Contains adult situations…
Following a sumptuous dinner accompanied by a good deal of celebrating and boasting, permission was granted to Mrs. Hathaway, the family housekeeper, and one of the maids, to wait on Isabelle. They were advised not to make any foolish attempts to free their mistress, warned in advance that a bodyguard in the employ of the future ‘lady of the house’ would remain nearby to prevent such foolishness.
When the servants arrived at the top of the staircase, the younger carrying a tray of food and drink, while the older bore a candelabra, they saw the muscle-bound footman maintaining a silent watch at the door. Despite being on a mission, both hesitated, Mrs. Hathaway’s whispered, “Courage girl,” a way of giving both the strength they required. They were unable to immediately enter the room, however. The tray was first examined. This was followed by a grunted repeat of the instructions they had already heard from Lady Nicole. Upon the bellowing of ‘You understand or are you daft?!” they nodded their acquiescence and were allowed to enter, finding their distraught mistress curled on top of her bed.
At this point, Isabelle was thankful to see anyone she loved, but her first question was to ask after her father prior to confiding she needed a way to escape. She had attempted to concoct a plan but wondered if a riderless white horse had appeared at any time during the day. The answer was not what she wished to hear. Neither Mrs. Hathaway or the maid had seen the wondrous animal, their response causing Isabelle to collapse into a frenzy of more desperate weeping.
“He thinks I’ve abandoned him!” she cried, burying her face in a pillow, barely hearing the domestics’ pleas for her to try to take some nourishment.
Neither left until the girl was encouraged to eat and drink, although she became so exhausted from the stress, she could not finish what was left on the dishes or in the wine glass. Without complaint, her body limp, she permitted Mrs. Hathaway and the maid to remove the ornate gown she still wore, never hearing the words “She looks like a princess our Miss Isabelle, Lord give her peace,” as the women tucked her under the covers.
They didn’t realize that in addition to natural fatigue, her sleep was the result of a few concealed drops of laudanum in the wine, a gift from her future stepmother during the unexpected visit to the kitchen.
Once Julia, Gwyneth, and Ben had retired, the three declaring the day had worn on their nerves and they needed their rest, Lady Nicole was the last to depart the parlor, Winterbottom her wobbly escort. But as they walked along the hallway towards the guest room he used on his visits, Nicole eased a hand to his wrist, indicating he should stop.
“Is something wrong, My Lady?” he asked.
“No, nothing is wrong. I thought perhaps you might accompany me to check on our precious child to see how she fares.”
Winterbottom’s mouth dropped before he could stop himself. “I…Well…Well…Yes. Yes, of course. But are you certain?”
“Am I certain?” The inquiry was filled with innocence.
“That it is proper for me to…Well, to…Do you believe…?”
Nicole feigned shock. “Why is it not proper for me – soon to be her mother – and the man intended as her future husband to see to the welfare of someone so dear?”
“When you put it that way…”
“Come then,” she urged, taking him by the arm, guiding him to a set of stairs on the opposite side.
Since the youngest Hewitt had been considered little more than a servant, Isabelle’s room was in a far corner of the vacant top floor used chiefly for storage. The girl had made it as comfortable as possible, filling it with furnishings from her late mother’s study and bedchamber, but the location remained secluded, which – in the current circumstances – was perfect in detaining her.
“My Lady,” the manservant-guard announced, jumping to his feet on seeing them. “Evenin’ ma’am. My Lord.”
“Tom. How fares the night?”
“All is well, My Lady.” He used a thumb to point at the door. “I ain’t heard much of anything, not since the crone and the little bitch left her.”
“Crone and…” Taken aback, Winterbottom was stunned at hearing the servant’s open, coarse language, but Lady Nicole did not seem perturbed.
“Mrs. Hathaway and one of the maids,” came the explanation.
“Ah, I see.”
Nicole stepped closer to the footman, her eyes fixed on his square, weathered face. “I am going to look in on her, Tom. Go get yourself something to eat. You’ve been here for hours and deserve some respite.”
“Thank you, My Lady,” he answered, handing over the key.
Once they were alone, Nicole unlocked the door, lifting the two-pronged candelabra and holding it before her so she and Winterbottom could better see. “At least we shan’t disturb the others,” she whispered. “They need their rest.”
