A/N: So a couple of you caught the discrepancies between Valleys a couple chapters ago. I mixed up the Willamette and Rogue River Valleys. I have to untangle that little mess, so I'll get back to you on that when I have a moment to breathe.
Thanks for bearing with me with updates. I'm in the middle of a move, plus school, plus work, so things are a little frustrating right now.
Okay. On with the show. MWAH.
It was still night when Bella's eyes opened, and she couldn't immediately figure why she was awake. She blinked up at the blanket of stars and almost drifted back into the arms of sleep when she heard it. Her name, spoken with a soft, dreamy sigh.
Opening her eyes again, Bella turned her head. Sometime during the night, she had rolled out of Edward's arms. He was resting on his back with his hand stretched out in her direction, his fingers twitching. His lips moved, talking in his sleep.
Bella rolled onto her side and scooted over until she could feel his body heat. She was careful not to wake him. The last few days had been grueling for the guides, with no small amount of help from Emmett and Jasper, and he needed his rest.
The night was clear and they slept out in an open field. The moon was high and full, so she could see his features quite easily in the light. His lips pursed in a pout, murmuring her name again. Bella's heart began to pound, and she wondered if it would ever not thrill her to hear him say her name.
He seemed to relax when she was near. Still unused to the idea any man should be touchable to her, Bella took advantage of the quiet to satisfy a few curiosities. She had been able to feel him, his skin, the shape of his face, when they kissed, but always she was lost to the marvelous sensation of his mouth moving with hers. She didn't have time nor inclination to think about anything else.
Now, she took her time, letting her fingers trace the lines of his face. Thick eyebrows. Strong nose. Full lips. Coarse beard that she loved to feel tickle her skin.
The night had started off so hot he was only wearing a thin shirt. His neck and chest, where she could feel, were cool to the touch. He was strong. The muscles of his chest and arms were hard beneath her palms. She paused for a moment, feeling his breath come and go.
Her hand wandered lower. His shirt had bunched up in the night, so his belly was exposed to the cool night air. Bella let her fingertips follow the trail of hair from his belly button down lower. Lower still.
Here, she paused, feeling quite the sinner. But this was her husband. She was a wife. It was her right, hell, it was her duty to be intimate with her husband's body. Bella glanced up. Edward slept on. Beyond him, she searched out the forms of the others and listened. No one moved. She could hear the even breaths of the others and the odd obnoxious snore. Satisfied and too curious to resist, she let her hand drift, skimming over his pants lightly at first and then letting her palm rest full against him.
He was hot. His skin hardened perceptibly under her hand. She groped, trying to find the shape of him through touch alone.
Without warning his hand shot out. His fingers wrapped around her wrist in a firm grip. Bella gasped and jumped, instinctively tugging her hand back, but he held her tightly. His eyes in the darkness looked dangerous, but she wasn't afraid of him. Of course she wasn't. That wasn't the reason her heart was pounding hard against her chest.
She was frozen in his gaze, her tongue tied, her cheeks flaming. Her body, her blood, seemed to have turned into that sensation she got when she'd spent too long kneeling, when her feet tingled to the point of pain.
One second she was looking down on him, the next she was on her back. He was over her, his body aligned, his hands pinning her wrists down to the ground by her head. Knocked breathless, she didn't quite understand what was happening until his hips ground against hers. She could feel his hardness through the thin layers of clothing they wore. She knew what he intended.
Bella's throat tightened, but she had no time to speak before his lips were hard and demanding against hers.
For seconds, Bella couldn't think at all. She was afraid, but amidst the fear and nerves was a rush of excitement. Her blood boiled. Her body cried for his, for him. He released her wrists, and his hands were instantly everywhere, trailing down her side. His hand found its way to her inner thigh, and he pushed her legs open.
She wanted him. She did. But she was also confused. Something in her muddled mind screamed. He hadn't wanted this. Not yet. Not this way. Not…
Surrounded by her family.
His mumbles were incoherent, she realized dimly. He wasn't really awake. He was acting on instinct or a dream. Either way, she had to stop him. He would never forgive himself if he took her like this, and quite frankly, it wasn't what she wanted either.
