Deceit:A Beauty and the Beast Novel(7)By: M.J. Haag
He didn’t sound like he was in the mood to let me escape.
My slippered feet slid on the wood floor as I changed direction to turn down the first hall I found. I kept running and turning until I was in the library. Shoving the window wide, I leapt out and landed on my feet, startling the nymphs who were back at it.
“Run,” I whispered to them.
Inside, the beast roared. The male ran, but the female hesitated.
“Go!” I urged her as I turned toward the back of the manor. The female hooked my arm and turned me toward the east, giving me a little shove. I ran.
The beast’s cries faded as I put distance between us. A stitch in my side grew to a cramp when I finally burst through the trees and fell face first into a familiar pool. I rolled onto my back and came up sputtering in knee-deep water.
After wiping my eyes, I tried to silence the harsh gasp of my breaths so I might listen for the beast. In the distance, I heard him calling my name.
“Child,” a voice grated nearby.
I turned to look at the old tree, the face already formed.
“He will learn. Do not give up. Do not run.”
The tree untwisted, closing its mouth and eyes just before the beast burst upon the clearing. My eyes widened at the sight of him as he stood at the pond’s edge, breathing harshly and fully visible on all fours. His raised hackles and bared teeth sent a shiver of fear though me, as did the low crackling growl emanating from him. The tree wanted me to stay. I desperately wanted to run.
Trembling with fear and cold, I did what the tree suggested and stood my ground.
“Will you hurt me now?” The words barely escaped my tight throat. Yet, I knew he heard them for his growl deepened. Despite his anger, he remained on the bank.
I gripped my heavy skirts and exhaled slowly. Then, with my shoulders back, I bravely walked toward him. My heart thrummed in my chest. Certainly he could hear it; I could hear little else.
As I approached, his growl softened while the fur on his neck continued to stand up harshly. He glared at me as I stood before him. I cautiously reached out and smoothed his fur down.
He didn’t move away. Instead, I felt the flesh under my palm quiver. The beast’s gaze met mine, and I saw the storm there. The undeniable rage was still present, but I also saw sadness and frustration. My heart went out to the tortured creature, and I cautiously embraced him.
When I leaned my head against his neck, all noise stopped. Not just his growl, but the animated chirping of the birds, the rustling of the leaves, everything.
Plum sauce matted his hair.
“The plums were too disgusting to throw at you,” I whispered. “I should have thrown the potatoes, instead.”
I watched his hackles slowly relax.
“Why did you not want to eat?” he finally asked.
“It wasn’t the food that bothered me. It’s the clothes. I don’t like pink, and I don’t like dresses. When you run, they trip you; and I like to run. And I don’t like being treated like a whore.”
His teeth ground together.
“I do not treat you like a whore.”
“How is making me wear these dresses so you can see all my personal parts not treating me like a whore?” I asked, keeping my head resting against his neck.
His hackles started to rise again, so I reached up and smoothed them down. He grunted in response and seemed to calm. I didn’t touch him more than necessary, cautious of the sisters’ lesson.
“Come,” he said instead of answering me. “You will catch a chill if we stay here longer.”
I moved away from him so he could lead. I didn’t miss the long look he gave my wet, clinging dress. Biting my tongue to keep from whispering the word whore, I patted the tree as I passed, thankful for its advice.
* * * *
In my room, another bath waited along with a tray of food and a note that simply said No plums.
Smiling, I ate the food then peeled myself out of the clingy, damp dress. The plum juices had stained it, ruining the material. I felt no remorse as I dropped it to the floor.
On the fifth day, the wardrobe remained empty. I scowled at it and whispered a single word. “Beast.” And I meant his nature, not his name.
After the fight in the kitchen, I had thought he’d understood and would relent. Still he had insisted on the sheer clothes. Yesterday when I had woken, the curtains had vanished; and I’d torn a patch from my bedding to cover myself.