She was delightfully and frustratingly stubborn that way.
“How is your father, by the way?”
“He’s great.” Relieved to have something neutral to talk about, Arabella went on eagerly, “I think he’s not as worried about us – I mean, about me.” She mentally kicked herself on the head. Us, Arabella? Really? There was no “us” between a captor and a captive!
“Anyway.” She cleared her throat. “He still hasn’t suspected anything, in case you’re wondering.”
“I wasn’t,” the beast said truthfully. “You promised not to speak to him about me, and I trust you to keep your word.”
“And I have.” She wrinkled her nose. “Papa is still mourning the fact that I’m a mistress to a mob boss.”
“How, err, imaginative.”
“I had to make up an excuse about the whole hush-hush thing of my whereabouts, so it was either that or I’m having an affair with a married guy.” She then rushed to qualify, “I did let him know you were the nice kind of mob boss.”
“There is such a thing?”
Ignoring the amusement lining his voice, Arabella said with a sniff, “My lie, my rules.”
“Stop laughing at me.”
“I am not.”
“You are,” she said hotly, “in your mind.”
“Oh, so you are not only mistress to, err, a nice mob boss, but now you are clairvoyant as well?”
And so he did, but only because instead of talking, Aurélien was now laughing his French ass off.
Her teeth gnashed. God, he was so—-
She only grunted in response, wanting him to know she was still annoyed with him.
Unfortunately, this only made the billionaire chuckle. “How delightfully childish.”
Arabella saw red. “You—-”
“Hopefully, you will show me more of this side of yours next time, but for now.” The beast paused. “I think we have used up enough time on small talk, oui?” And before she could even think of a proper retort, the beast asked gently, “May we now speak of what has been troubling you all this time?”
Lowering her gaze, she muttered, “That obvious, huh?”
“Only because I know you well,” the beast answered.
Arabella dug her nails into her palms. And there it was, she thought. The words pleased her. It had to. But it also highlighted what was so very wrong between them, exposed the unaddressed imbalance in whatever it was they had now—-
And until they didn’t fix that, then—-
The beast’s head jerked up at the stiff way in which she spoke of its former name, and it asked grimly, “What is it?”
Arabella took a deep breath. “I want to see you.”
The beast was in a mind to leave. It bristled, it paced, it wanted to growl in frustration, but it could not, knowing that the real sounds it could make would frighten her. Turning to face the mirror once more, it watched Arabella take a seat by the windows. The hem of her silk dress trailed after her as she brought her legs up, revealing a flash of smooth alabaster skin as she did. Moonbeams lent a pearlescent hue to her dress, and with her dark hair flowing in beautiful disarray behind her back, she only lacked a flower wreath on her head and she would have been a wood nymph come to life.
The beast’s lips twisted. If she was a wood nymph, then did that make the beast a satyr? It had never been called that before, but the beast supposed the description was apt. In truth, it was long past caring what people called it.
But what the beast did care about was what its Arabella would think –
I want to see you.
A shudder wracked the beast’s powerful form. Was she truly ready to see its real form?
I want to see you.
Arabella’s words in its mind were as agonizing as lashes. The beast knew how much it had cost her to say them. She was immensely proud and fiercely independent, the kind who would sometimes cut her nose to spite her face even. She would not have asked this of the beast if she could help it –
And yet she had.
“Aurélien? Are you still there?”
There was the faintest tremor in her voice, and the beast cursed silently, despising itself for making her feel so insecure.
“Yes,” the beast rasped. “I am still here.”
The beast heard her sigh of relief, inaudible to ordinary humans but not to the beast, and its self-loathing increased. The beast had her whisked to its island to cherish her, not hurt her!
She turned towards the sound of his voice, her heart beating madly. “What is it?” When Aurélien didn’t answer right away, she quickly got to her feet, her heart racing even faster. She had a feeling that if she didn’t do something now, nothing between them would ever change.
And she didn’t want that.
She needed things between them to change, even if she couldn’t quite admit to herself why just yet.
The beast’s chest heaved at the sound of its former name on her lips. It was too damn sweet, and perhaps – that was the problem.