*Warning: this chapter begins the "T" rating, with adult situations.

Summer Daze, Austen Nights

By:

Olivia Tannis Moore

Chapter Four:

Against the Hedges

With Charlotte by my side, I hovered near the refreshment table at the far end of the ballroom and poured myself a cup of juice. The band had just finished a lively piece and I watched as Dr. Cullen led his wife from the dance floor. My eyes followed the graceful couple as they glided through the crowd and out onto the terrace. It occurred to me then that if Esme Cullen's shining face was any indication, Dr. Cullen would probably forgive his son's bad behavior.

Charlotte tugged at my arm. "What are you frowning about?"

"Nothing," I said, sighing. "Nothing at all."

She took her dance card from her purse and held it out to me. "We've promised the next dance to Mr. Sommers."

I grimaced and shook my head. "No, you promised the next dance to Mr. Sommers. I would just be in the way of your budding romance."

Charlotte flushed. "Don't be silly—"

I opened my own purse and handed my dance card to her. "Here, you can have my dance card. Pick and choose as you like, I'm going home early anyway."

She glared at me. "Why are you allowing him to ruin your evening? Esme Carlisle didn't."

"He hasn't ruined my evening," I told her. As close as I was to Charlotte, I had decided not to tell her of my plans to eavesdrop a second time. She would probably insist on going along with me and I wanted to go alone. That way there would be no distractions.

"Then don't go home," she pleaded.

The band was starting up again. The violinists began playing their intro to the next song.

"You're going to miss your dance," I warned.

Charlotte's eyes searched the ballroom floor in anticipation. "We'll talk soon…" she said when Aaron Sommers waved his hand above the heads that were streaming onto the center of the floor. And then she darted around the table and onto the crowded floor.

I did not have to wait long for Alice to appear. She gazed at the assortment of cheeses, breads, and soups, but in the end took only a small amount of Mulberry wine into her cup. She seemed to make a show of studying the wine, and I thought it clever since I was next to the large decanters, making it a perfect cover to get nearer to me. I smiled to myself. My plan was working splendidly.

"Are you enjoying yourself?" I asked pleasantly as she leaned in to pick up another decanter—apparently at random.

Her smile was quick and genuine, as if it delighted her that I should speak first. Up close, her white teeth sparkled in the soft light, and her chin was a bit more pointed when her lips stretched wide. Her hair was the color of dark mahogany and swept back with pearl-encrusted combs, all except for her spiky bangs and the wisps of hair around her face that seemed to escape the combs as if it had a will of its own.

"I am." She sounded as if she meant it. Her candor made it easier for me to smile—after all, I had liked her from the start, this pixie-like girl with the gamine face and inner radiance.

I nodded. "The best songs for dancing will come shortly. The band warms up after a while and save their best for last," I said, although I didn't actually know this from experience but had heard it said many times.

"I do love to dance," she said with a breathy sigh. "But my partner is a bit shy—it takes him a while to warm up, too," she said humorously. By partner, I assumed she was speaking of the one who seemed to constantly wear a worried expression; Jasper, I believe Charlotte had called him.

"Do all the men in your family dance?" I asked.

She grinned as if my question was amusing. "Not if they can help it."

I raised my cup to hers and tapped it lightly on the rim, "To dancing, then."

I took a sip of my juice and watched as she held the cup to her lips for half a moment before lowering it without as much as a taste. She hesitated as if she would say more and I wondered if she was going to mention something regarding Edward, but she didn't. Perhaps she thought that any discussion of her brother would be tactless given the earlier scene he had made. Instead, she set her cup down on the table. "If you will excuse me, I have to meet someone."

"Certainly," I said, smiling. And then I watched as she went out onto the terrace, using the same doors her parents had used just minutes before.

The east wall was taller than I remembered. Made of stone, it was at least six feet tall. This, I thought, would work to my advantage, for surely Edward and Alice would stay on the property where I could remain close enough to hear their discussion.

I lurked in the darkness, scouting the area for a place to hide, finally settling on a cluster of apple trees that would provide decent cover. I had borrowed a coat from the hall and hoped it wouldn't be missed until I could get back to the manor. It was too much too large for me, again working to my advantage since I had feared the pale material of my dress would glow in the night.

