Beauty and the Beast

By: Deatri King-Bey

Acknowledgments

I thank…

God for the many blessings he bestows on me.

My husband for his continued support and being my inspiration to write this novel.

My family—especially my parents (Aaron and Mary Hodges), Ma (Dora Bey), Monique Bey and my sister in church Janis Grey. I’m a shy person, but they all made sure EVERYONE whose attention they could grab knew about my debut novel Caught Up.

Angelique Justin, for having enough faith in me to create heroes and heroines that don’t fit the typical romance mold.

Sidney Rickman, my editor, for keeping me from losing the reader in Neverneverland (SMILE).

Last, but not least, my readers. I truly appreciate you.





Prologue



I haven’t prayed in longer than I care to remember. He raised his head from the edge of the hospital bed and watched as she fought for every breath. The bandages that covered her from head to waist hid thirty-six knife wounds. A tracheotomy helped her breathe and broke the lines of her long neck. And I’ve never begged. I.V. tubes supplied her nourishment. Please Lord, please. Save my beauty. A single-note hum suddenly replaced the heart monitor’s slow, yet steady, beep.

“No!” the beast roared.





Chapter One



“And no matter what my knucklehead nephew says, I hired you, and I’m the only one who can fire you.” Delicate arms crossed firmly over her chest, Victoria Maxwell nodded at the young woman who sat across the kitchen table from her. “You understand me?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rachel replied shakily. She would be the sixth downstairs maid in as many months, and hopefully the last.

“I’ll give her two weeks.” Anna, the longtime upstairs maid, continued to flip through the pages of a magazine. “No offense.” She peeked at Rachel and offered a half-smile, half-smirk.

“He can’t be that bad.”

“You’re right, he isn’t.” Anna smiled. “He’s worse.”

Victoria smacked the table. “Stop that before you scare the poor child off.”

Anna pretended to zip her lips, then absently twirled a lock of her graying hair between her fingers as she returned to the magazine.

“My nephew can be very… difficult at times.” Back straight, Victoria placed her hands in her lap. “And though I pay a higher wage, I’m not paying you to take his verbal abuse. If he says or does anything out of hand, please come to me immediately.”

As if to read what Anna was thinking, Rachel tried to connect with her eyes.

“What about…” Rachel glanced over her shoulder toward the industrial sized refrigerator. A slender doorway sat between the side of the refrigerator and the wall, which led to the wine cellar. As usual, the door was cracked open slightly.

“What about her?” Victoria asked stiffly.

“Oh, no, no.” Hands held out, Rachel faced Victoria. “When we met, I really liked her. I was worried about Mr. Maxwell is all. Does he know she’s here? Will he scare her?”

Relaxed in her seat, Victoria nodded slowly. “You’ll fit in just fine here. Don’t worry about Nefertiti. Just because she chooses to remain hidden, doesn’t mean she’s afraid.”

“Auntie Vic!”

All three women seated at the table stared at the kitchen entrance.

“What the heck is he doing home?” Anna tsked. “I thought we had another week of freedom.”

“Auntie Vic! Where the hell is everyone?”

“Back here, Bruce!” Victoria lowered her voice. “I thought he said he had business on the East Coast until next week. I guess you’ll be meeting my temperamental nephew a little sooner than planned.”

“He’s mental all right,” Anna grumbled.

A few seconds later, Bruce stalked in and kissed Victoria on the cheek. He snarled at Anna.

“Back atcha, sweetie.” Anna went back to flipping through her magazine.

“Who the hell are you?” he barked at Rachel.

Before she could answer, Victoria cut in. “This is Rachel, our new downstairs maid, and if you do one thing to make her quit, I’ll take a switch to your tail.”

Brow raised and arms folded over his broad, suit-clad chest, he said, “Welcome to the Maxwell household. I’m starving, fix me something to eat.”

The ladder-backed chair scraped across the gray ceramic tile as Rachel—eyes wide—rose to do his bidding. Victoria calmly placed her hand over the young woman’s trembling hand. “Have a seat, darling.” Rachel swallowed hard and retook her seat.

“What time is it, Bruce?” Victoria asked.

“You’re kidding me, right?” He smoothed down his mustache with a swipe of his massive hand, then brushed over his closely cropped hair. “I know the kitchen closes at eight, but I was in meetings all morning, on a plane all afternoon, and stuck in traffic all evening. I’m tired and hungry. I don’t think I’m asking too damn much for a little something to eat when I get home.”

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