“As do we all,” the nobleman answered, stifling a yawn. He stood behind his hostess, peeping over her shoulder at the sleeping figure under the linen, the glow playing at light and shadows. “Tomorrow will be a busy, fortuitous day. I’ve never looked more forward to anything in my life. Even the hunt does not give me such satisfaction, not compared to this.”
“Indeed? I will most definitely rank it among one of my favorite days. But of course, the mission must be successfully accomplished or everything…”
“I know. We must not fail. We…can not. I will not allow her…” He nodded towards the bed. “She cannot ever be at his beck and call again.”
“So honorable,” Lady Nicole crooned. “I can’t but admire a man possessing such chivalry. It can be lacking these days.”
“I do my best.” Chewing on his lower lip, his eyes squinted on seeing that the figure did not move. “Her slumber appears quite deep.”
“I made certain of it.”
“Oh-ho! Which explains the visit to the kitchen and the insistence on her being given sustenance.”
Nicole looked her most demure. “Why else? She and her father will sleep the sleep of the just tonight. Then, by the time she awakens, it will be too late for her to do anything, for herself or the monster. But in the end, once she has time to grasp why we have done this and how it is for her own good she will see reason.”
“Then you see her as I do. What a treasure she is, even if her sisters and brother do not recognize it.”
Nicole sighed, indicating agreement. “I love Julia, Gwyneth, and Ben with all my heart, but one of their faults is to think Isabelle plain, stupid, fat and worthless. They have wisely kept her hidden from nearly all society, but that is to their benefit. You saw her when she arrived a week ago.”
“Indeed I did. She was…indescribable. This Beast knew how to accentuate her beauty.”
“Precisely. I give him credit for that. However, she might set us all to shame, now that she has grown bolder. He obviously had something to do with the change in her personality as well, to make her feel she can be independent, outspoken.”
Winterbottom grunted his disapproval. With the exception of his present company, he preferred unassuming women, the meeker the better.
“Therefore, I feel it pertinent I stress to Sir Benjamin yet again what we argued to him before. He must see that the Beast deceived Isabelle; that he must not listen to the pleas of someone in her fragile condition.”
“My feelings exactly. Had she not changed his mind…”
“The two of you would already be affianced. Do not worry though. Once he has heard my rationalization of the matter, he will comprehend and return to our side.”
Winterbottom sighed. “You do have a way about you, My Lady. We are but putty with you.”
“It’s sweet of you to think so. Thank you. I’m on your side in this. She requires marriage at once to a man of high ranking. One such as yourself, my Lord, who can attain all he desires to not only continue his family line but to have a beautiful proper lady who will grace his house as its’ mistress. And of course with proper training and control…”
“Grace my bed as well?” he suggested, hoping he was not overstepping his boundaries.
“Why Sir Maxwell, I could not have said it better myself. It is satisfying to know we are both thinking along the same lines, is it not?”
“I had prayed we both were, my Lady.” His voice was lower, hoarse, his fingers tapping the enormous stomach as he stared at Isabelle.
“Hmm?” His concentration returned to his hostess.
“Forgive my bluntness, but it is very obvious how unmistakable your feelings for her are.”
He gulped. “Really?”
“Oh it is most apparent, to me at least, but I tend to observe more than most. When you spoke to Sir Benjamin in the garden the other day, he may not have noticed. The others may not have noticed, but I did.”
“Did you? I must beg your humble pardons then, I…”
“Oh, no apology is required, my Lord. Isabelle may play the role of a timid maiden, but I believe her as observant as I. She recognizes your feelings, as much as I do.”
Winterbottom bowed his head. “When I watched her pick flowers for her father, I made her aware of what lurked in my heart. As I told all of you, I attempted to weave the words which would have her love me there and then. And yet, she fought it. Despite you telling me how aware she is of my love, she resisted and I do not understand why, when I have so much to offer.”
“I know.” Nicole’s reply was sympathetic.
“Part of me was angry when I failed. Part of me was angry she had such strength. But the strange thing is, my Lady. That is what draws me to her. Her character. Her character, along with her innocence, her purity.” He paused, jowls quivering, the florid face barely hiding the emotions on the verge of exploding.
Nicole sensed it too, permitting several fingers to brush over his double chin. “And?” she encouraged.
