Welcome to my blog! This month, I'm showcasing lots of retellings of Beauty and the Beast, one of my favorite fairy tales. Today I'm featuring another fantasy version, Under His Beast by Victoria Vallo.
Matthew arrives in the land of the prosperous Faeles—a feline-like race—as an indentured servant, thinking he'll be doing nothing but working for the next two years. But the handsome males all react to him in a way no one ever did back home. He once thought he'd never have a chance to explore the desires he's always had, but it soon becomes clear that he's going to be more than spoiled for choice among the exotic Faeles...
Matthew helped Petyr load the bags of grain into his cart. A male Faeles with golden fur came up to Petyr, clapping him on the back.
“I see you finally got some help,” the male said.
“Yes.” Petyr beckoned Matthew over. “This is Matthew. Matthew, this is Garren.”
Matthew smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
Garren’s gaze raked over him. “A pleasure. How long will you be with us?”
Garren smiled. “So I’ll be seeing you often. I live in the house across the pond behind Petyr’s. We share some fields, alternating crops each year.”
“I volunteered to send him to Geraint, so he’ll be there for a month or two.”
“Ah, you should find that exciting. Our sorcerer is … interesting.”
Petyr shook his head and laughed. “You’re trying to scare him because you think he’s cute and want to keep him around.”
Garren shrugged. “Can’t blame me for trying.” He smiled at Matthew. “If either of them work you too hard, I’ll give you sanctuary.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” Matthew said, knowing his face was red.
Garren moved off when someone called his name, and he and Petyr went back to loading bags. Once they were headed back to Petyr’s, Matthew finally found the courage to ask, “Do you really think he found me attractive?”
“Garren?” Petyr glanced at him oddly and gave him a slow smile. “Your clerics weren’t very thorough, were they?”
“What do you mean?”
“Humans are as exotic to us as we are to you. But I’m sure you probably never gave that any thought. Faeles males tend to like that humans are smaller and more fragile. Brings out the machismo, you could say.”
“So, lots of males might find me appealing?”
“Yes, but you can turn them down despite your status here. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, come to me.” He looked at Matthew seriously. “Especially since it would be your first time, I take it?”
Matthew nodded. “Yeah. I’m just surprised. Girls back home were far more impressed by my brothers.”
“Because you’re short and not muscular?”
“You’d be smaller than most of us even if you were a foot taller and solidly built. Don’t dwell on it.”
Matthew wondered how it would be if he did meet someone special. His family would be disappointed, but they just might understand, in time, if he wanted to stay here as a mate. He could find work and send money home if he did that. One of his brothers had already suggested he take work after the two years were over if the Faeles offered him anything.
“Ask me anything you like. Geraint is wiser than any of us, but he’s hard to pin down sometimes.”
Matthew wanted to ask if Petyr found him attractive, but he didn’t want to seem forward or appear to be fishing for a compliment. “I don’t mean to sound so down on myself. It’s just that you’re all so beautiful.”
Petyr smiled. “All of us?”
Matthew swallowed. “Yes.”
“Then you may have many options if you wish to gain more experience.”
Matthew blushed again. “I think the pheromones are starting to get to me.”
“Probably. I’m seeing my lover tonight, so I’m a bit … on edge. He’s been away for a month.”
“You have a lover but don’t live with him?”
Petyr shook his head. “We typically don’t live together until we select a true mate.” He parked the cart and jumped to the ground, coming around to help Matthew down. “Not to reinforce our reputation as wicked decadents, but if you wish, you could spend the evening with us. My lover’s name is Erik, and he’s a very gentle male. We could do anything you wished.”
Matthew thought he might faint, though he wasn’t sure if it was fright or excitement making his heart race. He swallowed. “I think that would be leaping without looking, as they say. I just got here, and I am a bit overwhelmed.”
“That’s fine,” Petyr said as he threw a bag of grain over his shoulder. “But I wished to make the offer. I think you were afraid to ask, but yes, I find you attractive as well.”
Matthew took up one of the bags as well and followed Petyr through a door that led to the pantry off the kitchen. “Everyone speaks of such things openly here. At home, it’s so different. So many topics are forbidden.”
They went back outside, and Matthew took up a crate of apples. “I make a pretty good apple pie, if you like them.”
Petyr smiled “I do. Thank you.” He grabbed another bag of grain and fell into step with Matthew. “We see no reason not to speak of such things. We try to be understanding of human ways.” He set the bag in the corner and straightened. “But to be honest, you seem curious. I saw you on the ship watching everyone.”
Matthew put the apples on the table where Petyr pointed. “I am. As you said, I’m certainly old enough to have lovers.”
“I was very curious when I was young. Wild, even. I look forward to having a mate one day, just not quite yet.”
“How do you know when you’ve found a good mate?”
They brought in the rest of the bags of grain as Petyr explained. “It’s part instinct and part physical chemistry. Sometimes, a lover’s scent strikes you differently. Or it could be something unconscious. My mother knew she wanted my father as her mate when another female’s scent made her jealous.”
Matthew followed him back outside. “So you can tell if someone you’re standing close to has been with another?”
“Yes. By the time I take you to Geraint, you’ll smell like me a bit. He’ll likely make you bathe first thing. As I said, he’s traditional. Old-fashioned. While you’re attending him, he won’t want to smell another, male or female.” He unhitched the horses while Matthew swept the cart out.
“So I’d need to bathe after coming for supplies and things? Or interacting with others?”
“Yes, but he’ll explain everything when you get there. He’s thorough. And efficient. That can make he seem kind of gruff and curt, but don’t let it get to you. He’s a softy deep down, just rough around the edges.”
“Sounds like you’re setting me up with your cousin or something.”
Petyr laughed. “You won’t have to worry about that much. Geraint is more interested in study than in sex. He gave up on romance after a relationship went bad years ago. It’ll give you some time to get used to things here.”
Matthew helped him lead the horses into the barn. “He’s not interested in finding a mate?”
“Doesn’t seem to be,” Petyr said. Then with a grin, he added, “So my offer still stands. Erik has his own home, but he’ll likely be staying here most nights.”
“I’ll think on it, though it may be best for me to take the time to get used to things here.” He took up a brush and stroked it over the horse, soothing her and picking leaves from her mane. “Do many humans take lovers right away?”
“Yes, though I hear they often deny it when they go back home.”
“They must. I’ve certainly never heard anyone talk about it openly. When I got here, I was intimidated.” He lowered his eyes, knowing he still was. “I was shocked to hear you say the males here would find me appealing.”
“The females will as well. They like the gentleness of humans. Get tired of the strutting and posturing.” He chuckled. “We’re a testosterone-ridden race.”
“You’re open and warm, too, though. I like it. Everyone in the market was friendly.”
“Yes, and many a male eyed you. I had to give them a glare that said you were with me.”
Matthew paused in his brushing. “Sounds like I’ll not be going home with my virtue intact.” He smiled to let Petyr know he wouldn’t mind.
“You won’t miss it,” Petyr said with another chuckle.