Deceit:A Beauty and the Beast Novel(3)

By: M.J. Haag

* * * *

The next morning, I rose late and reluctantly slipped from my warm bed—Father’s mattress could not compare to the one I now called my own. Fresh, warm water again waited on the washstand for me to wash my face. I enjoyed not having to walk outside to fetch my own. However, when I turned to dress, I frowned in confusion at the empty chair beside the wardrobe. I was certain I’d draped my only dress there when I’d prepared for bed the night before.

I opened the wardrobe, thinking it had been magically placed in there while I slept. Inside, luxurious diaphanous gowns waited, a pale rainbow of colored skirts. No doubt, my dress had disappeared so I would wear one of his choosing. Sighing, I picked one at random. At least I had clothes. It could be worse, I thought, recalling his wish to see me when I’d bathed. He might have decided to have me walk about naked as the sisters did. I only wished I understood his purpose in having me here and dressing me in such a fashion.

The pale green dress I chose slipped over my head easily. The layered skirts afforded a shadowy glimpse at my legs. The bodice flattened my small breasts, making every detail clearly visible. Chewing my lip, I debated how to preserve some of my modesty. My eyes drifted to the wraps that I’d deemed worthless for cover.

I tore off both sleeves of the matching wrap and folded them in half to tuck the additional two layers of material into my bodice. It had the desired effect of blotting out the details while giving just a hint of what the bodice hid. I stepped into the flimsy slippers that matched the gown and left my room with the intent to spend the day reading.

In the library, a breakfast tray waited, but I ignored it to walk to the writing desk and retrieved the book on farming I’d set aside. It was the one I’d started reading to the beast, and I wanted to read to its conclusion. I settled on the sofa near the tray and absently popped a bite of chilled, cooked meat into my mouth as I found my place.

“Did you sleep well?” the beast asked softly.

My insides jumped from the start he gave me, but I only nodded to answer him and kept my eyes on the page. After a few minutes of silence, I calmed enough to eat and again lost myself in the book.

“Did you find the clothes to your satisfaction?”

“Not quite,” I said. “I fear going outside will give me a chill and be the death of me. I hope in winter I’ll have something with a bit more substance.”

He snorted but made no comment.

Well after eating my last bite, I finished the book and closed it with a snap. Intrigued by the problems farmers faced and the solutions posed by the author, I wandered to the shelf on farming, replaced the book, and selected another thin volume, which I brought back to the sofa.

“You like farming?” the beast asked with a note of uncertainty.

“Not really. But I like eating, and the two are definitely related.”

He made no response, and I settled in to absorb the new author’s thoughts. On one topic they both agreed. Repeated plantings resulted in poorer harvests. However, their solutions varied. One suggested letting the field lay fallow for several years. The other suggested the annual slaughtering be done over the field to slow the soil depletion. I didn’t like the idea of eating carrots soaked in year old animal blood. I sought out another’s opinion and kept searching through the volumes until I had almost twenty books on farming lying on the table next to the tray. I referenced from one to another until I came to a conclusion based on several tried methods.

“Fish and certain animal waste,” I murmured, thumbing through several pages. “Perhaps vegetation, too. Interesting.” I wished I had a way to ask Mr. Kinlyn how he prevented soil depletion.

I turned my gaze to the writing desk. The thought of writing Mr. Kinlyn led to the thought of writing Father.

“May I write letters and have them delivered?” I asked the beast.

“You may write, but I will read your correspondence before sending it,” he said.

I stood and moved to the writing desk. Outside the window, I caught the movement of the female nymph, kneeling before her no longer solid partner. Before I could fully stop to wonder what they did, the beast rumbled a quick promise to return shortly and left the room.

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