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Messaggio  simona80 il Mar 08 Mar 2011, 23:11

Chapter Twenty-Seven
Professor Felix Pacciani stumbled back to his apartment over by the Pitti Palace in the wee hours of the morning.
This was not an unusual occurrence.
He fumbled with his keys at the front door, cursing as he dropped them, and then finally entered the flat, closing the door somewhat quietly behind him. He walked immediately to the small room in which his four year old twin sons were fast asleep, kissing them on their respective foreheads before shuffling to his study.
He smoked a leisurely cigarette as he waited for his computer to boot up and then he logged into his email system. He ignored his inbox and composed a short message to his former student and lover.
They had not been in contact since graduation.
His email was short and to the point. He mentioned meeting Professor Masen and his very young Canadian fidanzata. He mused that although he had been impressed with Masen's published writings, especially his
ground-breaking monograph, the Professor's lecture smacked of a pseudo-intellectualism that truly had no place in a professional academic lecture. One should either be intellectual and academic, or one should be a public speaker and entertaining, but not both.
Moreover, the content of the Professor's lecture had an amateurish quality to it, leading one to wonder if it had been written by a frustrated graduate student, rather than a Ph.D. Felix queried churlishly if this was what passed for excellence in North American universities. He ended his email with an explicit and detailed suggestion of a prospective sexual rendezvous possibly in the late spring.
And then he finished his cigarette in the darkness and joined his wife in their matrimonial bed.
-
Across the bridge in the penthouse of a boutique hotel, clothes were strewn across a sitting room floor, trailing from the doorway like bread crumbs towards a wall that was no longer blank.
Groans and obvious rhythms floated in the air, wafting over a pair of men's fine handmade shoes and black socks, a pink thong, a tailored black suit wantonly piled on the floor, a taffeta dress spread out into a creased indigo pool …
If one were a detective one would notice that the lady's shoes were missing.
The air was thick with the smell of the woman's perfume and the man's cologne, mingled with the musk of clean, naked flesh and sweat and sex.
The apartment was dark. Not even the moonlight streaming in from the terrace door and windows reached the part of the sitting room in which two nude bodies enjoyed one another. The man stood upright, supporting the woman, who had her legs wrapped around his hips as he thrust into her.
"Bella, baby, open your eyes." Edward's plea was punctuated by grunts amidst a cacophony of sound – skin sliding over skin, desperate cries muffled by lips and flesh, quick gasps of oxygen, and the slight thud of Bella's back against the wall.
She could hear him, but her sight and the ability to speak had all withdrawn in order to focus her entire attention on a single sensation … pleasure. Every movement of her lover pleased her, even the friction between their chests and his long, thin fingers digging into her bottom as he held her aloft.
She danced on the edge, the very edge of satisfaction, breathless with anticipation that the next movement would push her over. Building, building, building, building …
"Baby - are - you – okay?" He was rasping now and breathing hard, his last word leaving his mouth as a cry as the slightest turn of her ankles pressed her stilettos into the flesh of his ass.
Bella tossed her head back and let out a few incoherent sounds as she fell, intense waves of ecstasy radiating out from where they were joined and speeding along her nerves until her entire body vibrated with multiple tremors of joy.
Edward felt it, of course, and followed soon after; three deep thrusts and he cried out her name into the crook of her neck, his body shaking wildly.
-
"You worried me," he whispered into her hair. Edward lay on his back in the centre of the large, white bed, while his sleepy beloved curled into his side, her left arm across his waist, her head resting over the surface of his tattoo. He stroked her naked shoulders with his fingertips.
"How?"
"You wouldn't open your eyes. You wouldn't speak. I was worried I was hurting you."
She moved her fingers along his abdomen to the few hairs that trailed down from his navel, tracing its texture lazily.
"You didn't hurt me. It felt different this time – more intense. Every time you moved the most incredible feeling passed through me. I couldn't open my eyes."
Edward smiled to himself in relief and pressed his lips to her forehead.
"That position is deeper than the other, which is why it was so intense. And don't forget all our foreplay at the museum - I couldn't keep my hands off you during dinner …"
His tone grew wistful. "But you never say my name."
Bella kissed his tattoo. "I say your name all the time. It's a wonder you haven't come up with a pet name you'd rather I use. Such as Teddy, or Eddie, or some kind of –ward."
"That's not what I meant, love. I meant you never say my name … when you come."
She lifted her chin so that she could see his face. His expression matched his tone, wistful and momentarily vulnerable.
The confident mask had slipped.
"Every cry of pleasure is yours, Edward. Every orgasm is signed with your name. I even call them Edgasms."
He laughed then, a hearty, chest bouncing chuckle that required Bella to sit up.
She joined him in his laughter, grateful that his moment of melancholy had passed.
"You have quite the sense of humour, Miss Swan."
He tilted her chin upwards so he could worship her lips once more before relaxing into the pillows and drifting off to sleep.
Bella stayed awake a little longer as she contemplated the anxious, insecure little boy who revealed himself to her at unexpected moments.
-
The following morning, Edward treated Bella to her preferred breakfast at Café Perseo, a fine gelateria in the Piazza Signoria. They sat at a small table outside, people watching.
One could sit on the square all day, every day, and watch the world walk by. There were old buildings on the perimeter – the Uffizi was around the corner. There was a tremendously impressive fountain and beautiful statues, including a preproduction of Michelangelo's David and a statue of Perseus holding the dismembered head of Medusa in front of a lovely Loggia.
