's much better. Plus, if you've never had it before you'll wake up sick as a dog in the morning." Rose heeds my warning and grabs a Fourex out for each of us.
We wander away from the booze, making our way through the crowd and start to mingle. I love this part of the Ball; most people are sober, well dressed and eager for a good time. I've been to my fair share, and I can normally tell who's going to be the one painting the pavement early on, which sleazebags to stay away from and who's going to be dry-humping who on the dance floor. People tend to lose their inhibitions quickly and easily at these parties. The amount of women who get shitfaced, wearing heels and come a gutser, flashing their goods for the world to see is beyond laughable. Not for the first time on the way to the loos I've got an eyeful of drunks flashing their bits and going at it.
As I look around, I'm really quite impressed with the effort that the organisers have put into this one. There are three marquees, each with fairy lights hanging outside. The dining room is set up with tables and chairs, caterers cooking a pig on a spit and Bain Marie's are keeping an assortment of roast meats and vegetables hot. There are bug zappers hanging on the walls, a well thought out extra to aid in the comfort of the party-goers. There's nothing worse than trying to eat with bugs crawling all over you. It doesn't bother me so much, but I can just imagine Alice running for the hills.
The tent with the stage isn't as large, just an average sized dance floor, but it faces out toward a paddock, which is where most people will end up. Drinking, dancing, talking shit and spilling alcohol over each other. I've missed this, I think to myself with a smile on my face.
The third tent is further away. It's also set up with forty-four gallon drums filled with alcohol. I'm assuming this one is for people to mingle somewhere a little quieter. These balls can get rowdy quickly. For a lot of people, it's one of the only chances for them to let their hair down during the year. They live and work on the land, only heading out to get supplies when needed. These people aren't cow-cockies, or small time farmers. This is their lives, twenty-four-seven. They don't get much opportunity to let their hair down and meet the love of their lives.
We walk around the tents for a while, engaging in polite conversation with a few people. Finishing our drinks, we head to the tent with the band playing, keen on having a dance or two before dinner. There's a plentiful amount of good looking country boys, all willing to keep us entertained.
Leaving the dance floor to grab another drink, I'm greeted by a smooth velvety voice from behind.
"So, do you come here often?" I roll my eyes, thinking how tacky can this guy get? I'm not one for cheesy pick up lines, at all. It's a sure way to get shot down without a second thought. Rose and Alice are giggling beside me, waiting to see me dump the poor soul on his ass. I take a sip of my beer as I turn, and almost spit it back out when I see who it is. Instead it goes down the wrong pipe and I start gagging. Moving to pat me on the back, he starts apologising profusely.
"I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to scare you like that." Once he's sure I'm ok, he starts talking again. "I'm Edward, Edward Cullen. I was starting to wonder if I'd ever see you again. I've been looking for you everywhere."
"Oh, well, here I am." I stutter like some moron. I pull myself together and hold out my hand. "Bella Swan, and these are my friends Rosalie Hale and Alice Brandon. They're here on work exchange from the States. I thought I'd give them a taste of country life." I tell him with a laugh, before we're interrupted by a loud commotion.
"Yo, Wardo, get your ass over here. Ma's looking for us." The monkey man that Alice was referring to earlier in the day is calling out. Edward sighs in frustration, running his hand through his hair.
"That's Emmett, my brother. I better go. Please don't leave, it took me forever to find you. Stay in this tent?" He asks, waiting for me to answer.
"Hurry up, ya Ranga, Ma's waiting." Emmett bellows. With a nod of agreement from me, he leaves.
"I'm not a fucking Ranga, you moron! My hair's bronze, not red." He catches up to Emmett quickly, and in one swift motion has his neck engulfed in a headlock. "Keep going and I'll knock ya block off." Both boys are similar in height, and even though Edward's muscled up, Emmett's built like a brick shithouse.
"Oi, you boys, there'll be no blu'in' in here, else I'll knock both your blocks off! Hurry up, we've got shit to do." The no nonsense voice comes from Esme. She looks beautiful, dressed in a 1950s style emerald green cocktail dress with black cowboy boots. The combination sounds odd, but looks perfect. It's only now seeing her with her boys that I notice the resemblance. Edward has her hair colour, but Emmett's inherited her piercing blue eyes.
"Oh girls, hello. Sorry I didn't see you. I just need my boys for a few minutes, then you can have them back. I will catch up with you a little later." With a wave of her hand, she's gone as quick as she arrived.
Watching them walk away, I finally process what just happened. Edward said he was looking for me. Little butterflies start in the pit of my stomach. I need to control myself and not let my inner schoolgirl release squeals of delight.
He looks just as fine tonight as he did earlier today. His long legs are covered in a pair of black moleskin jeans, RM Williams dress boots on his feet. A white button up dress shirt rolled up to his elbows display his forearms, the first couple of shirt buttons undone give a peek of a toned, tanned chest. An Akubra hat keeps his wayward strands of bronze hair under control. He hasn't shaved, and that just entices me more to want to lick his neck and jaw. Geez, I've spoken to the bloke for five minutes and already I'm thinking of molesting him.
I direct my attention back to my girls, and they're both looking at me with goofy grins.
"Girl, you are so gone," Rose informs me, while Alice is nodding beside her.
Rolling my eyes, I answer, "Yeah, what the fuck ever, you crazy cows. We're here for a good time. You don't expect to meet your future husbands at these things. It's a weekend of letting your hair down, enjoying yourself and then back to reality on Monday. Let loose and enjoy it while you're here." I finish skulling the last of my beer and head to the dance floor.
I don't know why I got so defensive with them. Maybe what I said is exactly what this is, just a few hours of good fun, then you're hit with the real world. The thought of not seeing Edward ever again makes me sick in the stomach.
"Hey Bella," I whirl around to face Rosalie and Alice. "We didn't mean to upset you. It's just you seem to have some sort of cosmic connection. It's like Cupid's taken a direct aim at both of you." Rose is not the philosophical type, so this coming from her has caught me off guard.
I sigh. "I...I just miss this you know? All of it. I didn't realise how much until we were driving out here. It was different while I was at Uni. Mum and Dad still had the farm, and I could always go home. The country grounds me, makes me feel whole. Sounds stupid, I know. But it's the way I am, it's in my blood. It's why I can't get attached, because I'll just feel like shit leaving again." I'm suddenly engulfed in hugs.
