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Being Mrs. Black

Summary:
BMBEdward/Bella, Implied Jacob/Bella. Imagine that the Cullens were late in returning to Forks. Bella arrived on schedule, but her life proceeded normally. She and Jacob become the best of friends and with no vampires to awaken them, the wolves don't mature. When he turns 18, Jake and his friends enlist, going to look for adventure in Iraq. He proposes, and Bella can't imagine ever loving someone more than she does her best friend. They quickly marry and he leaves for war. Two months later she gets some news that will turn her life upside down. And on that same day, a beautiful, dangerous stranger appears. From the moment their eyes meet, Bella begins to question those solemn vows she made. Will Bella Black do the right thing? Banner art and banner by Seisei


Notes:


13. The Lion's Den

Rating 5/5   Word Count 2760   Review this Chapter

PART THIRTEEN: The Lion's Den

Bella POV

Awareness was an elusive thing, floating just out of reach. I needed to wake up, I knew there was a reason, but it was equally elusive. So I drifted, letting the currents take me where they wished to go. The nightmares couldn't reach me here, but if I didn't wake soon, my freedom would be fleeting. The demon wolves would again chase me through the endless, dark woods, and this time there would be no angel to spirit me away.

Like a distant memory, I felt a cool hand touch my forehead. I breathed in a scent like jasmine kissed with the warmth of vanilla, a scent so fascinating, so unusual, that it drew me to the surface as my formless worries could not. I searched my memory for something like it, working through the puzzle as my mind slowly shook off the bonds of sleep. At last, I broke the surface of consciousness and opened my eyes. The bed where I lay was large enough that my outstretched arm didn't touch the edge. Drapes of sheer white linen hung from the dark wood of the bed frame, and as I looked toward the muted daylight, they stirred in the breeze from an open balcony door.

"Are you cold, Bella?" I turned my head at the sound of that melodic voice, and again the fascinating scent washed over me.

"No..." That was true, I was very comfortable. I began to roll onto my side, and a hand gently stopped me.

"Your shoulder will be sore. Please, allow me." There was a rustle of fabric, followed by the shift of the bed as someone sat down, and I looked up into an incredibly beautiful face. With her curling dark hair and porcelain skin she could have been a Pre-Raphaelite painting come to life. She smiled at me then, and my heart ached painfully in response. I'd seen that expression only a handful of times from Renee; the smile of a mother looking down on a beloved child. "Hello Bella," she said quietly, and her voice was a song. "I'm Esme Cullen."

"Where am I?" I struggled to sit up and Esme leaned forward to deftly tuck extra pillows behind me, handling me as easily and carefully as a doll.

"You are a guest in my home." If it were possible, her smile softened. "The home I share with my family."

"Your home?" I frowned, trying to sift through my memories, but I couldn't seem to make sense of what was dream and what was reality. "I'm sorry... I just... how did I get here?"

Esme took a deep breath and looked down at the hands she had folded neatly in her lap. Her lovely face became grave. "From what I understand, you were attacked in the woods. It was very fortunate that the boys were close enough to help you."

"The boys?" I pieced together my memories. The wolves, had they been real? And Edward... Dr. Cullen... I looked back up at her again, making an intuitive leap. "You're Dr. Cullen's wife?" Which meant... "Edward is your brother."

The smile returned, bright and approving. "Carlisle is my husband, yes." The way she said his name was lovely and intimate, as though she relished every chance she had to speak it. "Edward is very dear to me."

Edward... I remembered running through the woods, his voice calling me to him like a lifeline. I remembered his arms around me, and in that moment feeling safer than I ever had in my life. Without question I knew that as long as those arms held me that nothing on this earth would do me harm. Sudden fear pierced my heart then, and my hands flew to my middle. I fell; that I remembered clearly. What about the baby?

A cool hand rested over mine. "Carlisle says that the baby should be fine." Her smile turned wry. "Of course he would like to take you to his hospital and run any number of tests, but I think that can wait for the time being." The relief was fierce, and she shared it with me, the lovely gold of her eyes gleaming with understanding. Though I'd known this woman for only a few brief minutes, I felt perfectly at ease with her. More than that, I felt cared for.

Once that fear was laid to rest, morning sickness was the next item on the agenda. I took several shallow breaths in an attempt to ward it off, but it was a lost cause. "I'm sorry," I said faintly. "But if you'll excuse me, I think I need to get to the bathroom." She never hesitated, but simply helped me out of bed and across one of the largest bedrooms I'd ever seen, leaving me at the bathroom door with a promise to stay close by. Fortunately, it was only a token effort, there was barely anything in my body to be sick with.

