Beauty of the Beast
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~ The East Tower ~
Arms sprang out from the darkness. They spun her full circle and slammed her body against the king’s portrait. Isabelle gasped, more in shock than from pain, as she stared into Adam’s deformed face. The lantern flickered behind his massive form, casting his cloaked body in silhouette. But she saw enough to know he was far from pleased. Rage and frustration radiated from his body like a palpable force.
“I warned you to stay out of here,” he said, his voice dangerously cold and deep. Those rugged vocals vibrated against her body and seeped into her marrow. “What part of forbidden didn’t you comprehend?” His voice lashed out from the darkness like a hurtled knife, and the word “forbidden” seemed to whisper another meaning altogether. Isabelle tried to answer but failed to find her voice. Indeed, her vocal cords had turned to solid ice, as numb and cold as the blood rushing through her veins. She couldn’t breathe; she felt like she was suffocating.
“My mother gave me that musical box on my fourth birthday,” he said, the sensual lull of his voice causing the fine hairs on her nape to stand erect. “And now your recklessness has destroyed it. Have you nothing to say?”
“I—I’m sorry.” He offered no reply; only the ragged sound of his breathing and the hammering blizzard broke the silence. “Please—I didn’t mean any harm.”
She struggled under the weight of Adam’s colossal body and battled to free herself. He merely gave a low chuckle and pressed her firmly against the portrait. He looked otherworldly at that moment, like an angel of death seeking vengeance. Both beautiful and monstrous, his cool, sapphire eyes overflowed with warring emotions. In spite of his harsh and ruthless exterior, she detected a quaver in his voice and saw that his large, cloaked shoulders trembled. The darkness in his soul cast a shadow that embraced her; as she peered up at him, she knew he was drowning in the turbulent waters of a past time.
“What a disappointment,” he went on, his voice growing deeper still, mocking her words from so many days ago, “You’re like any other woman.”
“I—I’m sorry. Please, Adam. I—” Her gaze shot past his body and over the wreckage of a past life. She thought of her private chamber again—of the stale perfumes and outdated garments.
Her flight or fight instinct seized hold of her. She attempted to scramble free, but he merely grabbed her shoulder and whirled her back against the portrait. Gloves wrapped his hands; his long, silk-clad fingers grasped her shoulder and kept her firmly in place.
Hands like two steel bands held her wrists in place. Hot breaths, which faintly smelled of wine, seared her cheeks and assaulted her senses. Her breasts flattened against the pressure of his strong chest, and she felt that same chest swell and deflate in perfect sync with her own. One large hand slipped down her elbow and glided across her extended arm. The lush material of his gloves drew a shudder from her heaving chest. His breathing grew more ragged, shallower, and the erratic beat of his heart banged against her own.
Anger and desire warred on his face, twisting his features into a mess of both monster and man. “Find anything of interest, aside from my musical box? Come, come. You went through such great trouble to get here,” he asked, his voice now threaded with both anger and something else.
Yes, Isabelle recognized that something else. It was the same note that had entered Raphael’s voice that night…
She attempted to duck under his arm, but he moved swiftly, capturing her in the crook of his elbow. Reeling her toward him, he emitted a low, haunting chuckle that swelled the eastern tower to its rafters. She was back where she’d started—pinned against the portrait, Adam’s body serving as a flesh-and-blood blockade.
Hunger radiated from him, enfolding her in a current of sizzling power. His silk-clad hand grazed the curve of her breast as it moved down her body in a painfully slow caress. Even more alarming was her reaction to him. Her treacherous body responded with a crush of hot and cold pulsating waves. Then he whispered a taunt in her ear, and his liquid baritone slid down her backbone like honey; it swirled inside her, finding its home in her most intimate area.
He leaned closer still. His face’s uneven skin brushed against her neck, the black waves of his hair tickled her chin… His thick arousal expanded against her, reminding her of what he was capable of—and of her sheer vulnerability.
