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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Unfortunately, this chap­ter was only up for one week and you’ve missed the win­dow! If you’d like to catch up or sup­port oth­er projects like this, please join my Patreon.

Belle itched. She wore white from head to toe, a dress that tucked in at her waist and flowed into a short train behind her. White flow­ers braid­ed into her hair. White paint on her nails. A white bou­quet in her hands like enough white could cov­er up the fact that the town had nev­er seen her as her­self from the start.

She stood at the end of the petal-strewn path—white petals of course—her face thick with make­up and a headache ris­ing out of the tight braids in her hair. She wore her bal­let flats from the cas­tle under her lay­ers of skirt­ing. Amanda had insist­ed she wear a pair of tall heels with a peak­ing toe but Belle had a feel­ing this day wouldn’t end in the cel­e­bra­tion every­one was expect­ing and she had swapped the shoes when no one was look­ing. In the end, it wouldn’t be her shoes peo­ple remembered.

The only oth­er devi­a­tion she’d insist­ed on left her stand­ing alone with her bou­quet. Her father was safe at the cas­tle, so no one stood beside her ready to give her away to the groom. Sif had tried to rope one of Gaston’s men into the role but Belle put her foot down and glared until he left again. She’d learned a great deal about estab­lish­ing her own bound­aries while liv­ing at the cas­tle and her glare was quite sharp, now. She was proud of it.

She tried to wipe it off her face and adopt more pleas­ant expres­sion. She was sup­posed to be effused with love for Gaston. How did the ladies do it all the time? She couldn’t force her­self to adopt a fawn­ing expres­sion and set­tled for neutral.

The music started.

Belle stepped for­ward, through a gauzy cur­tain of white rose petals and into a crowd of the entire town. Every sin­gle per­son had dressed up for the occa­sion, even tying their chil­dren into for­mal knots and sit­ting in per­fect­ly neat lit­tle rows. And rows and rows. So many eyes on her all at once left her feel­ing naked.

Several dis­be­liev­ing gasps made Belle wince. She’d been shaved and pow­dered and paint­ed but it didn’t mat­ter how fem­i­nine she looked. To most of these peo­ple she was just… not enough.

Belle held her head high, her. It didn’t mat­ter what they thought, or even what Gaston thought. The only thing that mat­tered was pro­tect­ing Quinn and the staff in the cas­tle. She’d go through with this a thou­sand times if it meant they’d be safe.

Her steps were con­fi­dent and firm. She marched through the judg­men­tal stares with­out hes­i­ta­tion, only flick­ing her eyes to the side far enough to spot Lukas staged to her left just beyond the seat­ing. His pony stood hitched to a small book-and-tea cart she rec­og­nized as the mobile stall he brought to the town square every week for the market.

He spot­ted her look­ing and signed across the dis­tance, “I deliv­ered your let­ter.” No one noticed his mes­sage, and if they saw him sign­ing, they wouldn’t know what he said anyway.

Belle touched one hand to her chin and smiled, cov­er­ing the thank you with her flow­ers. She need­ed to ask him all kinds of ques­tions, but there sim­ply hadn’t been time. Not with three ladies watch­ing her every move these past few days.

Her shoul­ders relaxed a bit, the ten­sion of Quinn and the oth­ers not know­ing final­ly resolved. She took a deep breath and even man­aged to keep her smile in place. Let her audi­ence think she was in love with Gaston. If only they knew the fam­i­ly she’d found in the cas­tle. They’d choke on their drinks.

Gaston stood proud­ly at the end of the walk, dressed, as usu­al, in his red sport­ing jack­et and brass but­tons. He wore the sword on one hip and white gloves on his hands. His black hair shined with oil and some­one had even trimmed up the edges. If he nev­er opened his mouth he might be hand­some.
But Belle knew better.

She’d always been the only one to know.

Three men flanked Gaston to match Belle’s three ladies, all lined up at the front of the crowd with a gap that wait­ed for her. She stepped into place, hand­ed her bou­quet to Sif as planned, and turned to face Gaston. She felt Amanda straight­en the train of her dress so it looked nice while they exchanged vows.
Belle took anoth­er deep breath and placed her hands del­i­cate­ly into Gaston’s wait­ing grip. He squeezed her fin­gers and smirked down at her.

Belle flashed him a daz­zling smile. It was that or snarl and she had a role to play. The con­fused and alarmed expres­sion that flick­ered into his eyes made her grin even more. Let him wor­ry, it would keep him in line.

