As I blogged about here, the first draft of Iron & Velvet sort of accidentally didn’t have any men in it. Well, a handful of werewolves, a murder victim and a celibate incubus, but they barely counted. One early suggestion from my editor was that I gender-flip Mercy – who was officially the Prince of Swords in the book as I originally conceived it – but that was something I was very keen to avoid. Mercy’s backstory is only hinted at in Iron and Velvet, but her whole arc is about the rejection of the routes to power typically prescribed for women (seduction, innuendo, beauty) and the embrace of the power that comes from being a terrifying, indestructible creature of the night. Gender-flipping the character would have undermined that quite a lot. So instead I decided to simply roll the position of Prince of Swords back a generation. I’d always intended Mercy’s predecessor to be somebody extremely old and rather out of his time (in the original backstory he’d died in the blitz), so I went back to my concept board and put together the character of AeglicaThrice-Risen. This involved really quite a lot of rewriting, since the Prince of Swords has a relatively major supporting role in the book, and his relationship with Julian wound up being very different to the relationship she would have had with Mercy (who would have been a relative newcomer to the role). He also simply has a very different style.
Anyway, just for curiosity’s sake, really, here’s Chapter 7 with Mercy instead of Aeglica. The outcome is basically the same but it has quite a different feeling. Also it hasn’t been edited so, yeah, bear in mind that I’m not actually very good at, y’know, writing when I haven’t been edited.
Blood & Mercy
I woke to the taste of wine and roseleaves. Something was wrong. Perhaps it was the unfamiliar ceiling. The sheets with a thread count so high it felt like being wrapped in clouds. Or the vampire prince nuzzled into the crook of my arm. But mainly it was the fact I didn’t have a hangover.
We’d slept through most of the morning. There was a sheen of noonday light seeping through the thin curtains. I was bad at getting up even when I wasn’t entangled with a hot chick but, in a few minutes, necessity demanded and I went in search of a bathroom that wasn’t full of monster splatter.
Julian made a sleepy sound as I eased out of the covers. “Mmmf, five more minutes.”
And when I came back she’d sneakily annexed my side of the bed and was rolled in a sausage of duvet. Her hair was all tousled. She looked, frankly, adorable. I leaned over to kiss her and, quick as a snake, she hooked her arms round my neck and pulled me down on top of her.
“I knew it was a trap.”
I reached up and closed my hands over her wrists, stroking the cool, tender skin of her forearms. Even in full daylight she could have easily resisted but she let me break her hold. I pinned her hands to the pillow and smirked down at her.
She stirred beneath me and I felt the languorous stretch of her body even through the duvet. I fit my fingers to hers, tracing the pale lines that crossed and re-crossed her palms until I felt a shiver in her skin, an answer to the needle sparks of desire that flashed inside me. She seemed absurdly fragile. But her eyes were as endless and as ancient as the sky. Her strength as undeniable as steel, yielded to me without hesitation.
I bent to kiss her, slipping my tongue between her fangs into the velvet softness of her mouth. The same rush of madness. She tasted of promises and secrets. Although I was holding her down, I felt like I was falling. We shed the duvet, falling together, skin to skin. She was as smooth as silk and marble but her mouth was a spill of heat under mine. Her liberated hands traced the curve of my spine, pleasure igniting like stars wherever she touched me.
I tasted the hollow at the base of her throat and the fragile ridges of her collarbones, the softness of her breasts and the sleek valley that lead across her unbeating heart. Julian’s fingers tangled in my hair, her body twisting against mine, her lips opening on a deep, rich sound of desire. I’ve always been pretty quiet so the intensity of her response caught me by surprise. Even more surprising was how much I liked it. Her passion and her ease in it heated my skin like lover’s breath.
I tend to think of myself as focused. I get the job done (though I don’t charge expenses). Maybe I’m just a naturally wary person. Or maybe it’s because people keep trying to kill me. But this was different somehow. It was Julian. She pursued her pleasure like it was her prey. She was fearless, relentless and shameless. And I knew I was out of my depth.
My head was spinning again. She sparkled in my mouth like champagne. My kisses landed on her skin as vivid as butterflies. The idle play of her fingertips glittered over me like dew across a spider’s web. The world had collapsed into nothing but this. Tangled sheets, tangled bodies, and Julian.
