|Home > Delilah S. Dawson > Blud > Wicked After Midnight (Page 47)|
|Wicked After Midnight(Blud #3) by Delilah S. Dawson|
“I can’t stay here.” I hefted the bag of coins; it took two hands. “And I don’t have to.”
It was still so strange and wonderful to hear Bea’s voice. “But where will you go?”
I opened the bag and stared at the pile of glinting metal. When I glanced up at Vale, he looked as if he was about to burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“I’m waiting for your answer, bébé. You can do anything you want, and I can’t wait to hear what it is.”
I plucked a silver from the pile and flicked it at Blaise, who caught it neatly.
“I want to go back to Sangland.” They all stared at me, waiting, not breathing. I let the moment go on a little long, just to see who inhaled first. It was Vale. “And start a cabaret.”
“But Demi, there are no cabarets in London,” Cherie said, her usual know-it-all self.
“Not yet there aren’t. But just think of it—a theater in London, daimon girls who wouldn’t have to sleep with the audience if they didn’t want to. Performers honing their craft. We could even trade carnivalleros back and forth with Criminy’s caravan, if anyone got bored.” I reached for Vale’s hand and squeezed it. “You up for it?”
He rubbed his stubble with his other hand. “A disgraced Brigand of Ruin in Sangland, working at a Bludman’s cabaret.” He threw back his head and laughed. “It would appear I finally found a way to make my father angry and yet stay far enough out of his reach that he cannot strangle me.”
Mel and Bea signed quickly; they would always have their secret language. Then Bea took a big breath. “Can we come with you?”
Mel nodded. “We’re good workers, and—”
“And Blaise is a good boy, willing to learn a trade—”
“And there is no greater costumer than Blue—”
I realized I could finally move, and I held up wobbling hands to sign Yes.
Mel squealed, and they hugged and kissed, Bea’s arm around Blaise’s shoulders.
“What’s going on in here?”
Lexie appeared in the doorway, and then all the daimon girls were crowding in, dressed in their cabaret finest. I couldn’t help recalling how hard they’d fought, how strong and faithful they had been, as they worked to free their friends. And I was just supposed to leave them here in Mortmartre, under the greedy eyes and empty hearts of a pair of evil tiger bitches like Sylvie and Charline?
“Y’all want to come to Sangland and work in my new cabaret?”
Needless to say, Paradis gave out a lot of refunds that night, as there wasn’t a single showgirl left. They all followed me out the front door.
SIX MONTHS LATER . . .
I leaned back against the plush velvet seat of my private box, then immediately sat forward again, eyeing the shining boards of the stage. Did I see a loose nail? Surely not. Vale and I had helped fix the floors ourselves. I would’ve noticed any problems while polishing every inch of the stage on my hands and knees.
“Opening night’s always an utter flub. Relax, pet.”
I bit back a hiss. “You’re not my boss anymore, Criminy.”
The caravan ringmaster sighed and sipped bloodwine from a sparkling glass. He looked especially dapper in his city clothes, the top hat and well-cut tailcoat just as smart as those of any of the Pinky gentlemen surrounding us and his dark hair brushed back into a tidy queue. Tish sat beside him in the sort of tasteful but painfully colorful gown the city humans preferred, buttoned up to her throat but splashy in black with bright red poppies that matched her ruby locket. I was the only one still wearing the heavy cloak demanded by a London winter night. Their gloved hands were intertwined, and although Criminy observed the cabaret’s setup with the critical eye of a ringmaster, Tish only had eyes for him.
“I was barely your boss before, Demi. Mentor, perhaps. But Aztarte knows you never listened, in the caravan or out. I suspected you would give poor Mademoiselle Caprice the slip, because it’s definitely what I would have done. But it was awfully poor taste to end up kidnapped in a copper elephant.”
“I did escape,” I mumbled.
“And eating your kidnapper was a stroke of genius.” He turned the full power of his grin on me, and I felt as if after all these years, I’d finally won his approval simply by committing my first murder. “So what’s the opening act?”
Vale grinned. “Wait and see.”
