Deceit:A Beauty and the Beast Novel(64)

By: M.J. Haag

Father opened the door, took one look at me, and ushered me in.

“Benella, what’s happened?” he said, wrapping an arm around me to steady me.

I could only shake my head. He tried quizzing the driver, but the man bowed and said to expect to hear from his master soon.

That penetrated my clouded mind. My stomach dropped. The returned Lord of the estate. The image of him standing so calmly burned my eyes; still, no moisture gathered.

As soon as the door closed, Father led me to a chair then quickly left to pull water from the well. When he returned, he dipped a cloth into the pail, wrung it out, and held it to my cheek. I flinched from the pain and the reminder of what had happened.

“I’ll fetch the physician,” he said, already turning away.

“No.” I caught his hand to stop him.

I wasn’t hurt so badly that I could justify what a physician would cost. I would recover. Yet, as Father faced me with concern, I knew he would insist unless I explained my abused appearance.

I averted my gaze as words spilled forth.

“I interrupted an attempted thievery at the beast’s estate,” I said, staring at the table. “The beast was...elsewhere. The thief carried me to the baker. The baker attempted to rape me. His grotesque belly saved me,” I said in a broken whisper. “I’m shaken and bruised. Nothing that won’t heal.”

“Oh, my girl.” Father knelt beside me and wrapped me in his arms. His compassion almost released the tears I struggled to withhold.

“I don’t want to go back,” I said in a tight, pained voice. “They all play cruel games. I thought Aryana a friend, but she’s the enchantress who has held the beast this whole time. They were both there at the baker’s.” I lifted my head and met my father’s agonized gaze. “Their presence stopped the baker, but they otherwise stood by indifferently.”

“I’m so sorry, Bini,” my father whispered with tears in his eyes. “I wish I knew how to fix this.”

I knew he meant more than the attack I’d suffered. He pulled me back into a comforting hug, trying to protect me as he had from Tennen’s bullying when he’d moved us to the Water. Yet, instead of Father making the sacrifice he’d intended, I’d been tricked into staying with the beast who I had thought would protect me as zealously as he’d protected his estate. Sadly, I had wrongly assumed his level of affection for me. The ache in my chest continued to grow but for Father’s sake, I withheld my tears.

Father pulled away and offered me the use of his room, along with some of his clothes. After I dressed, I sat on his bed with my elbows on my knees and stared at my folded hands.

All the advice Aryana had given or not given made more sense. She’d used me in her game with the beast. As Rose, she’d dissuaded me, steeling my determination to help. As Aryana, she’d given me the knowledge I’d needed to navigate a world I’d not understood. I recalled all the times she had said she worried about me. She had been sincere; I didn’t doubt it. Yet, it hadn’t been enough to stop her game.

Finally, tears fell hard and fast.

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