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Messaggio  simona80 il Mar 08 Mar 2011, 00:45

Chapter Twenty-Four
Bella awoke the next morning stark naked.
Or so she thought.
She was in Edward's bed with their bodies entwined, facing one another. Her head rested on his bare chest while his left arm ran across her right hip, their legs scissored, their hips pressed close.
She moved a tentative hand down his back until she found soft cotton covering his most beautiful of curves, which she explored surreptitiously but somewhat respectfully. Then she looked in between them and realized she was wearing only her pink bra and panties.
In her dream, they had fallen into bed naked and made love for hours. Edward had placed his body over hers and held her gaze like a magnet as he moved into her painstakingly slowly, until the two became one. An eternal circle with no end and no beginning.
He had worshipped her with his body and his words and his eyes and it was far more emotional and lovely than she had ever dared hope.
But it was only a dream.
She sighed and closed her eyes as the previous evening's events came flooding back. Sorrow and relief commingled and spread across her heart; sorrow for Edward's loss and tortured desperation, and relief that all their secrets had now been spoken.
Edward murmured her name, his eyes moving beneath his eyelids in deep REM sleep. He had been so tired the night before when they stumbled towards the bed. So almost broken.
Bella kissed his cheek and then quietly extricated herself from his arms, padding silently to the bathroom.
When she regarded herself in the mirror, she saw wild, rumpled hair, smeared eye make up and lips made fuller from kissing. Several love bites, mild in colour and quite painless, dappled her neck and chest.
He was a gentle but enthusiastic lover.
She washed her face and brushed her hair, taming her mane into a high ponytail and then she provocatively forsook her purple bathrobe for one of Edward's button down shirts, wrapping herself in his scent.
She fetched the Globe and Mail from the exterior hallway and waved a shy good morning to Edward's nervous but not entirely unfortunate looking next door neighbour, who stared through his rimless spectacles at her shapely bare legs, before retreating like a frightened mouse into his apartment.
He was not used to seeing such beauty so early in the morning.
And he had been clad only in Superman pyjama bottoms of dubious origin.
When Bella entered the kitchen she was faced with a mess, for no one had cleaned up after dinner, their hands and minds too full for such pedestrian concerns. So after slyly partaking in a slice of apple pie with Vermont cheddar, along with her coffee, Bella proceeded to return Edward's apartment to its formerly pristine condition.
It took longer than she anticipated.
When the kitchen was spotless and Edward still had not emerged from his bed, she poured herself a very large second mug of coffee and then sat in his favourite chair by the fireplace with the newspaper. The sight of his Oxford shirt and her silk blouse lying on top of one another on the floor brought a blush to her cheeks and a smile to her lips.
"And this, alas! is more than we would do."
Edward had stopped her. She would have given herself to him gladly because she loved him. For her, it was not a matter of if she would make love with him, but when.
But Edward had mumbled something against her naked breast and stopped.
He had been so afraid that she would abandon him when she knew about his relationship with Tanya and the tragic loss of their child. But if anything, his confession had brought them closer. At least she had been able to make that clear to him.
And in three days, perhaps, we will be as close as a couple can be.
In two days they would leave for Italy and she would accompany Edward to his lecture as his girlfriend. And when their time in Florence was ended, perhaps they would travel to Venice as lovers.
Despite everything she and Edward had experienced, she felt very much at peace in his shirt and in his chair. They belonged to one another. She believed this. And as long as the Fates did not conspire against them, they would have their happiness.
She hoped.
However, the knowledge that Tanya had the ability to throw Edward into a tailspin with a single telephone call troubled her deeply.
Bella was intelligent enough not to dismiss Tanya as a madwoman in the attic. In fact, Bella took Tanya seriously. Quite seriously. And despite her compassion over Edward and Tanya's shared loss, Bella worried that Tanya was still pursuing Edward in her own manipulative way.
True, Edward and Tanya must have reached some sort of understanding. After all, he had left her in Boston when he took the job at Toronto. He hadn't maintained a romantic relationship with her. He hadn't flown to bail her out of hospital or jail when she called, panicked, back in October.
But Edward had also told Bella that evening that he didn't know when he'd be back and then she had found him pissed out of his mind at Lobby the next night, ready to go home with Angela.
No, Tanya was not the madwoman. But as the perpetual victim, she had the potential to inflict terrible damage on Edward and so Bella was going to do everything in her power to protect him from further guilt and injury. And she was going to endeavour to make him sensible of Tanya's possible threat to his happiness and his relationships.
No less than an hour later, Edward strolled into the living room scratching his head and yawning. His hair was a tangled mess of tousled spikes and an errant curl that had taken a liking to his forehead. He was wearing a pair of faded blue jeans, his eyeglasses and nothing else. He wasn't even wearing socks.
(Parenthetically, it should be noted that even Edward's feet were attractive.)
"Good afternoon, my love." He caressed her cheek with his fingers and then leaned over to kiss her firmly. "I like your – outfit."
His eyes took in the naked flesh that was visible below the edge of the shirttail.
"I like your outfit, too. You're looking awfully casual this morning, Professor Masen. By the way, I made coffee."
He leaned forward and gave her a smouldering look. "You're lucky I decided to put on any clothes at all."
He chuckled at her fierce blush and disappeared into the kitchen.
Oh gods of all virgins who are planning to have sex with their sex-god (no blasphemy intended) boyfriends, please don't let me spontaneously combust when he finally takes me to bed. I really need an Edward-induced orgasm, especially after last night. That's right. I need an Edgasm. Please. Please. Pretty please …
A few minutes later he reappeared and sank down on the couch with his coffee cup, scrubbing at his stubble with one hand.
