I was looking something up and came across this bit of, like…angst with…like, a faintly smutty edge, that I posted on Patreon a while back, and I thought I’d post it here now. :)

***

Thin, expressive lips, always teasing with a smirk that hid the promise of a heartbreaking smile. She knew the other one better, though. The one made of real laughter, changing hazel eyes to green. The one that came with the way he would play with his clothes, a black coat with a red lining. Sitting, he would flip its skirt open, creating a crimson slash that led the eye directly where he wanted it to go. A flash of leg, like an ingenue, before folding the skirt again and opening the collar, drawing attention upward to the hollow of his throat; to the sparkling, glittering grin above it that said he knew exactly what he was doing.

That was the smile she knew, the smile she felt against her own lips. “Actors,” she said when he did that, and his laugh held a confessional note. But then he offered his hand, a gesture almost too small to be seen, filled with the agonizing fear of rejection. It happened that way with them every time, as if they’d promised themselves it wouldn’t happen again and in promising, somehow made each time the first. Their first kisses remained that paralyzing sway of seeking, not daring to imagine the gift was a given: smiles touching, breath mingling, parting again. Gazes searching, touch fluttering, heartbeats wild with hope and need. Laughter and delicate hands burgeoning into hunger and certainty, but the kisses, his lips, her mouth, always questioning, testing, tasting, to see if this thing was real. It never was, and always was.

There were worlds between them. Not unbridgeable, maybe, but broad enough for possible to seem improbable. Days, even weeks together were still filled with stolen moments, the dance of coming together and parting again. Pulled two separate ways, him by his life, her, by hers, both of them imagining that no one else knew. Sometimes she knew that was a lie; sometimes she saw others notice the caught moments, the ones where all that mattered was the fluidity of his body, the intensity in the meeting of their eyes, the lifetime that passed in a glance. Every minute together went too quickly, and every day apart made those minutes seem all the less real, until they happened again, another first time. A dozen first times, before the exquisite feel of his lips on her throat undid her, and she whispered words that were too real by far for what they were.

He went still above her, not the frozen hope of a man trying to hold on a moment longer, but an emptiness, as if everything he was had fled and left a shadow in its place. His fingers, curled against her cheek, were suddenly cold, and all she could see was the blackness of his hair, his face hidden beneath its waves. He said, “Ah,” and in that one word conveyed all the remoteness of the uncaring depths between the stars. “So that’s where we are now.”

We. Or maybe you; with the rushing in her head, with the heat of knowing the words should never have been spoken, with the sickness of knowing they couldn’t be unsaid churning in her belly, she wasn’t really certain which word he’d used. It didn’t matter. Answers fought to escape: it doesn’t matter, we don’t have to be, I don’t know, it’s easy to be in love when you feel this good, I didn’t mean to say it. She couldn’t say any of them, only stuttered a few syllables that meant nothing. After a moment he began moving again, stiffly, all the grace and passion gone. His lips wouldn’t meet hers again, nor his gaze, and she pushed his shoulders away. “Stop. No. I don’t want it like this.”

He moved back, drawing a sheet over himself. Caped in it, a pale shoulder exposed in frames of red, color of passion cooled by the ice in his eyes. “So, what, you’re just servicing me?”

Fury flushed her cheeks. “I’m not the one who went all mechanical here. Look, I didn’t mean to say it, I didn’t know I was going to, I don’t even know if it’s true. It could be.” The last confession was barely her own voice, so soft and full of pain. It hurt everywhere, in the shallowness of her breath and in the palms of her hands. Closing her eyes helped; at least she couldn’t see the rigidness of his jaw that way, or the pinched set of his mouth. Couldn’t see the scars in his eyes, the ones that told the story of a boy who had not thought himself loved, growing up, and who trusted no one who used that word with him now.

She did not want to be the fix for those scars, even if she could be. “It is true,” she said, her voice still light and not her own, and with her eyes still closed so she couldn’t see whether the words cut him or not. “I wish I hadn’t said it, but it’s true. I am…” Her lip curled, teeth bared before she spoke through them. “I am so happy, when I’m with you.”

His brother—his opposite in all ways, big and blonde and considered not too bright—opened the door and walked in, blasé as a college roommate letting himself into a dorm. Their apartment wasn’t much more than that anyway; a bed in the living room where the couch should be, another bed in the single bedroom. He stopped in the doorway, looked between them, and said nothing, only walked past them into his own room. She turned her head, watching him in a kind of numb bafflement, knowing he wasn’t as dull-witted as his reputation had it; he was one of those who had seen their caught moments, and had both the wit and kindness to say nothing.