“I see what she can be. What I can make of her.”
“How you might teach her as well.”
Nicole offered a half-smile, one hand now sweeping over the part in his robe revealing his gowned chest. “Indeed? You think you have secret knowledge of me, of my thoughts, my hopes.”
“Oh, but I do, my Lady, I do. I believe we both have a great deal to offer her in the way of direction.”
“You honor me.” She was impressed. “It had occurred to me…”
“Well, it had occurred to me. The two of us, our like minds. Such plans we can make, for one another, for sweet Isabelle too.”
“Yes! I…It is almost more than I can take, my Lady.”
She watched Winterbottom’s hands make an involuntary move toward his groin, the action causing her to giggle. “There is nothing like the eagerness of a prospective bridegroom.”
“I knew you would understand,” he panted. “I knew you would understand my…needs.”
Stepping aside, Nicole leaned her back against the door frame. “But as her future guardian, I do wish for things to be done correctly,” she teased.
“Oh, of course, of course.”
“Seeing I am here as a chaperone, I believe there is nothing wrong with…well, as long as it does not go too far.”
“Too…? Oh no, dear lady, no….I shall be the perfect gentleman.”
The pair moved deeper into the small room. Once they were at one side of the bed, Nicole moved aside, maneuvering the candles in order for her companion to better see.
Supporting himself on both hands, Winterbottom leaned upon the mattress, glaring down at Isabelle, who was looking upwards as though to greet him. He scooted closer, listening to the steady breathing, watching the pursing of her lips, the long dark lashes…
He gave her a quick kiss.
Isabelle moaned, her face moving to one side.
Annoyed as though her reaction had been purposeful, Sir Maxwell turned her towards him, clutching the auburn hair and yanking back her head, satisfied there would be no struggle. The other hand moved with decisiveness. Her lips forced open, his thumb plunged inside her mouth, her unintended gasps causing him to smile smugly. Was it possible she was more aware than they realized? But no, she remained limp, the immobility further encouraging him. His tongue went next, greedily flicking, swirling over her face, each whimper from her intensifying his groans.
Sweaty fingertips clawed her throat, followed by his tongue’s eager lapping. The full breasts were fondled with only a chemise protecting her, then he moved over her belly.
Memories returned: the two in the garden, how she stared, unmoving, the control of her body surrendering the tiniest bit before she somehow broke his spell. This time, he considered, Isabelle’s mind was full of laudanum, the narcotic clouding her imaginings; even a modicum of awareness she would likely believe a dream if she had any form of awareness.
Both hands were now used when he groped the night garment, knowing Isabelle’s flesh was hidden underneath – flesh which tempted, teased, lured, drove him mad.
“What…I…can…make…of you,” he whispered to the air. “I so wish to…”
A vulgarity was mumbled to stress the actions his body desired to carry out. The next word from his lips was yet another vulgarity, but one he wished to use to describe her, one he would say to her when she was more aware, to bespoil her, to break her…
The chemise was slowly shoved upwards, about to reveal what he sought and needed to view. She would entice him no longer!
“I will have you, my little…”
“My Lord,” came a lilting voice.
The brain fog lifted, then trembling, his actions paused.
“My Lord,” Nicole repeated.
Clearing his throat, Winterbottom looked to where she stood. “My…My Lady?”
Grinning, she remarked, “You promised you would be a perfect gentleman. Such language.” She turned up her nose, pretending offense. “What would she or her father think if they heard such words?”
Standing, he drew himself upright, readjusting his robe and gown. “I…I beg your pardon, My Lady. I lost…I could not control myself.”
“Well, I would be remiss as her chaperone and future guardian to permit it to go further.”
Her smile indicated she enjoyed witnessing the proceedings, and Winterbottom relaxed, knowing he had not lost favor.
“Besides, would it not be more pleasurable knowing the girl has her full faculties when the deed is done? Where is the amusement in her simply lying there with no comprehension?”
“I understand. You…You are quite correct. It can wait…I…I can wait.” Although he ached…To be that close.
“I swear, once the business with the Beast is complete, she will require comfort…Succor…Upon our return, we will see that the banns are posted at once, and then her instruction as your bride may begin. I will not interfere. I feel she will begin to enjoy it once she has a taste of the way of things. As I told Julia and Gwyneth, she must be made to suit you and only you.”