At length, he frowned in her direction.
"You're too far away." He patted his knee invitingly.
She grinned and walked over to him, allowing him to guide her so that she was seated comfortably on his lap.
Edward crooked an appreciative arm around her hips, pulling her shirt up so that he could rest comfortably against the lace of her boy shorts.
"And how is Miss Swan this morning?"
"Tired," she sighed. "But happy."
Her eyes darted to his. "If it's okay for me to say that."
He nodded. "It is. I'm happy too. And God, so relieved."
He closed his eyes and leaned his head back, exhaling a very deep breath. "I was so sure I'd lose you."
"Why?"
"Isabella, if one were doing a cost-benefit analysis, I would be a high cost, high risk, low benefit venture."
"Nonsense. I don't see you that way at all."
He gave her a half-smile. "Only because you are the soul of forgiveness and compassion. Although I must say, my best qualities and talents have heretofore remained hidden." Now his voice was husky, and the familiar spark of sensuality lit his green eyes. "But I look forward to placing them entirely at your service again and again and again, ad infinitum until you are weary of both them and me. And entirely, blissfully sated."
Bella swallowed. Hard.
He reached up to kiss her forehead and then placed his coffee on the side table so that he could wrap her in his arms.
"Thank you for staying." His voice trembled slightly.
"I love you, Edward. You have to accept the fact that I'm not going anywhere."
He hugged her in response, but remained silent.
"And you don't have to win me sexually. You've already won me," she whispered. "Your best quality is your heart, Edward, not your sexual prowess. It's your heart I fell in love with."
He was silent so long, Bella thought she had upset him. Or insulted him.
Not a wise move to insult a prospective lover's love-making skills BEFORE you have had the opportunity to savour them.
She opened her mouth to apologize, but he stopped her.
He kissed her intensely, a closed mouth kiss that quickly developed into the tugging of lips, the gentle play of tongues, and the caressing of cheeks.
When he pulled away, he crushed her to his chest and whispered in her ear. "You strip me bare. All my pretences, all my walls, you see through everything. You are the only one who has ever known everything and still wanted me. Only you, my beloved."
She had known intuitively that Edward had used his sexuality as a shield to keep true intimacy and love at bay. But with his admission, she realized how painful and lonely it must have been for him all those years. And that was after the soul-crushing time in which he was invisible to his mother and the adjustment of becoming an adopted child.
Having recognized all of this, in addition to his sorrow over Maia, she tried very hard to fight back the tears, for she didn't want to upset him.
But she couldn't.
"Sssshhh, don't cry Bella," Edward breathed.
He wiped away her tears and then he kissed her forehead.
"I love you. Please don't cry. Not because of me."
She snuggled in his arms and worked at stemming the flow of tears. He rubbed tiny circles on her back, gently petting her over and over.
And when she was calm, she spoke.
"I love you, too, Edward. But I need to say something."
Edward immediately moved back so that he could see her eyes.
"Um, this is coming from my concern for you. I want you to know that." She looked at him in earnest. "I've never been pregnant, so I can't pretend to understand Tanya's pain. But I am worried that she has – less than pure intentions when it comes to your interactions."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm a little worried that she has been holding what happened over your head. To keep you in her life. And I'm wondering if she gets into trouble on occasion just for the benefit of having you fly in to rescue her."
"You don't understand the situation." His voice cooled instantly.
She placed a light hand on his shoulder.
"I'm not saying that I do. I'm just telling you what it looks like. But your friends or the lawyers in Boston might have insight into the situation. You could ask for their opinion. Maybe Tanya needs to see a counsellor to help her work through some things."
Edward pulled his arm away and Bella knew that he was unhappy with what she had said.
But she would not give up so easily.
"Just think about it. For me. I can understand that you want to help her and the trust fund allows you to do that. But maybe it's time to encourage her to develop an emotional attachment to someone else. Someone she can fall in love with. Someone who will be part of her future, not her past."
He shifted his weight underneath her but she continued.
"You want her to be happy. But what if she can't be happy until she lets you go? You let her go and then you found me. It would be a mercy on your part, a severe mercy, for you to let her go so that she can find her own happiness."
Bella's words sank into Edward's ears but he was not ready to consider them. At least, not at that moment. So he swiftly changed the subject.
"Your choice of words is very interesting. A Severe Mercy was one of Esme's favourite books."
"I didn't know that."
"She tried for years to get me to read it. I have a copy of it somewhere in the study. Maybe I should look it up."
"What's it about?"
"A young couple. The man ends up studying at Oxford and I believe he becomes a protégé of C.S. Lewis. It's a true story."
"I'd love to go to Oxford. To see where the Inklings drank their beer and spun their tales."
Edward kissed her forehead. "I'd love to take you. I can show you the statues at Magdalen College that inspired Lewis to write about the stone animals in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. We could go in June, if you like."
Bella smiled and kissed him back. "If you lend me Esme's book, I'll take it to Italy. It might be nice to have something to read during our vacation."
He smirked at her and tapped a single finger to the end of her nose.
"What makes you think I'll let you have time enough to read?"
Bella blushed and fumbled a vague response, but Edward continued, a grave expression on his face.
"I'm sorry we had to stop last night. It isn't right for me to tease you like that and then just …" He searched her eyes for her reaction.
She wrapped her arms around him and embraced him tenderly.
"Edward, it was an incredibly emotional evening. I was happy to be close to you and then to fall asleep in your arms. I just wanted to comfort you any way I could. You don't need to apologize."
