Beauty of the Beast
Fairy Tale Retellings, BookOne
Rachel L. Demeter
CreateSpace, February 2017
From the author—
A BEAST LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF HIS PAST
Reclusive and severely scarred Prince Adam Delacroix has remained hidden inside a secluded, decrepit castle ever since he witnessed his family’s brutal massacre. Cloaked in shadow, with only the lamentations of past ghosts for company, he has abandoned all hope, allowing the world to believe he died on that tragic eve twenty-five years ago.
A BEAUTY IN PURSUIT OF A BETTER FUTURE
Caught in a fierce snowstorm, beautiful and strong-willed Isabelle Rose seeks shelter at a castle—unaware that its beastly and disfigured master is much more than he appears to be. When he imprisons her gravely ill and blind father, she bravely offers herself in his place.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Stripped of his emotional defenses, Adam’s humanity reawakens as he encounters a kindred soul in Isabelle. Together they will wade through darkness and discover beauty and passion in the most unlikely of places. But when a monster from Isabelle’s former life threatens their new love, Demrov’s forgotten prince must emerge from his shadows and face the world once more…
Disclaimer: This is an edgy retelling of the classic fairy tale. Due to strong sexual content, profanity, and dark subject matter, including an instance of sexual assault committed by the villain, Beauty of the Beast is not intended for readers under the age of 18.
I don’t usually read fantasy (except for the dark type). I don’t read romance except for the occasional contemporary romantic comedy. And I’m not fond of strong sexual content. What the heck, then, possessed me to read this? Well, since you ask….
It all started when Rachel L. Demeter wrote me a very nice note requesting a review. Normally, I would say it doesn’t fall into the genres I prefer and I don’t have any volunteer reviewers that I think would go for it BUT then I saw the cover. Yes, I will judge a book by its cover but, usually, I decline books partly because of really bad/poor/amateurish/cheaplooking covers. This one? Blew me away with all the blue, the touches of red roses that you have to look for, the twisted thorny trees evoking a dark, troubled feeling of doom.
The other thing that hooked me was the concept of blending this fairy tale with historic romance. True, I’m not much of a romance afficionado but I LOVE LOVE LOVE history and we all know that the well-known version of Beauty and the Beast (prior to singing candelabras) is a dark tale indeed with a good deal of sexual tension but redeemed by the birth of real love. And did you notice the title, the play on words focusing on the Beast? I decided I had to give this book a spin.
Ms. Demeter opens the story in 1808 when the crown prince of Demrov, Adam, is a pre-teen, before his entire family was killed in an attack by revolutionaries that was devastatingly horrific. Adam’s soul died that day but his body still lived with terrible burns, closeted away for a long, long time.
In many ways, Beauty of the Beast is true to the old tale of a young woman bartering for the life of her father and giving herself to the beast in his place. Isabelle Rose has not led a particularly happy life but she dreams of better things, largely evoked by tales of yore, including dreams of a love like that of the girl awakened by a kiss. Intellectually, she knows she’s not destined for such a love but she still dreams despite being betrothed to a man who is more of a monster than the one she’ll soon meet. Her coming adventure will propel her into a life she could never have expected.
Ms. Demeter has a magic with words that turns her writing into near poetry and yet her tale has a certain darkness that we’re familiar with in the gothic romances from the 19th and early to mid 20th centuries, stories such as Wuthering Heights and Rebecca. This story has something for almost any reader who relishes suspense, unutterable sadness, romance, love (not the same thing), heartfelt friendship, even the salvation that can come from deep despair, and its French-influenced setting adds a touch of reality. In all honesty, the sexual scenes are more descriptive than I care for but the story in its entirety is well worth that minor discomfort and I will be on the lookout for this author’s next fairy tale retelling.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.
See the book trailer here.
An Excerpt from Beauty of the Beast
~ Isabelle bravely takes her papa’s place ~
Quite a while later, as Isabelle relaxed and soaked in the hearth’s warmth, she found herself nodding off to sleep.
Her mind detached from the stress of the past few days and receded to another time and place. She recalled her journeys with Papa when she’d been little more than a girl. All the villages they’d passed through; all the faces they’d seen. She thought of reading fairy tales beneath a bejeweled sky, of leaning against a mountain of crates as Papa pointed out the constellations and their eternal stories—
Rattling seized her attention and ruptured her thoughts. She peered at Papa, who was carefully examining his teacup. Not with his sightless eyes, of course—but with wandering fingertips. The same impressive coat of arms engraved the fine proclaim; Papa ran his weathered fingers over its surface, clearly in awe of the raised gold decorations and studded gems. The thing must have cost a small fortune. Indeed, she’d never beheld such finery. Even the wares Papa had once sold paled in comparison. The faded brim of his top hat hung low and covered his glassy eyes.
