Home > Devastation (Beastly Tales #3)(13)

Devastation (Beastly Tales #3)(13)
M.J. Haag

Swiftly entered just then.

“Is she all right?” he asked.

“She’s out of breath,” Lord Ruhall said, still close. “What happened?” he repeated.

“I don’t know, my Lord,” Swiftly said. “She ran past me full out. I looked behind her but saw nothing. There was fear in her eyes, though,” he added.

I struggled to force slower breaths, knowing it would win me more air than the gasps.

“I feared,” I managed, “missing the meal.”

“Benella,” Lord Ruhall said with unmistakable warning.

Straightening with effort, I kept a bland expression.

“Did I already miss it?”

He rubbed a hand over his face and remained curiously quiet for a moment. He cleared his throat three times before he spoke in a slow, calm tone.

“Do you recall speaking with me just a few hours past?”

I nodded, wondering at his point.

“Then why did you leave the estate without taking Swiftly with you?”

“Ah! Not just for fishing then. Sorry about that,” I said. I turned toward Swiftly. “I promise to take you with me next time I go to speak with my sister. We’ll try not to discuss anything too embarrassing.”

Swiftly looked slightly uncomfortable. His gaze darted to Lord Ruhall, whose eyes had closed. A red flush was making its way up his neck.

I took the opportunity to leave. Mr. Crow gave me a slight smile. Perhaps he was on my side after all.

* * * *

I collapsed on my bed, sweat soaking my back and face. How I wished for a magical bath to appear. I needed a long soak and to think. I’d never before felt so lost and confused.

Konrall still wasn’t safe. Poor Sara was still being used by her husband. Bryn had turned her self-hatred on me. Blye wouldn’t speak to me, either. The Whispering Sisters no longer offered peace and guidance. Aryana, herself, had betrayed me. And above all, I missed the beast. I still had my father, but he had been burdened too much already in his life by trying to protect his daughters. Where did that leave me? With no one to talk to. Alone with my confused thoughts. Wondering what I should do with myself.

I stood and wandered to the adjoining doors, opening them. He didn’t have his side locked. The room looked the same. Smelled the same. I opened the door of his wardrobe. The same shirts hung there. I took one and left, closing the doors behind me.

Stripping from the gown, I washed with the cool water in the pitcher and changed into his shirt. With his smell wrapped around me, I crawled under the covers, ignoring the sun.

Nothing ever stayed the same. But tomorrow had to be better.

Chapter 4

The sound of my door pulled me from a light, troubled sleep where Tennen and Splane continued to chase me through the trees. Before I thought my dream reality, Alec spoke.

“Benella, are you awake?”

Had I actually slept, his soft words would not have disturbed me. Still, I pretended to sleep, hoping he would leave and wishing I had remembered to lock the door.

The mattress dipped as he sat next to me. His hands found my hair, undoing my braid, and the wood creaked as he leaned back against the headboard. His fingers combed through my long tresses and helped me forget the day’s chase, the dream, and my troubles.

At some point, he stopped sitting beside me and slipped under the covers. I woke with his arm draped over my side and his hand splayed over the skin of my stomach under my shirt. His deep breathing told me he slept. Yet, I frowned. His smooth skin wasn’t right. It made my skin crawl and my breathing shorten with dread.

I rolled to my stomach, seeking a more comfortable position while remembering the pleasant touch of the beast’s fur on my skin and fell back to sleep.

* * * *

Egrit woke me with a chipper good morning. I burrowed deeper and refused to open my eyes. She went on, undeterred.

“You’ve slept long enough according to Lord Ruhall,” she said with a laugh in her voice. “He’s waiting for you in the study.”

I groaned. Despite his warm presence, I hadn’t slept well. My dreams had returned to Tennen chasing me and the beast rescuing me.

“Please extend my regrets,” I said, pulling the covers higher. “I’m ill disposed.” To sunlight and men, I thought.

There was a moment of silence.

“I’ll leave the tray. If you feel better, you’ll want to eat.”

She left the room, and I remained in bed. My problem was two-fold. I missed the beast, and I missed the direction my life had while I was helping him. My father’s employment by Lord Ruhall was perfect. For him. Not for me. Seeing Lord Ruhall just made me miss the beast more.

Perhaps it was time I ventured into the world on my own. The thought terrified me as much as it did excite me. Yet, I wanted to feel useful again.

With a sigh, I rolled toward the window and opened my eyes. Lying in bed wouldn’t change my future.

I washed with the cool water in the basin then removed a plain gown from the wardrobe. I dressed slowly, thinking of the possibilities. They were too far and too uncertain. I needed to speak with my father. While I refused to burden him with my troubles in Konrall, I saw no reason not to seek his guidance regarding options for my future. In the past, his counsel always proved helpful.

I left my room and sought him out in the library. He had a small desk set near the fire where he liked to work. If he wasn’t there, he tended to hunt the kitchen for food or monitor the progress on the barn.

When I stepped through the library doors, he looked up from his ledger and smiled at the sight of me. He stood as I approached and leaned in to kiss my cheek.

“We missed you at breakfast. Are you feeling better?”

“I feel fine, Father. It’s my thoughts that plague me.”

He motioned for me to take a seat then sat beside me.

“Tell me,” he said.

I clasped my hands and thought for a moment.

“I’ve lost my purpose and am struggling to think of a new one. Bryn and Blye have both found their way. I’m old enough to find my own.” I hesitated for a moment. “I’m thinking of leaving.” I watched his expression, afraid what I said might have hurt him.

“Leaving?” He looked troubled and glanced at the study door, which stood open, then back at me. “Do you seek my blessing or my advice?”

“Advice.”

He sat back and stared at the flames for a while. I waited patiently.

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