Deceit:A Beauty and the Beast Novel(8)

By: M.J. Haag



Now, I tugged a whole blanket from my bed to wrap around my shoulders before stomping to the hallway. Today was the day I was supposed to go see my father. I’d gone to bed early, so I could rise before first light, not wanting to waste any of the time I could spend with my family.

In the hall, the beast waited as usual.

“Why do I have no clothes?” I asked.

“Are you visiting your father today?” he asked much too calmly.

“Yes, I wanted to.” His calm just upset me more.

“Then the dresses you have wouldn’t suit. You can wear your trousers, which are in the kitchen.”

The annoyance left me. Of course I couldn’t wear the clothes he chose to town. I had assumed he wouldn’t think of that on his own.

“Thank you,” I said, turning to race to the kitchen.

He snagged the blanket, stopping my departure.

“Leave this here.”

Normally, once I found a way to cover myself, he didn’t order it away. Surprised, I glanced back at him.

“Now.”

I averted my gaze and let the blanket fall to the floor. When I started to walk away from him, I wondered if he found the view of my backside as mesmerizing as Ila’s had been that first time I’d seen it. The thought of Ila made me smile. I couldn’t wait to see my friends again and wondered what Father had told them about my absence. I hurried my pace until I ran, eager to start my journey.

In the kitchen, I closed myself in the servant’s quarters to change. As soon as I opened the door of the servant’s quarters, the beast gave me a warning.

“We bargained one day a week. I grant that you may leave the gates after the sun rises and must return to them before the sun sets. Do not be late or I will fetch your father in recompense.”

Nodding jerkily, I left him in the kitchen and raced toward the gate as the sky lightened. From the corner of my eye, I spotted one of the nymphs but it solidified before I could see which.

The gates swung open for me as the beast called my name. I stopped just inside the iron barrier.

The beast appeared beside me, his breath as heavy as mine.

“Will you return?” he asked gruffly.

In that question, I glimpsed his uncertainty of me. I didn’t understand why he wanted me to stay. But, I understood that whatever his reasons, I mattered to him; and he worried that the fear for my father’s safety wasn’t enough to bring me back. Feeling a small measure of pity for him, I nodded again before walking out the gate.

Freedom flavored the air with a sweetness that I inhaled deeply as I alternated between walking and jogging. When I came in sight of the bridge, a crow that was roosted on one of the bridge supports shook the spray from his feathers and took flight, spiraling high over the Water. I didn’t stop to see if it flew toward the estate.

With a light step, I walked through the market district, smiling at the early merchants as I made my way toward my father’s house. At the Sisters’ house, I caught a glimpse of someone and paused to wave up at the windows. Then, I continued on. When I stood before Father’s small home, I paused for a moment and wistfully watched the smoke curling from the chimney. I had missed them all so much.

Without knocking, I pushed the door open, a smile on my lips. As I suspected, Bryn stood at the stove cooking something. She looked up at me, her eyes wide with surprise.

“Benella,” she said, clearly surprised by my arrival. Her gaze touched my face then my clothes before clouding with disapproval. “You look fit and well fed. I hope you’re not expecting to eat; there’s not enough.”

Her attitude did nothing to curb my joy in seeing her. I stepped in and closed the door behind me.

“How are you, Bryn? What happened after I last saw you?” I really wanted to know about the possibility of her being pregnant.

“We left the estate and walked to Konrall. Father still hoped to sell a book. He warned us not to speak of you or the estate.” She turned away from me and poked at the meat sizzling in the pan. “He asked me if I would be happy in a forced marriage with Tennen. I said I would not; and we haven’t spoken of anything, except you, since then.”

“Me?” How could Father not ask questions of the baby? Obviously he’d deduced that Tennen had fathered it, but didn’t he want to know how long ago? And, there were other questions that needed answers. How much time remained until the baby arrived? Did Bryn have other prospects? Had she felt the babe move yet?

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