FROM HOLLYWOOD ROYALTY
At twenty-one years old, third-generation movie star Cal Hammond was on top of the world. He had more money than God and more women than any man could need. But when a night of debauchery ends in tragedy, he forfeits a life of luxury for a ten-year prison sentence at La Rosa, California’s most violent prison.
TO A BRUTAL BEAST
Eight years later, a ruthless, cunning man runs La Rosa from the inside. He is known simply as BEAST. All the wardens fear him. All the gangs obey him. He speaks to no one but his inner council. What he says is law.
NOW ONLY SHE CAN SAVE HIM
Annabelle Mitchell’s father is the warden at La Rosa. He deals as dirty as his trustees, and after years of smooth relations with Beast and the gangs he runs, Holt lands on the powerful prisoner’s hit list. That very afternoon, Annabelle pays a surprise visit to her father’s work, hoping to use her new counseling license at a place she thinks she could make a difference. When she catches Beast’s eye, he releases the warden and grabs the daughter. The price for the warden’s error is not death. It’s his precious Belle.
BEAST by Ella James Chapter 1
You might think the hardest part of being forced into visiting a prison for three hours every day would be…well, the prison. Leave it to me to have it all backwards. I’m not worried about my safety, or the general grit and grime of one of the most violent prisons in the country. Instead, I wake up this morning thinking about my clothes.
What should I wear for him?
What does one wear for their teenage heartthrob? For a superstar actor who’s spent the last eight years behind bars?
I guess I can’t decide because I don’t know which person I’m visiting today. Cal Hammond was the guy of my dreams when I was sixteen. He ruled the big screen just like his dad and granddad had. I still remember buying every magazine that put him on the cover. I would pour over pictures of his mansions. Critique the women hanging on his arm. My friends and I saw Mighty Malcolm seven times in a little community theater on the corner of Fourth and Mason.
But Cal Hammond died eight years ago, the night his sports car collided with my VW Beetle. The man I held in the grass that night, while his friends died all around us— he was real. Not some dumb stage name.
I pull outfits on and off, dancing around in front of the mirror in the apartment I share with Mom and Adrian—and I can’t help thinking about the year of the trial. When I came to know him as Ricardo Isobel. The year I woke up almost every night sobbing. How many nights did I lie awake wondering how he was? Worrying about him. Remembering the horror of that lonely desert highway.
I’d been sweet sixteen. He’d been drunk and high and, in the end, so negligent, they gave him eight years in prison for the death of his three friends.
What should I wear when I dress for Ricardo Isobel? I don’t know—because he’s gone too now, replaced by someone the men at La Rosa know as Beast.
Before last week, I thought of Ricardo seldom. I wondered, yeah. How could I go through something so intense with him—with him of all people—and not crave some follow up?
I had no idea that’s what I was getting when I visited my stepdad, the prison warden, last week.
Mom’s tumor has grown a little more, and she’s forgetting things. She’s having “outbursts.” I’ve been having…trouble dealing, I guess. My half-sister Adrian is only five. She needs a mother, but her mom’s dying—so she’s stuck with me. Me, who’s got a shiny new master’s degree in counseling, but can’t seem to find a job.
I tug on my pencil skirt and turn around in front of the mirror. This skirt makes my ass look pretty great, and if I pair it with my lime green scoop-necked blouse and red pumps, I look six feet tall and sexy as sin.
I get the outfit on and Adrian runs into our small, shared room.
She stops and blinks her large brown eyes at me. Then smiles. “Sissy! You look like a princess and a movie star, and a sleeping beauty!”
I ruffle her hair and help her locate her favorite baby doll. Then it’s out the door. She’ll spend the afternoon with Nina, our three-doors-down neighbor—retired school teacher and absolute godsend.
Mom is in bed. I kiss her on the cheek and promise that I’ll be home soon. She still doesn’t know about my daily obligation. Doesn’t know how it happened. How I found Ricardo—Beast—beating up my ex-stepdad, who, apparently, is ears-deep in the prisoners’ illicit business. Mom doesn’t know Holt was marked for death. Would be dead now if I hadn’t chosen that precise moment to pop up with my resume in hand. If I hadn’t caught Ric— Beast’s eye.
I have trouble calling him Beast. It’s awkward, and it makes me think of fairy tales. La Rosa Prison is definitely not a fairy tale.
It takes me nearly thirty minutes to get my car through security. Everything is all set up because, despite his many reservations, Holt has agreed to let me keep the bargain that I made with Beast.
Three hours of my time, five days a week, and he wiped my father’s slate pristine.
It’s worth it, obviously. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel sick as I push through the big, steel double-doors and click my way down the hall.
I smile for the guard with the black wand. She waves me through the metal detector with a practiced scowl, then hands my ID back.
“Someone will be here in a moment to get you.”
I nod, clutch my hand bag to my chest, and watch the hallway running east and west—for almost a quarter mile, if the outside of the building is any indication. I don’t know what I’m in for—at all.
I know Beast runs the prison. That’s what he told me. And it seemed true. When I showed up last week, Holt was getting the shit beat out of him. No one was intervening. When the prisoners heckled me, Beast came out and they all fell silent. Like he was Jesus or something. It’s freaky.
A few seconds later, a tall man with thinning blond hair and the same brown uniform as the woman opens a thick-looking metal a few dozen feet ahead of me. He waves me over.