Bella threaded her fingers into the hairs at his neck and tugged. Hard.
Edward pulled back with a cry she smothered with her hand over his mouth. He blinked, his eyes narrowed at first in agitation before he seemed to realize what was going on. He rolled off her, muttering a low oath as he did. He drew his legs up and breathed unsteadily.
Uncertain she was doing the right thing, Bella got onto her side. His eyes were closed, his arm thrown over his face. The gossiping girls back where she was from had many things to say about men and their various parts. Bella may have been innocent, but she wasn't fool. She knew well enough what he was trying to hide from her, what she had felt easily when he'd pressed his hips against hers. One of the girls had told her once it hurt a man if he could not be brought to his release once things had been started.
Bella bit her lip and tentatively reached for him. "Edward?" she whispered and scooted closer to him.
He cringed away for a moment before he breathed deep and reached out to run his fingers down her cheek. "I'm sorry," he said, his voice so soft she was sure, at first, she imagined it.
She backed up an inch to look him in the eyes. "I'm sorry."
Bella's cheeks flushed, and she instantly wished she had merely told him he was forgiven for whatever imagined sin he'd committed. It was better as she could not bring herself to confess she'd been molesting him in his sleep. That it was her right to do so seemed irrelevant.
"I…" She let him draw her nearer and played with the button of his shirt, unable to meet his eyes. "Were you dreaming?"
He sighed. "Yes."
She wanted to ask him about what the gossiping girls had asserted. Instead, she said, "Of who?"
He choked and then laughed, the sound soft and incredulous. "That is a very silly question, beautiful girl." With a sigh, he kissed her forehead and disentangled himself from her. "It's early yet. Go back to sleep."
"Where are you going?" she asked, sitting up when he stood.
He kept his back to her, turning his head over his shoulder. "I'll be back in a minute, I promise. Go back to sleep," he said again and headed to the treeline.
"Isabella, that is the fourth time you've almost tumbled headlong off this path." Alice slung a helpful arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer to the center of the path. "Husbands are very distracting, but I guarantee you'll be able to enjoy yours a lot more if you're not suffering from a massive head injury."
Bella opened her mouth to speak but quickly closed it again, her thoughts strangling her words. Her husband was quite distracting, but she didn't know yet how to talk about such things. She was still unused to the idea she and Alice were two married women, and it was permissible to ask her dearest friend's advice one way or another.
In the end, she tripped and stumbled over words until she admitted to Alice her marriage was as of yet unconsummated.
"He hasn't-" Alice began in a yell that she cut off when she saw Bella's stricken expression. She closed her mouth with an audible clack of her teeth and pressed her lips together, searching for words. After a moment of steadying breathing, she looped her arm through Bella's and drew her closer. "Why the devil not? It can't be that he doesn't want you. I've seen the way he looks at you." She paused. "Is it that he cannot…" She held her free arm out and straight, raising an eyebrow at Bella in question.
"What? No. No." Bella gave a short laugh. Her cheeks burned, and she stared straight ahead, unable to look Alice in the eyes when she recalled the way Edward's body responded to her touch. "A few nights ago, I was… Oh, but I shouldn't have."
"No. Tell me."
Bella's cheeks flamed only hotter. "I suppose I was curious," she said after she had related a basic version of the tale. "I… I want to touch him." More than touch him. There was a pull in her that sighed his name in her ear, an ache that she knew instinctively could only be filled by him, with him. "Is that normal?"
Alice cackled. "Well. I've never been called normal before, but I will tell you this. I pity the women for whom desire is forbidden or thought unseemly. I can't think of a greater pleasure than physical love. It is something well beyond any measure I could describe."
"Desire." Bella rolled the word around in her head, trying it on for size. Did it fit the innate curiosity she felt, the need to know his body? Did it fit the craving she had, now that she knew what it felt like to be pinned beneath him, his body hot and hard against her?
"In any case, if staying power isn't his problem, what is?"
