Home > Beast (House of Misfits #4)

Beast (House of Misfits #4)
Author: Cambria Hebert

 

Prologue

 

 

Witch

 

* * *

 

You’ve lost your mind. It was only about the one thousandth time I told myself this in the past hour. If you counted the minutes and days leading up to now, then it would be countless.

Yet here I was anyway, ignoring my inner cynic. Shoving down my gut instinct.

Ignoring everything for hope.

My entire midsection buzzed with nervous energy, my toes practically screaming in pain at the way they were scrunched into the borrowed, too-small heels.

I could have chosen another pair. I didn’t want to.

Just as I didn’t want to ignore all the turn back! warnings my brain so generously inundated me with.

The dress was something I’d found in a secondhand shop and honestly like nothing I’d worn before, but the sheath-style silhouette was on trend as far as I could tell when thumbing through fashion magazines. The strapless style almond-colored gown was embellished with sequins that were small at the bust and gradually got larger down toward the feet.

They caught the light when I moved, and if a few fell off the hem as I walked, I just thought of it as my way of leaving a trail so my prince could find me.

There you go again. Acting ridiculous.

Pushing aside the thoughts, I put my chin up, the strands of my long dark-brown hair falling behind me. I’d fancied up the plain, straight strands with a few braids pinned at the back with a sparkly clip.

The hotel lobby was glamorous and shiny. Every surface gleamed despite the amount of traffic such a place likely saw. My heels clipped over the marble, and I tried not to flush when I felt eyes wander in my direction.

A place like this was out of my depth, not at all the kind I normally frequented.

You were invited. I reminded myself.

I might have called the invitation relentless if not for the charm that made it irresistible. My stomach fluttered a bit when I pictured sapphire eyes, which crinkled at the corners when they settled fully on their target. Smiling faintly, I recalled the way he’d leaned over the polished counter, getting closer, as if his presence weren’t already intoxicating enough.

Men like him were dangerous. But perhaps also worth the chance.

“I don’t fit in your world,” I’d told him.

He replied, “Then make my world fit around you.”

So here I was, walking through the lobby of a posh Upper East Side hotel, an unlikely guest at a high-society event. Usually, I was the one serving, not the one being served. But tonight was different, a chance to be seen for who I was and not just the status I lived in.

A few lingering stares fastened to me as I walked down the wide, carpeted hall toward one of the massive ballrooms. I’d never seen such opulence in a hotel. Even the air I breathed smelled rich.

The music wafting from the ball was instrumental but not at all boring like most classical pieces I’d heard. Whoever was playing inside was clearly talented.

Women whispered, their eyes following me toward the wide double-door entrance. I couldn’t hear the words they spoke, but their intent prickled the base of my spine and set me on edge.

“Excuse me,” someone said off to the side. Her voice was prim and filled with judgment.

Calmly, I turned toward her, noting the way her neck was practically dripping in diamonds.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” Her tone was suspicious.

“I’m a guest.”

The sound of her scoff seemed to echo up to the high ceiling.

“A guest?” She sneered. “Impossible. You do not belong here.”

And what exactly is here? I wanted to ask, but why bother? Her answer would be just as absurd as the rest of her.

“Excuse me,” I said instead and turned my back.

“Her dress is so cheap it’s leaving a tacky mess all over the floor,” the snarky woman woefully complained as she turned back to her friends.

Brushing off the sting of her words, I focused instead on the man I knew was waiting for me inside.

The wide entrance was like a frame for the lavish affair inside. The ceilings were draped in what looked like light-colored silk. Delicate lights twinkled between them, and a massive gold chandelier hung in the center. Immense flower arrangements stood in vases taller than me, green ivy trailing out of them to pool on the glossy tile floor.

People milled about carrying flutes of champagne and glasses of wine and wearing clothing that I’d only ever seen on TV. Glancing down at my gown, I suddenly felt tragically underdressed.

It doesn’t matter. He’s waiting.

The thought fueled me on, and I stepped forward, my toes screaming. I was going to have one hell of a giant blister.

Before I could cross the threshold, a man in a black suit with some kind of earpiece in his ear and a clipboard in his hand stepped forward.

Clearing his throat, face impassive, he said, “Invitation.”

A flicker of something I didn’t like burst inside me. Shying away from the horrid feeling, I straightened my shoulders. “I’m meeting someone.”

His face remained the same. “Name.”

“Winnifred Maciel,” I replied. “Winnie.”

He barely glanced at the list in his hand. “You aren’t listed.”

“What?”

“You aren’t on the list.”

The woman down the hall snickered.

“Check again,” I told him.

“I don’t need to.”

“Check. Again.”

Whatever he heard in my voice widened his eyes, and his lips pursed. “Very well.” He made a show of looking through the sheets of paper before meeting my gaze once more. “Your name is not here. This ball is by invitation only. You cannot come in.”

“But I was invited.”

“Young lady, if I let in the room every woman that claimed to be invited, there would be no room for those who actually have an invitation.”

“How embarrassing,” the woman wearing her weight in diamonds touted, appearing at my side. “Go back to where you came from, and if you can’t recall the way, just follow the trail your dress has left behind.”

I said nothing, and she didn’t expect me to, instead moving past the man acting as a bodyguard at the door, who practically folded in half bowing as she went by.

Hot anger fueled by shame rose inside me. My chest became so tight with it I felt like I might explode.

“Should I call security?” the man asked, bored.

A low growl ripped out of my throat as both hands shoved at the man. Shock registered across his face, the first real expression I’d seen from him. Lips parting on a surprised gasp, he stumbled back. I didn’t bother waiting to see what he would say.

I marched past him, going into the ballroom he’d tried to bar me from.

“You can’t go in there!” he yelled behind me.

I ignored him and kept marching. This was all some stupid mistake. The second I found my date, he would clear all this up, and then everyone in the room would eat crow.

Ignoring the curious stares from people all around, I saw the bar across the room and smiled. That was exactly where he would be.

Weaving through the guests and around several impeccably dressed servers with gold trays, I made my way to the ornately finished bar.

It didn’t take long to find him. His charm and presence dominated the room. He’d drawn a small crowd, but even so, they allowed him enough personal space so I could make out his broad shoulders beneath the tuxedo jacket he wore.

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