He cupped her face in both hands. "Isabella, your mere presence comforts me. But I was exhausted and I'd been drinking … a recipe for disaster." He shook his head and looked ashamed. "I didn't want our first time to have so much baggage, with all the ghosts of my past swirling in the air. I want us to go to a place that is ours alone and make some new memories. Some happy ones."
"Of course. Although I must say that I was pretty happy with our interactions last night." She laughed lightly and kissed him.
He returned her kiss eagerly. "So you aren't upset?"
"Edward, you are a gentleman worth waiting for. What kind of person would I be if I threw a tantrum because you said stop? If I ever say stop I would hope that you would accept it and not get angry with me."
He frowned.
"Of course, Isabella. You can always say stop."
"Well, then what is good for the goose is good for the gander."
Edward threw his head back and laughed heartily.
Bella giggled. It was good to hear him laugh.
"So I'm a gander now, am I?" He kissed her once again.
"It's better than being a geezer."
"Oh, no." He squeezed her tightly. "No age jokes. I'm sensitive enough about our age difference."
Bella tossed her hair. "Nonsense. Our souls have to be about the same age. So who is counting?"
He tugged at her pony tail. "You're incredible. You're intelligent and funny and damn, you're gorgeous. Last night, kissing your breasts …" He placed a hand reverently over her heart. "Rosebuds and cream. You rival Botticelli's muse."
"Botticelli?"
"Haven't you noticed how several of his paintings all feature the same woman? That is the topic of my lecture for the Uffizi Gallery - Botticelli's muse."
Bella smiled at him sweetly, placing a corresponding hand on his heart. "I can't wait."
"Neither can I."
-
After a quick singular shower, Bella had a deuce of a time convincing Edward to let her out of his sight so that she could go shopping. He insisted on accompanying her.
But when she finally explained that she wanted to shop for lingerie, alone, he relented.
"Promise me you'll stay with me until we leave for Italy." He looked at her through his eyebrows.
"I have to pack. My suitcase and all my things are at my apartment."
"When you've finished shopping, take a cab home and pack and then have the driver bring you back here. I have to run a few errands, but you have your own key and security card to let yourself in if I'm still out."
"And what kind of errands does Professor Masen have to do today?"
He smiled at her wickedly and Bella felt her boy shorts slip along her hips as if they were intending to take a header to the floor.
"Perhaps I have my own shopping to do for – ah – personal items." He leaned forward to press his lips against her ear, his voice husky. "I told you I was a good lover, Isabella. Trust me. I will anticipate your every need."
Bella shivered at the way his breath breezed across her neck, almost fluttering the omnipresent scarf she wore to hide her scar. She had no idea what he was implying, but she found herself tantalized by the way his words tripped off his tongue.
He owned her, body and soul.
They quickly kissed goodbye and Bella exited the apartment and the building and walked through the network of underground passages to the subway station, so she could begin her sacred pilgrimage for lingerie.
-
While Bella was walking around the Eaton Centre hunting for the boutique La Vie en Rose, her iPhone rang.
A quick glance at the screen revealed that it was Charlie.
"Dad?"
"How's my little girl today?"
Bella inhaled immediately. Not from pain but from pleasure, for his remark had touched her.
"Oh, I'm fine. School is over for the semester so I'm out running errands. It's snowing, Dad. What's the weather like there?"
"Misty rain, as usual. Listen, I was calling to check up on you and also to ask you about Christmas. When are you coming home?"
Bella froze in the middle of a crowd of Christmas shoppers.
"Bells? You there?"
"I'm here. Edward was going to reserve our tickets and I think we'll arrive in Forks on the twenty-third or the twenty-fourth."
Charlie paused on the other end of the line.
"You won't be coming home earlier?"
Bella tried to figure out the exact words to explain to her father that her boyfriend was taking her to Italy so that they could consummate their relationship, a fact she had neglected to mention when she left Forks.
But Charlie's voice interrupted her thoughts.
"Is this because of me? You don't want to come home?"
"Oh, Dad, no! Edward bought me an early Christmas present. He's taking me to Florence and we won't be able to come back until later in the month."
Charlie fumed slightly into the phone. "Don't you think it's a little soon to be jet-setting off to Europe with your boyfriend? You haven't dated him that long."
"Dad, I love him. And he loves me, too. We need some time away after everything that happened in Forks and this was his gift to me. I want to go."
"Alright, alright. I understand. I'm not trying to stick my nose in where it doesn't belong. But are you sure?"
"We're in love, Dad. Of course I'm sure."
He inhaled slowly. "Then I suppose I should tell you to be careful. Getting pregnant in the middle of the school year would be a bad idea and you know what happened with your mother."
Bella's breath whooshed out of her body.
It took a moment for her to find words that were neither cutting nor profane.
"I am not her."
"Of course not, Bells. You're the best thing Renee ever did, and that's God's honest truth. But I want you to be careful. Don't give up your dreams for your boyfriend, that's all I'm saying. And be safe."
Bella rolled her eyes at her father and were she not in a crowded shopping centre, she would have blown a raspberry at him.
"I know I haven't been the best dad. But I'm trying. And I'm not doing my job if I don't warn you to be careful, even if you're in love. You know, I loved your mother. That's how we got you."
That cut Bella to the quick.
"Dad, please. Let's move on, okay?"
"Okay." Charlie sighed and Bella could have sworn she heard the silence between them crackle with his suppressed emotions. "So I'll expect you around the twenty-third or the twenty-fourth. I'll pick you and Edward up in Seattle, if you want."
"I'll find out when we arrive and get back to you."
"Have a good time on your trip, if I don't get to talk to you before you leave. When are you leaving?"