The air was becoming chilly and I shrugged deeper into the coat. Leaning back against one of the tree trunks, I listened to the laughter coming from the manor as it drifted across the lawn. But then I heard the ring of girlish laughter rise above that which came from Weatherly Manor. It was coming from the other side of the wall. I stepped forward and pressed my ear to the stone wall, thinking surely I must be mistaken…the gate was on the other side of the property. It made no sense. I had left the manor right after Alice. They would've had to run quite a distance around the perimeter to reach the other side so quickly—and I couldn't image Alice's petite form scaling the wall in her ball dress…

I couldn't hear through the wall; everything sounded muffled. I looked up at the apple trees. If Alice could run like the wind or scale a wall, then I could surely climb a tree…

I heaved myself up to the lowest branch and then up again until I could see over the wall. Stretched out lengthwise with my stomach resting on the branch, I followed the sound of Alice's laughter. Then my breath caught in my throat when Edward's throaty laughter intertwined with hers. They were probably laughing at my expense, I thought, but I couldn't help the stir in my belly from the sound of his voice. My eyes were just becoming adjusted to the darkness when I saw their shadowy figures walking slowly down the length of the wall and away from me. I had missed their conversation!

With frustration I watched as they moved further and further away, Edward's coattail ruffling in the breeze as Alice trailed her hand along the wall. Now I would never learn what Alice told him—but whatever she said seemed to improve his mood. That laugh…why it should affect me so was troubling. Perhaps it was because I had only heard resentment in his voice before now.

I waited a few more minutes before climbing down. And once my feet were once more on solid ground, I noticed the scuff marks along the coat I had borrowed…and the missing buttons that had popped off during my climb. It was a nice coat, well made, and I couldn't replace it—another reminder of my failure in this little adventure. And I was so occupied with these thoughts that I startled when a deep voice broke the silence.

"There you are,"

I clutched the lapels of the ruined coat with guilt as Aaron Sommers looked down at me.

"I was just about to go inside," I said, attempting to step around him. But his arm shot out and grabbed me around my waist beneath the coat.

His grin was lecherous, "You owe me a dance—and I had just as soon have it out here."

I flinched and tried in vain to remove his arm, my heart knocking within my chest as I realized the danger of my situation.

He chuckled at my efforts and slide his hand down to cup my hip.

My voice was high and desperate as I struggled. "Let me go inside and I'll dance with you."

His hand was straying, becoming more intimate in its exploration. "And give up a dance under the moonlight? I don't think so."

I raised my hand to slap at him but he caught it easily in his other hand. His tawny-green eyes narrowed as his upper lip curled into a cruel smile.

"Stop—don't touch me." My command was panicked and thin. If only I could free myself and run…

"Let her go," a voice growled, and my heart leaped in my chest.

Aaron released my waist but still gripped my wrist like a shackle. I looked around but didn't see anyone…then, following Aaron's gaze I looked up to see Edward standing there on top of the wall.

He jumped down from the wall as if it were a mere step, landing before us. And when he spoke again, his voice carried an even deadlier threat, "I said, let her go."

Aaron hesitated for a moment, then released my wrist. "Edward…fancy running into you here of all places."

"Your fancy, not mine."

"Come now," Aaron said cheerfully, "you're not still cross with me, are you? I mean, I'm the one who should still be angry after that fiasco last spring…but, I'll tell you what…let me have the girl and I'll let bygones be bygones…clean slate…what do you say?"

The silence caused chills to dance down my back as Edward seemed to consider Aaron's proposal. But then Edward took a step forward and I heard Aaron emit a low sigh.

"I'll see the girl home safely. I give you my word," he told Edward.

Edward chuckled lightly. "Your word? Would you like to know how much your word is worth to me?" He took another step toward Aaron and now they were nose to nose with only inches separating them.

Aaron took a step back. "Alright, Edward. I didn't know the girl meant that much to you—you should have just said so."

Edward shrugged, "Or perhaps it's just that I cannot stand you—and I'm just waiting for the opportunity to rid the world of your pestilence."

Despite his unwillingness to challenge Edward, Aaron straightened. "Really, Edward, you're well aware of The Code—you know what that would mean."

Edward sneered at his words. "You've given me plenty of reasons to break The Code already…you walk a thin line, Aaron."

Aaron raised his hands in the air. "Fine. You'll have your leave of me."

He turned toward the manor, but Edward stopped him and pointed over the wall. "This way, Aaron. It's no small miracle that Alice is still unaware of your presence here—I'd prefer to keep it that way."

(I tried to keep the contractions out of the dialogue and narrative, but it sounded so wooden and phony. 18th and 19th Century authors wrote this way because it was true to their time. Besides that, Twilight characters speak with contractions normally, although I've staged them in another time. I just thought I would explain my reasoning behind the change. Thanks for reading. OTM)