Bella avoided looking at Perseus as she ate her gelato, despite the fact that her favourite gelateria was its namesake.
Edward avoided looking at the legions of beautiful, leggy Florentine women in order to watch her.
Hungrily.
"Are you sure you wouldn't like a taste? Raspberry and lemon are great together." She held out a spoon where the two flavours commingled.
"Oh yes, I want a taste. But not of that." His eyes glinted at her in the sunlight and she blushed furiously.
"I prefer something a trifle more exotic."
He nudged his espresso aside so that he could take her hand in his. "Thank you for last night and this morning."
"I think I'm the one who should be thanking you, Professor."
She squeezed his hand and then busied herself with her breakfast, such as it was.
"You were incredible," he breathed.
"I'm surprised there isn't an outline of my body vaporized onto the wall. Or on the futon." She giggled, holding out a small spoonful of the frozen treat.
He allowed her to feed him and when his tongue darted out to lick his lips she found herself suddenly light-headed. A bevy of images from earlier that morning flashed through her mind. And then one remained.
Tousled copper hair shining in the sunlight, peeking up from between my …
She swallowed hard. "You know, that was my first time."
"It won't be your last. I quite enjoyed doing it." Edward licked his lips provocatively, eager to see her squirm.
She leaned over to kiss him with a quick peck on the cheek. But he was having none of that. He snaked a hand to the back of her neck and pulled her closer across the small bistro table so that he could kiss her deeply.
Her mouth was sweet with gelato and the extraordinary taste that was Bella. He groaned when he released her, wishing he could take her back to the hotel for a repeat of last night's performance.
"Can I ask you something?" She busied herself with her bowl so that she didn't have to look him in the eye.
"Of course."
"Why did you tell Professor Pacciani that I was your fiancée?"
"Fidanzata has multiple meanings." He moved in his chair, sipping his espresso.
"Yes, but the primary meaning is fiancée."
"Ragazza doesn't express the depth of my attachment," he said simply, bowing his head momentarily to stare at his feet as he wiggled his toes in his new, tight shoes.
Edward's mouth twitched a couple of times as he contemplated what to say next, if he should say anything at all.
He elected to remain silent, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
Bella noticed what she perceived to be his physical discomfort.
"I'm sorry about my heels."
"What's that?"
"I saw the marks on your backside when you were getting dressed this morning. I didn't mean to scratch."
He laughed and grinned at her wickedly. "Occupational hazard for those obsessed with high heeled shoes. I will wear my love scars with pride."
"I'll be more careful next time."
"No, you won't." His voice was low, so the American couple at the table next to them didn't hear him growl.
But Bella heard it.
Her eyes grew wide at the sudden flash of passion in his eyes and across his face.
The electrical needs of western Europe could be fuelled by Edward's sexual energy.
He captured her lips with his and then whispered in her ear, "I'm going to buy you a pair of boots."
-
As they strolled across the Ponte Vecchio, Edward persisted in pulling her into shop after shop, desperately trying to tempt her into accepting an extravagant gift of jewellery – Etruscan reproductions, Roman coins, gold necklaces, etc. But she would only smile and politely decline, pointing to her diamond earrings and saying that they were more than enough.
He began to grow frustrated at his inability to spoil her.
He had never had that problem with Tanya.
When they reached the centre of the bridge, Bella tugged at his arm and led him to the edge so that they could gaze out over the Arno.
"There is something you could buy for me, Edward."
He peered at her curiously, the bright Florentine sun shining down on her dark hair, illuminating the red and blonde pieces that were normally invisible to his eyes, and creating a sort of halo effect around her head. She was goodness, light and warmth and the softness of skin. But terribly, terribly stubborn.
"Whatever you want, I'll give it to you. Name it."
Bella paused to run her hand over the barrier that separated her from the edge of the bridge.
"I want my scar removed."
Edward was almost surprised.
He knew that Jacob's bite mark bothered her and that she was ashamed of it. He had walked in on her applying concealer that morning and she had grown teary and quiet when he tried to ask her about it.
It must really upset her if she's willing to ask for money in order to have it erased. Isabella never asks anyone for anything.
She avoided his eyes and continued.
"I don't like looking at it. I don't like the fact that you can see it. I want it gone as soon as we get back to Toronto."
"Carlisle could probably suggest a plastic surgeon in Seattle, if you'd rather have it done quickly."
She shook her head. "Our time in Forks is so short as it is. I couldn't do that to Charlie. Or to Alice."
Edward wound his arm around her waist and pulled her into a tight hug, kissing her lips and then trailing down to her neck where he kissed her nearly invisible scar.
"I will gladly do this for you and more, Isabella. You just have to ask. What's mine is yours. I mean that." He paused and placed his other hand in his pocket, absentmindedly jingling some change. "But I would like you to do something for me."
"What?"
"I would like you to talk to someone. About what happened."
Bella lowered her eyes.
"I've already talked to someone. I talked to you."
"Someone who isn't an insensitive idiot. Someone who is a professional." He sighed and took her hand, kissing the back of it. "I can hire a doctor who will remove the scar from the surface of your skin, but no one can remove the scars on the inside. It's important for you to realize that. I don't want you to be – disappointed."
"I won't be. And stop calling yourself names. It upsets me."
He conceded her point with a nod of the head.