"Tuesday."
"Well, be safe over there. And drop your old man a line now and then to let me know how you're doing."
"I will Dad, and thanks."
Bella ended her call and then found a small bench to sit down on.
Charlie's phone call had alerted her to the fact that she and Edward probably needed to have a follow-up conversation about contraception.
As she scrolled through the WebMD website gathering information about male sterilization, she discovered that vasectomies had a 99.85% success rate in preventing pregnancy. Although she was resolved to ask him a few more questions, the website assured her that if Edward's procedure had been performed correctly six years ago, then pregnancy would not be in their future.
That fact both relieved and saddened her.
-
While Bella was pulling lingerie from the store racks to add to her ever expanding pile of items to try on, her iPhone chirped. She quickly checked it and found the following text message:
What are you looking at?
-E
She giggled slightly and typed a short response.
Very tiny things.
-B
Edward replied immediately.
How tiny?
-E
P.S. Send pictures.
Bella rolled her eyes as she hit reply.
Too tiny.
No pictures – you'll ruin the surprise.
Love, B.
It took a little longer for Edward's next text to arrive.
Darling,
No picture could ruin the experience
of seeing you in all your glory for the first time …
You're that beautiful.
Love,
E.
Then Bella's fingers couldn't type fast enough.
Thank you, Edward.
I love you.
Edward's final text message reached her just as she entered the dressing room.
I love you, too, Sweetheart.
Have fun …
Hurry home to me,
E.
-
The next two days were a whirlwind as Edward finished his administrative duties for the University, ensuring that all his grades and Katherine's were submitted.
The semester was finally over.
Bella made a special trip to a spa for some pre-Italy pampering. But in keeping with her low pain tolerance and overall Mediterranean sensibility, she politely declined the aesthetician's invitation to embrace all things Brazilian.
Edward had kept most of their travel plans a secret, wishing to surprise her. So it was with amazement that Bella walked into the Gallery Hotel Art in Florence on a warmer than usual December day.
The hotel was upscale and modern and located very close to the Ponte Vecchio, Bella's favourite bridge, and a few minutes from the Ponte Santa Trinita, which was featured in Holiday's painting of Dante and Beatrice.
The concierge, Paolo, greeted them immediately. Although Edward had not stayed in his hotel before, Paolo had been instructed by Dottore Massimo Vitali, the Executive Director of the Uffizi Gallery, to extend every courtesy to Professor Masen and his fidanzata.
In fact, Paolo himself accompanied the bellhop and the happy couple to their seventh floor suite, which was the Palazzo Vecchio Penthouse.
Bella gasped as the men parted like the Red Sea before her so that she could enter first.
It was, perhaps, the loveliest room she had ever seen. The floor was a dark hardwood offset with light coloured walls. The sitting room was graced with elegantly modern furniture and a sliding glass wall that partitioned it from the bedroom.
The bedroom itself was very spacious and featured a large bed that was piled high with crisp, white linens. Mere steps away was a glass door that opened out onto the rooftop terrazza, which allowed bright sunlight to spill over the bed, illuminating it.
One of the bathrooms boasted a huge pedestal bathtub not unlike the tub Bella had enjoyed in their hotel in Seattle, while the other bathroom had a shower and two matching vanities.
Edward took one look at the bathtub and decided that he needed to share it with Isabella that very evening.
But the crowning glory of the space was the terrazza itself, which offered breathtaking views of the great Duomo, the Palazzo and the surrounding hills. Bella envisioned curling up with Edward on the comfortable futon bed that dominated the terrace with a glass of Chianti and looking up at the stars.
Or perhaps, she blushed, making love with him by candlelight underneath those same stars.
Edgasms by starlight …
Once they were alone, Bella hugged Edward tightly and thanked him over and over again for choosing such a beautiful room.
"It's all for you, my love." He kissed her softly. "All for you."
He held her for a few minutes, tangling his fingers through her long, silken hair, wondering what she was thinking. He would have given a great deal at that moment to read her mind. Alas, he could not.
But he could guess.
Truthfully, he would have liked nothing better than to spread Isabella out on the bed and make love to her immediately, but she hadn't slept well on the airplane and he knew that she was tired.
She yawned twice in a row and then giggled when he tried to kiss away her yawns.
"I should clean up and then pay a visit to the Uffizi to meet my host. Would it be alright if I left you on your own for a while? You can take a nap, if you like, or I could ask the concierge to book a massage for you in the spa."
Bella's eyes lit up at the latter offering, but she knew she was too sleepy to enjoy it.
"A nap sounds good. I know it isn't the best strategy for overcoming jet lag, but I will be much better company over dinner and, um, later on if I have a little more sleep." She blushed a little.
Edward traced a single finger around her jaw line.
"I'll only say this once, Isabella. There is no rush. We can take our time tonight and just relax. Although I think it would be nice if we were to try out the bathtub. Together." His lips curled up into a sexy half-smile.
"I'd like that," she said softly.
He kissed her nose, chuckling. "I requested special amenities from the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella. See if any of the scents are to your liking and we'll use them tonight. In the meantime, I'll book our dinner reservations for eight or eight thirty, if that would be alright."
"Sure. Where will we go?"
He smiled widely. "The Palazzo dell'Arte dei Giudici. Do you know it?"
She shook her head. "I've walked by it but no, I didn't know they had a restaurant."
"You'll love it. I'm looking forward to showing it to you." He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it softly. "I ordered a fruit basket and a few bottles of sparkling water. Charge what you like to the room." He grinned. "Although save the champagne to share with me later. In the tub."
Bella looked down at her feet. "You're spoiling me."
