capitolo ventisei

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capitolo ventisei

Messaggio  simona80 il Mar 08 Mar 2011, 20:46

Chapter Twenty-Six
Edward sat in bed, his back against the padded headboard, his forearms resting casually on his bent knees. He was naked except for his boxer shorts and his glasses, all the better to watch his precious Isabella sleep.
She was on her side facing him, a diamond sparkling on her ear, her red lips parted, breathing softly. Her cheeks were pink from the warmth of the room as their large, white bed was bathed in sunshine from floor to ceiling windows and the door that opened out onto the terrace.
Edward had opened the door widely to let in the fresh air, which was unseasonably warm.
He had already enjoyed breakfast and read the local newspaper in bed because he was reticent to leave her side.
He'd never felt this way before.
Usually, he was eager to leave the arms and bed of a lover to return home to shower and sleep, but even leaving Isabella for a moment to greet the young man who delivered their room service a half an hour earlier made him anxious.
In addition, he felt the constant urge to touch her and found himself soothed by the smallest, most innocent of contact, skin against skin. From time to time, he would reach out a restrained finger and caress her cheek lightly so as not to wake her.
His desire to simply hold her in his arms after making love had surprised both of them. As if their love making had been incomplete without the gentle closeness that came afterwards. A closeness he wished to recapture, even this morning.
Seeing her hand resting on the pillow, he stroked her baby finger with his own. As if by instinct her finger curled around his, trapping him in her somnolent grasp.
He liked how it felt – innocent but real.
She shifted slightly and mumbled his name, her pretty mouth curling up into a small smile.
She thinks of me and smiles.
The change shimmered between them.
Their union the evening before had been spiritual as well as physical, a communion he had never anticipated.
Carlisle was right.
I have a soul and it joined with her when I chose to worship her body with my own. Now she truly is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh – my soul mate.
To commemorate the moment, or perhaps just because she was unspeakably beautiful in her sleep, he took a series of pictures of her with his iPhone. He would later choose one for his screensaver on his MacBook and one for an avatar to match her ring tone on his phone.
Just as he was putting his phone aside, Bella stretched like a cat beneath the sheets, yawning before she even opened her eyes. When she caught sight of him she smiled warmly and his heart beat a little faster.
"Good morning, baby." He bent to kiss her lips tenderly.
"Good morning, love."
She blinked back her sleep and then freed his hand in order to cover her mouth. "I need to brush my teeth."
"I don't mind," he chuckled, tugging at her hand playfully.
"No, really. And I should use the washroom." She moved to get up and then realized that she was naked. And her robe was still hanging with its matching gown in one of the bathrooms.
Edward peered over the rims of his glasses, watching her closely.
"Go ahead, Isabella. I'll wait for you."
Her gaze traveled from the sheet that was covering her, over to Edward's darkening green eyes behind his black frames. He was like a panther waiting to pounce on his prey.
Do I just walk to the bathroom – naked? Shouldn't I put on some panties or something? Wait … where are my panties?!
He smirked at her. "What's the problem?"
She blushed and he laughed, pulling her into his arms and kissing her forehead.
"You're shy this morning. But it's just me. And truthfully, I've been waiting for you to wake up so that I could admire you. If I had my wish, you'd never wear clothes again."
He pressed his lips to her forehead once more and then moved to pick up the Turkish bathrobe he had abandoned on a chair after answering the door for their breakfast.
He placed the robe on the bed and then sat with his back towards her, facing the terrace, pretending to be very interested in his empty cup of espresso.
She mumbled an apology for being so uptight and slipped into the robe, disappearing quickly into the washroom, but not before Edward, like Gyges himself, caught sight of her bewitching back as she covered herself.
While she brushed her teeth and hair and scrubbed her face of make up from the night before, she looked for signs of transformation in the mirror. She was curious to see if she looked different.
She didn't. Not really.
Her lips were fuller, it seemed, and her skin seemed brighter and pinker. Her eyes twinkled, but all of these changes could be attributed to being in love and having had a satisfying night's sleep in the arms of her sweetheart.
Oh, who was she kidding? There were three very good reasons for why she looked the way she did, all of them beginning with a capital E and ending with the letter m.
Making love with Edward had been far more emotional than she had anticipated. Her body hungered for him, it was true, but she hadn't expected the surge of feeling during sex, or afterwards. Even this morning she found herself eager to reconnect with him – to capture all of his attention, to look into his eyes and know that there was no one else between them, to express her love for him with soft words and caresses.
Sex was a kind of knowledge, and now she knew.
Now she knew sexual jealousy. She indulged the line of thought only for an instant, but it was not without pain. The mere idea of Edward doing what they had done together with some other woman made her stomach twist into knots. She told herself that Edward's sexcapades with Tanya and the Masen whores were different – that they were assignations not brought about by love or affection. But still, he had seen them naked, taken them to his bed and entered their bodies. And although she would not dwell on it, the understanding of what sex was changed her view of his past.
He loved her; she believed this. But Edward was also a gentleman and would never tell her if their union had left him wanting. And what of her own immature behaviour? She had nagged him to change positions, she had asked questions and talked when most lovers would have been silent, she had done very little to please him and even when she tried he had stopped her. Probably because he was frustrated by her lack of skill.
His words came screaming back at her, swirling in her mind with condemnation:
You're going to be a lousy lay.
You're frigid.
No man is ever going to want you.
She looked at herself in the mirror as she contemplated what might happen if Edward was dissatisfied with her sexually. The spectre of sexual betrayal reared its head, bringing with it suppressed visions of finding them together.
But Edward loves me.
She straightened her shoulders and willed herself to breathe deeply. She was eager to learn how to please him. If she could persuade him to be patient and to teach her, then she was confident she could learn what he liked and what he didn't. Edward loved her. He would give her a chance to learn and over time she would please him. She hoped.
She didn't want to lose him.
She was his as surely as if he had branded his name on her skin.
-
When she returned from the washroom, Edward was not to be found. On her way to the terrace, she noticed a large vase sitting on the desk, filled with dark purple and paler, variegated irises.
Some lovers might have purchased long stemmed red roses. But not Edward.
He remembered they're my favourite.
She opened the card that was nestled amongst the blossoms.
