Thursday, January 8, 2015

Deleted Scenes: Beast Charming, part 1

This is the prologue for a slightly earlier version of "Beast Charming" that didn't make it into the final cut. While this means that some of the plot details listed here means that it no longer fits neatly onto the version of the novel you guys will be getting – at least one character has disappeared entirely, just as an example – it's a nice little introduction to the situation and some of the key supporting characters who did stick around.

000

Prologue: Door-to-Door Curse Correction

 “…and I’ve been told he’s a wonderful listener. It’s true that he doesn’t exactly have ears, but he’s an enchanted washboard – I’m sure they’ve made some other arrangements. A couple months of quiet company and poof, you’ve got yourself a prince – the happily ever after’s practically guaranteed ….”

 “Father.” Grace was surprised at how calm her voice sounded. “Let’s pretend I’m Beauty for a second.”

Startled, Noble froze in place, forcing the crowd flowing down the street to part around his bulk. “You’re my good daughter. Why in the world would I want to imagine you changing into your horrible little sister?”

Grace leaned forward as she jabbed a finger into his chest. “Because then I would be the type of person who would tell you that if you don’t stop talking this instant, I’m going to knock you unconscious with this zucchini and leave you here to be stepped on.”

Noble blinked, then glanced furtively up and down the street in case anyone suddenly seemed a little too excited to help Grace follow through with the “stepping on” part of Grace’s plan. When no one came forward, he glared at his daughter. “Wouldn’t you say that was just a little more dramatic than the situation called for?”

Grace narrowed her eyes. “You want me to start dating an enchanted washboard. I don’t think you’re in any condition to be swayed by subtle suggestion.”

The empty space around them widened by a few inches, the need for the surrounding people to shave a few seconds off their travel time momentarily subsumed by the much more pressing need not to get caught in the middle of an Embarrassing Family Moment.

“I offer you the future and you sound as if I’m making you scrub the kitchen. Why have I been cursed with daughters who have such narrow minds?” Noble’s sigh was long and loud in the hopes that random passersby might take pity on him. “You all must have gotten that particular deficit from your mother, God rest her ….”

“Don’t even start with that.” Grace started shaking her head before he could even finish the sentence. “You know as well as I do that she’s not dead. She ran off with that merchant from Elvinton when Beauty was five and none of us have seen her since.”

“Which means that she could very well be dead by now,” he huffed, brown eyes not quite capable of meeting his daughter’s grey ones. “But that’s completely beside the point. The enchanted washboard’s the best potential fairy tale I’ve been able to find yet. There’s hardly any effort required on your part, and the prince won’t even get the chance to be … to meet you until you’ve already won his heart by saving him.” He leaned in close, wrapping a conspiratorial arm around his daughter’s shoulders. “It’s practically a sure thing – two weeks, at most, until you get your very own happily ever after and I get a wealthy and grateful son-in-law.”

Grace shoved Noble’s arm off her shoulder, whirling back around to face her father. “That, in case you’ve forgotten, is exactly what you said when you kept dumping frogs into our beds every night on the off chance that one of them might turn into a duke. And when you knocked Patience unconscious and spread the word that she was a long-lost princess caught in an enchanted sleep. Not to mention that time with the geese ….”

Noble folded his arms across his stocky chest, lower lip jutting out slightly in what he would never admit was an angry pout. “Your great-aunt Caroline locked herself in a tower for a measly six or so years and she managed to snag herself a baron.”

Grace groaned and rolled her eyes, then recited the same response she’d been making to that line since she was 15 years old. “It was actually the third son of a baron, Father, and the family was so poor that Great Uncle Nigel had to hire himself out as a castle maintenance man. He met Caroline when he was fixing a leak in the tower roof and just never got around to leaving.”

 “A minor detail.” Noble waved his hand casually, brushing away that inconvenient little thing called reality. “No matter what he was doing up there, your great-aunt certainly never would have met her future husband and stopped being such a burden to her parents if she hadn’t been up in the tower in the first place. Besides,” He sucked in his stomach, the mass of it lifting his chest a good three or so inches. “Her father didn’t have my vision.”

Grace raised an eyebrow. “Have we forgotten about the frogs already?”

Now Noble’s chin lifted. “Failure,” he said with utmost conviction. “Is just another step on the pathway to success.” Then he drooped slightly, adding with a mutter, “Though with you girls, it’s gotten to be an incredibly long pathway.”

Grace sighed, feeling it all the way down to the base of her spine. “You could just leave us alone, you know.”  She lifted a hand to rub the back of her neck. “It’s about the only crazy thought you haven’t tried yet.”

