Belle arose one summery Wednesday morning with a mission.
The sun was barely up when she stole into the kitchen, intending to make do with a bit of jam and bread in an effort to avoid being seen.
“Good morning, dearie,” Mrs. Potts sang, her back to Belle as she removed a tea kettle from the stove and began steeping tea in her favorite china pot.
Belle smiled in spite of herself. No matter how early one began the day, it seemed, Mrs. Potts would always begin earlier. So much for effort.
“Good morning, Mrs. Potts. Do you know if Adam is still abed?”
“As a matter of fact, you just missed him. I believe Cogsworth is insisting the two of them spend the morning closeted up reviewing household affairs.”
Belle seated herself at the small kitchen table where the servants usually ate. “I’m sure he’s thrilled about that.”
“Cogsworth, certainly. Made him so upset not having real hands, all those years, he was forever fussing about what a state the ledgers would be in if the curse ever got broken.”
“I’ll be sure to apologize to Cogsworth for breaking the curse and causing him more trouble, then,” said Belle with a smile.
“You will do no such thing!” Mrs. Potts set the tea tray down on the table next to the crocks of honey, jam, and butter before retrieving the bread from where it was warming on the hearth stone. The two women broke their fast in good natured silence.
As they cleared the table and Belle took the dishes to the wash basin, Mrs. Potts asked, “What are your plans for today, my dear?”
Belle was glad her back was turned so her friend couldn’t see her blush. “Oh, just knocking about, I expect. I might go for a ride later. Or tweak the laundry barrel design.”
She might do those things. It wasn’t technically lying.
After taking her leave of Mrs. Potts, Belle crept into the library—rather more furtively than necessary considering the lord of the house was her fiancé and she’d long claimed the library as hers. After months of living in a chateau with such a magnificent collection of books, Belle had developed a motto that hadn’t been so easy to follow when she lived in Villeneuve: when in doubt, go to the library.
It wasn’t so much that she had doubts this morning.
But she did have questions. And they were questions she didn’t want to be questioned about.
Hence, the furtive creeping.
She muttered to herself as she climbed the ladder to the room’s second level, wondering exactly where she would find what she was looking for. “Anatomy’s probably a good place to start as any.”
If only she could find where the anatomical manuals were shelved. She’d teased Adam countless times about his organizational skills—or lack thereof. Oh, books were shelved by subject, of course, but there was no rhyme or reason to which subjects were shelved where. She was still trying to work out how “Classical history” had ended up next to “Marine biology".
“I have no idea why it is the way it is,” Adam had laughed the last time she threatened to completely redo his shelving system and make a catalogue to boot. “But I’ve spent so much of my life in this room that I already know where everything is. I don’t need to know why.”
She should probably just ask him where the books were.
She should probably just ask him the questions she was looking for the answers to.
She felt her face grow hot at the thought. She continued her walk down the bookshelves. “Greek theologians—Dance manuals—Chemistry—Fashion—dammit, Adam, would logical shelving kill you?”
“There are days I fear it just might.”
Belle whirled around to find her fiancé closing the library doors behind him.
“I must say, my love, you’re so adorable when you’re incensed about bibliographic organization that I’m contemplating changing everything around to make it even more ridiculous.”
“I thought you were in with Cogsworth for the morning,” Belle said as Adam began to climb the ladder to the second level.
“I’m hiding. Good morning.” He slid an arm around her waist and touched his mouth to hers. “Sleep well?”
“That sounds ambiguous.”
“How did you manage to escape Cogsworth? It sounds as though he’s quite serious about household records.”
“I begged to be excused for another cup of tea to fortify me for the rest of the morning. Then I ran into Plumette in the hall and asked her if she knew where you were, and she said you were in here.”
Damn, Belle thought. Obviously the sneaking skills need improvement.
“In any case,” Adam continued, “I thought you would be far more fortifying than tea, and I was right, and now I’m not sure I shall leave.”
“Oh?” Belle knew she was failing utterly to keep a normal expression on her face.
Adam’s brow furrowed. “Is everything alright?”
“Quite. I’m just…looking for a book.”
“So I surmised. Is it anything I can help you with?” Belle pressed her lips together as a smile broke over Adam’s face. “Would you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you turn that shade of red.”
“I assure you it’s quite involuntary.”
“Are you overwarm?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“Would you like to explain what’s going on?”
Belle huffed a sigh of frustration and leaned forward to bury her face in Adam’s neck. “It’s easier to say if I don’t have to look at you.”
“Perfectly alright,” he said, tightening his arm around her waist and moving his other hand to the back of her head.
“Do you remember last week, on the terrace—?”
“I hope I never forget it.”
