Duval scurried to Elle’s bedside and clapped his hands as the male servants set the chair down.

“Is someone coming to visit?” Elle asked, propping herself on her elbows as she inspected the fancy chair. “What are you doing?” she said when a footman drew closer. “What is—,” Elle bit her lip to keep from crying out when the servant scooped her off the bed and carried her across the room, carefully depositing her on the chair.

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The jarring movement made Elle’s leg ache, and her breathing was ragged as she clutched the arms of the chair.

Emele clasped her hands in front of her chest and circled Elle.

Elle gave her a closed lip smile before she tipped her head against the back of the chair and released one great breath. “Wow,” she said as the male servants arranged themselves around her chair. “It is good to be out of bed—one moment, you aren’t,” Elle again cut herself off as she clutched her chair when the male servants picked it up and carried her from the room.

Elle was white as they carried her down a hallway, Emele trailing them. The height of her chair didn’t bother Elle so much as the uncertainty. Every time the servants took a step her chair jostled, making Elle horribly aware that she was quite literately in their hands. The servants paused at the top of a marble staircase, and Elle gulped. “Are we…?”

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The servants carefully started down the stairs.

Every muscle in Elle’s body was tensed as she teetered back and forth with the movement of the footmen. It took an eternity to reach the bottom step.

Emele patted Elle’s hand and pointed to two ornately decorated doors directly ahead of them. Two maids stood in front of the doors, and they curtseyed before opening the doors, allowing Elle’s entourage through.

Inside the room was a giant table… and Prince Severin.

The cursed prince sat at the head of the table. Half of his horrifically feline face was immersed in papers even though the only light in the room was a crackling fire directly behind him.

The prince looked up when the footmen set Elle down at the other end of the table. His horrible yellow eyes never touched Elle. Severin fixed them on his servants as he set his papers down with more force than necessary. A growl trickled from his throat before he picked up a book and flipped it open.

The footmen bowed to the illegitimate prince and then to Elle before leaving the room with Emele.

Elle shifted in her chair, alone with Severin and only the barest light—for Severin’s hulking body blocked most of the firelight from her.

“This is…unexpected,” Elle said.

The prince ignored her.

Elle looked around the room, smoothing the soft fabric of her dress across her legs. The room’s suffocating silence was worse, even, then the lack of sound in Elle’s room. Severin seemed determined to ignore her presence.

Elle shamelessly stared at Severin. She hadn’t met him, or even seen him, in spite of all her trips to the palace in Noyers.

Elle frowned as her eyes traced his beastly body. He was frightening by the sheer nature of his features. White teeth poked past the lips of his massive feline head. His feet and hands were fitted with claws that could rip a man apart. His cursed appearance very accurately reflected his personality. He was, after all, a predator.

Severin looked up, but not to notice Elle. He stared at the door, which creaked open moments later.

In trooped a stream of housemaids carrying beeswax candles, which they set around the perimeter of the room—considerably lightening it.

Crystal chandeliers in the ceiling caught the flickering flames and reflected them across the room, bouncing candlelight off mirrors fixed on the walls.

After the housemaids came the kitchen maids—all masked and silent. They carried trays and trays of food—more than Severin and Elle could possibly eat.

“Emele seems to have given you all the impression that I possess a ravenous appetite,” Elle said as a kitchen maid set a tray of quaking pudding down in front of Elle while another maid poured wine in her cup and served tea. “No harm done, I suppose. She’s probably right.”

When the maids finished they left as silently as they arrived.

Elle shifted her gaze from the sea of food to Severin.

Severin folded up his papers and put them in a waterproof case. He wordlessly took his elaborately folded cloth napkin, shook it out, and set it on his lap before he began serving himself.

Elle followed his example, taking a scoopful of hash, snow cream, quaking pudding, and cheeses.

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