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|Wicked After Midnight(Blud #3) by Delilah S. Dawson|
Vale whistled low against my chest, making me shiver. His hands ran down the corset and over the skimpy, lacy undershorts.
“Damn, bébé. I like your dark magic.”
“That’s not magic. That’s my ass.”
He gripped both cheeks, kneading for a moment before jerking me close against him, just a few layers of cloth between us.
It was entirely too much of a barrier for my taste, and my hands went straight for his buttons. He caught my fingers, brought them to his face, and ran my fingertips over his lips.
“Kiss me, bébé.”
I took him in another messy kiss, and he reached between us, the sound of crisp suiting and metal buttons shushed in the quiet dark. I knew he was free when he sighed, one hand moving back and forth briefly. I sat down again, savoring the feeling of his body pressing against the ruffles and right over the place he’d once licked me into ecstasy. His fingers ran up the insides of my thighs, dipping with familiar intimacy under the lace edge to stroke me.
“Mon dieu, bébé. So hot and wet. So ready.”
“Je le sais.”
I sat up a little on my knees, and he obliged by pulling the bloomers as far aside as he could and guiding me back down. The press of him, right there, right against me, was maddeningly delicious, and I rubbed, just a little, enjoying the suspense and inevitability of what was to come. With his hands firm on my hips and my fingers gripping the back of the bench to either side of his face, he turned to kiss the inside of my wrist. Our eyes caught, and it was like falling, and ever so gently, I eased down, taking him inch by hot, delicious inch inside me.
I held his gaze, savoring it, reveling in the warmth in his eyes and the way his lips were parted, just a little, as if he would stop breathing if he closed his mouth. I had to kiss him, and I did, and he kissed me back, and then we were moving together with slow, hard rhythm, as steady as the gallop of his bludmare across the wildness of the moors.
He hadn’t been lying; it was big. And it was wonderful.
I moved in slow circles, swirling up and down, my muscles contracting and pushing and yearning to take everything he had. He moved with me, against me, rocking me, holding me down and holding me up and running his hands up and down every inch of my body. His lips found my nipples, his tongue found my throat, his hands slipped like feathers over my bare shoulders and down to the tender insides of my elbows and wrists, down to my hands, weaving his fingers with mine and squeezing briefly before moving on.
After the night on the trapeze, I could only conclude that like any good thief, he knew my tells, knew how to read my sighs and groans and growls and twitches. His hands ran up my legs to the place where we joined under my loose bloomers, his finger finding the same bud he’d caressed with his tongue. He flicked it gently, perfectly, pinching and pressing in time with his thrusts. Mostly dressed, totally alone, still I felt the hot thrum of the crowd outside, the beat of the orchestra’s drums in my bones, and the wickedly distinct possibility that at any moment, someone might lift the flap of red velvet and see exactly how cheaply the star of Paradis sold herself.
That only made it hotter.
I’d ridden his horse, and now I rode him, head thrown back and hair coming undone down my arched back. I was getting so close, could hear the little mewls and whimpers escaping me with each breath.
“Viens, bébé. Viens.”
As if I’d been waiting for his permission to fall to pieces, I tensed and cried out as everything inside me hit the grand crescendo, as sweet and high as a violin’s string drawn out and vibrating, echoing and dancing with the stars in time with the drumbeat of my heart. He kept moving, pounding a primordial rhythm, and as my own release ebbed, I focused on him, clenching my muscles around him. I didn’t even realize my teeth were scraping his throat until I felt his hand on my jaw, firm with warning. I took his mouth instead, plunging my tongue to crash against his, moving and twirling with the powerful grace of an acrobat, pulling him with me into oblivion. He followed willingly, shuddering into me, his arms wrapped tightly around my waist and his mouth open against my lips. He made the most delicious noise, this low, ragged growl that I felt deep in my belly with his last forceful thrusts.
His eyes fluttered open and met mine, and I was instantly shy, despite the fact that he was still inside me. Or maybe because of it.
“I told you you’d get your turn, bébé.”
In response, I tightened my muscles and felt him start to go hard again. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he slumped down.
“You are going to kill me, little tiger. Or get me killed. Hurry, now. Get dressed. Before we are found.”
