Author's Note: Okay, I'm going to try to get this finished up hopefully soon. If you are still reading this, thank you. Without you, it would probably have languished for another three years. ~LightningBeauty (Dec 2012)

Chapter 5: Stolen Kiss

It had only been a day since Papa had gone off to the fair. By now, he would be setting up his invention for debut, chatting with the other inventors, and preparing for the judges. Belle paused in her morning chores and wished with all her might that her beloved Papa would prevail. She knew he was worried over the cost of the wedding. The prize money would be such a help.

"You can do it Papa," Belle whispered to herself. "I know you can."

A horse ninny sounded across the field behind the house. Phillipe? What was he doing home so soon? Had Papa given up? Or...had something happened? Belle's heart leaped as she dropped the broom and rushed to the door. She flung it open and hurled herself outside.

"Papa?" Her eyes scanned the woods, searching for Phillipe.

"Belle, are you alright?" Gaston swung down off of his black stallion, concern filling his face. Belle let go of the breath she was holding.

"Gaston, it's you!" She couldn't disguise the relief that washed over her. "I heard your horse and I thought it was Phillipe. And I didn't know how he would be back so soon..."

The words tumbled out of her until Gaston gently took her and wrapped her in a strong embrace. Her breaths slowed and came easier as she allowed herself to sink into the safety of Gaston's arms. I'm safe. It's alright. Nothing is wrong.

"I'm sorry I frightened you. It's just me and Storm." Gaston tilted Belle's chin up to meet his eyes, tucking a tendril of her hair behind her ear. Belle simply smiled. As she gazed up into his face, it suddenly dawned on Belle that they had not yet kissed. Sure, the occasional peck on the forehead or the cheek, but nothing beyond that. How had that happened? She was about to marry this man and had never kissed him? How was that even possible? It was true, they hadn't had a moment alone together since the proposal but still...

As Gaston moved to let her go, Belle lifted a gentle hand to his chest. He paused just long enough for her to gather her courage and pull his face down to hers.

She wasn't sure what she had expected. Fire? Magic? Yet all she felt was Gaston's lips on hers. It was a pleasant sensation, and he certainly was putting the effort into it. But somehow, Belle's heart was...dare she think ...disappointed.

And just like that, the kiss ended. Gaston smiled down at her and she did her best to return it. But clearly she couldn't hide everything...

"What? I thought that's what you wanted?" Dismay began to fill his eyes.

"Oh no, I did!" Belle let go of his arms and retreated towards the house. "It was lovely. I'm just a bit...surprised."

"Surprised? At what?"

" it felt. It was ...good."

"Was it really?" A hardness washed over Gaston's face. She was hurting him.

"Oh no! I mean...yes! Yes, it was good. Great...uhh." For a woman who read constantly, she was having a great deal of trouble forming words at the moment. "Gaston, it's not that it wasn't a good kiss. I was just thinking, we hadn't kissed yet and we're to be married in 6 days. I didn't feel that our first kiss should be in front of the entire village. I think we just...weren't prepared."

"Well, then let's try it again." Gaston took a step toward her and crushed her mouth with his own. There was definitely desire in his kiss but also something else. Anger. Hurt. A sense of bravado. Almost as if he felt he had to prove something to her. Belle pushed him away. "No, not like this." She could feel her own anger rising.

"Well, I can't tell what you want!" Gaston took several steps back, throwing his hands up to his hair in frustration. "Kiss me. Don't kiss me. Belle, tell me what is wrong with you?"

"I'm sorry." She said quietly. "I don't know what I was thinking." She turned to flee back into the house. The door slammed with a resounding thud. Tears filled her eyes, threatening to spill down her cheeks. Had she just thrown her entire life away?

"Belle," a gentle knock came on the door. "Belle, please open the door." The anger was gone from his voice. Only hurt remained.

Yet she could not make herself open the door. Something froze her there and wouldn't let her move. She tried to call out to him but her heart was in her throat and she couldn't find the words.