A wave of cold air suddenly swept the room.
There was a polite cough.
I rolled away from Julian. There were two knives in the hall and one in the master bedroom covered in monster. I was fucked. Metaphorically. In the absence of weapons, I scrabbled for a sheet and pulled it over myself.
Julian reclined. “I’m a little busy, Mercy,” she said.
“So I see.”
Standing at the foot of the bed was the Prince of Swords. She was dressed – as always – like an Edwardian widow. Bustle. Veil. The works. The only visible parts of her body were her hands, long, gnarled fingers tipped with proper rip-your-face-off talons.
I’d met her once before, the first time I came to London, back when I was seventeen and pleading for Patrick’s life. At least I was dressed then. Her job is to protect vampire society by any means necessary. She wipes minds, fights wars and scares the shit out of private investigators.
And, at her side, looking deeply betrayed, stood Patrick.
Between the blood-sucking tentacle monster, the head of the vampire mafia and my dickhead ex-boyfriend, I was really beginning to miss Tash the Teetotal Lesbian.
Julian folded her hands behind her head and crossed her feet at the ankles. “Look, I don’t bust in on you when you’re terrorising people.”
“I didn’t ‘bust in’,” said the Prince of Swords, “I walked in. Through the hole in your back wall. Over the corpse of the void-beast. About which you have done nothing.”
“Oh that.” Julian waved a dismissive hand. “I was distracted.”
“This is the second time you’ve been attacked in a week. A state of affairs about which you also appear to be doing nothing.”
“I’ve got someone looking into it.”
Mercy’s attention swept us like a searchlight. “Would this ‘someone’ be the individual who is presently naked in your bed?”
I normally don’t stand for people telling me how to do my job. But then I don’t normally try to fuck the client in the middle of a murder investigation. I knew there was a reason I didn’t work for vampires.
“Shall I just leave?” I said.
“No,” said Julian, “you stay right there, sweeting.”
Patrick chose this moment to defend my honour. “Don’t tell her what to do,” he snarled. He had never liked other people ordering me around.
“Oh do be quiet,” said Mercy. “In fact, wait outside.”
He cast one last smouldering glance in my direction and left.
“Look, I’m handling it,” said Julian.
“Be certain that you do,” replied the Prince of Swords. “Your complacency weakens us all and if you are incapable of keeping your house in order I will not hesitate to convene the council.”
“I didn’t think empty threats were your style. I’ve been ruling this domain since you were giving handjobs in Venice. It’s only been five days.”
“Five days in which you have failed to execute the most basic duties of your position. One of the wolfkin was murdered on your territory and you sent a mortal to tell the family. Then you allowed yourself to be attacked by a monster of the void and left its dismembered corpse lying in your ground floor apartment in clear view of the patio. Your neighbours called the police. If Patrick hadn’t intercepted, it would have led to an incident.”
In Julian’s defence, she hadn’t exactly sent a mortal to tell the werewolves their cousin had been murdered. The mortal had gone on her own. But I didn’t think the Prince of Swords would appreciate the clarification.
“Really not appreciating the lecture,” said Julian. “You’re new in your job which is why I’m going to forgive you for telling me how to do mine. But this is strictly a one-time deal. And if you fuck with me again you’ll see exactly why I don’t need your assistance.”
Mercy bowed her head. “As you wish, your Highness.”
And then she was gone.
Julian huffed out a sigh. “Well that was a buzz-kill. Now where were we, sweeting?”
“We’re at the point where I remember I have a job to do.”
She pouted. “Are you sure we weren’t at the point where you were lying on top of me? I liked that point.”
“I liked it too but it was followed by the point where a hacked off vampire prince and my ex-boyfriend walked in on me naked. And, besides, she’s kind of right.”
“She’s young and over-zealous,” said Julian, “I’m not going to be attacked again today and the corpse isn’t going anywhere.”
“You said that about the last corpse.”
“Well, fine. I could just fire you.”
“Then I’d definitely be too pissed off to fuck you.”
“Then do what you have to do,” said Julian, shrugging.
I left the gorgeous naked vampire prince and went to hunt down my clothes and sort through monster innards. Professional pride is overrated.