AnaMadeline hated everything about Brute.
She hated the cheap musk cologne masking his animal stink, which reminded her of a petting zoo orgy.
She detested his forced table manner delicacy – all that napkin folding and pinky lifting.
She loathed the fine clothes covering his monstrous form.
Mostly, she hated the way he looked at her, his yellow, seeping eyes wide with mock innocence when he spoke to her, heavy lidded and staring when he thought she was distracted.
“I have fleas you know,” she said once. “And a third nipple.”
“I couldn’t care less,” he replied. “I have claws growing out of my forearms, and a back pelt.”
After three months of seeing no one but each other, Brute and AnaMadeline had an established rapport.
One season earlier, AnaMadeline was living and working on her father’s pig and cranberry farm, which was prosperous, but horridly middle class. They were too poor to do anything fun, and too well off to openly wish for more.
It was on an unusually warm day that she decided to brush and converse with the family pony. During the task, AnaMadeline had to admit to herself how fortunate she was to enjoy the comforts of home without having to maintain her hair and nails the way rich girls did. They would always have to depend on men for money, while she would eventually inherit the farm and make her own fortune. She suspected that the manicured nails also hindered their ability to pleasure themselves – another skill AnaMadeline had developed for the sake of independence.
As her mind drifted further into that particular topic, her father burst into the yard on his massive Clydesdale, Terry.
“Disaster! Unheard of disaster! Everything stolen, bankruptcy for certain!” and off he and Terry galloped to the pub. Ana Madeline, open mouthed, held the pony’s half braided tail and tried to digest what she’d heard.
There was nothing else to sell before harvest in the fall, and her father would drink away any savings they had. So much for security.
“Well, poop,” she said. Disaster indeed.
When AnaMadeline’s father resurfaced from his binge, she did what she could to comfort him, but to no avail. He just sat in his chair by the fire, wailing dramatically about squirrel hunting and government cheese. AnaMadeline couldn’t help but be the teensiest bit annoyed by his feeble response to the situation.
As the temporary head of the household, she decided to take the reins. She hitched up Terry and started for town to get in touch with her father’s HR. Together, they’d think of a plan to get themselves through the next few months.
But AnaMadeline never made it to town.
An hour into her journey, AnaMadeline was thrown off course by a sweeping thunderstorm. She found herself at the edge of a strange forest, nothing at all like the one between her father’s house and the village. The trees were thick and old, and grew entwined with each other, making it impossible to see more than ten feet in any direction. The leaves created such a canopy overhead; by the time the sun began to set the forest floor was already black with shadow.
AnaMadeline was ready to give up and make camp for the night, but then spotted lit windows beyond a wall not more than a few yards in front of her. She eagerly trotted Terry along it to find an entrance, and hopefully some information as to her location.
Surprised by how quickly the trees were thinning, she came out of them entirely, and met with the coast of a turbulent water mass. A disbelieving moment’s walk brought her to the edge of a cliff, where she heard the waves crashing against the rocks below.
Remembering the light she’d seen, AnaMadeline turned abruptly from the view, and stared up at an arched gateway, and a massive beach house the color of pale sand. The building was delicately elaborate, with sculpted cherubs and lacy white trim, but there was something monumental about its enormity and architecture, like it was old, but wanted so badly to be young again.
She walked through the open front door, leaving Terry to munch the oats seemingly left out for him. Just inside were a soft heavy robe and a steaming mug of mulled wine. AnaMadeline took them both, and meandered down a dimly lit hallway. When the passage ended she stood in a candlelit hall, where an enormous table held dinner for one and several bottles of wine. The music of an invisible violin floated in the air.
Too famished to be afraid, AnaMadeline set to work devouring the spinach salad and cheese souffle. She was so taken up with the feast that she failed to notice the appearance of her host.
“I hope everything is to your liking,” he murmured.
AnaMadeline’s head jerked up, the sauce from her pistachio Alfredo dripping from the corners of her mouth. She nearly choked on the linguine sliding down her throat.
Squinting in the dim light, she saw his lion-like body and bearish stance looming at the opposite end of the table. He stood tall and straight, his paw-hands together at the waist, propping up a rounded chest under a great beard. As her eyes adjusted, AnaMadeline could make out his tawny fur, and blackish claws. His red satin smoking jacket and matching pants were crowned with the gold scarf that wrapped around his neck.
When he spoke again, his voice was not loud, yet it had a depth and richness that made Ana Madeline drop her spoon.
“Since you have accepted my hospitality, I assume you won’t mind staying to keep me company. In fact, you have no choice. The spell hanging over this place will not allow anyone who enters to leave the property, I might as well tell you. We will have to learn to live together civilly.” His tone was matter-of-fact, and he gazed up at the ceiling as if talking to himself.
“I haven’t seen another soul in 30 years. I thought it was beyond anyone’s determination to even get through the forest.”
AnaMadeline sat, dumb-struck. She didn’t believe what he was telling her, and suspected the great brute to snap her in his jaws at any moment. Her darting eyes sought out any salvation, but she knew she was trapped.
“I will leave you now; I see I have upset you. A room is prepared. Just walk around a bit and you will find it. I will see you tomorrow.” With a sigh he turned to go, but stopped to look gravely at his guest.
“If you agree to marry me, and share my bed, the spell will break, and we will both be free. You should know that.”
…continued and concluded in the next post…