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Beauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run Away Read online

  I let her words sink in. “It is a good plan. But how can I promise your safe return? Do any of you truly believe I can get a girl to love me in only three months?”

  No one replies. They do not have to. We all know the answer.

  Clarissa has taken to following me around with a powder puff. It was bad enough at home, when I awoke to find her putting the finishing touches on what I was horrified to discover later was a full face of makeup. Only now she is doing it at the store.

  “But your forehead shines like the sun,” she complains.

  “I thought it was the full moon,” I reply, darting out of her way.

  “It is even brighter today. One more dab,” she begs. I catch her arm as it reaches across the counter toward my face. She wrestles free and replaces the puff inside the powder container with a huff.

  Master Werlin finally suggests I leave for a while so Clarissa can focus. I agree with him. If Clarissa is going to be my replacement, she needs to pay attention to his lessons without stopping to tie back my hair or coat my “lackluster” lips with beetle-encrusted lipstick. I want to warn him not to expect her to focus on the lessons for more than a few minutes at a time, but he will find that out on his own. He gives me a list of items to pick up from various vendors — beakers, a ladle, a spool of thread — and sends me on my way.

  I return to the shop no more than an hour later, to find a small brown-haired girl waiting out front. “Did you not hear me calling you? What, did you think I meant someone else named Beauty?”

  I stop and squint down at her. I have never seen this girl before in my life.

  I awake on the cold, hard floor. With no windows, I cannot tell the time. It must still be before dawn, though, since Parker has not yet returned. The others are curled up around me, using the heat from my body to derive what little warmth they can. Father’s snoring and Mother’s gentle wheezing bring me comfort. They could be sleeping in their own soft beds but chose to be locked down here with me.

  “Are you awake, brother?” Alexander whispers.

  “Yes,” I reply, as softly as I can. It is still loud enough to cause both my parents to stir, but on they slumber.

  “I am terribly sorry for telling the witch you did not mind being a beast. That was thoughtless of me.”

  “You could not have known she was a witch. She seemed so lovely.”

  “Perhaps, but we had been warned against strangers and odd goings-on in the woods. I should not have been so trusting, and so careless with my words. If I am to be king one day, I must think more clearly.”

  “Do not be so hard on yourself,” I tell him. “She bewitched all of us. Remember how well I danced?”

  He laughs. “Perhaps you are right. Still, I pledge to help you return to your normal, only mildly beastly self.”

  “I would kick you, but I do not yet know my own strength. I cannot risk hurting the future king.”

  He laughs and skitters across the room. “You would have to find me first.”

  I smile for the first time since my dance with the girl. (Or witch. Or evil fairy. Or whatever she is.) The smiling would feel better, however, if the sharp point on the tip of my nose didn’t dig into my upper lip. Careful not to wake my parents, I lift my hand to my face. My nose still feels like my own, up until the time it curves downward to resemble … what was it? Oh, yes, a hawk. Perhaps I should be a little angrier with Alexander after all. I’m about to start taking inventory of the rest of my face when he starts shaking our parents awake.

  “Parker is here!” he cries in a loud whisper. “Wake up!”

  We all scramble to our feet (an act I find difficult since my sense of balance is off-kilter) and the others leave my side. I cannot tell where they are running to, but I know it is away from me.

  The door creaks open, slowly at first, until it is clear I am not charging forth in an effort to escape. Light seeps in from the hallway and I glance quickly behind me, hoping against hope that I will see my family. But all I find is the empty bench lining the moldy stone wall.

  Parker is not alone. The light of the lantern he is holding aloft reveals Ulmer, the bailiff, has accompanied him. I have never liked Ulmer much, but Father trusts him with the day-to-day business of running the castle. I find him to be a squirrelly little man, always darting around, his beady eyes missing nothing. If he truly were a squirrel, right now his tail would be twitching quite fiercely. I remember I am supposed to be inspiring fear, so I clench my fists and growl. He takes one look at me and backs up into the hall.

  I shall have to remember not to clench my fists again, as I have once more drawn blood. Stupid nails!

  “Are you not going to question him?” Parker demands. “He likely ate the royal family!”

  “I DID NOT EAT ANYONE!” I bellow.

  That does it. The bailiff turns and runs, the sounds of his footfalls quickly disappearing down the hall. Parker grunts in disgust and turns back to face me. Before he can say anything, I reach into my pocket and pull out the letter from Father.

  “This is for you.” I attempt to look both sincere and fearsome at the same time. Instead, I probably look like I need to empty my bladder. Which I do.

  He takes the letter and throws it to the ground. “I am not falling for any of your tricks, Beast.”

  I hear a small cough behind me, but do my best not to react. Parker’s eyes dart over, see nothing, and return to me. I growl and puff out my chest. In my deepest voice I say, “I suggest you take it. It is from King Silas.”

  “If this is a trick, I shall have you strung up in the courtyard. The loyal townsfolk shall throw rotten meat at your feet. And then the wild animals shall pick apart your bones for supper.”

  Parker always did have an active imagination. I do not reply. As a prince, I have never had such strong words flung my way before. I merely point to the letter.

  Without taking his eyes from my face, he bends to retrieve it. “Stand back,” he orders, then begins to read. His eyes widen in surprise, the occasional grunt escapes, but by the end his face smooths into a mask of grudging acceptance.

  A few moments later, he is leading me through the wing of the castle where most of the bedchambers are located. Every last person has fled from the castle, rendering it silent save for the wind whistling through the stones. Parker halts in front of a large guest room. “You shall stay here.”

  I shake my head. “I would rather have the room of Prince Riley.”

  “No, I cannot allow that. The prince does not deserve to have a beast in his private chambers.”

  “If my demands are well met,” I promise him, “the prince will return to find his chambers just as he left them — you need not worry.”

  Parker glares at me but says, “Last room at the end of the hall.”

  “Thank you. Please see to it that a full meal is laid out in the king’s private dining room as soon as possible. That is where I shall take all my meals. I do not wish to be disturbed while dining, or at any other time. If I need you, I shall find you. Thank you, that is all.”

  He hesitates, looking for all the world as though he would like nothing better than to see the hangman’s noose around my neck. Finally, he gives one sharp nod and strides away without looking back. When I hear him reach the floor below, I lean against the wall and close my eyes. With Parker standing guard outside, and no one allowed in the castle, I shall be utterly alone. As much as I enjoy being by myself in the lab, or atop the tower roof, this is quite different.

  “Please, Parker, thank you, Parker,” Alexander mocks. “I am fairly certain a terrifying beast such as yourself would not be so polite.”

  When one’s family is invisible, I suppose feeling alone and actually being alone are two very different things. I growl. “We are going to have to get you a collar with a bell.”

  “You are the one who needs a collar,” he replies. “I believe you are starting to shed.”

  “Is that so? At least I still cast a shadow.”

  “Stop teasing each