🥀 Excerpt 🥀
~ Adam and Isabelle’s ballroom dance ~
Isabelle entered the ballroom at precisely eight o’clock. Moonlight, bone white and lustrous, threaded through the grand windows like prying fingers. The illumination set the medallion flooring aglow. Columns lined the oval-shaped room and graced a domed ceiling. A handsome grandfather clock towered in the corner, ticking off the seconds with a pulsating drone. Candelabras reached around the edge of the circular room and lurked like quiet sentries. Their wavering candles mated with the moonbeams and threw golden patches across the intricate marble floor.
Incredible silence surrounded Isabelle, pressed into her very being, as she slipped into the heart of the ballroom. She could almost hear the gay whispers of ladies and the delicate swishing of their lace fans. She smelled the sweet scents of their exotic perfumes and could hear the distant, ghostly echo of a pianoforte. And she knew that, despite the castle’s neglected state, it had once been a place of unrivaled beauty and glamour.
Isabelle spun around full circle, her mind transporting to a past era that brimmed with elegance and luxury. She felt the darkly romantic pull of the castle and its numberless mysteries… felt herself falling in love with its shadows and secrets. Dust motes danced in the shafts of moonbeams and wavering candles. Faintly she hummed beneath her breath, testing the acoustics in the spacious room. Her voice carried, swirling around her in an echoing cyclone.
Then she came to a standstill as a soft touch grazed her bare shoulder. Large, silk-clad hands rotated her body with a startling gentleness. A breath escaped her lips as she drank in Adam’s proud, towering form. Her mind slipped back to the previous day and night—to their sensual kiss in the stables.
A navy, double-breasted coat hugged the muscular curves of his body, offset by shimmering golden buttons. They looked like small glowing suns floating against a sky of rustic blue.
He resembled a flesh-and-blood prince. Proud. Formidable. In full command of everything and everyone in the room. Even a hint arrogant. Her heart hammered, threatening to burst. Suddenly she felt like she’d been thrust into a world of magic and romantic hushed secrets. The scars look out of place on his smirking features, she mused with a pang of sadness. And dressed in a cascade of cornflower damask and lace, the sparkling tiara half-buried in her curls, she felt like a princess.
Adam took a deft step backward, sank into a shallow bow, and outstretched his gloved hand. Isabelle grasped her flowing skirts and dipped into a curtsy, her heart madly pitter-pattering. Feeling like a young girl during her first ball, she accepted the invitation and abandoned her silk-encased palm in his own. Strength surged through his fingers, sending chords of awareness thrumming through her body.
A muscled arm snaked around her torso and tugged her intimately close. Everything seemed to fade away while the heat of their bodies mingled as one. Her heart banged against her ribs as she sought the depths of his eyes. At this range, flicks of gold contrasted against his sky-blue irises. Much of the sadness seemed to have vanished, leaving an almost boyish delight in its wake. The right side of his face was devastatingly handsome, his hair so black it drank the twinkling candles.
Keeping her body pressed to his own, he swung her into the scandalous waltz dance. Her small fingers curled around his bicep as he lifted the other hand in midair. He swept her across the smooth marble floor, twirling her body, his large hand securely on the center of her back, his footwork extravagant and exact. Cords of muscle bunched and slid beneath her fingers, and light from the candelabras flashed over the mismatched sides of his face.
Isabelle felt clumsy—as if she had sprouted two left feet. She’d spent her youth traveling the countryside and coastline with Papa—not blushing behind a lace fan or dancing in lavish ballrooms. Adam, however, danced with a haunting grace; his movements executed with a fine, cultured polish. He clearly hadn’t been raised in the back of a wagon, she mused. Prince-like and regal, he’d danced this dance many times before; maybe it had been in another place and another life, but his confident, masterful steps gave the truth away.
Isabelle struggled to keep up with his graceful strides, though she knew she was making a fool of herself. She stumbled as Adam swept her into an unexpected twirl again; he reeled her back to his side, so they stood intimately close, then chuckled in her ear with the audacity of a pirate. The decadent sound rippled through her veins and mingled with the wine. His lips pressed against the shell of her ear, and the whisper of his warm breaths sent chills thrumming down her backbone.
“You’re a dreadful dancer,” he murmured against her ear. Paired with the husky baritone of his voice, the insult sounded rather like an endearment.
