Darling Beast

By: Elizabeth Hoyt

For my lovely agent, Robin Rue, who got me the contract so I could write Darling Beast.





Acknowledgments





Thank you:

To Susannah Taylor, who took time out of an around-the-world, once-in-a-lifetime cruise to read the first draft of Darling Beast.

To Cindy Dees, who helped untangle the end of a rather convoluted plot and found a motivation for Valentine to boot.

To Jennifer Green, who came up with Daffodil’s fabulous name.

To Grand Champion Gioia Mia’s Femme Fatale, affectionately called Sienna by her owner, Elissa Dominici, for being the inspiration for Daffodil.

To S. B. Kleinman, who did a wonderfully thorough job of copyediting this book.

And to Leah Hultenschmidt and all the fabulous people at Grand Central for once again producing such a gorgeous book.





Chapter One




Now once there was a king who lived to wage war. His clothes were chain mail and boiled leather, his thoughts were strategy and conflict, and at night he dreamed of the screams of his enemies and in his sleep he smiled…

—From The Minotaur



APRIL 1741

LONDON, ENGLAND

As the mother of a seven-year-old boy, Lily Stump was used to odd topics of conversation. There was the debate on whether fish wore clothes. The deep and insightful discussion over where sugared plums came from and the subsequent lecture on why little boys were not allowed to break their fast with them every day. And, of course, the infamous controversy of Why Dogs Bark But Cats Do Not.

So truly it wasn’t Lily’s fault that she did not pay heed to her son’s announcement at luncheon that there was a monster in the garden.

“Indio,” Lily said with only a tiny bit of exasperation, “must you wipe your jammy fingers on Daffodil? I can’t think she likes it.”

Sadly, this was a blatant lie. Daffodil, a very young and very silly red Italian greyhound with a white blaze on her chest, was already happily twisting her slim body in a circle in order to lick the sticky patch on her back.

“Mama,” Indio said with great patience as he put down his bread and jam, “didn’t you hear me? There’s a monster in the garden.” He was kneeling on his chair and now he leaned forward over the table to emphasize his words, a lock of his dark, curly hair falling into his right, blue, eye. Indio’s other eye was green, which some found disconcerting, although Lily had long ago grown used to the disparity.

“Did he have horns?” the third member of their little family asked very seriously.

“Maude!” Lily hissed.

Maude Ellis plonked a plate of cheese down on their only-slightly-singed table and set her hands on her skinny hips. Maude had seen five decades and despite her tiny stature—she only just came to Lily’s shoulder—she never shied away from speaking her mind. “Well, and mightn’t it be the Devil he saw?”

Lily narrowed her eyes in warning—Indio was prone to rather alarming nightmares and this conversation didn’t seem the best idea. “Indio did not see the Devil—or a monster, for that matter.”

“I did,” Indio said. “But he hasn’t horns. He has shoulders as big as this.” And he demonstrated by throwing his arms as far apart as he could, nearly knocking his bowl of carrot soup to the floor in the process.

Lily caught the bowl deftly—much to the disappointment of Daffodil. “Do eat your soup, please, Indio, before it ends on the floor.”

“ ’Tisn’t a dunnie, then,” Maude said decisively as she took her own chair. “Quite small they are, ’cepting when they turn to a horse. Did it turn to a horse, deary?”

“No, Maude.” Indio shoved a big spoonful of soup into his mouth and then regrettably continued talking. “He looks like a man, but bigger and scarier. His hands are as big as… as…” Indio’s little brows drew together as he tried to think of an appropriate simile.

“Your head,” Lily supplied helpfully. “A tricorn hat. A leg of lamb. Daffodil.”

Daffodil barked at her name and spun in a happy circle.

“Was he dripping wet or all over green?” Maude demanded.

Lily sighed and watched as Indio attempted to describe his monster and Maude attempted to identify it from her long list of fairies, hobgoblins, and imaginary beasts. Maude had grown up in the north of England and apparently spent her formative years memorizing the most ghastly folktales. Lily herself had heard these stories from Maude when she was young—resulting in quite a few torturous nights. She was endeavoring—mostly without success—to keep Maude from imparting the same stories to Indio.

Her gaze drifted around the rather decrepit room they’d moved into just yesterday afternoon. A small fireplace was on one charred wall. Maude’s bed and her chest were pushed against another. Their table and four chairs were in the middle of the room. A tiny writing table and a rickety dark-plum settee were near the hearth. To the side, a door led into a small room—a former dressing room—where Lily had her own bed and Indio his cot. These two rooms were all that remained of the backstage in what had once been a grand theater at Harte’s Folly. The theater—and indeed the entire pleasure garden—had burned down the autumn before. The stink of smoke still lingered about the place like a ghost, though the majority of the wreckage had been hauled away.

Lily shivered. Perhaps the gloominess of the place was making Indio imagine monsters.

Indio swallowed a big bite of his bread and jam. “He has shaggy hair and he lives in the garden. Daff’s seen him, too.”

Both Lily and Maude glanced at the little greyhound. Daffodil was sitting by Indio’s chair, chewing on a back paw. As they watched she overbalanced and rolled onto her back.

“Perhaps Daffodil ate something that disagreed with her tummy,” Lily said diplomatically, “and the tummy ache made her think she’d seen a monster. I haven’t seen a monster in the garden and neither has Maude.”

“Well, there were that wherryman with the big nose, hanging about the dock suspicious-like yesterday,” Maude muttered. Lily shot her a look and Maude hastily added, “Er, but no, never seen a real monster. Just wherrymen with big noses.”

Indio considered that bit of information. “My monster has a big nose.” His mismatched eyes widened as he looked up excitedly. “And a hook. Per’aps he cuts children into little bits with his hook and eats them!”

“Indio!” Lily exclaimed. “That’s quite enough.”

“But Mama—”

“No. Now why don’t we discuss fish clothing or… or how to teach Daffodil to sit up and beg?”

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