Noble made a disgusted noise. “But I have tried it, and look where it’s gotten us. The men from the village make the sign of the cross when they see Patience coming. Your little sister Beauty isn’t quite such a terror, but she’s still stubborn, smart-mouthed and thornier than your mother’s old rosebushes. You’re the only one who has any sort of chance of attracting a man on her own, but you’ve been so busy taking care of Beauty that it hasn’t occurred to you to start looking.” He shook his head. “Finding you girls fairy tales is about the last chance I have to stay sane.”

Completely unable to think of an argument her father would actually understand, Grace gave up and simply glared at him again. “You still haven’t told me how you decided I was destined to be the washboard’s dream girl.”

Noble raised an eyebrow, mocking Grace’s earlier gesture. “Have you actually listened to your sisters recently?”

Grace folded her arms, deliberately keeping her expression even. “Weren’t you the one that said the main advantage of this particular fairy tale is that the poor washboard wouldn’t get the chance to see or hear his future beloved until it was too late for him to do anything about it?”

Noble opened his mouth, then snapped it closed when he realized that she might have a point. His chin lifted again. “Maybe I was trying to reward you for making my life just a little less miserable than your sisters insist on doing.”

Grace remained unmoved. “You only think that because I’m willing to do the family mending.”
 “True.” A wistful look came into Noble’s eyes. “If we could only get you to start doing some embroidery, needlepoint even, I could pass you off in just about any castle there is ….”

Before Grace could respond someone with an overly large basket knocked against her, causing her to stumble backwards and nearly fall. Catching her father’s arm for balance whether he liked it or not, she straightened with an annoyed sigh. “And then there’s always the chance I could trip and smash the prince into a thousand pieces,” she added sarcastically, brushing away a lock of sand-brown hair that had fallen out of her bun before turning to face the rest of her father’s argument.

But he just stood there frozen, eyes wide like Grace had accidentally elbowed him in the stomach. Then he sighed, his entire body seeming to sag with the sound. “It would be just like that time with the twelve princes, wouldn’t it? Only eleven other couples in a gigantic enchanted ballroom, and you somehow manage to knock a grandfather clock on top of your prince charming.”

 “Once, Father. I did that once. Besides, that prince of yours is the one who practically threw me into that clock in the first place. If he hadn’t danced like he was swinging a sack of grain around ….” A little voice in Grace’s brain kept desperately trying to close her mouth, reminding her that she should be relieved that long-term commitment to a chunk of wood wasn’t in her immediate future. But she had been joking, curse him. “Breaking his legs was probably a community service.”

But Noble had already moved on, staring meditatively off into the distance. “It’s too bad about the washboard. Still, maybe I can trade the information to a wicked uncle or something, see if I can get one to adopt one of you girls for a couple of weeks. The poison, unfortunately, isn’t going to be ready until the end of the month, so at least for right now that’s a wash. If only that butler of his wasn’t so … well, well, well. There he is.” His gaze sharpened as something caught his eye, an almost predatory edge sliding into his expression. “I’ve got him now.”

Noble set off into the crowd, stopping only when he realized that there was now a Grace-shaped weight firmly attached to his shirtsleeve. “Who’s ‘he,’ and what terrible thing are you about to drag him into?” She took a quick, desperate look in the direction he had been staring, hoping the view would give her some sign of whatever was going on in his head. “More importantly, when are you going to spring this terrible thing on us?”

 “Not ‘us,’ my dear girl.” Noble was smiling contentedly as he carefully pried her fingers off his arm, and for the first time that morning Grace felt her stomach twist with genuine nerves. “I try to save the more … extreme situations for one of your sisters”

Grace’s eyes narrowed. “There’s no way Beauty’s going to believe a word that comes out of your mouth. After that whole ‘straw into gold’ mess you tried to pull ….”

Noble shook his head, far too pleased with himself for anyone’s good. “As if I would limit my possibilities that way.”

 “You can’t mean … Patience?” Grace’s breath caught. The oldest of the three girls, Patience was rude, snappish and had a temper that could frighten off a bear, which meant that their father attempted to pass her off less often than he did the other two (large teeth and a willingness to use them made for a very convincing argument). If this was a chance to get her out of the house.... “You think you might actually be able to use her this time?”

He nodded, more than happy to lie. “You’ll never know unless you give me peace to work.”

She scowled at him. “That’s evil.”

His smile became a grin of satisfaction. “I do my best.”

000

“What would you do if I told you that I could solve all your problems?”

Momentarily distracted from a rather amusingly shaped rutabaga, Waverly raised an eyebrow at the tall, slick-looking individual in front of him and tried to decide if he was worth the effort for sarcasm. “Then I would say that you no doubt have too much time on your hands, for you very clearly have some problems of your own that need to be attended to first.”

At the expression on the other man’s face Noble shifted a bit, suddenly ever so faintly unsure of himself. He knew he was being insulted, but wasn’t sure how or whether it was worth possibly sacrificing the plan to call him on it. Still, no point in wasting the opportunity …. “Unfortunately for me, none of my problems involve your employer’s ... condition, which happens to be the subject that I am currently most prepared to deal with.”

