Did you like The Mermaid? Excited to go back to The Academy?
Well, I am!
Here’s the cover for Book 2: The Beast
Beauty and the Beast is maybe my favorite fairy tale. (Don’t tell the others.) It stems from seeing Disney’s version in the theater when I was a teenager and falling in love with it. Specifically the library. I read a few of the early versions of the tale before I started writing mine.
One tidbit I incorporated was that of Belle’s lineage. You’ll have to read the story to find out more, but Belle is more than she seems, and it is important.
As you’ll read below, Adem’s curse works a bit different in my story than other versions. I hope you like it!
Official release day is next Wednesday, Feb. 6th!
The carriage swayed as it trundled through the dense forest. Each rut in the road made the carriage jolt, and each jolt made Adem grit his teeth.
“Are you even listening to me?”
Adem blinked and looked back at Gilles, his advisor and pseudo-father. “Uh, no?”
Gilles sat ramrod straight in the seat across from Adem. The dark jacket over his tunic fit his slim body to precision. The buttons caught the light filtering in through the window, and despite the bouncing, Gilles’ perfect posture didn’t waver. The man’s dark eyes bored into Adem’s.
“Sorry.” Adem fought back the urge to sigh. “Please continue.”
“I said that two more people have started to turn.”
Adem curled his hands into fists. “Who?”
Gilles, who had just opened his mouth to continue, closed his lips. “Who?”
“Yes, who?” Adem asked, his voice almost a growl.
“Two of the elderly maids.”
Gilles nodded. “And Anna.”
Adem rubbed his face.
“As much as we all appreciate your concern, you have a more important task.”
Adem held up a hand. “I know why I’m going to the Academy. You don’t have to tell me—again.”
This time Gilles’ eyes flashed. “Girls can be very distracting for sixteen-year-old boys.”
“It’s not like I’ve never seen a pretty girl before,” Adem grumbled.
“I’m worried about the beast inside you.”
Gilles shrugged. “The few adults who have begun to change have experienced some unexpected side effects.”
“Like being attracted to fertile members of the opposite gender.”
Adem shifted in his seat. “I’ve got more important matters to worry about.”
“For now,” Gilles said.
An unexpected wave of anger bubbled to life, and Adem spoke through clenched teeth. “You don’t trust me?”
Giles studied him. The man’s eyes seemed to breach to Adem’s core, pushing aside his temper and going straight to the heart of the matter. Instead of censuring Adem, Gilles cleared his throat. “You need to be careful.”
“I will be,” Adem said, keeping his anger in check.
“Be especially wary of the faeries.”
“You think I’m an idiot?”
“If someone would tell me what my parents did to end up cursed, things would probably be easier.”
For the first time, Gilles shifted in his seat. “Your parents never shared their dealings with anyone.”
Adem sat forward and stared into Gilles’ dark eyes. “Not even you?”
“Not even me.” The older man didn’t blink.
He was lying.
Gilles cleared his throat. “You know what you have to do. Stay away from the faeries and find what you need, or we will all end up like those outside the walls.”
“I know the consequences of failure.” Adem swallowed as blurry images of the first year of the curse rose in his mind. The monsters who had once been his friends had thrown themselves at the barrier around the castle until their own bodies were broken, or they found someone else to prey upon.
Adem’s eyes flicked to Gilles again, and he narrowed them. The man was hiding something. Adem could practically smell it as Gilles looked out the window and pretended to ignore the fur that had sprouted on his face the moment they’d cleared the barrier around the courtyard.
The coach lurched to the side and hit a bump so big that Adem lost contact with the seat, then crashed down hard. Pain stabbed his backside, awakening the anger lurking just below the surface.
“What’s going on?” Adem bellowed as he opened the window. He stuck his head out and heard the horses scream in terror, then an invisible hook grabbed the carriage and hauled it forward. Adem hit the back wall hard.
Gilles flew across the space and landed in an undignified heap next to Adem.
Their gilded cage began to vibrate as the horses sped up.
Stars danced in Adem’s vision, and he shook his head. “Are you all right?” He helped Gilles to a sitting position.
Gilles nodded, but put a hand to his head where blood ran from a cut.
The scent of iron stung the inside of Adem’s nose. It drew him in like a child to a piece of candy. He licked his lips, wondering what the hot liquid would taste like.
“See what’s happening,” Gilles said in a weak voice.
