I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone for their incredible support for Restoration and for my book release. I can't believe how many of you have bought Innocence on Kindle, and I'm utterly astonished by those who've ordered the paperback considering how expensive it is. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! To my amazement, Innocence (A Forbidden Love – Book One) made the Amazon Top 100 in two different lists – Kindle eBooks, Romance, Historical, Regency, and Books, Romance, Regency. It was only there for a day, but it was so exciting to make a list . . . any list!
Thank you to Katmom and Snakubie for applying their awesome prereader and beta skills to this chapter
A huge thank you to Falling Snow Winter for making a lovely banner for Restoration. As soon as I have a version that will fit on FFnet, I'll put it up. My stories are now also up on Fiction Pad as a back up in case I get removed from this site. You can see the larger version of the banner there, or check it out on my facebook pages, Elise de Sallier Author or just Elise de Sallier.
Now on with the tale . . .
"You can rest here while I secure the place and stir up the fire." Bella helped her sodden companion to take the only seat in the one room cabin. The chair was a flimsy affair she'd found thrown on a rubbish heap and mended with twine. After waiting a second to make sure it would hold his weight, she ventured back out into the rain and pulled the brush screens she'd made across the trail to the cabin's door, effectively hiding it from view. There was nothing she could to do to disguise the smoke that would soon be billowing from the chimney, but they were a long way off the track, and she hoped it would be lost amongst the misty crags of the mountain against which the cabin was nestled. Foregoing a fire wasn't an option, for if they didn't dry out their clothes and warm their near-frozen bodies, an intruder would be the least of their worries.
The journey from the river to the cabin had been brutal, the man's injured ankle slowing them to a crawl in places. Mud-covered and soaked to the skin, Bella shivered as she coaxed the fire to life. Once she had a modest but respectable blaze, the flue, thankfully, drawing as it should, she turned back to her guest.
"We need to get you out of those wet clothes," she said, undoing the buttons on his coat with stiff fingers. "Your lips are blue, and I don't like the look of that gash on your head. If you pass out, I won't be able to get you up off the floor."
He nodded jerkily, offering no resistance when she tugged his dripping coat off his shoulders and down his arms. It was only when his shirt was removed, leaving his muscular chest bared, that she questioned her actions.
"It's all right," he said when her eyes widened. "Even if I had the strength, I would never hurt a lady . . . or any woman for that matter."
Bella's gaze shot to his face. It wasn't fear that had motivated her reaction, and she was embarrassed to feel a flush of warmth in her cheeks. Turning away from his half-naked body, she hung the man's coat on the rope line she'd strung across one corner of the room. Taking one of the thin quilts off the end of the cabin's only cot, she passed it to him, keeping her gaze averted while he wrapped it around his shoulders.
"Once I've tended to your injuries, you can remove the rest of your wet clothing, and I'll hang them up to dry. The bed will be a little short for you, but it will have to do, as you'll need to raise your ankle."
"What about you?" He took the towel she passed him and, avoiding the cut on his forehead, began drying his hair, sending it sticking out in every direction.
"What about me?" Bella asked, struggling to hide a smile.
"You must be exhausted after practically hauling me all this way. I don't feel right about taking your bed."
"I'll be fine." She shrugged. It wouldn't be the first time she'd slept on the floor, though at least she would have a fire and could make a pallet with the thin blankets she had managed to scavenge over the years.
After pressing a clean rag against the cut on his forehead, indicating he should hold it in place, she began the difficult task of removing the knee-length boot from his uninjured leg. Tugging hard enough to yank him partway off the chair, she huffed in frustration when it didn't budge.
"I hate to say this." He raised a hand to call a halt when she went to try again. "But you're going to have to straddle my leg. It's the only way you'll get the boot off now it's wet."
"Wonderful." Bella huffed a second breath. It was an intimate task, one she had seen her mother perform for her father when his valet wasn't available, certainly not one she felt comfortable performing for a virtual stranger. Deciding it was past time she introduced herself, she reached out her hand.
"I'm Bella," she said, smiling wryly when he grasped the ends of her fingers, his expression uncertain. She gave his hand a shake, a common greeting, having had no expectation that he would either bow over her hand or kiss the back of her fingers.
"I'm Edward," he replied, and her smile faded.
"But that's the prince's name."
"Not exclusively," he said dryly. "He's been known to share."
"So you're saying you're not the prince?"
