“Because I wanted to, of course. Needed to know you’re not full of shit,” Damien says with a shrug. “You could still be dicking us around, since my investigation has been temporarily halted.”
“You came into my room while I was sleeping,” I start, a modicum of calm barely staying in place, “because you wanted to?”
He nods like it’s not a big deal. “I’ve been doing it since you stopped in at my house and did that saucy sex scene flash in my head without an ounce of modesty. No Portocale thinks of sex with me when I touch them,” he goes on, as though he’s explaining. “Obviously, I was intrigued.”
I blink. Several times.
Vance just steeples his hands and presses his mouth into a thin line, though I swear he looks amused.
“I may seem harmless to you, but I am a Portocale gypsy, as you’re all apparently already aware of.”
“Portocale blood is very easy for us to scent,” Damien tells me in an unconcerned tone as he takes a seat, lounging as though he has nothing to apologize for.
“But Portocale gypsies have gifts,” I go on.
“If you don’t want him intrigued, you should probably stop talking,” Ace says, amused as he leans up and watches me with rapt attention.
Damien seems over it by this point, as though now that he’s gotten caught, the fun is over and there’s nothing left to discuss.
“Your sad little gypsy gifts, sweetheart, are comparatively rubbish next to mine,” he says as he lights a cigar and puffs from it, not even glancing at me now as he rubs his bruised jaw. “You make potions and gypsy drugs.”
Everything in the room suddenly turns white, and I can’t see anything except for Ace at my side.
“He’s being an ass because he just got his ass kicked by Vance. It’s a pride thing, you’ll learn,” Ace informs me around a bored yawn.
I swallow thickly, trying not to act too jarred by the fact everything, for as far as I can see, looks like a vast white room.
“Would you like to finish your threat now?” Damien’s voice echoes all around me. “Or have I proven my point?”
Ace’s eyes dart to the side as I close my eyes, remembering the room, remembering my blindfolded sessions that my mother and I used to have.
“Learn to stay calm when blind, Violet. Sometimes opponents always go for the eyes first,” my mother’s voice chants in my head.
“Portocale gypsies just make damn good clothes and damn good potions,” Damien continues.
A tickle of power rolls through my fingertips as my lips tug up on one corner of my mouth.
“Oh, I certainly like you a little more now,” Ace says just as a strangled sound causes my eyes to spring open, finding the white-room illusion fading quickly, as Damien is slammed against the wall behind where he was sitting.
The unraveled strings of the draperies are pinning him in place, slipping tighter around him, binding him as the circulation around his limbs and throat grow more constricted.
His eyes widen as his jaw tics, but I swear I see an eerie tint of dark amusement glimmer in his gaze as he narrows his eyes on me.
“Generally speaking, illusions are just illusions. Cut off the head of the illusionist, and they disappear,” I say with a saccharine sweet smile I use just for show, and wipe it away before my next words. “Stay out of my house.”
The threads all snap at once, and he’s dropped to the floor with a groan.
“Ass kicked by a young Portocale gypsy. You really have reached an all new low,” Vance says with a barely restrained grin as he steps over Damien and comes to nudge me toward the door.
Damien coughs on air, and slowly climbs to his feet, eyes glued to me like I’ve renewed his interest. But at least now he should think twice about just how vulnerable and young I am, since my youth keeps getting tossed around like an insult. They act like I’m some kid who has lived a sheltered lifestyle.
Cults have tried to kill me on more than one occasion. My mother hunted ghosts and fought like a badass. And…I’ve got something dark and lethal trapped inside me. I’m twenty-five.
I’m not a freaking kid.
“Told you you’d just intrigue him more. Hell, I’m half tempted to be clingy now,” Ace states from behind me, entertained as he bounces his gaze between us.
Vance puts his hand on the small of my back, guiding me toward the door.
“Well, when Vance isn’t pretending to be some sort of modern-day gentleman, he’s staring through your bedroom window,” Damien says from behind me as a chill spreads up my spine.
“You tattling little twat. It was only in the initial observations,” Vance bites out like he’s still arguing about an entire conversation that apparently went on when they were out there tearing down yet another house.
My eyes cut to Vance, and I let out a huff as I turn and stalk out the door on my own.
The door slams behind me, and I pull a potion bottle from my bra, tossing it over my left shoulder. I hear the glass shatter just as two heavy thumps slam into the door.
“I’m not adjusting this fast!” I shout over my shoulder as I walk quickly, knowing that won’t hold them back for long, unfortunately.
“Well, now I’m just downright intrigued. Tell me, did you place Vance firmly in the friend-zone because he painted your toenails for you, or do you know he’s gay?” Ace asks me as he joins me at my side.
