|Home > Delilah S. Dawson > Blud > Wicked as She Wants (Page 15)|
|Wicked as She Wants(Blud #2) by Delilah S. Dawson|
The only thing to do was confess, and it came out in a rush.
“Cora wants me to blud her.”
His gaze sharpened. “Really?”
“I didn’t know it was possible. I don’t know how to do it. But if I don’t, she’s going to tell Miss May what I am.”
“Did she say why she wanted to be bludded?”
“She said she was a halfblud, and it made her nearly mad. And she said that my part in the process would be painful. Is it all true?”
I had once asked my mother the same question about fairies, and it didn’t escape me that all the wrong things turned out to be real. His eyebrows were drawn down as if it hurt to speak.
“It’s true.” He glanced to the closet, where the box still showed dozens of blood-filled vials. “It’s a nasty business. Whether halfbluds are born or made, most of them just want to be bludded and get on with life without the unbearable hunger and inevitable madness. Are there no halfbluds in Freesia?”
“Absolutely not,” I snapped. “They would be seen as an abomination. Ever since the Bloodless Revolution, the lines between Bludmen and humans are very strict. In the palace, a nobleman would no sooner share blud with a human than you would serve a dog your lopped-off finger in a bowl.”
“I didn’t even know it was possible,” I said, mostly to myself. Now, among all my other problems, I had to wonder what else had been purposefully omitted from my privileged education.
“It’s not considered a polite topic of conversation.” He leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. I suddenly became aware that he was seeing altogether more skin than he’d ever seen on me. His eyes lingered on my collarbones, and goose bumps rose along my arms. I went back to rummage through the closet for . . . anything, really. I didn’t have possessions, but I needed something to do with my hands and eyes while his voice filled the small room. In a nest of scraps and trash, I found Keen’s brass sphere and rolled it between my palms as Casper deliberated. The thing was incised all over and heavy, but I had no idea what it was. I set it down and turned around to face him when he began talking again.
“In Sangland, the Bludmen are bad off, but the halfbluds have it worse. They try to keep what they are a secret, as Pinkies and Bludmen both consider them unpredictable and dangerous, but as it goes on, it’s harder to hide. It’s expensive to buy enough blud to keep from going mad. And even if you’re lucky enough to find a Bludman willing to accept the pain of the bludding and give you his or her blud, it doesn’t always take.”
“So I could actually kill her?”
“For my sake and Keen’s, let’s hope you don’t. I’d rather not walk the airship plank.”
“But wouldn’t Miss May know about her? Wouldn’t she be just as unwelcome on the Maybuck as I would be?”
“It’s different,” Casper said softly. “If Miss May knows what Cora is, and Cora makes enough to pay for the blud. She’s probably considered exotic. So long as she’s controlled, her price might even be higher. It’s said that halfbluds have a sort of intoxicating charisma.”
My head fell forward. “I hate having to hide who I am.”
I heard his sigh, his bare feet whispering across the thick rugs. When had he taken off his boots? He stopped just behind me, and I paused, my arm on his coat in the closet, where I’d hung it once Cora had left.
“I know,” he said. “It’s not fair. But it’s necessary if you want to get back home. And you’re not alone.”
He was so close that I could smell him, the hot scent of his skin, the sweet call of his blood, and a heady, musky cologne. Part of me ached to feel his hand on my shoulder, but I was scared, too. Scared to trust anyone, scared to be comforted when I was accustomed to putting up a smooth royal front. I almost told him about Cora’s offer for my body, but I was too proud to let him see me blush.
“I am always alone,” I whispered.
“You’re only as alone as you wish to be.”
I didn’t know what to say, what to do with my hands. I wanted to cover up, and for the first time, I missed the rough, heavy material of my old dress. And Casper just stood there, still and steady, damn him. As if he had all the answers. But what did he know? He didn’t have a midnight deadline to give up something he prized.
“What time is it?” I snapped.
He was silent for a moment, and I wondered if he was studying me as hard as I was studying his presence, trying to understand him as one animal does another. He didn’t feel like prey anymore, and I didn’t necessarily feel like a predator. I could read his face somehow but not his body, not his silence.