"I think it would help if you had someone to talk to – about everything. Charlie, your mother, him … me." He gave her a pained look. "I am a difficult man to love. I know that. And even though I'm trying, I will make mistakes. I think if you had someone to talk to, other than me, it would help."
She closed her eyes and sighed.
"Carlisle would be a sympathetic ear until we found someone in Toronto. He went through some tough times with Esme ..." His voice trailed off uncertainly. That was a topic he did not wish to broach.
"I will, Edward, but only if you agree to do the same thing."
He stiffened.
"I know that you don't want to, and believe me, I understand. But if I'm going to be doing this, you need to do it, too. You were really angry last night and even though I knew you weren't angry with me, I had to bear the brunt of it."
Edward immediately grew panicked.
"Forgive me, Isabella. I tried to make up for it afterward. I didn't mean to scare you." He pulled at his hair compulsively.
Bella reached up to capture his agitated hand in hers, effectively freeing his poor, abused hair from his torments.
"Of course I forgive you. But it bothered me that you were so upset over an unsolicited pass from a stranger. And that you thought that sex would relieve your anger and mark me as yours."
Edward's face registered shock, for he had never seen his actions in that way before.
She shook her head at him.
"It's one thing to bare your teeth to someone like the professor, but quite another to show your teeth to me."
"I wasn't going to bite you." He squeezed her hand desperately. "I would never have broken the skin."
"But I wasn't sure. So either our relationship is too new for me to know better, or I'm too fucked up to know, or you really were on the edge of losing control. In any case, both of us could use some help. Don't you think?"
She chewed at the inside of her mouth as she awaited his reaction.
"Agreed," he whispered gruffly.
Edward looked very upset and the panic in his eyes didn't abate when Bella reached up to pet his hair a little.
"We're quite a pair, aren't we? With our scars and our histories and all of our problems. A post-modern couple, I suppose." She smiled and tried to make light of their situation.
"Therapy was required when I went into rehab. And then I continued meeting with a therapist for a year or so afterward, in addition to going to weekly self-help meetings. It isn't as if I haven't gone down that road."
"But your relationship with Tanya and what happened in Boston still haunts you, Edward. And what I saw last night … as much as I will try to help, some things are beyond me. As much as sex with you pleases me, I don't want it to become your new drug of choice. It can't fix things. It can't fix us."
"Is that what you think? That I use sex to fix things?"
His question was in earnest, according to his eyes, and so Bella resisted the urge to respond with sarcasm.
"I think that you used to use sex to fix things. You said as much to me once, that you used sex to combat your loneliness. Or to punish yourself."
Edward winced.
"It's not like that with you. I swear."
"I know that. But when a person is upset, old patterns of behaviour tend to emerge. It's true of me, too. I just cope with things differently."
He sighed and his shoulders slumped slightly.
"I love you."
"I love you, too," he whispered.
She kissed him then, softly, but long enough for his panic to recede and for him to kiss her back until she was breathless.
When they pulled apart, they stood quietly wrapped around one another until Bella decided to break the silence.
"Your lecture last night reminded me of something." She pulled her iPhone from her purse and quickly scrolled through some pictures. "Here."
He took the phone from her hand and gazed at an exquisite painting. In it, St. Francesca Romana cradled an infant child with the assistance of the Virgin Mary, while an angel looked on.
"It's beautiful." He handed the phone back to her.
"Edward," she said softly. "Look at the painting again."
He did. And then the strangest feeling passed over him.
"I've always loved this painting. I thought it was because there are similarities between Gentileschi and Caravaggio. But it's more than that. St. Frances lost some of her children to the plague. This painting is supposed to portray one of her visions of what happened to those children."
She searched Edward's eyes to see if he had grasped her meaning. But he hadn't.
"When I look at this painting now, I think of your baby. Esme is holding her, surrounded by angels."
Bella spoke gently, pointing out the figures in the painting while Edward just stood there.
"See? The baby is reaching up to touch the woman's face. She's happy and safe and loved. That's what Paradise is like. You don't have to be worried anymore about what happened to her. She's happy now."
Bella looked up into his face. His pained, beautiful face.
Edward was crying.
She wrapped her arms around his neck immediately and pressed her cheek to his chest.
"I'm so sorry. I was trying to comfort you."
He kept his arms at his sides for some time as she clung to him, apologizing and holding him closely.
At length he wrapped his arms around her.
He wiped at his eyes. And then he kissed her forehead and hid his face in her hair, feeling grateful and relieved and sad all at once.
-
The following afternoon, they took a taxi up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which provided a sweeping panoramic view of the city. They could have taken a city bus, like regular people, but Edward was not like regular people.
"What did Alice say in her email the other day?" He asked, as they admired the tiled roof of the Duomo and the skyline of Florence.
She blushed. "She and Jasper wanted to say hello. They wanted to know if we were happy."
Edward's eyes narrowed. "Is that all?"
"Um, no."
"So?"
She shrugged. "It was just girl talk. Nothing important."
He chuckled. "You're a terrible liar."
"I am not lying." She sniffed.
"Perhaps." He cocked his head to one side. "But I can tell when you're hiding something."
He began to run his fingers up and down the soft flesh at her waist, a particularly ticklish spot.
"You aren't going to do that in public."
"Oh, yes I am." He grinned at her wickedly and began moving his fingers with purpose, trying to tickle her.
She started giggling and trying to wriggle out of his grasp but he held her close.
"Come on, Isabella. Tell me what Alice said."
"Stop tickling," she gasped. "And I'll tell you."
Edward stilled his hands.
