Deceit:A Beauty and the Beast Novel(10)

By: M.J. Haag

“Distracted,” Aryana answered as she set my clothes aside. She turned back to me and tilted her head in study. “You look like you gained some weight back.”

I felt a blush creep into my skin, and she laughed huskily.

“Tell me about your new master,” she said. “Does he treat you well?”

“He’s confusing,” I admitted. “And prickly. I think he’s so used to everyone bending to his will, he doesn’t know how to react when I start questioning him.”

Ila poured water over me, and Aryana gave a small smile as she picked up the soap.

“Why do you question him?” she asked.

I laughed.

“Why does anyone question? To learn. All my life I have lived under the roof of a man I knew and understood. Now I find myself guessing and stumbling around in the dark. It’s uncomfortable not being able to anticipate the direction of his thoughts. I’ve spent the last several days focused on his library. It’s a lovely, large room filled with so many books. When I’d started, it had been a mess. Does he think I restored the room properly? Are the books in the correct order? Should I clean the adjoining room next or move to another wing entirely? When I start asking questions, I get irritable replies as if I’m bothering him.”

I realized I’d started to raise my voice, so I took a calming breath again.

Aryana’s hands soothed the muscles in my back while I tried to ignore Ila’s hands washing my front. Ila’s smirk told me she knew it, too.

“I am grateful that I’m no longer a burden on Father, but do wonder why my employer even wanted me there if he can’t be bothered to give me direction.”

“You are on the right path,” Aryana murmured. “Ask questions; study him. You will learn.”

Ila handed me the soap so I could finish washing as she fetched the rinse water. Rinsed of the soap, I followed them to the tubs, again noting how they walked with such ease.

“I’m curious,” I said hesitantly.

“Of course you are,” Ila laughed. “If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be in this house.”

Smiling, I nodded in agreement.

“How do you walk about with such confidence and no clothes?” I asked as we each settled into a tub.

“What about clothes gives you confidence?” Aryana asked.

“A sound question,” I said as I thought it over. “I suppose it hides our faults.”

Aryana stood suddenly and held out her arms.

“Do you see faults?”

“Well, I’m not a good judge,” I said. “I’ve not seen many women naked.”

Aryana sat with a laugh.

“I have, and I will tell you that the men who come here have a hard time finding flaws in limbs or torso. They only see a body and not the person associated with it. So, we wear a veil to hide the person in which they might find fault.”

I continued to think over her answer in silence. Is that how the beast wanted to see me when I wore his dresses? As a body and not a person?

Too soon, she insisted we leave the waters and dress again.

* * * *

I ran the last several yards to the estate as the sun sank below the tree line. I was cutting it close. The gate grated open for me, and I flew through the gap without slowing and collided with the beast, who had been waiting in mist clouded shadows.

“Returned as promised,” I panted as I took a step back from him and bent to rest my hands on my knees.

In response to my announcement, he turned so the tip of his tail brushed my face. With a grimace, I straightened, clasped his tail, and allowed him to lead me, even though I knew I could find my own way. The fur of his tail stood out stiffly, and I surmised my return so close to sunset had given him concern.

Though I didn’t like his threats against my father, I did feel a measure of pity for the beast. I could only imagine how lonely his life was within the walls of the estate.

My stomach began growling before we reached the kitchen.

“Change,” he ordered after we walked through the outer door.

The mist pulled back to the small area where he paced.

Sensing his barely contained mood, I slipped into the servant’s quarters and gently closed the door. The nightgown I’d removed just that morning now lay on the first bed. With a sigh, I put it on and thought again of Aryana’s logic.

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