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|Wicked as They Come(Blud #1) by Delilah S. Dawson|
Sometime later, I woke up curled against him under the red velvet coverlet, my head on his chest. And quite surprised at myself. His arm was around me, his dove-colored glove absentmindedly stroking my wrist. His gloves were the only things he was still wearing. I, of course, wore nothing.
“Good morning, poppet,” he said with a sleepy grin.
“I believe we’re technically pirates now. And you smile in your sleep. I probably did, too.”
Warm and rested and satisfied for what felt like the first time in forever, I stretched, my knuckles and toes grazing the walls. For someone on an impossible quest, in that moment, I felt marvelous.
“You’re going to have to wash that glove,” I observed. “Or throw it away.”
He examined his hand, grinning, and said, “Perhaps I’ll have it framed instead.”
“I didn’t glance, you know,” I said. “When we touched.”
“I know,” he said. “And I’m glad. I don’t want you to see what’s in my head when I’m touching you. That would take away all the fun.”
“Does it only work once?” I asked. “The glancing?”
“Perhaps,” he said. “Every gift is different.”
I should have felt shy, and it seemed strange that I didn’t. But I was comfortable there, in a rich deviant’s bed on a submarine, cradled by the blood drinker who inexplicably adored me.
“Why do you love me?” I asked, lured into candor by the strangeness of the situation.
“I’m just curious. I show up out of nowhere, and you all but pledge your undying love to me, even though you don’t really know me. Just because of a broken heart and a spell. It doesn’t make sense.”
“No, I suppose it doesn’t,” he said, chuckling. I smiled, to feel his chest rumble with it. “But don’t you believe in love at first sight?”
“I believe that other people believe in it,” I said. “But I’m just too practical for that sort of thing. There are too many variables, too many chemicals and likes and dislikes and shared interests and the timing of it all.”
“Ah, a romantic,” he said wryly. “But you’re wrong.”
“What if you could take everything you were looking for in a person and whisper it into someone’s ear, and they brought that person to you? And then, when you saw them for the first time, even if you didn’t know they were the one for you, you suddenly knew it anyway?” His finger traced my eyebrows, my cheekbones, as he thought a moment. “What if your heart stopped when you saw that person, and only after that did you realize that they truly were everything you ever wanted?”
“OK, that would be nice,” I had to admit.
“That’s what happened for me,” he said gently.
“What did you ask for?” I needed to know. It was a tall order to live up to the feeling he had described.
“Cleverness, courage, beauty, humor, strength, slyness, curves, magic, talent, understanding. An equal.”
“Didn’t you ask for someone … you know … like you?”
“But I’m not what you are.”
“Oh, that,” he said, considering. “That’s not a problem. If it ever comes down to it, I can make you like me.”
“Does it hurt?”
“I don’t really know,” he said. “I’ve only done it once. Whatever it felt like, to her, it was better than dying. Asking another Bludman anything about the process is considered terribly gauche. But as you’ve seen, there are advantages.”
“Improved strength and healing, longer life. And with all of those, of course, come courage and humor, because you don’t have to worry so much. When you’re less likely to die and you don’t have to fight for food, the main concern is keeping those you love safe.”
“Oh, that’s all, is it?”
“Well, yes, that can be a tall order.” He chuckled again.
“I have other questions,” I said, trying to seem uninterested.
“What keeps you from draining me dry? I mean, you want to, don’t you?”
“Maybe a little. Not as much as I did.”
“I took precautions,” he said, somewhat defensively.
“Such as?” I could hear myself sounding like a schoolmarm, but I had the feeling that there was a secret somewhere eluding me, swimming under the murky waters of our relationship. Deep down, I knew that he was lying to me somehow.
He gently lifted me off his chest and turned me to face him. He looked grave but hopeful. “When I tell you this, don’t overreact. It’s important that you hear the whole story.”
I straightened, pulling the velvet blanket back up to cover me. “I’m listening.”
He looked down, thinking. Then he met my eyes and said, “I gave you some of my blud.”
“You what?” I said, backing away a little. “Why? Why didn’t you ask me? What about informed consent?”
Of course, I didn’t mention my unexplained interest in licking his back wounds mid-coitus. That didn’t count.
“I didn’t ask for consent for anything else I did with either of our bodily fluids recently,” he said with a wolfish grin. “And giving you my blud has probably already saved your life several times over.”
“You’re going to have to explain it,” I said through clenched teeth. “Because I don’t get it, and I’m pretty pissed.”
“It’s simple,” he said, but before he could explain what exactly was simple about secretly force-feeding me his magic blud and turning me into an enormous hypocrite, an alarm siren erupted from the other end of the ship. He leaped up to shove his feet through his breeches and lurched down the red velvet hallway, leaving me naked and speechless in a rich man’s bed.
“What is it?” I asked from the pilot’s room door a few moments later.
The sirens were still shrieking, and a red light flashed on and off from the ceiling. All I could see over his shoulder was hundreds of blinking instruments and gray water through the viewing window—no obvious emergency.
He paused in his frantic button pushing to glance at me and did a double take.
“I’ve seen a lot of odd things, but I’ve never seen a woman in men’s clothing before,” he said with an amused snort before turning back to the panel of lights. “Not that you don’t look dashing.”
Dashing wasn’t the word I’d use. The breeches were baggy, the suspenders didn’t work with my B-cup chest, and the frilly shirt was ridiculous. And I was still testy about the blood sharing. But I didn’t want to interrupt an emergency with something petty.
I did anyway.