After a whisper of cloth and a metallic snap, he said, “It’s afternoon. If you’re going to blud her, you need to fill up. You’ll nearly drain her of blud, but she’ll nearly drain yours, over and over again—or something like that. And get some sleep, too, if you can.” He sighed in annoyance. “I have to go play the harpsichord, not as if they even hear it. Will you be okay until then?”
“I guess I’ll have to be.”
He moved away as I knelt and fumbled around for two more vials. I was going through them faster than I had anticipated, and it would have been helpful to know more about our schedule, such as how long until we touched down in another big city and found enough blood to keep me docile.
“I’ll let you know when it’s eleven thirty, shall I?” he asked.
I couldn’t bear to turn around. I felt like a string pulled taut, barely held together, and if his eyes had been too kind, I might have snapped. But he didn’t move, and he didn’t reach out. He was waiting for something, some signal I didn’t know how to give.
“Thank you,” I mumbled.
I would have sworn I heard him smile. It didn’t occur to me until after he’d shut the door that I had already broken one rule.
Princesses weren’t supposed to say thank you.
Even after three vials of blood, sleep eluded me. I had made my choice, and I was antsy, waiting for it to be over. I pulled a book from the small bookshelf fitted into the wall and lost myself in the sort of novel I’d never known existed. It was a flying brothel, after all. And despite my foreboding, it was a very educational afternoon.
When Casper knocked, I leaped up, shoving the book under my pillow before he could open the door.
“Don’t bother arguing. I’m escorting you there, at the very least.”
I nodded, feeling the corner of my mouth quirk up and tremble.
My heart was beating so hard against my chest that I expected it to show through the blue silk. My corset and clothes had not been returned, and I wondered how much of that was Cora’s doing. As I followed Casper through the halls, I was all too aware of the sounds on the other side of each door I passed. Moans, laughter, the slap of leather on flesh, and in one case, manly snores that recalled a dying bear.
Finally, we came to the Pearl Room. An engraved calling card was tucked into a slot below the plaque, with “Miss Cora Pearl” curling across the creamy paper in elegant script. With a deep breath, I straightened my dress and knocked.
“I’ll be right here,” Casper whispered.
“Please don’t. I couldn’t stand the thought—”
“Come in, darling,” Cora called, her voice as sweet as bells in winter. It was meant to entice and charm, but it chilled my blood nonetheless. I didn’t finish my sentence, but Casper walked backward away from me, his eyes crying helplessness and his mouth in a hard line.
I slipped inside, anxious to keep my shame hidden. I was willing to bet that no Freesian princess had ever knowingly entered a courtesan’s chambers.
“Welcome, darling,” she purred from the bed. “I’ve been expecting you. Have you made your choice, then?”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
My back was against the door, my arms crossed over my chest. Cora posed in a long, beautifully draped kimono that trailed over the ground. In one hand, she held a green crystal decanter, and in the other, a dainty glass goblet of dark red wine. Her hair was perfectly smooth, her lips bright red and perfect. Her smile spoke of power, of smug self-satisfaction. The room was much larger than mine and done in an elegant Eastern style, all cranes and chrysanthemums, and she was curled in the middle of it like a pearl nestled in velvet.
“Wine?” She held out the goblet.
“Of course not.”
Her laugh rippled as she crossed the room to stand uncomfortably close.
“Darling, they really didn’t tell you anything, did they? You must have come from an orphanage. You can drink wine, so long as it’s mixed with blood. It’ll help you relax.”
I knew that, of course. Celebrations at the palace included tables laden with delicacies, blood mixed with candies and liquors and dainty tarts. But she didn’t need to know that.
She took a sip, her throat rippling and her eyes closed in pleasure.
“It’s not drugged, sugar. See?”
I reached for the wine as if it was a dare, taking the first sip with a rebellious glare at my blackmailer. Up close, I could see that her eyebrows had been filled in with some sort of paint and that her long dark eyelashes were drenched in kohl. The tiny lines at the corners of her eyes were hidden with white powder. No wonder she wanted my blud. When her beauty faded, so did her way of life. Here was a woman who couldn’t do without her pearls and crystal.
