Belle Ch. 03bymonochromaniac©
For the next few days he barely spoke to her despite being within sight of her nearly all the time. They ate in near silence -- which didn't disappoint Belle, saving her the effort of having to speak to him or discuss what her future might entail. She was still deeply ashamed at her reaction to him previously and took great pains to avoid letting herself get into that situation again, letting him know with a glare every time he approached her that she didn't want the events to be repeated. Even so, she hadn't disobeyed him or acted in such a way that required anything more than gentle scolding so far, as if his reminders to do as he said had lodged firmly within her subconscious.
Upon seeing that she had a thinly-hidden love of books, he had allowed her to entertain herself in the library nearest the bedroom between meals, trusting her with his beloved collections of literature. Though he was frequently either in there with her or just a few metres on the other side of the door he made sure to lock her in every time, still not entirely trusting her.
"But what happens when I want to come out?" she had asked, the first time he had checked the lock was working properly.
"Knock on the door and I'll let you out, simple."
"And what if you are on the other side of the castle?"
"I'll hear you nonetheless."
She had wanted to argue with him and say he wouldn't, that he would end up forgetting about her until dinnertime, fears of being left alone in the library overnight worrying her, but had kept quiet, and he had been right; every time she had knocked to be let out she had heard the jangle of the keys within minutes.
Anyone else might have felt trapped, locked in the dusty room with only books for company, but Belle thrived, grateful for some escapism in the tomes that told of far-off lands and exotic adventures, and rather than feeling like a bird in a cage she felt freer than before, no longer constrained by being under his ever-watchful eye. She felt safe in the library; it was her haven, and she even curled up on the couches and slept occasionally, knowing he could not sneak in and surprise her with another kiss as the heavy doors opened with a loud creak which would wake anyone. What he did during these times was a mystery to her; she supposed he may have been writing, like he had been when she had first seen him, and he must have prepared meals because when they ate he brought out each course swiftly. Either that or he had a hidden fleet of kitchen staff working away all day.
She was right in one sense; he did write, keeping a journal, but more often than not he ended up quietly sliding across the secret panel behind one of the shelves and gazing at her, watching as her face light up with excitement as she turned the page of whatever volume she was holding, only wishing he could have the same effect on her. After spanking her so thoroughly before -- an act which he now thought may have been too harsh -- he was leaving her to her own devices now, hoping that once she got settled in she would become happier, but her distaste towards him only seemed to heighten; though it had to be said that she daren't be rude or mouthy towards him once more, and anything he asked of her was done quickly even if accompanied by a scowl. He found it dizzying sometimes, the way her mood towards him could change in an instant, when her graceful thanks for allowing her to use the library were replaced with a pout as soon as he told her to get changed for dinner, neither ever accompanied by any willing physical touch from her.
Yet at night she would cling to him for hours on end, never properly sleeping soundly as she tossed and turned for hours. He would lay awake with her, hoping his presence at least helped to calm her, not wanting to give her anything to help her sleep in case it had unwanted or unpleasant side effects.
He had, in fact, made up the room next to his for her, the door of which was lockable from the outside and it also had another door leading into his room, but the first night she had tried to sleep in there she was in his bed again within the hour, and that is where she had stayed. He'd also somehow procured a wardrobe of new dresses and clothes for her; though she wondered how, she didn't ask him where he had gotten them from, putting on the new clothes without a quarrel.
But of course, he wasn't going to wait for her to be ready forever.
They were in bed together, she sleeping, one Sunday morning when he had suddenly been overcome with an urge for her. He'd had them previously but had been careful not to let her see or feel his excitement, taking care of himself behind closed doors when she was in the library. This time, though, he had just awoken from a particularly pleasant dream and since over a week had passed since the spanking and their encounter, he decided that now was a better time than ever to continue that.
Delicate lips, almost too soft to be a man's, pressed lightly against her neck, just below her ear. She frowned but didn't make a sound, thinking she was still dreaming. He slid his hand round her side and down her thigh, stroking her leg lightly. Belle wiggled slightly, stretching her legs out and parting them slightly, a small smile appearing as the hand moved further upwards.
"Belle...Belle, wake up, cheri." he murmured, kissing her neck again. Slowly her eyes flickered open and in confusion she looked about, realising the hand between her legs.
"What have you done to me?" she asked, her voice more of a plea for knowledge than a demand.
"Nothing, I swear." He bestowed a kiss on her forehead. "I simply wanted to wake you for once rather than leaving the bed before you woke." His hand slid to her knee and back again, the lightest of touches. She shivered, letting his lips press against her ear as he whispered to her, "Come, let us bath together. I want to reward you for being so good for me."
"A bath with you? - Sir?"
