Edward appeared often over the next few weeks. I queried with Rosalie why he was never in the servants' hall in the evenings, but she knew little other than that he remained living at home with his parents. Perhaps it was because his employment here was temporary, we pondered.
He didn't come every day, but I would always anticipate his arrival, hating myself for hoping so fervently, as the disappointment prodded at my heart on the days he didn't come. He never stayed long, which gave me many more hours in which to think over the things he said and the way he looked. His eyes watched me carefully, and even though I didn't always see them as I pushed on with my work, I could feel keenly when they were on me, the tell-tale tingling tip-toeing over my skin.
"My mother wrote and told me somebody more often than not leaves game on their doorstep at night." I was feeling brave, although I couldn't place why. I'd often taken to skirting around the matter of the offering on the doorstep the night I'd watched him skulk away into the woods, but he gave nothing away.
"There are some generous souls in these parts," he said, and although his mouth didn't turn up into a smile, his grass-green eyes shone with clear amusement.
"I know perfectly well who the generous soul in question is," I told him with a derisory look as I propped up a scrubbed milk pan to drain ready for scalding, and set to scrubbing the next. Edward said nothing more, his silence annoying me more than anything he could have said. I scrubbed hard at the pan, and was busy trying to push back a piece of hair that had escaped from my hat by swiping at it with my arm, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
"Here, allow me."
He turned me slightly towards him and I stood, stock-still and wide-eyed, as he reached forward. His face was pure concentration as his eyes followed his hand. He frowned slightly, his full lips held together as his fingers brushed my hair gently back into place, tucking it beneath the edge of my cap. As he withdrew his hand, I remained still, unable to shake myself from the trance his touch had placed me in.
The sound of a door banging outside the dairy broke through my revery and stirred me thoroughly awake. Edward stepped away, and I turned back to my work, plunging my hands back into the milk pan and scrubbing at it.
"You need to stop coming here, we'll both be dismissed if they catch you," I whispered harshly at him, eyes darting to the doorway and praying it would be Rosalie.
"You never seem to mind my being here until someone else comes along," he says. He was right, of course, because those eyes and that brain of his never missed a thing.
"It's all well and good for you, you can go back to your father's farm. If I were dismissed I'd never be taken on elsewhere. My mother and father would die of shame."
He shrugged and placed his hands so deep into his trouser pockets that his shoulders slouched. My mouth dropped open as I wondered at his attitude.
"You don't even care," I said, shaking my head.
"Because it wouldn't be a bad thing. You wouldn't need to work," he told me with an easy smile. "I'd make you my wife. You could keep busy raising our children."
A thrill ran through me, lifting me so fast I had no time to identify whether it was excitement or panic. It dropped me abruptly as I realised he was teasing me. Of course a man of such fine appearance wouldn't want to marry me; I spent half of my time smelling of cows and the rest of soured milk, neither odour willing to be parted easily from either my clothes or my skin.
I ducked my head to try and hide my burning cheeks.
"Leave the girl be, Edward." It was a man's voice, and my heart leapt in my chest at being discovered. I couldn't see who it was from where I stood, but Edward turned to look at him. The man didn't venture inside and I took that as a sign that he wasn't here to punish us for fraternising. "Come, we've plenty to do."
I looked up in time to see Edward raise a hand in farewell, as he left without a word.
I was walking across the yard with Rosalie when Lord Newton and his son rode their horses past. Michael was a little older than I, and blessed with good looks as well as good standing. We waited for them to pass and ride out of sight, and then relaxed. Rosalie giggled and held onto my arm.
"Did you see, Isabella? How his Lordship's son watched you?"
"Nonsense," I argued back. Of course I had noticed, he'd stared quite openly, his lips toying with a smile the whole time.
"You should be careful," Rosalie warned me, suddenly growing serious. "It wouldn't be the first time he's taken a fancy to a serving girl."
"Really?" I questioned, my interest piqued by the promise of a juicy tale. "Who is she?"
"Oh, she's long gone!" Rosalie informed me. "They say he got her in trouble. She was dismissed and nobody's seen her since. Of course, it runs in the family. Lord Newton's brother Anthony had his fair share of scandal before they forced him into the army and he was killed in Africa."
"I didn't know Lord Newton had a brother." I found it surprising that I'd never heard tell of this before in a place so small. Rosalie drew herself up straight, seemingly proud to have demonstrated her superior knowledge.
"Nobody spoke much of him again," she told me in a hushed voice. "They were too afraid that by mentioning his military career, memories would be refreshed and the things they tried to bury would see the light of day again."
I was silent as I pondered her words.
"I have no interest in His Lordship's son anyway," I told her, returning to our original subject. She smiled.
"No, everyone knows where your interest lies," she said, nudging me hard enough to cause me to stumble on the cobbles. I looked at her in horror, already feeling the blush creeping across my cheeks.
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," I insisted testily. Rosalie laughed openly at me.
"Isabella Swan, you're as open a book as I ever did read! Although your efforts at indifference are endearing, they are nonetheless unconvincing. Your eyes come alive the very moment they alight on Edward Cullen. Protesting does nothing to change that very fact."
I considered arguing against her theory, but her face told me it would be fruitless, and so I remained silent.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of," she told me, quite matter-of-factly. "The Cullens are fine young men." Her blue eyes twinkled brightly and I thought of the notes Edward brought to her from his brother.
"He has no intention of attending the Servants' Ball," I informed her.
"And you thought he might?"
"I'd rather hoped he would. A moment spent here and there, and always with the threat of being discovered, grows a little…" I searched for the word to best convey my feelings. "Unsatisfying."
Rosalie laughed again. I stopped, looking on in surprise.
"What?" I asked, concerned I'd said something foolish.
"I can't imagine Edward Cullen ever behaving with enough decorum to attend a ball. If you have in mind a man who is content to adhere to social convention, then I suggest you set your sights elsewhere, sweet Isabella."
I felt my blood heat at her words and the suggestion of my naivety. I was already painfully aware of it each time he came near, I certainly didn't need reminding.
"And what of his brother?" I asked her, departing from social convention momentarily myself. "Is he of the same ilk, or is he better suited to polite company?" I heard the barb in my tone but I couldn't find it in me to care, after what I took to be her mockery.
"I'm sure I wouldn't know," she replied, with a smile, and while I was sure she would, I chose not to press her further.
A/N - The lovely Claire Bamboozle has made me two banners for this story, you can find them over on my FB account - Gemmah Fanfic - or my group Gemmah Fanfiction :). Thanks also to Claire and Chocaholic123 for their help with this story!