Summer Daze, Austen Nights
Olivia Tannis Moore
Searching For Answers
Aaron walked to the stone wall and then gazed back at Edward. "Would you have me leave my usual way?"
Edward frowned. "If you did, then you would be breaking The Code."
"Yes, well," Aaron said, grimacing as he tried to get a foothold in the crevices of the wall. "We don't want that…"
I watched as Aaron climbed the wall, and then crouched there looking down on us, smirking. "Oh, Edward, speaking of Alice…give her my best, would you? I so miss her."
Edward lunged forward, his hands clenched into tight fists. But Aaron had already jumped to the other side of the wall. His sardonic laughter filled the air as Edward ground his teeth.
Then, all that was heard was the wafting voices from the manor.
Edward seemed to listen for a moment as if to make certain that Aaron had actually left the premises.
I wanted to ask him what Aaron had done to Alice—if he had attempted to do the same to her…but of course that would have been impertinent. It was certain to be a deeply personal matter, a family matter, just as my incident with Aaron was an embarrassment I wouldn't want open for discussion.
Uncomfortable, I looked down at my feet. "Thank you for what you did…for stopping him before…" I shuddered, unable to finish. That I had escaped such a hideous act by his interference was incredible. "It would have been worse than death," I mumbled, timidly peeking up at him from beneath my lashes.
He had moved a few feet from me and his voice was hard and biting again. "Worse than death? It would have meant your death had he carried out his intentions. Why would you stray this far from the ball with a stranger?"
My mouth dropped open. "I…I didn't."
He looked as if he didn't believe me.
I couldn't very well tell him I was out spying on him, so I told him a half truth. "I came out to get some fresh air…and get away from everyone."
His topaz eyes flickered and his voice lost most of its edge. "Because of me? What I did earlier?"
I took a deep breath. "Yes." The truth reverberated in my answer. It was solely because of him.
"Damn…" he said, rubbing his hand across his chin. "If I hadn't been out here…if I hadn't stopped it…it would have been my fault." His voice was so low he seemed to be talking to himself.
"No," I said. "You would have heard the news and assumed what you originally assumed…that I was a girl with loose morals that had found herself in the company of a stranger…a rapist."
His eyes narrowed. "Not merely a rapist…"
"Do you really think he would have murdered me?" I asked incredulously.
He answered too quickly, "There's no doubt in my mind."
"Why did you let him go free then? If you know he is a murderer—why let him go? Because you belong to the same club? Because it's against The Code? What about the code of decency?"
"It's not the same code you speak of," he began to explain, but then clamped his mouth closed. I knew better than to press him; the code was yet another subject that was obviously none of my business.
"So you let him go so that he can force himself on another female, or worse as you say."
"It's not for you to understand," he said dismissively and started for the manor.
I had to walk fast to catch up with him. ""Fine then," I spat. "But I can't tell the authorities or my father what happened tonight."
He suddenly turned around and I nearly ran into him. For a moment, he seemed to totter as if my nearness caused him to be off-balance. His eyes glazed over as he appeared to be fighting for control over some emotion. "Please…" he said, taking hold of my upper arms and gently pushing me back until we were at arm's length apart. "I have to have some space." He closed his eyes briefly as he took a deep breath and exhaled. "Now, why can't you tell your father? He should know—Aaron may come back. He never could take no for an answer."
I swallowed convulsively. "I just can't."
He shrugged. "Well, I tried. You're on your own from now on," he said flippantly and took off walking again.
I hurried after him. "Edward…wait."
He slowed, but did not stop walking, and I found myself matching his stride as I gushed, "My father is working for the Sommers. It's the only work he's been able to find in over six months…"
I stopped and crossed my arms over my chest. I didn't want Edward to pity me; I only wanted him to know the situation. But I there I stood, looking ridiculous in some man's oversized coat, whining about my father's lack of employment and our obvious poverty. I only wished for the ground to suddenly open up and swallow me.
Edward froze and looked back at where I stood. "Your father is working for the Sommers?" His tone was so peculiar; I couldn't tell if it was anger or concern that fueled his words. "Where?" he demanded.
"I don't know…I just found out about it tonight."
He ran his hand through his bronze hair, tousling it further.
"My father practically gave Aaron his blessings to pursue me. That's how it all started."
He shook his head. "I wouldn't be so sure of that."
I sighed. "You talk in riddles…"
He walked back to where I stood and surprised me by taking my head between his hands. "Look, this is what you're going to do—this is your assignment—you're going to find out everything your father knows about the Sommers." His hands were frigid cold against my ears making me shiver. "Everything," he emphasized. "Where they are staying; what business they have here in Hertford…and anything else you can find out. And in return, I'll make sure Aaron stays away from you. Will you do it?"
His closeness…the intensity of his voice…made my heart pound. I nodded hypnotically.
Neither of us said anything for a long moment, as if we were suddenly entangled in an invisible web. In slow motion his head was bending down to mine. I watched as his eyes closed and his mouth parted, all the while wondering with great expectation what his lips would feel like against my own.
I closed my eyes in anticipation.
"Bella…" His voice was strangled.
I opened my eyes to see him stepping back very slowly. His hands were still in the air from where he had held my head; his eyes were still closed. He was the very image of someone exercising an enormous amount of self-control—although I couldn't imagine why…I was perfectly willing to allow him to kiss me. I wanted it. In fact, I was certain my face must show my disappointment that he hadn't.
(Thanks for reading. OTM)