Dearest Isabella,
Thank you for the greatest evening of my life
and for your immeasurable gift.
I love you,
Edward.
She reread the card twice more, fighting back tears, before wandering outside.
Edward was sunning himself on the futon without his glasses, wrapped in a similar robe but with his chest gloriously exposed, eating grapes. It was as if Apollo himself had deigned to visit her.
He opened his eyes and patted the space next to him.
She joined him and he tugged her to his chest, kissing her passionately.
"That's better," he murmured as he gazed into her eyes. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Thank you for the flowers."
He kissed her forehead and stroked her hair. "You're welcome. But I can see the tears in your eyes. Tell me."
Bella shrugged as she searched for words.
"Your card said what I desperately wanted to hear."
"Will you tell me why?"
She fidgeted with the belt to her bathrobe for a moment, until he took her hand in his.
"I was just worried that last night wasn't – what you'd hoped for." Her voice was very small, like her confidence.
Edward's breath left his body with a strange whooshing sound, for her reply had taken him by surprise.
"How could you think that?"
"I wasn't very – smooth."
"Smooth? What are you talking about?"
She began to chew her tongue slightly as she searched for the right words.
"I talked too much."
Edward stared at her incredulously and then tossed his head back and laughed.
"That isn't true. You said a few things, but you didn't talk that much. I like to hear you talk." He kissed the back of her hand and fell to massaging her forearm, up to her inner elbow, which he explored briefly with his mouth. "Sexual communication is very important. I want to hear what you like and what you don't – how I make you feel. I believe the requirement for a woman to keep silent during sex is oppressive, wouldn't you agree?"
Bella's response was interrupted by a growl from her stomach.
Edward slipped his hand inside her robe, rubbing her naked abdomen. "Sounds like someone is talking."
She nodded, blushing.
He kissed her nose. "I thought last night would have eliminated your ability to blush, but I see I was wrong."
"I'll probably blush 'til I'm ninety," she muttered.
"Not if I have anything to say about it." He said sensuously, tracing his fingers up her body to caress a breast.
She sighed in welcome and leaned into his embrace.
"I want to know your body the way I know the rest of you. We belong to one another now – in every way. That's why it's important for you to talk to me. What else troubles you about last night?"
"I demanded that we switch positions when you would have preferred me on top."
"You didn't demand, you asked me. Frankly, Isabella, it would be alright if you demanded things on occasion. God knows I'm demanding enough with you." His expression relaxed and he drew a circle or two around her breast. "You dreamed about your first time being a certain way. I wanted to give that to you. Sex is about playing as much as anything else. It's supposed to be fun. Don't make it out to be so serious."
At that moment, her traitorous stomach made its displeasure known.
"Breakfast for Bella," said Edward firmly.
He released her and then poured coffee and steamed milk from two separate carafes into a latté bowl, and spread the tray of food between them on the banquette. There were pastries and fruit, toast and Nutella, boiled eggs and cheese, and one or two Baci Edward had bribed one of the hotel staff to run out and purchase along with the extravagant bouquet of irises from the Giardino dell'Iris.
Bella unwrapped one of the Baci immediately and ate it, eyes closed in pure pleasure. "This is a feast."
"Sex makes you hungry. I awoke ravenous this morning. I would have waited for you but …" He shook his head as he picked up a grape and fixed her with a sparkling eye.
"Open, baby."
She opened her mouth and he popped the grape inside, tracing his finger across her lower lip.
"And you must promise to drink this, please." He handed her a wine glass filled with cranberry juice and soda.
She rolled her eyes at him. "You're overprotective."
He frowned.
"I'm just trying to care for you, Isabella. This is how a man behaves when he's in love and doesn't want you to develop honeymoon cystitis from all the sex he plans on having with you over the course of the next two weeks."
He winked at her, wearing a smug expression.
"Right. Then give me that." She grabbed the glass from his hand and downed it eagerly as he chuckled and shook his head.
"You're adorable."
She stuck her tongue out at him before fixing herself a breakfast plate.
"How do you feel this morning?" Edward's face grew concerned.
She swallowed a piece of Fontina cheese. "Fine."
He pressed his lips together.
I despise the word fine. It should be expurgated from the dictionary.
"Making love changes things between a man and a woman," he prompted.
"Aren't you happy with, um, what we did?" Her face grew pale.
"Of course I'm happy. I'm trying to find out how you feel, what you're thinking …"
Bella leaned her head down so that her hair shaded her face, away from Edward's peering eyes.
"When I was at college, the girls on my floor would sit around and talk about their boyfriends. One night, they went around and talked about their first times." She nibbled at the tip of one of her fingers. "Of course, I didn't have much to contribute to the conversation, but I listened."
She sighed.
"Only a few of the girls had positive stories. The other ones were awful. One girl had been molested as a child. Some of them were forced by a boyfriend or a date and they cried the entire time. Several of them said that their first times were completely awkward and unfulfilling, a selfish boyfriend on top of them groaning and finishing quickly with no consideration. I never said it out loud, but I thought to myself if that's all I can hope for, I'd rather stay a virgin."
She kept her eyes on the breakfast tray, unwilling to meet his gaze.
"I wanted to be loved more than I wanted to have sex. After everything I'd seen and heard and everything with him, I would rather have had a chaste affair of the heart and mind with a romantic stranger through letters than a sexual relationship."
She laughed softly.
"Of course, the down side of all of that thinking is that I don't know what I'm doing. And now I'm in a relationship with a sex god and I can't give him anything like the pleasure he gives me."
Edward's eyebrows shot up. "Sex god? You've said that before, Isabella, but believe me, I'm not –"
She interrupted him and looked him in the eye. "I want you to teach me. I want you to show me what you want. I'm sure last night was – not as fulfilling as it usually is for you, but I promise that if you are patient with me, I will improve. I just need some help."
"Come here." He pulled her around the breakfast tray and into his lap, wrapping his arms around her tightly.
"You misunderstand. You gave me what I never thought I could have – love and sex together. Making love to you was the most pleasurable experience I've ever had. You're the only one who has ever been my lover in the true sense of the word."
He pressed his lips to hers in solemn confirmation of his words.
