Title: Inspire (The Muse, #1)
Author: Cora Carmack
Release Date: December 15, 2014
Genre: New Adult Paranormal Novel
Kalliope lives with one purpose.
As an immortal muse, she doesn’t have any other choice. It’s part of how she was made. Musicians, artists, actors—they use her to advance their art, and she uses them to survive. She moves from one artist to the next, never staying long enough to get attached. But all she wants is a different life— a normal one. She’s spent thousands of years living lie after lie, and now she’s ready for something real.
Sweet, sexy, and steady, Wilder Bell feels more real than anything else in her long existence. And most importantly… he’s not an artist. He doesn’t want her for her ability. But she can’t turn off the way she influences people, not even to save a man she might love. Because in small doses, she can help make something beautiful, but her ability has just as much capacity to destroy as it does to create. The longer she stays, the more obsessed Wilder will become. It’s happened before, and it never turns out well for the mortal.
Her presence may inspire genius.
But it breeds madness, too.
Want to read more? Follow along ……
His hand is warm against my cheek and he tilts my head up, peering into my eyes. He’s not wearing the glasses tonight, and a few days worth of stubble resides on his jaw, and he looks so different than the last time I saw him. No tie. No button down. Instead he wears a fitted tee, a black leather jacket, and dark jeans that hang off his body perfectly. Even so, I still get that same steady feel from him.
Though that could be because he has his other hand braced at my waist, keeping me upright. Either way, he makes me feel safer than I have any right to be after a run in with one of the Argus.
“Are you okay?”
I nod, pulling back from his hand at my cheek like I should have done the instant he touched me. I’m lightheaded though, and as soon as I’m free, my knees quake, and I throw out a hand to steady myself.
“Easy there,” He loops an arm around my waist, and I can feel it burning through the fabric of my dress.
He leans close, peering at my eyes, and the smell of him surrounds me, warm and masculine with a hint of spice.
He asks, “How much have you had to drink?”
I tense. “None. I’m fine.”
He arches one perfect eyebrow and says, “Try again.” “Really, I swear.”
His gaze dips down, and I think he’s looking at the rounded neck of my dress, and my heart flips over, sending off a ripple of anticipation in its wake. Then he says, “You’re barefoot,” and that anticipation turns to horror.
I step back, and sure enough, he’s right.
My feet are bare and dirty, and now that I concentrate, I can feel a few stinging cuts on the bottom.
“I—” I pause, completely at a loss for how to explain this without sounding like a complete lunatic. I lift up my hand, wondering if I’d left my house this way, or if perhaps I’d taken my shoes off at some point and had been carrying them. The last few days are kind of a muddled blur in my mind. I can remember some of how I felt and thought, but physical actions… not so much. I had been completely in my head, but now the energy that had consumed me is all gone.
Horror slicks my stomach. I’d poured it all out on that crowd. I can’t feel even an inkling of it now. A slideshow runs through my mind then of all my failures, all the artists I kept too long or let get too close. I see their faces, both as they once were, and then how I left them—broken, shells of their former selves. Van wasn’t the first of mine to do violence against himself or someone else. Some had done it in misguided attempts to win me back. Others let their loss turn to anger. Against me. Against the world. But mostly themselves.
That’s another reason why my body renews itself daily. Not just so I’ll stay young and pretty, but because there’s an unfortunate tendency for the affected to lash out, to try to destroy the beautiful thing that had once brought them success or motivation or joy.
I’m not saved from that kind of violence. No, the gods enjoy others’ pain too much to give me that kind of gift, but at least I don’t wear the marks of it forever on my skin.
For the most part, my entanglements are simple and short with just the right amount of give and take to leave the artist happy and on his or her way to a well-led life. But there are the exceptions. The ruined ones. The ones whose personalities pull too close to obsession; those who can’t deal with my absence. They’re rare. Just as are those who turn to violence. And I know it’s not healthy or fair, but I’ve come to accept that when the violence turns to me, it’s the world’s (perhaps the gods’) way of seeking balance.
Wilder’s sigh brings me back to the present and he asks, “Where’s your car?”
I swallow and look around, unwilling to tell him that I walked all the way from my place up by campus. Because that will make me look even crazier than I already do.
“What are you doing here?” I ask instead.
I get that same almost smile he gave me as I pulled out of the grocery store parking lot, and it hits me just as hard this time. His half smile is more charming than most people’s full out grin.
