A C I R C U S O F I N K
Scroll down for the full blurb, find out what readers are saying, and read Chapter One.
We are bound by ink. He is supposed to kill me.
In a world where stories are forbidden, Elle has a dangerous power: Creation. That’s why tattooed soldier Jay is sent by the gods to kill her.
But when Elle is faced with the monster sent to deliver her Ending, she catches the glimmer of curiosity in his eyes—an emotion so unusual in his kind. Convinced having a ruthless killer on her side will help her avenge her father and destroy the gods, she makes the decision not to run. And it changes everything.
Soon, the two enemies are forced to seek refuge at the Circus at the Edge of the World, where forbidden passions start to grow. But both are keeping dark secrets. Their deaths have been written by the Creators. And the foretold End is coming.
When all are bound to the story created by the gods, can Elle and Jay rewrite the deadly fate intended for them and the world?
FANTASY ROMANCE | ADULT | ENEMIES TO LOVERS
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WHAT READERS ARE SAYING
“This is amazing. Seriously amazingly gorgeous!”
“It's dark and creative and everything I want in a story!”
“If I could give this book more than 5 stars, I absolutely would!”
“It’s one of a kind. I couldn't put this book down!”
“This books floats somewhere on the line between madness and magic. This is my favorite kind of book.”
“I have never read a story quite like A Circus of Ink. The premise is original, the setting uncommon, and the cast dynamic and diverse.”
“I think this book has topped my list of the best books I've read. I was hooked from Chapter One.”
"It is raw, unfiltered, and honest. And it captures emotion in an effortless, symbolic manner.”
“My book of 2021!”
"Stories are hungry and want to be fed. The readers are too!"
READ CHAPTER ONE
The sky is as black as ink when I hear the footstep behind me.
I’m not supposed to use that word: ink. But I do. My father taught it to me before he was taken. He taught me other words too—library, parchment, pen—but ink is my favourite. I like the way it feels on my tongue.
Ink. Ink. Ink.
I can practically taste it in my mouth—thick, black liquid stories. It tastes like creation. It tastes like possibility.
It tastes like hope.
But now is not the time to be thinking of forbidden words.
They have found me.
I can smell his body, the scent of man and outdoors, damp like the rain. I stare out through the window a moment longer, my eyes casting over the rows of Draft One skyscrapers and the sky’s water puddling on the pavement fifty storeys below.
My heart thrums in my chest like a bird trying to escape its cage. My feet itch to run. But that is what he wants me to do. So instead, I speak.
‘I’ve been expecting you.’
The words come out stronger than I feel them, but I don’t want him to know I’m afraid. If I can make him believe I am strong, then to him, I am strong. Maybe I can make myself believe it too. My father taught me that as well.
Stories are true when we believe them.
‘Then you know why I’m here.’ The voice behind me is low and male. There’s the gruffness of gravel about it, yet a cutting finality. It tells me there is no space for negotiation. He is a hard, impenetrable shell, just like the rest of his kind.
But no, that is not true. There are cracks in everything. And where there are cracks, stories can grow.
I will not die. Not today.
Slowly, I turn. ‘You’re here to kill me.’
He stands a few feet away and surveys me with cool indifference.
I think he must be in his early twenties. He is tall and muscular like all the Blotters. And like them too, he has black tattoos curling around his big arms and up his neck. His white vest has turned transparent in the rain, and it clings to his hard chest and torso to reveal more inked symbols.
Gradually, I bring my gaze up to his face, tracing his square jaw and the raindrops that cling to his light stubble. His hair is shaven close to his head, and it is as black as the sky.
He inclines his head. There’s no emotion behind the movement—no happiness, no regret, no lust for the kill. Just a nod. Yes. Affirmative. He is here to end my life.
‘Run.’ His voice is steady and expectant.
His brow furrows.
I meet his eyes. They’re an iced blue, but there’s a black blotch in one of his irises, like it’s leaked from his pupil. It makes me think of the moment when ink meets water. An imperfection. A flaw. There is something beautiful about it. That and the white scar that runs across one of his eyebrows.
Was he created that way? Why?
‘No?’ His eyes seem to search for something inside of me. ‘You’re supposed to run. I’m here to kill you.’
‘I was hoping to persuade you otherwise.’
‘That’s not the way it works.’
My gaze travels down his body, moving past his jeans and combat boots to the small puddle of rain he drips onto the threadbare carpet of my bedsit. It’s strange how in the big moments, your mind sometimes finds the smallest details to focus on.
‘You’re ruining my carpet,’ I say.
He lifts his feet and appears to study the wet dirt he tracked into my apartment. He looks almost apologetic. Then he blinks, and his features harden once more.
‘It’s not your carpet. It belongs to the Creators. And you won’t have any need for it soon. You’re supposed to run. Go on—I’ll give you a head start.’
He flicks his hand in dismissal. Then he looks absently around my small, standardised accommodation—at the dim bulb in the centre of the damp ceiling, the tattered mattress on the floor, the metal table, the exposed pipes beneath the sink. And though he doesn’t know it, his gaze flits over the impossible door too.
‘Go on,’ he says. ‘Get out of here.’
He raises his eyebrows, emphasising the scar permeating one of them. ‘I don’t think you understand the severity of your predicament, little Twist.’
‘I understand perfectly. And don’t call me that. I’m Elle.’
‘If you understand, then run,’—he moistens his bottom lip—‘little Twist.’ There’s a glimmer of amusement in his eyes now. I am a mouse between the paws of a cat; he knows he can kill me, but he can play first.
His amusement buys me time. And time is what I need.
‘Well, aren’t you the stubborn one?’ He frowns. ‘But I’m going to kill you. Why would you not run?’
‘Because you expect me to.’
