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|Wicked as She Wants(Blud #2) by Delilah S. Dawson|
I settled myself in the big chair. With my feet up and a belly full of blood that tasted like home, I was as ready as I could be for bad news. I broke Verusha’s wax seal, slipped the note open, unfolded it, and began to read. Halfway through, I took a hard look at the remains of my necklace and popped out three more small diamonds. We were going to need them to pay off whichever unfortunate innkeeper ended up scrubbing away the bloodstains and losing custom on account of the screaming.
I decided upon the Moravian district. Not only because it was far from Verusha’s shop and my family’s ancient palace but also because the Moravians were known for being loud, messy, and mysterious. Their wild parties to celebrate the coming snow started early and ended late. And their traditional costume was handy, too. No one looked twice at us as we slipped down the avenue wrapped in long shawls and turbans, all but our eyes well hidden.
I’d never been to this part of Muscovy, as my parents had been prejudiced against anyone not of proven, pure-blud stock. I hadn’t seen any of the other foreign districts, either, although our carriage had passed by a New Year’s parade in the Dragon district when I was little, and I had sworn I’d seen a real dragon billowing white smoke into the sky. Once we had crossed under the exotically arched sign with “Little Moravia” picked out in bloodred and gilt, it was almost as if we were in another country.
The lights were gold like the sun, rather than the orange that my folk favored. The stone was white and creamy, with accents in vibrant jewel tones that recalled the sea and palm trees and exotic fruits I’d only seen in paintings. Brightly colored cloth flags and pennants fluttered on strings strung between the buildings, giving everything a festive look that made me feel as if I was on an adventure instead of skulking around in disguise to all but kill a man for my own sinister purposes.
The first inn we passed looked too shoddy, and the second was far too rich for the stones I’d chosen to part with. Fortunately, the third one seemed both reasonable and pretty, with a large mosaic of a camel picked out in glittering tile.
“La Jamala,” Casper said, rolling the word around in his mouth. “I like it.”
I nodded. “Camels are fascinating creatures. They can travel great distances, surviving on the blud stored in their humps. And when that runs out, they find another camel and eat its hump. Very resourceful creatures, camels.”
I walked through the arched door ahead of Casper and secured a room, paying extra for “privacy and considerations.” The way the old Bludman at the desk waggled his tangled eyebrows at me, I had to assume he thought we would be indulging in the most sordid brand of perversion. He saw nothing of me but my eyes swathed in burgundy cloth. To him, I was a twisted Bludwoman indulging myself with a lowly servant, but I had paid him well not to care. He put the skeleton key in my hand, the room number dangling from a faded leather tassel. I grabbed Casper’s hand and pulled him into the inn, unsurprised to feel him trembling.
The stairs blended perfectly with the walls and had no handholds, and we went up and up in strange diamond patterns until I feared we would topple off the roof into the streets below. But no. Our room was at the very top, a converted attic garret. That was good—the floor would be thick, and there were no neighbors to either side, separated from our fracas by mere wood. The extra gems had served their purpose. I unlocked the door and pressed the button inside. A sky’s worth of star-shaped lanterns buzzed into light, glowing with the glimmer of sun on desert sand.
I set down the bag I’d been carrying under my cloak with a clank. Casper pressed the door closed and locked it, his eyes on the bag.
“That what I think it is?”
“Believe me. We’re going to need it.” I pulled out the bottle and handed it to him.
He uncorked it and breathed it in. “Essence of assassin,” he murmured, and with a shrug, he took a swig. I liked the fact that he was feeling bold. It would make the night easier for us both. After a couple of swallows, he grimaced. “Strong stuff.”
“I added some extra ingredients.”
Verusha had been unable to find the charm she had mentioned, the one that would make the bludding easier for us both. As an apology, she had given me a bottle of her finest bloodwine, from the same winery the royal family used. But I wasn’t going to tell him that. I had a feeling he was going to have enough problems drinking human blood once he had no other options. What he didn’t know now wouldn’t kill him.
That was my job.