"C'mon, let's go dance." I say, tugging their hands back to the dance floor. It's getting more packed by the minute. We dance to a few upbeat country songs. Realising the sun is sitting lower in the sky, I grab the girls hands and drag them out of the tent.
"What...what the hell is going on Bella? You've run out of there like your ass is on fire." Alice is laughing at her wit, thinking she's clever. Ignoring her, I start walking them toward the ute.
"We're going to watch the sunset, if I can get the ute out. You can't come all this way and not see an outback sunset." We're halfway to the carpark when I hear my name.
"Bella, wait up!" I hear Edward's voice calling behind me. I see him jog up to me, hat in hand and hair flying in the warm afternoon breeze.
"Hey, you're not trying to run away from me, are you?" He asks as he approaches us.
"Oh no, not at all. I just wanted to take the girls to see the sunset, but I don't think I can get the ute out. Is there anywhere you can suggest we go in walking distance?" I'm feeling a bit deflated, thinking the girls are going to miss out on this amazing experience.
"Yeah better off leaving your car there, else you might lose your spot. Not that you'll need it," he says, mouth lifting in a slight smirk. "Let me grab Em and Jay, I have the perfect place to take you." By now a wide smile is gracing his face. Pulling out his mobile, he makes a call to I'm assuming his brothers.
"Okay, ladies, do you feel up to a ride?" We're all nodding, even though we're not sure what he has in mind.
"Follow me, we'll go get the bikes."
"Bikes?" Alice screeches, "I'm not getting on any darn bike in this dress." She's pouting and tapping her foot, expecting us to decline the offer.
"Alice," Edwards says kindly, "they're quad bikes. Very safe and we'll make sure they're clean enough for you to sit on. Bella really wants you to see the sunset. Honestly, you won't see anything like it anywhere in the world. And especially from where we'll take you to. Please?" Oh Lordy, he's pouting and fluttering his eyelashes at her. There's no way in the world she's going to say no to that.
As expected, she agrees. Edward leads us to a shed where Emmett and another tall, good looking, cowboy is standing. I recognise him from the round yard earlier, and from his features I gather that he's related to Edward in some way.
"Bella, Rosalie, Alice. I'd like you to meet my brothers, Emmett and Jasper. Also known as Em and Jay, or Tweedledee and Tweedledum." Uproars of laughter drift into the air as handshakes are exchanged. It's obvious the siblings have a good relationship.
"Let's get this show on the road. Jay are the bikes ready to go?"
"Yep, all fuelled up and cleaned off. Ladies, your chariots await," Jay says with a dramatic sweep of his arm. He approaches Alice and holds out his arm, in true gentlemanly style. Emmett assists Rose onto the other quad.
"Ok, Miss Swan. You're stuck with me, so you better hang on tight," he quips.
"So where are we going?" I ask as the wind whips hair around my face. I snuggle closer into Edwards back, on the pretence of hearing him better, but really I just want to take a big whiff of his manliness. Oh geez, he is all man. I find it hard to concentrate on what he's saying while I'm so close to him, but there's no way I'm moving now. Being thrown from a bike isn't a good way to enjoy a B and S.
"Promise you won't laugh?" he asks, lightness in his tone.
I'm wondering what on earth could be funny about where we're going, but I nod anyway, knowing he can feel my movements against his back.
"It's called The Knob." Now I can feel his chuckles resonating through his back. I can't help but stifle my own laughter, as he continues, "it's not far. See that small mountain up ahead? That's it. Has the most incredible view of the west you'll see."
Another ten minutes on the back of the quad sees us reach the peak. Edward is right, the view is amazing.
We alight from the bikes, take a moment to steady ourselves and take in the landscape. There's not anything like this in the world. Nothing to be seen for kilometres but dirt, trees and the river systems that run through the Channel Country.
We sit, side by side on the ridge, nothing but silence and the beauty of the country surrounding us. We watch, captivated by the spectacular outback sunset, resplendent in its kaleidoscope of colours. Sunburnt oranges, deep reds and blazing yellows burst into the atmosphere, changing the clouds from their usual white wisps into an explosion of colour.
"C'mon, let's head back. Mum'll have our hides for taking off without telling her. We've got to be back in time for the raffles and her speech." All three boys groan, and I wonder why.
As the afterglow of the day settles on the horizon, we head back to the Ball.
Dismounting the bikes, we enter the tent that houses the stage. Esme is all aflutter, directing people here and there when she sees us all walk in.
"Oh thank God! I was wondering where you'd run off to. Thought you were skipping out on me. Ten minutes, then I expect to see all your asses up on this stage. It's about time you used your good looks for something." Chuckling, she wanders off.
"Ummm...Bella, did you happen to enter the raffle at all?" I look at him in confusion, wondering what the heck he's talking about.
"Noooo..." I draw out, waiting for him to explain.
"Oh shit." He's looking around the room in a panic, searching for something. Hands are in his hair, nearly tearing it out from the roots.
Two long fingers positioned in either side of his mouth, he lets out an ear piercing whistle, so loud it's heard over the din in the marquee.
"Oi, Ben, I need your help." He's gesturing toward a group of guys. A tall, lanky man saunters toward us, keen to see what Edward wants. Excusing himself, he speaks to the man for a few minutes.
"Thanks mate, your blood's worth bottlin'," I hear the tail end of their conversation. He claps Ben on the back, then make his way toward me.
"Sorry, Bella, had some urgent business I forgot about. Ben's got it all under control for me. He's one of the station hands here. Would you like another drink?" With a nod, we both wander toward the drums of alcohol. My eyes search the area, seeking out Alice and Rose. I'm relieved to see them both in deep conversation with Em and Jay. I seem to forget about everything around me when I'm with Edward. I chastise myself and resolve to make a better effort to make sure they enjoy the night. Drinks in hand, we head over to join the conversation. It seems the boys are quite taken with my American friends. Mesmerised not only by their accents, but the girls attractiveness also.