Waverly sighed, looking fondly over at the displays of produce it was clear he wasn’t going to be allowed to return to for quite some time. He could do them both a favor and verbally destroy the man before he truly embarrassed himself, but to do so in public would be unforgivably rude. “And what condition would that be?”

Still caught somewhat off guard, Noble studied the other man’s eyes in the hopes he could see the joke.  When that failed, he cleared his throat and began a more concerted effort to be charming. “Amusing, sir, but I believe you know the condition I speak of as well as anyone does. Wouldn’t it be simplest, then, to leave such delicate matters for a more private setting and get right down to business?” He held out a hand for a handshake, but pulled it back quickly when Waverly merely eyed it as though he found the gesture amusing.  The idea rankled – what did the man expect, a bow?

For once, Waverly privately agreed with the man. It would be best to get this over with as soon as possible and return his attention to tasks that were actually important, or at the very least more mentally engaging. “Of course, but it might be wise to clarify a few things first,” Waverly allowed a disdainful edge to come out in his voice. “If by business, you mean that you just happen to have a convenient/daughter/sister/ex-wife laying around your domicile that you just know will be the one that can break the horrifying curse of the Beast of Darkwood Hill, then let me tell you that you are to date the 49th person to have come up with such an idea. I beg you to come up with a reason, any reason, why I should pay any more attention to you than I did them.” He thought for a moment. “And, if at all possible, do please try and make it amusing. I’ve just undergone a rather dull week, and could use the entertainment.”

Noble groaned inwardly. Honesty was all he had left, and it galled his salesman’s heart. “If you take away the sister and ex-wife, then you pretty much have it,” he muttered finally. “However, since I don’t know your taste in humor it’s going to be a little hard to fulfill the last part of your request.”

“Then I suggest you simplify your response by telling me why you think your version of the plan, whatever it happens to be, might actually work.”

Noble shivered inwardly, then reluctantly dipped another toe into truth. “Basically, my main selling point is the fact that Beauty is an incredibly stubborn girl. If she sets her mind to doing something, no amount of big hairy anger management issues is going to scare her off.  In fact,” he admitted after a moment, “it’s possible that she’ll be the one to scare him off.”

Waverly’s eyebrow moved up again, his curiosity finally piqued. For once, this was an angle he’d never heard before. “And does she want this?”

Noble allowed himself a small grimace. Forced into all this honesty in the space of a single conversation – he was going to need to lie down after this. “That, unfortunately, will be the hard part.”

Waverly eyed the man in front of him, sorely tempted for the first time in what he was certain had been years. It wasn’t that he specifically needed the curse broken, though such a result would certainly make life easier for the castle d├ęcor and the poor souls doing Beast’s tailoring. It was simply that what Beast needed right now was someone to take him out of himself. If Waverly was lucky, they might even slap some sense into the boy before putting him back.

If nothing else, it was possible he had just found the one girl capable of shouting Beast down if the need arose. The corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly at the thought. “Out of curiosity, what do you plan to do with this Beauty of yours if I say no?”

This time, the grimace was almost completely suppressed. “I suppose I could try and get her in with this enchanted washboard I’ve heard about ….”

Waverly shook his head with a sigh. The lack of vision in some people was appalling. “I hope you’ve put slightly more thought into your primary plan than you have into your backup. I dislike being a party to incompetence.”

Noble’s forehead wrinkled as he tried to analyze exactly what the butler might have meant with that last sentence. “Are you saying you’re interested?” At the mere forming of the thought he leaned forward slightly, the eagerness already beginning to leap back into his face. “Because I could con Grace into running some sort of errand up near the castle, I’m certain of it. If your master caught her trespassing on the property and held her hostage – in a dungeon would be the best – I’m sure Beauty would trade herself for her sister’s freedom ….”

“That would be one way of going about things.” Waverly took a precautionary step back, in case the man became overcome and insisted on doing something ridiculous like touching him. “A much saner, approach, however, would simply be for me to write this Beauty of yours a letter and offer her a suitable job at a quiet, respectable castle with residents who have conveniently never met you before in their lives. By the time she arrives at her true destination it will be too late for her to back out, and… we shall see what develops.”

Noble fought back an expression that was dangerously close to a scowl. “That’s all?”  Noble had planned on looking like he had nothing to do with this, and would have gotten to that point had he been allowed to actually lay out his brilliantly foolproof plan. This butler person didn’t know his daughter at all – Beauty was way too good at screwing this sort of thing up. There was no way something so idiotically simple could succeed where he had so often been thwarted.
Still, it would be best to agree now, then take matters into his own hands once she was safely inside ….

“For the moment, that will be all that’s needed.” Waverly raised an eyebrow, amused by some distant thought. “Though I suspect that it would be a good idea to hide the fine china.”

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