They had gone for a stroll after dinner and ended up on the balcony outside the ballroom. The weather was achingly fine, and Adam’s whole being sang with the fact that he wasn’t watching her ride away in that yellow dress, because she was here, pressed to his side, her fingers tangled in his, his own fingers, human, like her.
He had been pleasantly startled when he felt her fingers tug on his, pulling him close, her other hand sliding behind his neck, pulling him down for a kiss so unexpected and enthusiastic he’d nearly lost his balance. She’d pressed her body flush with his, running her hands all over him like she couldn’t wait to learn every inch but didn’t know where to start. When she slid her tongue into his mouth, he could have devoured her then and there.
But he’d managed to hold back, following her lead instead. When they broke away for air, he could see how surprised she was at her own boldness. He broke the tension by hoisting her into the air and spinning her around and around on that perfect balcony until she shrieked with laughter.
Now, he felt the flutter of her eyelashes against his neck as she continued, “Well, I dreamed about it last night, but it wasn’t just about…what we did last week.”
“Ah. One of those dreams.”
She lifted her head from his shoulder to look at him. “So it’s not uncommon?”
“Ha! Not at all. If it helps, I’ve dreamed about you more times than I can count.”
“Oh. Well…” She rested her head against him once more. “I woke up in the night feeling…I mean, I’ve felt like that before, but there was never any cause for it when I lived in Villeneuve, never anyone to provoke it or direct it to, so I just assumed it was an anomaly.”
“Mm. And you’ve never…explored on your own?”
“My bedroom was in a small farmhouse with thin walls that I shared with my father, and then I came to an enchanted castle, you see, and that was rather stressful, so…”
“So when you had questions, you did what you always do.”
“Books can’t tell if I’m embarrassed while I’m reading them.”
“Naturally. Seeing as they’re not sentient.”
“I rather think you’re the last person who gets to talk about inanimate objects being non-sentient as if it was obvious.”
“Fair.” Adam took Belle by the shoulders and gently lifted her away from him, just far enough to look her in the eyes. “What can I help you find?”
She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear while she thought. “I grew up on a farm, I know the facts of life. I need to know about what happens between men and women—or men and men and women and women, I suppose.”
Adam leaned down to brush his nose against hers. “You need to know about pleasure.”
Her eyes narrowed in a characteristically determined—and fantastically attractive—fashion. “Yes."
Funny, he thought, how one very small word could send such a pulse of awareness through his body. Not funny like ha-ha funny, funny like he couldn’t wait to hear her say that one very small word to him over and over and over again.
“Follow me, then,” said Adam, swinging down the ladder and striding to a dark corner of the ground floor shelves.
“What do you keep over here?” Belle asked, trailing him.
“Remnants of my illicit youth,” her fiancé answered. “I thought I’d destroyed most of them after…after, but it appears certain volumes were removed before I could get to them and have been subsequently restored to their original places. I suspect Lumière.” He trailed his fingers across the spines of the highest shelf before removing a slim volume and handing it to Belle. “L’École des Filles. It’s rather old, I’m afraid, and hardly…well, like I said. Remnants of my illicit youth. But most of the erotic literature that passed through my hands was meant more to shock than to instruct. This one comes closest, but…” He reached out and crooked a finger under her chin, lifting her gaze from the book to his own face. “Belle, ma chère, if you have questions, please. Just ask me. Books can’t tell when you’re embarrassed, but they can’t tell if you’re confused, either. Bien?”
Belle nodded, and Adam barely had time to register the twist of smirk at the corner of her mouth before she pushed him back against the bookshelf and pulled him down for a long, leisurely kiss.
When she released him, he exhaled loudly and knocked the back of his head against the bookshelf. “Good God. Are you sure you even need that book? Your instincts are exceptional.”
She stood on tiptoe to whisper in his ear. “Lucky for you, I’m a fast reader.”
“Lucky for us both, I think.”
She laughed softly, nipped his earlobe, and turned to leave. He watched her leave the room in a swish of skirts, and wondered how long he could continue hiding from Cogsworth.
Several days later, Belle found Adam lounging in a wingback chair in the library. He’d opened all the windows, which meant that the contents of the library tables had to be practically bolted to a flat surface, but it was worth it to a man who had spent an inordinate portion of the last few years indoors.
“Hello, you,” said Adam, putting his book aside as Belle crossed the room. “What did you do with yourself after luncheon?”
“I finished your book,” Belle said, holding up L’École des Filles before placing it on a table as she passed.
Adam swallowed. “And?”
“It was very…frank.” She stood in front of him now, rocking forward on her toes.
“That’s one incredibly polite word for it.”
“I think I might have a few questions.”
“But I’m not sure I can ask them like this.”
His mind raced in a hundred confused directions at once. “What do you—?” Before he could finish, she’d seated herself on his lap as if it was something she did every day, swinging both her legs over one arm of the chair.