"Uh oh, Ed, don't look now but here comes the village bike." I burst into laughter at Em's description of the painted up floozy heading our way. Her makeup is so thick, she'll need a hammer and chisel to get it off. The sparkly thing she's wearing that's supposed to be a top barely covers her boobs, and her skirt would be better worn as a belt. The six inch heels on her feet are a recipe for disaster, and I'll be surprised if she doesn't come a cropper by the end of the night.
"She's gonna make a move," Jay warns, "she's lookin' pretty flash tonight, Ed." His brothers burst into a chorus of raucous laughter.
"Yeah well she's got Buckley's. The woman's mad as a cut snake,." Edward says, before trying to shield himself behind me. Nice try, but he's a good foot taller than me. I think she'll see him. It's rather obvious she has a thing for my boy, but tonight she'll have to get through me.
They say timing is everything, as the tapping of a microphone draws everyone's attention to the stage and away from that moll. Esme is standing there, mic in hand with an extremely handsome man next to her. This has to be the boys' father. The similarity is striking, in fact he could be a dead ringer for Edward if he was thirty years younger, and with the same coloured hair.
"Thank you everyone for joining us tonight here at the Woodcroft Station, Funny Buggers and Crazy Cows B and S Ball."
Cheering, yelling and yahoos fill the air.
"That's Carlisle, my dad. And you've met my mum, Esme." I nod to acknowledge I've heard and continue listening. It's hard to concentrate though, when Edward's breathy voice is directly at my ear. He's so close I can feel the body heat radiating from him. It would be easy for me to wrap my arm around his waist, stand on tip toes and kiss him. But I don't. He's obviously shown some interest in me, but I don't really know what he wants. Just a one-night thing, or something more? I'd jump off the Harbour Bridge if he told me to, the connection is that strong. I chastise myself for to getting worked up over it, and decide just to enjoy the night.
Edward's dad starts emcee'ing the raffles. I was so caught up in getting the girls to see the sunset, I didn't even think about buying tickets. I'd make a donation as the Royal Flying Doctors Service is a very worthwhile cause. They not only service the Outback's need for emergency medical assistance, they also carry out essential health care clinics for those in remote and regional areas. I know firsthand the services they provide, they worked on my brother years ago. He had a nasty fall at a rodeo, with several broken bones and internal injuries. It was the RFDS who flew in to stabilise and transport him to the nearest major hospital. It was a scary time for us all.
A soft touch to the side of my face brings me back to the present. "Hey, where did you go?" Edwards asks with concern, deep green eyes peering down into my own.
"Nowhere. I got lost in my own head for a sec." He's smiling softly at me, and I could melt into a pile of goo.
"Now the last item we have on tonight's agenda is the three silent auctions. The highest bidder of each wins dinner and first dance with one of my boys. Emmett, Edward and Jasper, can you all make your way up here." Esme calls to them sweetly, but she has a wicked gleam in her eye. Edward tenses and glances briefly in my direction. I raise my eyebrow in question, but he squeezes my hand and makes his way to the stage.
All three boys are on display, hands in their pockets and shuffling nervously. There must be five hundred people here, no wonder they're looking all kinds of uncomfortable. I'm really disappointed that I didn't get a chance to put in a bid, and it looks like I'll be losing Edward for a few hours. There's nothing I can do, and it's for a really good cause, so I suck it up and prepare to hang with my girls for a while.
"Ok, who'd like to go first?" Carlisle asks. Edward takes a step forward, huge grin on his face. He's obviously not too upset about spending half the night with some random person. I feel like I've been kicked in the guts. I tell Alice and Rose that I'm going to get some air. I can't stand here and watch this, even if they can. I fight to make my way through the crowds, frustrated that I can't get through any quicker.
I hear Carlisle's voice come through the speaker again. His voice sounds muffled, like he's talking under water. I don't want to know, I don't want to hear her name. My head starts to spin, like I can't get enough air in my lungs.
"Bella Swan. Does anyone know where Bella is?" It's Carlisle, but I don't know why he's calling my name. I feel someone grab me by the arm and guide me toward the stage. This is all very surreal. Next thing I know, I'm standing there with Edward, his arm wrapped around my waist.
"So again, the winner of the first auction, a dinner date with Edward, is Bella Swan with a bid of twenty thousand dollars!" Carlisle exclaims. What the fuck? How did I just blow twenty grand? Turning to Edward, I look at him in confusion. He's behind it, the smug prick, the smirk says it all.
"Just roll with it, B. I'll explain it all later," he reassures me. Hell yeah he'll have some explaining to do. The next two auctions were won by Rose and Alice, both with the same monetary donations. I was glad to see that the girls had the same gobsmacked expressions on their faces that I initially wore. I'll let Em and Jay deal with their wrath.
The formalities of the night are over, and we all move to the dining marquee. A small decorated table has been set aside in a secluded part of the room for us. For everyone else it's self serve, but we're being served our meals. Twenty thousand dollars well spent, I snigger to myself.
We start on our meals, when I can't take it anymore. I drop my fork on the plate and look directly at Edward. I say one word to him, "Spill."
He takes a deep breath, wipes his mouth with a napkin, then takes one of my hands in his large one. He's rubbing soothing circles over my knuckles. I can't be mad at him, there's no way I could, not with his eyes begging for understanding.
"Mum comes up with all these inventive ways to raise money. She's a member of many fundraising groups and the RFDS happens to be one close to her heart. So this year, not only hosting the ball she asked us boys if we'd be involved also. We all agreed, no questions asked. As you can tell, we're all Mummy's boys," he says with a slight chuckle. "So, initially there was no issue with doing it, I'll do what I can to help a good cause. Until today. From the moment I saw you at the yard, you've captivated me, Bella. I can't think of anything but you. So of course I'd totally forgotten about the auction, and when you said you hadn't bid, well, I just couldn't imagine spending less time with you than I'll already get. So I called Ben over and had him make those bids on behalf of all of you." He's looking at me sheepishly from underneath his lashes.
"Wow...umm ok, that's just...wow." I'm at a loss for words. He's just laid his cards on the table and all I can say is wow? I take a moment to collect my thoughts. I know what I have to say, but I'm not overly comfortable talking about it.
"I really, really appreciate you doing that for me, for us, Edward. But I sort of have a little problem. I'm what you'd call asset rich and cash poor." I'm so embarrassed having to tell him this. In my line of work I'd be expected to have a nice little cash nest egg tucked away, but I don't.