"The anticipation and the allure of a woman are crucial to the experience. And I can safely say that your allurements and my anticipation were like nothing I've ever experienced before. Add to that the feeling of making love for the first time to someone who is so beautiful, so giving, who I absolutely adore … Truthfully, Isabella, words fail me.
"You're perfect."
Bella squirmed and tried to move away.
"I'm not flattering you. You're perfect for me. You're my lover and my companion and my Beatrice." He paused as if he were thinking about his next words. "You'll see what I mean during my lecture tonight. But at the risk of being Neanderthal, I should probably tell you that your innocence is tremendously sexy; the thought that I can be the one to teach you about love, that we can explore your first sexual experiences together …"
He shook his head.
"You can become more skilled in the art of love by learning new tricks and new positions, but you can't become more attractive or more sexually fulfilling. You've already surpassed my expectations on both counts."
Bella felt her burden lighten and she released a huge sigh of relief.
"Thank you." She leaned over and kissed him and he caressed her face for a moment or two.
"Will you tell me about your first time?" She remained on his lap but turned her attention back to her uneaten breakfast.
His lips tightened.
"I don't like talking about it."
She busied herself with a pastry as she tried to think of how best to change the subject.
"I think that I owe you an explanation, however. One of the reasons I was worried about being careful with you was because of my first experience."
She blinked at him, waiting for him to continue.
He sighed and rubbed at his eyes with both hands.
"I was only with a virgin once and that was when I lost my virginity to Jessica Stanley in the back of Carlisle's Mercedes. We were both seventeen."
Bella's eyebrows shot up.
"Jessica Stanley?"
That was all she could manage. Jessica and her mother were not very pleasant people and Bella had always disliked them.
She had no idea of Edward's previous attachment. And frankly, the thought of Edward sharing his first time with Jessica made her almost ill.
"It was not the greatest of experiences. In fact, I would say it was scarring."
He looked at her with a worried expression.
"I knew Jessica from school. She was my Biology lab partner when we were both juniors and she spent the first two months flirting with me." He shrugged. "We messed around a little for a few weeks. And then eventually, we had sex."
Bella watched as Edward shifted his weight uncomfortably beneath her, as if he wanted to move away.
"Jessica was a virgin but lied and said she wasn't. And since I didn't know what I was doing, I wasn't careful with her at all. I didn't prepare her, there wasn't any foreplay to speak of, I did it all wrong. We assumed the missionary position because I thought that was how it was done and I was aggressive."
He cursed softly.
"It sickened me, Isabella. I felt like an animal as I held her afterwards. She said it didn't hurt much, but there was blood …" He cringed at the memory.
Bella felt ill.
"I tried to make it up to her, but short of being her boyfriend, there was nothing she wanted from me. She found someone else soon after and they eventually married. I spoke to her for a few minutes at Thanksgiving. I asked her to forgive me. She was remarkably gracious and even apologized for lying to me.
"I suppose for me, it was a classic case of aversion. I felt guilty for treating her badly, and vowed I'd never sleep with a virgin again." He swallowed noisily. "Until last night."
"I'm sorry, Edward."
"That's why I was so obsessed with being careful with you, with having you in control and above me. I couldn't have borne it if I had hurt you or made you bleed like that. It would have broken my heart."
Bella put her breakfast aside and stroked his face. "You were very gentle. And now that our first time is over, I'm sure everything will be easier and more comfortable. For both of us."
As if to prove her point, he kissed her deeply, playing in her mouth with his tongue and then pulling back ever so slightly so he could taste her lips.
Bella hummed as his hands tangled through her hair and she wrapped her arms about his neck.
He slid his hands between them to the front of her robe, parting it slowly. His eyes held a question mark.
She nodded, breathlessly.
He began whispering kisses against her neck and then drew his mouth up to tug at her earlobe.
"How do you feel?"
"Fabulous," she whispered, as his lips skimmed down to her throat.
He moved so that he could see her face, while one of his hands traveled to rest atop her lower curls.
"Are you sore?"
"A little."
"Should we wait?"
"No!"
Her response came out somewhat forcefully and he laughed at her, his lips curling up into his signature panty-dropping smile.
"Did you mean what you said last night about making love out here?"
She shivered a little at the way his velvet voice enflamed her, but responded by returning his smile and winding her fingers in his hair, tugging him closer.
He opened her robe and began to explore her curves with both hands, before dropping his mouth to kiss her breasts.
"You were shy with me when you woke up this morning." He pressed a reverent kiss over her heart, before peeking up at her through his eyebrows. "What changed?"
Bella placed her pale hand against his jaw and lovingly brushed against his stubble.
"I will probably always blush and be a little shy about being naked. But I want you. I want you to look into my eyes and tell me you love me as you move inside me. I will remember that moment for as long as I live."
"And I will keep reminding you," he breathed.
His hands slid over her bottom and then he was moving her so he could divest her of her robe and position her on her back, completely exposed.
"Are you cold?" His features darkened as he noticed her nipples peak.
"Not when you're holding me," she whispered, smiling. "Wouldn't you rather have me on top? I'd like to try it."
He threw off his robe and boxer shorts quickly and covered her body with his own, placing a hand on either side of her face. "Next time. Someone might see you out here, darling. And I can't have that. No one gets to see this beautiful body except me.
"Although the neighbours and the people walking by might be able to hear you … for the next hour or so …" He chuckled as she inhaled sharply, a tremor of pleasure coursing all the way down to her toes solely at his words.
He kissed her and then pushed her hair away from her face. "I'm still going to be gentle, but my goal is to see how many times I can make you come while I'm inside you, before I can't hold back anymore."
She grinned widely. "I love you."
"As I love you. Now prepare yourself to be intoxicated with pleasure. And I want to hear you. So start talking."
The blue sky above blushed to see such passionate lovemaking, while the Florentine sun smiled down on them, warming the lovers despite the gentle breeze.
Nestled beside them, Bella's coffee and milk grew stone cold and sullen at being ignored.
-
After a brief nap in Edward's arms and fresh carafes of coffee and steamed milk delivered by room service, Bella borrowed his MacBook to check her email and to send a message to Charlie. Before she began, she plugged her iPod into his computer so that music filled the bedroom.
Singing to herself, she found that she had two important messages in her inbox. The first was from Alice.
