A few words of warning: This piece of prose is a TRUE OUTTAKE, a snippet of story lifted from the cutting room floor. It is NOT a finished chapter or a prequel or a sequel or an untold epilogue; it is literally a huge chunk of prose I deleted. This was originally the end of Chapter 4. Instead of driving directly to the restaurant, Mace made her pull over so he could tell her the truth without worrying she'd crash the car. After sharing this chapter with Shell, my whip-cracking pre-reader thankfully convinced me Mace had gone too soft for the CPS contest, but I couldn't quite part with his sweet vulnerable confessions.
In the spirit of the muse and giving you a peek into my own creative process, I thought it might be fun to share what happened when my muse went sweet on me. Of course, since this ended up getting deleted, we all know who's really in charge of the story ... Shell Taylor!
[We join the story after Mace and Bella have left the book signing and are on their way to get Mace a burger.]
My voice quakes with anger. Betrayed by my own character, the man I've nurtured and shaped, treated with patience and respect. An illusion, all of it. "You planned this whole thing. The seven-book story arc. Every detail leading up to this point . . . you strung me along." My voice sounds hysterical again, but I'm picking my way through the rubble of the last ten years. I think I'm justified in some hysteria.
Mace stares out the windshield, his smug smile speaking volumes though he doesn't say a word.
"You waited for my $50,000 advance."
"Actually, I waited for you to spend most of it," he offers, immediately looking sheepish after his smug admission.
Jesus. "You're kind of horrible." Is this how Jeffrey Dahmer's parents felt when they started finding body parts in their refrigerator? "Isn't there some kind of code of ethics you people have to abide by?"
"There are"—Mace clears his throat—"allowances in certain extenuating circumstances."
Is that a blush at the base of his beanie? Yes, the tips of his ears are bright pink. What the . . .? "What kind of extenuating circumstances?"
"That's none of your concern. It's muse business."
Seriously? My imagination sometimes gets the best of me, I'll admit it, but even I have my limits. Muse business. "You're full of shit."
"Oh, am I?"
"Yes. I should know. I made you that way."
Mace lifts his hand to cover his mouth. The fucker is smiling.
"Nothing," he says.
"Just say it." I cross my arms over my chest, then add an eye roll he can surely feel even if he can't see it. "Out loud." Could you be any more sarcastic, taunts my inner Chandler Bing.
My anger seems to erase Mace's hesitation to speak his mind. I can't tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Every layer of truth exposed brings with it a new level of excruciating agony. "You didn't make me this way."
"What are you talking about? You're my character. I sat down with a blank character bio sheet and filled in the spaces. Hair color, mother's name, favorite subject in school. Hates cauliflower, loves carrots. I pulled you out of thin air. I wrote every word you've ever spoken!"
"As if you were ever in charge."
A white-hot pain stabs through my chest. I feel as if Mace is holding a giant Pink Pearl eraser, working his way up my body, erasing me inch by inch from my own stories. "You're breaking my heart, Edward Cullen."
"I'm sorry, Bella. I never wanted to hurt you; you have to believe me. I was hoping not to have to tell you all this, but you're being so . . . uncooperative."
"Imagine that! Some guy who walks and talks and looks and . . . smells like my imaginary perfect man barges into my signing—"
"I waited at the end of the line. In fact, I moved to the end ten separate times when people got behind me!"
"—Tells me I didn't invent my own characters or write my own stories. Oh, and I have to put him on the cover, which means he'll own my soul and my body and my thoughts—"
"And your heart," he adds somewhat sorrowfully. The nerve of him, acting as if he actually cares if he hurts me.
"—Or he'll hold the whole series hostage! And I'm not cooperating? I mean, IMAGINE THAT!" The seat belt snaps me back hard against the seat. My breaths are coming fast and furious. I'm a fire-breathing dragonlady. He's making me lose what's left of my mind.
At least he has the good sense to be scared. "What's the matter? Isn't there anything in the muse handbook about dealing with an irate author?"
"Actually, there are four separate chapters on the subject . . ."
"Shut up! That was rhetorical!"
My chest heaves with the effort of staying in my seat. Elizabeth would've jumped out of the car long ago, but I've always been a pussy compared to my heroine. Mace bites his lip and avoids my glare. At least he's smart enough to keep quiet while I fit the pieces together.
"Wait a goddamn second. Something doesn't make sense." Actually, none of it makes sense, but within the context of absolute insanity, one giant puzzle piece doesn't fit.
"What?" With all his secrets on the table, the smug seems to have seeped out of him. Or maybe he's just scared to be in the car with a crazy person. Being immortal doesn't make him immune. As many different writers have said in many different words, there are worse things than dying.
"What do you need me for?" I catch a crinkle in his forehead before Mace checks himself. Aha! "You know how the story ends. You have fingers—damn nice ones, you're welcome very much. You obviously know how to work a computer. So what the hell do you need me for?"
His head swivels away, but that blush is back. I've hit on something, but I don't know what. Without access to any of the other eight muses, I have to trust Mace to tell me the truth about how all things muse-related work. Inexplicably, despite the years of secrets now coming to the fore, I still trust him to answer my questions honestly.
"I do need you," he says, largely to the passenger window. "Only you and I together can create the story. I'm not a writer."
"Oh, Mace. Writers are a dime a dozen. I'm sure you must know that by now."
He turns sharply back to me. "Don't say that. Don't ever say that, Bella."
"Okay, fine, there's a tier system. I'm not at the bottom, but I'm certainly not at the top either. I can name twenty friends off the top of my head who could finish this story with you."