Bella told Alice of Edward's worry. Her friend was silent as she processed this. It wasn't something she could dismiss so carelessly. They both saw how Rosalie struggled, and while they knew neither of them could bring a pregnancy to term while still on the trail, they knew the trials of the early days were at the very best uncomfortable.
"You know…" Alice tapped her lips, her look far away. "Jasper and I courted for a long time."
To Bella's surprise, it was Alice who blushed then as she went on. "You already know we got a little ahead of ourselves, but even before that we weren't as chaste as perhaps my father might have wished us. There are… other things."
"Listen close, now."
Marriage suited Edward greatly. Bella suited him. Even without the benefit of a marriage bed, the constant reminder she was his left him breathless. She was wonderful-alive, vivacious, and beautiful. Most of the time, her headstrong attitude amused and endeared him.
Most of the time.
Every once in a while, in great exasperation, he reflected that she could stand to be just a little more biddable. Only slightly.
He'd asked her to stay at camp while he went off hunting. He supposed it wasn't a direct order, but it had been implied, he felt. But when he returned to camp, he found her gone. Alice had waved in the direction of the river, mumbling something about swimming.
At that, Edward strode quickly in the direction Alice had indicated. No matter how much he tried to convince himself everything was fine, there was no reason it shouldn't be, he couldn't quell the nervousness rising within him. It was a marked change. Bella's behavior was nothing short of normal. He had observed, long before she was his, her habit of taking to the water whenever time and weather permitted. This was, however, the first time she'd done it since they'd married.
Protecting Bella was foremost in his mind constantly. His every decision now affected her, and his worry at making a mistake never went away. Combine that worry with the anxiety of the combination of his wife and water, and Edward couldn't get through the trees fast enough.
"Bella," he called, emerging from the trees and finding her a ways down the river bank. His voice must have been drowned out by the water for she, only scantily dressed, ducked behind a rock outcropping.
"Oh, Edward." Though she relaxed visibly when she realized it was him, she still pulled her discarded dress toward herself, shielding her body from his view. "You gave me a fright."
Calmer now that she was in front of him, Edward put on a mock scolding face. "I could have been anyone." He looked over his shoulder as though he expected to see someone peeping from the trees.
"You could have, but you aren't." Her tone was even and her expression curious. As he watched, her cheeks pinked, as though she were embarrassed about something. He was about to apologize for making her feel so when she let her dress drop, leaving her in her underthings.
Edward froze. His instinct was of two minds. The first was what any well-mannered man should do if he stumbled across a woman in a state of undress. He wanted to avert his eyes and yet…
She was his wife, and he was head over heels in love with her. This awkward space they occupied, where he was allowed to show his love every place except their marital bed, so to speak.
"Bella," he said, his voice hoarse, his mouth gone dry.
She held his gaze a moment longer before she turned away. It was only after she'd taken a step or two toward the water that he caught her by the arm. "What are you doing?" he asked, anxiety again encroaching, though it had a harder time through the lust that clouded his mind.
"I intend to go swimming."
Edward swallowed hard past the lump in his throat, trying to order his mind. Somehow, he managed to tear his eyes away from the sight of her-she was undressed and his and it was damn distracting-to look over at the river. The water was calm, widening into a pool that would be easy to swim in without danger of being swept away.
At his silence, Bella turned again to head toward the water.
"Wait," he said, already beginning to toe off his boots. "I'll go with you."
"I thought you had things to do."
He did, at that. He had a great many things to do, and James wouldn't be pleased to find him gone. Still, it was taking all his willpower not to grab his wife and haul her up against him, feel her nearly naked body against his. "I… You shouldn't go into the water unprotected." He began to remove his pants.
To his surprise, a flash of cloth went sailing by his head. It landed near his feet, and Edward was shocked to see she had thrown whatever remained of her clothing off. His head snapped up just in time to see her quite naked form dive into the water. He stared, dumbfounded, until she popped above the surface again, sputtering.
"Are you all right?" he asked, anxious.
She smiled at him, her cheeks still pinked though the rest of her skin had turned paler with the change in temperature. "Just a little chilly."