Bella!
Are you having fun?
Is he behaving himself?
What's happening?
Have you slept with him yet?
Yes, it is COMPLETELY inappropriate for me to ask that question,
but come on, if you were dating anyone else you would have told me already.
I'm dying here – help a girl out.
Jasper sends his best to both of you.
I'm not going to volunteer any advice. I'm sure E has things covered.
And I'm trying hard not to think too much about it …
so I don't need any details. Just let me know you're happy.
Love you,
Alice XOX.
P.S. Please, please tell me you're being safe.
Bell snickered at Alice's email, glad that Edward was showering and not reading over her shoulder. He'd be annoyed at Alice for posing such personal questions.
Dear Alice,
We're both fine.
The hotel is beautiful and tonight is Edward's lecture at the Uffizi.
He has been very sweet and gave me Esme's diamond earrings.
Did you know about that?
I feel guilty about it, so please let me know if this upsets you.
And as to your other question,
Yes.
It was and continues to be wonderful. Edward is very gentle and we are in love.
Say hi to Jasper for me.
Looking forward to Christmas.
Love, Bella. XO
P.S. Everything is taken care of. Don't worry.
Bella's second email was from Peter. She could not have known this, but he had called her several times and even knocked on her apartment door before he left Toronto for Vermont. It could be said that he pined for her, but truthfully, he was grateful just to have maintained their friendship. He would rather keep his longings to himself than to lose her entirely. And he had to admit that since she had begun seeing Anthony again, her very skin glowed.
Not that he would have mentioned such an observation.
Hey Bella,
Sorry I didn't get the chance to say goodbye before you went home.
I hope you have a good Christmas.
I have a couple of gifts for you.
They're small but when I saw them I immediately thought of you.
Would you send me your address in Washington and I'll mail them?
I'm back at the farm trying to find time to work on my dissertation
in between large family gatherings
and getting up early to help my Dad.
Let's just say my daily routine involves a lot of manure…
but I'm not bitter Wink
Can I bring you something from Vermont?
Cheese? Ben & Jerry's? Maple syrup?
A Holstein of your very own?
Merry Christmas,
Peter.
P.S. Did you hear that Angela's dissertation proposal was accepted by Masen?
I guess Advent really is the season of miracles.
Bella sat back, staring at the screen, reading and re-reading Peter's postscript. She wasn't sure what to make of it.
Did Edward accept Angela's proposal just to placate her? Did she threaten him?!
She didn't want to bring up such an unpleasant topic during their vacation, but the news troubled her. Deeply.
Edward was still in the shower, so she hastily replied.
Hi Peter,
Good to hear from you.
You didn't have to get me something for Christmas,
but it was really thoughtful of you.
I live with my Dad at the following address:
Isabella Swan
200 Maple Avenue
Forks, WA 98331-9222
No, I didn't know about Angela's proposal.
She won't talk to me, of course.
Have a great Christmas, Peter.
See you in January,
Bella.
Finally, she typed a short note to Charlie, telling him where they were, that Edward was treating her like a princess and that she was happy. And then she sat back in the desk chair, closed her eyes and sighed.
"That doesn't sound like happiness."
Edward's voice at her elbow prompted her to open her eyes.
"I'm alright. Just sending an email to Alice and to Charlie."
He leaned over to toy with her hair.
She turned to find him standing in front of her, wet from the shower, hair tousled, a white towel wound around his hips.
"You're beautiful," she blurted before thinking.
He chuckled and pulled her to her feet so he could embrace her. "Do you have a thing for men in towels?"
"Well, maybe – for one particular man in a towel."
"And are you feeling alright after …" His voice trailed off and he raised his eyebrows expectantly.
"I'm a little sore. But it was worth it."
He didn't like that response.
"You need to tell me when it's uncomfortable, Isabella. Don't hide anything from me."
She rolled her eyes. "Edward, it wasn't uncomfortable during and there were other things on my mind … several other things. You were very - distracting."
He smiled and kissed her neck loudly. "You need to let me start distracting you in the shower. I'm tired of showering alone."
"I'd like that. Are you feeling alright?"
He lifted his eyebrows and wiggled them. "Let's see – loud, hot sex with the love of my life outside … Yes, I'd say I'm feeling alright."
He hugged her close, and the cotton of her robe absorbed some of the water droplets from his skin. "I promise it won't always be uncomfortable. In time, your body will recognize me."
"It already recognizes you. And misses you," she whispered.
Edward's heart swelled at her remark. He released her so that he could walk over to the bed, where he retrieved the bottle of Ibuprofen. He handed it to her.
"You're listening to French music?"
"Yes."
"You constantly surprise me, Miss Swan."
"Do you remember when Alice came to visit and you drove me home after dinner?"
"I remember every moment we've spent together." He traced her mouth with a single finger, sorely tempted to press it in between her ruby lips.
Bella seemed to read his mind and blushed.
"One of your preset channels was French CBC. I started listening to it on my laptop after that, and that's how I found this album. His name is Pierre Souchon."
"And the song?"
"L.A.O.T."
Edward listened to the words and then frowned. "It's sad."
"But I like the tune."
He shook his head and chuckled. "I have to run over to the Uffizi to test my PowerPoint presentation for tonight and I then I have to drop in at my tailor's and pick up my suit." His face grew serious. "I don't want to leave you on your own again, but I know that you need to shop for a dress."
"It won't take me long."
"If you can be ready in a half an hour, we can walk out together."
Bella followed Edward into the washroom, all thoughts of Angela and poor Peter forgotten.
After her shower, she stood in front of one of the vanities drying her hair while Edward stood at the other. At first she found herself glancing over at him, watching as he carried out his shaving preparations with military precision, and then finally she gave up and just leaned against the sink, staring at him.
His hair was still wet from the shower, a towel slung low on his hips, as he painstakingly shaved in the classical style.
Bella suppressed a giggle because she was slightly in awe of the degree to which his formality and quest for perfection were manifested.
Edward had used a shaving brush with a black wooden handle to mix European shaving soap into a thick lather in an apothecary's bowl. After spreading the shaving cream on his face with the brush, he shaved using an antiquated safety razor.
"What?" He asked, noticing that she was peering over at him.
"I love you."
