Read Devastation: A Beauty and the Beast Novel Online

Authors: MJ Haag

Tags: #love, #classics, #fairy tale, #beauty and the beast, #beastly tales

Devastation: A Beauty and the Beast Novel (2 page)

BOOK: Devastation: A Beauty and the Beast Novel
7.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“You need to go back to teaching, and I need
to figure out what I will do with my life,” I said with
determination.

He nodded slowly, opened his mouth as if he
would say something, and paused.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I want you to be happy,” he said with a
sigh. “Would returning...” He cleared his throat. “Did he make you
happy?” he asked tentatively.

A sad smile curved my lips. He had. While he
was the beast.

“He made life interesting, but there was
more danger there than I’d realized.”

I left through the back door before he could
say more.

Skirting around town, I headed south,
wandering aimlessly through the woods until I felt I’d hiked far
enough from town to set traps. I walked a long circuit twice,
gathering as I went.

Time had passed quickly while at the manor,
changing the seasons, so the forest provided several herbs and
berries that I used in the traps. Three rabbits found their ends in
my snares before I returned to an empty house.

Dressing the game brought back memories of
my attempts at cooking with the beast. I smiled as I started a fire
and brought out a kettle. I set two of the skinny hares in the pot
and filled it with water. Then, determined, I wrapped the other and
walked to the market street again.

Everywhere I went, I met censuring eyes. No
respectable business would trade with me. Giving up, I turned from
the market street and walked toward the less respectable trade
district, taverns where women served men in several ways.

Houses of those working that area lined the
next street over. I approached the door of one that had a small
garden. The woman who answered greeted me with a smile when she
heard my offer—the hare for two carrots and a small onion. She
assuredly received the better part of the deal. When she hugged me
in thanks, I saw two small children behind her. Their large eyes
followed the game.

Happy that someone had welcomed the trade, I
returned home and added the carrots and onion to the stew and left
it to simmer. When the carrots were tender, I placed a portion in a
much smaller kettle with a lid and walked to the seamstress where
Blye worked. Living in a tiny room above the shop, I couldn’t
imagine she ate well.

A bell tinkled above my head when I opened
the door. Blye knelt at the feet of a woman, pinning the woman’s
hem. When Blye looked up and saw me, her polite expression closed.
She murmured to the woman, begging for a moment, before she stood
and strode toward me.

“You can’t come in here,” she whispered.
With a firm hold on my elbow, she turned me around.

“I just wanted to bring you some stew,” I
said as I offered the little kettle.

Her eyes shifted to the woman who watched us
with disapproval.

“I can’t accept anything from you. Just go,
Benella,” she said in a low, urgent tone. “Associating with you
will ruin everything for me.”

Disbelief coursed through me. I turned
stiffly and walked out, hiding how her words hurt me. The lure of
accomplishment and status had robbed my sisters of basic
kindness.

My feet carried me to the houses close to
where I’d traded for the vegetables. A thin child played in the
dirt outside one of the homes. Inside I could hear moaning and knew
her mother’s work. I waved the child over and offered her the food.
She nodded eagerly. Since there was no spoon, I wiped her dirty
hands on my skirt and watched her use her fingers. After she
finished, I showed her how to write her name in the dirt. She
smiled brightly as I left her practicing.

I watched the faces of the people I passed
and realized something. The pursuit of success and respectability
hadn’t just led my sisters astray, but many others as well. It
shouldn’t be that way.

* * * *

While I fetched water from the well out back
that evening, a knock sounded at the door. I didn’t move to see who
it was. No one I knew wanted to speak to me, besides my father.
Inside, I heard him move to answer the door. The quiet exchange as
I hauled up the bucket had me wondering. When Father called for me
to join him, I became even more curious.

Carrying the water inside, I found a young
woman standing just inside the door. Dressed in a demure gown, with
her dark hair pulled back, she watched me with an unsure smile.

“Hello, Benella,” she said quietly.

She seemed to know me, but I could not
recall her.

“Hello.” I looked to my father, but he
excused himself and walked out the front door, leaving me alone
with her.

“Please, come in,” I said, unsure what else
to do.

She smiled once more and stepped in further,
so I could close the door. She didn’t move to sit, however. She
lingered near the table, her hands tightly clasped before her.