"You should come away from there before you catch your death then."
She only rolled her eyes. "I'll be fine, Edward. The water's calm here. You don't need to worry for me. If you have other business to attend to, go on."
Edward narrowed his eyes. He had the very distinct impression he was being toyed with, and he wasn't sure if it angered him or excited him.
Divesting himself of his shirt, pants, and socks, though keeping his drawers on, Edward waded into the water after her only to again stop short.
She was floating on her back, her pert nipples bobbing above the water.
He caught her around the waist and dragged her against him. With her nipples hard and cold on his skin, he wasn't altogether sure what would have been better-her putting herself on display so that anyone who happened by might see or having her nude body aligned so perfectly with his. He gulped, glad the cold temperature of the water was abating his natural inclination. "Have you lost your mind?"
She quirked an eyebrow as if trying to affect an air of indifference, but he'd felt the way her heart hammered. "I'm only swimming."
"Skinny dipping. Where anyone can see you."
"There's no one here but you and me."
He studied her a moment, from the way she squirmed ever so slightly under his stare to the quick rise and fall of her shoulders. She shook too, and he didn't think it was all from the cold water. "You're trying to seduce me."
Her breath caught, and her gaze faltered. After a few unsteady breaths, a determined look came over her features. She stepped back against him so they were again skin to skin. Beneath the water, her hand skimmed his side around to his belly. "So what if I am?"
"Bella." His throat was so tight he could scarcely speak. He should grab her hand, still her movements. Her fingers were exploring his chest, his sides, and dipping down to play at the hem of his drawers. He found himself conflicted-quite unable to move. "I've told you…"
She didn't let him go. Her breath shook, but her movements never faltered. She let her fingers skim lower. "Correct me if I'm wrong. I admit the details are quite sketchy to me, but if you are out here…" She wrapped warm fingers around his length, pulling him free of the confines of cloth. "We cannot make a child this way."
He was enraptured. Entirely under her spell. She was making far too much sense, and yet some small part of him wanted to argue. This could not be sensible.
The growing part of him told that sensible voice to go straight to hell. It was unbearably alluring how she was equal parts vixen and innocent. She had obviously planned this to an extent. It wasn't an impromptu action on her part, though she couldn't have known he would follow her here. Yet for all her boldness, there was a wonder to her expression. There was an endearing curiosity to her touch. She would look at him, her expression furtive, and when she coaxed a little moan from him, she grinned.
Giving in, he wrapped his arms around her, crushing her against him, smothering her yelp of surprise with his kiss. He closed his eyes and began to discover her anew. His hands cupped her bottom first, one palm over each cheek. He broke their kiss, dragging his teeth down her chin and neck. She whimpered and then gasp when his mouth found her breasts.
Her hands had stilled, and that would not do.
One arm still wrapped around her, he took her hand with his. Kissing her softly now, though no less deep, he guided her hand, wrapping her fingers firmly around his base. He showed her how to stroke. It had long since ceased to matter that the water was cold.
It had been quite a while since he'd been with a woman in any capacity and this… He'd never been with a woman he loved before. Touch was different because it was her. Everything was different.
He moved her hand faster, his breath ragged against her ear, panting her name and taking the lord's name in vain alternately. It was not long before he pulsed in her hand, his lips hard on hers to drown his groans.
She released her grip on him and moved so her arms were around his neck. She pressed tiny kisses to the underside of his jaw. "I love you," she whispered, and damned if it wasn't the sweetest thing Edward had ever heard.
He held her close, swaying them in the water, his forehead tilted against hers. Despite the fact he was so recently spent, he was hard pressed to push the thoughts of ravishing her on the bank of the river away. It had occurred to him that she was his, well and truly his. That no one else would see this body, touch this body, but him, and suddenly he was ravenous for her. For everything.
He sighed and kissed the tip of her nose before pressing his mouth to hers. "You'll be my undoing, Bella, and I love you all the more for it," he mumbled against her lips.
A/N: Many thanks to barburella, jessypt, and songster!
Sooooo. How we doing, friends?