Hours later, she had yet to find the west wing.
Signs of the beast were everywhere—shredded tapestries, footprints, tufts of hair—but she had not sighted him once.
She’d found the dungeon, the kitchen, an enormous library—she’d almost gotten distracted but managed to control herself—and a plethora of guest rooms, gaming rooms, music rooms, smaller libraries, sewing rooms, and more, all singing of former beauty. But no master suite. No hall lined with family portraits that granted access to the west wing.
And the light followed her. She’d lost it more times than she could count, but somehow it always found her. Always lit her path. Always made her feel the hunted, not the hunter.
She came down the right staircase a third time, baffled. She couldn’t understand it. It was almost as if she were deflected, again and again. Away from her goal. Away from the right path. But she didn’t know when, and she didn’t know how.
The château may have had over two thousand rooms, but she’d memorized its layout, inside and out. She knew where she was going.
She moved back to the front entrance and massaged her tense shoulders. Think. Think! Surely there wasn’t much time left. Rubbing a spot clean on the glass, she checked the sky. Dawn peeked over the horizon.
She had less than an hour before the sun rose and the beast would be lost to her. She’d have to start again. Next year. She didn’t want to wait that long. And she didn’t want the word “failure” following her around. She had a reputation to maintain. Her family to protect. She—
Her senses froze. Nothing had changed, not a sound, not even a shift of wind, but suddenly its presence filled the room. She turned slowly, crossbow raised. A grin threatened to erupt on her face. At last.
A hulking beast, his frame filling the width of the enormous staircase, stalked her. His eyes glowed red, intense, and his muscles strained with each step. Drool slid off his fangs, dripping a trail on the carpet. Each drip sizzled and evaporated in a hiss of smoke. Lovely. His bite was venomous. She had to be even more careful.
As she waited for her moment, she tried to classify the form before her, but she hadn’t seen anything quite like it. Though somewhat wolfish in the face, wild boar tusks protruded from his jowls, and he stood upright like a man. Its arms were long and hanging, somewhat like an ape’s, and each finger was tipped with thick, pointed claws. Coarse hair covered every inch of him, stripes undulating black and gray with a hint of tan. Some fairy creatures wore clothing, but not this one.
Her breathing slowed to almost nothing. She aimed—searched for her mark. Released her breath. And faltered. The tuft of white fur, right over his heart, visible one night a year, vulnerable only this night, was missing. She hesitated, her indecision nearly costing her.
The beast sprang. Her arrow flew. The creature swatted it away midair and…disappeared.
Ro blinked. Non. It couldn’t be.
She looked above her, behind her—he was gone. Her heart pounded, and her eyes roved over every inch for clues. She couldn’t have failed. Not so easily.
Ro eased toward the stairs, checking each direction. She knelt and inspected the faded burgundy carpet.
His scent was heavy—the thick, coarse hair freshly fallen. The holes in the carpet from his acidic drool, still smoking. She followed his trail down to where he’d sprung. Oui, he’d been there. She hadn’t imagined it.
She hesitated a split second before backing up and running toward the place—over her head—he’d vanished. She jumped, crossbow clutched tight.
Sunlight blinded her.
She slammed into the wall and tumbled to the ground. Shaking her head, Ro staggered to her feet. Her jaw dropped as she looked around her.
The gloomy castle had vanished. Or rather, the black, crumbling marble was replaced by a gleaming castle so magnificent, the streaming sunlight reflecting off every clean and polished and gilded surface hurt her eyes. Her breath caught as she stared in all directions.
Servants bustled around her, each intent on his or her task.
Yet, the tumult around her was hazy—fuzzy. It was as if she were in a painting. A live painting. How could that be? No one noticed her. She cautiously eased forward, sniffing for the beast’s heavy odor.
Not a trace of it.
A bright-blue coat at the top of the staircase caught her eye as its owner disappeared through the doorway’s arch—to the left.
Tall, broad-shouldered, an air of command, and the costume of a nobleman rather than a servant—Ro stared after him in disbelief. She hadn’t seen finery like that in years. Seventeen years, to be exact. She shook herself out of it and darted up the stairs. She wanted answers. He would have them.
A blinding beauty, long staff in hand, materialized before her as she reached the first landing. Ro stopped. The woman wasn’t distorted in the least. She looked straight at Ro and scowled.
“You.” The woman’s accusing finger pointed right at Ro’s chest. “You don’t belong here. Be gone!”
Flicking her away as one would a troublesome fly, the woman hurled Ro away from her with one wave of her perfectly sculpted hand.
Ro slammed into the wall far below her, and the bright sunlight evaporated. She gasped for air. Sliding down the wall, she feebly tried to keep her crossbow raised. She fought against losing consciousness as the decrepit and sagging castle once more filtered into view. She was alone.
Gray and foggy sunlight struggled to break through the filmy windows. Pre-dawn sunlight. If she didn’t get out now, she’d be trapped. For a year. The château would vanish at any moment, as soon as the muggy sunlight kissed it. She had to get out. She had to—her thoughts drifted away. Dust motes danced through the air in graceful movement, luring her, enchanting her. Distracting her.
Her view tilted and darkened. She shook her head and struggled to stay awake, one thought on her mind. Gautier had a few things to explain.
Gautier…would not be pleased. He had hired her with blatant admiration for what she could do, yet no handsome face could hide the animal within. Ro knew within seconds of meeting him: he was a monster.
And now that monster had power over her family. They would starve. They would be imprisoned. And Cosette would be at his mercy. Just as he’d promised.
I have failed was her last thought before darkness claimed her.
To Be Continued in Kill the Beast, available now…
About The Book
Ro remembers the castle before. Before the gates closed. Before silence overtook the
kingdom. Before the castle disappeared. Now it shimmers to life one night a year, seen by her alone.
Once a lady, now a huntress, Ro does what it takes to survive—just like the rest of the
kingdom plunged into despair never before known. But a beast has overtaken the castle. A beast that killed the prince and holds the castle and kingdom captive in his cruel power. A beast Ro has been hired to kill. Thankful the mystery of the prince’s disappearance has been solved, furious the magical creature has killed her hero, Ro eagerly accepts the job to end him. But things are not as they seem.
Trapped in the castle, a prisoner alongside the beast, Ro wonders what she should fear
most: the beast, the magic that holds them both captive, or the one who hired her to kill the beast.
Purchase Link (L2L2 Publishing Website):
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(Irvington Vinyl & Books, Indianapolis, IN, Saturday, September 29th, 2018):