“You’re bossier than I remember.” When I try to pull away, he appeases me, “I was out with some friends, and I saw you leaving a club. You looked…”
He doesn’t finish his sentence, and I’m glad for it. I don’t want to know what I looked like.
“You followed me?”
“I tried to. I lost track of you in the crowds for a bit. I was crossing the street to keep searching down sixth when I looked up by chance and saw you with that homeless guy.”
Oh. That’s all I’ve got to say right now. Even if I weren’t completely addled by the events of the night, I don’t think I would know what to say to this guy. He isn’t one of my potential partners. I’m not luring him in to satisfy the necessities of my curse.
But I want to lure him in all the same, and that makes me feel guilty and sick and excited all at the same time.
“Why?” I ask.
“Why did you follow me?”
He turns his head, looking down the street, and for a moment I don’t think he’ll answer me. Then he laughs. “I’m still trying to figure that one out. Give me a few minutes. I’ll think of a reason that’s not at all creepy. I promise.”
Carefully, he eases back until his arm is no longer around me, and just his hand is left bracing me at my waist. I’m sure he doesn’t mean for it to be suggestive, but I’m still coiled tight from the club, from the way it feels to use my ability. The simple touch of his hand sliding across the thin fabric of my dress is enough to set my nerves on fire, and I shiver.
He immediately sheds his jacket and hands it to me. The leather is worn and smooth, and for a moment I just hold it against me. It smells like him, and the warmth and scent is so comforting after the night I’ve had that I feel tears prick at the back of my eyes before I manage to get a grip on myself.
“Put that on. November in Texas might not be that cold, but I can’t believe you left the house in just that dress. Or did you lose a coat too?”
I tilt my head to the side and survey him with a frown before tugging the jacket on. “And you called me bossy.”
He smiles for half a second, but then his expression turns serious. “But really, what happened? Are you okay? Your face as you left that club… Are you… Did—“
“I’m fine. I swear. Just a weird night.”
He reaches forward and pulls both sides of the coat together, cocooning me inside. His hands slip up, and I bite my lip, wanting him to put just a little more pressure behind that light touch. He lifts the collar, so that my cheeks are blocked from the wind, and his knuckles graze my cheek.
I can tell he’s not going to let it go. He’s going to keep digging, and I have no idea what I could possibly say. “Where’s Gwen?” I ask quickly, and it’s such a stupid question, but it’s the first thing that popped into my head. Like he would bring his daughter out for a night on the town. God, I don’t even know what time it is. Sometime before two when the bars start to close, that’s all I know. She’s probably at home with her mother. His girlfriend, maybe. My stomach turns, and his hands drop from the jacket, making the sensation worsen.
“She’s at home with my mother.” I feel an inkling of relief before he adds, “Our mother. She’s my little sister.” That almost smile drives me almost mad again. “I tried to tell you, but you bolted out of the store. Left your ice cream and cookies behind.”
Oh gods. Could I have made a bigger fool of myself? Why is he even standing here with me? He should think I’m crazy. All I’ve done is act it around him.
“Sorry, I had to go.”
“Yeah… you said. You seemed a little spooked.”
“I wasn’t spooked. I just remembered something I had to do.”
His expression tells me he doesn’t believe me, and I fight not to blush. I must fail
because his hand goes back to my face, a thumb dragging over the exact spot where I can feel the heat rising on my skin. His eyes are big and dark as he scans my face, and when he leans in, his body comes incredibly close to mine. “Is it strange that I wanted to go after you? I think I might have, if Gwen hadn’t been with me.”
I swallow once. Then again. Because it’s not strange. He’s reacting to my ability, to the way I look. I don’t exclusively influence men, but it’s certainly easier with them. They open up a lot easier to a pretty face than most girls do.
He continues, “Though I think Gwen would have been all too happy to chase you too. I don’t know how you did it, but she was a complete angel the rest of the day. Didn’t throw a single fit. I think I might have to call you Saint Kalli if you continue to work miracles like that.”
I shrug. “She’s sweet.”
He barks a laugh, dipping his chin toward his chest, and dropping his hand. “Sometimes. Yeah.” He takes a few steps back; it’s then that I notice what he’d been hiding beneath his jacket and the button down he’d worn the first time we met.