Winterbottom grinned, showing all of his teeth. “Made to suit me. Only me.”
“That is until she has given you heirs. Then you may gift her to your club as you see fit.”
“You are always thinking, my Lady. And you are right. Taking her this way, no. That is not how it should be. I want her to have the fullest understanding of what she is undergoing.”
“And when I imagine a renewal of the Hellfire Club, I will demand a greater sense of exclusivity and secrecy.”
“You are the very man for the venture. Isabelle will become proud to assist you…and the new membership.”
“The new membership.” He gave a deep chuckled. “One of my hopes is that you and she might…” he began. On seeing Nicole’s expression, he felt urged to continue. “I can make places for you both. You will be queens in my own private kingdom.” Blinking, an idea came to him. “Perhaps we can use the Beast’s domain as our new Hellfire Club! What think you of that?”
“It would give me the greatest satisfaction, my Lord. To share in something which makes you happy. To know I have been a part of this sweet girl’s education.”
“I am thankful to hear you say so.”
“And to give you relief for the sufferings you are undergoing right now, to show my appreciation for all you have done to assist us…” Placing the candles on a tabletop, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth. Once they parted, she told him, “I do not think Sir Benjamin will mind if I play proxy in dear Isabelle’s place. You deserve rewarding, until such time she is better trained.”
“Until such time…” was all Winterbottom could mutter as they kissed again.
When the manservant returned shortly afterward, he found the bedroom door locked and the ribbon containing the key looped about the solid brass knob. Having been in Her Ladyship’s employ for a few years, he had an inkling of what might have occurred after he left. She was a passionate woman with peculiar desires as he learned on several occasions, leaving him to wonder whether his beautiful mistress and the fat lord might be having a good time of it.
In fact, he wondered why they did not wait for his return. Not for him to join them – unless he was asked, and he would never have refused the order – but to bring the Hewitt girl to either’s quarters. After all, he had performed similar requests in the past for his lady: rounding up pretty serving girls; encouraging virile grooms and footmen. In his way of thinking, his current charge was no better than any of them. Even her brother and sisters treated her with contempt.
Considering the brat’s current temperament, an evening with Lady Nicole might go a long way in curbing her disobedience.
Tom moaned, crossing his arms as he flopped onto the wooden chair. What a shame the young lady was intended for Winterbottom alone. He had been given strict orders ‘to keep watch and guard her,’ a subtle way of reminding him to control his personal lust. Frankly, he would have enjoyed having a taste of her, but he loved his position more and was unwilling to risk anything incurring his mistress’ wrath.
However, there could be a time in the future, once his lady was in complete authority of the Hewitt estate, and a newly wed Lady Winterbottom came for visits. By then she’d be tamed, her tastes likely reflecting those of her husband and stepmother. Perhaps she would desire variety in her recreation, a more muscular working man instead of the corpulent body of her lordly mate…A romp in her chambers, in the garden or the stables, behaving like a common whore in the guise of a gentlewoman. Exactly like Lady Nicole.
That fantasy brewing in his brain, Tom shut his eyes, daydreaming of the beauty who lay helpless on the other side of the door and what might be.
Early the next morning, the household had no clue as to what was happening.
Neither did Isabelle when she finally awoke after dawn, a dull thudding in her head.
Finding herself in nightclothes, she crawled out of bed, walking unsteadily to the washbowl, desperate to thoroughly cleanse herself with lye soap and water. Despite the chill of the water, she washed, feeling dirty after all she had undergone, as well as the niggling sensation that something had occurred during the night, something ugly, distasteful.
The toilet slowed, her mind attempting to organize the shattered pieces of reality and dreams. There was no doubt in her mind she had been given a drug to place her into a deep sleep. She even wondered if Sir Benjamin was in the same condition. Since she implicitly trusted both Mrs. Hathaway and the maid, Isabelle was certain her future stepmother or her siblings were behind the plot.
A muddled memory made her wince. Lady Nicole’s familiar perfume present in her room. No, not only that…Grunting, groaning sounds, someone’s weight almost upon her. A pair of hands and an eager mouth were everywhere, groping, fondling…
What is he doing? What is he doing to me? Turn away from him. Turn aside…I cannot speak. What is he doing? Why is he…? Why is he…? No, no, I am not yours. I…He…Stop him. Stop him! I must stop him before…
She shivered, uncontrolled. There had been voices too, faint ones, those of Lady Nicole and Sir Maxwell forming plans upon plans. She remembered everything, then scrubbed harder, washing away Winterbottom’s touch, trying not to weep because now was not the time.