Bottle in hand, Casper pushed the shawl off his head and shook out his hair. He walked across the room, ducking under the star-shaped lanterns and stepping over the sultan’s pillows and sheepskins. When he pushed open the door to the next chamber, he whistled low, an eerie sound that vibrated like some strange, free bird.
“What is it?” I asked, and he turned back with a warm smile.
I knew a little of Moravian culture, thanks to my tutors, and so I unlaced my boots and left them by the door before picking my way across the pillows to where he stood. The room on the other side was dark except for one brilliant rectangle of light, a stained-glass window that threw shimmering squares of color to glitter all over the floor. A wide, flat bed hung in the shifting rainbow, a rope at each corner tethering it to the ceiling and a pile of pillows waiting beside a single tasseled blanket, its corner turned back invitingly. Another thing about the Moravians—they liked to sleep off the ground.
I cleared my throat and looked away. “We should probably stick to the outer room. You’re going to want to be on the floor for this.” I unwrapped my shawl and let it drop to the tile in a puddle of rusty red.
He snorted and set down the bottle, its contents noticeably depleted. As he shucked off his knee-high boots, I took a few gulps myself, trying to pick apart the strange mélange of flavors as it went down. Blood, blud, wine, and the secret ingredients of the palace sommelier tickled the back of my throat and set my fingers and toes tingling.
“So it’s going to hurt?” he asked.
I smiled grimly. “It’s going to be ‘a whole new world of pain,’ to quote Verusha.”
He slipped off his stockings and took a step toward me before hissing and holding up his foot. I could smell the drop of blood on his skin as he plucked something out and tossed it to the floor with a wry chuckle.
“Straw. Of course. Our inn is bedeviled with straw. The straw that broke the jamala’s back.”
Everything that had just happened—I’d heard it before. I rummaged in my bag for the mysterious packet I’d carried all the way from the docks of Dover. The folded paper still wore Criminy’s seal, although the ends were battered from being carried in my corset for so long. I held it up to my nose, breathing deep.
“What is it?” Casper asked, leaning close.
I broke the wax and unfolded the paper, careful not to spill the contents. The powder inside was the deep red of dried blood yet iridescent, as fine as ash. Written on the paper was, “Mix with the wine. It’ll hurt less. Love, Criminy and Tish.”
“Do you trust him?” I asked.
“Hell, no. But I trust her. Add it.”
I folded the paper and tipped the powder into the remaining wine, putting a thumb over the bottle to mix it. As I was more invulnerable, I took the first swig to test it. The wine, already heavy and deep, now carried the airy tang of magic.
I felt lighter after that and offered him the bottle. With his usual recklessness, he drank deeply before handing it back. I sipped again, watching as he took off his coat, folded it, and set it aside. After a moment of contemplation, he lost his waistcoat and shirt, too. When he turned to me, hair loose and wild and wearing nothing but breeches, his torso outlined by the glittering sun dancing through the glass, I took another long gulp and felt the magic coat my lips.
My body was sending me so many signals that I couldn’t tease them apart, and it seemed only natural to set down the empty bottle, launch myself at him, and push him to the ground, hunger surging and humming in my veins. I licked a long swath from his shoulder to his ear.
“Whoa, now,” he said, and the tinge of fear in his voice was intoxicating.
“Too late for that.” I straddled him, pinned his arms down, and nicked the vein pulsing in his neck. The first taste of his blood, straight from the source and drenched in wine and magic, sent a jolt of heat through my body. In between gulps, I murmured, “I thought it would be easier this way. Without deliberation.”
He moaned and whimpered, then gritted his teeth and said, “Do it, then.”
It was a simple process, from the outside, and almost exactly what Casper himself had said would have to happen in order to transform a human or halfblud into a full-on Bludman. There wasn’t much new in the world, after all. I had to drink him nearly dry, then get enough of my blud into him to keep him going while he nearly drained me dry. We would go, give and take, back and forth, until the deed was complete. The hardest part was finding equilibrium between the two of us, each one controlling the predator within to keep from ripping the other apart or drinking too deeply, unto death.