He gently lifted me, and I blushed and lurched to my bare feet, holding the untied skirt around my hips. I felt a breeze on my bare legs, a cold dribble down my thigh. As he buttoned his pants and tried to dab off the stains with a silk handkerchief, I blushed all the harder. He offered a tasseled velvet pillow to me, and I only hesitated a moment before sopping up the mess with the velvet and tossing it, stain down, back onto the bench. Hitching up the mess of my skirts, I fumbled with what went where, how to get the skirt back on and smoothed down as if it had never been touched. In that moment, struggling in the darkness, waiting to be discovered, I felt a strange sort of shame. And then the Bludman in my heart rose up and said fuck the shame. I turned to face Vale, the cloud of skirts in one hand.
“One day, we’re going to do that, and then you’re going to hold me in the crook of your arm while I sleep.”
His eyes went soft, his fingers curling and uncurling on his thighs as if he ached to hold me, right then. He’d already slipped his white gloves back on, and his hands looked alien, too white for having touched my body so recently. “I will do that, yes. There is nothing I want more.”
“This meant something.”
“It did, bébé.”
“We’re going to find Cherie.”
“But first, I have to go out there and find the prince, because that’s my job.”
His eyes went dark and flat. “But you’re mine.”
I bared my teeth at that word. “Not to control. Not to own.”
“That’s not what I meant, bébé. When will you see that it’s a different sort of possession?”
“When men stop trying to claim me like wild animals pissing on their territory!”
He blanched and swallowed hard. “Perhaps you are right, then. I only wanted to cherish and protect you, but I see how that could be misconstrued. Better find a place to wash away the smell of me, then.”
My jaw dropped open, and I hid my rage and shame by turning my back to him as I hastily tied my skirts tighter and arranged them to fall just so, a blooming flower again. How many times did I have to tell the jackass that I wasn’t sleeping with anybody? How long before he believed me? And how dare he try to make me feel bad when I was still dizzy from our time on the bench?
“Vale, I don’t—” When I turned around, he was gone. “You enormous ass,” I muttered as I slipped on my shoes.
Just then, Auguste poked his head into the tent.
“There you are, mademoiselle. The prince is waiting.”
There was no mirror to check my tumbled hair, no way to know if it was obvious why my cheeks were flushed. All I could do was nod and run a finger around my lips and sweep my bangs to the side.
Auguste held open the velvet flap, and I stepped through into a swirling chaos of sight and sound, a blizzard of sequins and feathers and eyes bright with lust and hunger. I hunted for the prince but saw only a sea of tuxedos until a slender gentleman in foreign dress stepped forward and gave a strange bow, the same one the prince had used.
“Mademoiselle, my master awaits you in the pachyderm.”
With a gracious nod, I took his arm, noting that he smelled of pipe smoke and hot metal under an unrelenting sun. As he escorted me down the brick hall that led to the elephant, did he feel my fingers tremble? Perhaps for the first time, I missed my gloves. For what the prince of Kyro had paid, biting him would never be enough.
The normally bleak courtyard was lit with twinkling lanterns, and I had to shove one aside as the prince’s servant led me to the pachyderm’s door. He bowed again at the bottom of the stairs, and I nodded regally, my eyes drawn to the swaybacked lines of gently swinging lamps. It looked so romantic and innocent down here, the sort of place where a young couple might huddle together over steaming cups of coffee, waiting for the perfect moment for their first kiss. But no. This was Paris, and Mortmartre, and Paradis, and there was only one thing that brought couples to the world-famous copper pachyderm late at night. Well, two things. And I was pretty sure the prince wanted them both—at the same time.
I took a deep breath and put on my professional smile before I opened the door to the stairs. If there was one thing I had learned in my short time at Paradis, it was that men could be easily fooled into thinking that you utterly worshipped them, so long as your smile and your eyes focused on them as if they were the only thing in the world.
Upstairs, I swanned into the room like a queen. The prince wasn’t facing the door, waiting for me expectantly, so my carefully practiced smile was utterly wasted. The room was empty. Which had to mean he was in the bedroom area, which was awfully presumptuous, even for a prince. I heard the door to the courtyard close and lock, far below me, and resigned myself to getting out of the elephant as quickly as I could and without the prince making any more headway than any other wealthy suitor had. Slipping a hand into the hidden pocket of my skirt, I made sure the sleeping powder was there. If I had to use it early, so be it. I wasn’t sleeping with the prince of Kyro or anyone else.