“I wanted to thank you,” she said. “We all
wanted to, but we decided I would be the best to speak to you.”

“We?”

“My name is Egrit. I understand if you want
me to leave.”

Egrit. The familiar name brought a
bittersweet tingle to my nose. I blinked twice to ease the
sensation then moved forward and wrapped her in a firm hug. She
returned it with a sniffle.

“We weren’t sure if you would be angry with
us,” she said, pulling back.

I looked into her bright hazel eyes and saw
the nymph still there.

“Not at all. You all tried to help me when
you could. I understand that.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “Not
that.” She looked down at her hands. “We are part of the reason the
master was cursed.” She sighed and uncomfortably looked around the
room. “As a child he was a handsome handful, I was told. His
teachers and nurses spoiled him as his parents ran the estate. His
father passed away before the master’s fifth birthday. His mother
took over the estate responsibilities until he turned sixteen. I
came to the estate before his fifteenth year.”

I motioned for her to sit, and she did.

“As maids, we were told by the butler to
give the master anything he wanted.” She met my eyes steadily. “The
older ones introduced him to women for his birthday. After that,
all he needed to do was crook a finger. We all ran to please him,
instilling in him an attitude toward women that caused many so much
grief later.”

She looked down at the table. “After the
last time he was with me, he carried me to Rose. He knelt beside me
and begged my forgiveness as she began to clean me. I told him
there was nothing to forgive. I didn’t blame him. I could have run.
I could have solidified; he couldn’t truly hurt me in that state.
But I hadn’t run. I’d stayed because, when he’d come for me, part
of me had burst with excitement that someone like him would want me
again. How could I expect him to value me when I valued myself so
little?

“We all needed to learn what you had to
teach us, and now we want to thank you and to beg your forgiveness
for everything you suffered.”

I listened to her tale with a heavy heart,
seeing the beast in my mind.

“Egrit, his rough use of you, whether with
your consent or not, was unspeakably horrible. You cannot forgive
him. Your forgiveness is only for you. Your hate and pain are
released with it, healing you, not him.” She nodded slowly, a new
light of understanding in her eyes. “And you can’t take the blame
for the choices he made, absolving him of all responsibility.
That’s what caused the curse. Hold him responsible. If you truly do
feel no hardship toward him, give him the chance to make amends.
Don’t be easy on him.” Only after I finished speaking did I realize
the beast I knew, the one I spoke of, no longer existed.

Egrit smiled widely and stood.

“I have other errands to run. Do you know
the name of the best dressmaker?”

Though I remained angry with my sister, I
still wanted her happy. So, I gave her name. Egrit’s smile changed
slightly, but she nodded and took her leave.

* * * *

Less than a week later, another knock
sounded at the door. The man who stood outside looked slightly
familiar, yet I could not place his name. He noticed my uncertainty
and gave me a genuine smile.

“Egrit mentioned speaking to you. I wanted
to stop and give my thanks as well.”

He continued to grin at me. Could this be
Egrit’s man?

“Do I know you?”

“Swiftly, at your service.” He bowed
slightly, keeping his eyes on me.

I grinned and did the unexpected. Pulling
him into a quick hug, I brushed his cheek with a kiss.

“I owe you my thanks for all the times you
carried me to and fro and kept me out of the baker’s hands.”

His smile faded.

“Except the last time.”

Suddenly, I placed why he seemed familiar.
He had been the one to help me into the carriage and drive me to my
father’s home.

“Don’t fret, Swiftly. The odious man’s own
fat saved me from the worst of his eager attentions.”

“He no longer dwells in Konrall,” Swiftly
said of the baker. “His mother and sister have taken him
south.”

“That is good for Konrall.”

Over Swiftly’s shoulder, I caught the
unexpected sight of a man turning toward our house.

“Henick,” I said with surprised delight.

“Excuse me, madam,” Swiftly mumbled.

With a bow, he quickly left. I thought to
call him back, but Henick claimed my attention with a friendly
wave. Henick nodded to Swiftly as they passed each other.

“Benella, I heard about the baker and wanted
to tell you how sorry I am for it. And I wanted to remind you I am
still here, hoping for your consideration...as are my younger
brothers.”