"Belle, I'm the one who's sorry. I'll call for you again this afternoon. Just..." there was a long pause. She was half afraid he'd left. "Just please don't change your mind anything until we have a chance to talk."

Belle closed her eyes. He still wanted to marry her. "I'm not changing my mind." She found the way to move, opening the door to him. "Are you?"

"Of course not." His hands found her face. His eyes were dry but full of concern. "We just got off to a bad start. When you're ready, we'll have a proper first kiss."

Belle smiled. "That sounds good."

"I have to go now, but ...we are alright?" His stallion let out a breath of air, impatient to be off on the hunt.

"We're alright."

Gaston rode Storm out over the fields. The horse was young and powerful and loved to run. Horse and rider were more alike than Gaston cared to admit. He gave the animal his head and tried to enjoy the day. What had started so perfectly had somehow ended up so very wrong. Why did Belle kiss him if she didn't want to enjoy the kiss? Was something wrong with the way he'd done it?

It had been their first kiss and it was ruined. She said they were alright but would she change her mind? Would she still marry him?

He knew that she was getting nervous about the wedding. Belle didn't like to be the center of attention. She liked it even less when it wasn't for a reason she felt "worthy" of. She was such a beautiful creature but she took no pride in that. Now get the woman to start talking about books and she didn't care who was present. She captivated him.

Gaston had been playing the kiss over and over in his mind trying to figure out what had happened that had gone so wrong. Kissing her had been amazing on his end. But he had felt her hesitance. She started it. She wanted to kiss me. What happened that changed that? Gaston reined Storm in as they crested a hill and saw the woods laid out in front of them.

A plodding sound announced Lefou's arrival. At least Gaston could always count on Lefou. Lefou didn't care about Gaston's motivations, his simple mind didn't understand such things. All Lefou wanted was to be near his idol. Gaston had to admit that this sometimes became a nuisance but it was nice to have a friend.

Lefou's plow-horse ambled his way up the hill and stopped next to Storm. Lefou's belly peeked out from beneath his shirt. "Hi Gaston!" Lefou said with a grin showing off the few teeth he had left. "What are we hunting today?"

"The usual," Gaston answered, slapping his friend on the back. Lefou held on to his saddle, barely. "Think you can keep up with that old mare?"

"Of course," Lefou was somewhat proud of his old horse. She was probably the only creature in the world more simple than him. "Claudette will be just fine." As he patted her neck, Claudette shook out her mane. Lefou lost his seat this time. Gaston let out a deep throaty laugh. And for the rest of the afternoon, pushed his troubles with Belle to the back of his mind. The only thing that existed for him was the woods, Storm, Lefou and Claudette.

Belle tried to concentrate on her book. But it was no use. She had dusted the rooms, washed the dishes, and swept the porch and was trying to relax with her book. But she kept seeing the hurt in Gaston's eyes and feeling his lips on hers. The more she thought about it, the more frustrated she became. The more frustrated she became the tidier her home became.

She was exhausted.

She was seriously considering going to the bookseller, hoping the walk would clear her head. And maybe he will help me understand what happened with Gaston. Gaston wouldn't be back from hunting for another two hours or so, depending on how good the game was. She had the time. Why should she sulk in her home when she could go visit her friend?

As she reached for her book basket, a horse's ninny sounded across the field again. Gaston! It must have been later than she'd thought. She opened the door to welcome him and tell him how sorry she was for muddling everything -

It wasn't Gaston. Phillipe came hurtling towards the house, still attached to the wagon carrying Papa's invention. But where was Papa? Belle ran to catch Phillipe's bridle.

"Phillipe? Calm down boy! What is it? What...?" Belle stroked his nose and brought him down to her face. "Where's Papa, Phillipe? Where is he?"

Phillipe neighed hard and shook his head. Belle's heart froze at what she saw in his eyes.