The glass was cool against my lips, and the first sip was heady. Along with the usual warm, satisfying tang of blood, I welcomed the tart bite of wine and, deeper down, something sweet that numbed my lips. She must have seen my surprise, as she giggled like a little girl.
“You’ve never tasted blud before? I mixed that up just for us. Thought you might need some liquid courage.”
I took another sip, savoring the velvety burn as I weighed my options. I’d never tasted the blud of my own people, had always thought it forbidden. But there it was, rolling over my tongue and sliding down my throat, fiery and exciting. I licked my lips and stared at her.
Allowing my body to be used was out of the question, and so was bludding her. I couldn’t stand the thought of this horrid creature touching me, much less walking the earth with my own lifeblud in her veins. All day, I had thought on it. And still I had reached the same conclusion.
A clock chimed daintily, and she said, “It’s midnight, and I can’t wait to hear your choice, little pretty.”
“Fine. Let’s get this over with.”
Her hands stroked the silk on my shoulders, and her breath tickled my ear, and she said, “What’ll it be, doll?”
I took a deep breath and bared my fangs as my hands locked around her throat.
“Neither,” I hissed.
“You . . .” she whispered, choking as she dangled in my grasp, feet kicking weakly. The empty goblet dropped from her hand and bounced on the thick rug.
“I’m not a pet.” I squeezed, both thumbs on her trachea. “I’m not some tame thing.”
Cora tried to swallow, her throat working under my fingers.
“You’ll tell no one. Because if you do, I’ll find you and drain you dry and toss you over the rail.”
I loosened my hold, curious to hear her reaction.
Each word was a gasp. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Try me. I would relish it.”
I dropped her, and she collapsed on the bed, one hand to her bruised neck. I stood with as much grace as I could muster, hoping the long skirt hid my shaking knees and wishing I’d just strangled her earlier in the afternoon. I had stalled and acquiesced, hoping for a better choice. But, as ever, a predator was a predator, and my only choice was the one I was willing to fight for. After straightening my dress, I turned to her. She looked pathetic and broken, lying there, lipstick smeared and creamy skin mottled with maroon splotches.
“You would make a terrible Bludwoman, Cora.”
“This isn’t over.”
“I’ll decide when it’s over.” I smoothed down my hair in the mirror by the door as she coughed. “But understand me when I say that this is my first act of mercy, and I’m liable to change my mind.”
By the time I slammed the door, she was already pouring herself another glass of wine from the green crystal decanter.
I ran down the halls, my bare feet cold on the wood planks. I passed one couple grunting against the walls, and the man called, “Join us, sweeting? There’s a silver in it for you.”
I had to fight the urge to gut him on the spot. I was angry and scared and ashamed and deeply, ferociously hungry. Cora’s wine had left me feeling strange. I didn’t even pause as I turned the corner.
The door was open just the tiniest bit, and inside, Keen was crying. I peeked in through the doorway, unsure of how to approach. Casper glared at me over the girl’s shaking shoulders, her head buried in his shirt and her back to me. Her white gown had an ugly rip at the neck that made my hackles rise.
“You should have been taking care of me. You should have been there!” she cried in a strange accent.
“I didn’t know, honey,” he murmured in the same accent, his eyes never leaving mine. “I had to help Ahna.”
“She doesn’t need you. She’s a freakin’ Dracula. But I’m people, Cas. And that bastard tried to grab me.”
He winced. “I seem to recall you telling me to back off. That I’m not your dad.”
Keen pushed away from him and stumbled. She was gasping, her shoulder blades heaving. She held the torn neck of the thin white chemise together as she said, “You’re as stupid as he was. You think I don’t see what’s been happening? I’m not that naive. You’re not the same as you were when you found me. You saved me. But I can’t save you. Maybe she can. But you’re going to lose me. God, this is so fucked up. Like a Disney movie or something. Stupid princesses.”