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. This is the last chap­ter that will be avail­able for free, after this, they’ll only be up for one week. If you miss a chap­ter or would like to sup­port projects like this, join my Patreon.


Chapter 3

Belle used her hip to back into the bookshop’s door and push it in. The lit­tle bell jin­gled. She car­ried two steam­ing mugs of tea in one hand and her bas­ket in the oth­er, full of paper, pen­cils, and half-remem­bered sketch­es. No one moved in the book­store and the lights near­est the door were unlit. She was early.

Bella stood in the door­way and called out, “Lukas! Are you in the back? I brought tea!”

He hollered and Belle gave him a minute to wend his way from the back office. She lift­ed the mugs when she spot­ted him. “Come sit with me. I have an amaz­ing tale to tell you.”

Lukas grinned. “Please don’t tell me you fin­ished the tril­o­gy already? I just gave it to you yes­ter­day!”
“I tried!” Bella smiled, “But some­one bor­rowed the book before I could finish.”

Lukas took one of the steam­ing mugs and wrin­kled his nose at her in con­fu­sion. He held the door so she could select their seat out­side the shop. Belle set her bas­ket down in her pre­ferred corner.

You’re not going to believe it,” she said. “But I think there’s some­one liv­ing in the old castle.”

Lukas froze with the tea halfway to his lips. “You saw a per­son in the cas­tle? Someone from the village?”

Not exact­ly.” Belle pulled the loose paper from her bas­ket and spilled them across the table. The pages were lit­tered with ama­teur sketch­es. Belle wasn’t a prac­ticed artist. But she’d rushed home last night and put pen­cil to paper as quick­ly as she could before the mem­o­ry of that after­noon fad­ed. She spread the sheets and select­ed one that sug­gest­ed the entire body of the crea­ture she’d seen. Large hoofed feet, shag­gy legs, a mas­sive tor­so, the head of a goat, mane of a lion, and antlers the size of an elk or moose.
Lukas took the paper with wide eyes and care­ful­ly set his mug of tea on the table.

My god,” he said. “You saw them?”

Standing just across the court­yard. I could have thrown a stone. I’ve nev­er seen any­thing like it.” Belle shuf­fled her papers and found anoth­er sketch, this one of the long face and tow­er­ing antlers. “They seemed… almost scared of me.”

They’ve been hid­ing up there for years…” Lukas trailed off, his eyes fixed on the drawing.

Belle touched his arm. “Do you know them?”

Lukas start­ed. “No,” he said putting the draw­ing down and recov­er­ing his mug. “No, don’t be sil­ly. But you’ve heard the rumors about haunt­ings and ghosts and such.”

This was no ghost.”

No,” Lukas agreed. “But there was once a curse put on the fam­i­ly that lived in that cas­tle. A curse that turned them all into beasts.”

Raucous, forced laugh­ter burst in front of their small table as Gaston cut into their con­ver­sa­tion and sat him­self down on a chair with­out invi­ta­tion. He put one elbow on the small table, tip­ping it to the side as he leaned and crossed his legs to cut off Belle’s escape route.

Belle snatched her tea off the table before it could spill and held it close. She fought to keep the wrin­kle of dis­gust off her face and failed.

Gaston wore the same hunt­ing out­fit as yes­ter­day. Red and leather, the brass buck­les pol­ished to a shine. Belle frowned at the thin sword he wore on his hip. Even more showy this morn­ing than usu­al. She sus­pect­ed Gaston owned noth­ing more than a clos­et full of red and leather hunt­ing gear.

His eyes gleamed at Belle as if Lukas didn’t exist. “I couldn’t help but hear you talk­ing about a mon­ster in the woods.” He tilt­ed his head for­ward so his blond hair fell over one eye. Maybe he thought the look was sexy. Belle felt ill. He con­tin­ued, “You know, I’ve killed every sort of crea­ture around. You should come to my lodge and see the trophies.”

Belle bris­tled as she gripped her tea. “I don’t know any­thing about a monster.”

Oh, well,” Gaston snatched the draw­ing off the table that Lukas had seen. “This cer­tain­ly looks like a mon­ster to me.” He bare­ly scanned the paper before look­ing up at Belle with wide eyes. “You don’t have to be afraid. I will pro­tect you, Belle.”

Belle was shak­ing, but not with fear. More like fury. She glared at Gaston and kept her head high. “I don’t want your protection.”

The books nev­er dealt with a crea­ture like Gaston. The sto­ries Belle read were full of adven­tures and tri­als, of course, but good women always tri­umphed over evil men in the end. The bad guys didn’t saunter around town with their false smiles and win over every per­son they came across so that some days, the hero­ine felt she was the only one who saw her enemy’s true face.

Ah…” Gaston rolled the paper and stuck it into his belt. “You need it, though. Don’t you see, I hear there’s a beast on the loose.”

