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A Gentlelady and Her Books

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Adam had never seen so many books as crowded the library walls, shelves, and tables, creeping out into the manor at large, before his father made this fool’s pact and promised away the life of his only son. He found books in the pantries and the cupboards, under sofas and under beds, and even, somehow, perched in one of the crystal chandeliers.

“She’s a gentlelady,” his father had said. “And learned. It won’t be so bad. I’m sure she’ll be able to keep you entertained. You’ll likely find you have a lot in common.”

His father had not mentioned the teeth, or the fur, or the way her eyes flashed when someone mishandled her precious collection. How she had roared when Adam threw his first novel in a fit of boredom. He, too, loved to read - had, in fact, brought his own small library with him - but there was only so much of the written word, and only the written word, a grown man could take before cabin fever set in. Adam felt like he was stifling in this large, lonely, magical manor.

In a world where the clocks could talk, feather dusters could flirt, and even the tea sets had personalities and opinions, the place was frightfully dull. Sounds seemed muted. Despite drapes drawn and windows open, the pall and gloom cast over it all refused to disperse. It felt rather that the whole place was waiting to die.

It was for this very reason that Adam searched out something worn, but cared for. Something obviously well-loved and not covered in dust. And then, because prince or no, he knew the value in things, he found a similar cover in his own library and hid the original away.

“Are you sure that this is really a good idea?” Chip asked. “And that it’ll actually work?”

“Positive.” Adam winked at the kid-cup. “After all, it’s my idea, isn’t it? Just give me a five minute head start.”

It nearly wasn’t enough.

Adam had barely cleared the manor doors when he heard a loud, sudden roar, fierce enough to shake the walls and make the windows shudder. Adam grinned, clutched the book close to his chest, safe enough from the snow in his cloak, and darted for the rose gardens and their large, lovely snowbanks.

“You’ll never take me alive!” he shouted as he heard her gaining. He leapt a bush and drew out the book with a flourish, careful to keep the front faced away from his foe - though with her in this state of wrath, he rather fancied it mightn’t matter that it was his own. “No closer, or the book gets it.” He dangled it precariously and daringly over a particularly promising drift.

She snarled, and yes, those teeth were a bit terrifying - more than a bit, if Adam were honest with himself - but the light was back on in her eyes.

“What did I say about books out of the house in winter?” she demanded. “It’s one rule!”

“Never been one much for rules,” Adam languidly shrugged a shoulder, like he wasn’t hanging on her every move, “but I believe it went something like, ‘If I catch you, I’ll kill you.’ Of course, you’ll have to catch me first.”

Adam feinted left and darted right. Not taken in by his pretense, she remained right behind him. At one point, she caught his cloak, but he ducked out of it and let the cloak fly free. Adam was having too much fun to let it end now. He imagined she felt much the same, if the playful tenor of her growls and the way she let him slip free of the cloak’s tangle was any indication.

She even let loose enough to tackle him into a snowbank, though she immediately made mournful noises over the possibility of damaging the poor book, who was “innocent in all these aggressions.”

Staring up at her fussing over the book’s binding and its newly damp nature, twice his size and obsessive bibliophile or no, Adam found that perhaps, words of a long past fortune teller aside, he could fall in love after all.

Less fun, of course, was the miserable cold that followed.

“I swear,” Belle said, pouring more hot water into the wooden tub at his feet. “You’re more delicate than any book I’ve ever read.”

Adam grinned, hands clasped around a mug of tea, entirely unrepentant. “But far more interesting.”

“Yes, well.” Belle looked down, something of a smile in her eyes. “That remains to be seen.”