I still want to salt her.
Violet actually grins broader.
Rolling my eyes, I look back at the road, until she says, “I’m expecting an answer to that. Why do Portocale gypsies get preferential treatment from your hunting abilities?”
My hands tighten on the steering wheel.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I state with a droll tone.
She reaches up to turn the heat on, and her hand brushes mine when I make a move to do the same thing. It’s instinctive to stiffen when I’m touched by anyone unexpectedly, but the second the icy glide of her skin grazes mine, I slam on the brakes.
Violet shouts something about lunatics and broken balls. Anna screams as she’s launched through the front windshield, which is terribly dramatic and unnecessary, considering she can’t actually be thrown from a vehicle.
I shove open my door and stalk around to Violet’s side, throwing open her door so hard one of the hinges snaps and the door half collapses on the ground.
There’s a streak of terror in her eyes that has me calming just slightly as I kneel down and pull her freezing hand into mine.
“Why the hell are you so cold?” I bark, feeling a weird panic climb up me.
It was stupid to pledge protection to someone who intrigues me this much. I blame it on the fact she’s a Portocale and I may be able to finally pay my life debt and stop being punished every time one of their short lives ends.
That’s a fool’s dream, but that niggling sensation of hope is the only thing I can accuse for this ridiculous fascination.
“Because it’s cold outside, and I walked five miles before I got desperate enough to settle for you,” she says very warily, as though she’s watching for me to make any sudden movements.
“How is this not affecting you?” I ask her.
I notice now that her eyes are a little sunken in with subtle, dark circles highlighting them, and she’s a lot paler than usual.
“It’s by sheer stubbornness alone that I’m not passed out and sleeping this off until I’m warm. Can we shut the door and keep the little bit of heat that’s left inside?”
Blinking out of my trance, I release her immediately, grimacing at the door now. What the hell is my problem?
Quickly peeling off my jacket, I put it on her. Then I quickly lift the door into place and wedge it shut.
After getting back in and quietly shutting my door, clearing my throat, and adjusting my tie, I calmly put the car into gear, and slowly accelerate us until we’re at top speed, as I drive toward her house.
“Unless you want vomit on top of the snow in the floor, I strongly urge you to slow down,” she says with a small, warning gag.
“I can’t handle watching her spew,” Anna says as she also gags before she disappears.
I let off the damn gas. I regret taking that detour right about now.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were freezing?” I ask, double, triple, and quadruple checking to make sure the heat is maxed out.
“Because I still have the ability to turn the heat up myself. You freaked out. Not me,” she says like she’s the one being reasonable now, exhaling heavily in relief when I slow all the way down to the speed limit.
“It’s a common courtesy you tell your driver that you’re freezing,” I grind out.
“I didn’t go to etiquette school, Mr. Van Helsing, sir,” she retorts, returning her attention to the window.
I hate it when people are condescending to me. That’s my specialty.
“Any reason why you’re still being hateful to me, or should I expect this sort of hostility during all our future encounters?”
She gives me a dubious look. “Do not stare through my windows ever again, and I’ll be much more cordial. I’m forgiving, but there’s a ceiling limit to that forgiveness.”
“Noted,” I say tightly. “But while you’re sitting there and judging, you should take into account the person you’re sitting with.”
When I look over, I see the confusion in her eyes.
“Living forever is the dream of every man who fears death,” I answer softly, my gaze shifting back to the road. “You want to see the world, even if you’re not a traveler. You want to taste every food out there, even if you’re a picky eater. You want to rule the world, even as you endeavor to remain humble. It’s the curse of mortality.”
I cut down her road, speeding up just a little over the limit, checking her for nausea. She’s just staring at me like she’s genuinely intent on hearing me continue.
“After living for so long, you either do it all, or you do nothing at all,” I finish. “Either way, you simply find nothing that excites you anymore. Nothing holds your attention for long periods at a time. You held our attention. None of us have been intrigued by any one person in far too long to dignify with an estimated number of years. I respected your boundaries, whether you believe it or not, by limiting myself to that small bit of my curiosity being sated. Trust me, it’s highly respectful, all things considered. You’re no longer in a world where you have the high-road as a true option, and no one is going to give you the luxury of being coddled just because you’re too young to understand.”
She clears her throat, glancing down.
“I suppose that’s true. If I’d never come here, would monsters even know I exist?” she asks, glancing to the side window.