His expression softened. "I love you, too, Isabella."
"I love the fact that you're old-fashioned."
Edward smirked.
"I believe you're confusing me with someone else, my dear. I'm not so old-fashioned, or I wouldn't be making mad passionate love with you outside. And fantasizing about how best to introduce you to some of my favourite positions from the Kama sutra." He winked at her. "But I am a pretentious old bastard and I am a devil to live with. You will have to rehumanize me."
"And how shall I do that, Professor Masen?"
"Never leave." His voice dropped and his eyes changed.
He wasn't joking.
"I couldn't even if I wanted to."
An understanding passed between the couple and then they each returned to their morning rituals.
-
Bella stepped out of the bedroom at seven o'clock that evening in a new Prada dress. Edward had made arrangements for her to shop on his account at the local boutique and she had settled on an indigo coloured v-necked, sleeveless dress made of silk taffeta. Its a-line shape boasted a full pleated skirt and was reminiscent of the kind of dresses Grace Kelly wore at the zenith of her career. In short, it suited Bella perfectly.
However, the boutique manager had wanted the accessories to modernize the dress and thus she chose a sleek silver leather clutch and a pair of pointed toe tangerine patent leather stilettos that even Bella found surprisingly comfortable. To complete the ensemble, a simple black cashmere shrug was provided in case she grew cold.
She stood in the sitting room, her hair long and loosely curled, her clutch and shrug in her hands. She wore Esme's diamond earrings and string of pearls.
Edward had been seated on the sofa in the living room, reviewing his lecture notes. As soon as he saw Bella he took off his glasses and stood up.
"Stunning." He kissed her cheek and took her hand so that he could twirl her around and admire her dress properly. "You're gorgeous. Do you like it?"
"I love it. Thank you, Edward. I know this cost you a fortune."
His eyes drifted down to her shoes where they stopped. Dead.
"Something wrong?"
He cleared his throat but did not meet her eyes.
"Um … your shoes … they're – ah –"
"Nice. Aren't they?" She giggled.
"They are a good deal more than nice, Isabella." His voice grew thick.
"Well, Professor Masen. If I like your lecture, perhaps I'll continue wearing them afterwards… in the bedroom." Her voice took on a sultry tone that it had never had before.
His eyes flew to hers in surprise.
She's teasing me. And it's … hot.
Edward straightened his tie a little and gave her a cocky grin. "Oh, I'll see that you like my lecture, Miss Swan. Even if I have to deliver it to you personally, somewhere private."
She blushed and he pulled her into his arms.
"We should go," he said.
"Wait. I have a present for you." She disappeared into the bedroom and returned with a small box.
"Darling, you didn't have to do that."
"I wanted to."
Edward smiled widely and carefully lifted the lid to the Prada box. He pulled back the tissue paper to find a lightly patterned indigo silk tie.
"I like it. Thank you." He kissed her cheek.
"It matches my dress."
"Just so." He immediately began removing his silver tie, and tossed it onto the coffee table and then flipped up his collar and began tying Bella's gift around his neck.
There is nothing sexier than watching a man put on a tie, she thought.
Edward's new suit had been custom made by his favourite local tailor. It was black, single-breasted with side vents and without a vest. Bella was somewhat disappointed that he wouldn't be wearing his grandfather's pocket watch, but the way he looked in a suit dispelled any bad feelings.
"Can I help?" she offered, as Edward struggled to straighten his tie without a mirror.
He nodded and she stood on tip toe, adjusting his tie and fixing his collar, and then running her hands down his sleeves until they rested on the cufflinks of his French cuffed shirt.
He gazed down at her curiously. "I remember you straightening my tie when I took you to Antonio's. It was raining and we were sitting in the car."
"I remember."
"There's nothing sexier than having the woman you love fix your tie." He took her hands in his. "We've come a long way since our first date."
She reached up to kiss him, taking care not to sully his masculine mouth with her lipstick.
"I don't know how I'm going to keep the Italian men at bay this evening. You'll have to stay very close to me so I can protect you."
Bella squealed as he put his arms around her, lifting her off her feet so that he could kiss her properly, which required Bella to reapply her lipstick and both of them to check their appearance in the mirror before they left their room.
-
Professor Masen's lecture had been widely advertised and the tickets were sold out. Which would have been a most surprising state of affairs if the event had been held outside of Europe. Most of the tickets had been
purchased by members of Florence's glitterati and regional academics; local dignitaries and the media were also present. Of course, their tickets were complimentary.
Upon their arrival at the Uffizi, which was a short walk from their hotel, Edward and Bella were whisked to the second floor by a rather pudgy gentleman wearing a paisley bow tie, who introduced himself as Thomas, Dottore Vitali's personal assistant. He greeted Bella warmly, but the couple were soon separated as Edward was encouraged to survey the technical preparations for his lecture and she was ushered to a seat of honour in the front row.
And what a room in which to have a lecture.
Bella had not known this, but Edward's lecture was being delivered in the Botticelli room, a large space devoted to the finest of his works. In fact, the lectern was situated in between the Birth of Venus and the Madonna of the Pomegranate, while Primavera hung on the audience's right. The artwork on the wall to the audience's left had been removed and a large screen had been hung, on which Edward's PowerPoint presentation would be projected.
Bella knew how unusual it was to have a lecture in such a special space and she silently said a prayer of thanks for this incredible blessing.
Over one hundred people crowded into the room, some even spilling into the area at the back. Camera flashes went on and off as the media took photographs of the artwork and the guests.
Professor Masen, in his dark suit and spectacles, looked calm, cool and collected.
When he was blocked from Bella's view by other people, she focused her attention on his voice, which she identified easily above the others. He chatted amiably as he was introduced to various important persons, switching seamlessly from Italian to French to German and then back to Italian again.
Even his German was sexy.
Bella wondered if these events ever made him nervous, and in the midst of her private musings, he caught her eye and winked.
Dottore Vitali's introduction of Professor Masen took no less than fifteen minutes, speaking at a quick Florentine rate. But soon the Professor took his place behind the podium and addressed the audience in fluent Italian.
"My topic this evening is Sandro Botticelli's muse, La Bella Simonetta." At this, his eyes sought Bella's pointedly.
