Deceit (Beastly Tales #2)

by M.J. Haag

Chapter 1

Bryn’s muffled sniffles faded as I stepped into the mists. I didn’t go far before I hesitated. I could see the hand I held before me but nothing beyond that. Yet, visibility wasn’t why I’d stopped. Fear held me in place.

The beast had always kept everyone at bay. Why had that changed? And, why with me? Knowing why he’d gone to such lengths to trap me within the estate might have assured me. Then again, perhaps his reasons were something to fear.

The beast’s tail thumped against my stomach, a reminder of the bargain I’d made. To save my father, I had no choice but to clasp the tail and allow him to lead me through the mist. Walking away from my family was difficult, but walking toward my unknown future was harder.

Instead of leading me to the overgrown yard just outside of the kitchen, he turned slightly east. It wasn’t long before gravel crunched under my feet. I frowned at the sound and at the sudden disappearance of his tail.

“Go where you wish within the boundaries of the estate. Do as you please, with the exception of leaving,” he said, as he moved behind me.

The mist retreated with him and revealed a grand entrance to the manor that he so zealously protected. Three steps laid with large slabs of natural grey stone led up to a sheltered court. Great columns of the same stone supported a roof to protect guests who might arrive during inclement weather.

The claw-ravaged, large double doors stood open in invitation. Yet, instead of welcome, their gaping maw conveyed an eerie sense of desolation. With reluctance, I climbed the steps and entered the beast’s home.

For the first time, I saw the interior of the manor clearly. Aged décor, perfectly preserved from the ravages of time, yet marred by the beast’s anger and negligence, drew my curious gaze. Did he truly only need a maid?

“Should I clean, then?” I asked, knowing he still lingered behind me.

“Do as you please,” he said irritably.

Taking him at his word, I went from room to room, studying the place I would now call home. Though I did not care for cleaning, a good straightening would make it a fair place to live. As I wandered, I took time to right a tumbled chair or straighten thrown papers. In some places, shards of broken objects dusted the floor, and I made note to come back with a broom as my boots crunched over them.

I lost count of the turns and rooms I visited while the beast trailed me, cloaked in his now small cloud of mist. Other than the library, I noted nothing of particular interest until I reached the second floor.

In the midst of the beast’s destruction, a single room remained untouched, and I didn’t blame him for avoiding it. Frills, perfumes, and pillows filled the room with their noxious pink shades. I had no issue with pink in small doses. However, what lay before me made my eyes hurt. The only exception to the overabundance, a set of black, glossy doors, called to me.

They were set into the interior wall to the side and begged for the beast’s angry furrows. Yet, none decorated the surface.

I crossed the pink rugs and opened the door. On the other side, the wood bore the worst marks I’d witnessed, gouging so deep only a thin layer of wood prevented a hole. I gently ran my fingers over the marks, staring at the torn grains.

As I watched, a piece smaller than a hangnail twitched, slowly straightening itself to mend the gash. I would have watched longer, fascinated by the display of enchantment, but the mess inside the room distracted me. Everything from the mattress and bed hangings to the inlaid wood patterns of the floor had been shredded.

“My room,” he said from behind me. “This room is yours.”

I turned to look over my shoulder at the pink abomination.

“I’d rather we trade,” I said under my breath.

I closed the doors and continued with my tour. For a while, I became hopelessly lost until I came to a hallway I recognized. It would take me a long while to learn the layout of his home. My home, I corrected myself.

Making my way toward the library, I decided to spend my day cleaning it, so I could turn it into my sanctuary. I wasn’t sure what I would find. The day I’d read to him, I’d only caught a glimpse of it in the candle light. Today wasn’t much different.

When I walked into the room, the curtains still covered the windows, making it hard to see even without his mist clouding the area. I found my way to the closest window and tugged the drapes wide open. Light poured in, and I turned to view the room. A small gasp escaped me at the vastness.

The large room boasted enough furniture for several sitting areas, though everything was knocked about haphazardly. Filled bookcases lined every wall, even above the two doors. The only interruptions were the four windows on the outer wall and a fireplace near the door from which I’d entered. Eager to see more, I moved to tug open each curtain and finally saw the library in full.

Ignoring the beast, I set to work righting furniture and shoving pieces across the wood floor to the positions I wanted. Whenever I found a book tumbled to the floor, I set it on the small writing desk near the center window. Until I had a chance to discover how the books were categorized and ordered, I didn’t want to place anything onto the shelves.

I worked for hours until the sudden whoosh of the fire lighting itself distracted me. A tray of food rested on a table I’d placed near the first seating arrangement. Wiping my dusty hands on my skirt, I went to sit and eat while my eyes drifted over the room, seeking what I would work on next. The area near where I sat was restored to order. The far side of the room still needed much attention.

After devouring every bite of fruit and cheese, I went back to work. By the time the sun set, the library met my approval, and I began to study the books. I counted twenty-two floor to ceiling segmented bookcases. In each, there were at least fifteen shelves. Most were organized by subject, then author. However, several shelves seemed to be dedicated to a particular author.

Slowly, I began to see where the fallen books I had collected belonged and started to tuck them back into place. One shelf in particular gave me trouble as it towered just out of my tiptoed reach. Looking down at the lower shelf, I wondered if it would support my weight.

Rising to two legs, the beast stepped up behind me, plucked the book from my grasp, and then easily slid it into its place. Startled, I stared at his furred arm until it disappeared from view, not daring to turn around.

“Do not climb on the shelves,” he said, having guessed my intent. “You will fall.”

As quickly as he’d crowded me, I felt him move away; and I released the breath I’d held. When I looked around the room, I noticed him in the furthest, darkest corner, his mist obscuring him. I’d been so engrossed in the library I’d forgotten his presence.