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Beauty and the Beast

By:Jenni James

t because of me?”

“No. Yes! I do expect you to believe just that, because it is the truth.”

“What do you want from me? Why must every time I search for peace I find you?”

“I’m sure it’s not every time.” He watched her arch an eyebrow. “Look, nothing. Nothing. I want nothing. I don’t even want to talk to you.”

She scrunched her nose slightly and titled her head. “Why should I believe you?”

Alexander moved forward just a step. “Because, as I said, it is the truth.”

Cecelia was embarrassed, completely mortified if she were honest, but she would die before she let the prince know how upsetting his presence was. Instead, she did what she always did in such confrontations and went on the attack. “I do not believe you.” She took a step forward and then paused when she felt her foot crunch on the prickly forest floor. “You have never before told the truth—always bragging and lying about anything and everything—why should I care to listen to what you say now?” She folded her arms very unladylike and continued, “As far as I’m concerned you came here to torment me, so out with it.” She defiantly lifted her chin in an obvious challenge. “Say whatever lies and bullying you’d like, we’re on even ground now, you and I, with you on my father’s property and so far away from your palace guards. Tell me.”

The prince shook his head. “Miss Hammerstein-Smythe I’m not here to quarrel with you again. You can keep your solitude. Forgive me for the interruption, I wish you a good day.” With that he quickly bowed at the waist and turned on his heel to make a hasty retreat. He didn’t care where he went as long as it was as far away from the girl as he could get.

“Wait.” Cecelia cursed her impulse to call him back so quickly, but the damage had been done.

Alexander paused, but did not turn fully around. “Yes?”

Nervously she clutched the sides of her gown. “I—you, what is wrong?”

He turned toward her. “Wrong?”

Goodness, would she never learn to keep her mouth shut? She took another step forward, heedless of the sharp floor below, she felt compelled to continue. “There’s something different about you. What is it?”

Alexander attempted a laugh. To his chagrin, it came out sounding more like a nervous goat bleating, which he quickly covered with a cough. “There’s nothing wrong with me. Nothing different at all. What do you mean?”

She grinned. She couldn’t help it. He looked just like the neighbor’s son when he was caught snitching Cook’s pastries. “Where are my insults? Have you nothing rude to say to me? You’ve never stopped before from saying exactly what was on your mind. Why is today an exception? Something has happened.”

Could she tell? Was he really different? The prince half-heartedly replied, “I can have you hanged for treason if you keep this up.”

Cecelia laughed right out loud. “That’s the best you can do? Now I know something is wrong! What is it?”

There was nothing that annoyed him more than meddling nosy females, and she was the absolute worst at interfering. Always poking and prying herself into everyone’s business. He’d seen her countless times querying and discussing all sorts of things with anyone she was around. Helping herself to offer advice, counsel, and even ailment curing to anyone from the maid to the people of the court. It was bad enough to think she thought he was different, it was quite another to subject oneself to her pitying and snooping. Before he’d know it, she’d be finding all sorts of things “wrong” with him and trying to poke and pry into his life like she did everyone else.

“Excuse me, Miss. I will leave you to your own imaginings on what you believe to be flawed with me.” With that he bowed again and left. Not caring if he ever saw Miss Cecelia Hammerstein-Smythe again. In fact, he was positive if he never saw her again, it would be too soon.

***

Cecelia quickly forgot about the prince as she came back toward the house an hour or so later. She’d thought about him enough as it was that afternoon, with his strange behavior and abrupt departure. But now was not the time to worry over him, now was the time to begin her preparations for the wonderful Lord Willington. In no time at all she’d bathed, powdered, dressed, and primped for the delightful man, until she was simply the beauty of perfection in emerald green stripes. Her long curls artfully arranged by her maid in a sumptuous updo, purposefully designed to capture the heart of all who looked upon her. Or more importantly to secure the heart of one who was already hers.

She giggled as she turned from side to side at precisely a quarter past the hour and knew then she’d never seen herself look so happy or so fine. In just a few moments everything would change in her life—simply everything. And she could not wait!

Cecelia elegantly made her way down the wide staircase, slowing her steps to appear much more refined than she felt at the moment. Her purposeful approach a few minutes late also had the same effect. One should never try to appear too eager, or it gives the courter an unfair advantage over you.

“Miss Hammerstein-Smythe, you look ravishing!”

Lord Willington bowed, his shiny blond locks bobbed a bit, causing her heart to flutter to a stop. Cecelia loved the way Charles’ curls broke free from their confined hair treatments once his hat was off. She loved every aspect of him, but she did not let it show beyond a glimmer in her eyes as she curtsied. “Thank you. You look very fine, as well.”

She stepped into the pelisse the maid held out for her, and allowed the young girl to button the pretty overcoat, while she slipped her hands into her short white gloves. A moment later her matching bonnet was perched atop her head and she was ready to go. Beaming, Cecelia turned toward Lord Willington’s waiting arm, gratefully clutched it, and with a quick farewell to Sanford they were walking out into the glorious sunshine. She was gallantly handed in the carriage by L

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