"It's a controversial topic, since there have been many debates as to how close she was to Botticelli and to what degree she was the actual inspiration for his paintings. I hope to skirt some of those disagreements in order to focus your attention on a comparison amongst figures.
"If we begin with the first three slides, you will see pen and ink illustrations of Dante and Beatrice in Paradise. Notice Beatrice's face." His voice grew soft. "The most beautiful face ...
"We begin with Dante's muse and the figure of his Beatrice as rendered by Botticelli. Although I'm sure Beatrice needs no introduction to this audience, allow me to emphasize that she represents courtly love, poetic inspiration, faith, hope, and charity. She is the ideal of feminine perfection, at once intelligent and compassionate, and vibrant with the kind of selfless love that can only come from God. She inspires Dante to be a better man. A man could spend a lifetime searching for such an ideal and never find her.
"Now gaze at the face of Venus behind me."
All eyes in the room except Edward's focused on the Birth of Venus. He stared only at Bella.
"It's the same face, isn't it? Two muses, two ideal types, one theological and one secular. Beatrice as the lover of the soul, Venus as the goddess of bodily love. Botticelli's La Bella has at least two faces – one of sacrificial love or agape, and one of eros, sexual love."
Bella's face bowed as she blushed, fidgeting with the silver purse in her lap.
"Put aside the question as to whether or not this muse is Simonetta, for the moment. The visual resemblance between Beatrice and Venus is striking.
"In the portrait of Venus, the emphasis of course is on her body. Even though she represents sexual love, she maintains a venerable modesty, clutching part of her hair in order to cover herself. Notice the demure expression and the placement of her hand across her breast. Her shyness increases the eroticism of her portrayal – it doesn't diminish it. Many people fail to see how modesty and sweetness of temper compound eroticism."
Bella caught his eye and he nodded at her almost imperceptibly.
"Let me be clear, eros is not lust. According to Dante, lust is one of the deadly sins against the self, it is passion overtaking reason. Eros on the other hand is a kind of love that can include sex but is not limited to it. It is the all-consuming fire of infatuation and affection that is expressed in the emotion of being in love." He smiled at the audience and his voice grew softer. "Anyone who has ever been in love before knows the difference between eros and lust. There is no comparison. One is an empty, faceless shadow of the other.
"Of course, one might object that it is impossible for one person, one woman to represent the ideal of both agape and eros. If you will allow my indulgence for a moment, I will suggest that such scepticism is a form of misogyny. For only a misogynist would argue that women are either saints or seductresses – virgins or whores. This is a false dichotomy. There is no reason why a woman, or a man for that matter, could not be both – there is no reason why the muse cannot be lover to both soul and body."
Edward's mouth curved up into a wicked grin and Bella knew that he was about to say something provocative.
"Perhaps the local gossip of the day targeted Botticelli as a misogynist upon the completion of the Birth of Venus, arguing that he only saw women as sexual playthings."
His grin grew even wider and his eyes glinted mischievously behind his glasses.
"But such an inference would be fallacious, wouldn't it? Why would one look at Venus and infer from her what Botticelli's personal views on femininity and womanhood were? The artist is not identical with his art, just as the novelist is not identical with the characters of his novel, and anyone who thinks otherwise is seriously mistaken.
"Now look at the painting behind me, the Madonna of the Pomegranate."
Again, all eyes in the room except Edward's fixed on Botticelli's painting.
"Once again, we see the same face repeated in the figure of the Madonna. Beatrice, Venus and St. Mary - a holy trinity of ideal women, all bearing the same face. Agape, eros and virginity, a heady combination that would make even the strongest man fall to his knees, were he fortunate enough to find one person who manifests all three."
Edward's eyes drifted towards Bella, but she would not raise her head. Her blush had spread from her cheeks down to her neck and the top of her cleavage.
It was very seductive.
His voice caught, so he took a moment to sip some water before continuing.
"Consider the pomegranate. Some have argued that it was a pomegranate and not an apple that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. With respect to Botticelli's painting, many have argued that the true symbolism of the pomegranate is that of the blood of Christ in his suffering and then his subsequent new life through the resurrection.
"For my purposes here, I choose to treat the pomegranate as the Edenic fruit, the Madonna as the second Eve and Christ as the second Adam. With the Madonna, Botticelli hearkens back to the first Eve, the archetype of femininity, beauty and female companionship. I'll go further, by asserting that Eve is also the ideal of female friendship, the friend of Adam, and thus she is the ideal of phileo, friendly love or the love that eventually emerges out of friendship. In this respect, the friendship between St. Mary and St. Joseph manifests this ideal, as well.
"So Botticelli's muse is a saint, a lover and a friend, not a cardboard cut out of a woman or an adolescent fantasy. She is real, she is complicated and she is endlessly fascinating. A woman to worship."
Edward chuckled. "Pardon my Greek, but as I'm sure you're aware, the preciseness of the Greek language allows one to speak more perspicuously about the different kinds of love. A modern treatment of this discussion can be found in C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves, if you're interested."
He cleared his throat and smiled winningly at the room.
"Finally, consider the painting to my left, Primavera. One might expect to see the face of Botticelli's muse reflected in face of Venus or St. Mary, whoever one thinks is the central figure in the painting. But her face is quite unlike the other figures we've seen. Rather, the face of Botticelli's muse is to be found in the figure of Flora, on the right.
"Flora is pregnant in the painting, swollen with Zephyr's child. You can see Zephyr on the far right, hovering amongst the orange trees as he takes Flora sexually. Although Flora's initial depiction is one of surprise and perhaps concern about the attentions of her lover, the face of Flora when she is pregnant is serene and happy. Her nervousness in anticipation of sexual intercourse is replaced by satisfaction and peace.
"One would wish that all lovers would be so tender with their virgin partners so as to inspire this kind of contentment.
"Flora represents the consummation of physical love and motherhood. In this respect, she is the ideal of storge, or familial love, the kind of love manifested from a mother to her child, and between lovers who share a commitment that is not based solely on sex or pleasure. Between married partners."
Edward was an actor and a very good one. No one but Bella noticed the white knuckling as he held the edge of the podium with two hands. No one but Bella noticed the slight tremor in his voice as he pronounced the words pregnant and motherhood.
