Beauty and the Beast ~ Book 1

The Winds of Change

by Tee Hoagland


Once Upon a Time in the City of New York



Vincent jerked awake, hands gripping the arms of his chair, eyes searching his chamber for the woman crying for help in his dream. Dozing heavily brought the dream that often haunted him: alone in a swirling mist, yearning for contact with muffled voices and fading shadows hovering just beyond sight. Waking from the dream always brought oppressive loneliness. Yet tonight, the dream carried urgent expectancy; an unknown woman’s voice, faint and indistinct, called from the edges of the mist, desperate for help, eager for connection. Despair filled him at the promise just beyond reach. He blinked away the tears threatening to fall.

Rising, he grabbed his cloak, traversing the labyrinthine tunnels crisscrossing under New York City to the threshold in Central Park. The tunnels housed him, with his adoptive father and many friends as close as family. They lived apart from the city above, but his uniqueness wrought separation even from those below. He assuaged his aloneness by grasping that he held an integral place in their world and by knowing he was valued and loved. However, feeling isolated even among friends often weighed heavy, driving an escape to true solitude, and causing a wistful longing for something more. He wondered how it would be to have a true companion, someone he could be vulnerable with, who accepted all of him, whose love superseded their fear of his distinctiveness. He found solace at such times, as on this night, in lone excursions to the world above.

Vincent, enveloped by the night, slipped away from the culvert entrance to the tunnels, moving unseen through the shadows and into the park. For a time, he simply stood, invisible in the dark, staring at the stars, the cool air refreshing him and bringing the scents of spring – the perfume of flowers in bloom and new growth on the trees – that said everywhere was new life, a new season.

An approaching engine distracted him, drawing his gaze to the road just before headlights peeked over the hill. He watched a van pull to the curb, barely slowing as the side door opened. Shock gripped him when someone rolled out and down the embankment. He guessed she was a woman based on her clothes and the handbag that flew out of the van with her. She lay motionless as the van sped away.

With no one else nearby, Vincent approached her. The smell of her blood, assaulting his nose before he reached her, quickened his steps. He rolled her to her back. Blood smeared across her beautiful face and matted her hair, seeping from the numerous vicious gashes splitting her cheeks and forehead. Her faint pulse and shallow breaths confirmed that she still lived; her unconsciousness and dripping wounds declared she needed medical attention immediately. He gently ran his hands along her limbs and neck, checking for other injuries before carefully picking her up. He draped her over his shoulder, hoping the angle of her head hanging down his back would not significantly increase her blood loss. With no time to waste, he hurried back into the tunnels.

The return journey felt longer than normal as Vincent absorbed the residual traces of the woman’s terror. However, the hint of outrage accompanying her terror inspired his confidence in her survival. Accustomed to his mild empathic sense of others, what surprised him was how intensely her emotions resonated in him and how his own emotions began to match hers: terror for the torment she suffered, outrage that someone did this to her. Never had another’s emotions pulled strongly enough to influence his own. Perhaps the intensity of her emotions, heightened by her trauma, accounted for it, or his sense that she was a survivor, a fighter, who could come through this and be stronger, which called to his own survival instinct. Whatever the case, he felt certain it would pass.

Vincent took the woman to the hospital chamber which allowed easier treatment, deciding his own chamber and the privacy and quiet it afforded could minimize her exposure to their world as she recovered. Then she could return above. Surprised to find his inner self bristling at that thought, he immediately shut down the suggestion of other options.

The late hour ensured Vincent passed through quiet, empty tunnels. However, on nearing the hospital chamber he spied a young boy wandering.

“Geoffrey?” Vincent called softly. When Geoffrey turned to him, Vincent asked, “What are you doing up? You should have long since been asleep.”

Geoffrey grinned sleepily and fell in step with him, saying, “I was. But I had to…”

“I understand.” Vincent gave the boy a smile and a nod.

“Who’s that?” Geoffrey jutted his chin at Vincent’s burden.

“A woman I found in the park. She was attacked and has serious injuries. Run to Father for me, please. Ask him to join me in the hospital chamber.”

Geoffrey nodded and ran off.

Vincent entered the chamber and eased the woman onto a bed, carefully removing her coat and checking her pulse. The light of the ward illuminated the blood stains coating her clothes. He brought a bowl of fresh water to the stand beside the bed, then dampened a clean cloth in it. Gently, he cleaned her face and exposed skin, rinsing the cloth frequently to remove all the blood. Her injuries still trickled, so he pressed thick gauze pads against them. When the sound of Father’s cane on the tunnel floor announced his approach, Vincent looked toward the entrance.

“Vincent?” called Father, entering with Geoffrey behind him. “What’s this Geoffrey tells me about a strange woman?”