"Ah, shit!" Edward exclaims, "I'm fucking this up royally. I meant that I made the donation on your behalf, you don't have to pay anything Bella—"
"But—" I try to cut him off, but he's not having it.
"No, you see we all make a sizeable donation each year to a charity of our choice. This year it's the RFDS, so the twenty thousand that we would normally bestow each, has just come in a different way, is all. Plus, it's tax deductible." He says with a wink. "You don't have to worry about us with money, you'll never have to worry, okay?" Squeezing my hand tighter, he waits for me to respond.
"Okay, and thank you, Edward. This was a very sweet thing to do."
His smile is blinding. "The pleasure has been all mine, my beautiful Bella."
We continue our meals in comfortable conversation, finding out more about each others lives. He regales me with tales of mischief that the boys have been up to, whilst I tell him about living in the city, and my friendship with the girls. We've been so engrossed in each other, that we didn't realise the dining tent had cleared out. He grabs my hand, lifting me out of my seat.
"Bella, thank you for the wonderful company. I would love to kiss you. Would that be okay?" Seeing my nod of consent, he lowers his face slowly to mine. I inhale deeply a scent that is all Edward. And now I get to see what he tastes like too. His lips are soft, totally not what I expected. I thought they would be dry, chapped from the long hours in the sun.
The kiss is slow, sensual and he's setting my body on fire just by kissing me. Oh boy, am I in trouble. He breaks away, licking his lips slowly while looking at me.
"I think that was the best part of dinner." His cocky smirk is back. It was definitely the best part. Grabbing my hand once again he drags me out of the tent. "C'mon, let's go dance."
We find Em, Rose, Jay and Alice dancing in a group.
"We wondered when you were going to join us," Rose says, the smugness in her voice evident. Yeah, she knows I'll jump Edward the first chance I get.
We drink, we dance, we have a good time. Getting Edward's attention, I let him know I need to find the loos, and make my way out of the tent. The line for the port-a-loos is a mile long, and I seriously consider squatting somewhere. Wouldn't be the first time and certainly won't be the last. Finally, a woman falls out of one of the stalls, only to stagger to outside and chunder at my feet. The sight makes me gag, so I hurry, do my business and get the hell out of there.
I'm busy examining my boots, making sure there's no spew on them when someone grabs my arm at the door.
"Hey little lady, where ya goin'?" The man slurs. He's quite obviously tanked, clothes disheveled and he reeks of alcohol. I try to sidestep him, pulling out of his grasp at the same time. He loosens his hold, but then grabs at me again, his hold twice as hard. I can feel his fingertips digging into my skin.
"Let go of me. I'm going to find my friends," I tell him in a loud, firm voice.
"Now don't be like that, if you come with me I can show you a better time." His lip now lifted into a sneer. I guess he doesn't like being told no for an answer.
"Listen here, pin dick. I just told you to let go of me. If you don't everyone in the vicinity is going to know what you're trying to do." The forcefulness of my voice belies the nervousness in my stomach. To anyone on the outside this would just look like a normal lovers tiff.
"Oh, you really shouldn't have said that. Bet you haven't seen one as big as mine. Come with me an' I'll show ya what you're missing." Spit is flying out of his mouth, and I can barely understand what he's saying. Barely standing, he's teetering like he's about to fall. If the drunkard did collapse, I'd kick him while he was down, but he still has an iron grip on my arm. I have no doubt there'd be bruising tomorrow.
"I've already said no, and I mean no. Now let go." All of a sudden I'm wrenched away from him and wrapped safely in Edward's arms. Emmett grabs the man by the scruff of the neck and pushes him against the side of the tent.
"Are you okay, baby, what's going on?" Edward's concern is clear on his face.
"I was just heading back inside, when this cocksucker decided he wanted me to look at the size of his dick. He's lucky you're here. I was just about to knee him in the nads."
Edward is suddenly in front of him, hands around his throat and standing nose to nose . The anger rolling off him is evident, and I'm scared of what he's about to do. His other hand is clenched at his side, curled into a fist like he's ready to pound him.
"You ever, and I mean ever, lay a hand on my girlfriend ever again, you piece of shit, you won't live to see the next day. Go sleep the booze off, then pack your bags and you're gone in the morning. Everyone was warned to be sensible tonight, and you've done the opposite. I'll let Mum know and she'll have your termination cheque in the morning. Now get out of my sight, before I flog ya one."
He shoves him to the side, before pulling me into his embrace again. Placing both hands on either side of my face, he says, "B, I'm so so sorry. I should have checked on you earlier. I got worried when you took so long. Hunter is one of our employees, but he'll be sacked in the morning. Mum and Dad don't condone this behaviour at all, and everyone was warned beforehand that if there was any transgressions they would be fired." He's livid.
"Umm... I also have to apologise...about the whole girlfriend thing. It sort of, just came out," he says, his cheeks pinking in embarrassment.
"Hey, it's fine...more than fine actually," I tell him, a wide smile gracing my face.
"So, you'll be my girlfriend?" He's like an excited little boy.
"Of course I will. Now let's get back to the others." We link hands, and head into the marquee.
"I was coming to find you too, we have a surprise guest tonight." He's standing behind me, arms wrapped around my waist, facing me toward the stage. The lights on the platform brighten, the smooth country sound of Lee Kernaghan fills the area, singing Boys from the Bush.
I'm practically bouncing out of my boots, singing and dancing along to the song. Edward is laughing behind me, trying to keep up. I've been a big Lee Kernaghan fan for a long time; seeing him play tonight is the icing on the cake.
"Now we have a special performance here tonight. Is there a Bella Swan out there?" I hear Lee say from the stage. I can see him looking out into the crowd, hand covering his eyes as he tries to peer over the lights. I'm totally confused as to why he'd be looking for me, for a performance of all things, before it clicks into place. Those bitches have set me up, and I'll be paying them back when they least expect it. I can't believe they'd throw me to the lions like this. I'm trying to hide my face in
Edward's chest, but he's prying me away from his body.
"Bella...Bella...Bella..." The crowd is chanting, Edward and the girls are forcing me toward the stage. I don't think I've ever been so mortified in my life. I can feel my face heating to a fiery shade of red. I'm still saying 'no' by the time I'm pushed up on the stage.
