A/N: So. You win. The kids didn't let me finish. Damn kids.
Charlie Swan was no fool, and he was, above all things, a considerate father. Though his daughter had been far from him, he had made preparations to ensure her future. Though he'd known there were many men in need of a wife in the West, he'd still taken steps to ensure she had a proper dowry.
In Bella's case, he had taken a sizable chunk of the land he'd amassed and built her a home of her own with small crops. Edward saw the wisdom of it. There was no guarantee any of the settlers would be successful. Charlie was ensuring his daughter would be provided for.
However, as Bella had arrived home already wed, those plans were in the wind.
Then there was the Cullen-Hale clan. Plans were all well and good, but the reality of the trail had hit them hard. They had originally intended to move straight from the trail to the lands they had been granted. Three separate plots of land spaced nearer than Edward's land was to Charlie's, but still further apart than they wanted to be right then.
As a result, the little, three bedroom house that was to be Bella's dowry currently housed the three Cullen couples. Vera and her boys were in one room of the main house, Seth in another, Charlie and Sue in the master bedroom, of course.
Which left Edward and Bella in Bella's room, the room her father had built for her to live with him before she was inevitably betrothed.
Henry had woken up crying for his Pa the night before. Edward had heard it through the walls. Ergo, the walls were far too thin for what he wanted to do with his beautiful wife.
To discourage his lust, Edward reluctantly disentangled himself from Bella. Now that they could stay still for a time, there was much to be done. He had a plan, and it was early enough to carry it out with some privacy. He hoped.
Edward crept downstairs as quietly as he could. The house was quiet.
Out on the back porch, there was a bathing tub. A large one. Edward started a fire. It would take a long time and many buckets to fill the tub with hot water.
Some time later, the house was beginning to come alive. Sue stepped out on the porch, balling her fists into her back. She chucked. "Can't say I blame you. How long has it been since you've had a hot bath?"
He scoffed. "Forever, and it stands to be a while longer. This here is for Bella."
"Good man." She reached up, pulling the long curtain around to partition off the small space. "I'll fetch her down for you."
"Oh, Mrs. Swan. Don't you worry about that. I'll get her."
She clucked her tongue. "Sue. Call me Sue. And don't worry. When I said I'll fetch her down, what I meant is I'll tell my son who can actually make it up the stairs before that water goes cold."
The bath was filled and steaming when Bella stepped out onto the porch. She blinked in the early morning light, but when she saw the steam curling up from the tub, her eyes went wide.
Edward stepped forward and took her hand. "Come, love."
"This is for me?"
He smiled broadly because she was looking at him as though he'd presented her with a fortune. He pulled the curtain around, shutting them off from the rest of the house. That done, he stepped over to her and took the shawl from her shoulders.
"I promised you a bath of your own, and you'll have it. A proper, indoor bath. A tub so big you can swim in it." He began to unbutton her sleeping gown and slipped it off her shoulders. "But for now, yes, this is for you."
When she was nude, he took her hand to help her into the tub, but instead, she wrapped her arms around his waist. She pressed her lips to his ear and whispered, "Get in with me."
Her voice was so low and sultry, Edward was instantly done in. How could he help it when he could feel her bare skin under his palms? He ached for her.
At that moment, he very much regretted telling his father-in-law they would stay.
"Bella." He kissed her because he couldn't not. "There isn't room enough in that tub for the both of us."
She ran her hands over his sides and pulled at the strings of his pants. "It's a large tub. Big enough for a grown man."
He kissed her again, growling as he did. "And you"-he ran his hands down, cupping her ass in his hands-"are a wanton witch." He kissed her again and then stepped away from her. "Get in the tub. The water will get cold, and you're very dirty."
"So are you."
She shivered, and he was done arguing. He picked her up, ignoring her startled cry, and placed her in the tub. "Let me help you first," he said. "Then I may join you."
She closed her eyes as she sunk back in the tub. "Oh, this is heavenly." She opened one eye to look at him. "I know how to bathe myself, you know."
"Yes, I know." He picked up a rag, dipped it in the warm water, and lathered it with soap. "But let me do it anyway."
It was, he thought some minutes later, not the best of plans if he intended to keep his hands to himself a moment longer. Tracing the lines of her body. It wasn't only the steam in his face that had his body overheating even in the coolness of the morning.
When he helped her wash her hair, Bella moaned. It did nothing to help Edward's state of arousal. He concentrated instead on combing the snarls out of her hair.
"Edward, are you sure you don't mind this?" she asked, tilting her head back to look at him.
He placed a tender kiss at her forehead. "Having an excuse to touch you? No. I can't say I mind that."
She closed her eyes again, and he went back to his painstaking task of untangling and washing her hair.
What a sight she was with her pert nipples standing up above the waterline. And when she stretched one leg out of the water to wash it, he very nearly dragged her from the tub to make love to her on the porch.
Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, the house was beginning to stir. The Cullen clan had arrived at the main house for breakfast. Jasper and Emmett both had some fun teasing the duo from behind the curtain. They both laughed when Edward-who was, unfortunately, not as naked as they expected, drew back the curtain enough to threaten them with bodily injury.
"Come away from there," Esme said, corralling her grown son and son-in-law. "For heaven's sakes, you're worse than the children."
Shaking his head, Edward turned back to his wife. She was standing, and he hurried back to her side. "You don't need to rush."
She sighed and reached out to take his hand. "There'll be time for us soon."
He wrapped a towel around her but stopped her when she moved to step close to him. "I still have dirt on me from a hundred miles away."
Standing on her tiptoes, she kissed his nose. "I told you to come in with me."
In the end, Edward opted to go with the other men to the river to bathe. The water was cold enough Emmett's holler of shock as he jumped in was likely loud enough to be heard by the neighbors some five miles away.
Floating on his back, enjoying the company of his unlikely brothers, Edward laughed.
"What's so funny?" Jasper asked, sending a wave of water toward him that had him sputtering.
Edward straightened so he was treading water. "It occurred to me that I'll likely never see James nor any of his crew again."
"Good riddance," Emmett said. "There was something about that man that made me want to punch him."
They didn't know the half of it.
Sue had been showing Bella the animals-how to milk a cow and collect the eggs from the henhouse, that sort of thing. They returned to the main house to find the Cullen men in the fresh clothes they'd bought in town, their sun-darkened skin clean of dirt.
"Oh, good. Bella, here," Alice said, bringing her a small basket filled with scissors and razors and all manner of things that perplexed Bella. "Your husband is up in your room. He needs a shave and a haircut like the rest of these scoundrels." She ruffled her husband's hair affectionately.
Bella clutched the basket close and frowned, looking about. Esme, Rosalie, and Alice all had their husbands seated in front of them in various stages of grooming. Vera was sitting on the table with Peter in front of her, doing her best to get the snarls out of his unruly hair.
This was the part she had been so uncertain about. Out on the trail her role, whether daughter or wife, was limited. Now she would be expected to take care of her husband. Should she have been waiting to meet him when he got back from the river? "I… I don't know how to…"
Alice put a hand to her back and gave her a gentle push. Facing away from the others, she winked at Bella. "Let him show you."
As she stepped into their room, Bella was rendered temporarily breathless by the magnificent sight in front of her.
Edward stood at the center of the room dressed only in his pants. He was toweling his hair dry and didn't see her come in. It gave her a few minutes to admire him-the smattering of hair on his broad chest, the muscular definition of his abs, the freckled sun-kissed skin of his shoulders.
The stirring of desire in the pit of her belly seemed brand new. Her heartbeat sped and shivers went down her spine.
Maybe this emotion was not new as much as it was free. Yes, there was much to attend to but nothing serious. There was no pressing matter of survival hanging over them.
Bella pushed the door shut behind her, and the sound caught Edward's attention. He lifted his head and grinned when he saw her. She, in turn, was momentarily distracted from her lusty ambitions by the sight of his face.
"Oh my goodness. What have you done?" She set the basket down and took his face between her hands so she could assess the damage. Someone had hacked away at his beard leaving it a patchy mess.
He laughed and held her at arms length. "I've found trimming as much as I can with scissors makes it easier to shave."
"Oh," she said, and though she knew it was ridiculous, she felt foolish for not having known.
Remembering Alice's suggestion, she ran her fingers over the coarse hairs at his chin. "Will you teach me?"
His eyes were dark on hers, and it struck Bella then how close she was standing to him. Unnecessarily close if her only intention was to groom him. He swallowed audibly. "Teach you what?"
"To shave you."
He blinked, his eyes still intense as he looked back at her. The air between them had grown thick and heated again. "Bring the basket here."
She took a few steps away from him to retrieve the basket, and when she came back, he put his hands to her waist. She thought for a moment he would kiss her. Instead, he lifted her up off her feet and set her on the sturdy dresser.
He showed her how to prepare the lather and stood still, looking up at her, as she spread the shaving cream over his cheeks, his chin, above his lips. She pressed her finger underneath his chin, tilting his head up so she could coat his neck.
How she wanted to kiss him then, cream or no.
She didn't. At his direction, she took up the razor and carefully, so carefully, began to draw it down his skin just as he directed.
"Don't be nervous," he murmured when she yanked her hand away.
She raised her hand back to his neck. "I don't want to hurt you."
"Slow. I trust you."
His face was so close to hers she could feel the warmth of his breath. She kept one hand against his neck, steadying herself and his head, she supposed, and watched as the skin of his face was slowly revealed to her.
When she was done, she set the razor down and stared. He looked so different it was surreal. The lines of his face were softer than she'd expected. He was a beautiful man.
