Home > Devastation (Beastly Tales #3)(5)

Devastation (Beastly Tales #3)(5)
M.J. Haag

My mind raced. I could see him again. Excitement surged for only a moment before I killed it. No, I couldn’t see him. I would never see the beast again. He was gone. Lord Ruhall, the man who had watched with dispassionate eyes as the baker tried to force himself on me, had taken the beast’s place.

“Is this why you asked if I wanted to return?”

“Yes. When I visited, people were coming and going through the gates at will. I don’t think there would be any danger.”

I considered the letter once more and didn’t see that Father had much choice but to accept. The idea of returning made my stomach churn with anger. Yet, unlike my sisters, I would not make Father sacrifice any more of his books when there was a viable option to save them. His books meant so much to him. Books...I stopped my pacing and smiled at him excitedly.

“We most certainly should go, then. You will love the library, Father. There are more books than you can imagine.” Of the beast and the Liege Lord, I forced myself to give little thought. One was dead and the other a cold stranger.

Father smiled and patted my hand, and we agreed to travel to the manor the next morning with the hope that we might return with a carriage for our belongings.

Chapter 2

The gates stood open as Father had said. Around the iron, vines curled, green, yet lifeless; the vitality the enchantment had imbued, gone. A man with a scythe hacked at the growth that crowded the drive. Another man worked not far from there, pulling out roots and picking up the cut remains the first man left in his wake.

Father and I walked the drive, each of us carrying a single bag. With the sun shining and the lane mostly cleared, the estate lacked the feeling I’d previously associated with it. A forbidden safety. Now, it seemed only a rundown estate.

When we reached the door, the man who swept the steps looked us over. There was no recognition in his eyes when he glanced at me, and I knew he was new to the Liege Lord’s service. He directed us to the kitchen door. Familiar with the grounds, I nodded and led the way along the newly-made, narrow path. As I walked, I wondered how many of the original staff had remained after the enchantment had broken.

The kitchen door stood open, the hearth overheating the room as the three cooks set about making the morning meal. This room appeared much the same, yet with so many present, very different. Those differences gave me hope that the memories of my time spent here would remain buried and that I might be comfortable here once more.

“Good morning,” my father said to the kitchen staff.

One of the cooks looked up with a slightly disgruntled expression.

“We’ve hired the staff we can. Come back next fall. There might be more work then.”

Father didn’t even blink at her less than welcoming tone.

“I am his Lord’s man of estate. Mr. Benard Hovtel.”

The cook glanced at us once more then dusted her hands on her apron.

“I’m Mrs. Wimbly, Lord Ruhall’s head cook. I’ll have the maid inform him of your arrival.” She moved toward the hall and yelled for Egrit.

The familiar name almost made me smile. So, a few had stayed.

“Have a seat,” the cook said with a nod toward the table. “I’ll feed you while you wait.”

We’d barely seated ourselves when she set a coddled egg before each of us and moved away.

Behind us, someone strode into the room. Thinking it Egrit, I glanced over my shoulder. It wasn’t Egrit, but still a face I recognized. And the sight of it killed my appetite.

The events that had unfolded at the bakery had overshadowed my glimpse of Lord Ruhall. Now, however, I saw him clearly. He was young and handsome with a strong jaw and a regal nose. His dark hair and thick brows made him appear a bit imposing while his blue eyes lent an air of cool detachment. He was dressed in fine clothes, his hair was neatly combed, and he appeared quite well.

Resentment clouded my thinking. How could he look so well when I felt so ill?

The Lord of the estate looked around for someone, presumably the cook, and froze when he saw me. Surprise colored his face as his gaze swept over me then moved to my father.

“I would speak to your daughter, with your permission, sir,” he said to Father, not even looking at me again.

“It is not my permission that matters, but hers,” my father said, looking at me in question.

“It is yours that matters at the moment,” the Liege Lord said.

My eyebrows rose, and my hand instinctively closed over my coddled egg. Suddenly the egg sailed through the air and hit the returned Lord of the North in the chest. I couldn’t remember throwing it. Yet, I didn’t regret it.

“I think my permission matters most, sir,” I said, standing. Despite his apparent disregard for me, I mattered.

His shocked gaze swung to me. Yolk dripped from his neckcloth onto his coat.

Several of the servants looked at me with rounded eyes as well. Of course, I’d shocked them. One of our rank did not disobey the Lord of the North or, at least, didn’t lob an egg at him. The assistant cook moved forward to offer him a cloth to clean up. He accepted the rag.

“Sit,” he said in an authoritative voice that rang in the kitchen.

While he looked down at the mess I’d made of his shirt, I ignored his command and marched from the kitchen toward the hall. I was wrong to think I could reside here. Wrong to think I could avoid my feelings of resentment and mistrust for him or that I might avoid him entirely.

“Benella!”

Anger laced his voice, sending a chill through me. My pulse leapt, and I instinctively lifted my skirts and ran. Egrit barely twisted out of my way near the laundry room.

Behind me, he yelled, asking which way I’d gone. I needed to leave. Quickly.

I slid into the entry where a weathered butler stood beside the door.

“Open the door,” I said as I raced toward the man. His black eyes widened, and I immediately knew him. “Mr. Crow, open the damn door.”

He hurriedly tugged it open. Just a few hand spans, but it was enough for me to squeeze through before the Liege Lord raced into the room.

“Why did you let her out?” I heard him demand as he pulled the door open.

“Because she was trying to escape you, sir.”

I kept running but almost laughed. The servants who’d been enchanted had learned well.

Without warning, an arm encircled my waist, and I found myself tumbling forward. Something pressed against my back, and I turned in midair.

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