She inhaled deeply and then sighed. "She wanted to know if we'd, um, slept together."
"Oh, really?" His lips turned up into a half-smile. "And what did you say?"
"I told the truth."
"Did you ask her if she was pregnant?"
"No. I have no reason to suspect anything, except for the fact that I found the box for the pregnancy test. I don't want her to think I was spying on her."
"Carlisle will sniff it out soon enough. They'll probably make an announcement when we arrive home for Christmas."
He searched her eyes. "Anything else?"
"She said she hoped you were behaving yourself and that I was happy. And I said yes – on both counts."
She waited for a moment, thinking about whether or not she should mention the email from a certain Vermont farm boy.
"But there's something else. Go ahead." He was still smiling indulgently.
"Well, Peter emailed me."
Edward's eyebrows shot up. "What? When?"
"The day of your lecture."
He fumed. "Why didn't you mention this before?"
"Because of this." She gestured to the irritation visible on his face. "I knew it would upset you and I didn't want to do that when you had to speak in front of a room full of people."
"What did he say?"
"He said that you passed Angela's dissertation proposal."
And there it was, tables neatly turned.
"What else did he say?"
"He wished me a Merry Christmas and said that he was sending something to me in Forks."
Edward's nostrils flared.
"Why would he do that?"
"Because he's my friend. It's probably maple syrup, which I will gladly give to Charlie. Peter knows that I have a boyfriend and that I am very, very happy. I'll forward the email to you, if you like."
Edward's lips thinned visibly. "That won't be necessary."
"You seemed eager to have me spend time with Peter when Professor Pain was around."
A muscle jumped in his jaw.
"That was different. And I don't particularly wish to discuss her ever again."
"Edward, we both know Peter is a decent person and that he was a friend to me when everyone else was either indifferent or awful."
He inhaled sharply but didn't protest. He knew he'd been an ass to Isabella in those first few weeks of school. And he still felt the guilt.
Bella hastily turned to another topic.
"Peter seemed to be surprised that you accepted Angela's proposal."
He took Bella's hand in his and led her to the edge of the lookout so that they could enjoy a better view of the city.
"Angela was behaving strangely at your last seminar. She seemed resentful. Do you think she knows?"
"No," he replied quickly. "She's just sour because I haven't welcomed her outrageous advances, which she persists in making. But she met my deadline for her revised proposal and the prospectus she turned in deserved a pass. I couldn't fail her."
"So she wasn't – blackmailing you?"
"Of course not. She doesn't know anything and even if she suspects, she has no evidence for her suspicions. By the time we return to the University, the issue will be moot because you will no longer be my student. I think it would be best if we were discreet around the University and kept our private lives private, but I see no reason for us to sneak around as we did before. In fact, I'm looking forward to being seen with you in public, taking you to dinner, the symphony, the opera …"
Bella allowed relief to wash over her.
"I don't like the idea of Peter emailing you, but I suppose you could be friends with worse persons." Edward sounded unusually prim.
She smiled widely.
There's the Professor Masen I know and love.
"I love you. Only you."
He smiled at her then and kissed her gratefully, pulling out his phone so that he could take her picture against the background of the beautiful view.
She was laughing and he was taking picture after picture when his iPhone began to ring in his hand.
The not so dulcet tones of London's Big Ben sounded between them.
Bella looked up into his eyes with surprise and concern.
He grimaced and then pulled her into an intense kiss. He cupped her face with his hand, determinedly parting her lips with his own and then gently slipping his tongue inside.
She kissed him back, wrapping her arms around his waist to pull him closer.
And all the while, Big Ben chimed.
"You aren't going to answer it?" She whispered against his mouth.
"No." He muted his phone with a flourish. "If it's an emergency, she can contact my attorneys."
He pressed his lips to Bella's once again.
"I don't mind if you talk to her on the phone. It was the flying to Boston to rescue her that troubled me."
His eyes narrowed as he pondered her words.
"You don't mind if I speak to her? I would have thought you'd want me to sever all contact."
"That might not be necessary if she can learn to be self-sufficient. And anyway, I have compassion for her."
"That doesn't surprise me, given your nature. But why?"
Bella's pretty face fell.
"Because you created a child together. Because I know what it's like to love you. If I were to lose you to someone else, I'd be devastated."
"Isabella, you aren't going to lose me. Stop that."
"I can imagine how she feels," she said, quietly.
Edward didn't want to imagine how Tanya felt, but he nodded at Bella's admission, thinking to himself that she had an over-developed sense of empathy.
But I wouldn't have her any other way.
He leaned over and pressed his lips to her cheek. "I'm sure I'll have to explain the new state of affairs to Tanya when I return. But I won't be rescuing her anymore. I am otherwise engaged, with the love of my life."
-
True to his word from the day before, Edward brought Bella to a small boutique called Manuela on Via Nazionale, where he ignored her protests and purchased her a pair of handmade, knee high black leather boots that had pointed toes and high, thin heels.
"For tonight. When we return from dinner," he said in English, winking at her as he handed his credit card to the sales associate.
"You speak the language of fashion forward footwear, Professor Masen?" she teased.
"Fluently." He winked at her. "I also speak Agent Provocateur, which reminds me that I haven't taken you to their boutique to look at pretty, tiny things. I think that should be our next stop."
Bella shook her head and grinned, wondering how it was that she was lucky enough to find a man who spoke the language of both fine shoes and lingerie.
