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|Wicked as She Wants(Blud #2) by Delilah S. Dawson|
So this would be another of my rebellions, then. I would sleep alone in this narrow room, all of its appointments carefully screwed to the polished wood walls. I lay back and stared up at the elegant black chandelier, its red crystals catching and reflecting the warm orange light of the lamps. When the train lurched suddenly forward, I laughed, my heart light.
I had pulled it off.
I had come back from the brink of death and befriended the most unlikely of creatures. Disguised as my enemy, I had traveled from the smoky alleys of London’s Darkside, across the channel and over the Continent beneath a giant metal envelope of gas. I had jumped out of a breast-shaped window and into the great unknown and floated down into a frozen forest and tasted a unicorn. And now here I was, spread out in a second-rate room on Sang’s third-best train, chugging faster and faster toward my destiny. In a few short days, I would hold Ravenna’s slender neck in my talons. I would set my people free.
When the knock sounded at my door, I didn’t think twice.
“Come in. Leave it on the table.”
I sat up quickly and readjusted my skirts as Casper walked in, his fingers drumming nervously against his hips. Casper’s eyes were even more bright and desperate than before, with a mad sort of glitter about them. On the airship, sipping and even gulping his wine, I hadn’t seriously considered how pressing his problem had become. The way he was looking at me now—for the first time, I began to feel uneasy.
“Blood. I ordered some blood. Did you order food? You can, you know.”
He wasn’t looking at me, though. He was staring around the room with twitchy curiosity, as if he could hear someone speaking just out of reach and kept trying to find the source of the voice.
“Not hungry.” When he did focus on me, it was like staring into a black pit. Or an oubliette. His eyes shone with madness, the color of twilight and deep water, hungry and soul-sucking, but the intelligence lurked still, under the hunger. “Honestly. Have you ever seen me eat? There’s only one thing I need right now. And I can’t get it.”
“How did it start?” I asked, anxious to keep him distracted.
He chuckled ruefully and paced the tiny room. “It started out—it was innocent. I didn’t know any better. I was a Stranger. I thought I was goddamn brilliant. Criminy mentioned once that if a human drank a Bludman’s blud, even a drop, that Bludman wouldn’t want to feed on him. It was the gloves, you see.” He held up his bare hands, which were shaded just the slightest gray, as if with dust. “I couldn’t stand playing the harpsichord in gloves. It was so impersonal. So cold. So I asked him for a drop of his blud. He gave it to me, of course. Thought it was pretty funny, because he thought everything was funny. As I moved through the caravan, I persuaded each of the Bludmen to give me a drop. It made their lives that much easier, not seeing me as food. And I got to swagger around, gloves off and shirt open and barefoot, the smart lad who’d bested the Bludmen.” He cracked each finger, as I’d seen him do before. “He called me a clever boots. I thought it was a compliment.”
“He never told you that it would . . .”
“Addict me? Engulf me? Take me over until food tasted like dirt and my vision swirled with red?” He clinched his fists and stared hard into my eyes as if pleading. “He never told me, the bastard. As if he knew Tish was going to show up and choose him and leave me on the precipice of a downward fucking spiral. As if he was the one who could see the future.”
“Did you ever ask anyone about it?”
“No! No, I never thought to ask someone, ‘Oh, say, if I drink your blud, will I start to go insane and dream about ripping out a pretty girl’s throat? Will I see spots dancing on the walls and hear cold hearts pumping across the room and compose songs about the vein I can see fluttering against your collarbone?’ ” He reached out one finger, so quick, and stroked the exposed edge of my neck, and I shivered and pulled away from him. “No, darlin’, no one ever mentioned that part. Unfortunately.”
“When did you find out?”
“After it was too late to save myself. After I was too far gone, addicted and debauched and drunk in London. It’s all the rage in some of the cabarets. Absinthe is the Green Fairy. Bludwine is the Red Siren. You wouldn’t believe the things girls will do for a sip.”
“I suppose not,” I said with a frosty glare.
“Look, Ahna. If I can forgive you for hiding the diamonds and throwing that dead kid off the bank, you can forgive me for trying to lose myself in a string of girls I never cared about. We’ve both had our vices.”
“I . . .”
I swallowed hard and looked down. “I suppose you’re right.”
With a feral growl that surprised even me with its ferocity, he threw himself onto the bed and wrapped his arms around a pillow as if it were a life vest and he were about to drown in a river.
“I’ve never been so far from myself,” he said wonderingly. He scooted back against the cloth-covered headboard, hugging the pillow to his chest. He looked so lost and hopeless and wild that I sat down beside him, close enough to feel the warmth of his body.
“Do you have to have wine?” I asked softly.
“The wine’s no good without the blud, but the blud’s no good without the wine. At least, it didn’t used to be.”
When he looked up at me again, the lines of his face had gone rigid, as if he barely kept himself from flying apart at the seams. He breathed in deep and breathed out a long, slow, painful sound halfway between a groan and a growl. That sound—it was as if it had been designed just for me, and I leaned forward, avid and intense.
“I can’t believe I’m going to do this,” I said to myself.
I didn’t let him finish. The act was as swift and strange as the impulse. I grabbed his head with both hands and pulled him close while biting my tongue with sharp fangs. As the hot blud filled my mouth, I kissed him.
His body thudded in shock, but his mouth knew what to do well enough. His tongue lapped at mine, pulling hard at the wound as if he would swallow all of me in one fell swoop. I made to pull away, but his hands caught my face, hard but tender. His thumbs made a token stroke down my jaw, and he looped one arm around my waist and dragged me into his lap.
