Arabella’s back shot ramrod straight.
In front of her, the remaining embers flickered and crackled – it was the only sound in the room, save for the rapid beating of her heart that only she could hear. Or so she thought, but in truth she was wrong.
The beast heard it, too.
How does she sense my presence without seeing me?
There could only be one answer, but it was also the one thing the beast would not allow itself to think of. Not now. Not just yet.
Arabella wrapped her arms around herself. Even without knowing where he was, she could feel Aurélien Sauvage’s gaze from beyond the shadows branding her skin. His gaze was fire, and her body couldn’t help but melt under its heat. It was mortifying and sickening – was she so weak and susceptible that Stockholm syndrome had already taken hold of her after just a day of captivity?
A part of Arabella wanted to keep pretending, to close her eyes to the truth. That part of her wanted to believe that if she ignored he was there, then he would eventually go away.
But the other part of her…
The other part of her knew to do so would be no different from running away. This part of her was unable to forget Nana’s insightful words earlier, and in the end, it was this part of Arabella that made her take a deep breath and say tremulously, “Bonjour, Monsieur Sauvage.”
From behind the wall, the beast froze.
Had it heard her correctly?
“You are there, aren’t you?”
The beast slowly shook its head. She was speaking to it. Even without seeing the beast, she was speaking with it and even though her voice shook, it was because of fear and not uncertainty.
“Oui, ma belle,” the beast said huskily. “I am here.”
Arabella slowly lowered her feet to the carpet. Her mind was still reeling, and she was doing her best to hang on to her composure. To know that he was there was one thing, but oh, to hear him speak—-
She took another deep breath. “I need to ask you a couple of questions, and the first one is the most important.”
The beast did not hesitate. “Ask then.”
“Do you intend to kill me – now or someday?”
Her breath gushed out of her. She didn’t know how to explain it, but Arabella knew that whatever happened, Aurélien Sauvage meant what he said. “I’m, umm, glad to hear that.”
A soft chuckle, the sound ridiculously deep and charming—-
Arabella quickly pursed her lips and moved it left and right.
“What are you doing?” the beast asked, genuinely bemused.
Keeping myself from smiling, Arabella thought grumpily. But out loud, all she said was, “I have another question.” And even knowing that it was futile, she couldn’t help looking around her then, searching for even the smallest hint of him in the shadows.
Placing her hands against her sides to keep herself from wringing them together, she asked baldly, “Why me?” This time, there was no immediate answer but even so, Arabella asked persistently, “Why couldn’t it be someone more – willing? Someone who wouldn’t hesitate to say yes to whatever it is you have in mind—-”
“It can only be you,” the beast said finally.
Her eyebrows shot up. “I don’t understand. Why can it only be me?”
“Because of your words.”
“My words?” she echoed blankly.
“La Tour Eiffel,” the beast reminded her quietly. “You told your father that you would always believe in him—-”
Her face paled, and she shot to her feet when something became painfully clear to her. “You had us followed.” She shook her head in disbelief. “Why?”
“Because I thought you or your father might say something to explain what happened when he had been caught—-”
“He was caught doing nothing,” Arabella interrupted sharply, “and he’s not the kind of man to steal.”
The two words nearly knocked her over, and Arabella’s head started to pound. It was just one shock after another, she thought dazedly. “You say you know—-”
“Because I do. I know everything that happens in my company, I know everyone who works for it, and it is as you said about your father.”
“Then why threaten to press charges against him?” she cried out.
“Just because he had no intention to steal from me does not mean he is completely innocent of any wrongdoing. Someone made your father do something, and I suspect that he is in way over his head and he doesn’t even know it.”
“It c-can’t be that bad—-”
“It is that bad, mademoiselle. The people who have a hold on your father – I know how they operate. Knowing that your father has been unable to complete his task, they will want to silence him, and it is why I have round-the-clock security guarding him.”
“By silence do you mean—-” Arabella’s knees began knocking against each other.
Understanding exactly what she meant, the beast said grimly, “Yes.”