Wicked as She Wants

Page 52

I swallowed, on the verge of a great understanding. “Casper, your book. The poem. What is it called again?”

“ ‘Leaves of Grass’?”

“No, the other thing.”

“ ‘Song of Myself’?”

I laughed. Just a chuckle at first, but it built to a crescendo. He watched me, charmed and amused but confused.

“That’s it. ‘Song of Myself.’ I write my own song. The words, and the music. We all do. Every one of us. Bludmen and Pinkies. And I will write the rules.”

He nodded. “Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.”

I snorted and wiped my eyes. “In philosophy, perhaps. But we have to best Ravenna before I can start writing that song. Until she’s gone, your truth will get you staked and drained amid laughter and the trills of a harpsichord, and then all our dreams are lost. You’ll have to learn the rules and play by them tonight.”

“Tell me your rules, then, darlin’, and I’ll see if I want to play.”

I sat back to consider him, the beads and buttons digging into my shoulders. How to distill thousands of years of heritage into one lecture?

“For one thing, Bludmen of the court are rarely silly. You must give no one any reason to single you out, to bait you, or to fight you. Think of a pack of hunting dogs or a pack of wolves. With posture and words, the men will jockey for position in the pack. They may try to goad you away, but don’t rise to it. I need you at my back. Strong, silent, serious. That’s what you must be until the deed is done. After that, be as loose of limits and artificial lines as you wish.”

“I want to follow you around with a pen and paper and just write down every word you say.”

“Shh. Stop staring at me like I’m edible. This is important.”

“So’s poetry.”

I rolled my eyes at him and went on. “Don’t take off your mask, even if someone tells you to. And most important of all, once the Dance of the Sugar Snow has started, don’t stop dancing for any reason.”

“That’s more important than killing Ravenna? A dance?”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “This is not just a ball. This is a holy rite of the goddess Aztarte, a ritual that ensures the prosperity of the blud monarchy of Freesia. The playing of the music and the grace of the dancers will determine the course of the next year. Should the musicians’ fingers stutter or the dancers stumble, the snow might not fall. At the very, very least, word would spread that something had gone amiss, and the people of the city would begin to search for faults in their world. Verusha told us that the snow had not fallen heavily last year, and that means that the people are already suspecting that something is wrong in the palace. In the 1700s, two couples collided and knocked over a punch bowl of bludwine. That summer, there was a drought, and the crops wilted, and the Pinkies died, and blood became scarce. The people of Muscovy rioted outside the summer palace, dragged out the Tsarina, and disemboweled her in the square to appease the goddess. This dance is very, very serious.”

Casper sat up, his playfulness fled, and thank heavens. “You didn’t mention that when you offered me the job of court composer,” he said.

“What, that if you didn’t play perfectly once a year, you’d be drained into the fountain? Oops.”


I sighed and shifted uncomfortably in my dress. “To be quite honest, I didn’t think we would make it this far. It was the sort of dream that starts optimistic, far off and beautiful. I also thought that I would eventually lose patience and murder you in your bed.”

He flicked the hair out of his face, and when his eyes met mine, something in my middle flipped sweetly. “It’s endearing how often you threaten to kill me. That’s practically flirting to you, isn’t it, darlin’?”

I leaned closer, wiggling just a little and lowering my lashes.

“I’ll threaten anyone. But I only bite the pretty boys.”

There suddenly wasn’t enough air in the carriage, and I knew before he had even moved that he was going to attack me in the loveliest way. I jerked back out of reach.

“You can’t kiss me. You can’t touch me. I have to look perfect.”

He hissed for the first time, long and low, shifting in his seat. “Only from the neck up,” he said.

“But my dress—”

“Isn’t necessary for what I’m going to do to you.”



“Turn around.”

Something inside me thrilled to hear him say it, to hear him taking control, using his power. He was giving off heat and heaven only knows what else, and the beast inside me wanted to roll naked at his feet, belly up and arms stretched over head, begging for his mouth. I wanted to make myself open and pliant for him, let him take me over with the fury of a storm.

And I realized that he was right. No one would see the vast territories of flesh that stayed hidden under my heavy dress. We had at least two hours of privacy. Before I knew it, I had my back to him, my fingers digging into the top of the bench as he carefully but quickly undid the row of buttons down my back.