The words shattered the moment, and Adem hauled himself to the window. The outside air brushed his face and hair, dispelling the iron and bringing with it the scent of pine trees, damp dirt, and…
Adem inhaled. Something didn’t smell right. Not blood, but a musk that made the hair on the back of his neck prickle. He stuck his head out and found the horses pulling against the reins.
“Marshel, what’s going on?” Adem yelled.
A growl answered him.
Adem’s stomach turned to lead. He looked back at Gilles and found the man still groggy. No help there. “Marshel? Can you hear me?”
Another growl. Almost words, but not quite.
“Great,” Adem muttered. He unclasped his cloak, dropped it on the seat, and opened the door.
“Master Adem, what are you doing?” Gilles asked in an alarmed voice.
Adem ignored the man and moved out onto the steps. Cool wind pulled at his tunic.
Lather covered the horses’ hindquarters. The carriage hit another bump, and Adem’s fingers tightened around the door frame. With a grunt, he heaved himself toward the driver’s bench.
“You’re going to get killed!” Gilles cried.
“Not if I can help it.” Adem stretched his hand toward the rail of the driver’s bench. The tips of his fingers brushed the rough wood. He stood on his toes and took hold of the rail just as the carriage bucked again.
Adem let out a yell and used every ounce of strength he could muster to hold on. One glance down showed the broken road beneath, along with the mercilessly turning wheels.
His fingers slipped. Maybe Gilles was right—maybe he was going to die.
If he died, everyone in the castle died.
A shot of adrenaline—more than he’d ever felt before—coursed through his body, and Adem reached for the rail with his other hand. His fingers inched toward the target, but they went over another bump, and Adem almost slipped. His back hit the side of the carriage hard. He glared at the rail, held his breath, and reached. This time his grip found purchase, and he used the remaining adrenaline to pull himself up.
He opened his mouth to ask Marshel what had happened, but he found the man curled in on himself, the reins still in his—
Instead of fingers, claws protruded from the man’s gloves. Gray fur poked out the top.
The hair on Adem’s neck rose again, and he found himself bearing his teeth. He shook his head and reached for the reins.
A low snarl sounded, and Adem stopped with his fingers just inches from the man. “Marshel?”
The snarl turned into a groan, and Marshel shuddered. He looked up.
Adem froze. Instead of the man’s usual blue eyes, gold eyes stared back at him.
“Can’t do that. Sorry.” Adem wrenched the reins from Marshel. Marshel lunged, but Adem kicked him away. Marshel crashed to the other end of the bench, and Adem pulled on the reins.
The horses fought against the command. Now that he knew Marshel had started to change, Adem could assume that the animals had caught the scent. The carriage slowed.
Adem looked over his shoulder. “Come get Marshel off!”
The horses refused to stop completely, but Adem slowed enough so Gilles could hop out and pull Marshel off.
After another dozen yards, the horses lost his scent and came to a stop.
Adem tied them off, hopped down, and ran back.
Gilles crouched over Marshel, who contorted as if someone were poking him with a hot iron. Animal fur sprouted on his cheeks and jaw, and Marshel’s nose elongated.
“It seems that our progression quickens the longer we’re outside the castle,” Gilles said, glancing down at his own increasingly furry hands. Gilles looked at Adem. “You?”
“Besides a heightened sense of smell, I’ve got nothing.”
“Perhaps the protection spell is stronger for you. Or perhaps it is because you are young.”
“Does it matter?” Adem asked.
“It means you need to focus at the Academy.”
Marshel stopped thrashing. He lay on the ground, panting. Adem squatted next to him and took his hand—now a paw. “I’m sorry.”
Marshel’s eyes barely focused on Adem. “Save us.”
Faces of those still in the castle swam before his vision. Men and women who had been servants, nobles and peasants, forced to work together to survive. Most Adem counted as friend.
They were his responsibility.
Adem gave Marshel’s hand a squeeze and rose. He faced Gilles. “Take the carriage and get him back.”
“What about you?” Gilles asked.
“I’m only a day’s walk from the Academy. I’m sure I can find a ride.”
Gilles frowned. “You shouldn’t arrive like that.”
“Why? Because I’m a prince?” Adem stepped toward Gilles. “I don’t care about that. I’m not going there for validation or to find a wife or a mate or to die uselessly or anything else.” He pointed at Marshel. “I’m going to keep this from happening to everyone we love.”
Gilles studied him for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, m’lord.”