His words touched my heart.

“I haven’t forgotten,” I said with a kind
smile, “but I’m not sure I’m still suitable for marriage.”

“Don’t,” he said. “Your worth has not
diminished because of a man’s crime against you. Don’t ever believe
otherwise.”

“I swear to you, I do not devalue myself. I
only meant, I cannot submit to marriage as I once thought I could.
Certain aspects would be infinitely distasteful to me.”

Understanding lit his features, and a blush
stole across his face.

“What if a husband promised not to touch you
until you thought his touch no longer distasteful?”

“Henick...” I struggled with the words to
explain myself. “When I see you, I feel light and happy because you
are one of the kindest people I know. When you marry, it will be to
someone who carries sunshine in her hair and rainbows in her eyes
just for you. Anything less wouldn’t be good enough.” I glanced at
the floor for a moment. He waited patiently.

“The clouds of my life have planted seeds of
bitterness in me. I find myself looking at people with,” my voice
dropped to a whisper, “hate. It’s burning me slowly from the
inside, eating at me, and stealing the color from my life.” I met
his gaze and took his hands in both of mine.

“Do you see why I must say no? I would not
have what I carry poison you, too. I would not poison anyone with
what now dwells in my heart.”

“What will you do?” he asked.

“Find a way to live,” I said. I stood on my
toes to kiss his cheek once more. “Perhaps I will see you at the
stream sometime.”

He nodded and left. I watched him walk away,
and my chest swelled with pity. Twice rejected. The second time for
his own sake. I hoped he would find someone worthy of him.

Closing the door, I turned back to stir the
thin stew I’d made. Not long after, the door opened again, and
Father strode in with a frown on his face.

“Benella, the Sisters have let me go,” he
said without preamble.

I felt a surge of relief. I’d worried that
Aryana might try to manipulate my father in some way.

“We have a few options open to us that I
wanted to discuss with you. We could move south, but because of
your sister’s wedding feast, I have very little coin. We would only
be able to take what we can carry,” his eyes flicked to his
remaining books.

I didn’t turn to eye the meager display.

“Is there another option?” I asked.

“Moving south would give us both a fresh
start,” he said, still trying to speak for the first option.

“Yes, but I’ve learned the baker has moved
south. The North with all its snobbery and deceit no longer seems
so bad.”

Father’s lips twitched for a moment before
he grew serious and withdrew a letter from his coat. I recognized
it immediately as the letter I’d delivered so long ago. He handed
it to me and watched me unfold it.

For a moment, I could only stare at the
beast’s script. A pang of loss pierced me before I read the
words.

 

Whether I return to my rightful form or not,
the North still needs a lord to carry out certain responsibilities.
During my youth, I ignored many of my lessons, especially those in
mathematics, and need someone I can trust to help account the
estate’s expenses and so forth. Please consider my invitation for
employment.

Regards,

Alec Ruhall, Lord of the North

 

“Why didn’t you come?” I asked, meeting my
father’s gaze.

“I asked myself why he would invite me for
employment when he had you, a person well able to account the
estate’s expenses. I thought that he perhaps sought to use me to
coerce you as he’d done once before. Do you think this a serious
offer for honest employment?”

I read the lines again and slowly nodded. “I
do. But I wonder if the offer still holds.”

“As did I. I went to see him,” he said.

“What? Why didn’t you tell me?” I paced the
room, too restless to sit. I’d not spoken to the beast
since...memories swamped me. Reading to him in the library, feeling
his fingers in my hair. Then, running from Tennen and the baker’s
weight pressing the air from my lungs. It had been almost two weeks
since I’d last seen the beast.

“I wanted to be sure before we discussed it
as an option. He well knows my circumstance and that we come as a
pair. He assured me of a place for you and a more than fair wage
for my work.”

BOOK: Devastation: A Beauty and the Beast Novel
7.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Scar by Kelly Favor
Deed of Murder by Cora Harrison
Hannah & the Spindle Whorl by Carol Anne Shaw
Dream Keeper by Gail McFarland
Stockings and Cellulite by Debbie Viggiano
Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina
A Most Unusual Governess by Amanda Grange
If I Say Yes by Jellum, Brandy