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Wicked After Midnight

By:Delilah S.Dawson

1


Here is a painful truth: the circus is a magical place only so long as you’re allowed to leave when the show is over. My first year in the caravan was a dream. The next three years were purgatorial, and the last two were a nightmare, the kind where you endlessly grind your teeth to dust. And that’s why the ringmaster now loomed over me, lips drawn back over his fangs in a hiss so long and soft that it had become a silent sigh that smelled of blood and wine. He was beautiful, murderous, and maddening, and I was completely in his power. And that really, really pissed me off.

I glared at the man who had killed me and saved me all in one fell swoop. In another life, he might have been attractive. Sexy, even. But here, now, he was simply annoying.

“You’re not my dad, Criminy.”

“I’m the closest thing you’ve got, love. And more important, I’m your employer.”

I rolled my eyes. “Then I quit.”

Criminy threw his head back and laughed. My eyes shot to Tish, but she was wearing a Mona Lisa smile.

“This isn’t our world, Demi,” she said gently. “This isn’t Earth. You can’t just walk out the door and find an apartment and a job online. As much as I believe in being an independent woman, Sang simply isn’t set up that way. As a female and a Bludman, you have almost no rights here. And, for the record, if Crim’s your dad, I’m way too young to be your mom.”

I smirked at that. She was only a few years older than me, even if I still looked like the college coed I’d been before one drink too many put me in the coma that transported me to Sang. When I arrived in this freaky parallel world naked and confused, the only thing that had saved me from death by a warren of murderous bludbunnies was Criminy Stain with his ability to turn humans into nearly invincible blood drinkers, Bludmen like himself. Tish was from Earth, too, and we’d had some heart-to-hearts over the last couple of years, reminiscing about movie stars and music and a world where women who weren’t swaggering airship captains could actually walk around alone safely. But just like a real mom, she would never take my side over Criminy’s.

“Besides,” Tish added, “have you been to the cities? They’re awful.” She held up a creased newspaper from Criminy’s desk. “I’ve seen Manchester, London, Brighton. You couldn’t pay me to live behind those high, cramped walls. And it’s much worse for Bludmen, to be quite honest.”

Her voice went bitter as her eyes went far away, and I couldn’t help noticing the crow’s feet that hadn’t been there last year. Tish had told me about the witch’s curse and the enchanted locket that made her age far faster than was fair, the price for her life in Sang. My best friend, Cherie, and I had bets regarding how long she would hold off being bludded so she could stay with Criminy without regrets and wrinkles. Tish had told me her grandmother was in the final stages of her third round of breast cancer and that once the tough old bird had passed on, Tish would most likely join us in the life of a predator. More years, more resilience, more beauty, and all you lost as a Bludman was a taste for food and any real rights once you were inside the city. It was a far cry from the sparkly rich vampire stories I’d salivated over back home.

For example, I was twenty-six but looked seventeen, and I was currently so hungry that I could smell Tish’s blood on the air, as yummy as baking cookies used to be. I swallowed and looked away.

When Criminy spoke again, his voice was gentle and kind. “The point, my darling girls, is that this is the best life I can offer you in Sangland. What precisely do you lack?”

I fluffed my bangs and stared down at my black-scaled hands. So gross, even with the nails painted hot pink. “Parties. Independence. Adventure,” I muttered, not meeting his eyes.

“I think she means boys,” Tish whispered.

Criminy snorted and looked offended. “There are boys in the caravan. Plenty of them.”

“Charlie Dregs is not ‘boys.’ ”

“You should have snapped up Casper when you had the chance. Or one of the daimon lads.”

I spun away as if in anger, hoping I’d done it fast enough to hide my blush. I had, in fact, snatched up one of the daimon boys. Luc had been the most mysterious guy I’d met since waking up in Sang, but he was part of the reason I now wanted to leave the caravan. Underneath his suave, bad-boy exterior, he was as sweet and gushy as the filling in a jelly doughnut. The way he was following me around, mooning over me, begging me to be his petite amie—so not sexy. Even the hot Franchian accent didn’t help.

Tish was wrong about one thing: I didn’t need a boy. I needed a man.

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