"Mhmm." She felt him nuzzle her neck lazily, his hand reaching round to her other hip and pulling her so she shifted onto her back. She kept her arms folded loosely across her body, her head cradled in the crook of his arm and tipped upwards so her eyes met his. They were only half open, his dark lashes lowered, and the corner of his lip curled upwards in an appreciative smile. She realised it was the first time she'd woken up in bed with him; the previous mornings he had already been at his desk, or in the dining room, or in one of the libraries. It was the first time she'd woken up with anyone, come to think of it.
"You are so beautiful, cheri. Even when you frown and cry out in your sleep, you are pretty." he murmured to her, kissing her forehead, brushing a chestnut curl from her eyes. She felt his foot brush her ankle lightly, and for once didn't push him back or draw away.
"Why do you live alone?" she asked, if nothing but to distract his contemplative gaze. As hoped, his eyes darted downward, and he gave a long, drawn-out sigh, heavy with despondence.
He groaned, realising she wasn't about to let him tempt her into anything. "I fear if I told you, you'd be even less inclined to stay. You wouldn't want to be here in the slightest."
"I don't want to be here anyway." she said wilfully, perplexed to see a flicker of amusement in his blue eyes. "I don't." she repeated, more assertively.
"You could have escaped by now if you really wanted to. But you haven't. And even more so, you are lying in bed with me right now, and seem happy enough to do so. You don't hate it here as much as you want to. That much is obvious." he said softly. Belle tried to get angry at him, tell him to stop assuming things, but she knew he wasn't - he had just observed what was true.
"I'd enjoy my stay a lot more if I was here of my own free will. If you weren't so insistent on having this....power over me." she muttered.
"You are here of your own will. You chose to take your father's place." he reminded her gently, and she let out a strangled growl of irritation.
"It's not the same...." she said finally.
"Belle. if you want to go, then go. Now."
She started, lips parted in a silent utterance of confusion, and he continued.
"If you dislike it here as much as you profess, then leave, and don't ever come back, or speak of this place to anyone else. Your father's debt will be unpaid, but I'll overlook that."
Uncertain if there was a hidden catch, she bit the inside of her cheek. "And if I choose to stay?"
"Then things will continue as they are, but you won't have this opportunity again. At least, not that I can foresee."
"So I leave now or stay here forever?"
"I never said forever, or that another...chance for discussing the terms of your staying wouldn't arise. I don't know how long I will want you to stay here, but in that time I will at least look after you. Feed you, clothe you. Love you, if you'll do the same back. But if you know you could never be happy here, it is not my authority to force you to remain here." There was a sadness in his tone and Belle couldn't decide whether to pity him or be frustrated at him for the guilt she was already feeling.
"I don't know. I don't know what I want."
She thought of the village, her father. Their house, where she slept on the floor because they could only afford one bed, and the last of their savings which would probably be just enough to survive meagrely on for another few months, and then she would have to find work, a tough duty for a woman with no real education to speak of, not as strong as a man, no skills in dressmaking - that, or marry. Marrying Gaston seemed to be her best hope, as he was one of the richer men in town and could at least afford to put food on the table with the leftovers of what was spent on drink. He probably wouldn't hit her, at least not as harshly as some of the other men in the village might do, but she knew he would come home in the early hours of the morning smelling of another woman.
She thought of here, what might happen if she chose to stay. The castle was big enough to avoid seeing him often, and there were enough bedrooms to ensure she wouldn't have to be his bedmate if she decided as such. She could earn her keep by cleaning or cooking rather than...unsavoury things, so that she wouldn't feel like a kept woman. But still, the matter of her father remained. She doubted if he had even returned home alive, and if he had...he didn't know how to look after himself properly or feed himself.
"You've be silent for a long time, Belle." he said, still awaiting her answer.
"I would stay if it weren't for my father. That is, if he survived the trip through the forest." She looked at him accusingly, reminding him it was his fault if anything had happened.
"I never made him come here, Belle, but since you asked - in a manner - , he arrived back at the village safely. I made sure of that."
"How -? You were here all night, you never..."
"I will explain to you another time. Just trust me. What would I gain from lying to you? As for the matter of his care...I could arrange for him to be looked after, if that is genuinely the only thing stopping you from making your decision. Would that please you?"
"I don't want your charity."
"It's not charity; it's payment for your company. How about for every year you stay, I sell, say, three of your new dresses, and send the money to your father, in instalments? You shan't miss them, I'm sure, and it might make you feel better about the whole arrangement."
Belle nodded dumbly, stunned as she realised how expensive the dresses must have been if they were worth enough to live on for a year.
"Then it is settled?"
"On one condition."
He glanced down at her, wondering what demands she had to make. "Aye?"
"Let me know your name. Please."
He rolled his eyes at her, put his lips close to her ear. "Ezra." he muttered, almost secretively. "Now come bath with me."