“I hate you.”
The beast smiled.
“I love you, I love you so much more now, Aurélien, but I also hate you because you always say the prettiest things.”
The beast inclined its head ever so slightly, drawling, “But of course.” And with an exaggerated accent, it added, “I am French, after all.”
And Arabella laughed. And she cried. And because she couldn’t help herself anymore, she wrapped her arms around his neck—-
The beast stiffened.
She tightened her arms around him and leaned closer to whisper, “Make love to me.”
The beast jerked. “It’s too soon—-” But when she only shook her head at it, the beast let out a ragged sigh. “You do not know what you are asking for. You still need time to adjust and—-”
But the rest of what the beast had to say was rendered insignificant as Arabella’s arms unwrapped from its neck so she could reach for its horns.
A hiss escaped the beast, and tension imprisoned its powerful body as it felt her fingers slowly stroke its horns as if to familiarize itself with the texture. A moment later, her hands drifted down, reaching for the beast’s own hands—-
Her small palms fitted against the beast’s hands, and they looked impossibly frail against its larger ones. After, her hands slowly moved up, and the beast drew its breath sharply as she touched its claws.
“It seems so tough,” she whispered.
“It should be,” the beast said grimly, “since it’s the genetically improved version of a lion’s claws.”
“Does it hurt?” she asked worriedly.
The beast didn’t answer right away. A part of it was still reeling at the way she had so quickly adjusted to the reality of its appearance – and now, even her fears were for the beast rather than of it—-
She was too damn good to be true, the beast thought painfully, but through some twist of fate, Arabella Blume belonged to the beast—-
And now it was too late for the beast to ever let her go.
“Aurélien?” Arabella’s concern grew when she saw the distant look in his gaze.
The beast shook its head. “I’m sorry,” it rasped. “I was just…”
“We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” she offered quickly.
The beast shook its head again. “No. I want to. And I think—-” The beast reined itself in with an effort. “I need to.” And after taking a deep breath, it slowly told her about how grief had twisted its father’s mind, and in a moment of madness it had attempted to change its son so that it would be immortal and avoid death the way its mother had been unable to.
“When he saw what happened instead,” the beast continued grimly, “the shock gave his sanity back and from then on, he devoted his life to finding a way to reverse what he had done.”
“And The Naturalis?”
“Their cult is all about preserving the world for its biblical species, and obviously—-” The beast’s lips twisted. “I’m not a part of that. They killed my dad so that no one could ever perform such an experiment again—-”
“Bastards.” Arabella’s voice shook. “If I ever come face to face with them again, I’ll gut them alive.”
The beast raised a brow. “Who’s being the beast now?”
Arabella was momentarily shocked, and then she couldn’t help laughing. “I guess I’m better than you at being beastly.”
“Why does that not surp—-mmph!”
With her lips pressed against his, Arabella asked shakily, “What about this? Does this surprise you?”
But before he could answer, her tongue was already darting out—
The beast closed its eyes as her tongue began to trace the outline of its lips.
“I thought about it for a long time,” Arabella confessed, “and I get it now. You didn’t want me kissing you because I’d have felt your fangs.”
Slowly, the beast nodded.
“But I know about it now…” She slowly lifted her mouth from his. “Won’t you please take over?”
The beast didn’t answer.
She paled. “You don’t want me anymore?”
The words had the beast cursing in its mind. “You misunderstand,” it said harshly. “Nothing will give me greater pleasure than to make love to you, ma belle, but – are you sure you are doing this because you want it? And not because you merely feel guilt or pity—-”
The beast broke off when Arabella suddenly reached for its hand, and to its shock, she brought its hand under her skirt.
The beast jerked. “Arabella—-”
And then she was pressing its hand against her core.
Her core, which was slick with wetness.
“Does that feel guilt to you? Or pity?”
“No,” the beast rasped.
And its blue eyes turned red.
“It does not.”
And then the next thing she knew, Aurélien had already swept her up in his arms. One blink, and he had ripped her clothes off—-
The marks that his claws left on her clothes made her eyes widen in belated understanding.
So that was why he kept stealing her clothes—-
Another blink, and he, too, was naked.