It gets really quiet.
“Take the bone away. Bad dog! Bad dog!” Anna shouts.
She then starts bouncing around as she barks at me, sounding like some little ankle-biting menace with more bite than bark.
Pausing a cookie at my mouth, I peer over at Violet and arch an eyebrow.
She’s giving me a blank look.
“Did you really just call me a freak?” she finally asks, and I roll my eyes.
“Not in the derogatory sense of the word. In the actual meaning. Gypsy freaks are reasonably common, and not always discriminated against. It’s just a term to explain the misfit pieces when a gypsy doesn’t perform as expected: You can’t use your threading gift to create clothing fit for royals, but you’ve managed to somehow turn it into an offensive weapon, which is a first.”
She bristles, and I carry on.
“You quite frankly suck at killing things, and you’re entirely too sloppy, unlike the typical Portocale, but you manage to scrape by because you’re a true old-blood gypsy, regardless of how bad you are at it.”
“I’m actually quite good at being a gypsy. Just not at being a seamstress or a vampire slayer, one of which isn’t supposed to be in my genetics,” she corrects, causing my grin to lift.
My grin falls as I continue speaking after finishing another cookie.
“The main reason you’re a gypsy freak, is the fact you don’t actually seem to need ghost spirits to stay alive,” I go on, tasting the orange on my tongue and the urge to eat the next cookie.
“What do you mean?” she asks as she moves closer, brushing some crumbs off my beard.
Her fingertips feel just a little cool to the touch, because it’s apparently her default setting when snow’s on the ground. Still, every time she touches me, it’s like a jolt of electricity through my bones, and I pause, my gaze darting back over to her.
“You lost a lot of blood in Martin’s house. Care to explain what you were doing there now that you’ve had a few days to calm down?”
“I did lose a lot of blood, but I’m a gypsy, as you said. We scrape by. I’m better now. Tell me about the ghosts,” she goes on, but I get very damn distracted as she gently pushes a crumb from my lip into my mouth.
“He’s so out of your league,” Anna says on a sigh. “But he’s eating out of your hand. Literally. How do you do it, sensei?”
My lips lightly close over the gypsy’s thumb as my eyes stay fixed to her unusual ones. Green with a violet rim, no doubt the reason she has her name at all.
Then my gaze dips to her lips as she pulls her thumb back, leaving just the hint of orange in my mouth again.
I find myself leaning forward as if my body is thinking for itself, and she gently stops me with her hand at my chest. “Why would I need ghost spirits to stay alive?”
“Because it’s the Portocale curse. You learn your curses starting at age thirteen,” I answer as she lifts another cookie to my mouth.
I take a bite as my eyes stay locked on hers.
“What Portocale curse?” she asks me, gently running her slightly cool hand up my cheek as she inches closer.
“The curse that kills Portocale gypsies. The curse that keeps Portocale gypsies from living in true hiding so they can be hunted down like cattle. The curse that—”
Something chimes, and I blink as I look over, wondering if Vance is right and I really am fucking stupid. I glance down to the empty bowl with only some crumbs remaining.
It’s my dignity alone that keeps me from licking the crumbs out of the bowl right in front of her.
“If you decide you want more treats, knock on the front door. No more slinking around my windows. I’m not the one who bites,” she says as she stands.
I find myself unnaturally riveted to her ass as she turns and struts out, confusing the hell out of me.
What just happened? Why do I already want more cookies?
I glance down at the bowl of crumbs, and I quickly decide it’s okay to the lick the bowl now.
Why is there a gypsy smiling at me through my window? Our lunch isn’t until tomorrow.
I smile back, since women love my smile, and I go to swing open the door, wondering if this is going to be far easier than I anticipated. Sort of sad, really. She seemed like the type to finally give me a challenge.
It’s been so long since there was a fun challenge.
“I got your roses,” she says with a smile, referring to the roses I sent yesterday when I decided to channel my energy into my new endeavor.
Took a whole twenty-four hours to achieve my goal.
“Did you?” I drawl, using that charm I know she’ll enjoy.
She lifts a small, hideously knit stocking, and I warily accept it. I think that color is called vomit green.
“Where in the hell do you find these ugly shades of colored fabrics?” I ask on an exasperated exhale.
“My mother’s trunk had a lot of faded yarns in it, and for the record, it’s rude to make someone stand outside in the cold while you criticize the wrapping of the gift they just gave you.”
