In honor of our Urban Fantasy week, check out the world of Sang, Delilah’s Dawson’s thrilling setting from her blud series. Below is a short excerpt from Wicked As She Wants, a story about a lost crown princess who stumbles across a handsome, mysterious musician, Casper Sterling. With Casper’s help, is the princess able to defeat an evil sorceress and rightfully claim her throne? Read below to get sucked into the delightfully dark world of Sang.
I don’t know which called to me more, his music or his blood. Trapped in darkness, weak to the point of death, I woke only to suck his soul dry until the notes and droplets merged in my veins. Whoever he was, he was my inferior, my prey, and his life was my due. What’s the point of being a princess if you can’t kill your subjects?
His blood was spiced with wine; I could tell that much. As I listened, stilling my breathing and willing my heart to pump again, I realized that I didn’t know the song he was playing. It wasn’t any of the Freesian lullabies from my childhood, nor was it anything that had been popular at court. I could even pick out the sound of his fingertips stroking the keys without the telltale muting of suede gloves. Peculiar. No wonder I could smell him, whoever he was—he wasn’t protecting his delicious skin from the world. From me.
He stopped playing and sighed, and my instincts took over. I lunged toward that intoxicating scent. But the attempt to pounce was painfully foiled by . . . something. Leather. I was trapped, tucked into a ball, boxed and balanced on my bustled bum. When he started playing again, my hand stole sideways toward the musty leather. With one wicked claw, I began to carve a way out.
The tiniest sliver of light stole in, orange and murky. Fresh air hit my face, and with it, his scent. It took every ounce of well-bred patience for me to remain silent and still and not fumble and flounder out of whatever held me bound like a Kraken from the deep. My mother’s voice rang in my mind, her queenly tone unmistakable.
Silence. Cunning. Quickness. That is how the enemy falls, princess. You are the predator’s predator. The queen of the beasts. Now kill him. Slowly.
My fingernails had grown overlong and sharper thanwas fashionable in court, and the rest of the leather fell away in one long curve. I lifted the flap with one hand and dared to peek out.
The room was dim and mostly empty, with a high ceiling and wooden floors. Spindly chairs perched on round tables. Across the room, lit by one orange gas spotlight, was a stage, and on that stage was a harpsichord, and playing that harpsichord was my lunch.
Seeing him there, the princess receded, and the beast took over. Body crouched and fingers curled, I sidled out through the hole, my eyes glued to my prey. He hadn’t noticed the creature hunting him from the shadows. His eyes were closed, and he was singing something plaintive, something about someone named Jude. I wasn’t Jude, so it didn’t matter.
The refined part of my brain barely registered that I was dressed in high-heeled boots and swishing taffeta. I knew well enough how to stalk in my best clothes and had been doing so since my days in a linen pinafore and ermine ruff. As I slipped into the shadows along the wall and glided toward the stage, hunger pounded in time with my heartbeat and his slow keystrokes. It felt like a lifetime had passed since I had last eaten. And maybe it had. Never had I felt so drained.
I made it across the room without detection. He continued moaning about Jude in a husky voice so sad that it moved even the animal in me. I stopped to consider him from behind deep-red velvet curtains that had definitely known better days. But I didn’t see a man. Just food. And in that sense, he had all but arrayed himself on a platter, walking around with his shirt open, boots off, and gloves nowhere to be seen. Exposed and reeking of alcohol, he was an easy target.
He broke off from his strange song and reached for a green bottle, tipping it to lips flushed pink with blood and feeling. I watched his neck thrown back, Adam’s apple bobbing, and a deafening roar overtook me. I couldn’t hold back any longer. I was across the stage and on him in a heartbeat.
Tiny as I was, the momentum from my attack knocked him backward off the bench. The bottle skittered across the floor, and he made a pathetically clumsy grab for it. I had one hand tangled in his long hair, the other pinning down his chest, long talons prickling into his flesh and drawing pinpoints of delicious blood to pepper the air. I took a deep breath, savoring it. The kill was sure. I smiled, displaying fangs.
His red-rimmed eyes met mine in understanding, and he smiled back, a feral glint surprising me. Something smashed into my head, and he rolled me over and lurched to his feet with a wild laugh. Red liquid streamed through my hair and down my face, and I hissed and shook shards of green glass from my shoulders. The uppity bastard had hit me with his bottle. If I hadn’t already planned to kill him, I now had just cause.
As I circled him, I wiped the stinging wine from my eyes with the back of my hand. I was dizzy with hunger, almost woozy, and he took advantage of my delicate condition to leap forward and slice my forearm with the jagged ends of his blasted bottle. I hissed again and went for his throat, but at the last minute, something stopped me short. He didn’t smell so good, not anymore.
The beast within receded, and my posture straightened. My arms swung, useless, at my sides. His finger was in his mouth, and when he pulled it out with a dramatic pop, his lips were stained red with my blud. Now he just smelled like me. And less like food.
“Not today, Josephine,” he said with a cocky grin.
I struggled to stand tall and not wobble. Now that he had swallowed my blud, the beast wasn’t controlling me, and there was nothing holding me up. I was as empty as a cloud, light as a snowflake, beyond hunger. My heart was barely beating. And I felt more than a little bewildered.
“Oh, my,” I said, one hand to my dripping hair. “I do believe I might swoon. And you’ve ruined my dress as well. Your lord is simply going to draw and quarter you.”
I did swoon then. As the world went black, I felt his hands catching me, his delicious—if no longer maddening—blood pumping millimeters away from my own.
“Easy, little girl,” he said. I smelled wine and sadness on him and something else, something deep and musky and not quite right.
I was delirious as he gently helped me fall to the ground. I could barely mumble, “I’m not a little girl, and you’re the most badly behaved servant I’ve ever met.”
The world fell away, and his laughter and music followed me into my dreams.
Before my eyes were open, before I was actually awake, I was drinking. Four great gulps, and I gasped for more. I clawed at the empty glass tube held to my mouth and flung it to the ground.
“More,” I rasped. “I demand more.”
Another tube replaced it, and I sighed and swallowed again. Someone chuckled. The blood ran down my throat, cool and warm at the same time. It tasted exotic. Must have been the local flavor.
“How long have you been hiding in that old suitcase?”
I opened my eyes, suddenly aware of the unladylike nature of my predicament. I sprawled on the ground, legs splayed out over the dusty wooden boards. A man’s arm was around my shoulders, his ungloved human hand holding a vial to my lips as I drank the blood as greedily as a child with holiday sweets. My hair had fallen to disarray, and some of the straggling locks around my face were tinted red with what smelled like old wine. I slapped the vial to the ground—after I’d finished the last drop, of course.
“You varlet,” I growled in my most ladylike growl. “You blasphemous dog. How dare you touch me? I’ll use your blood for ink.”
I jerked out of his hands and tried to stand, but my legs couldn’t hold me. Without his body behind me, I toppled right back over and flopped on my back like a fish. Whatever had been done to me, two vials of blood wasn’t enough to get me back on my feet.
But what had been done to me? And by whom?
“You,” I said. My eyes narrowed, focused on him.
He sat on his haunches a few feet away, elbows easy on his knees, watching me. I’d never seen so much exposed skin on a servant who wasn’t being offered as a meal. His eyes were bright blue, regarding me with curiosity and a noticeable absence of fear and respect.
“What did you do to me, offal?”
He chuckled and grinned. He had dimples. “I’m pretty sure I saved your life, right after you attacked me. I don’t hold it against you, though. Looks like you were drained.”
“You can’t even stand, little girl.”
I tried to lift a hand to crush his throat, but my arm weighed a ton. I was starting to get woozy again, as if there was a block of stone on my chest. It was a struggle to breathe. Movement caught my eyes, and I saw a fresh vial of blood glinting in his hand, flipping back and forth over his knuckles. I’d never seen anything so beautiful, and I had to swallow down an unbecoming drop of drool.
“Give me that,” I said, voice husky and commanding.
“Tell me who you are first.”
I was starting to pant, watching the blood twirl around his fingers. He may have ingested my own blud and calmed the beast within me, but he still smelled like food. If I could have ripped his throat out, I would have been sunk to my ears in his neck, drinking in ecstasy. But I forced that image from my mind and met his steely blue glare, fighting for control over the beast beginning to surface again.
“Let us understand each other,” I said, enunciating every word clearly. “I am not little, and I am not a girl. I am twenty-seven years old, and I am a princess. And you, whoever you are, are my subject. You owe me obeisance, fealty, and blood.”
“Come and get it, then.” His grin taunted me with unexpected good humor as he held up the vial, the amber light glinting off the glass.