She squared her shoul­ders, pre­pared for this nec­es­sary and grim task. Her father taught her when she was young that he’d do any­thing in the world to pro­tect her. It was time to return the favor.

The music came to a gen­tle pause and every per­son present held their breath.

Then a crash of noise and a famil­iar raised voice dis­rupt­ed the back of the wed­ding. The del­i­cate arch of white flow­ers Belle had walked through crashed to one side as Belle’s father shoved it to the ground and marched up the cen­ter isle. His eyes blazed with dark anger and he held his side with one hand as he approached, out of breath and full of fury. Like he’d run the entire way back from the cas­tle the moment he’d received Belle’s letter.

Belle’s eyes went wide. She tried to pull her hands from Gaston’s grip, but he held her fast. His expres­sion dark­ened as it fell on Maurice and when he spoke it was with a growl. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”

Belle’s father stood tall under Gaston’s stare and said, “I’m stop­ping this farce of a wed­ding. Belle doesn’t love you, she doesn’t even like you. And I agree with her. You’re a creep, Gaston. A prowl­ing slime dressed in pret­ty cloth­ing. You don’t deserve to mar­ry my daugh­ter and I should have put you off years ago.”
“How dare you!” Gaston pulled his sword with one hand, fac­ing off against Maurice.

Belle broke free and grabbed her skirts, rush­ing to stand beside her father. The ladies behind her all shrieked in alarm. Belle pro­ject­ed her voice for the crowd. “It’s true, I’ve nev­er want­ed Gaston’s atten­tion. He could have enter­tained any oth­er woman in town, there were plen­ty who asked for his smile.”

There were tit­ters in the crowd, ladies who had vied for Gaston’s eye sud­den­ly band­ing togeth­er. Then Laurien, of all peo­ple, came to Belle’s res­cue. She stood among the seats, her yel­low hat match­ing her yel­low dress, fluffed at the shoul­ders and her lips paint­ed pink. “Gaston have you pur­sued Belle after she told you no?” Her voice, high pitched, fell like a warn­ing across the lis­ten­ing crowd. Women began whispering.

And Gaston saw the tide turn­ing against him.

He swiped his sword in the air and dropped the mask he’d been wear­ing for so long. His eyes hard­ened and he hissed, “I could have any one of you at the drop of a hat. You threw your­self at me. All of you but her.” He point­ed at Belle with his sword.

From the side of the wed­ding par­ty, Petrea crossed her arms and said flat­ly, “Theres a word for men who won’t take no for an answer.”

More women stood up in the seats, nod­ding their agree­ment, drag­ging their hus­bands and broth­ers to their feet. Words like mon­ster and bas­tard rose up in hiss­ing tones. Voices of encour­age­ment sprang up around Belle and her heart lift­ed with hope. Perhaps Gaston would learn from the vil­lage itself that his behav­ior was unacceptable.

Gaston slid his sword back into its scab­bard and took a step back as he assessed the crowd. Then his gaze land­ed heav­i­ly on Belle and he sneered. “I’ll kill your pre­cious beast for this,” he spat. He grabbed two of his clos­est men and shout­ed for his horse.

Belle’s hope shat­tered like glass and she spun in place, look­ing for an answer. She was in the mid­dle of a crowd now, peo­ple stand­ing and push­ing clos­er, shout­ing at Gaston, at each oth­er. Women try­ing to gath­er around in sup­port when what she real­ly need­ed was a way out. She had to get back to the cas­tle.
“Ladies!” she shout­ed. Heads swiveled to her instant­ly and Belle lever­aged their desire to take action. “I need to get to the cas­tle before Gaston! He’s going to kill my friend.”

A path pealed open through the crowd, bor­dered by women shov­ing their men aside, shout­ing at them to get their swords and hors­es. At the end of it stood Lukas with his pony. The ani­mal had already been unhitched from the tea cart.

Lukas waved. “Belle!”

Belle gath­ered her skirts and ran, but the dress was unwieldy and awk­ward. She skid­ded to a stop beside Lukas and with both hands, ripped a hand-span of fab­ric right off the bot­tom of her skirt to short­en it up. She used the strip to tie up her cords of hair and gir­dled the rest of the fab­ric so she could mount the pony bareback.

Maurice and I will meet you there,” Lukas said, “Go!”

Belle gath­ered the pony’s mane in her hands and kicked it into a gal­lop. Her heart thud­ded with the beat of the hooves, rat­tling in her throat with fear. If Gaston made it to the cas­tle first…
She wouldn’t let him.

Belle bent over her pony and raced to Quinn.