“Well, that’s possibly the first time anyone has ever shouted that at me before we even made introductions,” he drawls, letting his eyes rake over me before they meet mine again.
His suit-and-tie look isn’t usually my thing, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man wear a suit the way he does. Anna starts fanning me, which fortunately debunks the electrical current in the air.
I should probably look into fumigating the house for residual magic before I do something stupid…like attack a man for being indecently tempting in a suit while I’m still emotionally vulnerable.
“Tell him I spent the thirties as a gangsta’s prostitute, so I learned a few things. Tell him now,” Anna says a little dreamily.
Pretending not to see the horny ghost at my side, since he can’t see her and I already look insane, I try to play it off. “I find it best to leave the most memorable first impression possible, no matter how outrageous the memory may seem.”
His grin only grows.
“So another Portocale gypsy is in town?” he muses, taking a step closer and perching at a lean on the wall as his arms cross over his really impressive chest.
“Tell him the prostitute thing,” Anna says like she’s still in a lusty trance.
“I’m actually Marta’s niece by marriage, so there’s no gypsy blood in me,” I lie easily, weirdly causing both his eyebrows to bounce up in confusion. “I’m Violet Carmine,” I add tightly.
He straightens and adjusts his tie, his facial expressions closing down like he’s turning into an entirely different man before my eyes.
“I don’t think he was expecting that,” Anna rhetorically points out.
“Violet Carmine?” he asks as though he’s struggling to believe that, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“Yes,” I state warily, wondering why he seems to believe otherwise.
The man before me distracts me from my silent concerns when he runs a hand over the back of his neck, smiling tightly. “I’m Vancetto Valhinseng. Head of House of Valhinseng,” he tells me, his eyes meeting mine expectantly.
“Valhinseng…oh! You’re one of my aunt’s clients,” I say with a breath of relief. Mom wouldn’t be collecting enemies as clients to pass onto me. “I’m taking over the business, so I’ll start sending your supplies within a week or so, unless you’ve already made other arrangements.”
He cocks his head, his eyes studying me even more intently. “My current arrangements have been temporary and by far less sufficient than your aunt was capable of. You carry the gypsy gift?”
Very few people even believe in gypsy magic—or any magic, for that matter—anymore. Shadow Hills is one of the few exceptions. It’s a tourist town for the believers, the curious, or the weekend fixers.
“No. I’m not of gypsy blood, but I do have the recipes, and a gypsy friend who helps out with the more majestic side of things,” I state vaguely, using my rehearsed lines like the seasoned liar any gifted gypsy should be these days.
His lips almost give into a curve of amusement, but his eyes are no longer playful. They’re full of guarded intrigue and wary curiosity.
The eyes, in case you’re wondering, are the answers to the thoughts in someone’s mind. Though, it’s never easy to accurately read them. It’s all an educated guess, based on context and observable information regarding one’s surroundings.
I’m not exactly a pro at it…
When he just continues to stare like he expects more, I add, “You may have to use a little more of my recreational products for it to be as potent as Aunt Marta’s, but it’ll be closer than anything else you can find.”
“You are so a gypsy drug dealer, you sassy little fiend,” Anna scoffs, causing me to inwardly groan.
Vancetto scrubs a hand over his jaw, eyes locked like he’s lost in thought as he presumably tries to unravel me. It’s unnerving, because it feels like he thinks I’m hiding something.
I don’t like it when people seem to see right through me.
“Will you be taking over her medium clients as well?” he muses, almost as though he followed my train of thought and decided to bait me.
“I’m afraid not. Medium work is more advanced and incredibly dangerous without proper training or at least gypsy blood,” I answer, smiling tightly as I once again reiterate my lie and leave it at that.
I get a vibe from him that has the hair on the back of my neck raising, even as the rest of my body seems inclined to appreciate the very sight of him.
He nods like that’s acceptable and claps his hands together. “Well, then, Ms. Portocale, don’t let me keep you from getting set up. If you find yourself in need of assistance, I’d be happy to let you pick a few of my maids to help you along.”
“My name is Carmine. And are you offering to let me pick some of your workers as if they’re property, Mr. Valhinseng?” I ask a little bitterly, smiling a little less friendly.
From sexy to douche in under ten minutes. Not a new record, but definitely close. I’ve dated the ones who snap their fingers and bitch about the temperature of their soup, when I’m just happy it’s not scalding my tongue right out of the microwave.
“My panties are still wet. I don’t care if he is an unapologetic rich prick,” Anna states seriously.
I really do hate her as much as I love her.