They have me locked inside my room. They have made me a prisoner in my own home. But for how long? What are they plotting? Perhaps they intend to continue to supply me with laudanum in the hopes I will tell them what they require. Perhaps they hope to have me declared deficient in my mind. I remember. Sir Maxwell, Lady Nicole. They were here last night. She let him…He was…My God! They will marry me to him. I shall have no say in it, then he will make me…One hand flew to her mouth. My father, they will destroy him as well. I must escape, make my own plans…
She noticed the single chair in the room, her clothes lying neatly upon it. She imagined Mrs. Hathaway had done so last evening.
I cannot wait on Magnifique as he asked. Time is of the essence!
“Do you feel this is necessary?” Gwyneth was asking Nicole and Julia as they approached Isabelle’s room. “Is she even awake?”
“I spoke to Thomas this morning,” Nicole explained. “He reported hearing movement inside, so she is up and about and if her head is clear of the laudanum, she is likely wondering what we are planning.”
“As long as she has no idea about Magnifique we are fine,” Julia commented.
Nicole added, “We are prepared to depart and she cannot prevent us, right? I simply wish for her to have the Beast’s gift.”
“His final gift for the selfish little trollop,” Julia declared. Dressed in her riding habit, she was carrying the mirror in both gloved hands, surprised it had not transformed into some horrible object as a punishment.
“I’m…” Gwyneth stammered, clutching at her throat. “Is that…Is it necessary? Can it not wait?”
Julia stared at her. “Gwyneth?”
“I…I wish we would leave…now. I want it all over so we can celebrate. Then we can give her the silly mirror!”
Nicole looked concerned. “Gwyneth, my dear, you look pale.”
“I…I do not care about Isabelle or the Beast. I am, however, concerned for us.”
“Bah!” Julia exclaimed. “We will be fine. I do not believe in magic, no matter what tricks Isabelle has learned from the Creature. But you. Look at you, dearest, you are green with fear.” Instinctively she held up the mirror for her sister to see her appearance.
Gwyneth nervously looked, wondering if she would need to apply a bit more rouge to heighten her coloring…and a cry of horror followed. For there in the mirror was an emaciated, ugly crone with scraggly gray-blonde hair about her shoulders and an exaggeration of cosmetics.
“What is it?” Julia asked. “Gwyneth, what is it?”
The younger of the three snatched the mirror and turned it towards Julia. “Look! What do you see?”
Julia smirked and looked, seeing the image of a braying ass’ head. She gulped, swallowing the bile in her throat, managing to hold off the scream she nearly uttered. “N-n-nothing…” She turned aside. “I…I see nothing.”
“You do see something, Julia! What is it? What do you see?!”
“There is nothing there, Gwyneth,” Julia calmly replied. “Your nerves are on edge. Allow Lady Nicole to see herself and you’ll see….It is all your nerves. You need to control them or you will be a mess by our arrival at the castle. That makes you no good to anyone.”
Gwyneth huffed. “Then here! Nicole, take a look. What do you see?”
Lady Nicole put on a brave face as she faced the glass, about to answer that indeed, she saw nothing but her own reversed image…until a haze filled the mirror. The reflection transmuted into a stone figure, which crumbled, revealing an aged obesity she barely recognized as herself. Her expression was impenetrable to her companions. She merely smiled and shook her head, not once revealing the revulsion she felt as the ‘thing’ twisted, screeched, decomposed…
In her most soothing matter, Nicole said, “Julia is right, Gwyneth. It is simply your nerves. Once this is behind us, we can take a well-deserved holiday before my nuptials and Isabelle’s.” Perhaps Brighton. You adore Brighton. The Prince of Wales might be there and. He would love to see you, do you not think?”
Nicole nodded to Thomas, who sprang from his place, mumbling, “My Lady,” while placing the key in the lock. The door was thrown open, and Nicole stopped in her footsteps, surprised to find Isabelle standing at the window, wearing the fabulous gown and jewels from the Beast’s castle.