He lifted her chin. "No, my love, not spoiling. Just treating you as you deserve to have been treated all along. You've just been surrounded by fools your whole life. Of whom I was chief, sadly."
"Edward, you are many things, but a fool you are not." She leaned up on tiptoes to brush his lips with her own and then she went to take a shower.
-
A few hours later, Edward returned from a cordial meeting with his friend Massimo Vitali. Over espresso with lemon rind, the gentlemen discussed Edward's lecture the following evening and the plans for an elaborate banquet to be held inside the Uffizi in his honour.
Edward was very grateful for the gesture, but more on behalf of Isabella than himself, for he thought only of how pleased she would be to participate in such a festive event. And in her favourite art gallery.
Entering the penthouse, Edward walked through the sitting room to the bedroom and found Bella asleep in the geographic centre of the bed, on top of the covers. She was wearing champagne coloured satin pyjamas, her long hair flowing around her head like a chestnut halo.
She looked like a dark haired Sleeping Beauty.
He watched her sleep for a moment and then pressed a kiss to her cheek. When she didn't stir, he decided to pour himself a drink and sit out on the terrace until it was time to wake her. Truthfully, he was glad to have a moment to himself to plan and dream about the next few days.
He felt as if the world had been lifted from his shoulders. Not only did she know the truth about Tanya and Maia, but she still loved him. And they had escaped the wrath of the University's Tribunal and survived the academic semester together.
He had much for which to be grateful. And most of all, he had his Isabella all to himself for two entire weeks.
Bella is not the kind of girl you screw around with. She is the kind of girl you marry.
Emmett's words resounded in his ears.
Emmett was right. Isabella was special; an intelligent, compassionate beauty who loved deeply and gave freely. She deserved so much more than just an affair.
Although Edward refused to consider their relationship an affair, no matter what people might say.
He stealthily patted the small velvet box he had in his jacket pocket. The thought of being in a long-term relationship had always been so remote to him.
Isabella had changed all that.
Tonight his plan was to show her how much he loved her. To adore her and to relax her. A bubble bath, a massage … anything he could do to make her comfortable with having him see her body. Isabella was still shy with him during certain moments and he wanted her to feel beautiful and desirable.
Jacob had wrought deep fissures in her confidence. She thought she was frigid. She thought she was clumsy and inadequate sexually. She feared she would disappoint Edward when they eventually made love.
Edward knew that it would take a long time to dispel those lies and to heal those wounds. He was resolved to build her confidence incrementally, to help her see herself as he saw her – sexy, attractive, and passionate.
The only way he could do this would be to take his time and to be patient and affirming. He was looking forward to demonstrating his love for her and subjecting all of his erotic arts to her service. She would never demand such things, such attention, which made the thought of giving everything to her so much more satisfying.
If their relationship was more advanced and Isabella was less shy, he would suggest that they make love on the terrace. The thought of how Isabella's rose and cream skin would glow in the twilight made his heart soar and his trousers twitch.
But having sex outside would likely be too nerve-wracking for her this trip and he'd be damned if he'd push her to do anything that would make her even remotely uncomfortable.
We'll just have to come back …
-
At eight o'clock that evening, Miss Isabella Swan put the finishing touches on her hair as her sweetheart gazed at her longingly from the doorway of the bathroom.
He adored her. It was evident in every look, every touch, and the way he stared, unblinking, at her simplest actions.
She had curled her hair and pinned it up, coaxing a few tendrils about her face, tendrils Edward longed to wrap around his fingers.
Her aesthetician in Toronto had given her a small tube of industrial strength concealer, make up that was designed to cover even the worst scars and burn marks. It was so effective, Bella no longer had to wear a scarf to hide the bite.
Just being able to forget about the scar made Bella joyous, especially since Esme's lovely scarf would not have matched her new dress.
Her dress was a silky emerald green. It was long-sleeved and v-necked, as she preferred, its hem brushing the top of her knees. She wore sheer black stockings with a surprise attached to them and was about to step into her black Prada stilettos.
As Edward watched her lean forward to put on her shoes, he vowed to purchase more of them. They did incredible things to her legs, and to her cleavage as she leaned over.
"Allow me," he said, crouching in front of her in his freshly pressed navy suit as if he were Prince Charming himself.
He took her hand and placed it on his shoulder, to aid her balance, while he lifted each foot and slipped on her shoes.
"Thank you," she murmured.
He smiled up at her and kissed her hand. "Anything for you, Cinderella."
Bella pulled her black three-quarter length trench coat from the closet and was about to wriggle into it when Edward took it out of her hand.
"Let me," he protested. "I want to fuss over you."
"It's just a coat, Edward. No worries." She grinned at him.
"Yes, I know it's a coat. But it's an opportunity for me to behave like a gentleman and honour you. Please don't deprive me, Isabella."
She flushed in embarrassment and nodded slowly.
She wasn't used to such attention, of course, except from Edward. She wanted to be gracious and let him attend her, but it was far more than she ever expected. Or thought that she deserved.
She reached up to kiss him and whispered her thanks against his lips. And then he took her arm and led her downstairs and toward the restaurant.
Bella and Edward walked slowly through the cobblestoned streets from the Palazzo Vecchio, over to the Palazzo dell'Arte dei Giudici e Notai, laughing and reminiscing about previous visits to Florence.
They had to walk slowly, for navigating Florence in stilettos was more than a little challenging. Thankfully, Edward had taken Bella's arm to escort her properly, thus enabling her to walk upright and also to avoid much of the wolf whistles and cat calls of Florentine youths.
The city had not changed that much since the days of Dante.