I dig around in my bra for the tiny little ball of caged salt and toss it over my left shoulder. I don’t hear him speak again, so I assume it’s done the trick.
I’m halfway down the street when an obnoxious red sports car screeches to a halt beside me, making this moment nauseatingly cliché. The “savage,” as Anna calls him, fortunately doesn’t have on a leather jacket or dark sunglasses to knock the cliché over the top, or I’d vomit right now.
“Get in,” Emit snaps.
“Really not adjusting this fast,” I say under my breath, exhaling heavily. “I’d rather not. I have issues with all three of you now, so I think I’ll just cut ties and leave town while I’m just a little behind. Besides, I think you want me dead.”
I start walking, but he revs the car and cuts me off.
I have a loaded bra full of small but powerful potions, and he’s tempting me to use them all on him at this moment.
“You want to see a spot on my land, and I need to hold my own private audience with you, since it seems to be the new normal,” he bites out. “I’m sure Vance has told you why you’re safe with us,” he adds.
“Actually, no, he hasn’t. If I go based on what he’s said, this is a safe and dangerous place, and you’re all safe and dangerous. It doesn’t make sense. I’m seconds away from losing my shit, and I’d really rather no one be around to observe it. So either try to kill me, or be safe and go the hell away, because I need a fucking second!”
I’m breathing heavily by the end of my tirade when my voice breaks. My hands are shaking, and my lip trembles for the first time since this all dropped in my lap. And it’s really pissing me off that I’m trying to be patient and save my impending breakdown for a more appropriate time, yet slipping so soon.
Mom made it always sound so easy, and it seemed so rational and wise.
He shakes his head and exhales harshly. “Get in,” he says with a slightly gentler tone.
“Fuck. Off,” I state with a firmer tone.
He glares over at me, but I hear a door crashing in the distance, and decide I’d rather gamble than deal with either of those perverted lunatics right now.
So I get in the car.
He smirks as he continues the cliché with an old-fashioned burnout, and darts off at a nauseating speed. Why couldn’t they be speed limit monsters at least?
I decidedly hate sports cars, but at least I don’t feel like I’m about to burst out in tears anymore. However, I do stare a little blankly at the familiar barbed wire fence before me.
“Did you bring me out here to kill me as some sort of sick joke?” I ask dryly.
“Vance said you think your mother was found out here. I can assure you she wasn’t, but you can get a glimpse right now. Until the snow melts, there’s a window,” he tells me as he gestures out to the thick blanket coating the ground. “I’m sure you can use me to tap into that window.”
I’m not really sure why I’d need to use him.
“Last time I stepped out there, wolves attacked. You weren’t happy about the outcome, and now I’ve been trying to avoid a downward spiral ever since. So why bring me back?”
He stares out in front of him. “Vance pointed out that you healed one of my wolves,” he says a little coldly. “After a quick inquiry, I found out which wolf. He said you genuinely thought he was a simple animal only doing what nature intended, and you left your throat exposed in the process of saving him. I got in the car after that,” he says like he’s annoyed with the entire thing.
My fingers quickly touch my throat in reflex, and I swear he almost smiles in reaction.
“Never do that again—expose your throat to a wolf. He was one who’s fortunately old enough to fight his instinct,” he says as he gets out.
“I can’t catch a break,” I say in frustration as I push my own door open. “There’s way too much happening all at once. This is insane!”
He comes to tower over me, and I look at his proffered hand like snakes are going to shoot from his fingers. At this particular moment, I wouldn’t rule anything out.
Emit Morrigan is a werewolf. I want to laugh and cry at the same time.
He pulls his jacket off when I shiver against the wind, and he doesn’t let me refuse it, before he just tosses it over my shoulders. He’s an idiot for having on a thin T-shirt and some sweatpants, but he’s a wolf or something. In short, I don’t feel bad about keeping the jacket.
I wrap up in it as I struggle to walk in the snow, trying to keep up with his slow strides, but losing more and more visibility as snow stirs and starts pouring all of the sudden.
Not this again.
I pause, listening for the sound of snow crunching under a boot, but thicker dollops of snow start falling harder. I keep having to blink the white powder off my eyelashes as it starts falling in heavier sequences, and the chill spreads up my spine again.
I stand perfectly still, wondering if he’s just cruelly hanging around to watch me squirm, or if he’s really left me behind. We’re only a mile from where we left the car, so I decide to turn around and abandon this death trap of a mission.
“This is simply the cruelest time you’ve ever salted me,” Anna says as she reappears directly in front of me.
A scream is torn from my throat, and I feel myself flailing in the air, realizing too late that I’m falling…until the breath is slapped out of me.