He eyed her warily, and a lump formed in Bella's throat. If he was King Carlisle's heir, she understood his reluctance to disclose his identity, as the price on his head was sure to be exorbitant. But where that left her, she didn't know. Rebuking a member of royalty for bad manners after dragging them through a thicket would have been cause for severe punishment under Aro's reign, regardless of one's motivation.
"How about we get my boots off, so we can see what damage I've done to this ankle," Edward said, skirting the answer. "The pain is getting rather unpleasant, although the pounding in my head is providing a distraction."
"Very well then." Bella wiped her hands on her skirt before doing the almost unthinkable. Straddling his thigh, she bent over with her bottom virtually in his face, and took hold of the prince's foot. The boot didn't budge despite her using considerable force.
"It might help if I steady you, my lady," he said, grabbing hold of her hips when she would have fallen.
"Just Bella." She shot him a glance over her shoulder, and he offered an apologetic smile. This time, she had better luck . . . other than landing in the prince's lap when the boot finally came free. Scrambling to her feet, she turned to face him, red-faced.
"I'm so sorry, my lord, I mean your Highness, I mean—"
"Edward will do, and there's nothing to apologise for. If it weren't for you coming to my aid . . ." His words trailed away, and she nodded shakily.
"Removing the other boot the same way isn't an option," he added. "You'll have to cut it off."
"Cut it off?" Bella frowned. "But it would be ruined."
"So? I have other pairs and can purchase more."
Appalled by the idea of destroying something so finely made, she studied the boot in her hands before placing it aside. "Of course. How silly of me," she said in a small voice, having forgotten what it was like to have the luxury of treating one's possessions with such little regard. There was a time when she wouldn't have considered the gowns she was reduced to wearing fit for rags, not that she'd had to do the polishing back then. Her father had employed servants to keep their household running . . . maids, a laundress, kitchenhand . . . all roles she now filled with scant help and no thanks. That's when she wasn't out foraging in the forest for truffles or collecting herbs for the salves and tonics she made and sold for her stepmother at the markets.
Fetching a knife from the shelf where she kept her few cooking utensils, Bella turned back to see Edward looking around the cabin, a frown marring his brow. When his gaze returned to her, it lingered on the patches and frayed hem of her gown.
"I'll make sure you're recompensed for helping me, but you're welcome to keep the boots. Perhaps you could salvage them if you cut along the seam?" He gestured to the almost invisible stitches that formed a line up the back.
"Perhaps." Bella raised her chin. She hadn't gone to his aid with any thought of payment in mind, but she had already come to the same conclusion about his boots. If she didn't damage them too badly, the local cobbler would be able to repair and sell them, earning her some valuable coins she might be able to keep out of her stepmother's hands.
Kneeling down, she carefully cut along the line of almost invisible stitching. Doing her best not to jostle Edward's injured ankle in the process, she rested it on her lap.
"I'd say not to, that you'll muddy your skirt, but . . ."
Bella looked up to meet his rueful gaze. "Since I'm already well covered, what's a bit more?"
He smiled, his green eyes sparkling and forming little lines at the corners. His teeth were white and even, a rarity, and a rather delightful looking dimple had formed in one cheek. Even pale and with his hair resembling a haystack, he was the best looking young man she had ever encountered. When she realised she was gaping, Bella snapped her mouth shut and focused on her task.
"I can't imagine anyone stumbling upon this cabin, as it's so well hidden, but it doesn't seem overly secure," he said of the ramshackle structure, one she had worked hard to make habitable. "I lost my sword in the fall—can't believe I didn't think to search for it, though I suppose I was a bit dazed. Do you have anything with which to defend yourself."
"My wits." She smiled at her jest, but it fell when she considered his valid concern. "The path you were riding on is rarely used, as it's blocked by a rock fall farther along the way. This part of the forest sees few visitors other than me. I overheard the captain who shot you say he'd be back to make sure you were dead, but I trailed your cloak towards the river, so hopefully he will think you've been swept away."
"Wise indeed." Edward smiled, but she refused to become distracted this time.
"A visitor, you say. You don't live here permanently?" He seemed bemused by the idea, not that she could blame him. Her quarters back home were the meanest her stepmothercould provide, but they were plush in comparison to the cabin's meagre furnishings.
"Not permanently, no," she said, though the thought had crossed her mind. Her step-mother, would never find her if she chose to remain living in the forest. The thought of thwarting the woman, whose rage at losing the income and service her step-daughter provided would be formidable, was tempting. But Bella was a realist. She wouldn't survive the winter, the loneliness, or knowing she had abandoned the servants who had become both family and friends since her parents' deaths. Running away to another village wasn't an option, as she'd only be caught and dragged back or find herself in an even worse situation. At least living in her father's home, if no longer as a member of the family, she could do what she could to protect the other servants from her step-mother's cruelty, just as they looked out for her.