The restaurant Edward had chosen was called Alle Murate. It was located in a fourteenth century guild hall a short walk from the Duomo, and it boasted incredible period frescoes, including a very early portrait of Boccaccio and a portrait of Dante himself.
Bella was overwhelmed by the beauty of the artwork and found herself wandering slightly as the maître d' escorted them to their table.
Edward had reserved a quiet space on the loft floor overlooking the main room, just under the vaulted ceiling. It was the best table in the house, for it afforded the finest and closest views of the medieval illustrations.
Four angels frozen in frescoes floated above them as Bella took Edward's hand and squeezed it. She was ecstatic.
"Edward, it's beautiful. Thank you. I had no idea these frescoes were here."
He smiled widely.
"Tomorrow night will be even better. Massimo tells me that my lecture is scheduled after the museum closes and then there will be a reception with local dignitaries and academics. Later on, there will be a banquet inside the Gallery. It will be a semi-formal affair and we will be the guests of honour."
Bella smiled smally. "I didn't bring anything fancy enough for a semi-formal."
"You could wear what you're wearing tonight. You look beautiful. But I can understand not wanting to wear the same dress twice. So I will just have to take you shopping."
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather I left you to it? The banquet is a celebration of your lecture, so you'll be very busy. Maybe you'd be more comfortable if you could – mingle freely."
He reached over to push a curl away from her face.
"Isabella, your presence is not only encouraged, it's required. I dislike going to these social events alone. I always have. Having you at my side is the only pleasure the evening will afford, I assure you. Don't you want to join me?"
His face took on a worried expression.
"I always enjoy your company. But people will ask me who I am and what I do … won't that be awkward for you?"
His features immediately darkened.
"Of course not! I've been waiting for the end of the semester so I could enjoy your company in public and introduce you as my girlfriend. And there is nothing shameful about being a graduate student. Half the people at the banquet will have been graduate students at one time. You're a grown woman, you're intelligent and beautiful …"
He grinned wickedly. "I will have to stay close to you in order to keep my rivals at bay. They'll be circling around you like wolves, vying for the attention of the prettiest woman at the party."
Bella smiled her gratitude and leaned over to kiss him. "Then I would be delighted to accompany you."
In answer, he pressed his lips to her hand, her palm and her wrist, moving his lips gently to the sleeve of her dress. He pushed it up her forearm slightly to expose her bare skin to his mouth.
Bella's eyes rolled back into her head as he began kissing the delicate skin of her forearm with wet, unhurried kisses. And then he dragged his lips to the sensitive space at the inside of her elbow and sucked slightly …
For Edward knew, as Bella did not, that the inside of a woman's elbow was a particularly erogenous zone.
The sound of the waiter clearing his throat behind him merely slowed Edward's attentions.
Bella blushed a brilliant red at being caught, which prompted him to release her arm ruefully.
Over a bottle of Tuscan wine and a few antipasti, Edward asked her about her study abroad program, where she lived and what she did while she was a student.
When she spoke of how she would visit the Uffizi on an almost daily basis to gaze at Botticelli's masterpieces, he wondered if there really was such a thing as destiny. And then he wondered how he had ever been fortunate enough to find her not once, but twice.
After they had finished their main courses and were sitting quietly gazing into one another's eyes and exchanging chaste kisses, Edward released her hand and rummaged in his suit pocket.
"I have something for you."
"Edward, the trip is a gift in itself and now you want to buy me a dress. I can't."
He shook his head. "This is different. Now before I give it to you, I want you to promise me that you won't refuse it."
Bella looked over into serious green eyes. He wasn't joking. In fact, he was quite grave. She wondered what was hidden in the palm of his right hand.
"I can't promise something without knowing more about it."
He made a face. "Promise that you'll keep an open mind?"
"Of course."
"Hold out your hand."
Bella held out her pale hand and Edward placed a small, black velvet box in it.
She inhaled sharply.
"It isn't a ring. So you can start breathing again." His face was smiling, but his eyes were nervous.
Bella opened the box and was stunned by what she saw inside.
Nestled amongst black silk were two large, round and perfect diamond solitaire earrings of about a carat each.
"Edward, I ..." She searched for words, but they did not come.
"Before you refuse them, I need to tell you their story. Will you listen? For me?"
She nodded, mesmerized by the glittering stones in front of her eyes.
"They were Esme's. Carlisle gave them to her the first time he told her that he loved her. They weren't together very long before he fell for her completely. Legend has it that he sold his car to buy those earrings."
Bella's mouth hung open. Now she recognized them. Esme wore them almost constantly.
"I want you to have them."
She shook her head and gently, reverently closed the box. She held it out to him. "I can't. These were your mother's. You should keep them."
"No."
"Edward, please. They should go to Alice or Rose."
"Alice has Esme's rings. Carlisle gave these to me." As Edward began to panic, all he could do was focus on the small velvet box nestled in her pale little hand. "And you have as much a right to them as Rose."
His eyes narrowed a little.
"If you refuse them, you will injure me." His words were barely above a whisper, but they hit Bella as if he had screamed.
She swallowed and took a minute to gather her thoughts.
"I am so sorry. They're lovely. And I can't express how wonderful I feel that you want me to have them, but I don't feel right about this."
Bella saw that his mood was shifting from hurt to upset and so she looked down at the tablecloth in front of her, hiding her eyes.
"You misunderstand me, Isabella. I'm not giving them to you because I think you should have something of Esme's. They are not the equivalent of a scarf or a string of pearls."
She chewed at the inside of her mouth as she waited for him to continue.
He leaned across the table and pressed his palm against her cheek.