-
The rest of their stay in Florence was a happy one. A counterfeit honeymoon of a sort.
They frequented various churches and museums during the day, in between returns to their hotel, where they would make love sometimes slowly and sometimes furiously, and then nap on the terrazzo or the bed like Adam and Eve in their nuptial bower. Every evening Edward would choose a different restaurant for dinner and
then they would walk home, pausing on one of the three primary bridges downtown to make out like teenagers in the cool evening air.
On their last evening in Florence, Edward took Bella to Caffé Concerto, one of his favourite restaurants, which was positioned on the banks of the Arno. They spent several hours over a multi-course dinner, leisurely talking about their holiday and their burgeoning sexual relationship. They both confessed that the past week had been an awakening of sorts – for Bella, an awakening to the mysteries of eros; for Edward, an awakening to the mysteries of the four loves beautifully intertwined.
In conversation, he finally revealed his surprise. He had rented a villa in Umbria for their second week of holidays. He promised to take her to Venice and Rome on their next vacation, possibly in the summer after they visited Oxford.
The next day, the happy couple said farewell to their love nest and took a taxi to the railway station. Bella was sad to leave. She now had more than a sentimental attachment to their hotel room; she had beautiful and heated memories that she wished to hug tightly to her heart. Memories that she hoped would sustain them through the long, cold winter semester back at the University.
At the station in Perugia they were met by a limousine that drove them down the winding roads to a place near Todi, a medieval village.
"This is the house?" Bella breathed as they travelled up the long, private drive to what looked to her to be a mansion on a hill. It was a three story stone structure on a spacious estate dotted with cypress and olive trees.
As they drove, Edward pointed out a large mixed fruit orchard, that in warmer weather grew figs, peaches, pomegranates, and apricots. An infinity pool was nestled beside the villa, next to an herb and flower garden that had an entire bed of lavender.
Bella could almost smell the fragrance from inside the car and she vowed at that moment to gather a few springs of lavender to perfume the sheets on their bed.
"Do you like it?" He searched her face eagerly, hoping that she would be pleased.
"I love it. When you said you were renting a house, I never dreamt it would be so – big."
"Wait 'til you see inside. They have a fireplace and an outdoor dining room so that we can have our meals in the fresh air. And there's a hot tub."
"I didn't bring a bathing suit."
"Who said anything about needing a bathing suit?" He moved his eyebrows suggestively and Bella laughed.
He had thought of everything.
A black Mercedes sat in the driveway so that they could drive to the neighbouring villages including Assisi, which was a destination of particular interest for Bella.
The housekeeper of the villa had stocked the kitchen with food and wine in anticipation of their arrival. Bella rolled her eyes when she discovered several bottles of imported cranberry juice in the pantry.
Professor Edward "Overprotective" Masen strikes again.
"What do you think?" he asked, placing his arms about her waist as they stood together in the large, fully equipped kitchen.
"It's perfect."
"I'm glad. I was worried you wouldn't like being out here in the middle of Umbria. But we can take day trips to the villages. And I thought it would be good for us to spend some quiet time simply enjoying one another."
Bella arched an eyebrow. "Our times together usually aren't quiet, Professor Masen."
Edward's eyes darkened. "That's because you drive me mad with desire."
He turned her so that he could reach her lips and gave her an impassioned kiss.
"I thought we would stay in tonight. We can cook together, if you like, and then maybe relax by the fire." His voice was thick.
"Sounds good."
"I'll carry the luggage upstairs while you explore the house. The Jacuzzi is on the terrace just outside the master bedroom. I'll meet you there in fifteen minutes."
She nodded with a smile and he released her.
"Oh, and Miss Swan."
"Yes?"
"No clothes in the hot tub. I prefer you naked."
She squealed and quickly scampered up the stairs.
Not only was the house tastefully decorated in various shades of cream and white, but it boasted a very romantic master bedroom on the second floor that was punctuated by a canopy bed. Bella found herself trying the bed out just for a moment, before taking her toiletry case into the washroom.
She unpacked her make up and placed her shampoo and shower gel in the large, open shower. And then she pinned her hair up and took off all her clothes, wrapping herself in a large, fluffy white towel.
She'd never skinny dipped before. But she was looking forward to it.
As she folded her clothes and placed them on the vanity, she heard music coming from the bedroom. She recognized the song immediately, Don't Know Why by Norah Jones.
She smiled. Edward thought of everything.
A soft knock on the bathroom door reconfirmed that.
"I brought up some antipasto and a bottle of wine, love, in case you're hungry. See you outside."
"I'll be there in a minute," she called to him.
She looked at herself in the mirror. Her eyes were bright with excitement and her cheeks were blushing ever so slightly. She was in love. She was happy. And she was (she thought) about to christen the hot tub with her sweetheart underneath a darkening Umbrian sky.
Edgasms by twilight.
On her way to the terrace, she saw Edward's clothes hanging over the back of a chair. They swung slightly in the evening breeze that wafted in through the open door.
Edward was naked and waiting for her in the warm water.
She would never cease being excited at the thought of being with him.
She walked out onto the terrace and waited until she had his complete attention, and then she dropped the towel.
-
Near Burlington, Vermont, Peter was wrapping Christmas presents at his parents' kitchen table; presents for his family, for his sister, for his grandmother, and finally, for his friend.
It was, perhaps, surprising to see a two hundred pound rugby player with bolts of Christmas wrap and Scotch tape, painstakingly measuring before he put scissors to paper.