Lee helps me up onto the stage and I'm sure I'm about to pass out.
"Hi, Bella," he says, and kisses me briefly on the cheek. I mutter a stifled 'Hi' back.
"Now, I understand that you have a small talent, and your girlfriends have dobbed you in tonight to come perform for us, is that right?"
Oh God! I'm going to kill them!
"I'm so embarrassed." I shake my head, still not believing they've done this to me.
"Nothing to be embarrassed about, Bella. Let us know when you're ready to go." There's no way I can back out of this now, so I give it my best shot. I can see the fiddler from the corner of my eye, ready to go. I give the nod, waiting for the familiar guitar strum.
I start to sing, strong and loud to "The Devil Went Down To Georgia." I wasn't even born when the song came out, but it's one of Dad's favourite songs and he taught me the words when I was very young. I happened to treat the girls to my rendition on the way here. They loved it so much that they made me sing it at least a half a dozen times.
I come to the last verse of the song, and the crowd cheers, singing along also...
The devil bowed his head because he knew that he'd been beat.
He laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny's feet.
Johnny said: "Devil just come on back if you ever want to try again.
"cause I told you once, you son of a bitch, I'm the best there's ever been."
I sing the last chorus, thankful that it's over with. Lee thanks me, and I can't get off the stage quick enough. If only I could kill these girls that are supposed to be my friends with one look, they'd be dead by now. Edward meets me at the side and scoops me up, kissing me with such abandon, the yobbos around us are yelling and making crude comments.
Dragging me back through the crowd, and into the cool night air, he turns me in his arms so my chest is flush against his. Looking deep into my eyes, he asks if I'm ready to leave.
"Umm...I'm really not sure I should be leaving the girls. I mean, they've never been to one of these before. And the night is still early."
He kisses my concerns away, then assures me, "They'll be fine, B. I can vouch for my brothers. They're good blokes. I've already spoken to Em and Jay, and they've promised to look after them tonight. And if the girls are lucky, they may even show them a bit of Aussie beef," he says with a wink and a laugh. My mouth drops, gobsmacked by what he's just said.
"Edward!" I exclaim, punching him in his hard bicep.
"It's ok, baby. My sausage is much bigger than theirs. Nice, long and thick."
Oh, so Edward Cullen wants to play hey? He's in for a bit of his own medicine.
"Well, Mr Cullen," I say, taking small steps around him, trailing his waist with my hand. I stop behind him, while I take a good look at his ass. And a mighty fine ass it is if I do say so myself. I continue walking around and stop in front of him again. I run my hand slowly down his shirt, over his belt buckle and down the fly of his jeans. With a force that even shocks myself, I grab his crotch, causing him to let out a gasp. I can feel him growing underneath my hold. "You better live up to my expectations, else I'm taking this sausage back to the butcher."
A look of horror crosses his face, before that cheeky smirk takes over. "Oh, Miss Swan, I can absolutely guarantee, that this sausage will more than exceed your expectations. You're never gonna want another sausage again after you've had mine."
Struggling to hold back my chuckles, I lead him on the short walk to where the ute is.
"Nice ute." He acknowledges the beast parked in front of us.
"A yeah, it's my brother's baby. Nearly had to steal it out from under his nose, he's so attached." I reply. "Just let me grab my swag and coat, I'll be ready to go.
"Don't worry about your swag, I have a double. Just bring anything else you may want. I'll just run grab my stuff, I'll meet you back here okay?" With a brief kiss on the lips he's gone.
I rifle through the back of the ute, grabbing my necessities. I put together a small bag of clothes, the billy, some coffee, milk and sugar, and my toiletry bag. I've no idea where he's taking me, but I can't wait to go. Not ten minutes later he pulls up in front of me in a small ute. Jumping out, he throws my stuff in the back before helping me in the car.
"So, you wanna head back to The Knob? One of the best places around here for sleeping under the stars. We may even see the Min Min lights."
"Absolutely. Sounds good to me." I'm looking forward to camping out. It's been a long time since I've been. There aren't a lot of opportunities for camping in the city.
Edward starts the car, turning some country music on low as we make the trek back up the mountain. It may not be far away, but once we're at the top it feels like we're a million miles from nowhere.
"B, I'll get a fire going, if you want to organise the swag and blankets?" Edward's already starting to collect the kindling. I stop just to watch him for a bit. He's perfect, a down to earth country boy; the kind of guy I've been searching for my whole life. I've dated in the city, but no-one's ever come close to eliciting the feelings that Edward has stirred within me, in just a few hours. He may have asked me to be his girlfriend, but what does that mean, a long distance relationship? I guess we have a few issues to iron out. Who knows, he may even change his mind in the morning.
By the time I've made us a comfortable bed, Edward has a roaring fire going. Sparks and embers drift off into the night sky as the familiar campfire smell envelopes me. This feels like home. He smiles at me, holding out his hand, "Can I have this dance, please Miss Bella?" How can I say no to those wholesome country boy manners.
Taking my hand, he leads me toward the campfire. The crackling of the fire and the music coming from the open windows of the ute are the only sounds heard in the still night air.
"I've waited all night to get you alone. In fact, since the moment I saw you. You're mine now, Bella, no one else's." His forehead is resting against my own, and he softly starts to sing along to the song on the radio.
"There's a new wind blowin' like I've never known
I'm breathin' deeper than I've ever done
And it sure feels good, to finally feel the way I do
Now, I wanna love somebody
Love somebody like you"
I'm officially a pile of mush. Being serenaded by Edward, to that Keith Urban song, has ruined me for any other man. This, whatever it is, is happening so fast, but it feels so right. His hands are making slow circles over my back, moving lower with each pass. Finally he's reached my ass, and he stops there.
"What, no undies, B? Did we have an agenda for tonight?" He's trying to keep a straight face.
"No, you bugger, it's a g-string. But now I guess you'll never see it." I try prying myself away from his grip, but he's not letting me go.
"Oh no you don't, I'll definitely be seeing more than that tonight. And I know you want to see more too, don't try to deny it." The cocky smirk is back in full force.