“She was attacked.” Vincent suddenly realized his hand rested atop the woman’s head, his thumb stroking absently above the slice on her forehead. He pulled his hand away as Father approached the other side of the bed to examine her. “I saw her thrown from a van still in motion. Someone slashed her face in several places, and she is unconscious. I’m concerned about internal injuries.” He looked at Geoffrey. “Go send Mary to us, please. Ask her to bring something more comfortable for the lady to wear while she rests. Then, back to bed. And thank you for your help.”

Geoffrey grimaced in disappointment, then left.

“How long has she been unconscious?” asked Father, removing the blood-soaked gauze from the woman’s face and inspecting her wounds.

“I’m not sure. She was unconscious when I found her about thirty minutes ago.”

The woman stirred under Father’s gentle touch.

“She’s coming around.” Vincent backed away, pulling the hood of his cloak over his head, concealing his face.

“That’s good.” Father quickly prepared a sedative. “But I’m going to give her something so she can rest and we can treat her.”

As the woman settled into induced sleep, Vincent stepped close again, watching Father’s trained hands quickly search for any unseen injuries.

“I think she has broken ribs.” Father gathered bandages and suture supplies, then donned medical gloves. “I’ll verify that after Mary comes to assist me. Fortunately, these lacerations didn’t damage her eyes. For now, help me stitch her face. We need to get this bleeding stopped.”

While Father treated her face, Vincent held her head still. He ignored how the contact made his inner self roar with the desire to punish her attackers.

“Oh, my!” Mary entered and collected a fresh bowl of clean water just as they finished the stitches. “Look at her lovely dress. Torn, dirty, bloodstained. I’ll clean that for her.”

“Thank you for coming, Mary.” Father turned toward her, removing his bloody gloves. “Please get her into an examination gown for me. I need to check her for other injuries, possibly internal. Vincent tells me she was thrown from a moving vehicle. Be careful, she may have broken ribs. We’ll also need to wash the blood out of her hair before I finish bandaging her face.”

“Understood, Father,” Mary answered briskly, depositing the water on the table near the bed and drawing a curtain around one side.

As Father drew another curtain around the other side of the bed, fully enclosing it, Vincent picked up the bowl of bloody water he used to clean the woman’s face and took it to the sink. Father joined him there, where they washed the woman’s blood from their hands. When Vincent’s eyes kept shifting to the curtain, Father gave him a worried frown.

“Vincent,” Father glanced at the curtain then back to him, “when you found her did you sense anything that might indicate…” he paused, searching for delicate words, “more… invasive… trauma? She can’t tell us, so…?”

Vincent’s inner self surged to the fore with a vicious snarl. He took a deep breath, clenching and unclenching his hands.

“No, Father. I sensed nothing like that.”

Father nodded, then they moved back toward the curtain. While they waited for Mary to finish changing their patient, Vincent helped Father don a surgical gown, tying it behind him, and fresh examination gloves. Mary soon pulled open a section of the curtain. The woman wore a cloth examination gown, pulled high to just under her breasts. Thick wool socks covered her feet, sticking out beyond a blanket draped over her hips and legs. Her own clothes waited in a small bundle on the bedside table.

“The damage appears to be concentrated on her abdomen,” Mary told Father, moving to the woman’s head to wash her hair, as he stepped to the woman’s side, pulling a stethoscope from his pocket. With a glance at Vincent, she continued discreetly, “Everything below her hips appears untouched.”

Vincent felt himself settle at Mary’s words.

“Thank you, Mary.” Father, trusting Mary’s assessment, focused his examination on the woman’s abdomen. Garish red bruises of various sizes covered the soft tissue of the woman’s stomach and delineated her ribs climbing both sides of her chest. Father listened to several areas with his stethoscope, then palpated around her organs. Pressing gently along her ribs, he nodded, touching those on her left side. His exam complete, he removed his gloves, indicating for Mary to pull the woman’s gown over her injuries. “It’s as I suspected. Broken ribs, but nothing further. Please dress her in something more comfortable to recover in, Mary. Thank you for your help.” He smiled at her, patting her arm, then turned to Vincent, leading him away from the bed and redrawing the curtain. “Shall we leave her here? That carries great risk. Who knows who might stumble upon her here.” He frowned, shaking his head. Frustration gripped his features. He opened his mouth to say more, then changed his mind.

Vincent chose not to address Father’s unspoken thoughts and answered his direct question, saying, “I thought I would settle her in my chamber. I can keep watch on her there and it will minimize her exposure to our world.”

Father nodded, then turned his back to Vincent and pulled the top tie of his surgical gown. Vincent loosed the rest of the ties and helped Father pull the gown off. Then Father rewashed his hands. A moment later, Mary drew back the curtain.

“She’s ready to be moved,” Mary told them. The woman lay on a clean sheet, the one stained with her blood on the floor near her clothes, and wore a warm, long-sleeved gown that covered from shoulders to mid-calf, her hair clean, thoroughly towel-dried, and combed. “Except for bandaging her face.”