“So about the blood,” I said, hating myself a little.
“Can it wait until after I’ve saved you from this kraken?” he asked, eyes never leaving the screen.
I moved closer to the instrument panel, unconsciously putting my hand on his shoulder. If there was a sea monster, I wanted to see it. Sure enough, there was a round, black sonar screen with a red crosshair on it. And smack dab in the middle of it was a big, squid-shaped blip. And then there was a loud gong and a creak, and we were thrown sideways.
“Bloody hell!” he shouted. “Where’s the stunner? He’s going to dive soon!”
“What are we looking for?” I asked, holding on to his shoulder with one hand and the captain’s chair with the other, trying to stay upright as the ship shuddered and tossed and flashed red around us. I felt like an extra in Star Trek. The ship jerked to the side, and my throat constricted as I realized that this was in no way a movie set. This fairytale monster was real.
“The stunner,” he said, his fingers dancing over the controls. “To, um, stun it. Most ships have one, I’m told.”
He ran his fingers over the switches and buttons on the console, and I began investigating the overhead instruments. The nose of the ship lurched downward, and I was thrown against the ceiling. After banging my head on something, I looked closer.
“This thing has a picture of lightning on it,” I said. “Does that help?”
His hand curled over mine where it lay on the brass handle, and he winked at me as we pulled it together. There was a whirring somewhere below us, then a building buzz, and our hair stood on end. A loud crack and a sudden impact smacked our skulls together, and we got all tangled up as the sub shuddered and righted itself. Then the red lights stopped flashing, and everything was back to normal.
We watched the sonar, and the green squid blob dwindled to a speck, which faded away to nothing. I sighed in relief. Being in a submarine under attack by a giant squid was one of those things so far outside of reality that I couldn’t digest it. It felt like a ride at Disney World.
“That went well,” Criminy said, falling into the brass and leather captain’s chair. “We’re getting close, sea monsters notwithstanding. I expect we’ll be there within the hour.”
“Wait. If the ship was moving the entire time we were asleep, how are we just now getting close to the island? It should have only been a few hours, right?”
He smirked. “I never said it was moving the entire time. I may have slowed it to a crawl for a while. There was business to attend to.”
“How could anything be more important than finding Goodwill and getting my locket?”
I was exasperated. After all we’d been through to get here, we’d lost valuable time. Still, his eyes were soft and kind, and he reached out to chuck me under the chin.
“Look, little love. I admire your determination and tenacity, but you can’t press on forever. If we’d stormed the island in the wee hours of morning, you would have fallen over from exhaustion and hunger. You needed respite and rest. You needed to be taken care of, if only for a few hours. Even if you didn’t know it yourself.”
“But we could have been there. We could have already won. We could have avoided that kraken!”
“No matter how much you like control, some things are simply out of your hands,” he said. “Still, it was exciting, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was fun zapping that squid with you,” I said, leaning back against the wall to pin him with my glare. “Now stop changing the subject. About the blood.”
Criminy leaned back and rubbed his eyes. I tried not to ogle his chest and instead showed an interest in a preserved butterfly in a case on the wall.
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “My blud saved your life. Not only because it makes me less likely to hurt you but because it gives you strength and resilience. You nearly drowned, you know. Or maybe you don’t know. But you did.”
“I guess I glazed over that bit, what with the near murder by ghost.”
“Once you’ve had even a drop of my blud, you no longer drive me crazy with hunger,” he said. And then he grinned, flashing his teeth. “At least, not in the way that ends up with you drained. The other kind … well, there’s no hope there.”
I blushed and cleared my throat as he went on.
“You’ll always entice me, as my smell will entice you, because that’s part of the bargain. But unless I smell your actual blood, I won’t be a danger to you. My blud is like an antidote. I guess the maestro told you that—he’s got an odd sort of cleverness, that one. The droplets on your skin from the locket helped a little, which is how we managed to get to the caravan with you mostly uncovered.” He shifted a little. I think a weaker man would have blushed.
“But it was still tempting,” he admitted. “So I figured the faster I got a few more drops in you, the better. Plus, that way, if anything happened to you here, you’d have a better chance of surviving it. Of fighting off bludrats or swimming a mile in the ocean, or something even worse.”
I tapped my fingers on the burled instrument panel, eyebrows up, waiting.
“But yes, I suppose it would have been gentlemanly to ask first. I apologize.”
“When did you do it?”
“That first meal, in the dining car. In your wine.”
“Why didn’t you ask me?”
“Honestly,” he said with a grin, “how would that have worked? Oh, hello, dream lover. Would you drink some of my blud so I won’t murder you in front of all these nice people?” He chuckled. “So I took a chance. And I think it paid off, don’t you agree?”
“And a little more by the Brighton wall,” he admitted. “In the kiss.”
“I thought there was something going on there,” I said. “And that’s why you said something about Remember, I did this for you, isn’t it? You were trying to give me strength.”
“Do you forgive me, then, Letitia?”
He wasn’t joking anymore. He needed my forgiveness.
“I forgive you,” I muttered, looking down at my baggy pants and adjusting my suspenders. “But I wish you would have asked.” I looked up at him. “And don’t do it again without telling me.”
“If I give you more blud,” he said, “you’ll damned well know it.”
He stroked my face and turned back to the instrument panel and started pressing buttons. I went back to the bedroom and got his shirt and jacket and folded everything and carried the stack up to the control room. And I admit that I sniffed myself dizzy, too, because everything that had lingered near his skin smelled marvelous, all thanks to that unwanted but helpful blud.