“Bonjour, darling,” I called, but there was no answer. “Prince Seti?”
Confused and a little off-kilter, possibly because the blood hadn’t returned to my brain after my time with Vale, I walked around the screen and into the bedroom. It was empty, too.
“What the hell?”
I sat on the bed, then fell dramatically back, making the blankets and my huge skirt poof around me. Everything felt sincerely stupid. Why was I even here? It wasn’t as if the prince was a local who might have a bead on my missing friend or some secret note hidden in his pockets. I was no closer to finding Cherie, and everything with Vale had just gotten infinitely more complicated, and there was this constant, whiny yearning in the back of my throat for Lenoir’s absinthe and dark, measuring glare. Back in Criminy’s caravan, I had wished for excitement and fame and complications, but I certainly didn’t feel satisfied now that I had exactly what I’d wished for.
A low rumble began somewhere above me, and I bolted upright. Was a dirigible crashing? I stood and walked to the window in the elephant’s face, which was normally covered, as everything in Paradis was, by velvet curtains. Everything outside looked totally normal, and there was nothing visible in the dark, cloudy sky. Even the moon hid from view, and I didn’t blame her.
With my bare hand on the windowsill, I felt the first tremor shudder through the thick copper plating. The noise grew louder, the grind building with the pump of pistons like an old-fashioned train starting up. I grabbed the sill with both hands as the entire elephant lurched sideways with a screech of rending metal. The world outside tipped, and I stared down in time to see one of the giant legs tear free from the ground in a shower of bolts.
I screamed and fell sideways, desperate to find something solid. I managed to get both hands wrapped around the iron-scrollwork headboard, bracing my knees on the bed as the next lurch and screech of metal signaled the freedom of another leg.
“Prince Seti? Auguste? Anyone? Hello?”
The only answer was terrifying chaos as the behemoth tipped sideways, sending the unsecured furnishings and trinkets raining around my head. I ducked as a little table crashed past and clung to the bed like a monkey on a ladder. At least the bed was bolted to the floor. Above me, an engine pumped and groaned, while below me, the next giant leg pulled free from its moorings with a shudder I felt in my teeth. I couldn’t imagine what sort of power it took to move something as large as a building or what the prince—or whoever was controlling the elephant—thought he was doing. But I wasn’t about to be kidnapped in a giant robot. It was finally time to test the indestructibility of a Bludman’s body.
I waited until the pause after the last leg broke free and leaped off the bed, dashing for the ladder set against the round interior of the elephant’s stomach. I’d noticed it the first time I’d been brought here for an assignation and had assumed it led to a romantic gazebo topside, since you couldn’t really see it from the ground. Considering that the elephant’s head and belly were occupied and that the grinding gears were coming from overhead, I was guessing the pilot, or at least the engine, was somewhere up the ladder. Whether I was facing a man or a machine, I was ready to throw a wrench into the works.
I tripped on my skirt and went sprawling, narrowly avoiding a concussion, thanks to an ornate urn that was tumbling all over the place. Growling in frustration, I made it to my knees and untied my skirt, then whipped it off and tossed it to the ground before taking off again on my journey to the copper ladder. Ricocheting awkwardly between the bed and the wall, I managed to reach the ladder and start climbing up the rungs. The elephant was really moving now, the metal creaking and swaying as if we might fall with each heavy footfall. I pushed down a wave of nausea. Seasick and about to barf blood from riding in a runaway steamwork elephant—how ridiculous could this world get?
The hatch at the top of the ladder was loose, and it only took a few turns before I was able to lift it. Hot, oily air spanked me in the face. The steaming engine roared with such a thunderous rumble that the figure seated on a captain’s chair didn’t hear me or turn around. I climbed into the cockpit with utmost stealth, grateful that I’d dropped the huge skirts, even if it meant I faced my enemy wearing my lacy underpants. After slipping off my satin shoes, I tiptoed across the warm metal. Along the way, I selected a weighty-looking wrench from a bolted-down box of tools and held it aloft. Whoever the dude was, he was going down.