He’s the master of the ring, but he cannot master her.
Kitty has been part of Arcanium as Pretty Kitty the Bearded Lady for over fifteen years, taking care of the circus’ inhabitants—both human and demon—when the curtains close.
But she’s kept a dark secret from the rest, one that she shares with the sadistic demon known only as the Ringmaster. Though it would be a stretch to call the arrangement he and Kitty share tender, the Ringmaster finds himself curiously drawn to the kind but dark heart of Arcanium.
When Kitty convinces a long-time lover of hers from outside Arcanium to join the circus—Victor, a sweet, handsome, charming man in love with every square inch of hair on Kitty’s body—the secret between Kitty and the Ringmaster not only risks coming to light, but the strange relationship itself threatens to crumble and throw Arcanium into chaos.
Reader Advisory: This book contains horror-related violence and gore, assault and threats of sexual violence, a rough D/s relationship, sex with a well-endowed demon, multiple partners, bondage, sadomasochism (including an intense biting moment), fisting, mild breathplay, and both BDSM and non-BDSM whipping.
General Release Date: 8th September 2015
Kitty had been part of Arcanium for over fifteen years. Over fifteen years of Arcanium staying the same. Over fifteen years of herself more or less staying the same as well.
Yet every time she walked around the crowded circus, there were whole minutes when she felt normal. And she always felt like she was home.
In a place where cast as well as customers were intentionally not normal, no one blinked an eye when a voluptuous woman in a filmy, ribboned gown walked around, not just with a Rapunzel-like chestnut braid thick down her back but also soft, dark reddish hair sprouting from her arms, her chest, her legs—everywhere hair could be and shouldn’t be. And on top of that, a long, glorious beard that wizards and bikers only wished they had—softer whiskers than on a male, slightly curly when it was shorter but wavy when it was long. She kept it braided or contained with a series of beaded leather strings.
In Arcanium, Kitty delighted patrons, taking pictures with them and encouraging them to tag her and the circus on their social media sites. Although she didn’t have the acrobatic, gymnastic, dancing or illusionist skills to be much use in the ring, she was the circus’ most popular visual draw. And when she left Arcanium, she was their best advertisement.
However, when she left Arcanium, she wasn’t normal anymore, and people were less inclined to be delighted.
Damned, though, if she was going to let them keep her from the rest of the world when she needed a change of pace.
Kitty pulled a phone out of her bodice with a slight smile on her face then ducked behind one of the booths. It wasn’t very private. There wasn’t much ‘behind’ in a circus arranged like a spider. But it would do.
“Please be there,” she muttered after she’d swiped through her contact list to find the name she was looking for. She didn’t like answering machines, and texting wasn’t any better. She’d text with her family, her only exception because it wasn’t often.
But she wasn’t calling family.
“Victor? Hi. This is Kitty.”
“Kitty who?” he asked.
“Don’t even start with me, buddy. How many Kittys do you know?” she said, leaning against the booth with a grin.
“You must be the soft, furry one. None of the others give me any lip.”
“You’re also hotter than them,” he said. She could hear the smile in his voice.
“Literally. When’s summer over again?” Kitty had suffered sweltering in the summer all her life. She could wear airy things that showed off her legs and allowed airflow, but her hair made summer hell, no matter what. Sadly, she couldn’t get one of the crew to follow her with a fan and a spray mister when she wasn’t in her tent or her RV. Actually, she could, but it seemed a little despotic.
“If you checked a calendar lately, you’d see it was almost over.”
“Don’t give me that calendar crap. It’s over when it’s under eighty during the day and under sixty at night,” Kitty said.
“Then you’ll have to suffer a little longer. Welcome to the desert.”
“I dislike your desert.”
“But you don’t dislike me.”
“Not at all. I called to say that I was in town,” Kitty said.
“I figured. How long are you here this time?” he asked.
“About a week and a half. The usual.”
“You never stay long enough,” he said.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
“Yes, but my liquor cabinet is sorely lacking in absinthe these days,” he said. “Pre-show, post-show or sometime during the week?”
“I like a man who gets straight to the point,” Kitty said. “I’m good for a post-show tonight. All night.”
“You sure the circus can survive without you that long?”
“The circus doesn’t want to survive with me if I don’t meet you tonight.”
He laughed. “I know I’m not your only man, Kitty. You can’t fool me.”
“Doesn’t mean I’m swimming in it.”
“Lots of frustration?”
“A whole night’s.”
“Mmmm. You sure know how to make a man feel needed—and intimidated.”
“It’s how I keep my men on their toes,” Kitty said. “Pick me up at ten-thirty?”
“I’ll be there.”