The main ingredient may have been the mixture of blood and blud, but the secondary ingredient was trust, and I thought it better to hope for the best than to share my fears. My feelings toward him were muddled, as I suspected his were toward me, a push and pull of what the animal, mind, and heart wanted and needed and were willing to risk. Soon we would know the true balance between us, come what may.
For the moment, it was enough finally, finally, after so many weeks, to be sunk to the corners of my smile in his neck, gulping down the warm lifeblood of him, tasting him as no one else had. He trembled beneath me, muscles taut and hands curled into fists.
“It’s okay,” I whispered, “if you want to touch me.”
His hands ran up and down my legs and hips, then gripped my ankles, grinding the bones together, and I pulled hard on his neck, drinking and drinking and drinking. When his hands finally fell from my legs, I woke up enough to know that for me, the easy part was over.
I pulled back and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “Casper? Casper, come along. It’s your turn now. Drink. I’ll help you.”
His eyes were open and unfocused, glazed and staring. I traced his cheekbones, wishing for dimples that weren’t there.
“C’mon. What is it you call me? Darlin’. Darlin’, wake up now. You have to drink.”
But I couldn’t rouse him. I hadn’t paid enough attention to his state and had drunk too deeply. I panicked, grabbing the bottle and slopping its contents into his mouth, hoping that what was left of the mixture would wake him up enough to take the blud I was more than ready to give him. There was barely any wine left. At first, the thick red stuff just dribbled down the side of his face and onto the black sheepskin beneath him. When almost all of the bottle was gone, though, I saw his throat move, his eyes blinking and focusing with a sudden ferocity I recognized all too well.
I shoved up the sleeve of my dress, rubbing the thin skin of my wrist over his lips. His eyes caught me, mad and desperate, but he didn’t even try to bite me.
“I said, come on!” I growled. “Wake up! Take it! Rip me open, damn you!”
He shook his head and turned away from me, and with a feral howl, I shoved a finger into his mouth and caught it on one of his incisors, hoping the tiny nick would be enough to call him to task.
“Don’t want to,” he muttered around my finger. “Trying so hard not to.”
“You must.” After a few moments of him refusing the tiny bit of blud he might get before my finger healed, I said, “Please. I’m waiting for you.”
His teeth bit down, testing just the tiniest bit, and he sighed. When I was one step away from ripping a hole in my own neck with a talon, I felt his teeth scissor sharply, opening up the cut again. He sucked my finger, and shivers raced down to my toes. His body came awake beneath me, bucking as he clamped down around my ankles once more. I could feel the thread of blud connecting us, feel his breathing speed up as the chest beneath me pumped harder and harder, sucking. When I didn’t think I could take another moment of waiting for him to really drink, he groaned, a long and drawn-out sound. His leg snaked around my calf, and he rolled me over suddenly, the insistent suction on my finger never lessening.
His face rose over me, a sharp moon framed by wild hair and fading rays of sunlight. He released my finger with one last lick and bit his lip, panting.
“Oh, God, Ahna. You smell like . . .”
“The only thing.”
“That’s how it is.”
“I can’t stop myself.”
With one talon, I scratched a line along my neck, right in the place where I had bitten him before.
“I wouldn’t want you to,” I whispered, turning my face away.
With a tortured breath, he bent over me, the wings of his hair tickling over my skin in deceptively sweet anticipation. It began as a kiss, tender and warm, and then, at the last possible moment, there were teeth. One sharp nip, and his lips settled around my throat with a moan of bliss. It was much gentler than I had expected, much gentler than I could have been, than I had been. His teeth weren’t yet as sharp as mine.
His hand came up to stroke my face and draw my hair back, and it was my turn to clench my fists and buck and writhe, doing my pitiful best not to fight him off when he was still so new and weak.
It was a tender time, and the least little mistake could have been the end of either of us. I felt every heartbeat, every pump of blud flowing from me into him. The magic still glittered in me, the headiness of the wine making it somewhat easier to let him drain my life out through the thinnest skin of my body.