"I am giving you these to commemorate the fact that I have already given you my heart."
He swallowed thickly as his eyes searched hers.
"This is my way of saying that you, Isabella, are the love of my life and I want something of mine with you always. Don't you see? These diamonds represent my heart. You can't refuse them."
Bella saw in his eyes that he was absolutely serious.
She knew that if he had given her an engagement ring at that moment, she would have been shocked, but she would have accepted it. There was no other person in the world for her, just Edward.
So why was she hesitating about accepting the earrings?
On the one hand, there was her pride and on the other, there was the thought, the painful unacceptable thought, that she would hurt him by rejecting his gift.
She didn't want to hurt him. She loved him.
Which meant that her decision had already been made.
"They're beautiful. The most beautiful gift I've ever received, next to your love. Thank you."
He kissed her fingers in gratitude.
"Esme would be happy that we found one another. I believe that, Isabella. I believe that she's looking down on us and offering us her blessing. And she would be overjoyed that I was able to give these earrings to the woman I love."
He smiled then, stood up and walked over to her. He extended his hand and pulled her to him, engulfing her in a passionate embrace.
"Thank you," he whispered in her ear.
After he had kissed her, he took the box from her hand and helped her place the earrings in her ears. And then he pressed a tender kiss to each earlobe.
"Beautiful."
Bella laughed nervously. "Everyone downstairs is staring at us."
"Not everyone. The waiter is in the kitchen."
He smirked at her and they both laughed.
He caught her eye and then leaned forward to whisper in her ear, "Behold, thou art fair, my beloved."
Bella flushed deeply at Edward's erotic Hebrew poetry and murmured her reply against his neck, "By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him."
Edward responded with a slow, surprised smile and then he kissed her until the waiter returned.
When Bella declined dessert and the wine bottle was empty, the blissful couple floated towards home.
"Shall I buy you some gelato?"
She laughed. "Maybe tomorrow. I'm too excited to eat anything now."
"And what's your favourite flavour?"
"I like them all. When I was a student, I'd eat it for breakfast." She giggled at the horrified expression that passed over Edward's features and resolved on the spot to initiate him into the joys of a gelato colazione. "Lemon is my favourite. Pink grapefruit is a close second. How about you?"
"Mango. Or raspberry."
"Lemon and raspberry are very nice together. It's a good combination."
"Fortunately for us," he whispered.
She gazed up at him and he brought his lips to hers, kissing her deeply.
"How are your feet?" He paused to gaze down wistfully at Isabella's beautiful high heeled shoes.
She squeezed his hand. "I can't feel my feet. I can't feel anything at this moment except happiness."
He smiled at her tenderly. "My sweet girl."
He chose a single lock of hair and wound it gently around his finger, before he released it.
"So can you walk a little while longer? The Duomo is beautiful by night and I've never kissed you in its shadow."
She nodded and he led her around the church so they could admire Brunelleschi's dome.
It was an incredible feat of renaissance architecture, a great egg shaped dome with a tiled roof soaring above a beautiful church.
They walked to the front of the structure, near the Baptistery opposite, gazing at the façade and up at the roof. It was breathtaking, even at night.
Edward pulled her to his chest and kissed her lovingly, winding his fingers around the loose tendrils of her hair.
She half-moaned as he dragged his lips to her earlobe, drawing it into his mouth gently.
"You have no idea how it feels knowing that I gave you these." He nuzzled her earring with his nose. "Knowing that you wear my love on your body for everyone to see."
She was going to reply, she was going to tell him to mark her body in another deeper way, but she was interrupted by a voice calling to her in Italian from the front steps of the church.
"Beautiful lady! Some money for an old man …"
Unthinkingly, Bella leaned around Edward to discover who was calling to her.
The man continued begging for money so that he could buy something to eat.
Edward caught her arm before she could approach the steps. "Come away, love."
"He's hungry. I should give him something."
"The police will come around and carry him off. They don't like panhandlers in the city centre."
"People are free to come and sit on the steps of a church. Sanctuary," she mused.
"The medieval concept of sanctuary no longer exists. Western governments abolished it starting with England in the seventeenth century." Edward grumbled as she dove into her purse and withdrew a twenty Euro note.
"So much?"
"I don't have anything smaller and he's hungry. And look, Edward." She gestured to the man's crutches.
"A clever ruse," he complained.
Bella fixed Edward with a disappointed look.
"He's hungry and tonight your love has made me rich." She took a step in the poor man's direction.
"Isabella, if you give him that money, he'll just spend it on wine or drugs. It isn't going to help him."
She didn't take any time at all to respond to that objection. "St. Francis didn't make people promise to spend their money on specific things when he was charitable. He gave without condition. Or fear."
Edward rolled his eyes at her. There was no way he was going to win an argument with Isabella when she began to quote St. Francis of Assisi.
No one could win against that kind of argument.
"If I give him something, he will know that someone cared enough to help him. And no matter what he spends his money on, that will be a good thing. Your love has made me generous. Don't deprive me of an opportunity to be charitable."
She tried to step around Edward but he blocked her path.
He took the bill from her hand and added something to it from his own pocket and then he handed the money to the beggar.
The two men had a quiet exchange in Italian and the poor man blew kisses to Bella and tried in vain to shake Edward's hand.
But he retreated, taking Bella's arm and leading her away.
"What did he say?"
"He asked me to thank the angel for her mercy."
Bella stopped him so that she could kiss at his frown until it morphed into a smile. "Then thank you."
"I'm not the angel he was referring to," he growled, but he kissed Bella in return.
