Deceit:A Beauty and the Beast Novel(9)

By: M.J. Haag

“Of course, you. The beast took you. We all worried, thinking you wouldn’t return to us. We should have known better,” she said bitterly. Before I could respond, she continued. “Did you bring anything back with you? Things are not much better than they were those few days ago.”

“I’m sorry. I did not.” I hadn’t thought of anything other than seeing them again. The next visit I would be better prepared.

The door burst open just then, and Father rushed in. He spun me about and caught me up in a tight hug. Finally, the welcome I’d hoped for. I wrapped my arms around him in return, smelling the faint tang of the sisters’ incense.

“Father,” Bryn said in surprise. “What are you doing home?”

“Someone told me they saw Benella,” he said as he pulled back from me. A smile lined his mouth, but his eyes looked sadder than usual.

“But your work. Shouldn’t you—”

“My employer has a fond spot for Benella and granted me time to spend with her this afternoon.” Father dropped his arms from around me. “Benella, walk with me. Bryn, we will return for lunch.” He turned and walked out the door.

When I looked at Bryn, I saw tears in her eyes.

“It’ll be okay, Bryn. I’ll be back later and want to hear what names you’ve picked so far for the baby.” Her eyes widened, but then she offered me a small, sad smile.

I caught up with Father and wrapped my hand around his arm.

“Why are you angry with Bryn?” I asked.

“Her dalliance will cost her, robbing her of a marriage to a decent man.”

Pulling back on his arm slightly, I stopped us in the street and turned him to look at me.

“Her dalliance will rob her of nothing because a decent man will look at her and see her worth and welcome the child she carries. The ones who won’t see her worth or shun her because of the baby are not decent.”

Father shook his head, but smiled at me indulgently.

“If only she had your sense of responsibility,” he said.

“Father, how can you say that? Bryn has been responsible for all of us since Mother died. She’s taken on so much responsibility so early it’s a wonder her shoulders aren’t curved from it. Despite that responsibility, she’s still young and prone to a young woman’s fancy. Tennen looked at her sweetly and played on her hopes. Don’t fault her for her naivety of a man’s character.”

During my speech, my father’s mouth dropped a bit. I probably sounded pompous.

“And don’t hold me in too harsh a light when I make my own naïve mistakes.”

“Wise beyond your years,” he muttered, and we started walking again. “So what would you have me do?”

“Can’t you see how frightened she is? She’s probably wondering where she will be by the time the babe is born. Reassure her that you still love her and care. Ask about baby names or see if Blye has given her any tiny garments. I will try to find some way to help, too, the next time I return.”

“You are not here to stay?”

I shook my head.

“He will allow me to visit you once a week. But I must have care to return before my allotted time.”

He sighed and looked at me with concern.

“Just take care of yourself.” We neared the Sister’s back door. “I will want details when we eat lunch together.”

I nodded and followed him in. He frowned at me slightly but made no comment when Ila waited with a cup of tea for me.

Ila remained quiet until Father walked away.

“We’ve missed you. Your father wouldn’t say where you’d gone, even though Aryana pestered him constantly.”

She led the way to the bathing chambers where Aryana lounged in one of the tubs.

“Benella,” she spoke in soft delight. “I’m so happy to see you. Tell us where you’ve been.”

I smiled as she stepped from the water and followed us to the back room. It felt like a ritual to bathe as soon as I came to the Sisters’ house, and I wondered if this is how the men felt when they arrived.

“Employed,” I said vaguely as Gen left the room. “Father came here because of me, so I wanted to repay his care of me. I’m granted one day in seven to return to visit.” I let them undress me as I continued in a concerned whisper. “How has he been?”

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