A bottle of maple syrup, a pound of Cabot's extra old white cheddar wrapped in an insulated sleeve, a stuffed toy Holstein, and two figurines were proudly arranged in front of him. The figurines were a curiosity, something he had found in an upscale toy shop in Toronto. One was supposed to be Dante, dressed as a crusading soldier with St. George's cross on his chain mail chest, while the other was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed anachronism of a Beatrice in the garb of a medieval princess.
Sadly, the toy company refused to make a Virgil action figure. (Virgil, apparently, was not worthy of action)
Peter begged to differ and so he decided to write to the toy company to alert them to their regrettable oversight.
This was the story of his life, really, although he did not know it at the moment. But he was destined to desire to be Dante to a particularly fetching Beatrice, while all the while remaining Virgil. Even though physically he matched the Dante figurine more so than Professor Masen.
Peter wrapped each item and then carefully placed them in a cardboard box with bubble wrap. He signed a Christmas card with a few words, trying desperately to sound casual in order to disguise his growing feelings, and tucked it in amongst the gifts and then taped the box shut, addressing it neatly to Miss Isabella Swan of Forks, Washington.
He was just about to walk out the door when the telephone rang in the kitchen.
Tucking his parcel under his arm, he answered it.
"Hello?"
"Hi, Peter. It's me."
He exhaled through his teeth with a low whistle. "Charlotte."
"How are you? My mom ran into your mom the other day down at Mirabelle's. She said you were home."
"I'm good. You?"
"Pretty good. Busy with school." Charlotte laughed. "I'm constantly fighting the common cold. Kindergarteners are germ magnets."
"Yeah, I've heard that."
He paused, waiting for her to explain why she had called him.
"Did you get my email?"
"No. When did you send it?"
"Yesterday."
"That's weird. I received a couple of emails, but I didn't see anything from you. What did you say?"
"I said that I missed you." Charlotte's normally cheerful voice sounded sad.
Peter sighed heavily into the phone. "Char, don't start that now."
"I made a mistake."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I made a mistake saying I didn't want to do the long distance thing. I changed my mind."
He closed his eyes and held his breath, trying to gather his fragmented thoughts.
"Char, it wasn't just you. Things weren't working out. We weren't talking. Why would you think it would be different now?"
"Because I'm different now. And I miss you."
Peter shook his head to himself.
"I took seriously the things you said to me and I moved on. You said you just wanted to be friends."
"Are you seeing someone else?" She sounded like she was close to tears now.
"Listen, this is not a good time. I have to get to the post office in Essex Junction before it closes. I'll call you after dinner tonight and we can go to Leunig's or something to talk."
"Okay." Charlotte's voice brightened somewhat.
Peter hung up the phone and cursed his life as he carried Bella's gift out to his car.
-
After a very enjoyable time in the Jacuzzi, Edward prepared an Umbrian dinner for his beloved. Bruschetta con pomodoro e basilico, tagliatelle with olive oil and black truffles from the villa's estate, and a cheese course with local artisan cheeses and bread.
They ate their fill at the outside dining table, laughing and drinking a fine white wine from Orvieto in the candlelight. After dinner, Edward made a nest of blankets and pillows on the floor in front of the living room fireplace.
He plugged his iPhone into the sound system so that they could continue enjoying his Loving Isabella play list. And then he took Bella into his arms as they sat on the floor finishing their bottle of wine, while the sounds of medieval chant swirled around their heads.
"The music is beautiful. What is it?" Bella closed her eyes as she focused on the female voices, who were singing a cappella.
"Gaudete by The Mediaeval Baebes. It's a Christmas song."
"That's quite the name for a music group."
"They're very talented. I saw them live the last time they came to Toronto. At a place called The Mod Club."
"Oh, really?"
Edward smirked at her. "Why, are you jealous Miss Swan?"
"Should I be?"
"No. My dance card is full. Completely."
Their talking ceased against the backdrop of celestial voices as their kisses began. Soon their bodies were tangling naked next to the fire.
In the glow of the orange flames, Bella pushed Edward down on his back and straddled his hips. He grinned to himself as he let her lead, welcoming her new found confidence. It was incredibly sexy.
This position was slightly reminiscent of the one they had explored earlier in the hot tub, only now Edward was prone rather than sitting up. But since they had both enjoyed Bella on top, she was eager to try it again.
Her naked skin was fuel for his desire as his hands searched and played with her body, before finally resting on her bottom.
The sensations were so deep she had trouble keeping her eyes open, except when his mouth found her breasts and then she was gazing down at him frantically, panting and moaning loudly.
She was much more vocal than ever before.
It was sweet, this lover's reunion, but not exactly slow. Bella moved at a restrained pace initially, but soon both of them were moving desperately and sweating, their limbs entangled as they climaxed together.
She collapsed on top of his chest like an exhausted kitten, laughing with him at the various lucid and nonsensical words they had each uttered on the occasion of their orgasms.
Bella had tried to articulate Edward's name at the crucial moment, but all that came out was "Ed – ed – ed – ed – ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"
Not that he objected.
He stroked her hair as she snuggled in his arms, legs still straddling him.
"I love you," he whispered. "So much."
"I love you, too."
"It wasn't so scary, being on top, was it?"
"No. But I'm more comfortable with you now. I think the wall sex back at the hotel shook loose my inhibitions."
Edward found her remark fairly amusing. He wondered silently what other inhibitions he could shake loose with various kinds of sex – shower sex, for example. Or perhaps, the holy grail of domestic coupling – kitchen table sex.