His skin is covered in ink, from his wrists, all the way up and under the sleeves of his fitted tee. I barely have time to take in the art or contemplate this new puzzle piece of this man before his eyes catch sight of my feet again. Then he’s all business. The line of his jaw is hard, stern, and that almost smile is long gone. He looks angry, either with me or with himself for forgetting.
“You didn’t tell me where your car is.”
“I, uh, didn’t bring it. It’s still back at my apartment.”
He frowns, and I hope he’ll just assume that I caught a cab.
“And you don’t know where your shoes are?”
I shrug and smile because I’m pretty positive I’m better off sticking to nonverbal communication at the moment. Just smile and look pretty, that usually works for most things.
He shakes his head and says, “I’ll take you home. But my car is a bit of a walk from here.”
“It’s fine. I’ll just catch a cab.”
He lifts an eyebrow and says, “Do you have money?”
I glance down, and sure enough, he’s right. I don’t have anything with me. No purse, no wallet, nothing. I’m not even sure how I got into that club without an ID. I must have charmed the bouncer, but I don’t really remember.
When I don’t answer he says, “Right. My car it is then.”
He surveys me again, then turns to the side a little and says, “Hop on.”
I blanch. “Hop on?”
“It’s about five or six blocks to my car. No way I’m letting you walk all that way barefoot. I’d carry you in my arms, but…” He trails off, and his eyes linger along the hem of my dress that falls loose around my thighs and would no doubt flash the world if he were to hold me against his chest.
He clears his throat, and when he looks back at me, his eyes are hooded and his gaze drops briefly to my mouth. He turns away quickly and says again, his voice clipped, “Hop on.”
I step up behind him and lay my hands atop his shoulders. The muscles bunch and harden beneath my touch, and I know my assumption that day at the grocery store was correct. He might spend his days hiding beneath business clothes, but he has an incredible body beneath.
“How do I…”
“Jump,” he answers. “I’ll catch you.”
I take a deep breath, and rather than jumping straight away, I move close and lift one leg up to wrap around his hip. He reaches a hand back to grip my thigh, and it ends up half on the fabric of my dress, half on my bare skin. I feel him suck in a breath, and before I can think too much about it, I dig my fingers into his shoulders and jump, lifting my other leg.
He catches me as promised, but my dress has ridden up around my thighs so his other hand curls around bare flesh. I wrap one arm over his shoulder, and down onto his chest so I don’t choke him by wrapping it around his neck. I reach down with the other to pull at my dress and make sure all the necessary parts of me are covered. The fabric slides down a little, covering part of his hand, but he doesn’t bother adjusting his grip so he’s not beneath my dress.
I fold my other arm around him to hold on, and I swear I can feel his heart racing beneath my hand. My chest presses against his hard back, and he doesn’t move for several long moments.
He clears his throat and answers, his voice strained, “Just… trying to remember which direction my car is in.”
He starts walking then, and I’m all too aware of the heat that’s burning where our bodies press together. He pauses to shift me higher, gripping my legs a little harder, and the friction of my front against his back makes a moan form low in my throat. I pause long enough to be thankful that he gave me his jacket, otherwise he would feel the way my nipples have tightened into hard little buds because of his closeness. Somehow, putting on a bra didn’t occur to altered me.
“So,” I say, trying to distract myself. “Gwen is your little sister. That makes you how much older than her?”
“She’s five, and I’m twenty-three, so about eighteen.”
“Wow,” I say.
He laughs. “Yeah, we were all a little shocked when she happened.”
“Are you close?”
“Getting there. I wasn’t around much when she was born. I was already out of the house and on my own, but… well, things are different now. I’ve been trying to make an effort to be around more for the last year or so.”
My head hovers over his shoulder, close to his ear and I reply quietly, “I bet she’s glad to have you back. Your parents, too.”
He nods, some of his curls brushing my cheek, but quickly shifts the focus to me. “What about you? Any siblings?”
I hesitate, my usual lie on the tip of my tongue. Normally, I start out from the beginning saying no family. It keeps people from asking unwanted questions. But this time… I don’t know what’s different.
“Sisters. But we’re estranged. I haven’t seen or spoken to them in… well, a long time.”
“I’m sorry.” His voice is low and sincere, and it makes me want to lean my head against his shoulder.
I do just that when I reply, “It’s okay. I’m over it.” Have had a long time to get there.