Kitty closed her phone and tucked it back into her bodice. She’d return it to her tent later.
Bell—the circus owner and fortune teller, among other things—had let her have the phone about a year ago, when she’d grown tired of having to go to the Ringmaster’s trailer to use his computer. Maya—high-wire acrobat, Bell’s beloved pet and one of Kitty’s newest friends—had introduced her to the wonder that was smartphone Internet connectivity. Maya had been patient, and Kitty had become smitten with the new technology.
A group of older teenagers walked up to her when she headed around the booth again to get some food. The group was mixed male and female but not apparently paired off—an important distinction because the boys had no one to misguidedly try to impress. Kitty had learned which groups to tactfully avoid and which were less likely to be aggressive or loud. The less trouble, the better for everyone involved.
“Hey, can we get a picture?” one of the girls asked. She appeared nervous, but she tried to hide it with a smile.
Kitty smiled back. Kitty didn’t automatically assume that everyone’s discomfort was with her hair. For shy people, it was sometimes enough that she was a stranger.
“Absolutely,” Kitty replied. She spread her arms to welcome the girls and a few of the guys as they clustered around her. One of the guys took the pictures with several phones and one digital camera. “Don’t forget to tag Arcanium and the Pretty Kitty Bearded Lady.”
“Um, are they real?” one of the guys asked. His hair was too long for his cut. He was just as shifty-eyed as most teenage boys—and like most boys and men, his gaze kept shifting to her breasts.
“People usually ask about my hair. I’ve never been asked if my boobs were real before,” Kitty said, amused.
“No!” the guy said. He jerked up and determinedly met her eyes. “I didn’t mean—”
“Relax. I was kidding,” Kitty said. “Yes, the hair is real. It’s all real.”
“Can I touch your beard?” another guy asked. “Just to check.”
“No,” Kitty said.
“Why not?” he asked.
“I appreciate you asking. Some people just yank on it like a bell pull. The reason why not is because you wouldn’t like it if I grabbed onto something of yours and pulled, right?” Kitty said pointedly.
The guy nodded with a sheepish grin.
“Besides, if I let one person do it, I’d have to let everyone do it. Do you know how much oil and dirt is on the average human hand?”
“Ew,” said one of the girls. “Do I want to know?”
“Ignorance is bliss, sweetie,” Kitty replied. “But if you want me to prove it’s real, I have no problem pulling my own hair.”
She tugged sharply on her beard close to the chin. Then she pulled at the long, dark, reddish hairs on her arms down to her hands.
“See? One hundred percent natural,” Kitty said.
“Cool,” the second boy said.
That was the reaction that made her work worthwhile.
* * * *
There had been other circuses, carnivals and sideshows for her before Arcanium—of a sort.
College had been a world removed from the world, like Arcanium. That had been around the time she’d stopped trying so hard to be normal. Shaving her whole body at least three times a day, plucking so much that she’d nearly rid herself of eyebrows some weeks, damaging her skin with chemicals, never going out without long pants, long sleeves and high necklines… There was a point at which a girl had to admit that there was no winning the battle.
She hadn’t quite been born early enough to be there when other girls weren’t shaving their legs or pits and were walking around without bras. But her admissions essay had been appropriately filled with the woes of living with an untreatable disease, getting her a few additional hundred in scholarship money.
Her peers at the time had been more curious about her than mean, which had been a breath of fresh air from the hell of high school. Leaving the tight cliques of home revealed what Kitty had already known—that underneath the antagonism was a strange jealousy. Here they were, still insecure in how they looked and beholden to the demands of fashion as well as ordinary expectations, and she was walking around with hippie beads in her hair and beard.
While other people’s curiosity had got her through college relatively unscathed by jokes, insults and bullying, that curiosity had become a plague once she’d been expected to go forth and join the sadistic, civilized circus the world called the job market.
Had she sought a job in the new millennium, she might have had a shot for the same reason she’d received a scholarship. Diversity quotas would have made her a prime catch. Some HR representative and business owner could pat themselves on the backs about their disability hire and congratulate themselves that it was only their charity that could give her a decent living.
But back when she’d tried to enter the workforce, she’d received a wealth of double-takes but not a single job offer. By an accident of birth, she would never fit a company’s image standard or grooming clauses. They hadn’t been able to get her out of the door fast enough, no matter how polite or professional she’d tried to be, and they’d always hesitated before shaking her hand hello or goodbye, as though her fur would start growing on them like some kind of fungus.
She could have gone into a career that shut her away from the world like a shameful secret—something where she didn’t need to leave her house, something that just required a computer, a phone connection and a headset. No one would ever have to see her face. She didn’t sound diseased.
Kitty had instead decided to swallow her pride and check out circuses.