Belle and the Beast by Ruby Vincent


Prologue





A litany of blues, reds, and golds intertwined to create a world beyond imagination. A girl stared out from that world, peering at me with something akin to curiosity. Wondering why I was staring at her in the same way that her fixed gaze unsettled me. I knew from the quiet dignity in her stance and grim set to her lips that she was not a part of that world. It was her prison, not her home.

“Cinderella.”

Turning my head, I blinked at the statue come to life. It’s what he must have been since no mere mortal could look like this. Dark bronze locks swept back from his eyes in neat orderly waves, barring a lone troublemaker. It moved as he did, swaying before golden eyes flecked with green. And when he grinned, smirking like he knew every thought running through my mind, it enhanced his beauty so devastatingly, anger pricked my peaceful mood.

I stiffened as he pressed his hand to the small of my back, guiding me closer to the painting.

“The painting was inspired by the story of Cinderella.” A deep, rolling baritone slipped through his full lips. “This is the moment in the garden, when she’s lost all hope of escaping her dreary life, even for one night. She doesn’t know her fairy godmother is coming, or that her life is about to change in every way.”

The hand disappeared from my back, though the anger remained, rising on the crest of irritation as he continued his story.

“The artist captured that particular point in time as a reminder. That second you’ve given up. When you’ve lost hope and decided your life will never change... that’s exactly when it will. Your fairy godmother is coming. Wait for her.” He smiled. “Powerful message, don’t you think?”

I returned his smile, and said, “No.”

“No?”

“No,” I repeated. “It’s a terrible message to go along with a terrible story.”

My living statue crumbled, face wrinkling in confusion. “The story of Cinderella is terrible? Why?”

I scoffed. “Are you kidding? A girl who lives all her life beaten, abused, and cast aside is suddenly saved by fairies, mice, and magic. Do you know the message that sends? To the little girl waiting to be rescued?

“It tells her that she needs a miracle. That her cage of pain and misery is fortified by such impenetrable forces that it takes those beyond our capabilities to free her. Telling a child that the only way to change her life is through magic is by far the cruelest thing we do to kids.”

The boy stepped back even as he reached for me—his hand hovering near my lips like he wanted to push my words back inside.

“Mice are beady animals scrounging to survive. Dainty little birds shoot off at the sight of you. And fairy godmothers don’t come when you cry.”

I was being harsh. I sounded so even to my own ears. But I couldn’t stop myself. I hated the pretty ones. The boys who smashed you apart simply by looking in your direction and put you back together again with a smile. The boys so beautiful you swore at first glance they couldn’t be real.

He shouldn’t be.

This stranger was better off as a statue in this museum—admired by onlookers as his kind always are—but protected from them and they by him.

This man was dangerous. I knew this without need of his name or history.

If life had taught me anything, it’s that the worst evil is done by those with the most beautiful masks.

“Don’t tell little Cinderella to wait for her fairy godmother. Tell her to dust herself off and get the fuck out of the dirt. No one is coming to save you, so you’d better save yourself.”

“I see,” he said, dropping his hand. “Well then, do it.”

I frowned. “Excuse me?”

“Save yourself, Cinderella.” His mouth quirked up in that breath-stealing grin. “Your fairy godmother isn’t coming and I left my sword and armor at home.”

Irritation swept into blazing irrational rage. “You’re not my knight.”

“Not in our story, no. You’ll have to come to me this time.” He retreated, likely heading back to his pedestal. “Get out of that garden, Cinderella. Before it’s too late.”

I stared at the entrance he left through long after he disappeared. I turned back to her, meeting eyes so like my own.

“I can’t leave the garden,” I whispered. “I already told you... miracles don’t exist.”





Chapter One