“Ah!” Nicole announced, quickly recovering and moving inside. “So Madame dolls herself up like a princess when she is alone in her room.”
Julia was steaming. “Who do you think you are putting on such airs?!”
“I am certain she is waiting for her Beast to rescue her,” Gwyneth chimed in, lurking in the background.
“Oh of course.” Nicole snickered. Waving one hand, she indicated Thomas should enter. He did, positioning near Isabelle. “The beautiful damsel in distress awaiting rescue from the…well, in this case, the monster and not a handsome prince.”
“You have Magnifique,” the girl stated. “I have only just seen him in the courtyard with your own horses.”
“Yes, yes, we have Magnifique,” Lady Nicole agreed, quite bored, tugging on her kid gloves. “We have business to be about and upon our return, we will deal with you.”
“Where is my father?”
“He is well and of no concern to you. It is my counsel he listens to now.”
“And do not worry. You will be left alone. The servants are under orders and will not disturb you. Thomas will make certain of that. Then we must make preparations for your wedding once we have returned from our mission. Your father will have the banns posted and you and Sir Maxwell will be married within the month.”
“What?! My father will what?!” Isabelle moved forward, her way quickly blocked by Thomas.
“There is no need to dawdle after all. Perhaps you might consider that,” and she nodded at Isabelle’s magnificent dress, “your wedding gown. A bit garish for the likes of you, but it will do. Sir Maxwell’s only desire is to make you his wife. It wouldn’t matter if you came to him in rags.”
“The only way I will marry him if is you administer some drug to me as you did last night!”
“Oh, my poor little dear. Your imagination is getting the best of you. How can you accuse us of such horrible things? These are your sisters. And I intend to be as good a mother as I might be. A mother would never…”
“Every word you utter is a lie!”
“‘Every word you utter is a lie,’” Julia mocked. “Her Ladyship is sick of you. We are all sick of you and cannot wait to see you gone and in Sir Maxwell’s possession, you ungrateful little…!” Tossing the mirror onto the bed, she huffed, “And here! Here is a mirror that was mysteriously left for you.”
“Mysteriously?!” Isabelle spat. “It was with Magnifique. Do not treat me as if I’m addled-brained.”
“But aren’t you?” Nicole said, smiling. “Sir Maxwell is most sympathetic to your condition, however. This is why he will make you an excellent husband. In fact, he is such an understanding man, he cannot wait to teach you to be more proper for someone of his exquisite tastes. You will be officially affianced. Why not? The sooner you are made for him, the better.”
Isabelle charged forward, but Thomas grabbed her, pinning her arms behind her back. Despite the pain, the girl screamed, “You will hand me over to him so he may do with me as he wishes?! Do you think that little of me?!”
One corner of Nicole’s mouth turned up. “As a matter of fact, we don’t.” Julia and Gwyneth laughed. “And if necessary, we will drug you and drag you down the aisle to your fate. Do not think we won’t, my fine girl. Your father will be in full agreement, so that is that. Now, go ahead please.” She indicated the mirror. “You may now see how a churlish Beauty looks to please a Beast. Ladies,” and with that, they left the room.
Thomas released her, leaving Isabelle to attempt to rush after the trio, but the ‘guard’ shoved her backward and the door was slammed in her face. She heard the lock turn, trapping her once more.
Rushing to her window seat, she anxiously peered down into the courtyard to watch the sight. The grooms were awaiting, not only with Magnifique but Winterbottom’s rugged stallion and three horses she recognized as belonging to her sisters and Lady Nicole. Moments later, the five emerged from the front entrance, each one looking triumphant although no victory had yet been won.
“Your beloved is at the window,” Julia teased as she was assisted onto her roan.
“My…” Sir Maxwell glanced around, then upwards towards one of the windows overlooking the courtyard. “Ah look at her. What a sight!” Why was she tempting him when important matters were at the forefront.
“And…” Lady Nicole added, sitting comfortably in the sidesaddle as if she had been born there, “I spoke to her a little while ago,” she lied. “She tells me she eagerly awaits your return as her champion.”
“Champion!” He enjoyed the sound of the word. “Like a knight of old. It is good to know that a night of restful sleep has made her awaken to the truth of things. I am certain her father…”
“Will be the first to congratulate you on a most promising marriage and be happy for both his sweet girl…and you.”