His lips twitch again. “I pay them generously. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.”
“I’ve got this,” I tell him, reminding myself I know his name because he was a big-spending client of my mother’s.
Douche or not, his account alone will pay the bills and most of my living expenses.
“Very well. But if you change your mind, you have my number and address. Feel free to use either,” he states, a sardonic grin briefly ghosting his lips.
“I’ll let you know when your order is ready,” I tell him dismissively.
His grin spreads like he expected that answer. “For a moment, Violet Carmine, I think you almost liked me. How very novel.”
He turns and struts away, leaving that weird remark lingering in the air.
“I feel like you should be insulted, but I’m not sure why,” Anna states thoughtfully. “Or maybe it was a compliment?”
I wait until I hear the front door close before saying, “I hate you.”
“You didn’t tell him I was a gangsta’s prostitute in the thirties,” she says accusingly, turning an annoyed look on me. “It’s I who hates you.”
I’m back to the forgotten face-palming. “Because you were a lounge singer in the thirties. We’ve gone over this. You weren’t ever an astronaut, nor were you a prostitute, nor did you kill Hitler, since Hitler didn’t even die in the thirties!”
“Or so they want you to think,” she states in a hushed, conspiratorial tone, pointing her finger at me.
“Why am I feeding your delusions? I’m supposed to be ignoring you unless you’re telling the truth,” I grumble as I turn and start down the stairs.
“No, it’s called therapy. No ghost comes back from this phase, but I’m determined to make you the first,” I call over my shoulder. “Step one is getting you to focus on what is really happening.”
For whatever reason, I happen to like the pretty redhead who died in her prime when her boyfriend got jealous and shot her in the bedroom after catching her with another man.
She’s stuck in ghost limbo, unable to move on.
And sadly, she’s the closest thing to a real friend I’ve ever had.
My mother’s most important rule? Never grow fond of the dead. They still have a worse death coming for them.
“A Van Helsing is truly walking onto my land,” Emit says as I step onto his patio.
He’s bloody naked under the robe that he hasn’t bothered to tie shut. Some things never change, no matter how many centuries flit by.
“It’s always puzzled me why you think your dick is really worth showing off,” I drawl, pocketing my hands as I lean against the side of his house.
He gives me a crooked, smug grin, as he drinks from a glass of wine.
“It’s always puzzled me why you have to look at my cock before my eyes,” he fires back.
I almost forgot why I hate speaking to the mutt. The only one looking at his dick is himself. Matter of fact, that’s where his eyes are now, as he grins down at it.
“Why the hell did you ask to speak with me? I rather prefer our arrangement of sticking to our own corners of town,” he says more seriously, eyes finally up.
“Violet Carmine is in town,” I tell him, watching for his reaction to see if he’s visited her yet.
“Marta’s niece? So? We knew she was coming to take over her aunt’s shop,” he says, eyeing me like I’m an idiot.
Definitely hasn’t gone to see her.
“She has Portocale blood.”
He looks caught off guard, frowning. “Okay. Most Portocale gypsies use fake names, so it’s not a shocker. But another Portocale comes to live in Shadow Hills? Is this one also willing to supply us?”
“Indeed. She said she’d have orders running soon.”
“Marta was a unique Portocale. She hated us but didn’t mind taking our money and giving us the things we need. As unusual as it all is, I don’t see how this second one is so special as to warrant a face-to-face conversation,” he states distractedly as he flicks through his phone. “We all actively avoided Marta after observing her for a brief day or so.”
“This new little Portocale had no idea who I was,” I tell him, waiting on his slow wheels to start turning and catch up.
I’m worried smoke is about to plume from his ears when he continues to stare at me like he needs more information and is overworking that canine brain of his.
“She’s lying about her name to me…and about her gypsy heritage. However, she’s certainly not lying about the fact she doesn’t know me. I gave her my name, and she never blinked an eye. Had I not made a minor oversight in wording, involving this era’s version of manners, she very well may have stayed pleasant,” I explain.
He still looks confused.
“It sounds like you’re trying to tell me that a Portocale met you and still posed as a non-Portocale and has no idea who you are, but that makes no sense, unless she has no idea who you are...”
“You really do overcomplicate things,” I dutifully inform him.
“Whoever she is, Marta left her everything, and Marta sure as hell knew who you are. Every Portocale does. How long have we been alive?” he asks, sounding genuinely baffled.
“It got a little depressing to keep count, so I stopped trying for the sake of my health,” I say in a droll tone and a roll of my eyes. “You just simply can’t count that high.”