“I’m Batman. You’re Robin. You don’t get to salt me during the guy time, you prudish hen,” she rants, pointing a finger down at me as I rock from side to side, trying to suck in a single drop of the air that just exploded from my lungs when I hit the ground.
She rants on, as I flop like a fish on dry land, unable to breathe and momentarily wanting to die.
“I get that I can be annoying, but we can come up with some signal for me to dial it back. No more salting. I need to see all the pretty monsters,” she angrily continues, just as I take a breath that sounds like a donkey braying, catching my first gust of air so hard it makes me cough.
“And they all said I’m far more interesting than you. I heard it in the early fifties when we were roller derby queens,” she prattles on, getting on a tangent.
“I don’t think they had roller derby queens in the fifties,” I tell her on a small, painful laugh, as a stray tear rolls out of my eye.
“How would you know? You weren’t there,” she argues.
“You just said I was,” I remind her, another tear randomly leaking from my other eye.
“You’re such a liar,” she says as though I’m exhausting.
“Hey, Anna,” I say on a steady exhale.
“What?” she asks sharply.
“I actually missed you.”
“Good. Tell the pretty monsters to get rid of their salt too,” she says on a sniff, and then frowns as she looks around. “Are we on our way to Grandma’s house again? I thought we decided Grandma was a bitch.”
“She’s definitely that, so let’s get out of here.”
“Aye! Land ho!” she shouts as she starts trekking in the wrong direction.
“Land ho in the opposite direction,” I call to her back.
She does an abrupt about-face and starts marching in the opposite direction, causing my smile to lift as I clear my throat.
Wiping my tears away, I push up to my feet, seeing a glimpse of the sun through the heavy snowfall. Just as I take a step, there’s suddenly a massive body in front of mine, and I scream. Again.
For fuck’s sake, can’t people understand this is a seriously critical moment in my life, and scaring the hell out of me is not cool at all?
Emit smirks down at me.
“You clearly need help, so climb me so we can get there before nightfall,” he says in an even tone.
I ignore all of that.
“Is the alpha wolf afraid of his own pack?” I ask him warily.
“No. It’s going to drop twenty degrees, at the very least, when the sun goes down. It’s already dropped ten since we’ve been out here. You have my jacket, and I’m starting to get cold,” he states like it should be obvious.
“What does he mean about climbing him? That’s the important part,” Anna butts in.
“I’m not climbing you,” I say with an indignant scoff, and take a slight step back from him.
He really is the tallest of the three, and one mountain of a man.
“Tell him about the time I took a ride on Aquaman. It’ll give my vagina celebrity accolades,” she drones on.
He wipes a hand over his mouth and mutters something I miss, before bending swiftly. It happens so fast that I don’t realize what’s going on, until a few seconds after my world is turned upside down.
“He really is a savage! He just threw you over his shoulder like a true barbarian, and now he’s off to have his wicked way with you! Why does it always happen to the boring ones?” Anna squeals and groans, alternating between the two as she bounces around behind me.
“Are you serious?” I snap as I stop my head from knocking against his ass for a third time.
“I really can’t be out here all fucking night,” he says on an exasperated breath.
When I feel how fast and smoothly he’s moving us, I stop complaining. I’m not lazy, but this is a hell of a lot quicker, and I don’t want to be out here at night either.
How the hell did the day get away from me so fast? It was certainly late when I got up, but—
“He is so turned on right now,” Anna says from somewhere in front of him. “I can see the outline. It’s still huge, in case you were wondering. The cold doesn’t cause this one shrinkage like it does the really pretty guy,” she adds. “Maybe I’ll borrow your vagina for him instead of those two.”
He stumbles, and my hands slip, which has my head bouncing really hard off his super firm ass.
He adjusts me to where my waist is more on his shoulder instead of my thighs, and my head doesn’t hang near his ass anymore.
My hands push up on his ass to keep from slipping again, and Anna squeezes his ass under my hands.
“Is it firm?” she asks seriously. “I bet it’s firm. Like rock hard.”
“We’re here. I think. Based on the directions Vance said you vaguely gave him at some point last night,” he says as though he’s beyond relieved as he drops me to my feet. “Is this it?”
I glance around, taking in the surroundings as I pull out my phone, unable to remember telling Vance anything like that, and silently worrying what else I can’t remember saying. I quickly pull up the picture, and I hand it off to him, distracted by the unsettling feeling in my stomach.
“This is it. You said this was in the report you received?”
