“I will not waste my time again by acting as a translator. Although I will suffer this girl’s presence in my chateau I do not want to see her again,” the voice growled before a beast entered the room.

He was a horrifying combination of cat and canine, all death and wildness although he spoke crisply with careful enunciation. He was no less terrifying to behold now than he was in the few woozy moments Elle was conscious after falling through the ceiling. If anything he was more alarming, more wrong as his hulking body loomed in the cheerful light of the fire.

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The maid scurried at his side, but the beast waved her away as he read the slates his other servants held out to him.

The beast—the cursed, illegitimate prince Severin—snarled gutturally in his throat before he turned to Elle, who was sinking low in the bed.

“Your leg is broken. Don’t move it or else. Duval will do whatever needs to be done. If you disrespect him I will have you thrown from the castle, broken leg or not,” the beastly prince said. He turned on his hind legs—a movement that was too smooth to be human—and started for the door. The ladies maid at Elle’s bedside knocked a stool over as she darted in front of the prince and again held her slate up.

“What is your name?” the cursed prince asked without turning around.

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Elle deliberated on her answer for a moment, but hastily spoke when the prince started to growl. “Elle.”

“This is Emele. She will see to your needs until your leg has healed sufficiently for you to leave the castle.”

He was out of the room before anyone else could push a slate in his direction.

The barber-surgeon—the cursed prince had called him Duval—shook his head as he presented a glass of liquid to Elle.

Elle sniffed it, blinking when the contents burned her eyes and nose. “Alcohol?”

Duval nodded and went back to wrapping Elle’s exposed leg.

Elle took a swig of the drink and almost coughed. The alcohol was potent and powerful. The whole glass was going to get her drunk worse than a villager during Christmas time. Elle winced and her leg ached. She supposed being drunk was better than being fully conscious of the stabbing pain. “Bottoms up,” she said, toasting the air before tipping the drink back.

When Elle finally woke from her alcohol induced stupor the bandaged sludge on her leg had hardened to a plaster consistency. The barber-surgeon was gone, and light leaked through the top of the heavy, velvet curtains that covered the windows. It was daylight.

The ladies maid from the night before, Emele, was still sitting at Elle’s bedside, stitching the seam of a blue gown.

Elle shifted, and Emele looked up to smile at her.

“Morning,” Elle said, pushing through the pain to adopt the persona of a meek villager. Emele put her work aside before she pulled back the curtains—letting an ocean of glorious sunlight drift across the walls—and straightened the blankets and pillows mounded around Elle.

“Beggin’ your pardon, uh, miss, but I’ve got questions ‘bout my leg. Can I talk to sumone?” Elle asked before Emele briefly disappeared out of the room. A bell rang, and Emele was back.

“Oh, thanks,” Elle said, taking the damp towel Emele presented. She wiped off her face and hands before carefully feeling her scalp for slivers of glass. She remembered being blanketed in the jagged stuff when she first fell, but the servants must have swept it all off.

“Um, ‘bout my—ouch,” Elle said when the ladies maid began attacking her hair with a comb before tying it off with a ribbon. Elle’s scalp still stung when Emele fluttered to the door after a bell rang, she returned to the bed carrying a tray.

“Say, can you—,” Elle started, she cut herself off when Emele placed the tray on a small end table near the bed.

The tray was filled with scrumptious food. There were slices of cheese, wonderfully spiced meat pasties, turnips, and asparagus that dripped with butter.

Emele smiled and poured Elle a cup of tea as Elle slowly cut into the breakfast, reveling in the excellent food. When Elle realized Emele was watching her with round, curious eyes behind her mask, Elle switched to devouring her food with gusto and a general lack of table manners. Even though Elle shoved huge chunks of turnips into her mouth, Emele seemed pleased as she brought Elle a second tray.

When finished, Elle sipped her tea and lounged in the bed, her stomach happily filled for the first time in weeks. Emele settled into her chair at Elle’s bedside, resetting Elle’s thought process.

“What I’ve been meanin’ to ask is, what did the barber-surgeon say ‘bout my leg?” Elle asked, cringing when she shifted and jarred her aching appendage.

Emele did not respond and instead held up a slate that had the word cheese written on it. She picked up the plate that held a few leftover slices of cheese from Elle’s breakfast and gestured to it before slowly tracing her finger below the word.

“Cheese?” Elle said.

Emele nodded and set the cheese down before erasing her slate and writing with chalk.

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