"I live in—" She almost said Forks but cut herself off at the last moment, shooting the prince a wary glance. There was probably no harm in revealing such a detail, but ingrained wariness tempered her words. "—one of the villages between here and the palace."
"What are you doing in the forest?" he asked, and she met his curious gaze. "If your husband or father were accompanying you, I'm sure you would have mentioned them. Have you run away?"
She shook her head. Mindful of Edward's winces, she cut carefully as she reached his ankle. "I come here for a few days or a week at a time, gathering herbs in the warmer months and truffles when they're in season. We sell them at the markets."
"We?" He grimaced as she removed the boot then his long woollen sock.
"My, er . . . family," she said after a pause. Claiming a husband or father would be coming to check on her might have offered an added layer of protection besides Edward's word that he would not harm her, but she doubted he would believe her at this late date.
"What about your men?" she asked while examining his swollen, discoloured ankle. "They'll come looking for you, won't they?"
"Eventually. Once they make it to the palace and realise I didn't arrive. In hindsight, breaking off from my companions wasn't my wisest decision, but I wanted to give them a chance to escape and thought my superior horse could outrun our attackers."
"Their horses, maybe, but not an arrow." Bella felt along the bones in his foot and ankle, searching for a break.
"No, not an arrow." He ground the words between his teeth, flinching as she poked and prodded. "What's the verdict?"
"Not obviously broken." She looked up at him. "No bones poking through the skin, and I can't feel any gaps or overlaps."
"Then why does it hurt so much?"
"Because you've got a nasty sprain." She propped his foot on an upturned bucket and went to fetch a small jar of salve. "I'll make you something for the pain, and this should help bring down the swelling. After I've rubbed it in, I'll bandage the ankle for support. Hopefully it won't take too long to heal, but I can't see you walking on it for a few days."
"A few days!" He went to rise from the chair, before collapsing back, the colour leeching from his face. "I can't stay here that long. My father needs me."
"I don't see that you have much choice." Bella shrugged and got on with tending his ankle. "If I could get word to your men without getting myself captured by Caius's men in the process, they could carry you out of here. But they won't know you didn't make it until they reach the palace—"
"Then they'll have to return, with a much larger force, and begin the search," he finished with a sigh.
"Don't worry. I have enough supplies to keep us for a few days, and I can check my traps once the weather clears. We won't starve."
"That's something, I suppose," he muttered before heaving another sigh. "Forgive me, Bella. You've gone out of your way to help me, and I'm showing a decided lack of gratitude."
"I understand." A wave of shyness overtook her, making it difficult to meet his gaze. He was an important man in the Kingdom, and she was next to nobody with her father gone. He was also very handsome, a fact that had no bearing on their situation but one she found unsettling.
"You've got the coronation to attend, and then there's the alliance everyone is talking about, the possibility of peace."
"Peace." At his grim tone, she looked up in time to see him pull a face. "At the price of my marrying King Marcus's daughter."
"You don't want to marry Princess Rosalie?" Bella blinked in surprise. The neighbouring King's eldest daughter was renowned to be the most beautiful lady in the three Kingdoms.
Edward shrugged. "A choice would be nice."
"A choice." Bella couldn't recall the last time she'd had a say in what happened in her life. She shuddered to think who her stepmother would choose for her husband. The only reason she hadn't been married off to the highest bidder already—old, decrepit, cruel . . . none of it mattered as long as his purse was fat—was because she was more valuable in her current role. With her nineteenth birthday approaching, her time was running out.
After bandaging Edward's ankle with strips of cloth she tore from the hem of her spare petticoat, she made him a willow bark brew for the pain. It was only after he'd drunk it all, grimacing at the bitter taste but offering no complaint, that she examined the cut on his forehead. It had stopped bleeding and wasn't as deep as she'd feared. Wrapping a bandage around his head to hold a fresh cloth in place over the wound, she sighed with relief that stitches wouldn't be necessary.
"All done," she said, and turned her back on him. "If you could remove the rest of your garments and get in the bed, I'll hang them up to dry."
"Then you must change out of your wet clothes, and get some rest," he said. "You look frozen to the bone."