She looked up at him, caught his eye, and mouthed the words I love you.
"In early writings on Primavera, Flora was asserted to be the likeness of La Bella Simonetta, Botticelli's muse. If that is true, just on visual inspection alone, we can assert that La Bella is the inspiration for Beatrice, Venus and the Madonna, as well, for all four ladies share the same face.
"Thus, we have the icons of agape, eros, phileo, and storge all represented by a single face, a single woman – La Bella. To put this another way, one could argue that Botticelli sees in his beloved muse all four types of love and all four ideals of womanhood – saint, lover, friend and spouse. What man wouldn't desire her in all of her goodness? In all of her forms?"
He paused, sipping his water, and Bella noticed his hand tremble slightly.
He finished his lecture without anyone noticing how his eyes darted to hers as if to see if she had caught his revelation, or the way his knuckles continued to be white until he loosened his grip on the lectern at the end of his speech.
-
Since it was a formal public lecture, there was no question period. Dottore Vitali retook the podium, extending his thanks to Professor Masen for an illuminating discussion and then a small group of local politicians presented him with several gifts, including a medallion depicting the city of Florence.
Bella had hoped she could rejoin him during the cocktail hour, but he was deluged with members of the audience, including several rather critical art historians, and so she meekly wandered around some of the adjoining rooms admiring the paintings until she stood in front of one of her favourites, Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation.
She was standing close, too close really, noting the detail in the marble pillar that the Madonna was sitting behind, when a voice sounded in her ear in Italian.
"You like this painting?"
Bella looked up into the dark eyes of a man with black hair and tanned skin. He was taller than her, but not overly, and was of a muscular build. He wore a very expensive black suit, or so it seemed, with a single red rose pinned to his lapel.
"Yes, very much," she responded in Italian.
"I have always admired the depth that da Vinci gives to his paintings. Particularly the shading and detail on the pillar."
She smiled back at the painting. "That's exactly what I was looking at. Also, the outlines of the feathers on the angel's wings. They're incredible."
The gentleman bowed at her somewhat formally. "Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Felix Pacciani."
"Bella Swan." She extended her hand in a friendly gesture but he took her by surprise when he grasped it between both of his hands and drew it to his lips, looking up at her as he bowed to kiss it.
"Enchanted. And may I say that your name suits you, La Bella. Especially in light of this evening's lecture."
Bella averted her eyes and removed her hand quickly.
"You should have some prosecco. Here." He quickly flagged down a waiter and took two champagne flutes from his tray, handing one of them to Bella.
He clinked their glasses together and toasted their health.
Bella sipped the sparkling wine gratefully, as it gave her a distraction from his intense stare. He was a handsome man, and infinitely charming, but she was wary of strange Italian men bearing gifts, particularly when all she really wanted was to admire da Vinci in peace.
"I am a professor of literature at the University. And you?"
"I study Dante."
"Ah, the poet. A tremendous field of study. My specialization is Dante, also. Where do you study? Not here." His eyes wandered over her form from her face to her body to her shoes, pausing briefly before travelling up her body to her face again.
"At the University of Toronto."
"Ah! Of course. A Canadian. One of my former students is studying there right now. Perhaps you are acquainted."
"It's a very large school. Probably not."
Felix smiled at her, showing very straight, very white teeth that glinted in the museum light.
"Have you seen Giotto's Madonna?" He gestured to one of the adjoining rooms. "It's just around the corner."
He allowed Bella to lead the way in the direction of his gesture and the two walked over to a large and famous painting of the Madonna and Child that was wrought over wood and not canvas.
Bella smiled at the painting. "Yes, I've seen it before."
"Giotto has not succumbed to the renaissance in this painting, but is still squarely in the medieval style. See how the Christ child looks like a small adult rather than a baby? And how the two figures are flat rather than dimensional?"
She nodded and moved slightly so that she could take a better look at the child.
Felix stood beside her, a good deal too close, watching her study the painting.
"Do you like it?"
"Yes, but I think I prefer renaissance art. I like the dimensionality and the perspective. Botticelli is one of my favourites." She kept her eyes stubbornly on the painting.
"Are you a student of Professor Masen's?"
Bella swallowed noisily. "No. I – I study with someone else."
"That is a shame. He is considered to be the best, which is why he was invited here. But how did a beauty such as you come to discover Dante?"
Bella began to explain her interest in Dante as an interest related to all things Italian, which was a version of the truth, and she was about to explain that Professor Masen was in fact her boyfriend when Felix reached out his free hand to push a curl away from her face.
She flinched immediately at his intimate gesture and took a step back, but his arms were long and his hand followed her.
She opened her mouth to say something reproving when someone cleared his throat nearby.
Felix and Bella turned their heads slowly to see Edward standing there, eyes flashing behind his glasses, hands on hips, flaring out his open suit jacket like the plumes of an angry peacock.
He took a step closer to Felix.
"I see you've met my fidanzata. I suggest you keep your hands to yourself, if you value them."
Felix scowled briefly before his face smoothed out into a polite, but tight smile.
"She didn't mention you."
Bella didn't wait for Edward to growl or perhaps to rip Felix's arms from his sockets, thus sullying the Uffizi's beautiful floors with his blood. Instead, she stood between the two men and placed the hand that held her purse against Edward's chest.
"Edward, this is Professor Felix Pacciani from the University. He is also a Dante specialist."
A look passed between the two men and Bella began to wonder if they were acquainted with one another.
Felix lifted his hands in mock surrender.
"A thousand apologies. I didn't know that she was spoken for. Forgive me, Professor. Forgive me, La Bella." His eyes moved to hers and rested there.
At the sound of the (rather impertinent) nickname, Edward took a step closer but Bella stood fast.
"Darling, I need to find somewhere to put my glass." She shook her empty champagne flute slightly, hoping it would distract him.
Edward took the flute out of Bella's hand and handed it to Felix. "I'm sure you know where to put this," he said, his tone glacial.
He took Bella's free hand in his and quickly ushered her out of the room.
He strode purposefully and quickly through the crowd, repulsing people with his body language. The crowd parted like the Red Sea in front of them as they made their way through the Botticelli room.
Bella saw person after person turn to them and stare and she blushed even more deeply.
