Home > Devastation (Beastly Tales #3)(6)

Devastation (Beastly Tales #3)(6)
M.J. Haag

Facing the sky, I landed on something soft. Him.

I scrambled off and backed away a few steps as he slowly climbed to his feet. Poised to run, I glared at him.

“Why are you always throwing food at me?” he asked, his face red.

“You deserved it,” I said, my temper freeing my tongue. He deserved far more than a lobbed egg.

His eyes flashed, and he took a step toward me. I backed up a step. He stopped his advance and threw his hands in the air.

“Why are you acting as if you fear me now?”

I almost snorted. When had I ever let fear rule me?

“How should I act?”

His expression softened.

“The same as you always have.”

This time I did snort. “I thought you didn’t like me throwing food.”

He relaxed his stance. “You are correct. Act the same as you always have with the exception of the food throwing. Stop that.”

“I cannot act the same. I am not the same person and neither are you. I thought I knew you, but I do not.”

He frowned at me. “What do you mean?”

Bitterly, I eyed him. “The beast I’d grown fond of growled at me, ranted at me, and clawed through doors to get to me. He fed me. Cared for me. The Liege Lord stood in the doorway of the bakery and did nothing when that pig of a man rutted over me.”

He paled and reached for me. I pulled back, and he dropped his hand.

“I am still that beast. Only Rose’s restraining hand kept me from—” He closed his eyes briefly. “Benella, I wanted to kill him for touching you.”

I struggled not to scoff.

He studied my unforgiving expression for a moment then took a slow breath.

“I need you here,” he said. “I’m barely in control. Rose is watching me. She doubts I can be a lord in truth.”

He needed my help, just as the beast had, but the pity I’d felt for the lonely beast didn’t pertain to the man before me. I didn’t want to help the Liege Lord. Yet, I knew I could give only one answer. For my father’s sake and to avoid destitution, I had to agree.

“Of course I will help you, my Lord.”

He stepped close again, and I quickly backed away several steps.

“Why do you keep doing that?” he asked, anger flashing in his eyes.

“It is not proper to stand too close to a servant. Haven’t you learned anything?” I glanced at the lower windows of the manor, glad for the several faces that peeked out at us.

He followed my gaze and growled but kept his distance.

“We have more to discuss. Come to my study when you’ve finished your meal.” Then, he stomped back inside.

I chose to walk around to the kitchen door. My heavy heart dragged my feet and slowed my progress. Seeing him had shocked me. And I realized my affection for the beast hadn’t disappeared with the dear creature. Yet, it didn’t extend to the man, either.

When I returned to the table, Father looked up from his eggs and studied me with a slight smile on his lips.

“How did your talk go?”

“Well, I’m not sure we ever got to the point of his request. He wants me to go to his study after I’ve finished eating.”

“You have egg in your hair,” Egrit said as she passed me.

* * * *

After washing in the laundry, I made my way to the library. Lord Ruhall paced in his study. As soon as I entered, he turned toward me. Some of his agitation faded as I approached.

“Sit,” he said.

“Do you ever tire of giving commands?” I asked as I sat. Behind me, he closed the study doors.

“No.”

He walked around my chair to stand in front of me. He still moved with the grace I’d grown accustomed to, walking with more of a prowl than a stride.

“Is it different? As a man?” I asked before I could stop myself.

“Yes. Uncomfortable, truthfully. I had more freedom before. Everything feels so restrained now. Not just my clothes, or how I move, but my own skin.”

“How old were you when you were enchanted?”

“No more than twenty-three,” he said.

“You are over seventy years old. Of course you’ll feel a little strained.” He grunted, but I caught the amused twinkle in his eyes so like the twinkle the beast had in his eyes in the weeks before I was taken. I felt an ache in my middle at the sight.

“Of what did you wish to speak?” I asked, not wanting to spend more time than necessary with him.

He leaned back against his desk and studied me for several long moments. I fought to remain still under his scrutiny. Finally, he sighed.

“I think estate concerns are the safest subject for the time being. As you suggested, I read up on farming and contacted your friend, Henick, whom you shall never kiss again, by the way.”

My eyebrows shot up, but he continued without pause.

“There is no hope for planting any of the overgrown fields this year, but there are many ways to prepare them for next year. I need you to listen to my plans and point out any flaws.”

He explained that he’d harvested several bags of primrose from the lands and contracted with the local candle maker for scented candles. He also contacted the traveling merchant to establish a permanent trade route, though he didn’t state what he planned to trade.

For the candles that the candle maker had created from the flowers, the merchant paid the estate half of what was owed in gold and half in goats. The twenty goats now grazed in the overgrown fields, helping to prepare the ground for spring.

The remaining gold had been used to hire three cooks, two housemaids, five workers, a butler, a teacher, and a man of estate.

“Why three cooks?”

“I would slowly starve if I were left to feed myself.”

The memory of the beast dropping eggs on the floor pressed against me, and I frowned. I didn’t want reminders.

“I’m concerned with the expense. Surely one cook can handle simple meals through the summer.”

“What of preparing food stores for the winter?” He tilted his head, appearing truly interested in my thoughts.

I recalled all the work Bryn did for the four of us and adjusted my thinking.

“Two cooks perhaps, but certainly not three. What are the five workers doing?”

“Two are clearing the drive so wagons with supplies can pass. Swiftly is repairing the stables. And the other two are gathering and re-sowing the seeds from the primrose to expand the field for next spring.”

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