Lukas stood sud­den­ly, his hands tight around his tea mug. “The only beast here is you, Gaston. Leave. Or have you tak­en a sud­den inter­est in reading?”

Belle cov­ered her mouth to hide the grin that popped up. She wasn’t the only one who saw Gaston for what he was.

A flick­er of dis­gust rip­pled over Gaston’s face before his mask of gen­teel friend­li­ness fell back into place. He smiled at Lukas and waved his fin­gers in a shoo­ing motion. “Why don’t you pick out a book for me while Belle and I have a chat. Alone.”

Not on your life,” Lukas growled.

Belle glanced between the two, then out at the street beyond, seek­ing any­thing at all that might help. Gaston wasn’t known for pick­ing fights in pub­lic, but he’d been involved in more than one brawl at the tav­ern and Lukas wasn’t a fight­er. He was an old man, for one. And a researcher. A book­store own­er, not a wrestler. Gaston tow­ered over him in height alone, nev­er mind weight.

She couldn’t slip away like last time, dodg­ing around the table and into the after­noon crowd. It was still ear­ly and Gaston had blocked her path with his thick legs, like a pile of tree logs.

Rionen, the baker’s appren­tice, walked by, leav­ing the well with her buck­et full of water. The only per­son in town at this hour. If only Belle come lat­er in the day when the square was busier.

Then Belle spot­ted a woman in an ele­gant blue dress and had a sud­den spark of inspi­ra­tion. Belle leaned up and raised her hand to catch the woman’s atten­tion. “Laurien!” she said with enthu­si­asm and delight. “Laurien, you’re just in time.”

The woman met Belle’s eyes and her look nar­rowed in sus­pi­cion. Her gold­en hair piled high on her head and dot­ted with pearls looked a lit­tle over­done for a morn­ing walk and she clutched a blue purse that matched her dress. She dis­missed Belle in the next heart­beat, but her eyes tripped over Gaston and Belle saw her freeze in place.

Laurien was not a friend of Belle, but she was a big fan of Gaston and between the two, Gaston was a much bet­ter rea­son for her to approach.

She pat­ted the hair on her head and made direct­ly for the table, her shoes click­ing del­i­cate­ly on the cobblestone.

Gaston react­ed imme­di­ate­ly. He threw a hard look at Belle as he scram­bled to stand clear of the table and chair before Laurien arrived, but once again his mask of gen­eros­i­ty wouldn’t allow him to run.

Belle gath­ered her things and sipped at her tea as Laurien tit­tered her good-morn­ings and Gaston bowed over her hand.

Laurien, I’m so glad I spot­ted you.” Belle said, stand­ing with her full bas­ket and cup of tea. Lukas read her intent and helped her step away from the table. Bless the man. “Gaston was just telling me how he was hop­ing to meet with you today. He has quite a sto­ry to tell you about some… hunt.”

Belle couldn’t bring her­self to call the crea­ture she’d found at the cas­tle a beast or a mon­ster. She’d seen intel­li­gence in their dark eyes. And she didn’t want news of them to spread around town if she could avoid it.

Laurien put a hand to her breast and leaned clos­er to Gaston, all sus­pi­cion of Belle washed away at the idea Gaston was think­ing of her. “You must tell me all about it,” she insist­ed. “I have every one of your hunts memorized.”

Quietly, Lukas and Belle moved away from the table. Gaston shot them a final irri­tat­ed look that he had to cov­er as Laurien took his arm and steered him away from the bookshop.

It wasn’t until they walked past the well and out of sight that Belle released a huge breath of relief. She chugged her cold tea, annoyed that Gaston had ruined the morning.

Lukas hand­ed her his emp­ty mug and she put both in the basket.

That was quick think­ing, call­ing Laurien over,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how to get him to leave.”

I can’t imag­ine why she’s out this ear­ly. And so dressed up. But lucky for us, I guess.”

Perhaps she heard Gaston would be out ear­ly too.”

Belle gri­maced. “Do you think she got dressed up to have him for herself?”

Lukas shrugged. “I’ve seen stranger things hap­pen in the name of love.”

Love.” Belle shud­dered. “I don’t know who could love a man like Gaston, but I sup­pose there’s some­one for everyone.”

Lukas put a hand on Belle’s arm. “The cas­tle,” he said, chang­ing the sub­ject. “Maybe you should stay away for a few days. Until Gaston finds some­thing else to chase.”

Belle nod­ded. She didn’t like it, but Lukas was right. If Gaston thought he could kill some­thing to win her over, he real­ly was liv­ing in a dif­fer­ent world. Curiosity ate at her, but she could wait.

In that case,” she said. “I’m going to need a new book to read.”

Lukas smiled and held the door open.

Chapter 4