And then chaos, Arabella thought with an inner grimace. Even though they had been lovers for almost a month now, she knew a part of Aurélien still had a difficult time believing she truly loved him, and no doubt it had to do with his scars.
If he found out prematurely that she was looking for the secret passageways, the billionaire’s first suspicion would be that she was searching for an escape route. He would never believe her that it was all because she wanted to see him in the light – and prove to him once and for all that she loved him, whatever he looked like.
And it was a good plan, Arabella told herself, but first she needed to get rid of Nana.
Clearing her throat, she waited for the other woman to turn to her before asking, “Do you need anything from me?”
“Oh, yes. Mrs. Bouilloire wanted me to ask if you would like to have your lunch by the gardens today.”
“Only if it’s not too much trouble.”
Nana grinned, saying slyly, “Nothing is too much trouble for the master’s girlfriend.”
Arabella made a face. “Ha. Ha. Ha.”
“Or is it beyond that already, mademoiselle? Perhaps he’s gone down on one knee already—-”
“Nana,” Arabella growled warningly even as her cheeks flamed.
“Alright, fine, keep it to yourself, mademoiselle. We’ll find out one way or another anyway.” And with that, Nana gave her a jaunty wave before leaving the room.
Just to be safe, Arabella waited for a couple of minutes before resuming her search. Nothing showed up under the bed, and it was the same when she checked for any clues under the large rug by the fireplace—-
It was the only place in this room she hadn’t searched.
Taking the flashlight out of the drawer, she took special care as she ducked her head inside, mindful of Mr. Temps’s warning. Switching the flashlight open, she saw immediately that the butler hadn’t lied about the shards of glass that made the chimney’s walls inaccessible. Even so, she moved the light slowly around, taking her time—-
And that was when she found it.
A folded letter, its color faded in age, stuck in one of the crevices. She carefully pulled it out and grimaced when tiny loose pebbles fell with it, striking her face. Ducking out of the fireplace, she straightened up and glanced curiously down at the letter.
There was a strange symbol on it, and the only way she could describe the image was—-
A dead butterfly, Arabella thought uneasily.
What reason could any person possibly have to draw a dead butterfly?
The conundrum stayed with her throughout the day, and she continued to puzzle it after dinner and she was on her way back to the tower room. Upon entering, she had only taken one step inside when she heard Aurélien greet her with a husky warmth.
“Bonjour, ma belle.”
The fire went out, the blinds were drawn, and then just like that, his arms was wrapping around her from behind.
“Did you miss me?”
“Great.” He nuzzled her neck. “I missed you, too.”
Her jaw dropped. “But I just said—-”
“You mean you just lied.”
“I did not—-” But Aurélien was licking her ear by then, and her voice trailed off. Whatever. It didn’t really matter if he knew that she had missed him, anyway.
As he swung her up on his arms, Arabella was careful to keep her hands only on his shoulders. By now, she was very much familiar with where and where not to touch, and because she had done her very best to obey his rules, Aurélien gradually relaxed around her and allowed Arabella to touch him as she wished.
When the beast laid her down on the bed and reached for her clothes, it was surprised when Arabella suddenly said, “No, you don’t!”
Its hands stilled. Arabella had never refused its touch before, and it was stunned at how much the rejection stung.
“You do not want me?” it asked flatly.
Oh, shit. She was such a fool! Realizing she should have added an explanation, she said in a rush, “I mean, don’t undress me.”
When Aurélien still didn’t say a word, she realized she was still being misunderstood and grimaced. “Sorry, I mean, don’t undress me because every time you do, it means not seeing my clothes again.”
The tension gradually left the beast’s body as Arabella’s meaning became clear. “I am sorry, mon coeur. I will make sure to replace—-”
Arabella sighed. “That’s not the point. I get it that ripping my clothes off is some kind of fetish for you—-”
The beast couldn’t help but cough to hide its amusement. If only she knew! The only reason it always made sure she never saw the clothes that he had ripped off her body was because she would only start questioning things the moment she saw the claw marks on her clothes.
“But next time, don’t throw them away,” Arabella was saying. “It’s too wasteful. I can mend them—-”