A few minutes later, I stood at the marble vanity and splashed my face with cool water. The reflection in the mirror was rough, pale even by my standards. "You look like hell, Mrs. Black," I murmured faintly, turning my head to admire a couple of stellar bruises on my face and neck. Another livid mark peeked from under the collar of the nightgown I wore. It was soft cotton, and a size too large, I wondered which member of the Cullen family I was borrowing it from. I lifted my left hand to tug it back into place, but the wrong movement set my shoulder on fire and the nausea came rushing back. Unable to move, I swayed over the sink, taking slow, deep breaths. Gradually it faded, and I resisted the urge to collapse on the floor in a Bella-shaped heap. Surely I had a shred or two of dignity left, best to preserve it while I could.

There was a knock at the door, followed by Esme's musical voice. "Bella?"

"Come in."

Golden eyes found me immediately when the door opened, assessing for damages. "Are you alright?"

"Getting there." I managed a wan smile for her benefit.

Her answering smile said that the effort was acknowledged and appreciated, but that she missed nothing. "I thought you might want to take a bath." The covetous look I cast toward the shower made her laugh. On the vanity she laid a small pile of folded clothing, then moved to open a closet from which she pulled fresh towels. "There's quite an assortment of soaps in there, feel free to use whatever you like." She paused, then gave me another long look. "Do you need some help?"

I hesitated, but the pain in my shoulder still lingered, that alone was enough to stifle my pride. "I hate to ask..."

"It's my pleasure." Something about her soothing presence, the way she anticipated every need before I could voice it, made it impossible to feel awkward. She helped me undress, fussing gently that I was too thin for an expectant mother, and set the water in the shower to warm up. The shower itself could have accommodated an entire family with room to spare, and sported an impressive array of controls and water jets. Esme shooed me inside and slid the door closed, gracefully perching on the bench from a dressing table. "If you feel up to it, I'd love for you to meet the family," she said idly. I finished poking at the shower settings as much as I dared, and glanced at her through the frosted glass.

"Of course." The family. Did that include Edward? I closed my eyes, resisting the urge to turn the water up to scalding as a shiver went through me. So many questions, so few answers, and still my thoughts came inevitably back to him. Edward Cullen should be the least of my worries... and yet I found myself wrestling with hurt feelings that he'd dumped me off on his sister at the earliest convenience.

As though she'd heard those sulky thoughts, Esme continued. "Be kind to Edward, won't you? I suspect he'll be horribly grumpy when he gets back." She laughed as though at a private joke. "I refused to let him mope any longer by your bedside, so I had his brother drag him off for a little while. He'll be quite put out that he missed you by less than an hour."

"He stayed all night?" I wasn't adept enough to mask the pleasure in my voice.

"All night and all day, my dear," she said gently. "It's nearly evening." I processed that information as I worked a shampoo that smelled like honeysuckle through my hair. "Ah, I think I hear Alice and Jasper. Emmett and Edward shouldn't be too far behind them."

I frowned, searching my mind for those names, but didn't find them. More new faces, then. "By the way... thank you. I'm still not sure how much of what I remember is real and what was a nightmare... but I don't think I can go home right now." The reservation was no less of a trap than it was before, and Charlie's house was no better. That literally left me with nowhere to go.

"Carlisle is very fond of you, Bella. And Edward..." She paused, and I sensed there was greater meaning in what she didn't say than what she actually did. "Edward is also very fond of you. We are all in agreement that the situation in La Push is not a safe environment for you right now. Whatever we can do to help you, we will."

There wasn't much I could say to that beyond the obvious. "Thank you." She effortlessly picked up the thread of conversation again, telling me about the house, she'd decorated it herself, and details about her family. Emmett, Edward and Alice were all siblings, I assumed they were all also her siblings, although she never specifically said that. Emmett was married to Rosalie and Alice was married to Jasper, and apparently they all lived in this house together. Initially I couldn't quite fathom that, but judging from the size of the bedroom, which I learned was actually Carlisle and Esme's, it was possible they only occasionally bumped into each other. "So... Edward is the only one by himself?"

