The tales that say he was a man turned beast are wrong.
There were never any claws or fangs. He’d never howled into the night or wrought fear upon men through feral yellow eyes.
His true nature was much more difficult to discern beneath layers of expensive, well-fitted clothing and years of practiced charm. One could easily fall victim to the seductive grin and fine cheek bones. His milky skin, smooth and velvety soft.
He never wore gloves. When he danced, the young women swooned. It was the thrill of feeling the heat of his hands upon their waists. The small, addictive taste of the forbidden.
Most were too breathless to catch the predatory look in his eyes and they often paid greatly for it. But I knew the truth. He ripped out hearts and crushed them beneath those large hands, hands that had touched and defiled to their satisfaction.
He stalked his prey on ballroom floors, in midnight gardens, whispering sweet nothings into young debutante ears. With his powder blue coat the same color as his eyes and his hair like wet sand tied back at his neck.
So polished. So perfect.
He danced with a select few, lingered in the shadows watching, a glass in hand filled halfway with whiskey.
He’d been a man. Just flesh and blood. Hot tempered and passionate.
A man with the heart of a monster.
I suppose in many ways he was a beast. He hungered and he fed, with no distinction, no concern. He found pleasure in his power, thrill in the chase.
I’d watched him for a very long time, my monster. Hidden in the shadows of a brightly lit ballroom, filled to the brim with large dresses, wine-induced laughter, and body heat.
He never noticed me. He wouldn’t. I was the one in the quiet gown. The one whose mousy brown hair held up to expose plain brown eyes. I wasn’t the caliber of prey he was used to.
My sister had been. With her long, flowing red hair and bright green eyes. Her fitted violet gown that had hugged her curves and cried out: woman! He’d noticed her. He’d danced an entire night with her hugged against his chest. He’d whispered things into her ears that had flushed her cheeks and fluttered her lashes. He’d offered her a stunning, blood red rose.
I don’t fault her weak heart. A man as dangerous as he shows such attention, such interest, and a woman might feel a surge of power over the beast. Might think that she can touch its mane and not have her arm devoured.
She’d be wrong.
Which is why I knew I had to tread carefully. It would not be easy to capture a beast. Even knowing his weakness, his strength would still outweigh my own.
And determined as I was, I could not deny my own dangerous inclinations. The suppressed, whispering hope that he’d pin those desiring eyes on me and that I’d be stronger than the rest of them. That I could be unaffected by his charms, while the others could not.
A foolish game, but one I resolved to play, so long as I remembered that there was a beast barely chained beneath his civil exterior.
I set the trap and waited. My hair curled, my cheeks rouged. A coy glance across the room. A powder blue dress the same color as his coat and a matching bow in my hair. Light-hearted, purposefully vague conversation. Toasting a drink.
When I downed the glass of whiskey, his blue eyes darkened in delighted surprise. Something different. He wasn’t used to that. I could practically read the words across his forehead: this is going to be fun.
By the end of the night, his name was on my dance card.
I allowed it. Just one dance, I told myself. One taste.
I fought to ignore the electric warmth of his touch. The intense way he gazed at me while we spun across the floor, my skirt swooping behind me.
This is how it felt, I mused. To be seduced. To be desired.
At the end, I curtsied kindly and walked away, knowing I must not look back. Looking back would confirm my weakness, would make me easy prey. I had to make him work for it. I had to make him want me. And so I kept my attention locked firmly ahead, meanwhile feeling the linger of his gaze upon my body until I left the room.
Two days later there was a letter.
Five days after that, he appeared at my door, a bouquet of red roses in hand.
And just as he thought I was weakening, just as his hunger reached its zenith, I pulled away.
Dressed in my finest silk gown, full and beaded and golden like the sun, I threw myself into his arms and cried. I can’t, I said, my tears a perfect, stabbing wound, one moonlit night as we walked the brilliant gardens of some other person’s property. I’ve been promised to another.
The man disappeared and woke the sleeping monster.
His desire grew violent. He grabbed my arms and pressed me to him, crushing my gown, driving my corset into my ribs so deeply I could not breathe. He pressed his lips to mine and further tried to steal my breath. I fought him, pushed his hands away, but as I feared, he was stronger. His charm, more practiced.
He made absurd promises, placed feather light touches upon my collarbone, trying desperately to spark something within me. He must have seen it then, somewhere in my eyes. The monster I fought so hard to contain.
He misunderstood my desire. Fooled himself into thinking he’d found a like heart.
But he was wrong.
My monster was not lust. My monster was vengeance.
I will not lose you to another, he growled, very much the beast, pressing his mouth along my décolletage.
You won’t have to, I whispered into his hair, kissing the top of his head tenderly, pressing the end of the red rose pin he’d gifted me into his stomach until my fingers ran wet with his blood.