"How about we get comfy and talk for a while?" He leads me to the swag, sitting me on the ground and placing his long legs around mine, pulling me back against his torso. I'm feeling very safe and wanted, laying in his embrace.
"So, give me the Bella Swan story," Edward says, pulling me tighter into his hold.
"Hmmm, well, I'm Isabella Marie Swan, twenty-seven years old. I have an older brother, Michael, or Mick as everyone calls him. I grew up on a station near Longreach, but after finishing high school I took a gap year and Jillaroo'd in the Northern Territory for twelve months. I came back to Rocky and spent three years doing my Graduate Diploma then Masters in Financial Management. I was then offered the opportunity of a lifetime with Pricewaterhousecoopers. The rest, as they say, is history." Edward moves his torso so quickly to see my face he surprises me.
"Hang on, you have a brother, Mick?" Curiosity on his face, "Mick Swan? Who used to ride the rodeo circuit?" I nod, confirming his thoughts.
"Holy crap. You're Bloody Mick's sister! I was there the day he had his accident. How's he doin', B?"
I'm shocked that Edward knows Mick, and even more so he was there that day. "Good, he's really good. He recovered well, walks with a bit of a limp, and his leg plays up every now and then with the weather, but otherwise he's doing well."
"I can't believe you know my brother. It's such a small world, hey?" I'm still marvelling at the odds of them knowing each other, when Edward moves back behind me.
"Mmmhmm..." he nods, while trailing hot kisses up and down my neck. "You'll probably find my mum knows yours through the CWA too, if she was fundraising in Longreach." His hands are tracing patterns on the outside of my thighs.
"Hmmm...probably." Now I'm at a loss for words, and not from his mother possibly knowing mine.
Kisses cover my back, neck, ears and jaw. Wherever he can reach from his position. A large hand reaches around to grasp my jaw, turning my head sideways so our mouths can meet. Our kisses are hot...wet...needy. Tongues mingle together in a dance of wills, testing and teasing, seeing who will hold the upper hand.
I pull away, needing air. Holy shit, I'm gonna be riding this cowboy very soon. There's no turning back now.
"Edward, I need you. Now!" I don't need to say anything more. He's on his feet, pulling me to mine and dragging me in for another scorching kiss. He grabs the hem of my dress and pulls it over my head, leaving me stand there in my g-string and cowboy boots.
"Holy fuck, B. That's the hottest thing I've ever seen. You trying to kill me?" He pounces on me without letting me reply. Hands and lips are everyone at once, like he can't get enough.
I pull the shirt out of his pants, moving my hands to his belt buckle. I can't say I'm not concerned when I feel his erection directly underneath, he's obviously well endowed. The darn belt won't undo quick enough, so he moves to help, while his tongue is still tangling with mine. Pulling his jeans and boxers down in one swift move, he bursts out laughing, realising we're both standing there mostly naked, except for our boots. I kneel in front of him, taking each shoe off then helping him with the rest of his clothes. I'm face to face with the monster, but before I have a chance to do or say anything he helps me to my feet, then kneels to do the same for me.
Ever so slowly he slides my g-string down my legs. I hear him inhale as he does, while his hands inch their way up my body.
"Bella, you are fucking gorgeous. I am so lucky you're mine." He's looking me straight in the eyes, and I can't look away.
Without warning, he grabs my right leg, hitching it over his shoulder and opening myself up to him. Trailing nips and pecks up and down the inside of my thighs, I think I'm about to spontaneously combust. His fingers slip between my wet folds, light touches teasing. His tongue suddenly replaces them, as his long fingers slide easily inside. I think I've just taken the shortcut to heaven.
With his tongue working my clit, and his fingers curled up inside, pumping at a constant pace, it doesn't take long for me to fall over the edge. Just as my knees give way, he catches me, and lays down with me. Slow, languid kisses soon match the pace of our wandering hands. Seeking, searching, learning each and every contour of each others bodies.
"Edward, I need you, inside." I gasp, ready for us to take the next step. He starts to move away, but I pull him back to me. "No, no condoms, if you're clean. I am, and I'm on the pill."
"I'm clean, never done this without one. But, Bella, are you sure? I don't mind."
Nodding, I pull him on top of me. "I'm...I'm just a bit worried—" Looking down, I hope he understands what I'm trying to say, without saying it out loud.
"It'll be ok, B. I promise, I'll go slow." His muscular body covers mine, as he peppers my face, neck and body with kisses.
As he promised, he takes him time, making sure I'm ready for him. He rubs the head of his cock through my slickness, then up to my clit and back down again, over and over. I'm so worked up that I refrain from flipping him off me and just impaling myself. I know that could only end in disaster though. It's not so much the length I'm concerned about, but the width as well.
Inch by torturously slow inch, he stretches me, waiting for my body to accommodate him.
Holding my face between his hands, he asks, "Do you feel it Bella? This, this is not just bodies joining, this is our hearts entwining, our souls melding together, our minds synchronising. This is our destiny. You are my future. You are my One. I love you Bella. I don't want to scare you, but we Cullen men fall hard, we fall fast, we fall forever."
His body covers mine, his arms tucked under my shoulders, his hands stroking my face gently. Our foreheads are touching, breaths shuddering. "I do, I feel it. I don't understand it, how it's happening so quickly, but I feel it. And I love you too."
He starts, a maddeningly slow pace, thrusting, twisting his hips, ensuring I am gaining the most pleasure possible from our joining. We don't move positions, right now this is enough for us, the closest to each other we can possibly be. It's not long before the intenseness of my orgasm takes over my body, dragging him along with me.
We lay encased in each others arms, staring at the twinkling stars in the inky night sky.
"Bella, do you believe in fate?" I ponder his question for a minute before answering.
"Yeah, I do. I mean, I believe it's predestination that we're here together now. Who knows how many times in the past years we would have crossed paths, and we didn't even know it."
"This is our destiny, B. I'm sure of it. We're meant to be together. No matter what stands in our way, we'll always have each other." He kisses the top of my head, before we both fall into a deep, restful sleep.
The brightness of a new day invades my peaceful slumber. I roll, seeking out the warmth of Edward's body, but his side is cold. We've slept under the stars all night, not using the swag, just the blankets and pillows. I bury my face in his pillow, breathing deeply in his scent and a huge smile grows on my face. I hear a low chuckle nearby, and I jump at the sound.