At first I thought I'd made a mistake in asking, that she wouldn't answer. When she did speak, her voice was sad, a grief I could only guess at beneath her words. "Yes, Edward is the only one of us that is alone." The silence settled over us again, and I found myself reluctant to break it. I looked down at the ring on my left hand, twisting it restlessly as the water rained down. I knew what it meant to be alone. Even now, when my life was bound to someone else's... I had never felt more alone in my life. After a long moment more, I turned the water off, running my right hand through my hair to squeeze the water from it as I tried to think of anything but Edward.

Where are you, Jake? I refused to cry, not now.

"Here we are." Esme's voice was warm and easy again as she met me at the shower door with a bath sheet. I was in a robe with my hair in a towel when someone knocked on the door. "Come in."

The door opened, and through it swept a tiny young woman with short, dark hair, a delicate, elfin face, and fiercely intelligent gold eyes. "Hello Esme! Hello Bella!" She bounced over to me, looking into my face with open curiousity.

"This is Alice, Bella."

Alice took both of my hands, holding them like we were old friends. Just like Esme's, just like Edward's and Carlisle's, her hands were oddly cold. "It's so awesome to meet you finally!" She grinned, and it was impossible not to grin back. "How are you going to dress her, Esme?" Not letting go of my hands, she turned to look at the older woman, her eyes immediately flicking to the folded clothes on the vanity. "Hmmm..." Setting the underwear aside, she shook out what I realized was a long, flowing dress made of a vibrant, dark blue cotton jersey. It was sleeveless, with an empire waist, and the hem of the skirt would brush the ground on me. I eyed it skeptically, but Alice seemed pleased. "Oh yes, I think this will do nicely." The two of them shared a look that I couldn't quite decipher, but I had an odd feeling that there was mischief involved.

In short order I was dressed and seated before the mirror while Alice dried my hair. Much to my surprise, I really liked the dress. It was amazingly comfortable, the color was gorgeous, and it didn't hurt that my pregnancy boobs filled it out nicely. When Alice finally left my hair alone, it fell down my back in a sleek, dark fall, and against my protests she fastened a necklace of silver leaves and dark blue sapphires at my throat. "Why do I get the feeling I'm going to an event?" I couldn't help the fact that I sounded suspicious. I was.

"You're meeting the family," Alice said simply, as though that explained everything.

"Besides," Esme added, a secretive smile curving her lips, "since we've kept Edward at bay this long, we're somewhat obligated to give him something worth waiting for."

"I'm married." I didn't mean for it to sound like such a weak excuse, honestly I didn't.

"We know," Alice smiled at me in the mirror. "So does he." She stroked my hair, tucking it gently behind my ear. "It's strange, I never quite understood the whole thing about pregnant women and glowing. But... you're definitely glowing, Bella."

"You're beautiful," Esme agreed. A blush colored my cheeks despite my best efforts to prevent it. Only one other person had ever said that to me, and I'd married him.

"We'd better go, the likelihood of the dragon storming the castle just took a significant jump." Alice said with a giggle. She took one hand, Esme took the other and they drew me to my feet, leading me out of the bathroom and back into the bedroom beyond.

Little by little I saw more of the Cullen house as they steered me through the hallways. Everywhere there were light and airy spaces, tasteful furnishings and beautiful works of art. I would have compared it to a museum, but no museum had ever been so warm or inviting. When we reached the wide staircase, Alice disappeared down it first, and Esme left me to follow her while she brought up the rear, quietly making sure I didn't trip on my skirt. That was always a possibility with me.

"...I really don't see what all this is about." I could hear Edward's low and furious voice from the foyer at the bottom of the stairs, but I couldn't see him yet. "And would you please stop singing that infernal song in your head? For the love of all that's--" I was on the third step from the floor when his voice trailed off.

Lifting my head, I looked up into his face, and it was like seeing him for the first time all over again. Electricity raced through my body like summer lightning, and I wondered if there could possibly be another man in the world that was as lovely as Edward Cullen was in that moment. The way he looked at me, the way his eyes swept over me, no one else existed but us.

"Aren't you glad you waited, now?" Alice said quietly to her brother, her eyes dancing.

Edward shook his head, and a crooked smile curved his lips. "For her?" He glanced at his sister, then back to me. "Forever wouldn't be too long."

Leaving her behind, he came to the bottom of the stairs and wordlessly held out his hand to me. I hesitated, then slowly descended those last three steps, and placed my warm hand in his cool one. "Forever?" I asked softly, and I meant to reason with him, to warn him about silly words and silly moments. But I didn't.

"Forever." One word, and no flowery promise could have moved me more... One word, and that beautiful, crooked smile was my undoing.