He is over six foot, too big for my dingy bedsit, and when he shifts from one foot to the other, his confusion is pronounced. ‘It’s written. You run. You die.’ He is sure of this. But his eyes burn with curiosity.
That is unusual for a Blotter: curiosity.
‘Where is it written?’ I ask. ‘Show me.’ I take a tentative step forwards, and his biceps clench.
‘What are you doing?’ He is even more confused now. But intrigued too.
It keeps me alive.
I am supposed to fear him. I am supposed to run away. He is supposed to kill me. Those are the rules. That is how it is obviously supposed to happen.
But I have always found ways to twist the rules.
I take another step towards him. My heart hammers in my chest faster than the rain pounding against the window behind me.
His breathing is heavier now, his chest moving up and down quickly. He’s excited, I think. This is new to him. And Blotters do not get surprised. Heat radiates off his body despite the fact he’s drenched and it’s cold in my bedsit. I’m engulfed in his masculine scent: salt, sweat, and rainwater. There’s an odd vulnerability dancing in the cold blue of his irises. He’s not afraid—he knows he could kill me in an instant—but he doesn’t understand what is happening.
Words hang in the air of my dingy apartment, heavy and unspoken. They’re new. They crackle between us. Untold stories twist like smoke. I feel them curling around our bodies, pulling us together. Now we have met, our tales are entwined. They will be now until they end.
How else could it be?
He touches my face, and my breathing hitches. His thick eyebrows knit together as if he doesn’t understand what he’s just done. His fingers are rough, and his arm is strong, but he is gentle.
He studies me, and I steady my nerves. My skin burns as his gaze drops to my collarbone. Then he looks at the black vest top, the drab factory overalls I’m wearing with the sleeves tied around my waist, and the combat boots I got from the black market.
I study him too. Ink covers almost every inch of him except for his face—tattoos depicting his past and the scenes that are written into his future.
I have never seen a Blotter up close. I have avoided them in the five years since my father smuggled me out of the Final City before he was killed. He fascinates me. We are new to each other, and despite the fact I should run, and he should have killed me already, he continues to stare. His thumb presses against my cheek near my lips.
It is then, standing so close to him, that I see the small mark on his chest through his wet top. It’s small, barely
a smudge, but something draws me to it. What is that? I lift my hand, and very lightly, I touch it.
His muscles harden beneath my fingers, and his eyes narrow. I tense.
I feel like I have just put my hand on one of the mutated wolves that on occasion stray into the outer Drafts or stuck my fingers into the flames that roar in the trash cans under the bridges.
He is dangerous. He is a weapon controlled by the Creators. He is a monster wearing the skin of a man. He is a killer.
What am I doing? Why am I not pulling away?
His heartbeat pounds against my palm.
And then his fingers are up in my white-blonde hair, and his expression hardens. His cheeks flush, and his breath lands hot on my skin.
‘What the fuck are you doing?’ he hisses.
I grapple at his fingers, and his grip tightens. ‘Where is it written?’ I try to keep my voice calm, but panic begins to rise from my gut. ‘Where is it written that I die? Show me.’
What if I was wrong? What if I can’t talk my way out of this one?
‘Where is it written?’
Behind the anger, I can still see the intrigue in his face. His entire life is mapped out for him in ink on his skin. But this wasn’t written. He didn’t expect this interaction. In that confusion, there is hope. If I can push him hard enough.
He pulls my hair, baring my throat, and I bite back a cry.
‘Show me!’ I yell.
A roar tears from his throat as he releases me. I stumble back into the table and grip the edge to steady myself.
‘Why are you frustrating me?’ He yanks down top of his white vest, exposing his chest. ‘Here, see? Are you happy now!‘
Above his heart, amongst the other black lines and symbols, is a black circle. Within it is a twisted line, broken in the centre. Ice spreads across my chest. It marks my death. I can feel it. As can he.
We are bound by ink. He is supposed to kill me.
To the side of it is the tattoo I put my hand on seconds before. It’s something I recognise. Something that means something to me. It’s a dandelion seed, floating there in the narrow space between the images.
It reminds me of something my father used to say to me.
Stories grow like dandelions in the cracks in the pavement.
I have the same tattoo on my ankle, though ink is forbidden to people like me. It is a message of hope, of love, of rebellion. Why would a Blotter have the same tattoo?
He drops his arm to his sides. The fear and anger are wiped from his face. Only his ragged breathing and a slight twitch in his jaw betray any hint of emotion.
‘If you won’t run, I’ll have to do it here.’ He moistens his lips. ‘It’s only a slight deviation. It will be permitted.’
‘Are you sure?’
The black images that mark him a monster become more pronounced as he tenses his biceps, preparing himself for the kill. I push myself backwards into the desk.
‘You don’t have to do this.’
‘I do. It is written.’
‘I won’t die today.’
His expression darkens. ‘Sorry, little Twist, but you will.’
My eyes dart towards the door he does not know about—the door that isn’t supposed to be there. The door I don’t fully understand. The door I think I created.
I need more time. ‘I’m going to run now.’
His hard edges soften somewhat. He’s relieved that things are finally going the way he expected them to go.
‘Go ahead.’ He steps to the side, clearing the way towards the only exit in my bedsit. The same exit that is built into every bedsit in the Draft. ‘But I know where you’ll go. It is written.’
‘Is it?’ I flash him a smile.
I think I detect a hint of regret on his face. But that doesn’t make sense. Blotters don’t regret.
His eyebrows knit together as I dart in the opposite direction he expected, towards the cupboard at the end of my mattress. I throw open the impossible door. Then I jerk my head over my shoulder and catch his widened, ink-blotched eyes.
‘I’ll see you soon,’ I say.
I disappear inside.