"Good morning, sleepy. Thought I'd get some coffee going. How do you like it?" Oh God, I can't even answer him. He's sitting on a log at the campfire, dressed only in his low slung jeans that aren't done up. His bare chest is glistening in the sunshine, making we want to attack him again. After the first time last night, we drifted off before making love again in the early hours of the morning.
Shaking myself from my reverie, I tell him my preference before looking around for my clothes.
"Oh, I've got your bag with your clothes in here. Just in case the others turned up, you know," he says with a wink as he hands it to me.
We drink our coffees in between small talk, touching and kissing. I don't think I'll ever get enough of this man, and it seems like he's on the same page.
"So, I was thinking this morning, we could head back home, have a nice shower and some brekky. Then there's someplace that I want to show you." Excitement is written all over his face. Wherever this is, it must be somewhere special.
"Sounds great, but I don't want to impose on Esme for a shower. She's been so busy the last thing she'll want is a stranger traipsing through her house."
"First of all, B, you're not a stranger. You're going to be around for a very long time, so they'll have to get used to it." A huge grin plasters his face with that comment. "Secondly, I don't live in the homestead. I live in one of the workers' cottages. It's plenty big enough for me, and it has an awesome shower."
"Well, how can I say no to that then?" I'm up and packing before he has a chance to say anything else. We work quietly side by side, packing the ute and making sure the fire is out.
Wisely, we decide to shower separately. Otherwise, it is very likely we would never leave the cottage. Edward is right, the cottage is small, basically a larger size open plan room. There's a bathroom and toilet in one corner, that has the only door in the whole place. The rest of the room is open, with a lounge, bedroom and kitchenette all in one. The best part about the cottage, Edward's bed. It's a four-poster canopy bed. Intricate designs grace the posts, with mosquito netting tied back against each one. It's the only piece of opulence in the cottage, but it looks perfect. I can't wait to get back here so we can try it out.
Edward comes out of the shower, hair wet and mussed up, wearing a tight v-neck T-shirt and low slung Wrangler jeans again. I hope wherever we're going is private, because those clothes aren't going to stay on for long. I race into the bathroom, eager to get cleaned up and back to Edward.
"Mum called while you were in the shower. Do you want to head up to the house and grab a quick bite to eat before we leave?" I can only nod in agreement, as Edward's decided it's a good time to devour my neck again.
I drag him out the door, knowing if we don't leave now we'll never go.
It's only a short walk to the homestead, and we enter holding hands. The dining room is full of people, and all heads turn to look at us. The smile on Edward's face is blinding, and I'm sure my face is mirroring his.
I'm relieved to see Em, Jay and the girls already here, looking happy and relaxed.
"So nice of you to join us, and I'm sorry I didn't catch up with you last night, Bella. It seems our son was in a hurry to whisk you away. It's nice to meet you," Carlisle says as he rises from the table and greets me with a hug.
Esme is next to address me, once again engulfing me in a hug. She quietly whispers in my ear, "Welcome to the family, honey."
I've never felt accepted so readily as I do right at this moment.
We take our places at the table in front of the huge cooked breakfast spread out before us. There's happy banter as everyone fills up on the feast.
"Hey, Ma," Edward starts, "do you remember Renee Swan? She was a member of Longreach CWA years ago. She worked the rodeos too."
I can see Esme turning that information over "Yes, I do in fact. Her son was the poor boy who had that nasty accident a good ten years ago. Why's that?"
"Well, you're looking at her daughter." Edward exclaims.
"Deadset, you're Bloody Mick's sister?" Emmett bellows. I confirm that I am, and the conversation turns to my family. I fill them in on the details of Mick's accident, Mum and Dad and their eventual move to the city.
"You done? We should get going," Edward whispers in my ear. "We're just taking Thunder out for a ride, we'll be back soon," he addresses everyone at the table, and guides me out the door.
"So who's Thunder, and where are we going?" Curiosity's getting the better of me.
"You'll see, this way."
A short walk later and we arrive at the stables. He stops at a stall, where the most gorgeous black stallion is housed.
Edward whistles and the animal heads toward us. "Thunder, come meet Bella." He sticks his head over the stall, nuzzling and letting me pat his face.
"B, this is Thunder. He was part of a mob of wild brumbies that came racing through here a couple of years ago. I happened to find him in one of the yards with a female horse one morning, and managed to catch him. He was hard to break, but he's been the best horse I've ever had. You keen for a ride?"
"Definitely. It's been so long since I've been riding." I can't wait, I really never expected this.
"Okay, we're not going too far, so we'll just take him. You okay with bareback?"
"Only with you cowboy," I tell him, with a devilish smirk and a wink, "only with you."
"Oh, Miss Swan, you really shouldn't have said that." He presses my body up against the wall, attacking my neck with enthusiasm.
"C'mon, cowboy, you said we're on a time limit. Let's go to wherever you're kidnapping me to."
Once Thunder's prepared to go, Edward helps me mount first, then he climbs on behind me. It's good to be in the driver's seat again, but even better with Edward's body pressed firmly behind me. He can't help himself though, hands are wandering and I'm spending more time giggling than concentrating on where we're going. Heading off in the opposite direction to the homestead, we come across a thicket of trees. I can't tell what's beyond them, but we follow the line for a few hundred metres. Suddenly there's a break in the dense greenery and a path leads to the other side. Thunder trots through the entry of a would-be gate, weather worn and dilapidated in it's uncared for state.
My breath catches in my throat; standing before me is the most beautiful old homestead I've ever seen. It would have to be at least a hundred years old. The residence stands stately against the countryside, even in it's neglected state. The dwelling is framed by a wrap-around verandah, majestic double entry doors stand to welcome visitors from a bygone era. Floor to ceiling windows welcome in the view of the countryside, flues rise into the sky from the roof, and I can just imagine families living here over a century ago.
"Edward...it's...it's beautiful. Is this the original homestead?"
"Yep. This is the original, from what I have found out anyway. The property has been in the Cullen family for over four generations, but hasn't this house hasn't been used for two at least. I know my grandparents never lived here; they built the house mum and dad live in. We used to play around here as kids, but we were never allowed inside. Do you want to take a look?"
