She once again struggled to keep pace with his long strides, until the dark hallway opened into the most glorious atrium.
Woes temporarily forgotten, Amarantha gazed in wonder at the glass walls and ceiling sparkling in the midday light. Sunshine flooded the room from three sides and roses, bloodred roses, filled every corner. Here and there, graceful sculptures peeked between the blooms.
Velvet crimson spills, mounds and waterfalls, the roses tumbled out of urns and thrust up from beds built into the floor. The roses Father had brought surely came from these.
Amarantha realized she stood alone in the middle of the floor. The Beast had settled into a wooden chair, massive as a throne, studded with iron rings in various places. It was perfectly situated so that he might survey the room.
And everything in it.
“I enjoy beauty, as I mentioned.” The Beast leaned his cloaked head against one fist. “I am ready to savor yours.”
She could run, perhaps. Bolt back down the hallway. Then what?
“Amarantha, I want you to take down your hair, remove all of your clothing, and set it on the floor. When you are done, you will place it all—the clothing, your hairpins, whatever jewelry you might be wearing—on that press over there.” He waved a languid hand at the far end of the room, where a wooden stand stood among more roses. “You will find a pair of shoes over there. Put them on and return to me.”
She froze. Surely this couldn’t be happening.
“My bride,” the Beast said with utmost gentleness, “every moment you hesitate earns you punishment.”
“You promised not to injure me,” she stammered.
“And indeed I will not. Punishment does not mean injury. In fact”—he leaned forward in the chair—“I shall let you in on a secret. I not only excel at punishing a beautiful woman without injuring her, but I love every moment of it.”
“Were I you”—he settled back in the chair—“I wouldn’t give away opportunities for punishment. But that’s entirely your choice. You’ve earned one punishment for your hesitation. Proceed with my instructions.”
With trembling fingers, Amarantha reached up to pull the pins from her hair. Drawing out the process, she set them one by one on the floor. The Beast, however, did not seem inclined to urge her to move more quickly. His head once again propped on his fist, he watched her from the shadows of his hood.
Amarantha ran out of pins. She ran her fingers through her hair, shaking out the formal coils her sisters had twisted in.