Mace grows quiet. This is how Elizabeth always knows when he's really upset. "You weren't listening to me before. I can't work with anyone else."
"I heard you. So, what's that about?"
"I went exclusive."
Exclusive. "You mean, I'm the only one who can use your image on my books? But I never—"
"No, Bella. I don't mean I can't be someone else's cover model. I mean I can't be anyone else's muse. Ever again." He looks up, a shy, pained expression written across his face. "I'm all yours."
Now I see why he told me to pull over. There are forces at work here I know nothing about. "But why, Mace? Why did they do this to you?"
"Why did they . . .?" His fingers meet his forehead. There they go, five spider legs. Rake, rake, rake. "Bella, I requested this. Don't you get it?"
"I'm sorry I'm being so dense, but no. I don't get any of it."
"It was the only way I could take human form. What you and I need to work out together for book seven, we can't accomplish in dreams."
Ho. Lee. Shit. "Mace, are you telling me you gave up your musehood so you could come down to earth and fuck me?"
"That is definitely not how I would've phrased it."
"And this is a request the gods—who's in charge of the muses again?"
"Right, leave it to a man to honor this request even though there are only, what, eight muses left in the whole universe? Why would he do that?"
"Remember the extenuating circumstances I mentioned?" His face lifts hopefully, but I shake my head. "Dammit, Bella, I'm in love with you."
Mace Cullen, but not really Mace, a supernatural being who looks, sounds, acts, and smells like Mace is "in love with me," whatever that means. I'm not sure I have the tools to process this. "How can you even . . . but you're . . . and I'm . . . can this happen?"
He shrugs. "It happened."
"Has it ever happened before?"
"Not to me," he answers with a rueful smile. "One of the other muses fell in love back in the eighteenth century. That's partly how our workload got so out of whack."
"So, what happens now?"
"Um . . . usually, one hopes to be loved back." I've never seen Mace so insecure. It twists my heart not to be able to parrot the words back, but whoever or whatever he is, the guy deserves better than empty promises.
"How can I love you when I don't even know you?"
"Who could possibly know me better than you do?"
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to hurt you. This is just so bizarre. This whole evening has been so bizarre. I think I just need some time to let everything sink in. It wouldn't be fair of me to say anything at this point." Or let my heart believe in something that makes no sense at all.
"What is there to be confused about? You've written every word I've ever said. You know every feeling that's ever crossed my heart, every thought in my head. You invented my motivation. You know my strengths and my flaws. You know I'm a good guy, and I'd lay down my life for the woman I love. What else is there?"
"Well, for starters, the character I thought I wrote lives inside a story, a story where he loves a woman named Elizabeth Strong—not Bella Swan."
"I don't love Elizabeth separate from you. I love the part of you that dwells in Elizabeth's character. I couldn't love her if I didn't love you, and vice versa."
I hate to admit it, but his logic is starting to make sense to me. "What about the fact that I wasn't actually the one pulling the strings all this time. I didn't actually invent your dialogue or direct your behaviors."
"Most of the time, it was you. As for the other fifteen percent? Like every decent author, you know you're never fully in charge of your characters, nor should you overwrite the characters every time they take you down an unforeseen path. That's not good writing; that's just inflexibility. So what if you didn't script every word? That doesn't mean you don't know me. That means you let me be myself."
"Dammit, Mace. Stop making sense!"
The tension breaks momentarily, and Mace shows me the heartbreakingly beautiful smile I've missed so much. He's impossible to resist, despite the outlandish circumstances. He reaches for my hand. "May I?"
"See? The Mace I know would've taken my hand first, asked questions later," I offer lightly as I set my hand inside his.
"Not necessarily," he says, surprising me yet again.
"No? Enlighten me."
"Whenever it really matters, he's not reckless." His fingers close around mine. That tingling is back in my fingertips . . . and other places.
"Now, there's a line I couldn't have written."
"You could have," he says sweetly, "but I got there first. We're a team."
"Let's say, for the sake of argument here, that I do know the man I created—mostly. What about this muse? You have a whole life I'm only now beginning to understand. And this whole eternal life situation? What's the deal there?"
"So, this is me." He points to his chest with the hand I'm not holding. "I hope you like what you see, because I'm always going to look like this. Forever."
"And you can't be harmed in any way?"
"Apparently, my heart isn't immune." He grimaces.
"You know, for a guy who's immortal, you sure seem . . . insecure."
"I'm a boy who's just spilled his guts to the girl he's loved forfuckingever, and she hasn't reciprocated. It's basically the ultimate 'left-ya-hanging.' I think I have a right to be insecure about that."
"What would happen if I turned down your deal? Do you get to go back into your spirit body?"
"No." Mace chews on his upper lip, his eyes darting between windshield and passenger window. "I made my deal, Bella. If you turn me down, that's it. I'm stuck here in this body, doomed to walk this earth eternally, without falling in love ever again."
"Mace, even if I do agree to your deal, I'm only going to live another . . . best case scenario, seventy years? And I can't even think about what it'll be like for you when I start pass through cougar into . . . whatever comes next, and you're still this perfectly preserved man. What happens then? Eternity is a long damn time."
Mace pulls our joined hands to his lips and presses a sweet kiss to my hand. "Whatever we have together, it'll be enough."
"Okay, I'd already made up my mind before you said that, but we're going to have to work something out. You need to be writing some of your own lines."
His smile lifts cautiously toward his eyes. "Is that a yes?"
"Yes, Mace. It's a yes."
A/N: See how corny I made him? LOL! XXX ~BOH