Corbin felt the Beast's approach, heavy footsteps like a pulse deep in the stone heart of the manor. He whirled, Da's sword raised in defense.
"You've come ill-equipped." The Beast stood just inside the threshold, against the manor door. He looked Corbin very thoroughly from head to toe and back up again. "Or improperly educated. The curse says I'm ended not by blade or stone or fire, but of a broken heart."
Corbin didn't waver. He studied the Beast just as assiduously as the Beast studied him. He'd expected the monster from Da's memories - all fang and fur and wolfish claws - or even the flame-eyed devil he knew from David's canvas. The eyes were there - yellow as the sun and so very bright - but they belonged to a dapper young man dressed in breeches and a clean white shirt beneath a dusty velvet coat. He wore his long black hair in a neat braid. His fingers were long and elegant, nails short and clean. His polite smile showed only white, even teeth against dusky skin.
Demons, Corbin knew from hours of David's tutelage, were tricky creatures. They delighted in surprise and confusion, and fed upon a man's terror.
"I carry an enchanted ifrit glaive," Corbin replied evenly. "One of only four blades made sharp enough to pierce a devil's breast."
The Beast's smile spread wider. He laughed.
"You're the cheese monger's get. You've his temper and his naivety." The Beast left the door. He approached Corbin carefully, circling in and then away. "But you're two seasons too early and although you've your mother's delicate features, you're certainly no girl. I was promised the merchant's heir. What was her name?" He paused, head tilted, yellow eyes narrowed to burning slits. "I was promised Beauty."
"You'll not have Beauty," Corbin proclaimed. "Da only let you think Beauty was the oldest. She's not. I am, I'm the heir. And I've come to have your head, devil!"
"I thought it was my heart you were after," drawled the Beast. He stopped moving no more than three paces from Corbin's side. He didn't stink after all. He smelled of rain on grass and the forest at dawn. Corbin could feel the heat off his skin and the uncanny warmth of his regard.
"The merchant was wiser than he appeared," the Beast conceded. "Wise indeed. You'll be little use to me as housekeeper, but you're handsome enough to look upon. It happens I'm in need of a companion."
Concubine. It was Laurie's voice in Corbin's head. He bristled, offended.
"I'm not yours to keep, devil! I've come here to kill you!"
Still smiling, the Beast lowered his chin.
Corbin was outmatched from the first feint. The demon fought not in beastly form, with tooth and claw, but with a narrow sword conjured from thin air. The clash of blades became a dance: back and forth across the foyer, up a step and then down. Corbin knew his worth as a swordsman. The Beast matched him at every turn. Corbin lunged. The Beast turned his blade. Corbin pivoted and struck out. The Beast dodged. It was apparent the devil was king in his manor house. He waltzed Corbin around and around seemingly without effort.
Minutes seemed to stretch into hours. Corbin grew weary. His arm grew heavy. For the first time since he'd entered the forest he remembered to be afraid. He'd imagined himself the hero of this tale for so long, but now he thought his bones would end up on the Beast's dinner plate.
"Finish it!" Desperate, he swung with renewed energy. The Beast blocked him easily - once, and then once again. "Kill me and be done!"
Title: Beastly Manor
Author: Alex Hall
Genre: LGBT Fantasy
Once upon a time in a faraway land a very wealthy merchant lived on a good piece of land just west of the hamlet we now call Littleton. The merchant was blessed with luck and guile, strong bones and sharp eyes, a pretty wife of gentle spirit, and four healthy children whom he called Faith, Hope, Beauty, and Corbin.
An LGBT twist on the classic love story.
Buy the book on Amazon.
Alex Hall writes LGBT speculative fiction for Madison Place Press. Find out more about Alex, Beastly Manor, and Alex’s forthcoming dystopian M/M romance, The Stranded, at www.sarahremy.com