The road we’re on begins to slope upward, and he grips me tighter. I do the same, feeling bad that he has to carry me all this way.
“Well, you know how old I am. What about you?”
I stifle a laugh. Wouldn’t that be something if I told him the truth? He’d drop me off at the hospital for a psych-consult rather than my apartment.
I feel him shift, and I lift my head off his shoulder only to find him turned sideways toward me, our lips inches apart.
It takes him a moment to say what’s on his mind, and when he does, his voice is husky. “You sure? You look… young.”
I laugh, and my voice might be a little breathy too. “If you’re worried about me being underage. I promise… I’m not.”
He stops then by a dark SUV and says, “This is me.”
He lets go of one of my legs to fish for his keys, and I tighten my thighs around his waist. He pauses, ducking his head and bracing an arm against the vehicle. After a shuddering breath, he unlocks the car with the press of a button and pulls open the passenger side door. He turns and leans until my backside meets the leather seat. For a moment, I have to resist the urge to squeeze my arms and legs around him, to not let him go, but common sense wins out, and I let them fall slack.
Rather than stepping away completely, he turns to face me, his hips still cradled between my legs. He towers over me, and I can’t help but notice how gorgeous he is. Perfectly angled jaw, high cheekbones, and sinfully full lips. His nose is slightly off- center, but somehow that only makes him more fascinating to me. A gifted sculptor once told me that the brilliance of art lives in its flaws.
He leans down toward me, planting a fist on the seat beside me, and I tilt my chin up. My mind is filled with the mistakes I’ve made and the possible repercussions and the look in the Watcher’s eye, but somehow his closeness cuts through all of that. And I want him to kiss me.
Immortality has a way of muting the world over time, blurring the things that used to matter, and stifling emotions that used to be clear and sharp.
I don’t know why he’s different, but he is. As his mouth hovers closer to mine, it’s everything else that blurs, not him. When I can feel the heat of his breath on my lips, my eyes flutter closed, and his groan is the only clue I get before I feel his body move away from mine, and the cool November air takes his place.
I open my eyes, and he stands a few feet back, turned slightly away. His hand rubs at the back of his neck, and his chest rises and falls on a slow, steady breath. He grips the top of my door and waits for me to shift my legs inside. I do, and the door closes with a thud before he disappears behind the SUV.
I dip my chin when he climbs inside, suddenly nervous. He twists the key in the ignition, and immediately turns down the air while we wait for it to warm. I’m saved the trouble of deciding what to say by the ringing of his phone. It rings twice, and it’s not until he says my name that I realize it’s coming from the pocket of his jacket. The one I’m wearing.
While I search his pockets, he accepts the call on his car’s Bluetooth.
“Wild, where the fuck are you man? How am I supposed to get some while I’ve got Bridget in my ear asking about you every five seconds?”
“Rook, hang on a sec.” Then he tells me, “It’s in the zipper pocket.”
I retrieve the phone and say again, “Sorry.”
The guy on the phone says, “Ohh. And who might that pretty voice belong to?” Wilder switches the call to his cell and says, “Rook. Something came up. I’m sorry.” He sighs at his friend’s response. “Not that kind of something.” He rubs at the bridge of his nose, and it makes me think again of the glasses he’d worn last time. I wonder which version of Wilder is more authentic. Leather or lenses. “I know. I’ll owe you one.” I don’t have to hear the words to know his friend isn’t happy he’s ditching. “Tell her whatever you want. Bridget isn’t my problem anymore.” That gets a strong enough response that Wilder tilts his ear away from the phone. “Fine. I’ll owe you two.
Gotta go.” He hangs up without waiting for a reply and tosses the phone into a cup holder in the center console.
“So, where am I taking you?”
It’s then that I remember how I spent my day before I wandered down to Sixth Street. I have a vague memory of my apartment, covered in my delusional thoughts, and I know I can’t go back there. I can’t face that. Not now. Not with him in tow.
“Anywhere but home.”
About the Author
Cora Carmack is a twenty-something writer who likes to write about twenty-something characters. She’s done a multitude of things in her life– boring jobs (like working retail), Fun jobs (like working in a theatre), stressful jobs (like teaching), and dream jobs (like writing). She enjoys placing her characters in the most awkward situations possible, and then trying to help them get a boyfriend out of it. Awkward people need love, too. Her first book, LOSING IT, was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller.