I’m excited to share the first chapter of Beautiful Beast. This steamy, contemporary retelling of Beauty and the Beast is part of the Once Upon A Broken Crown anthology that releases on March 15. If you want to read previews of the other books in this exclusive, limited time collection, you can download the chapter reveals for free.
First chapter of Beautiful Beast
An unwelcome and ridiculously sexy brunette with curves for days is the last thing I expect as my welcome home present. Not only because I plan to avoid all human contact for at least six months, but also because she’s trespassing.
Rather than fully appreciating the view, my stomach bottoms out and fills with dread.
I can’t let her see me.
There’s a leash in her hand that’s attached to a large brindle boxer, and she’s holding a stack of papers in her other hand. The problem is that she and her furry companion are snooping around my private foyer.
How the hell she got up here, let alone with a dog, is something I’ll pose to Enrique, the building manager. But until raising hell is a viable option, the question remains how to get rid of her without being seen.
She’s spinning in every direction with an awed expression, and when she cranes her neck to look out the skylights, I take the opportunity to fully step through the elevator doors and quickly stride past her.
By the time she calls out a greeting, only my retreating back is visible.
Her voice is soft and throaty, like she just left an outdoor music festival where she was singing along for hours. Of course, there are other options – better options – for why her voice could be so tired, but my brain isn’t allowed to go there.
I need to focus on healing my broken body, and that has to be done in private.
“Whatever you’re selling, I don’t want it.” Hoping to discourage further conversation without any additional back and forth, my voice is harsh and abrasive by design.
This particular tone has made men double her size turn on their heels and run.
The front door is now open, and I’m one step closer to entering my penthouse where I can indefinitely lock away the outside world.
I just need her to leave me alone first.
“I’m not selling anything.” Her voice is a lot closer, so clearly she’s not moving in the correct direction.
“Well, whatever you’re doing, you’re not supposed to be doing it here,” I snap. “This is private property.”
The door is inches from being closed behind me when she speaks again.
“I… I’m lost.”
“Clearly. Go back outside where you came from and ask for directions.”
“I’m looking for Annie Alliston’s apartment.”
This girl doesn’t take a hint.
Whatever she was gifted in beauty, she missed out on in brains.
The old me would not only help the beautiful girl but also offer to take her out for dinner and then bring her back to my bed.
That version of me survived Yemen, Nigeria, Ukraine, and Iraq, but he just died in Syria.
And there’s no bringing him back.
Now someone is here to disrupt the very delicate balance of my life exactly when I need the interruption the least.
The new iteration of Adam Townsend wants to slam the door in her face. And that’s exactly what I would do if the mention of old Mrs. Alliston didn’t snag my interest.
The only drawback to my sanctuary is that my private elevator is next to the one for the penthouse below. There’s been the occasional mix-up, but I didn’t mind – much – because Mrs. Alliston is at least 112, never goes anywhere, and rarely has visitors.
She also hand-delivers baked goods at least once a week.
An acceptable trade-off.
“Who wants to know?” I demand.
I still don’t turn around to face the beautiful intruder. The door between us is only open an inch, but we can still hear each other. It’s almost guaranteed that I’m completely shielded me from her curious view, but almost isn’t enough.
I know exactly what she looks like, but she still hasn’t seen me.
And she won’t.
“I’m… My name is Belle. And this… this is Buster. I’m so sorry to bother you.” Her voice is shaking, and even though she’s making me feel like a total asshole, I can’t relent.
The sooner she leaves, the better it will be for both of us.
“What do you and Buster need from Mrs. Alliston? She doesn’t want to buy anything either.”
“No, I’d imagine not,” Belle returns. “She’s dead.”
Well, a lot can certainly change in six months.
“I’m a relative,” she continues. “I didn’t… I didn’t even know that she was still alive, or I would have visited. I inherited her apartment, and it came at the perfect time because I just got evicted from mine because the landlord found out about Buster, and… I’m totally babbling. I do that when I’m nervous, and you’re making me nervous. Can you come out from behind the door so we can talk face to face?”
“No. So you got evicted for illegally harboring a dog, and now you’re here to claim your dead relative’s apartment?”
“That about sums it up, yeah. I have all the paperwork and–”
“I don’t care what you do or where you live so long as you don’t come back up here,” I interrupt. “You got in the wrong elevator. This one only goes between the lobby and the thirtieth floor. My place is the top five levels and–”
“You have a five-story apartment?” Belle squeaks. “In New York City? Seriously?”
“And Mrs. Alliston lives – well, lived – below me,” I continue as though she didn’t speak. “You need to go back down to the lobby and try again.”
“Wow… Okay. I’m… I’m sorry. Again. I didn’t…” Her voice is full of tears now, and I grit my teeth to stop myself from apologizing. “Thank you for your, uh… help.”
My mother’s voice rings in my head like a bell, and even though it goes against the new persona I’m trying so hard to convey, I can’t help the next words out of my mouth.
“I’m sorry about Annie,” I say gruffly. “She was smart as a whip and a classy lady, and I always enjoyed my conversations with her. I’m sure it’s still a shock to your system whether you were close to her or not.”
“Believe me, I couldn’t be more shocked to be here. And if I was given the chance, I would have–”
“I’m sure,” I interrupt. “Just don’t ‘get lost’ and find yourself on this floor again, and we won’t have any problems.”
It won’t due to have Belle get too comfortable and believe that we’re going to be friends. We’ll be neighbors, nothing more.
And since I don’t plan to leave the penthouse – delivery makes being a recluse very easy in this city – there’s no chance that we’ll accidentally bump into each other.
“Well, great,” she says, sarcasm dripping from her voice. “I’m really looking forward to seeing you around.”
“Don’t worry, princess. You won’t see me again.”
“Come on, Buster,” she mutters. “Let’s get out of here.”
I almost forgot about the damn dog. I tear my gaze away from the peephole, and a glance downward reveals his big, block head trying to weasel through the doorway with a series of snorts and snuffs.
His manners are about as good as his owner’s.
It would be easier if Belle called me an asshole rather than just sounding sad. Then a burning pit of regret wouldn’t be in my gut as I close the door behind her, unable to resist a final glance at her heart-shaped ass through the peephole as she heads back to the elevator.
Fuck, if only she had appeared in the foyer before I boarded a plane to Syria.
I kick my boots off and drop the duffel bag from my shoulder to the cold marble floor, the loud thud echoing in the cavernous space.
Home, or as close to one as I’ve ever had.
At least it beats the desert with strangers trying to kill me.
There are numerous missed calls and texts on my phone because apparently word travels fast that I’m back in the city. But I ignore them all and call Enrique instead.
“Mr. Townsend. Welcome home. How were your travels?”
He makes it sound like I was on a tour of Europe rather than dodging bullets while bombs exploded overhead.
“Great,” I lie while pacing around the penthouse, re-familiarizing myself with the surroundings. “Listen, I know I’m not exactly known as a social butterfly, but I’m going to need even more privacy than usual. Can you make sure no one else comes to the top floor without my explicit authorization?”
“And do you care to explain how someone got access to my private elevator?”
“You must mean sweet Belle. She said that she’s Mrs. Alliston’s granddaughter, and she has all the proper documentation to prove her story. I told her which elevator to take, but she must have gotten it wrong.”
He should have escorted her and not let her out of his sight, but I guess even building managers aren’t immune to pretty girls batting their eyelashes.
“Please make sure it doesn’t happen again. This apartment is worth over a hundred million dollars. Surely, that should come with the guarantee of some privacy.”
“Yes, sir, I understand. My deepest and most sincere apologies.”
I disconnect the call and stare at the white zigzag staircase. There’s a shiny stainless steel railing with square glass lookouts at each ‘zig’ and ‘zag.’
I’ve never appreciated the functional appeal of those boxes until just now when my battered body won’t make it to my top-floor bedroom without resting.
Most New York City apartments are postage stamp sized, but I’ve got twenty-five-foot ceilings, 19,000 square feet of living space, and another 4,500 square feet on the covered wraparound roof deck.
It’s way too much extravagance for one person, especially someone like me who is rarely home, but I took it from the old man anyway as partial compensation for my fucking horror show of a childhood.
It’s still not enough, but at least he’s dead.
And now I’ll have somewhere to hide from the world in style.
My phone buzzes in my pocket, and instead of braving the stairs, I collapse on the grey suede couch in the main level seating area facing the floor-to-ceiling windows. There are 360-degree views of mid-town Manhattan from every room.
I stare at the Empire State Building and wish everyone would leave me alone.
Yet another buzz.
With a sigh, I palm my phone and watch the messages appear like rapid-fire.
Uncle Dennis: I know you’re back in the city. Please call me. It’s important.
Uncle Dennis: Adam, I must see you – soon.
Uncle Dennis: It’s not what you think it is. I promise. Call me.
Except it’s exactly what I think it is.
I love my Uncle Dennis, but I currently have no interest in talking to him or anyone else in my father’s predominantly godawful family. The man in question was a saving grace in my childhood, but I still don’t need the guilt trip about how I’m spending my life.
Not right now when I’m so completely battered and broken.
Instead of responding to anyone, I call NewYork-Presbyterian to find out the soonest that I can get an appointment. The entire plane ride home was spent researching because only the best doctor in the country will do for what I need.
No expense will be spared.
It’s way too important.
“Mr. Townsend, we actually just had a cancellation. Dr. Martindale can see you next week,” the chipper receptionist announces.
There are numerous benefits to sharing a last name with monsters.
“Thank you. Please email me any paperwork I need to complete.”
Dr. Martindale won’t wave a magic wand and fix me. Even his scalpel may not be enough. But surely whatever he can do will be an improvement from what I’ve become.
I rise to my feet, walking slow, painful circles around the open concept living room. The grating limp still plagues me, and the unfamiliar weakness coursing through my body has me so pissed off that I could scream and drive my fist through the wall.
All I want is my strength back.
My life back.
Fuck other people’s wars.
Sculptures from my numerous trips to Africa line the window’s edge, and a huge black, red, and silver abstract painting dominates the main white brick wall. I have no idea what it’s supposed to represent, but I couldn’t walk away when it caught my eye.
The shiny onyx table in the corner has the only personal photograph in the entire apartment. I keep it here instead of in my bedroom because I need it greeting me as soon as I get in the door.
Besides, no one outside of my rides or dies come inside my sanctuary anyway, so it remains a private shrine.
The photo is of me and my mom when I was six years old. I’m sitting on her lap and looking at her laughing face with total adoration. She died four years later, and the biggest, purest part of my heart died with her.
It’s the only snapshot I managed to salvage after one of my father’s explosive rages destroyed almost every sacred possession in my life.
My sweet mom was my peace, my refuge, my protector. She loved me so much, and the pain of losing her is still sharp enough to steal my breath.
The familiar anger thrums through my veins, and my fists clench at my sides. I wish my father was still alive so I could kill him again for what he did to our family. For how much he made my mom suffer.
If only I had been older, I could have saved her from so much pain.
This time, it’s from one of my best friends and brother in arms who helped me survive the hell I just left.
I don’t even consider ignoring him.
Briggs: You okay, man?
Adam: Far from okay.
Briggs: Can I come to see you?
Adam: That’s a negative.
Briggs: Let me know when I can. I’m really glad we’re stateside. That was… It was a bad scene, man. We should talk about it.
Adam: I’m constantly reliving it. Don’t want to talk about it.
Briggs: I’ll check in with you tomorrow.
My entire body hurts, and that’s an understatement.
Briggs was with me when shit went down, and we were on the same plane back to the city even though I refused to speak to him. He’s already checking on me, which confirms that I must look as rough as I feel.
Having men you trust enough to willingly go to war with them means a lot, but no amount of talking is going to fix what Syria broke inside me.
But I’ll feel somewhat better when the fresh roses arrive.
Let me know what you think about the first chapter of Beautiful Beast in the comments below. Don’t forget to snag your pre-order of Once Upon A Broken Crown so you can own this collection of over 20 sexy fairytale retellings from USA Today and bestselling authors.
Note: I’m a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read my full legal page here.