I was proud of him; he was possibly the first person I’d ever met who wasn’t intimidated by my godfather. Well, Veruca the Abyssinian in the caravan didn’t take any of Crim’s shit, either, so perhaps it was an Abyssinian thing. Still, they’d hit it off, and I was more relieved than I would admit. Buying and renovating an old theater with a rogue brigand from Franchia wasn’t Criminy’s idea of a smart business move, but we were about to prove him wrong.
Criminy held out his pocket watch, and before he could comment on the time, the lights dimmed. An amplified organ started off at a sinister gallop, and I smiled smugly.
“What the bugger is that racket? Surely you didn’t . . .” Criminy started. He sat up, gloved hands biting into the rail as he looked down at the spotlight and hissed.
“Yep. I didn’t think the Maestro would say yes, but I sent the telegram, and here he is.”
Below us, Casper Sterling commanded the room with his masterful playing of a song no one in Sang had ever heard before. I knew it, of course. It was the opening to The Phantom of the Opera, and the only reason Casper wasn’t being completely overrun by crazed fans and reporters was the half-mask we’d provided for him and the fact that his name wasn’t listed in the playbill.
The banister squeaked under Crim’s fingers. “Can I kill him?”
Tish snorted, pulled Criminy back by the tail of his coat, and shoved him playfully into his seat. “You know the rules, buster. Never kill anyone at the theater,” she said.
“That only counts for the audience.” Criminy tried to look innocent and utterly failed.
“Then that’s the second rule: you’re not allowed to kill the performers, either. Besides, he’s a Bludman now, and also, you know, kind of the king of Freesia. So you should probably go down to greet him after the show and give him flowers.” Tish grinned. It was so weird to think she’d ever actually considered running away with Casper. It would never have worked out; they were ten kinds of wrong for each other.
Criminy’s growl made the rest of us laugh; he still couldn’t forgive himself for taking Casper in when he’d appeared as a Stranger on the moors all those years ago, giving him a job and teaching him how to stay alive in Sang. It was bad enough that Casper had become a Bludman; it was even worse that he was now the prince consort of Freesia and thus untouchable without starting an international incident.
“Bloody Strangers,” Crim growled.
Tish smacked his arm lightly. “You did get the girl,” she reminded him. That was enough to recall him to the present, and he gave up on Casper to lean back between us and hold Tish’s hand on the armrest.
“And maybe he’ll introduce you to Ahnastasia if you ask nicely,” I added, which had Criminy leaning forward again, avidly scanning the crowd for his favorite celebrity.
I looked out at the audience, and my heart pounded like it might burst. We had a full house, and the theater was a masterpiece. From the plush boxes like ours that rose all along the walls on three levels, down to the tiered benches for the shopkeeps and artisans, and all the way down to a special sort of elegant cage I’d built so that the Bludmen could finally enjoy a show without terrifying the humans, the design had been a work of love and madness between Vale and me. Turns out he had a good eye for design and knew a little carpentry.
Between the two of us, the girls of Paradis, the recovered victims of the Malediction Club, and a Scottish handyman named Thom whom Casper had recommended, we were able to get the half-decomposed theater up and running and still have some money left over. And just wait until the audience saw the daring costumes designed by Blue and Casper’s daimon friend Reve. London had never seen anything like the show we were about to put on.
Every nerve in my body sang, and I only hoped my wide smile wouldn’t ruin my careful makeup. I would never have admitted it, but throwing open the theater doors for Criminy to show him what I’d made of myself had been one of the proudest moments of my life. I’d left his caravan longing for adventure, and I’d finally found my purpose.
Casper’s song built to a crescendo, and his spotlight snapped off. Vale leaned close to plant a kiss on my hair and squeeze my hand.
“Break a leg, bébé.”
At just the right moment, I stood and let my heavy cloak fall to the ground. A spotlight fell on me, making stars dance all over the walls from the sequins and jewels on my daringly low-cut dress.
“Oh, this’ll be good,” Criminy murmured in approval as I stepped onto the balustrade in knee-high boots.
I slipped the small silver hook from my sleeve onto the invisible wire and struck a pose. A collective gasp went up from the audience, and I heard hundreds of voices murmuring, “Is that Demi? Is that La Demitasse herself?” With a smile on my face, I leaped into the air, hurtling toward the stage on my zip line, my skirt billowing behind me. The curtains opened as I hit the wooden boards, and the first show of the Demimonde Theater began to thunderous applause.