"Edward," she breathed. "Where are we going?'
He didn't answer. He pulled her into the adjoining tiled corridor that was decorated with sculptures and began walking to the very end of it, far beyond ear shot of the cocktail party. Then he positioned her in a dark corner in between two large marble statues perched high atop plinths. Bella was dwarfed by the towering forms.
He took her purse and her shrug and tossed them aside. The sound of the leather hitting the floor echoed down the abandoned corridor but he ignored it.
Edward was furious.
"You're out of my sight for less than thirty minutes and the wolves descend."
His eyes flamed and his cheeks were slightly red, which for him was a rare occurrence.
"I'm sorry. We were just making small talk before he –"
He interrupted her by pulling her into a searing embrace, one hand tangling in her hair and the other sliding down the back of her dress to grab her bottom.
The force of his kiss pushed her backwards until she felt the cold wall of the Gallery press into the naked skin of her upper back. Edward's hard body aligned with hers.
"I don't ever want to see another man's hands on you again," he growled.
He parted her mouth again roughly, wrestling her tongue with his own and even tracing the edges of her teeth, while his hand slid over the curve of her backside, digging his fingers into her flesh.
Bella realized in that instant that he had been careful with her every other time he had touched or kissed her. But he wasn't careful now. Part of her was enflamed by him, desperate for him.
Another part of her was beginning to protest, wondering what he would do if she said stop …
He lifted her left thigh, hooking it around his hip while he ground their pelvises together.
She felt him immediately through the fabric of her dress, hearing the silk taffeta rustle like a breathless woman with his every movement. The taffeta clearly wanted more.
"What do I have to do to make you mine, Isabella?" he groaned against her lips.
"I've been yours since I was seventeen."
"Not tonight, it seems." He tugged her lower lip backwards into his mouth, nipping it with his teeth before sucking on it firmly.
"You'll only lose me if you stop loving me."
"Never," he murmured, as his hand slid up her skirt, teasing the skin of her left thigh until it reached the string that sat at her hip.
She shuddered and he pulled back to search her eyes.
"No garters tonight?"
She shook her head.
"What's this?" His fingers tugged at the very thin string.
For a moment she thought he might break it.
She looked down at his indigo tie.
"Panties," she breathed.
His eyes glinted greedily.
"What kind of panties, Isabella?"
"A pink thong."
Her revelation so surprised him he almost swayed on his feet, swishing her taffeta as he did so.
He pressed his lips to her naked ear and whispered, "Am I to assume that you wore this for me?"
"There's never been anyone else."
Without warning, his lips found hers again and he picked her up, pressing her flush against the wall. His lips on her neck, he tugged her right leg up and around his hip and then pressed their lower bodies together oh so tightly.
The long, thin heels of Bella's tangerine shoes caught on the curves of Edward's ass and he fixed her with a wild, green eye behind his glasses.
"I want you. Right now."
Bella was very still as images of what he was proposing flashed through her mind.
He pressed up against her and her heels shifted, digging into his bottom so much that he gasped.
"Do you have any idea how fucking sexy you look like this? How hot you are with your back against the wall, panting, and your legs wrapped around me? I want you exactly like this, screaming my name."
Edward leaned forward to dip his tongue in the hollow at the base of her throat and Bella's eyes rolled back into her head as she moaned loudly.
"We could be surprised here. I should carry you into the washroom," he whispered to her neck.
Her eyes grew wide and she held her breath. Her passions were struggling with her mind, which urged her to push him back and take a moment to think.
In a mood such as this, Edward was dangerous.
What if he won't stop?
He attacked her throat next, kissing and taking the flesh into his mouth. When she felt the edge of his teeth against her skin, she whimpered.
"Please don't bite me."
Now the world paused and the silence of the empty corridor echoed about them.
It took a few seconds, but eventually the import of her words sliced through his aroused, frantic state and pierced his heart.
"Bella," he murmured against her neck.
"I'm not him."
With their chests pressed so tightly together, he could feel her heart racing. He closed his eyes, as if entranced by its staccato rhythm.
When he opened his eyes, most of the fire had gone out of them.
Bella had carefully concealed Jacob's bite mark with make up, but Edward found it by memory with his finger, tracing its perimeter lightly before kissing it.
He exhaled slowly, very slowly, and shook his head.
"Isabella, you deserve far better than an angry lover taking you against the wall in a public washroom."
He kissed her softly and then traced below her swollen lower lip with his thumb, removing the slight smear of crimson lipstick from her pale skin.
"I forgot this was only our third time together. When I'm in my right mind and we have the museum all to ourselves …"
His eyes darkened as he fantasized.
He removed her heels from his ass and placed her on her feet, leaning over to straighten the skirt of her dress. The taffeta rustled breathlessly once more at his touch and then, forlornly, was silent.
"The banquet is supposed to begin in five minutes. I can't insult them by being late. But when I get you home …" His eyes locked on hers and his eyebrows moved expectantly behind his glasses. "The wall just inside our room will be our first stop."
She nodded and smiled, relieved that he wasn't angry anymore. And truthfully, somewhat nervous but very excited about the prospect of wall sex with Edward in their hotel room ...
He adjusted himself in his trousers and buttoned up his jacket, willing his body to calm. He tried to smooth his hair but only succeeded in making it look more like he had dragged his lover into a dark corner for museum sex.
Museum sex was a peculiar compunction of certain academics.
(But it should not be disdained.)
Bella fixed his hair and straightened his indigo tie, checking his face and his collar for traces of lipstick.
When she was finished, he picked up her clutch and her sweater, handing them to her with another kiss.
He stroked the palm of her free hand with his thumb and gazed at her longingly. "I want to drink your love right from the well."
His words confused her but she responded immediately.
"I'm yours, Edward. Teach me."
"I will teach you everything I know, but only on the condition that you teach me how to love as you love."
With her heart racing and soaring, Edward escorted her through the empty corridor and down the stairs to the first floor, where the banquet was just beginning.
Links:
http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/english/musei/uffizi/visita/sala.asp?idSala=9
http://www.wga.hu/index1.html
http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/english/musei/uffizi/visita/sala.asp?idSala=56
http://www.worldofdante.org/gallery_botticelli.html
http://www.myspace.com/pierresouchon

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