Bella washed her hands off in the basin and touched her wet fingertips to his skin. She traced the smooth planes from his cheek down to his neck. Under her fingers, his adam's apple bobbed.
He caught her wrists, stopping her explorations, and her breath caught.
"Bella," he whispered, dropping his hands to her waist. He pulled her off the dresser. There was so little space between them. "I need you."
Their lips met in the next heartbeat, and Bella was lost to sensation. She traced the lines of his back, his strong shoulders, his chest as they kissed. He spun her around and walked her backward. She moaned when he hiked her skirts up and pulled her underthings down.
"Shhh." He nipped at her bottom lip. "Quiet now. Can you be quiet?"
She murmured her assent between fevered kisses, and he pushed her down on the bed, climbing over her. Her wandering hands helped him push his pants down.
He entered her with his fingers first, pressing and touching her in ways she had no name for. "Shh, love. Shh," he warned, catching most of her moans with his mouth.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, head thrown back on the pillow. "Oh god."
He replaced his fingers with his cock, sliding into her in a one, two, three stroke. Bella closed her eyes, momentarily overwhelmed by how it felt to be at once filled and consumed by him. For all their urgency, she might have expected him to take her fast. She wasn't sure she would have minded, though her husband's intimate touch was still so new to her.
But when he was deep inside her, the air between them changed. The heat stayed the same but the fervor drained away. When she opened her eyes, finding his on hers, that zeal was replaced by something altogether more powerful.
There was a sweet reverence in the way he touched her then. He ran his fingers adoringly along her cheek and followed the trail his hands left with kisses. He twined their fingers together and pinned her hands to the bed as he thrust into her. Her body remembered him, called for him, and her hips raised with him.
The sounds he made low in his throat drove away any rational thought. There was nothing concrete to her existence then. She was made of pleasure and passion. She was made of the tingle that went through her body when he moved within her and the fire that burned in her blood when her name tumbled from his lips in a strangled whisper.
"Please," she heard herself say. "Please." But what she was begging for she didn't know.
Still, he answered. "Yes. Anything." And they found that urgency again.
Their movements reached that frantic pace, and something inside Bella coiled tight. It took her addled mind some time to recognize what was happening.
This was what it felt like that day he had put his mouth on her.
Bella reached back, scrambling instinctively for something to hold on to. She twisted the bedspread hard in her fingers, trying to remember how to speak. The words tangled in her mouth. Did she want him to stop? What was about to happen had frightened her before, but oh… oh, oh, oh, it had been so good. Too good.
This was better.
And if she opened her mouth, she feared she would beg for it. She feared she would scream.
There were reasons that was a bad idea.
"Bella. Bella." Edward sounded desperate, his voice almost a whimper. He kissed her, and then they were both screaming, their mouths drowning the sound, and Bella couldn't discern the pulse of his manhood from the way she seized around him.
Bella had only barely come back to her senses when there was a sharp knock at the door. She gripped Edward tightly, swallowing a yelp of surprised.
"Edward," Seth called through the door. "Charlie is looking for you."
Edward groaned under his breath. "Of course he is." Louder, he said, "I'll be down in a minute."
He cupped Bella's cheek, the motion soft. "Some day, my beautiful wife, I will have you all to myself, and we won't leave our bed for a week."
She giggled, blushing, and raised up off the bed to kiss him once more before he had to roll away from her.
It was only five days later that Edward had to leave.
"Two weeks," he murmured, holding her close and dotting kisses to her eyelids, her chin, her cheeks, her nose. "Only two weeks."
Bella kept her arms locked around his waist. "Please don't go," she tried for the hundredth time.
With two fingers beneath her chin, he tilted her head up to look at him. "We agreed."
"Well, I take it back."
He smiled and kissed her once more, his hand cupped at her jaw. "Two weeks. That's all. You promised."
"But what if there's trouble along the way?"
"The way is more settled. You know that. The winter won't hit early this year."
"What if it does?"
"Bella." He stroked his thumb over her cheek, staring at her intently. "I will come home to you. Two weeks, and I'll come home. That's a promise."
She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him again. "Promise me these two weeks will be the longest we're ever apart, and I'll let you go."
He rubbed her back, rocking her from side to side. "I promise."
Bella clung to him few moments longer. She blew out a long breath, kissed the side of his cheek, and summoned her bravery.
Then, she let him go.
A/N: I should end it there. Or end it with three weeks going by with no word from Edward. And then do a sequel about surviving the winter and not ending up like the Donner party.
I won't do that though.
Many thanks to barburella, jessypt, and songster for all their help!
On a personal note, to those who haven't heard and are interested, my new novel, One To Tell the Grandkids, is available on Amazon currently. You can also get my novella, Duplicity, for free for a time. Links to both are in my profile. Thank you so much for all your kind words and support.