The bite on my tongue was already healing, but I couldn’t pull away from him. He was strong, and I was surprised when the struggle turned real. With one concentrated push, I wrested my face away from his, panting in the sudden silence. We were both breathless, and his pupils were pinpricks in a much lighter shade of blue than they’d been before. He absentmindedly wiped a dribble of blud off his cheek with one finger and licked it clean. I was stunned, fascinated, and caught by his gaze. He was himself again.
Perhaps I should have feared him then. But I had seen his beast, and something in me had liked it, and I couldn’t make myself move a single inch farther away from him.
“Why’d you do that?” He chuckled in that familiar way of his. “Not that I mind.”
I couldn’t blink, couldn’t find words. I’d had enough of pretending to be human. Fragile, soft, lying with pretty words. I would tell him the truth, and his response would determine whether or not the die had been cast. Did he see me as what I was or what I had been?
“I did it because I wanted to.”
“I wouldn’t have pegged you as merciful.”
“It wasn’t mercy. It was selfish. I wanted to kiss you, so I did. I wanted you to be one step closer to me. I understand the beast in you better than the human.”
I held his gaze as I said it, the words spiced with ferocity as if daring him to question me. With a simple turn of his head, he seemed more focused and Bluddish.
“You’re different since we landed here,” he said carefully. “More yourself.”
“Of course. I don’t have to pretend. It’s not in a Bludman to hide. I know you can feel it taking you over. So why do you persist in pretending?”
“Because I’ve been human my whole life. It’s frightening, becoming something else.”
“Maybe you’re not becoming something new. Maybe you’re becoming what you’ve been all along.” I grinned, knowing that my teeth would be shining with warm light. “Is the beast really so bad? Were you ever really fit for a conventional life? All these things you’ve done before—were you happy?”
He sat forward, elbows on his knees. “I wanted to be. I tried. But it never felt right.”
“Then you’ve got nothing to lose.”
“Does she know the bit about how if you’re not bludded, you’ll go mad? Because someone who truly cares for you will want what’s best for you, even if it means that things change.”
“When did you get so wise?”
“When there was something worth knowing. I was well trained in diplomacy, you see. And the beast is wise. The beast is placid and self-contained. It doesn’t whine or think of sin. I’d rather make peace with my beast. Wouldn’t you?”
He smiled for real, then, dimples and all. “You’re not what I expected in a murderous princess.”
“We didn’t meet under the best circumstances.”
“At least we know you fit in a suitcase.”
It caught me off guard, and I laughed brightly. The train had reached its speed, and the movement was soothing and exciting at the same time. I felt on track, as if I was where I was supposed to be for the first time in forever. And I realized that it felt right, having Casper with me. I had been raised to trust no one, and yet here I was—trusting someone.
“You’re not what I expected, either,” I said.
After an awkward pause, he leaned toward me. “Want to play Truth or Dare?”
“Is that a Pinky game?”
“It’s a Stranger game. You have to choose whether you want to be asked a question you have to answer or whether you’d rather take a dare. But whatever it is, you have to do it.”
I scooted to sit beside him, my back against the headboard and my legs stretched out before me under the shimmering ripples of my dress.
“Truth,” I said.
“Why did you tell Mr. Sweeting that your name was Anne Carol?”
“You sneaky little creature!” I smacked his arm. I had taken the game for fun, but now he’d all but bound me to reveal secrets I wasn’t ready to share. I’d underestimated him again. But I had my honor.
“Anne is the Sanglish version of Ahnastasia, so that part is true. As for Carol, it’s the Sanglish version of Charles, which is the name of the Svedish king. Many people in my home country say that I’m his bastard daughter through my mother, who spent much time with the king in Stock-helm on a diplomatic mission that lasted longer than expected. As I’m the only person in my family with this coloring and without the Tsar’s trademark nose, I have always wondered if it was true.”
“Sweeting would have killed you if you had been wrong. I guess you have your answer now.”
My eyebrows went up. “You’ve dealt with him?”
He looked away. “Selling blud is the tamest of his pastimes.”
“I dare you to kiss me.” I licked my lips and waited.
“You don’t play around, do you?”
“No. Why should I have to?”
“Well, then. I guess I’ve got no choice, do I, darlin’?”
He leaned toward me with infinite slowness, his mouth curling in a smile and his eyes falling closed with a sweep of auburn lashes. I breathed him in, contented to find that my scent was highest in his blood, as if I’d marked him as my own. Long ago, when I’d first smelled him, I’d recognized the blud of other predators. Now I smelled only him and me, and it was a pleasant and heady mix. Just before his lips found mine, I leaned over to meet him.
It was agonizing, the slowness with which he took my mouth. The ferocity of him roiled underneath, waiting. I parted my lips, wanting more, and his hand came up to cup my jaw and hold me in place. I was surely caught, but not by his hand, and I sighed when his tongue finally found mine, sweetly seeking and intense.
I had little experience with kissing, but he had plenty, and he used it well. Hot and sweet, firm and unyielding, he tasted me and teased me and made me hungry for more. He kissed me so carefully that my beast never rose; I felt all of the power with none of the frenzy, and, like a banked fire, the heat only grew the deeper it got. When he finally pulled away, I realized that I’d slid down the bed onto my back, my talons sunk in the pillowy coverlet and shredding the fluffy white.
“Your turn,” he said, his voice dusky with promise.
The grin he gave me was so masculine, so confident, so seductive, that I stopped breathing. “Now you kiss me.”
I smiled coquettishly and licked my lips. Bolstering myself on an elbow, I leaned over with the same casual slowness he had used to torture me and licked a searing line up his jugular vein, ending with a chaste kiss behind his ear.
“Oh, you little minx,” he growled.
“You didn’t say what kind of kiss or where,” I said blithely, putting my hands behind my head and my elbows out as I leaned back against the pillows. “Your turn.”
“What do you want to do right this moment, Casper?”
“So many things, darlin’. So many things.” The look he gave me then—it burned right through me.