A Cracker Jacks box flew out of the bedroom and hit her lover in the head. He flinched hard and his brother came out again. Walked out the door, leaving his opinion hanging in the air: “You’re an idiot.”

She rose, dressing mechanically. He picked up the box of treats, never taking his eyes from it. She was on her way out the door, shoes in hand, she would put them on in the hall, she only wanted to be out of that room, out of that life, forever, and the door was closing behind her when he said, “Wait.”

Low word. Broken in its syllable. Scarred, in the way she could not fix. And because she was a fool, she stopped. Waited, her heart breaking with every beat, her breath slicing cold shallow cuts in her chest.

“He liked someone, when we were little. So much he was terrified to talk to her. She gave him a box of Cracker Jacks one day, and a kiss.” He lifted his eyes, gaze green green on her profile. She would not look at him; stopping had been too much already. He got to his feet, came to the door with his black hair long and loose and the crimson sheet falling to his hips, marbled expanse of pale skin framed by those shades. She saw it in her mind’s eye, vivid enough to undo her; if she turned to look at him she would be lost. She always was. That was the danger of him, and she had exposed herself too much because of it.

“I’m sorry,” he said, close enough behind her that his breath warmed her shoulder. “I’m sorry. I’m not…good at this. But he’s right, I’m an idiot, and I’m…sorry. I’ll try to be better.”

There were promises in the last words, implications that this might not always be new, not always a test, after all, and because she was an idiot, too, she turned. He offered her the Cracker Jacks box and in doing so almost lost his sheet, the armor he wore draped about his hips. He seized the one, dropped the other, and she caught it. His gaze jerked to hers, hope searing through his eyes, and she saw the impulse there, the intention to shutter that emotion and lock her out. It was exquisite agony that he fought it, left the question unasked but brilliant in his angular face, and it cut through her like a blade.

They stood so close to one another. So near, with all the terrible distance of the world between them, and on their lips, a kiss. A question. An exchange of breath, asking, testing, fighting to see if this was real.

Well, if last month’s release, THE QUEEN’S BASTARD, was sex, politics, murder and betrayal, than its sequel, THE PRETENDER’S CROWN, is betrayal, murder, sex and politics, more or less in that order. :)

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Assassin. Seductress. Bastard.

Witch.

Belinda Primrose has lied, murdered, and seduced her way through the deadly courts of Echon, all in the name of solidifying her queen mother’s power. Now war follows in her wake, and with it, the underpinnings that have held her in place for all of her life. She has trusted her father, been loyal to her mother, and waited patiently for answers that, once revealed, prove that those who should love her best see her as nothing more than an instrument to be played toward their own ends.

But Belinda has come into the strength of her witchpower, a magic she shares with Prince Javier, pretender to her mother’s throne, and with the sensual witchlord Dmitri, whose talent with the witchpower is beyond anything Belinda could imagine. Their craft has been used to manipulate, shape, and evolve the future of Echon…but even a power from beyond the stars cannot break the will of a daughter betrayed by everything she has ever known.

After a lifetime of service, Belinda will finally shape a future of her own…and change the destiny of a world with her choices.

A SECRET TRUTH about this book–about the Inheritors’ Cycle–is that I originally imagined TQB and TPC to be a single novel. I planned it to be Belinda’s Story, and the next two books were going to be someone else’s story.

Obviously that didn’t work out super well. QUEEN’S BASTARD weighed in at around…*laughs* I remember that the contract said “130K,” and I was like “It’s not going to be 130K. Maybe 150.” My editor said “We’ll put 130 in to keep you honest.” I just checked the original manuscript for TQB, which was 580 pages and 139,000 words. TPC was 717 pages and 180K, so we’re talking about a book that would have been the size of GRRM’s A CLASH OF KINGS if it had been published as one volume.

(That woulda been cool, huh? Maybe someday I’ll do a single edition hardback volume? :))

Anyway, I’m *ridiculously* pleased to be re-releasing this series, and I hope you all rush out and buy the books and enjoy them very much!

THE PRETENDER’S CROWN is available now!
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As I said to the PT who fixes me when I do stupid things like cartwheels, “I started going to the gym this week!”

“Yay!” she said.