As Father retrieved the bandages and antibiotic ointment, Vincent, inexplicably drawn to the woman, moved to her head, smoothing her hair away from her face.

“Here, Vincent.” Mary handed him a rubber band from her pocket. “Use this to keep her hair back.”

“Thank you, Mary.” Vincent pulled what he could of the woman’s hair into a ponytail at the nape of her neck, then smoothed the remaining stray hairs back as Father slathered the ointment on the woman’s stitches, and wrapped her face and head in a single, long bandage, then taped it in place.

With the final task complete, Mary looked between them, saying, “You two see to getting her settled. I’ll clean up here. But leave me your cloak, Vincent. Some of her blood is on it. I’ll get it out.”

“Thank you, Mary.” Vincent removed his cloak, draping it over Mary’s waiting arm. “We’re taking her to my quarters to recuperate.”

Mary smiled and nodded her understanding.

Vincent cradled the woman in his arms and led the way to his chamber. Once there, he watched Father pull down the covers of his bed. He felt Father’s eyes on him as he settled the woman, carefully tucking the blankets around her. Father checked her pulse once more, gave Vincent a long look, then sighed. Motioning for Vincent to follow, he led the way out of the chamber.

“I’m certain she’ll be all right,” Father asserted.

Vincent nodded. Once they were in the main tunnel, he turned back, eyeing the entrance of his chamber. With a shake of his head, he followed Father.

“She lost a lot of blood,” Father continued. “But you got to her in time. It’s fortunate for her that you were there.”

“Yes,” Vincent replied absently, turning back and staring toward his chamber again.

“What is it?” Father asked, stopping and facing Vincent.

“I’m not sure.” Vincent paused, raising a hand to his chest. “I can still sense her. It’s… subdued, but she’s still here.”

“But… you can’t feel others when you’re away from them.” Father frowned, concerned.

Vincent resumed walking, saying, “Not normally, no.” He sighed. “As I carried her here tonight, I felt… a connection to her. Her emotional state… pulled me in… produced like emotions in me. Then of course, her trauma heightened her emotions far beyond normal. Perhaps that explains this… lingering sense of her. It will probably pass. How long do you think she will need to recuperate?”

“Several days, at least, with those broken ribs.” Father turned to face him as they entered his chamber. “And she’ll need to keep the bandages on her face.”

It was longer than Vincent expected, but he knew Father always erred on the side of caution, so he nodded in understanding.

“I’m going back to bed.” Father paused, regarding Vincent. He frowned, opened his mouth to speak, sighed, then finally said, “We’ll talk more in the morning.”

“Good night, Father.” Vincent stretched his hand out and Father grasped it for a moment. Then Vincent headed back to his chamber, where he found Mary in his chair, gazing at the woman’s bandaged face. The woman’s clothes lay in a neatly folded bundle on Mary’s lap and Vincent’s cleaned cloak hung over the back of his chair. The woman still rested quietly in Vincent’s bed.

“Who is she, Vincent?”

“She’s a survivor. She was attacked above and thrown into the park from a van that barely slowed down. Under her residual terror, I felt outrage in her. She’s a fighter.”

“She’s beautiful.”


“It’s a shame she’s suffered so.” Mary looked up at Vincent, smiling, and asked, “Would you like me to stay with you? Do you need help caring for her?”

“Thank you, Mary.” Vincent placed a hand on her shoulder. “But I’ll be fine. Go get some rest.”

“Good night, then.” Mary patted his hand, then left his chamber.

Vincent slipped his cloak on and raised the hood, more for comfort than necessity, and sat in his chair, studying the woman in his bed. He noted that his empathic sense of her increased when he neared her. He wondered why his sense of her was so strong, stronger than his sense of anyone else. From the moment he went to her in the park, he felt drawn to her, as if this encounter would be significant. He sighed and picked up a book. For now, he could only wait for her to awaken.

He kept watch through the night, checking her pulse regularly, feeling it strengthen. He read, played both sides in chess, wrote in his journal. Through it all, the woman dwelt on the fringes of his mind. Who was she? Why did this happen to her? What impact would she make on his life?

In the wee hours of the morning, Father returned to check on the woman.

“How is she?” Father asked, entering Vincent’s chamber.

“She hasn’t stirred yet,” Vincent replied from where he sat in his chair, his gaze on the woman’s face.

Father touched her neck, then murmured, “Her pulse is stronger. But she’s developed a fever.” Moving several steps away, he motioned for Vincent to join him. “And you, Vincent? How are you… with her here? With your… odd sense of her?”

“I’m fine, Father. She needs our help. That is where my focus is.”

Father watched him for a moment, then nodded, replying, “Very well.”

Vincent looked at the woman, sensing consciousness creeping into her, and told Father, “She’s coming around.” He approached the bed, kneeling near her head, and waited. In the throes of an unpleasant dream, she stirred. Then, not quite awake, she spoke.



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