Bella opened her mouth to argue, as her list of chores was barely begun, but he was right . . . about her needing to get dry and warm, at any rate. As soon as he was settled in the bed, she reached for the towel, her only one, and wiped her face. It came away stained with mud, the rain that had washed Edward's face clean apparently not having done her the same favour. Her reflection in the fragment of mirror she kept on a shelf confirmed her fears, and she shook her head at the sight of her mud-smeared face. Quite aside from her ragged clothes and lack of escort, it was little wonder he had sounded surprised when she'd said she was a lady. After fetching a bowl of water from the bucket she kept near the door, she took a moment to wash her face. Then she removed her head scarf, unwound her braids, and towel dried her long, brown hair.
A quick glance revealed Edward had turned to face the wall, allowing her some privacy. Quickly removing her mud splattered gown, she put it aside to be scrubbed before taking off her damp petticoat, chemise, and bloomers. Nervous about being naked in a room with a man, Bella's fingers shook as she donned a clean chemise, pantaloons, and her spare dress. Even more drab than the one she'd removed, it hung limply without a petticoat, not enough left of her tattered spare to bother with. Lifting her crocheted shawl off a hook, she wrapped it around her shoulders and huddled near the fire for a moment while she ran her comb through hair. Once she'd stopped shivering, she put a kettle on to boil, stifling a moan at the thought of a hot cup of tea.
"You can turn around now, if you like, then I'll get us something to eat," she said after she'd hung her unmentionables up to dry in the minimal space remaining. Their presence was no more embarrassing than Edward's breeches hanging on the line, she supposed, but she couldn't keep her face from flaming. Intent on fetching the bread and cheese she kept stowed in a box beside the bed, she stepped from the shadows into the light of the lantern she'd lit so as to be able to see to remove his boot.
"Hell and damnation," Edward swore and caught hold of her arm.
"What is it?" Bella searched his face for answers. "Is the pain worse? Are you going to be ill?"
"No, I just hadn't realised how beautiful you are."
Stunned by his words, she stood frozen while he twined a waist-length lock of her hair around his fingers.
"I could see you had lovely eyes, like a doe's with such long lashes, but with your face muddied and your hair hidden by your scarf . . ." His eyes darkening, he tugged her towards him, his gaze dropping to her mouth.
Suspecting he was going to kiss her, Bella's heart pounded in her chest. She'd never been kissed before, and she couldn't deny the thought of touching her lips to Edward's was enticing, until she considered the ramifications. He was a man, not a boy, and wouldn't be satisfied with kisses alone. With mere inches between them, she came to her senses.
"You promised." She pressed a hand to his bare shoulder.
"That I wouldn't hurt you, and I have no intention of hurting you." His voice, a low, husky rasp, and the intensity of his gaze caused a strange fluttering in Bella's stomach. "But you're right." He released her with a sigh. "There are other ways to harm a lady, and it wouldn't be very honourable of me to take advantage of one who had gone to such lengths to save my life."
Stepping back, Bella was torn between feeling grateful and disappointed that he'd remembered he was a gentleman. What that said about her claim to having once been a lady, she wasn't sure.
I hope you enjoyed Chapter 2. To answer a few of your questions -
1) I'll be posting weekly if possible (chapter 4 is nearly ready to go off to my betas) but I'm trying to avoid burnout. If I manage to write ahead, I'll post more frequently once the story is finished.
2) Yes, this story is inspired by both Cinderella and Ever After, but only loosely.
3) No, there won't be a glass slipper or any magic. While I've started writing a paranormal romance series in a medieval setting, I'm keeping this one 'real'.
4) You guessed it! The man was Edward . . . who else?! ;)
Thank you for all the wonderful reviews for Restoration. They put a smile on my face every time. I'm sorry I wasn't able to reply to many. With preparing for Christmas, a book release, and wanting to get the next chapter of Restoration written, it just wasn't feasible, but please know I read and thoroughly appreciate each and every one. :)
Finally, I have a favour to ask of anyone interested in helping support my publishing endeavours.
I now have three reviews on Amazon for Innocence, all five star which is exciting. I've quite a few more reviews on Goodreads, some good, but also a stack of one and 2 star reviews from people who either don't approve of P2P or who just didn't like the story (my hero is a jerk, my heroine too innocent, the ending is too abrupt, the plot is predictable...that sort of thing). While I totally understand that not everyone will like my writing style or stories, I know from all the support I've received from my fan fiction readers that there are lots of people who do like them
So . . . if you wouldn't mind taking the time to add a review to either Amazon or Goodreads, saying what you liked about the story (that's if you did, of course!), I would be very grateful.
Merry Christmas everyone!