“I hurt myself right away!”

“Oh,” she said. :)

It wasn’t really an injury, per se. It’s just that my damn hip flexors are incredibly tight, and using the rowing machine made the left one go “what the actual fitzsimmons?” I worked it out with assiduous stretching over the next day, but also, y’know, in a fit of Not Being Stupid, didn’t row again last week.

I did some feeble yoga, and a little dance barre stuff in the studio, and in an effort to not cripple myself with lactic acid, tried to be real careful about how much I lifted. Apparently it worked, because really the only thing that was sore at all was my pecs. I may have to be a little more vigorous this week. Or not. Right now just getting there is more than half the battle.

The woman working the front desk this morning, who has only seen me once, last week, in the studio, said to me, “The studio is open for the next hour,” when I came in. I was kind of impressed, honestly, and then I went and did barre and floor exercises for most of the hour I had available. Next Monday I’ll bring my ballet shoes.

S’all I got right now. *vrooms*

Sex, politics, murder and betrayal arrive with this re-release of THE QUEEN’S BASTARD!

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Belinda Primrose deals in secrets.

Since childhood, Belinda has known she was the unacknowledged daughter of Lorraine, the unwed queen of Aulun, an island nation on the edge of the vast Echonian continent. Belinda is a spy, an assassin…and a danger to her mother, should she ever be discovered. She can be anyone, and will do anything, to cement Lorraine’s position of power within the treacherous Echonian courts.

But as she infiltrates the glamorous royal palaces where her mother’s rivals scheme, a new power awakens in Belinda. The witchlight she commands is a dangerous aphrodisiac—one that could bring down everything she’s worked for when she finds a teacher in the sensual prince of Gallin. Javier harbors secret witchbreed magic of his own…and a claim to the Aulunian throne that ranks him highly among Lorraine’s enemies.

Belinda has never wavered in her mission, but love and loyalty will collide as her secrets are revealed…

This is a re-release with new cover art (and a few spelling errors fixed) of a book I published through Del Rey in 2008 and which I got the rights back to last year. It’s the first of a duology that tell the story of Belinda Primrose, the Queen’s bastard. Between the two books, a complete story is told, although it’s clear to any reader that there’s more in the world to tell.

It is not like my other books. It is full of sex, murder, politics and betrayal, in more or less that order. Its voice is completely different. There is at least one scene of Extremely Questionable Consent.

I do not tell you this to scare you away. I tell you this because this book sold like hotcakes upon its original release, and sales on its sequel, THE PRETENDER’S CROWN (re-release out next month!), collapsed so hard they almost took my career with them. My wonderful, loyal urban fantasy readers all went out and bought THE QUEEN’S BASTARD, and two-thirds of them apparently went “oh my GOD what have I gotten myself INTO” and did not buy the second.

I have felt somewhat guilty about this for ten years. :) In retrospect (and frustratingly, we discussed it at the time and decided against it), it would have been wisest to publish THE QUEEN’S BASTARD under a related pseudonym, because it’s so different from the urban fantasy stuff. But, well, hindsight is 20/20.

The good thing is that the people who bought TQB for what it was really loved it. There is a small, passionate group of people who have been hoping for ten years that I might someday finish the story I was building for this world.

Now that I have the rights back, that’s a possibility. It’s not going to be for a long time. I have a lot of things I need to get written first. But I also have notes and titles for the rest of the books set in the Inheritors’ Cycle world, and I’ve always wanted the chance to tell the whole story.

(I feel like I must again emphasize that I absolutely do consider TQB & TPC to be a complete story unto themselves. They end where they were always intended to, and the next book was always intended to be someone else’s story.)

I tell you what, though. Putting this e-book together was almost a revelation. I knew TQB was well-written. It was—it is—a book I somewhat self-deprecatingly called a real book: it’s not set in the modern world; its has a cast of, if not thousands, at least several; it does not rely on quick patter and one-liners and blinding fast pacing in the way the Walker Papers, especially, do. It was meant to be something new, something that showed what else I could do. And it succeeded. I knew it did all of those things.

But it had been years since I’d looked at the book, and when I opened up the file to make the e-book, I read the first sentences and I thought, “Holy crap, this is really good!”

That was, I confess, a pretty great feeling. :)

So…well. There you go. THE QUEEN’S BASTARD, backstory and all!