Then her mouth went dry as he slipped the teacup inside his coat.
Has he gone mad—or simply grown that desperate? It was completely unlike Papa to steal. How could he—and after being shown hospitality?
Her outcry startled him. He half leapt from the chair—and Isabelle watched in horror as the teacup tumbled out from the coat. It rattled and rolled onto the stone ground, shattering into a million pieces.
A gloved hand broke through the darkness, quicker than a lightning strike. The hooded figure emerged from the shadows and seized Papa by his cravat. His other hand clasped a branch of flickering candles. The illumination flashed across the dark folds of his cloak, soaking him in a pool of light.
“Stealing from me, are you? Breaking my family’s keepsakes?” A sharp jerk forced Papa to his feet. The rough movement sent the top hat tumbling from his head and onto the stone floor. Papa’s waxen features melted into an expression of horror and confusion.
Her heart pounding, Isabelle lunged forward and frantically cried out, “Let him alone! It was an accident. Don’t you see that you’re frightening him?”
“Good.” The simple declaration threw Isabelle into stunned silence. Papa called out for her as the man strode from the sitting room, his solid legs eating up the ground in swift, decisive strides. Mon Dieu, he was physically dragging Papa through the castle.
This isn’t happening. It cannot be…
“Stop it! Stop it now—you monster!” Isabelle picked up her skirts and frantically chased after them. Parts of the castle were dark and unkempt, causing her to trip several times over wayward pieces of furniture. Her heart violently pounded in her ears. The man moved impressively fast; between his agile stride and sweeping cloak, he almost appeared to float through the corridors. Plopping onto the stone floor, his dog gave up trying to keep pace. Dust motes rose and fell in midair like ashes, obscuring her vision. She followed the branch’s illumination, watching as the candlelight threw prisms along the walls and floor.
“Please, monsieur. Have mercy, I beg you! He didn’t know any better. He would never—”
“No one steals from me.” His low voice echoed in the darkness, steady as a war drum.
Isabelle felt herself descending. She ducked as she crossed a low archway, where she was met with a steep flight of stairs. A mouth into Hell. The ceiling lurked unusually low and was strung with cobwebs. Isabelle hiked up her skirts, which were now a filthy mess, and raced down the decayed steps. The hooded figure kept a swift pace while she desperately pursued Papa’s frightened cries.
Plagued by the darkness, Isabelle tripped and crashed down the stone steps. Pain cascaded through her body, knocking the breath from her lungs. Her skinned knees and elbows throbbed, her heart pounded, her head burned. She spared a moment to catch her breath as she struggled to her feet and resumed her vain quest. Papa’s muffled pleas and the sound of slamming bars ripped at her very soul.
The dank dungeon was nearly black. She slowed her pace, moving toward a beam of light at the far end. Rats the size of kittens scurried across the stone floor and filled the darkness with their terrible squeaking. Her heart thudding, Isabelle rushed through the maze of cells, following Papa’s voice and that flickering light. Chains and crude-looking objects littered the ground—torture devices from a past age, she realized with a shudder.
She found them.
Papa was grasping the rusted bars; disoriented and frightened, he was murmuring incoherent pleas. Tears fell from his sightless eyes, though Isabelle knew he fought to restrain them. The branch of candles sat in front of the cell, its wavering light illuminating his terrified expression.
“Forgive me. I have wronged you when you showed my daughter and me hospitality and mercy. Please, monsieur!”
The man towered before him, silent and still. His long arms remaining crossed, he stood with his lean torso straighter than a broadsword. His hood was drawn back, though Isabelle couldn’t see his face from her angle.
“Papa, I’m here,” she said beneath the weight of a strained breath.
Not sparing a moment, she dashed over to the cell—and the man slowly rotated into sight.
Except he resembled more of a beast than any man she’d ever seen.
Isabelle clamped both hands over her mouth and forced her eyes away. The sight burned—and the inferno in his gaze only kindled that fire.
Half of his face looked monstrously twisted; charred mounds of puckered flesh distorted the features beyond any recognition, draining him of all traces of humanity. A slab of skull gleamed in the candlelight, poking through a heap of burned, leather-like skin. His hairline receded on the left side of his face and slanted high above a shriveled ear.
Under the severe scarring, his age was more or less indistinguishable—though Isabelle guessed he wasn’t a day under thirty-five.
But his eyes were breathtaking. Two brilliant sapphires. There was also a great sadness and anger in those eyes, as if he’d suffered more than his share of original sin. Alas, as she gazed into his eyes, all she saw was blue ice—an endless, arctic landscape of cold desolation.