“You’re Annabelle Mitchell?”
I nod, suddenly short of breath.
“Come on with me.”
I rush to his side, and he holds the door for me.
I follow him past closed doors, past little plastic-walled conference rooms, onto a hall that smells like sweat and bleach.
I want to badly to ask him where I’m going. Will Beast be waiting for me? Should I call him Beast to his face, or stick with his given name?
My heart starts beating hard, and I’m so distracted by my nerves, when the tall man stops, I bump right into him.
I step back. “Sorry.”
“No problem.” He smiles. “Take a deep breath. I forgot to give you this.” He holds out a small green— “What is this? A watch?”
He nods once. “Beast’s orders.”
“I don’t think I get it.”
“Put it on. Don’t ask questions.”
I put it on my wrist and follow him to an even thicker-seeming door with only a small, square, glass window at eye-height. He stops, and the door opens before he has to press the red intercom button on the wall.
And there he is. My stomach flips and flutters like a blind bat. My knees feel weak. I can barely draw a breath as my escort nods and dismisses himself, and I’m standing in the hall in front of him—Ricardo. Beast.
He’s shirtless, wearing only black pants, and his upper body is so phenomenal, I swear I cream my panties.
He holds the door open and I hesitate. I can feel his eyes roll up and down my body. I feel his gaze linger on my breasts, or maybe I just want it to. Which, honestly, is so fucked up I’d be embarrassed to tell anyone I know.
I look down then up at him, expecting him to step back and let me through the big, steel door. When he doesn’t, I squeeze between him and the doorway.
The small bedroom is simple, with white-washed cement brick walls and two black, iron twin beds that look like they belong in a JC Penny catalogue, not a jail cell. There’s a shiny wooden desk in the corner, and a television stand loaded down with a flatscreen TV, an Xbox, and some other techy stuff. The worn tile floor is covered by a fluffy, maroon rug, which I belatedly notice matches the bedding. How weird is this? He has a nicer room than I do.
There’s a small, gray door on the left wall, which I have to guess is a bathroom.
I look at him, only to find him looking at me. Even in the brief millisecond our gazes bump, I can see his face is still flawless. Which is strange. So very strange to see him here, like this.
He seems so much bigger. Broader. More filled out, I guess. Which makes sense. He was twenty-one that night, and since then, eight years have passed. I wonder how often he works out. Probably daily. Then I wonder why I’m wondering.
“Belle,” he says, in that deep, resonant voice of his.
“My name is Annabelle.”
His face tightens. “Not here. Annabelle is theirs. Belle is mine. You’re mine when you visit me. Do you understand?”
I nod, trying to appear obedient, even though inside I’m wondering what the hell. I’m his? Warmth spreads through my chest, and I can’t tell if it’s excitement or fear.
“Take a seat,” he tells me.
I sit on the bed to the left, and he sits on the one across from mine. I’m transfixed, and he’s in no hurry to talk, so I’m just staring at him. His eyes find every other inch of me before they find mine, and I look down at my hands. I’m not sure what to say.
I’m aware of him repositioning himself on the bed. He’s so big, he takes up much of it. “Do you know why I wanted you here?” he asks me.
“Because I get lonely.”
I watch him closely, my heart thumping. Does he mean lonely how I think?
“There are lots of people here.” It’s a leading statement. I’m nervous that I said even that, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
“And still, I’m lonely. Tell me about yourself. Where do you live?”
“I live about forty miles from here.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a counselor.”
“I don’t know. I like to help people I guess.”
My heart thumps as I wait for him to mention that night. Does he remember me? Surely he does. My name was mentioned in court at least a time or two, I think. Even so, I prepare myself for the possibility that he may never mention that night. He probably wants to forget it. Although I don’t think having me around will help with that.
“Are you afraid of me?”
I blink at the question. It’s so…forward. “I don’t know. A little maybe.”
“Come here. Come sit beside me.”
I look at him for a moment, and his dark eyes are so intent, I feel hypnotized. I move slowly across the rug and climb up on the bed, at the top; he’s more near the bottom. Even with a few feet between us, my heart pounds hard.
I can tell he notices.
“Which bothers you more? Who I used to be, or who I am now?”
I’m not sure, and even if I was, I’m not sure I’d want to say. “I’m just nervous around you,” I say quietly.
“Come here, Belle.” He pulls a green blanket from the foot of the bed and spreads it on the floor, atop the rug. “Sit between my legs and lean over a little.”
Oh my God. I don’t know if I can. I can barely draw a breath as I scoot down onto the floor. He parts his legs, and I shift in between them. So help me.
He moves my curly hair from my shoulders, running his fingertips over my neck.
“Relax,” he says softly. “Let me take care of you. That’s why you’re here. I’m lonely, Belle, and you’re tired. You need a break. You need some pleasure in your life. Don’t you think?”
He begins kneading my shoulders, his fingers finding the perfect spots between my spine and shoulders.
I think: This is unbelievable.
I think: This is trouble.
He rubs firmly and shifts forward, so his thighs create a cage for me.
I hear myself moan, “Yes.”
Pre-order BEAST 1 by Ella James 99¢
Have you seen Ella’s other erotic retelling of a fairy tale?
Enter to win an early e-arc of BEAST
Have a character named for you! How cool is that?