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Beauty and the Beast

By:Jenni James

ncing rather grandly, “I have received word from Jenkins that we are to expect your special visitor around two this afternoon, where he would like to take you driving in his carriage, if you are so inclined?”

Cecelia’s eyes sparkled over her plate she was filling from the sideboard. “I am very much inclined, as you well know.”

“I will be sure to see your reply of acceptance is sent immediately. Sanford poured her a cup of tea and set it upon the saucer on the table while a young footman held a chair for her and pushed it in as she sat down.

It only took a few minutes of eating and another half hour or so of deciding on the very best outfit to be seen in the open carriage with Lord Willington. After she saw that her maid laid the dress out to be worn later, Cecelia quickly grabbed her pelisse, buttoned it over her white and lavender morning gown and made her way outside before her mother or William, her stuffy older brother, could persuade her otherwise. She was just tying the bow to her bonnet at a rakish angle as she entered the pathway that led to the cheerful brook not quite a mile from the great house.

She loved the water, and anytime she needed a quick break from life, she would find herself sneaking off to enjoy a cool moment of refreshing solitude where no one could bother her.

Once she’d made it to the brook, it was no time at all before her slippers and stockings were off and stuffed safely into the crook of a tree branch. Her bonnet and pelisse were soon to follow, hanging rather precariously from the stub just below her shoes.

With a sigh, Cecelia sank onto her favorite rock and carelessly trailed her bare feet and ankles in the water. She made sure her gown was tucked away from the water’s edge, or there would be no explaining the scolding she would receive from her mother for ruining yet another frock.

She took a deep breath and leaned back against the large stone, enjoying the peaceful smell of grass and wildflowers, her ears rejoicing over the soft babble of the little stream beneath her. This was exactly what a perfect day should be. There was no need for anything more enjoyable than such perfection. In fact, she was positive, with the soon-to-be proposal from Lord Willington and the glorious peace-filled morning before her, there had never been a more perfect day during the whole of her existence.

And nothing, absolutely nothing, could ruin it.

***

Prince Alexander halted in his tracks at the lovely girl before him. He could just make out her profile with her back to the rock like that. Her hair was in wild abandon, with its long curls escaping the bun that was now quite forgotten and rather disheveled looking. His eyes skimmed past her pert nose down her sweet lips, then on to the hand that was softly skimming over the grass beneath it. Her legs moved then and he quickly looked away when he noticed they were uncovered.

His heart began to beat fast.

What if he were caught?

Prince Alexander knew it would be highly uncomfortable to them both, she in her state of undress and he the chosen prince of the land escaping his castle. He had been roaming farther and wider from the palace than normal of late. Escaping the confines of the huge monstrous place, he needed to be outdoors. He needed to see where it was his demented form took him to each evening. Just last night, transformed into the beast, he’d come across this exact brook and had been eager to see what it looked like in the daylight. He came as soon as he’d awoken from his night’s adventures and had become his usual self again. What had seemed like a good idea earlier, now all of the sudden seemed very bad indeed.

CHAPTER TWO

WHY MUST HE MAKE so much noise? A few moments ago, Alexander barely heard the crunching his boots made as he’d rushed along the wooded trail. Now, it would seem every step he took echoed across the whole land. Gingerly he took another pace backward, the leaves and forest floor covering snapping beneath his weight. He prayed the sound of the water and her own thoughts would distract the girl enough to allow him his escape.

Another couple of steps and he would be out of her eyesight at least, though he’d have to keep quiet a bit longer than that. Who knew how sharp her ears were.

Alexander could almost taste his freedom, when just then he startled a small rabbit from its hiding spot under the bush to his right. The animal scurried loudly across the forest floor and headed straight for the girl.

She glanced up at the sudden movement and caught the prince as he was ready to flee himself. Her eyes grew wide with shock and the inevitable anger quickly replaced her beautiful looks into the scowling fortress before him.

He mumbled under his breath, not realizing until it was too late, exactly who he had disrupted. Her face had been hidden just enough to not recognize her until now. It would have been his luck to stumble across the only female in the land who absolutely loathed him and had no problem telling him so to his face whenever she had the opportunity. How did the fates find him this fortunate? What were the odds of such an occurrence, really?

“You?!”

Miss Hammerstein-Smythe’s outraged shriek he was certain could be heard for miles.

Already Alexander’s hands were up in a defensive gesture. “Now, wait a moment. This is not what it looks like. I merely—”

“You have been following me! I knew it.” She quickly scrambled to her feet and brushed her gown down over her bare legs. “How long have you been spying on me?”

“I wasn’t. I was simply on my way to the brook having no idea you would be here.”

Cecelia placed her hands on her hips and faced him. “You expect me to believe you, Prince Alexander, decided to simply wander all the way from your castle to my father’s property, to my exact favorite spot along this whole streambed, where you could’ve stopped anywhere, at the exact same time I would be here, and that it was no

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