I’m not going to explain here why The Gilded Scarab is written in first person, except to say that Rafe Lancaster was clearly flatter and less interesting (and interested!) when his story was first drafted in third person, but he roared into life when I experimented with a first person rewrite of the first couple of chapters. He leapt of the screen at me, grabbed his story with both hands, and set off to tell it with a joie-de-vivre that just hadn’t been there in the first draft.
Which is cool. Until you come to write the sex scenes.
What was harder, was working out how to make sure that Rafe’s voice, Rafe’s experience of the sex, didn’t reduce his partner to no more than a cock and a pair of hands. How to get the sense of connection, the realisation that there are two people involved, the emotional aspect right… that was a challenge. Inevitably, Rafe’s ‘voice’ was about himself and his own experiences, and keeping the sex right without making him out to be the most selfish arse alive… well that was fun.
I hope I succeeded. There are not a lot of sex scenes in The Gilded Scarab, but I ended up being happy with those that are there. Rafe was certainly happy, anyway. What more could I ask for?
When Captain Rafe Lancaster is invalided out of the Britannic Imperium’s Aero Corps after crashing his aerofighter during the Second Boer War, his eyesight is damaged permanently, and his career as a fighter pilot is over. Returning to Londinium in late November 1899, he’s lost the skies he loved, has no place in a society ruled by an elite oligarchy of powerful Houses, and is hard up, homeless, and in desperate need of a new direction in life.
Everything changes when he buys a coffeehouse near the Britannic Imperium Museum in Bloomsbury, the haunt of Aegyptologists. For the first time in years, Rafe is free to be himself. In a city powered by luminiferous aether and phlogiston, and where powerful men use House assassins to target their rivals, Rafe must navigate dangerous politics, deal with a jealous and possessive ex-lover, learn to make the best coffee in Londinium, and fend off murder and kidnap attempts before he can find happiness with the man he loves.
(Cover by Reese Dante)
He drew a breath so shaky I heard it from where I stood beside the bed. And another. He turned his head toward me at last, and the firelight sprang up to light the side of his face, limning his cheekbone in red-gold, sliding its way across the side of his neck and pooling shadows in the hollow of his throat, slipping more shadows under his cheekbones and edging the line of his jaw.
The firelight loved Edward Fairfax, breathed living gold into him.
The breath caught in my throat. He was beautiful in this light. Very beautiful.
“I said I’d been away a long time, just as you had,” he said. “The commitments I had… well, they involved other people and promises made that I couldn’t break. It has been a very long time since I was free to be with someone like you, Rafe. And although I’ve been back to Margrethe’s three or four times recently, I haven’t allowed things to go this far.” Edward’s smile, the little crooked turning-up of his mouth, was pained. “I think I’m a little nervous.”
I could understand that. My hands were trembly, and I had to keep working my mouth to moisten it, it was so dry. I may even have been a little nervous myself. Odd, though, how his honesty, the lack of polite evasion, prompted the same in me. “It’s been a while for me too. Not because I was ever lucky enough to find one person the way you did, if I understand what you say about commitment—the Lancaster luck doesn’t run that way. But still, the life I had, the Aero Corps… I couldn’t risk it. So it’s been a long time.” I managed a grin. “At least, a long time since it wasn’t furtive and quick and in the dark, as if it were shameful. Nothing as open as this. But what I remember of it, it’s a pleasure I would really like to taste with you.”
He nodded, and this time his smile looked real. “I would be very glad to retaste it with you, Rafe.”
I took a step toward him. He pulled his hand out of his pocket and held it out to me.
I sought for something to say as I took it. His palm was warm and dry, and his fingers curled around mine. “Do you like kissing?”
This time I got the full smile, bright and dazzling and lighting up his whole face. “I do.”
“Not all men allow it.” I made a gesture with my free hand. “There’s a spot there I’d rather like to kiss.”
The particular kissable spot was under his chin, half-hid in flickering shadow, half-lit by the firelight. I laughed when my lips settled against the skin of his throat, and he laughed with me; I felt it thrumming in his throat. I raised both hands and held his face, tilting it away from the fire. His eyes were shadowed. I used my fingertips first, following the light down the side of his jaw, tracing the line of his neck and smoothing into the warm hollow at the base of his throat. The little bones cradling it were hard under my fingers, harder still under my tongue. The hollow of his throat tasted of salt.
Edward sighed, his hands fell onto my shoulders and squeezed, his head tilted back to let me do my worst. It would be all right. We’d find our way back to our old lives together.
The next kiss wasn’t gentle. It set the world ablaze.
Anna Butler was a communications specialist for many years, working in UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to running an internal TV service. She now spends her time indulging her love of old-school science fiction. She lives in the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockapoo.