Welcome to Beauty’s Beast, book 3 in the Black Trans Fairy Tales series. This novella is releasing one chapter/week on the blog ahead of publication.
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Belle lost control of her life the second she took Gaston’s bet and agreed to marry him. She’d been guided away from the town square last night to a room at the inn where she’d be kept for the next several days to prepare. A small room with a single bed and none of the castle comforts or even a book to pass the time.
The dawn bloomed gray and wet, with threats of rain, the kind of day Belle would have loved to spend indoors by a roaring fire with a mug of tea and several good books. Instead three women Belle only knew casually assigned themselves her ladies in waiting and barged into the room at a groggy hour.
She was bathed, scoured really, every curve shaved and lotioned. They tried to tutt over her hair but she drew the line there, taking the time to tighten her coils and bundle the braids in a satin bonnet with some moisturizer while the ladies fretted over her first dress of the day.
Sif, the cobbler’s daughter and apprentice, argued the Belle should dress in white to signal her purity and freedom from the evil beast at the castle. She stood tallest of the three, with dark, gentle eyes and light curly hair. She’d worn an overcoat this morning to keep the drizzle off her dark green dress.
Amanda, a seamstress, and Petrea, captain of a fishing boat docked at the bay, both disagreed, arguing the white should be reserved for the wedding day. Amanda stood at a perfectly average height that she boosted with a little heel in her shoe and had tied up her straight black hair with a blue clip that dangled with beads. Amanda had also worn an overcoat to protect her light blue dress, one she’d sewn herself and decorated with careful stitches by hand. It was a lovely piece of work.
Petrea was shortest and stockiest of the three, strongest by far thanks to her very physical boat work. She hadn’t come with an overcoat or a dress, but an oil-slicked men’s jacket to protect from the rain, and some straight-stitched pants over her black boots. Her wavy hair was still damp from the drizzle outside and her dark skin almost matched Belle’s in depth.
Sif had visions of lace and glitter and ballrooms while Petrea was far more practical. She recommended boots for the wet day. Amanda wanted to customize everything she laid her hands on—just a little more embroidery it’ll only take a few hours.
Belle let them argue over colors and cut and seams. None of it mattered to her. She only needed to keep Gaston busy long enough to figure out a more permanent solution. She wished there was a way to communicate with Quinn and the staff.
In the middle of dressing debates a runner came to the door, a child, and passed a sealed letter to Sif. She swooned at the wax seal on the front and flapped the envelope at Belle.
“It’s from your betrothed,” she breathed. “Open it, open it!”
Belle took the letter and glanced at the wax with sudden inspiration.
She was expected to send a letter back to Gaston. Could she send another to the castle?
Belle cracked the seal and unfolded the letter—only to hold it at arm’s length as a gust of cologne made her blink and cough. She scanned the inelegant scrawl but she didn’t see the words. How could she get a letter to the castle? Someone would have to deliver it and none of the ladies would go. If only her father had come back with her. He would do it.
“You have to reply,” Sif insisted, pulling the small chair out from the writing desk and setting up a paper and quill for Belle.
Belle handed Amanda the letter so they could read through it and sat down at the desk without protest.
She began writing to Quinn, her father, and all the staff. She told them about her marriage to Gaston and how it would protect them. The bones of a plan came together as she described the expected courtship steps she and Gaston would need to perform in the next several days. If she could find some help here in town, she could escape the night before the wedding and they could all start a life somewhere new.
As she folded the letter and sealed it, still wondering how to get it to the castle, she had a brief moment of grief over the loss of the castle library. She hadn’t been there long enough to explore it. Or show Lukas.
Belle smeared the sealing wax as she sat bolt upright. Lukas could run the letter over to the castle!
Amanda tutted at the mess she made across the paper. “That won’t do for your return letter.”
Belle pushed the letter up out of the way and grabbed a new sheet. “Don’t worry, that’s just a note for someone else. Sif—” Belle turned to confirm she still held Gaston’s letter, “can you help me dictate a letter back to Gaston?”
Sif clutched the letter in her hands to her chest and gushed, “Yes, of course.”
Belle happily wrote whatever Sif told her to, she doubted Gaston was waiting with baited breath for her reply.
The ladies were interrupted again by a knock on the door. Lukas, bearing a tray of brunch and tea.
Belle snatched her finished note off the table and crowded Lukas back out the door so the others wouldn’t see. They cooed over the baked treats and tea while Belle handed Lukas the letter and spoke softly. “I’m engaged to the love of my life, Gaston,” she said with a very serious tone and significant eye contact.
Lukas nodded, picking up her meaning immediately. “I heard.” He took the letter she handed him and put a hand on her shoulder. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
Belle nodded at the letter. “This is a list of a few things I need from the cottage. Could you please take a cart and pack my trunk at home?”
“The list will tell you everything.”
“I’ll take care of it,” he promised.
Belle signed, “Thank you.” Thinking nothing of the gesture after so long with Quinn.
Lukas signed, “You’re welcome,” as he turned away.
Belle gasped in the doorway, but in another heartbeat Lukas was gone and now certainly wasn’t the time to ask. But Belle closed the door with her mind churning. How could Lukas know the sign language of the castle if he’d never been there?
“We need to finish this letter, Belle!” Sif said from the bed where the ladies had gathered around brunch. “And we’ve finally picked out the dress you should wear today for the formal proposal.”
Belle let Sif guide the rest of the morning as she puzzled over the secrets Lukas held. She dressed as she was told and finished the letter with careful script, certain that Gaston would need one of his men to read it to him.
She’d done what she could for now. She had to trust in Lukas and Lumière to do their part next.
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