“Is this alright?”
He let out a short burst of air. “Very.” She wound her arms around his neck and smiled up at him, small and genuine. “I think I may have questions too.”
Are you trying to give me a heart attack? When did you become a vixen? Is it possible you’ve been one this whole time and I’m just extremely slow? Because that’s seeming likelier and likelier. “Are you afraid of me?”
Belle pulled back in surprise. “What? No! Whatever gave you that idea?”
“The fact that I used to be several feet taller, a great deal hairier, and had claws.”
“Was I particularly afraid of you then?”
“I suppose not. You are rather fearless. But then there’s also the fact that I was something of a debauched libertine as a young man, and when I say ‘something of a debauched libertine’, I meant that that was the entirety of my being.”
Belle took his face firmly in her hands. “But it’s not now. You are not that young man any more. You are the joy of my heart and the love of my life and I am never, never afraid of you.
She brought her mouth to his and they enjoyed each other for long minutes, tongues dipping in and out, tasting each other with relish. Adam broke the kiss with a groan after Belle caught his lower lip between her teeth. “You said you had questions?”
“I did.” She reached around to untie the ribbon that held his queue back, then began to comb her fingers through his hair. “Do you like this?”
He sighed as she dragged her nails lightly across his scalp. “Very much.”
“Mmm.” She nudged his scruffy jaw with her nose, pressing kisses up toward his ear before worrying his earlobe between her teeth. “And this?” She swirled her tongue around the soft patch of skin behind his ear.
“Yes,” he gasped. “Belle. Sweetheart.” He set a hand to her shoulder and pushed her away lightly. “You do know it’s not all about me.”
“I do,” she said, pressing light kisses against his lips. “But I like exploring.”
“Ever the tinkerer.”
“And did you…explore yourself, this week? All alone in that East Wing?”
“Yes,” she breathed. “And it was very enjoyable. It turns out that bodies are quite clever.”
Adam was very glad he was already seated when an image came to him of Belle in her night rail, lying in that big soft bed, one hand on her breast and the other between her legs, flushed and sighing. Clever, indeed.
He wrapped both arms around Belle’s waist, pressing her close to him and touching his forehead to hers. “There’s something I’d like to do for you. Something I’ve wanted to do for a while now.” He could feel her nod. “Is it alright if I just…show you?”
“Be my guest.”
“Oh, aren’t you funny.” He gave her a wry smile before returning to seriousness. “If there’s something you don’t like, something you think you might like one day but not today, anything like that, please just say the word and I’ll stop. No questions. Understand?”
Her brown eyes were shining. “Yes.”
He gripped her waist harder with his right arm as he unwound his left and brought his hand to her mouth, rubbing his thumb across her lips. She parted them instinctively, her tongue darting out to lick his fingertip. He gave a gentle push and she took him into her mouth, scraping her teeth across his knuckles and swirling her tongue as if she could feel his fingerprint. He repeated the action with his index and middle finger, marveling at the sensuality of her loving his fingers with her mouth. When he withdrew his hand, she grabbed his wrist and pulled it back to her, pressing a kiss to the center of his palm and using her tongue to tease his skin. When she released him, he pulled her in for a kiss, scraping his stubble across her cheek.
“Tell me if you don’t like it,” he said, as his free hand began to hike up her skirts.
“Don’t stop now,” she said, and he exhaled a sigh of relief as he kissed her neck, softly at first, then harder, with teeth, as he nudged her knees apart and appreciated how she went barefoot and bare-legged in the summer, how soft the hair and skin of her inner thighs were.
Fingers still slick from Belle’s mouth, he spread the slit of her drawers and dipped his hand between her legs, where she was already slick and swollen.
He felt her gasp against his cheek. “Adam.”
His hand stilled. “What is it, love?”
“What is making love like?”
He felt as though he’d been knocked sideways. I don’t know, he wanted to say. I enjoyed the bodies of so many men and women, once upon a time. But I never made love to any of them.
“I’m making love to you right now,” he said.
“I meant…like what people do on wedding nights.”
“I see,” Adam murmured, as he recommenced stroking her, his thumb tweaking the tight bundle of nerves at the top of her sex until she made a soft keening noise he hoped he would come to know well. “Would you like to tell me what I should like to do to you on our wedding night?”
“God, please,” Belle sighed, tangling her fingers in his hair and tugging gently until he moaned.
“The finest linens, first of all. Rose petals. All those beautiful things. You are also to spare absolutely no expense on your wedding trousseau. I want you to wear whatever makes you feel as exquisite as you are.”
“I imagine I won’t be wearing it for long.”
“What I wouldn’t give for your imagination.”
“I find my imagination needs a bit of assistance. Please, go on. What am I supposed to keep myself warm with, all alone in the East Wing?”