“You know very well I cannot,” I spat, struggling for control. I had never been so helpless, and he was mocking me, and it was untenable. Once I was strong again, he was going to pay.
“Then we’ll have to strike a bargain, won’t we?”
“I don’t bargain.”
“Then good luck, princess.”
He stood and walked back to his harpsichord. Long, tangled chestnut hair rippled over his stained white shirt, and I pledged to make a mop out of it one day. Rage consumed me. Rage and hunger.
As if sensing my fury, he turned back and winked with one damnable blue eye, then threw the vial into the air. I swallowed hard, watching the precious glass tube flip over and over in a perfect arc. When it smashed against the floor, I let out an inhuman wail and tried to drag myself over the worn boards. I was a princess, but I would gladly have licked the glass-dusted blood from the dirty ground. I couldn’t move, not even an inch. All the training and breeding and hunting in the world had never prepared me for such utter helplessness.
“Wait,” I gasped, my black hands scrabbling against the floorboards. I winced at the sound of my long white talons scritching uselessly over the wood. He had to be right; only draining could reduce me to mewling like a kitten. To begging and desperation.
“Hmm?” He turned around to grin at me again with those hateful dimples.
“Let’s make a bargain.”
“I knew you’d see it my way.” He walked back to me, pulling another vial from his shirt pocket. He sat down cross-legged, just out of reach, and began flipping it over his knuckles again. The way I felt reminded me of a wolfhound my father used to have, the way she would gulp under her jeweled collar when he forced her to balance a bone on her nose until he gave her the signal to eat it. I gulped, too.
“First of all, who are you really?”
I closed my eyes, fighting for control of my emotions. I had never begged before, never been in any position that didn’t involve absolute power. I had definitely never been helpless at the bare feet of a Pinky, a servant, a paltry human. My hands made fists in the ice-blue taffeta of my gown, the talons piercing the ruffles and digging painfully into my palms.
“I am Princess Ahnastasia Feodor. My mother is the Blud Tsarina of Freesia, and we reside in the Ice Palace of Muscovy.”
At the mention of my name, his face underwent a strange ripple of emotions, from recognition to understanding to what appeared to be pity.
“Bad news, princess. I follow the papers. You were declared dead four years ago. They said you were kid-napped and that your ashes were returned to the palace in your engraved vial case.”
I would not have guessed it possible that I could feel weaker and dizzier than I already felt, but fear and anger roiled through my barely breathing body. Me, kidnapped and drained? I imagined my parents holding the gold case they had given me on my sixteenth birthday to carry the vials of blood collected from only the most highly valued, most pedigreed servants. I tried to imagine what my mother’s regal face would look like at my funeral ceremony, whether her carefully studied mask would break as my supposed ashes blew away in the wind of a snowstorm. Would she cry? Did she even know how?
I swallowed hard, my throat gritty. “This is not possible.”
He cocked his head at me, squinting as he looked me up and down. I was accustomed to seeing awe, fear, and polite admiration in a Bludman’s eyes. I had never had a human look so brazenly into my face, seeming to reach down into my soul and question what was found there.
But this man did just that. And the answering expression on his face showed an unwelcome sympathy. I flinched under his scrutiny.
“You do look like the broadsheets, although the drawings showed you a little younger. If you’ve been drained and hidden in that suitcase for years, I guess it could be you. If you really are the Princess Ahnastasia, your sister is also missing, and your brother is sickly.” He looked down to fiddle with the vial of blood, and my eyes followed. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but your parents are dead. They were executed a few months ago in a coup by a gypsy sorceress named Ravenna, and she’s a heartbeat away from complete control of Freesia. Tell me, princess,
what do you remember?”
“I don’t . . . I can’t . . .” I faltered and closed my eyes. They were too dry to produce tears. “I need more blood,” I whispered. “Please.”
With another look of pity, he uncorked the vial he held. I allowed him to lift me into a sitting position and gulped the blood as politely as possible, so stricken with grief that it was like swallowing past a stone. After I’d emptied the vial and licked the lip of the glass clean, I muttered, “More.”
He obliged, producing yet another vial from his shirt pocket. I had enough strength by then to slap his hand away and hold the vial myself, but I let him keep his arm behind my back, supporting me. My talons were atrociously long, the pinkie fingers beginning to twist into unfashionable corkscrews. At least my mother would never see me this way. I grimaced as I set the vial on the floor. The blood loss, the heartbreak—it was too much to bear.