I turned my head and met the hungry fire of his eyes over my shoulder. He looked down at my mouth, his intention clear.

“You can’t muss my lipstick.”

“Open your mouth.”

His eyes held me, stealing my breath. Ever so slowly, I opened my mouth. With one hand on the smooth plane of my back just above my corset, he leaned closer. His tongue darted in to caress mine, sweet and wet and hot, and it was all I could do to stay still. Part of me wanted to attack him, to drive him back into the cushioned bench. But my beast knew who held the power, who was in charge. I squirmed in place, wishing to press against him, begging him to press against me. But instead of answering my unspoken plea, he said, “Take it off.”

I pushed the dress carefully down over my arms and slipped them one by one from under the long, heavy sleeves.

I stood, bent over awkwardly, and he sat back like a king and watched me step out of the dress, the fabric whispering as it slid to the carriage floor. I folded it reverently and draped it across the other bench. Before I could shift to a more attractive and comfortable position, his hands grasped the waist of my corset and dragged me to my knees. I gasped as he buried his mouth in the cleft between my breasts, his teeth scraping lightly as if he still wasn’t accustomed to their sharpness. He settled me between his knees, and I ran my hands up the hard planes of his thighs.

“You’re going to rumple your waistcoat,” I whispered breathily in his ear.

“Good,” he growled into my skin.

His tongue found my nipple with a searing heat, lapping hungrily under the edge of my corset. I moaned into his hair and ran my hands up the taut suede of his thighs. Careful not to muss my lipstick, I licked the edge of his ear, slow and breathy, until he shivered.

“That’s about enough out of you, princess.”

He moved faster than I had expected, catching my wrists and transferring them both into one hand. I caught my breath, feeling dainty and exposed and highly anticipating what he would do next, with me completely in his power. It was highly erotic, not being the most dangerous creature in the very small room. When he snatched a twisted silk tassel from the curtains, I smiled, slow and sweet, and tugged experimentally at my wrists. It was gratifying, the strength of his grip.

“Front or back?” he asked.

“Do with me what you will,” I whispered.

He held my captured wrists against my back and nibbled my neck as he tied them together with the rope and tested the knot. I could feel the tassels hanging lower, dusting my ankles where they peeked out from the long petticoats. I entwined my fingers and gave myself up to him completely.

He slipped off the bench and behind me, his knees just outside mine and his hips pressed urgently against me.

“Bend over,” he said in my ear, and I turned my face and set my cheek against the satin cushion of the bench. A little shiver ran over me, followed by his hands. He started at the nape of my neck, raising the hairs along my spine as he brushed down my shoulders, down the sides of my corset, down my hips, feeling the curves of me like a painter sketching. One finger slipped under the edge of my corset, tracing a line across my hips. I caught my breath as he tugged down my petticoats, just enough to run his tongue along the strip of revealed skin and make me moan. With another savage tug, the layers of ruffles fell to the ground around my knees, and his breeches pressed up against the skin of my rump. Hot and wanting and wet, I pressed back, ready for more.

I had just started to rub against him when he pulled away.

“What—?” I started.

He smacked my bottom lightly, making me gasp. “Hush. I’ve been told not to ruin my costume.”

Buttons hurriedly whispered through fabric, and then he pressed against me, skin to skin. With my hands bound and my face against the cushion, I had never been so vulnerable in my entire life, at least not while I was awake and outside the suitcase. I was very well aware that he could do anything to me, hurt me in a thousand ways only a Bludman could devise, or take me in a hundred ways that a man could imagine. It only made me want him all the more, and I bit my lip to hold in a whimper.

Hot and hard, he pressed against the cleft of me, testing, rubbing. I wiggled shamelessly, aching for more, and he pulled away and slapped my rump again, a little harder this time, making me squeal.

“Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted to rule you?”

“Tell me,” I whispered.

“Since the beginning. Since I tasted your blud. It was the sweetest thing I’ve ever known.”

“You hid it well.” He smacked me again, the sting heating my skin and making me bite my painted lip. My entire body was alive, alert, thrilling, tingling. I arched my spine, reaching for him, opening for him.

“You didn’t truly see me until now, Ahnastasia. I was just prey before. But I’m beginning to understand. The need to dominate. I never did before, but now . . .”

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