Hidden Beauty (Beauty and the Beast Trilogy #2) by Amelia Wilde



CHAPTER ONE





Get up.

Can’t.

Can’t, because I’m in hell. It hurts more than I ever thought possible to be in hell. Fire and flame. Ashes and searing flesh. My skin singes and peels back. Burns. It burns so steadily that this could be purgatory. But why? There’s no chance of salvation. No chance I’ll be purified by pain. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned, and it hurts.

Pain is a shadow with body and form and it pushes knuckles into my eyes. I see purgatory darkly. I will never see the face of God. It will only ever be a night edged in flickering flames. The fire bites into my knees and my toes. There’s no part of me it doesn’t touch.

Dante was wrong. He thought skin would not burn.

But the heat—he was right about the heat.

I would jump into boiling glass too.

If I could jump.

Get up.

Can’t.

My bed is part of purgatory now. It roils underneath me. Shakes the bones. If this is supposed to be purifying, then let it be over. Tip me into hell where I can at least lie still. My jaw aches from the clattering. Fucking miserable. When will we get to the part where there’s no more pain?

The darkness at the center of my vision shifts, clearing enough to see the shape of a door. If I could only walk through the door. If I could only get up. I get one hand into the covers and push. Nothing. My stomach turns. The flames reach higher. Over my head, now. Over my face—

“—more Advil, but I don’t think—shit.” An angel streams through the doorway, clothed in a Catholic private school uniform and blurred with what I can only assume is the light of heaven. A thud announces her arrival after she’s already through the door, and a rattle, like plastic on hardwood. I try to put up a hand to warn her away. She’ll get trapped here and die.

The angel ignores my hand. Her face gets closer. She’s horrified. No wonder. I’m on fire.

She curses out loud, which has to be against the rules. “What happened?” she demands. “Did Dad find you? I thought he was going to be gone for the week or I wouldn’t have left you.” The fury in her eyes is beautiful and terrible. “I’ll stop him. He won’t do this again. I fucking swear.”

My mouth is dry from breathing the superheated air from hell, but I get it to work. “No.” I sound ragged. Scorched. “Not him.”

“No?” Her eyes search mine for a lie. As if I’d have the energy to lie. “Leo, if it wasn’t him, then—” From one blink to the next, the angel’s face resolves into one I recognize. Eva. Then her hand is on my forehead, so cool and soft that tears prick the corners of my eyes. “Oh, no. You’re burning up.”

Burning up. Burning down. Not enough to be purified, goddamn it.

She rises and turns away, and then she is kneeling, her head bowed. This is not the time to pray. It’s too late for that. Unless prayer will get me out of purgatory. Say a mass for me. Say a thousand. Eva’s not praying. I see that now. She’s going through her backpack. The thing that hit the floor when she came into hell.

Light pours from her hands onto her face, so bright it hurts my eyes. Where there is pain, there is more pain. It’s boiling my thoughts. They burst like rolling bubbles, one by one. Understanding is hard to come by.

The light?

Her phone.

“Stop.”

She looks at me, her eyes wide. “Leo.”

“Who—” Swallowing hurts, a jagged scrape. “Who—”

“An ambulance.” Eva comes to kneel at my bedside. At hellside. “We don’t have time.”

We have all the time in the world. Purgatory is a liminal state. No guarantee we’ll get out of here, and if we do, it’ll only be down into the seventh circle of hell. Because I sinned. Again and again. I had no choice. “No one can know about this. If you call, they’ll know.”

Eva chews her lip. How long have I been here? Days. On the third day, Jesus rose. But was he on fire when he did it? “You have to go to the hospital.”

I know that tone. Her no-bullshit, older-sister tone. She’s not that much older. “I can’t.”

“I’ll bring the papers. I’ll bring cash.” The papers. Not real papers. Documents would be a better word, but who cares about better words when it’s death by fire? She lays her hand on my cheek, and her face pales. “I think we have to go right now. Please. Let me call an ambulance—they can get here faster, and—”