In a last minute decision, they walked down to the Ponte Vecchio so that they could look at the Arno, illuminated as it was at night by the lights of the buildings on the bridge and the riverbanks.
They walked past the jewellery shops, which Edward vowed to revisit with Bella when they were open, and to the centre of the bridge.
"Isabella," he murmured, holding her in his arms as they watched the river flow.
"Edward." She smiled up at him and angled her face for a kiss.
He kissed her softly to begin with but then their kiss grew more and more intense.
He pulled away, well aware of the fact that they were becoming a spectacle for the foot traffic across the bridge.
"I'm so glad that you're with me. I've never been this happy." He stroked her cheek lazily, and pressed his lips to her forehead.
Impulsively, she reached out and grabbed his silk tie, pulling him so that their faces were mere inches apart.
"I want you," she breathed.
And with that, Bella pulled him even closer and kissed him.
And what a kiss it was.
Here was the tiger emerging from behind the façade of the kitten. Bella's passion, ignited by Edward's affection, poured into his mouth as she endeavoured to show him how much she felt for him.
Her hands, which had normally rested on either his shoulders or in his hair, left his tie to explore his chest and then his back, feeling his muscles through his clothes, pressing him tightly against her.
Her aggression delighted him.
He reciprocated within reason, well aware of the edge of the bridge at his back and the clusters of impertinent youths who continued to walk by.
When they were both panting for air, she brought her lips to his ear, "Make me yours. Now."
"Are you sure?" He rasped out, caressing her hips and her derrière.
"With all my heart."
He brushed his thumb against her now swollen lower lip. "Only if you're ready."
"I've wanted you forever, Edward. Please don't make me wait any longer."
He chuckled softly.
"Then we should get off this bridge."
He kissed her once more and then excused himself to make a brief call on his iPhone.
It was a quick exchange in Italian that sounded like Edward was confirming something with the concierge, but Bella couldn't catch everything. He turned his back on her deliberately and spoke in hushed tones.
When she asked him about it he grinned. "You'll see."
It took them a little longer than it should have to arrive at the hotel, for every few steps one of them would pull the other into a passionate kiss.
There were laughter and gentle caresses, there were tender embraces and murmured words of seduction, and a tango or two against the wall of a darkened alley.
But really, the seduction was complete. For it had occurred in a meadow long ago.
By the time Edward led Bella into the penthouse and out onto the terrazzo, they were vibrating with shared electricity and very, very needy.
Which meant that it took Bella a moment to notice the transformation.
Pillar candles had been scattered around the space and contributed a warm, flickering luminosity to the starlight from above.
The air was perfumed with jasmine.
Pillows and a cashmere blanket beckoned them to recline on the futon banquette.
A bottle of champagne sat chilling in an ice bucket and nearby, Bella saw a plate of chocolate covered strawberries and what looked like tiramisu.
And lastly, Bella noticed the music of Diana Krall.
Edward came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, nuzzling her left ear with his nose. "Does this please you?"
"It's beautiful."
"I have plans for you this evening, love. I'm afraid those plans don't include sleep until much, much later."
Bella shivered at the tone of his voice, low and sensual.
He held her more tightly. "Am I making you nervous?"
She shook her head.
He began to kiss her neck softly, floating his lips across her skin. "A declaration of desire," he murmured. "But tonight I will make good on my declaration when I take you to my bed and make you my lover."
She trembled once again and this time he crooked his arm across her collarbone, hugging her close. "Relax, darling. Tonight is all about pleasure. Your pleasure. And I intend to please you all evening."
He kissed her cheek and then spun her around slowly.
"Foreplay is essential. And since this is new to both of us, there are a few things I'd like to do first." He searched her eyes for her reaction.
"I'm yours, Edward. I trust you."
He smiled and kissed her softly. "I want to explore your senses – sound, taste, sight, touch. I want to take my time arousing and exciting you." He lowered his voice. "But most of all, I want to teach your body to recognize the man who worships you, just by my touch."
"I already recognize you, Edward. There's no one else."
He kissed her intensely and then paused as Besame Mucho sounded in the air.
"Will you dance with me?"
"Of course."
As if I'd ever refuse the chance to hold you in my arms …
He pulled her close and she pressed grateful lips to his jaw.
"Is this our song?"
"It should be. I remember everything about that night. Your hair, your dress. You were a vision."
She reached up to run her fingers through his hair.
"And I was such a brute. The things I said." He shook his head. "How did you ever forgive me?"
Bella rebuked him with her eyes. "Edward, you're giving me the fairy tale I never thought I'd have. Please don't spoil it."
He kissed her lips repentantly and held her even more tightly, running a tentative hand across her ribs.
For Edward knew, as Bella did not, that the ribs of a woman were another erogenous zone.
As they swayed to the music, he sang to her, pouring his soul into the Spanish words, but changing them slightly so that she would know he would never let her go.
He would give her nothing less than forever and hell itself could not prevent him from keeping his vow.
He just hadn't spoken the words aloud.
Yet.
She lifted her head and stared at his mouth, memorizing its fullness and its curves, the way his bottom lip curled downwards. And then she tugged it into her mouth unhurriedly, winding her fingers in his hair. He was sweetness and wet warmth, hunger and passionate need, love and devotion. And his kiss pressed itself to her very soul so that even the tips of her toes felt his adoration and desire.
Two bodies pressed tightly together in a lover's dance, eager with anticipation.
Finally, I am loved.
Relevant Links:
www.lungarnohotels.com/en/firenze-gallery-hotel-art/hotels-accommodations-39 Hotel in Florence
www.artenotai.org/ristorante_alle_murate_palazzo_arte_giudici_e_notai.asp Restaurant

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