He kissed her forehead and tangled his long fingers in her wavy hair, breathing deeply with contentment.
The lovers stayed entwined for an hour or so, dreamily holding one another in front of a dying fire while Edward's music surrounded them.
"Edward?"
"Mmm-hmm?"
"I want to please you."
"You do please me. So much."
She reached a hand behind her and lightly touched the top of his groin.
"With my mouth."
Despite the fact that Edward was feeling blissed and sated, his body reacted immediately to her husky whisper and hesitant hand.
"I feel badly that I haven't been able to reciprocate. You've been so – generous."
"Isabella, there's no quid pro quo here. I do things with you because I want to, because I love you." He fixed her with a serious eye. "Truthfully, I prefer making love to everything else."
"I thought all men preferred – oral satisfaction."
He shrugged uncomfortably. "Making love to you provides a deeper connection, so it's more satisfying. After that, anything else could only be an amuse bouche."
He grinned at her wickedly.
She felt the same way but had not been able to articulate it.
"Is this position okay? With you lying down or …?"
"It's fine," he whispered, his eyes suddenly alight.
"I suppose it's better than me on my knees." She watched his reaction from the corner of her eye.
"You know I don't want you on your knees. But we could always get you a stool." He winked.
"Oh, really?"
"Of course. Then you could comfortably sit. I, on the other hand, am happy to kneel before my Princess in order to pleasure her. As I have already demonstrated."
Bella giggled slightly.
And then her smile disappeared.
"I need to tell you something before I ..."
He gazed up at her expectantly.
"Um, I still have a gag reflex," she whispered, as if she were confessing a secret sin.
A furrow appeared between his eyebrows.
"Sweetheart, that's normal. I'd be worried if you didn't. You should hear Emmett when he has to take out the garbage. He's like a giant cat coughing up a fur ball."
When Isabella didn't laugh, Edward grew concerned. She was avoiding his eyes as her hand slipped lower.
"Mine is kind of strong."
"It won't be an issue, Isabella. I promise."
She started to shimmy down his body and he reached over to weave her hair around his fingers.
But as he did so Bella froze.
She blinked at him and his hand paused on top of her head.
"Please don't push my head down." Her voice escaped her lips as a shy, plaintive plea.
Edward frowned darkly.
"I wasn't going to."
She remained perfectly still, waiting. For what, he didn't know.
"Isabella, talk to me."
"Um, it's only because Idon'twanttothrowuponyou."
Edward didn't understand.
"What did you just say?"
She hid behind her hair. "I've – thrown up before. Because of my gag reflex."
He stared at her incredulously.
"For God's sake, Bella. What the fuck did he do to you?"
She grew pale and immediately regretted her honesty. She should have simply tried to please him and gone slow, praying that she wouldn't have any adverse reactions.
Edward wouldn't pull her hair or hold her head down. He'd be gentle.
He muttered a few expletives and sat up quickly, grabbing a blanket. He covered her with it and pulled her into his lap.
With her ear pressed to his chest she could hear his heart beating rapidly. He was angry.
But not with her.
He rubbed her lower back through the blanket as he pondered what to say. He felt righteously angry – even though his own past was far from pure.
He hadn't been tender with his sexual conquests, although he had always tried to maintain some vestige of good manners. Though less so when he was doing cocaine. Despite the Bacchanalia that he had participated in, parties that had approximated the decadence of Rome on occasion, he'd never, ever held a girl's head down until she choked and vomited.
Nobody did that.
Not even the drug dealers and addicts he used to hang around with did that, and they had no boundaries or moral compunctions at all.
Only an incredibly sick, twisted, misogynistic motherfucker would get his kicks from humiliating a woman that way. And that's what it would be – for there wasn't anything sexually arousing about that.
And to do such a thing to someone like Isabella – kind Isabella with her big, brown eyes and beautiful soul. A gentle creature who was ashamed of having a gag reflex … Jacob holding her head down while he fucked her mouth and made her sick.
Jacob was lucky he was in jail while his lawyer fought with the district attorney to work out a plea agreement. Or Edward would have been sorely tempted to track him down and kill him.
He shook the murderous thoughts from his head and pushed his thirst for revenge aside, lifting Isabella to her feet and kissing her chastely.
"Come with me." He extended his hand.
"Where?"
"Upstairs."
Bella, reeling in shame, gave him her hand and he led her up the staircase to the master bedroom. She had expected him to put her to bed, but he brought her into the en suite washroom instead.
"What are you doing?" she asked, as he turned on the shower.
He turned to her and kissed her forehead.
"I'm doing something nice for you that isn't sexual."
Bella thought about this remark as he fumbled about with the taps. He tested the temperature of the water until it was perfect and gently falling from the central tropical rain showerhead.
He smiled into her eyes as he tenderly removed the blanket from her naked body and then he held the shower door open, allowing her to step inside before he followed her.
"I don't understand." Her voice was uncertain.
"Water washes everything away, doesn't it? Like confession. Deus, propitius esto mihi peccatori."
"I haven't been to confession in a long time."
"I'll take you to the Basilica in Assisi. I know you wanted to go and I'm sure it would be good for both of us. Your kindness has awakened my desire to know more about St. Francis."
He stood behind her and used both hands to caress her long hair, parting it and moving it so that every strand grew wet.
Bella stood very still, eyes closed, as the hot water baptized her.