THE QUEEN’S BASTARD is available now!
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Clearly by the Monday of Worldcon I was too tired to even be writing about it a week later. :)

I’d actually been doing very well up until the Monday morning, really. I hadn’t been getting enough sleep, but apparently going home to sleep in my own bed made a real difference, because I didn’t get properly incoherent until Monday, and usually Saturday afternoon is when that sets in with these long cons.

I forgot that on Sunday (I think) I was sitting around chatting and our illustrious guest of honor, Diane Duane, swept by, causing me to bellow, “DIANE!” and leap up to hug her and give her fudge. That 20 seconds was the only time I spent with her over the weekend, which is fair, since I can actually, like, go out to pizza with her if we organize ourselves enough, whereas about 5800 other people at the convention have no such possibility. :)

Anyway, Monday morning I had a kaffeeclatsch at 10am, which I just kind of assumed either no one would be at, or that it would be filled with my friends who were taking pity on me for a meet-up at that hour on the last day of the convention. But it was not so! There were many people, most of whom I didn’t know or only knew online! That was great! Thank you, ridiculous people who showed up at 10am to talk to me! ♥ :)

I went and got something to eat after that, then took myself to the on-site bar, sat down, told Twitter where I was and that I had fudge, and let people come to me. It worked very well and I had a great couple of hours chatting with people, including the WONDERFUL HIGHLIGHT of meeting Genevieve Cogman, who is one of the went-on-to-get-published crew of us who were online gamers playing MUSHes in the early 1990s. (There are a lot of us from that group whose names you might know: Jim Butcher. Fred Hicks & Rob Donoghue of Evil Hat Productions. Cam Banks. Chrysoula Tzavelas. Nick Mamatas was adjacent to me, a load of the people knew him but I didn’t. A bunch of others I’m totally forgetting right now, but basically, this gaming group was like the 1990s version of the Inklings or the…dang it, I can’t remember what the Emma Bull/Steven Brust/Pamela Dean/etc crew called themselves, but like them too.) ANYWAY, the POINT IS, after like TWENTY-FIVE YEARS, I FINALLY MET GENEVIEVE IN REAL LIFE and it was VERY EXCITING and I’m still SO THRILLED!!!!! *happy flails*!!!!

After a while the fudge was nearly gone and my friend Ruth’s late-teens son arrived for a piece and mentioned he’d gotten to meet/talk to Sarah Rees Brennan & Holly Black, which had been great. I lamented the fact that I’d barely seen Sarah, and he knew where she was, so he took me–and this was great, it was like going somewhere with MY kid when he’s determined to not let me be distracted–he took me up to Holly’s book signing by way of moving me along every time I stopped to talk to someone. I’d have never made it up there without him, so I totally appreciated it. :)

I almost managed a full greeting to Holly, and gave Sarah the box of remaining pieces of fudge, and was chatting when Ellen Kushner, who had also been doing a signing, noticed Holly and came down to talk, too. We’d met a couple of times in real life before, but I reintroduced myself (it’s much more impressive for me to meet ELLEN KUSHNER than it is for her to meet me :)) and we talked and (thanks to Irish Kate) there was a brief rendition of “If I Were A Rich Man” and at some point it came out that on Livejournal I’d been mizkit, and Ellen cried, “*You’re* mizkit? I *do* know you! We’re *friends*!”, which was quite delightful. :)

*laughs* And Sarah broke out the fudge, and then somehow–oh, it was because I’d made cookies for her the other day–she mentioned I was a good baker as well as candy-maker, and Ellen sidled over and said, “Do you make…*pie*?” So now I’ve promised her a pie or several, and look forward to the opportunity to make those for her. :)

I finally had to leave that gathering, which was too bad because it was such fun, but I really *did* have to leave, because I had to go down to the dealer’s room and get the copies of my books that hadn’t sold over the weekend. To my great delight, I’d sold nearly everything and had hardly anything to carry home! Yay! :)

I was pretty determined, at that point, to head home early, but then I ran into ANOTHER friend whom I’d promised a chat with, and said “We’ll take 15 minutes!” and 65 minutes later had delayed them very very much… :) But we had a lot of fun talking, and I was very glad to have actually gotten a chance to catch up and answer some questions for them.

It took another hour and a half to slip out of the con after that, what with saying goodbye and everything, so my ‘early home’ turned out to be ‘7:30pm’ which wasn’t exactly early, but overall it was well, well worth it. What a wonderful week I had. ♥