I nod in response to his question, trying to detach myself from the very real chance I’m standing where my mother was killed. But words can’t form at the moment, as that unsettling feeling spreads.
“Did they not tell you?” I manage to quietly ask.
“When a Portocale gypsy dies, it’s handled with discretion. Your mother didn’t tell you even that?” he asks me as I kneel and close my eyes.
“When a Portocale dies, no one ever gets punished,” I say quietly. “It’s our family curse.”
“That’s entirely incorrect,” he says with a soft, subtle edge to his tone, as I force myself to detach from the world, not caring what his next words will be.
There’s a dizzying moment when someone quickly pushes themselves to the brink of death with very little effort. Straddling the line of dead and alive is usually a tedious, dangerous task, but it’s one of the very few things I’m good at.
It’s not something most do with very little preparation in the middle of the woods with a notably dangerous, strange werewolf at their side.
Unfortunately, there’s no mirror to my mother’s death here, and with all the spirit energy fueling the air, it doesn’t take much effort to see that very clearly.
When my eyelids blink, I find Emit staring down at me with a furrowed brow as he runs his hand over his beard, dusting the snow away.
“You didn’t just do what I think you did without any ritual whatsoever, did you?” he asks me quietly.
“I’m a Portocale. We’re a little more gifted in some areas than other gypsies,” I say dismissively as I stand.
“I’m aware of what the Portocale gypsies are skilled in and that’s not one of the areas,” he says with a hint of suspicion in his tone. “What just happened? How did you do that by simply closing your eyes?”
“Tell me all your secrets, and I promise I’ll tell you all mine,” I say with a straight face.
She cocks a challenging eyebrow at me as I play off my uneasiness with a smirk. “Touché.”
“Can you tell me what happened? You knew for a fact she didn’t die here, and then you start spewing about a code for handling gypsy deaths, and—”
“When a Portocale gypsy dies, the Portocale council handles the case,” I interrupt, wondering why in the hell Marta wouldn’t have told her daughter that very important fact about her heritage.
Her mother’s death prompted our curse…
Clearly she has the blessed blood…
This girl is such an unorthodox enigma at this point.
“What are you talking about?” she asks like she’s so confused that she’s simply asking on autopilot.
“When you faked your death—”
“How is the fact I faked my death common knowledge?” she asks incredulously.
“—your mother would have had to have approval from them to do it. Faux deaths is a common practice among Portocale gypsies who carry stronger blood. Which clearly you do,” I tell her, watching her face and the true oblivion in her eyes.
“They would have come to speak to you directly. They become very involved when a Portocale fakes their death, because they try to keep track of anyone and everyone with saturated Portocale blood. Changing your name is one thing, but after executing that path, you’re usually not allowed to visit any of the fault lines.”
“Fault lines?” she asks, which is one I shouldn’t be surprised by.
I guess Vance has only started telling her the basics, even though this is pretty basic shit too.
“Towns like Shadow Hills, because they’re filled with creatures who can smell your sweet blood,” I explain.
The snow continues falling as Anna runs by us screaming about bees sawing down trees and coming after her.
“My mother knew all this?” Violet asks softly, eyes on me like she’s trying to wrap her mind around the sheer volume of secrets she’s been left out of.
“Of course. She was the first Portocale to ever live in any fault line town, and certainly the first to ever do business with us,” I say as she starts to shiver.
Her eyes stay on me expectantly as the breaths puff out between her slightly bluish lips.
“You’ve sat with two monsters today. Are you up for a third?”
“I sat with a monster and a monster slayer,” she corrects, before she blows out a heavy breath.
“Trust me when I say Vance is more monster than human.”
“That’s it. I want them all,” Anna, the lingerie ghost, chimes in, waving her hand in my general direction. “I’ll climb atop his mountain peak first.”
“Vance was perving on me through my bedroom window, apparently,” Violet grumbles as she looks down, and I…keep my mouth shut about my part in the same crime, even as my lips twitch.
“You dirty homewrecker, I already called dibs and now you’re stripping for them on your flag pole?” Anna asks her on an indignant gasp.
I only know that damn ghost’s name because she kept shouting it in my ear when I was trying to fall asleep, since she hoped it would subconsciously stick with me as the name I would ‘forever scream out during sex.’
Bloody relentless dead people sometimes…
Ian’s scent catches my attention, though it’s distant. I can tell he’s on his way to us, and I’d rather not have a discussion about a Portocale while one is with me.
“You want to climb me or get tossed over my shoulder?” I ask her, drawing her attention back up to me. “We need out of here before the temperature starts to plummet real damn fast.”