Regardless, she returned the blight with a swift and playful vengeance. “Perhaps my partner is to blame.” She cocked her head back and captured his bright gaze. He offered no retort aside from the arch in his thick brow.
Her face reached the height of his shoulder and not a centimeter more. She curled her head against the security of his chest and inhaled his essence with a reverent breath. A tangle of emotions welled in her gut, blurring everything but the moment… everything but the exquisite feel of Adam holding her. As he swept her across the smooth marble floor, the world whirled by in a beautiful, dreamlike mosaic.
Adam shifted back and forth in a tantalizing rocking motion, slow dancing to a melody only he could hear. As she melted into his embrace, the candelabras crackled and seductively flashed, accompanying each of their steps. Then he bowed his chin and hummed a beautiful tune against her forehead. It sounded achingly sweet, like a tender lullaby from the depths of a dream world. The force of his vocals resonated deep inside her, massaging Isabelle’s body with delicious caresses. Her heart resembled a drum—and she trembled in time with its beat. That immaculate baritone stoked her imagination, igniting an inferno deep within her soul.
Closing her eyes, she rubbed her cheek against his coat’s rugged material and sparkling buttons, abandoning herself to his rhythmic sways and husky baritone. Drawing her into its sultry, comforting depths, his voice surrounded her like liquid velvet. With increasing pressure, his palm swept up the length of her back, down and up, tickling her spine with each soothing movement. Heated breaths wafted against her hairline, stirring the curls about her shoulders. His every gesture felt numbingly gentle, executed with a startling grace. Isabelle had to remind herself to breathe, lest she faints from the pleasure of it all.
Emotion claimed the best of her. Isabelle exhaled a shaky breath as tears singed the corners of her eyes.
They danced like that for close to an hour, moving in perfect unison to the calming melody of Adam’s voice, the slick medallion floor sliding beneath their feet like some magical carpet. The marble ground reflected their waltzing images with the ease of a looking glass.
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Rachel L. Demeter is giving away an Ebook copy of Finding Gabriel directly to your Kindle
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Interview with Jon McDonald, author of Spritzer – A Sparkling Gay Romance
If you could travel forward or backward in time, where would you go and why?
I would go to Shakespeare’s time. I would love to know who he was and what the real story is behind the many myths about the author of his plays. Was it really the man named Shakespeare or was it another using his name.
We’ve all got a little voyeurism in us right? If you could be a fly on the wall during an intimate encounter (does not need to be sexual) between two characters, not your own, who would they be?
Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. I’ll bet the conversation would be stunning.
If I were snooping around your kitchen and looked in your refrigerator right now, what would I find?
Lots of salad makings, Lamb stew, fruit, eggs, bread, and home made soup.
If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
The ability to materialize anywhere at any time.
If you could trade places with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
I would like to be Sonora, one of the Divas in my novel, Divas Never Flinch. And why? Because she’s rich, talented, snappy and know’s what she wants.
Meet the Author
by Reily Garrett
Keyboard prodigy, Lexi Donovan has risen from teenage orphan of the streets to complete independence with little help along the way. When a friend is threatened, Lexi’s anonymous message sends police into a firefight, leading to a wounded cop.
The Black Lily
ABOUT JULIETTE CROSS
Juliette is a multi-published author of paranormal and urban fantasy romance. She calls lush, moss-laden Louisiana home where she lives with her husband, four kids, and black lab named Kona. From the moment she read JANE EYRE as a teenager, she fell in love with the Gothic romance–brooding characters, mysterious settings, persevering heroines, and dark, sexy heroes. Even then, she not only longed to read more books set in Gothic worlds, she wanted to create her own.
ENTER THE GIVEAWAY
Date: October 25, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Humor
Jennifer LeBlanc was born and raised in South Dakota and has always had a knack for story-telling. When not writing, she can be found getting lost in a good book, doing something crafty, indulging in photography, or relaxing with her husband, two cats, and chihuahua. Jennifer loves animals and supports saving species on the verge of extinction. She currently works in merchant banking and credit services while writing her next project, a YA speculative thriller.