“No one would know you as anything other than Violet Carmine, Marta’s niece-by-marriage, most likely. Your background is really well charted and seemingly true. Only the alphas and the Van Helsings know the full scent of Portocale blood. But it still smells sweet enough to garner attention, even if they don’t know the mistake they’re making when they grow tempted.”
“Why’s it a mistake?” she asks, shivering a little under my jacket that she’s wearing like a blanket.
I pull into her driveway, and barely get the brake on before I’m out the door and walking around to her side, texting Damien short details as I go. The passenger door falls off completely when I open it, punctuating the agonizingly slow, frustrating car ride.
She doesn’t fight me when I lift her from the seat and start carrying her toward the door.
“Because we can smell the blood on lips for days after, and it’s a sure death sentence if we beat the Portocale Council to them,” I answer with a dark smile. “Most people just don’t know why, or Portocale gypsies would be far more hunted than they already are.”
Before she has to ask the one-word question that has begun amusing her, I elaborate while pushing through her door, breaking the knob off in the process.
I’ll fix it later.
My voice growing quieter, I say, “When a Portocale gypsy dies, the alphas suffer in agony through every Portocale death in history. It’s up to taking a week for me now, before the agonies and deaths stop. The only reason I’m telling you this is because it should make you understand how protected Portocale gypsies really are by us, whether they want our protection or not.”
Her cold fingers rub over my neck, like she’s drawing in my warmth, as I lay her on her bed and start covering her up with as many blankets as I can find.
I move through the house, finding several more, and run them back upstairs. A curtain is missing from the window next to her, and a hideous bird-fabric toboggan is on her head and covering her ears when I return.
“It’s hard to believe your family used to set the fashion by designing for the royal households,” I say in true horror, distracted for just a second.
She rolls her eyes.
I start pulling my shirt over my head, and she barely bats an eye.
“You better be offering body heat and nothing else,” she mumbles.
“Five miles shouldn’t have left you this wrecked,” I tell her as I move to the other side of the bed and slip in under the covers.
She immediately presses against me, and I don’t overthink it as I put my arms around her and draw her close.
She’s unbearably cold, and there’s no part of me that should be the slightest bit aroused. It’s wrong on so many levels, considering she’d likely hate me, as all Portocale gypsies do, if she had all the facts.
“One second you’re accusing me of being too tough, and the next I’m too weak,” she grumbles, causing my lips to twitch.
“Why do I smell your blood?”
“You always smell my blood, according to you.”
“You’re deflecting. There’s certainly a difference from smelling it in the vein as opposed to smelling it outside of it.”
She lifts her arm over my face, and I notice a wound for the first time. It’s small, nothing to account for the blood loss, but I think my curse and the need to protect her is a little overly worked up.
“My mother knew monsters lived here, and she left me unspoken instructions to come here as well. She knew you’d discover me. Knew you could smell my blood. Apparently there’s a Portocale council I’ve never even heard of—”
“Emit mentioned that,” I interrupt, and she makes a sound of disapproval.
“Sorry. Please continue your rant,” I state blandly, trying not to smile when she just pushes closer.
“My point is, she knew all that, and still sent me here after her death. She’s earned blind trust, but…”
Her words trail off, and I brush her hair away from her face as she stares over my shoulder like she’s lost in thought.
“But now you find yourself wondering why she ever even came here to begin with. I’m sure you have no idea if your limited knowledge into your true world is a good thing or not. Marta was a very popular Portocale at one point in her early career, and disappeared until she popped up in our town months ago—”
I pause when I realize she’s not even paying any attention. She’s staring over my shoulder still, and now I realize it’s that odd gaze she’s gotten a few times recently. It’s like she’s frozen and staring at someone, but once again, no one, not even a ghost, is there.
She grins suddenly, but she wipes that grin away like she doesn’t want me to see it. My brow furrows as I look at the vacant space and then her.
“Are you okay? Is the cold making you hallucinate or something?”
I’m fucking burning up, and she’s still really cold to the touch.
“Fine,” she says as she presses up against me with a little less tension.
I’m a little concerned it’s a trap when she tosses her leg over me and wraps her arms around my neck with careless abandon.
It’s been a long time since things got hard without more effort, and I’m not sure why my cock picks this particular moment to be errant.
She’s still bent out of shape over the window-watching thing, so I’m positive feeling my arousal during her vulnerable moment will likely not bode well for me.
Subtly adjusting to keep her from noticing, I try not to think about how, even through that rough fabric garb she’s wearing, I can still feel every curve of her body easily molding against me.