Beauty by Another Name - Sneak Peek of Grace by Contract
To celebrate Fairy Tale Day, I am offering a sneak peek into the beginning of Silas and Grace's relationship in Grace by Contract (Once Upon a Duchy - Book One), a novel inspired by Beauty and the Beast.
I fell into the nearest chair, the one that the woman had been hiding behind. She skittered away to the other side of the room. I followed her movements by their sound as I massaged my eyes with my fingers.
Her name was Grace. It was strange that I recalled it. I rarely recalled the names of my female staff despite my best efforts to try.
“Where do you wish me to work?”
Her soft voice interrupted my roaming thoughts. Lifting my aching head took far more effort than it should have. I needed sleep. As I struggled to focus on her face, I nearly groaned. My eyesight was growing worse again. Most likely because of the aching in my head.
“Wherever you please.”
She quirked her mouth in a strange half grimace. “You seemed to have strong opinions against my initial choice. I only wish to work peaceably with you.”
“Just make sure you can locate everything you move.”
“And if I have questions?”
“Ask them.” I massaged my temples and watched her as she mulled over this response.
“Thank you, I will.” She moved back to where she had been working.
I took the opportunity to close my eyes.
“Do you have a particular place you would like me to store these?”
I lifted my head. It had fallen forward of its own volition. My mind resisted focusing on her offered stack of papers.
“What are they?” I blinked blurrily, the white and black dots edging my vision.
“Letters from your sister, Ivy.”
The sound of her name struck me like a sword hilt to the gut. I hadn’t heard the sound in years. No one dared mention her. Well, no one except Webb. The lump in my throat swelled, choking off any reply I might have made. I straightened and cleared my throat in an attempt to hide the moisture in my eyes. “Just set them with the rest of her letters in the box on the top shelf.”
Grace moved away to comply but returned only a moment later.
“Pardon, my lord, but I can’t reach the box.”
I groaned. Not only was she incompetent in observing basic social politeness, but she lacked the stature to do her job as well. Rising to my feet, I stalked over to the shelf and pulled down the box. Setting it on the nearest table, I upset a leaning tower of random notes. A ledger fell off, landing on my foot. Biting back a curse, I stumbled toward where I usually left my chair, only to find it moved. I landed hard on the floor, fell back, and hit my head on a table leg. The throbbing in my head doubled as I lay there staring at the underside of one of my tables. I closed my eyes and begged for the Kurios to put me out of my misery.
“Are you hurt, Lord Brackenhurst?”
Only the soft swishing of her woolen kirtle and the soft sound of her footfalls announced her arrival.
“My lord?” She knelt beside me. “Should I fetch someone? Something?”
I needed sleep. Long, uninterrupted rest in absolute silence. Nothing she could fetch would provide that.
The gentle pressure of a blissfully cool hand on my cheek brought me back to the horrible reality. I wasn’t alone. I couldn’t retreat to my bed. And a complete stranger had been pawing through my papers.
“No.” I corrected myself as she scrambled back, leaving her touch a memory. “Thank you, but no. Just give me a moment and I will rise.”
“Did you hit your head?”
“No.” I bent my knees and sat up, narrowly missing the table edge in the process. I paused to give my swimming head a chance to adjust to the change. When I opened my eyes, I was surprised to find my new assistant hadn’t retreated far. She crouched a short distance away, without a piece of furniture between us.
I could see her face now that my vision was beginning to clear. The red-golden light of the late afternoon pouring in the window illuminated the smooth curve of her cheek and played with red highlights in her luxurious brown hair. Only then did I realize that it fell freely about her shoulders in soft waves and ringlets that almost begged to be touched.
“You appeared pained.” Her dark brows lowered as she studied my features with far more scrutiny than I had become accustomed to of late. No one wanted to behold my half-melted visage, but she visually examined me with ease, well apart from her obvious concern.
“I am well enough. It is only the small matter of an ache in my head.”
“I will fetch Steward Faramond.” She stood so quickly I had no chance to protest.
Catching her kirtle’s hem as she passed, I tugged. “Pray don’t. He will only fuss.”
“Someone should.” After a long silent moment, she tugged gently to reclaim her kirtle from my fingers, but instead of retreating she knelt down where she had stood. “Does your head often pain you?”
“More often than I like.”
She made a small protesting sound at my unclear answer before asking her next question. “What usually helps when it aches?”
“Then why don’t you just go to bed?”
I lifted my head and glared at her. “To take to my bed midafternoon would start rumors I can ill afford at the moment.”
“Then sleep here.” She nodded to the far empty corner. “If you wad up yonder cast-off cloak and stretch out facing the wall, you can sleep while I work.”
The idea had merit. I eyed the space she had indicated.
“I promise to work silently and not whisper a single word to anyone about it.”
I glanced back to find her watching me with an almost mischievous glint in her rich brown eyes. Then, before I could say yea or nay, she stood. Crossing to the discarded cloak, she folded it into a neat pile.
I rose, the ache in my head intensifying with the effort. I stumbled again, shame heating my face as I grabbed for the table to steady me.
“Here.” Strong feminine arms encircled my waist as she appeared at my side.
Detachedly I wondered at Grace’s sudden lack of concern for distance as she prompted me up and encouraged me to walk.
“Abandoning furniture?” I asked. Nausea washed over me, announcing the next stage of my suffering.
“You are hardly a threat now.” She guided me across the room. I closed my eyes against the urge to lose my lunch on the floor. She placed my good hand on the wall, signaling our arrival. “Do you need help down?”
“I can collapse on my own, thank you.”
She laughed softly and retreated, taking her scent with her. I noticed its presence only when it was gone.