He moved her hair to one side and pressed a tender kiss to her neck and then he stepped back, pouring some of her strawberry shampoo into his palm.
His fingers worked the shampoo into her scalp, rubbing firmly, and then eventually sliding down the locks to the ends. He was slow and careful in his movements. If he ever had one moment, one act, to show that his love for her was much deeper than a sexual infatuation despite what had happened in the corridor of the Uffizi, now was that moment.
Bella didn't know what it was about having a lover wash one's hair, but it was a deeply affectionate, deeply intimate experience.
Edward stood naked behind her but was careful not to crowd her, or to allow his arousal to brush up against her backside. This was not about sex. This was about taking her shame away and making her feel clean.
As she was to him.
As she had always been to him.
"I'm sorry I've been so emotional."
"Sex is emotional, Isabella. Anyone who says otherwise has simply deadened a part of himself."
When he felt her shoulders relax he wrapped his arms around her waist, hugging her backwards to his chest. He rested his chin on her left shoulder, pressing his lips to her ear.
"I shouldn't have let him. I should have said no."
"Whatever happened for whatever reason, you need to forgive yourself and let it go. You have me now."
He tightened his hold on her waist. "Because we love each other, everything between us including the sexual things are a gift. Not a right, not an entitlement or an exaction – a gift.
"The greatest gift you can give yourself is to let him go completely."
"I want to. I want to be strong. But I still hear his voice in my head."
"You are strong. Stronger than you know."
"I need help, Edward." She brushed away a single tear that had mixed with the shower water.
He sighed against her shoulder and thought back to their prescient conversation on the Ponte Vecchio.
"We're going to get you some help. And we're going to have your scar removed. I promise. Remember, it's been less than a month since you were attacked. Of course you're still feeling the effects. It's to be expected."
They were quiet for some time.
Edward shifted them forward so that they stood in the centre of the downpour, the hot water covering both of them.
"You know, Isabella, one of the interpretations of Botticelli's Primavera is that it is about sexual awakening. I hinted at it in my lecture, but didn't say much about it.
"Some people think that part of the painting is an allegory for an arranged marriage. Zephyr takes his bride in non-ideal circumstances and she's nervous and afraid. She doesn't look at him with love but with concern. But then afterwards, she is refigured as serene and happy."
He paused for a moment as he chose his next words very carefully.
"Just because your previous sexual experiences were traumatic doesn't mean you can't have a fulfilling sexual life. With me. I want you to be serene and happy. That's the look I want to see on your face every morning and every evening when I hold you in my arms. And I'm going to do whatever it takes to get you to that point.
"I think that we should stay away from that one act until you're more comfortable. We've only been sleeping together for a week. We have our whole lives ahead of us to love each other, in multiple ways.
"And that's what I want to do. I want to love you forever."
His words comforted her deeply.
As her muscles relaxed, he silently and lovingly soaped the nape of her neck and across her shoulders with a sponge and some vanilla shower gel. And then he traced the lines of her shoulder blades and the individual bumps of her spine, pausing regularly to place his lips where the soap had been rinsed away.
And then he washed down to her lower back and to the two little dimples that marked the transition from back to backside. Without hesitation, he began washing her derrière, soaping each cheek as if it belonged to a baby, and pressing his lips to each side.
He reached down to massage the backs of her legs. He even washed her feet, grasping her hand and placing it on his shoulder to steady her as he soaped between her toes and then the soles and her thin little ankles.
Bella had never felt more cared for in her life.
He attended the front of her neck and the slope of her shoulders. He washed and caressed her breasts with his hands, putting the sponge to one side as he kissed her tender rosebuds.
And then he was gently touching between her legs, not sexually but reverently, and rinsing the suds that accumulated amongst her dark curls. Finally pressing his mouth there as well.
When he was finished, he took her into his arms and kissed her like a shy teenager. Gentle, closed-mouthed kisses meant to demonstrate love and affection.
"We aren't perfect, Isabella, and we will never be perfect. But we can have happiness. You are teaching me to love. And I suppose I'm teaching you to love, too, in a different way. No matter our faults or failures, we're better together than we ever were apart. Aren't we?"
He pulled back so that he could read her eyes, far from certain that she would respond with words. But she surprised him.
"You're the only one who made me see that I couldn't do everything on my own."
"I could say the same to you, Isabella.
"You're clean now. No shame. No guilt. It's all been washed away."
Edward clutched her to his heart and buried his face in her neck as the cleansing water fell down on them.
Relevant Story Links:
A link to photos of the Piazzale Michelangeo can be found here:
www.Graphics.stanford.edu/~lucasp/pictures/florence/piazzamich/
The link to Caffé Concerto can be found here:
www.caffeconcerto.net/florentine-recipes.htm
It's my favourite restaurant in Florence. Although I also favour Cibreo.
-
The painting that Bella shows Edward is The Vision of St. Francesca Romano, by Orazio Gentileschi. It can be found through the following database:
www.wga.hu
-
The villa Edward rents in Umbria near Todi can be found here:
www.lasegreta.com/
Photographs of the rooms, including the main room with the fireplace, are included on the site.
-
The continuation of Edward's Loving Isabella play list includes the following:
Don't know why by Norah Jones, see:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=9__6TAVTwtk&feature=related
Gaudete by The Mediaeval Baebes, see:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vryl9QicJk&feature=related
Edward's Latin, "Deus, propitius esto mihi peccatori," translates as "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

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