“My lady, it indeed does my heart good.”
Ben had mounted Magnifique and after rechecking his weaponry shouted, “Are we ready then?” The others gave their approval and the young heir pulled at the reins, touching his crop to the horse’s flank. Magnifique did not move. Instead, he seemed sluggish. “What the hell is the matter with the damn thing?”
Gwyneth covered her mouth as she giggled and Julia rolled her large eyes, declaring, “Oh for…Ben…you must say the magical words to him. Do you not remember? Father told us upon his return.”
Ben started to answer in the positive, but then closed his mouth and shook his head. “I’ve forgotten them.”
“I never heard what the words were,” Sir Maxwell mumbled.
“It’s ‘go, go,’ isn’t it?” Gwyneth asked.
Nicole shook her head. If I depended on the lot of you at times, as much as I adore you, we would get nowhere. “Ben, it’s Magnifique, tu connais la route, allez va…va.“
“Oh right! Magnifique, tu connais la route, allez va…va.”
Without a second thought, Magnifique neighed, bounding out of the yard, the other four horses following close behind.
Isabelle turned away, pacing, shaking her hands in frustration as she tried to think, her temples throbbing again from the remnants of the laudanum. The Beast had told her to await Magnifique and she had, hoping to see him before the others did so she might escape, but she had not counted on such disloyalties, even among these people she had known her entire life! And because she was likely drugged and slept for at least ten hours, the seventh day had passed, passed without her returning to the Beast, and she did not want to imagine what might be happening at the castle at this very moment.
Adding to her discomfort, her siblings, Lady Nicole and Sir Maxwell were on their way there now, probably to locate the treasure and to harm her….
Isabelle paused, tenderly touching a hand to the necklace which meant the world to her. To harm her…her…what?
“My love….My love,” she whispered, her voice choking on each syllable. “Oh, God…Oh, God…I love him. Oh, God…I do love him.” Tears seeped through her closed eyes…only now, no diamonds appeared.
Why she had not realized her feelings before now she did not know, except that during this last week, her nights and dreams had involved not thoughts of her family or what she would do, but memories of him, each one caressing her mind so that on waking, she could only smile. He had understood her more than anyone, had filled her life in a way she never thought to experience…and she swallowed hard, recalling the last time he asked yet again for her hand, heard her refusal, and although they went on to speak of other things, she could see the tears that filled his vivid green eyes and how he tried to conceal them from her.
Yet night after night I refused him…and he never gave up…He is more human than any of us.
Now he would die because she had insisted upon coming home. He would die because she had believed her false siblings.
He would die because of her.
When they get to him they will slay him. He may be unable, unwilling to fight back, thinking I have betrayed him…Or he is dying…or dead….They will take his life if he is not….They will take his magic and his treasure and destroy everything he has created.
“Beast…Oh, my Lord…Beast…I am sorry. I am so sorry. This is my fault. This is all my doing.”
I begged you to allow me to return home, to this…to this…and if you die…if you die…
“No! You must not die. You…must not die. I love you. I must let you know how I feel so you can live.”
My God! I do love him… and as the recognition flowed over her she knew what she needed to do. Perhaps it was not too late.
Rushing to the foot of the bed where the mirror still lay, then clutching it to her chest, she sat on the mattress and adjusted the glass to prop upon the table beside the four-poster. Next, she reached underneath one pillow, withdrawing the glove hidden there. Isabelle’s attention returned to the mirror, and letting one finger drift over the trim she said, “Mirror…”
Mistress. Hearing the disembodied voice nearly stunned her for it had been so long. Speak, Mistress What is thy will?
“Show me what I desire. Hide nothing from me.”
At first, she saw only her reflection but it dissolved into a mist, quickly replaced by the image of the Beast.
She smiled, whispering “Oh…love…” until she realized his expression was of great suffering, tears glistening in his eyes.
Her hands moved towards the glass as it went black, leaving her to gasp in frustration. Her stomach tightened, her throat constricted and she knew she must hurry.
The glove which now lay beside the mirror was immediately picked up and slipped onto her right hand; with the other, she took the edge of the mirror. With determination on her face, she relaxed and said, “Take me home to him. Take me home to him please…”
In less than the blink of an eye, she was gone.