The thin, cruelly beautiful lips of the beast parted, and Arabella paled when she saw the incisive outline of its fangs.
Oh God, it was going to eat her.
But instead, she heard a painfully familiar voice ask, “Do I frighten you now, ma belle?”
Arabella whitened. No. It can’t be. It can’t.
“Do I disgust you?”
Oh my God.
And she remembered the whispers from the locals, which she thought she understood –
La Béte Sauvage.
Now, now oh God, now she finally realized what they meant.
“Do you want me still, Arabella? Me – your owner, your lover—-” And its lips twisted. “Your Aurélien.”
She watched it slowly raise its claws, and Arabella froze.
Its claws started to descend
And when she realized it meant to touch her—-
Arabella blanched, and something flickered in its eyes. A moment later, it had torn itself away from her, and as the beast turned its back, Arabella heard it say, “Go.” And when she was unable to move, the beast faced her again, and this time it roared like the terrifying monster it was.
The horrifying sound propelled her into action, and in her terror and panic, she found herself falling several times on the slippery ground before she finally reached the edge of the woods.
She ran away, sobbing, tearing through the woods as her mind tried to grapple with what had happened.
Was that truly Aurélien?
Was he truly La Bête Sauvage?
Confusion and exhaustion made Arabella’s head pound and her vision blur, but she continued to forge on even as she lost track of the number of times she had tripped over sharp branches and struck her face on the leaf-strewn ground. Thorns lashed her skin as Arabella fought her way past thick thatches, and her tears flowed faster as her wounds began to sting.
When she finally reached the clearing, Arabella gasped in relief—-
Only to realize that she had emerged on the wrong side of the woods, and she was standing directly on the edge of a cliff.
The land under her feet slowly started to crumble.
AS ARABELLA DISAPPEARED into the distance, the beast slowly fell to its knees, white-faced and shaking.
It was done now, and Arabella was gone for good.
It had wanted a way to make Arabella leave, and fate had handed it to him on a silver platter.
Now, Arabella knew its true form, and she was repulsed by it.
The knowledge shredded its heart to pieces, but the beast fought to endure it, telling itself that this was for the better.
One day, it would forget that Arabella ever existed.
One day, the beast thought doggedly, even though at the back of its mind it knew that it was only lying to itself.
This pain in its heart would never go away.
Arabella was the only one it would ever love—-
A sound reached the beast from the distance, cutting through its thoughts, and the beast’s head jerked up.
A moment later, it heard the same sound again—-
The beast didn’t waste another second, loping through the woods as it frantically followed Arabella’s scent. Too late, it realized that it should never have forced a confrontation this way, should never have let Arabella go off in such a night, with her senses dulled by spirits.
If something ever happened to her—-
Anguish squeezed its heart.
No. It could not lose hope. It had to find her.
There was another scream, and this time it was filled with so much desperation that the beast knew Arabella was fighting for her life. It ran as fast as it could, and when it reached the edge of the woods, the beast saw Arabella about to fall.
The beast caught her hands just as the last jagged edge of land she was holding on to crumbled.
In a second, the beast had hauled her back to safety. It badly wanted to crush her into its arms, but instead it slowly let her go. “You’re safe now.” The beast waited for her to cry, to run away. It expected her to do so many hurtful things that the beast knew it deserved, but in the end, none of its wildest imaginations even came close to reality.
Arabella threw herself into its arms. “I’m sorry, Aurélien. I’m sorry.”
“Ouch, dammit! Will you please be gentler?”
“Then will you please be still?”
Arabella fumed, but this time she did so in silence and did her best not to fidget on the settee, seeing the wisdom in Aurélien’s request.
Outside the windows, the storm continued to rage, its deafening noise a constant reminder of the fate she had almost suffered. In front of her, the fire swayed a slumberous dance, its golden light illuminating Aurélien from behind—-
The thought made Arabella blink furiously.
Now is not the time to cry—-
The billionaire resumed cleaning the last wounds on her face.
Because now was the time to scream in pain.
Aurélien’s lips twitched. “I guess that is better.” As he had requested, Arabella hadn’t moved a muscle and instead channeled her pain by screaming his ears off. And so it continued for seven tortuous minutes, and when he was finally done, both of them were relieved.