“You’re going to be the death of me.”
“I think past events have demonstrated the opposite.”
Adam laughed, loud and full. If she can keep that kind of smart mouth while amorously occupied, the rest of our lives are going to be very fun. “Right as usual, my love. Where was I? Linen, roses, lovely underthings. And once you are divested of those underthings, I will lay you down on that beautiful bed and kiss every inch of your soft skin.” As his hand continued to work under her skirts, he leaned forward to lick along the shell of her ear. “And I cannot wait to put my mouth where my hand is right now.” He felt Belle’s back arch away from the chair’s arm she was resting against. “When I’ve had my fill of tasting you—for the moment, of course, I doubt I’ll ever get my fill—and you’re warm and wet and gasping, I will look into your perfect eyes—” she turned those eyes to look at him now, “and I will slide into you, hard and thick and so, so gentle.” He pressed one finger against her entrance and she gasped his name. “Alright?”
“Don’t you dare stop.”
He exhaled swiftly. “When I’ve eased my way into you,” his finger matched his words, “I will stroke long and deep and steady, and kiss you until you come for me, until you can’t remember your own name, until you can’t remember anything but mine.”
“Good God.” Her hips were beginning to thrust against his hand, urging him to touch her faster, harder.
“That is an approximation of what I’ll be saying, certainly. Thank you for the suggestion.”
He raised an eyebrow. “And then?”
“From what I understand, we don’t have to limit ourselves to once a night.”
Adam snorted. “Hardly. If you…if you wanted…”
“Would you take me hard?” Belle asked, gasping against his neck. “If I asked, would you show me what it’s like?”
“Now or then?”
Before he could stop himself, he bit out a single, harsh, “Fuck.” He felt Belle’s lips and teeth at his neck, loving him, marking him, just like he couldn’t wait to do to her. “Yes, yes I would take you hard, I would roll on top of you and bury myself in you with a single thrust, and bear my weight down until you could barely breathe.” He felt her passage widen, slid a second finger in and stroked her deeper, faster, his thumb still working her aching clit. “I would suck at your neck until I gave you bruises, hold your hands against the headboard and take you until we’re both practically screaming, until you come to pieces around me and I spend inside your beautiful, perfect…” He tightened his arm around her waist as he felt her convulse around his fingers, coming apart in a perfect tempest of rocking hips and gasping repetitions of his name.
He held onto her as she came down from her high, resting her head on his shoulder and sighing with what he certainly thought was deep satisfaction. He slowly removed his fingers from inside her, and saw her eyes go wide as he brought them to his mouth and licked them slowly.
“You taste divine,” he moaned softly.
“So do you, I’m sure,” she whispered, her eyes fluttering closed. “You must not be very comfortable right now.”
“I’ll be fine,” Adam chuckled.
“Does it always make you this sleepy?” Belle asked.
“Only sometimes. But you deserve the sleep, mon chou. You were utterly incandescent.”
She curled into his lap and for the thousandth time he wondered at how small she was. It was easy to forget, since she was utterly fearless and her intellect was easily ten feet tall. He was smaller than he once was, but still large enough to feel as though he could surround her completely, protect her eternally.
He was certainly still strong enough to hook his free arm under her knees and carry her up to her bedroom, and when he passed Mrs. Potts on the stairs, with his hair fantastically mussed and the love of his life asleep in his arms, she only smiled.
“Please wake us for tea if we haven’t appeared by four,” he said, and she nodded.
Wake us. Not Wake her. Clearly in his mind they were already married, already shared a room and a bed and a life.
He deposited Belle gently on the duvet and drew her spare quilt over her—even in summer she liked to have some sort of blanket. Unable to bring himself to leave quite yet, he sat on the edge of the bed, causing her to stir.
“Come lie by me,” she mumbled, reaching out for him. “Tandem napping is superior to solo napping.”
She was the only person he knew whose vocabulary increased in complexity the more exhausted she became.
Adam swung himself up beside her and slid an arm around her waist. Belle tangled her legs with his and buried her face in his hair. He felt rather drowsy, himself.
“Yes, my only love?”
“Let’s have a short engagement."
“As you wish."
The next day, Belle found herself in the library while Plumette was dusting. Catching sight of L’École des Filles still out on the table, Belle snatched it up and climbed the ladder to the second level and Plumette.
“I have something I thought you might be interested in,” said Belle. “I hope it’s not too forward but…I know you and Lumière are quite close and while I’m sure you know what you’re doing I still thought…”
Plumette glanced down at the book and giggled. “Oh, merci, Mademoiselle Belle, but this is a book I am quite familiar with.”
Belle raised an eyebrow. “You are?”
“Mais bien sûr. Who do you think hid it so the master didn’t burn it all those years ago? It was all very well for him to leave that life behind, but this is literature.”