The man turned away, appearing greatly affected by her stare, and hastily rearranged the hood. His scarred hands trembled as he smoothed down the cloak’s thick folds.
“Release him,” she demanded. “He didn’t mean any harm. I—”
“No one meddles with my family’s possessions. He can rot down here as my prisoner. He ought to count himself fortunate that I haven’t taken his hand.”
“Your prisoner? This… this is a mistake! You must believe me. He’d never—”
A deep, husky chuckle cut through her plea. “Even so.”
“Please. Just let him out.”
“It’s too late for that.” Those words seemed to speak volumes. He exhaled a long breath, and Isabelle watched as it unfurled against the darkness in a cloud.
“Why… why are you so angry? Why must you be so hateful? So cruel?”
“If I let him go,” he said at length, “what can you offer in return?” Isabelle couldn’t find her tongue. She wandered directly in front of the cell, almost in a lucid trance, and clasped the cold bars. Papa was huddled in the corner now, coughing and shivering. Guilt, unlike anything she’d known before, pulsated through her.
I’m to blame for this. And if Papa stays here, he’ll die well within a fortnight, likely much sooner…
“Get out of my sight.” The man’s voice jarred Isabelle from her inward stupor. She turned to him and stepped forward, raising her chin at a defiant angle.
I am not so easily broken or frightened.
I am a survivor.
She scanned her empty, dank surroundings: the cold stone walls, sweeping cobwebs, and blazing branch of candles. Despair encased her. Stark emptiness. She dared to step closer while a faint trace of pity bloomed inside her heart.
They stood centimeters apart. Heat radiated from the man’s body, surrounding her, immersing her. Isabelle vainly searched for softness in him, but only a dark, embittered spirit reached her. She stared up at his towering frame and gestured for him to bow forward. He hesitated, then did as she commanded. Her hands shook, damn her, as she peeled back his hood and met that piercing gaze again.
Half of his face was handsome—devastatingly so. In her twenty-two years of life, she’d never beheld such haunting beauty.
Jet‑black waves, rich and flowing, framed the chiseled lines of his startling features. Stubble peppered the strong curve of his jawline and shadowed a smooth, sculpted cheekbone. The right side of his face was striking, beautiful—a stark contrast to its wrecked counterpart. And within those patrician angles and intense eyes, she encountered his humanity.
His was a face of inconsistencies. Complex. Damaged. Predatory. And more than a bit intriguing.
“I will stay with you,” she heard herself whisper. “In my father’s place.”
“Isabelle—no! I forbid it!”
The man folded long, strong arms across his broad chest. His gaze crawled down her face and settled on the rise of her breasts—planting directly on her silver cross.
“I demand he’s seen by the finest of physicians.”
“Isabelle! Listen to me! I’m an old man. I’m dying. I—”
The man’s dark, strangely erotic voice cut through the cellar, and his eyes whipped back to her own with a startling force. “As my mistress.”
“You must stay here as my mistress. For as long as I demand. Perhaps forever.”
The word rang with a note of finality.
“Please, Isabelle! I beg you. Don’t do this!”
How could I endure it?
“Do as I say and your father shall safely return home.” He waved his cloaked arms with a magician’s delicate grace. “Your father—whatever family you may have—shall want for nothing. A house, clothing, anything they require. You only need to say the word. Your father will be under my protection—under the care of nurses and physicians—until his last breath.”
Isabelle briefly recalled what—and who—was waiting for her back in Ruillé. This fate wouldn’t be much worse. This desolate castle could serve as the perfect hideout. Papa would live in France, free from Raphael’s clutches and in the hands of the world’s greatest physicians…
“How… how can I trust you?” And does he even have the wealth to uphold such a promise?
She had faith Papa would send help once his health recovered. Or she’d find a way out, means of escape. In the interim, she would survive this grim castle and whatever horrors it concealed.
Papa would not. The castle would crush him beneath its dark heel in a matter of days.
Isabelle glanced at Papa again, then stared into the man’s brilliant eyes. There, lurking within those expressive depths, she found the softness she’d pursued minutes before.
She sucked in her breath and nodded her agreement.
“It is done.” The man swept backward. “He’s to remain down here till first light. Then our agreement shall be carried out. In the meantime, I will bring blankets and food—”
“But it’s so cold! He—”
“Stole from me while he was a guest in my castle.”
He would not compromise. That much was certain.
“I demand to stay with him.”
“As you please.” He unlocked the cell. “Beyond the dungeon lies a labyrinth. Try to escape, and you’ll be lost forever.”
He tapped the wall with his booted heel. It swiveled, spun, and rotated, sweeping her captor to the other side…