“That’s all the blood I can find.” He pocketed the empty vials and dusted off his hands as if he didn’t like touching them. “The delivery isn’t due until this afternoon, I’m afraid. No one comes to the Seven Scars before lunch except me and Tom Pain. Isn’t that so, Tommy?”
And then I smelled the strangest thing. An animal. A fellow predator but an unfamiliar and somehow nonthreatening one. A rumbling noise started up, and an odd creature padded out from the shadows. It was heavy and black and furry, with one great, green eye that regarded me philosophically. The other eye was scarred over, an ugly slash against the creature’s face. I had never seen anything like it.
“What is that monster?”
“It’s not a monster. It’s a cat.”
As he reached to stroke the rumbling creature, I realized that I was sitting up on my own. I finally had enough strength to support myself again. The man focused on the animal, and I scooted unobtrusively toward the broken vial of blood, dragging my fingers through the red puddle and licking them clean with a new desperation.
“What, they don’t have cats in Freesia?” he asked. “I thought cats were everywhere. Old Tommy has lived at the Seven Scars pub for much longer than any cat has a right to live. They say cats have nine lives, and he’s on his tenth.”
The man scratched the cat-thing under the chin, and the cat closed his eye in bliss and rubbed his head all over the man in an entirely unrepentant way that still managed to exude superiority. I began to like the cat. The man, on the other hand . . .
“I’ve answered your question,” I said, my haughtiness returning with my strength. “Now you will answer mine. Who are you? And what are you? You smell wrong.”
“I’m Casper Sterling,” It was unsettling, the way his eyes held mine. I refused to blink as I waited for the answers he owed me. “I’m the greatest musician in London, maybe in the entire world of Sang. And I’m mostly drunk.”
“That’s not what’s wrong about you. I know the smell of drink. It’s something more.”
“I answered your question, princess,” he snarled. “Now we bargain.”
“I will admit I owe you a debt,” I said calmly. “And you owe me one as well. We are even.”
He laughed, a dark, empty, reckless sound.
“I owe you? We’re even? Bullshit. You attacked me, andI saved your life anyway. You owe me. Period.”
“You cut me. Where I come from, those who threaten the lives of nobles are lucky to be drawn, quartered, and left for the bludlemmings and snow wolves. If you were my servant and you purposefully drew my blud, as you have, your entire family would be staked on the frozen hills and nibbled to death at a party. The debt you owe me is far greater than the one I owe you because I am naturally superior to you in species and breeding.”
I glared at him. He glared back. Then he stood and walked over to me, his bare feet brushing the ripped and faded taffeta of my skirt. Leaning down, his face inches from mine, he bared his teeth at me. At me! I could feel the malevolence and alcohol rolling off him in waves.
“Hurt me, then. Go on. Bite me. End me. I’ve lost everything I ever valued. I would welcome it, princess.”
It came out as a growl through shining teeth, and I flinched in spite of myself. I raised one shaking, blackscaled hand. Our eyes were locked, his pupils pinpricks in twilight blue. With every ounce of strength I could muster, filled with anger at his base nature and fury at his pity, I curled my sharp talons around his throat. I could see the pulse hammering there, smell the anger pounding through him. I tightened my grip, seeking the wet burst of his skin and the hard ridges of his spine.
“Do it!” His lips curled back over canine teeth that were sharper than I had expected. “End it! Send me back to the grave where I belong, you goddamn monster!”
I hissed at him and squeezed.
I couldn’t even pierce his skin.
I let go of his neck, my throat convulsing in a sob. I couldn’t even take what was mine. He was right—I was a monster. A broken one.
“That’s what I thought,” he said softly.
I fell back onto the boards and curled on my side, sobbing. A single tear rolled down my cheek and fell to my wrist, leaving a pink trail. The little strength I’d gained was gone. I needed more blood if I was going to kill him. And I was going to kill him, because any human who saw royal tears had seen his own doom.
“I’m going to end you,” I whispered. “I’m going to find blood, and I’m going to get strong, and I’m going to drain you dry. Nothing shall be more beautiful than your death.”
He looked at me strangely. “You do that,” he said in a voice as ragged as torn paper.
I was starting to lose consciousness again, but I felt his arms around me, lifting me from the ground and carrying me. The velvet curtains whispered past, brushing my boots.
The last thing I heard before I passed out was his whispered,“Death has to be better than this.”
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