"Can we? I'd love to!"
"Okay, just be careful, though. Some of the floorboards have rotted through, so watch where you step. Stay beside me and you should be right."
The front door creaks as Edward pushes it open. Inside is just as breathtaking as outside. High ceilings where chandeliers once would have hung. Molded archways and intricate fireplaces adorn each room. The place is very run down, and would take a lot of work to restore, but it would be so satisfying to do it.
"Come with me, I want to show you something." He leads me through a hallway that leads to the rear of the house. It's so bright and airy, and it take me a minute to realise it's a conservatory. Some of the glass is broken in the ceiling, and plastic buckets litter the floor where the rain would come in.
"This is my favourite room. I used to hide in here when I was young and read books. Even though we weren't allowed in here, Mum and Dad always knew where to find me.
"You know, I always imagined one day I would restore it to it's former glory. Em and Jay have no interest in it, they want to build their own houses."
He grabs me around the waist and pulls me in close. His face so close to mine, I can feel his breath on my face. "I can see myself living here, repairing the old place, bringing it back to life. My wife bringing me cool drinks while I slave away, making it the house we've always wanted. Filling it with kids, Christmases with the family, stockings hanging over the fireplace, even though it's the middle of summer. What do you reckon, Bella? Can you see yourself living that dream with me, here?"
I jump into his arms before I even reply, barely giving him time to react and catch me. I pepper his face with kisses, repeating I love you over and over.
"I can, I can honestly see myself living here, with you, with our children and our dogs and cats and horses. I would love to be with you, every step of the way, helping you to restore this place to it's former beauty. It deserves it, and you deserve to do it, if that's what you want."
"I want, and more than anything I want you here with me, by my side. I love you too, Bella."
We stand in the middle of the conservatory, kissing for the longest time. When we finally break apart, Edward leads me back outside.
"We better get back. Time's slipping away from us today."
This time Edward takes Thunder's reins. He handles him with such grace and control, a beautiful thing to witness. With the horse safely ensconced back in his stall, we race each other back to the cottage.
Edward wins, but not by much. I'm barely through the door behind him, when he grabs me and roughly peels my clothes off. This is a lust...a need that's taken over. So very different from how we were last night. Her throws me back on the bed, where I bounce on the softest of mattresses. I'm so busy laughing that I barely process Edward ripping his shirt off, pulling his jeans down enough to let his cock free and climbing on the bed on top of me.
"B, baby, I need to fuck you, right now." He's kissing, sucking, nipping everywhere he can reach.
"Come get me cowboy, but take your pants off. Then I'm all yours." He stumbles to his feet, almost tripping over them. He's back quicker than I can say yee-ha.
"You've been teasing me all morning, Miss Swan. Now you're gonna get what's coming to you."
I rise on my knees to meet him, kissing him like there's no tomorrow, running my hands over the smooth planes of his muscular back, down his spine and over his delicious ass. His cock is rock hard, standing at attention and ready for action.
Pushing me onto my back, he teases me, rubbing his fingers through my wetness. Covering my body with his own, he plunges into my wet heat, almost causing me to climax before we've even started. Holding my hands either side of my head, he starts a slow, punishing pace. His eyes are boring into mine, not once leaving my face.
Without warning he's wrapped his arms around my back and pulled me into a sitting position on his lap. He's sitting on his haunches, and I place my feet flat on the bed over his legs, trying to gain more leverage, even though he's doing most to the work. Strong arms are holding me around the waist, while his head is dipped to my chest, paying attention first to one breast, licking and nipping, then sucking the nipple before moving to the next. I move one arm that's been around his neck, holding on, to between our bodies. I can feel where we're joined, the slickness from me and his hard dick. I look down and it's got to be the most erotic thing I've ever seen, him thrusting in and out of me. I try to burn the image to my brain. This is definitely spank bank material.
"Fuck, B. That's so fucking hot—" Before he can say anything else, the cottage door flies open.
"Hey, you guys rea...oh Jesus Christ, Ed, put that thing away will ya!"
"And lock the fucking door!" he yells as he slams the door and stomps down the verandah steps.
I can't help it, I bury my face in Edward's neck and try to contain my giggles.
"Holy shit! Bella, I am so so sorry, sweetheart. I just...I didn't think they'd come in here. I didn't mean to leave the door unlocked, you had me so distracted—"
I cut him off with a kiss, knowing he'd beat himself up over it if I let him. It's bad enough I can feel him going soft inside me.
"Baby, it's okay, honestly. He wouldn't have seen much, except your hot ass. And I'm certain he's seen that before. Don't be embarrassed, I'm not okay?" I try reassuring him.
"But, he could have seen you."
"But he didn't. And I'm not ashamed of what we were doing, and I'm secure in myself and my body. It'd be a different thing if I purposely flashed him. I went to Uni don't forget, dorm rooms, leave your dignity at the door," I tell him with a chuckle. He's started to relax a little, but he's still stressed.
"Now lay back, I need to taste myself on you," I say, pushing him back on the bed.
Emerging from the cottage a couple of hours later, we head to the homestead. Our time together is quickly coming to an end. After the earlier interruptions of the afternoon, I successfully made him forget with a couple of orgasms and some amazing shower sex. We then laid together, holding hands, whispering and making plans.
After lengthy goodbyes with Esme, Carlisle and the boys, and promises of returning soon, we make our way to the car, not ready to let go of each other, though.
The ute is all packed, ready for us to go. This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Tears are streaming down my face, and I'm powerless to stop them. I'm not normally a crier, but someone has turned on the tap, and he's standing here in front of me, looking just as miserable as I am.
Placing his hands on my cheeks, he looks deep into my eyes. "B, this is not goodbye, okay? It's I'll see you soon. We'll talk and text every day." I nod solemnly, even though my heart feels like it's breaking in two.
Edward opens the door for me, and helps me into the driver's seat. "Please drive carefully, I need you to come back to me. I love you, sweet girl." With another kiss to my lips, he steps aside, letting me drive away.
I know I shouldn't, but I can't help it. I look in the rear view to see the bull dust settling behind the ute. Edward is standing exactly where he was, both hands in his pockets, his face pinched as if almost in agony. It takes all of my willpower not to turn around and go back to him.