My lips twitch as I glance back over at her disapproving look, along with a slight blush hitting her cheeks.
“You wrapped my gift in a stocking?”
“Seemed fitting. I peg you as the Grinch type. An early Christmas present would certainly irritate the Grinch.”
“And you endeavor to irritate me, gypsy girl?” I muse as I step back and let her into the house.
Even though the chase has ended quickly, she does make this part enjoyable when she’s being fun and prickly at the same time—my favorite combination.
After shutting the door, I set the gift aside and take her coat, since Vance mentioned something about her expecting a certain decorum of manners.
The concept alone is amusing—a monster with manners.
“So this is actually Vance’s house, right?” she asks as she looks around at the tacky floor-to-ceiling fabric walls.
“No art. No color. Just bland. Like the owner. And if I change something in his home, he changes something in mine. I want my house exactly the same when I return,” I gripe.
Just thinking about that smug prick lounging in my Jacuzzi in the Japanese garden—that I bet he hasn’t pruned—pisses me off.
“Why is he punishing you?” she muses as I study her.
“Why are you here?” I ask instead, and she turns and grabs the present I’ve put off to the side.
“It’s customary to bring a gift when showing up unannounced,” she says, as her stalker ghost drops to a chair and starts pretending to be snapping pictures of my ass in my slacks.
I’m not sure why I tighten my ass and discreetly pose a little like there’s a real camera, but it’s grating on my nerves that she’s even here.
I take the sock again, curious about why Violet’s smiling like that, and pull out a small, antique…mirror.
The shine on the glass surface is immaculate, not even a speck of dust, smudge, or lint marring the perfection of it.
It’s quite possibly the most beautifully crafted mirror I’ve ever seen.
“Where did you—”
“It belonged to my grandmother.”
“It’s far too nice to be a gift, gypsy girl,” I state absently, my eyes running over the finer, clearly hand-crafted edges.
“I was actually hoping you might trade with me.”
There’s nothing that feels better than finding something like this to barter for.
“What would you want in return?” I ask without looking away from the detail in the finishing.
True silver wrapped over just enough iron to give it proper firmness.
“Little of this and that, but mostly some self-defense skills. If monsters are my new normal, I need more than one trick in my pony’s saddlebag,” she says, confusing the ever loving hell out of me.
“I need to be able to protect myself from things that don’t die from being strangled, and I’m asking you to help with that.”
“Wouldn’t a Van Helsing be the far more obvious choice for that task?” I muse, caught up with the reflection as my attention returns to the mirror.
“I don’t want to hunt things. I just want to fend them off and effectively get out of potentially sticky situations. You’d be better for that,” she goes on, moving closer to me.
“And I’m really curious about what you are,” she says as she steps closer, her head tipping back so she can stare up at me.
Feeling her gentle, cool touch is the only thing that breaks my concentration from my new mirror.
“I definitely want to take a spin on him. Like one of those sit-and-spin toys kind of spin,” Anna says from too close beside me, but not even she can distract me from the gypsy eyes I’m staring into.
“Have you ever heard the legend of Dorian Gray?” I ask as her breaths get a little shaky, her proximity to me messing with her head.
Terrible gypsy. Everyone knows to avoid the eyes. Why does she always look there first?
My hand slides against her cheek, and she leans into the touch as a drunken haze presumably fogs her vision. Like pure putty in my hand.
“The immortal who was all about orgies and whoring, but could die if he ever looked upon his special painting or something?” she asks quietly, a slight rasp to her voice as her hand slips inside my open shirt.
I hate that I feel it when she touches me. I deadened myself so long ago that it shouldn’t be possible to feel her. But her touch is just cold enough to force me to acknowledge it as she drags her hand up to my chest.
“Is that why I feel like this when you do whatever it is you’re doing?” she asks on a hushed tone.
A barrage of images assault my mind, as the dirty little gypsy fantasizes about all the things she’d love to do with me. She really doesn’t understand how dangerous it is to not fear me the way she should.
Someone should tell her.
“In a sense,” I murmur, brushing my hand over her cheek.
“So you’re Dorian Gray?”
“No, I’m Damien Morpheous,” I tell her, lips twisting with wry amusement when her eyes dance with intrigue. “Dorian is just my bastard brother, who my father refused to ever give the family name. He’s far more popular than I, even to this day. However, that’s only because he doesn’t have the family curse, nor is he afflicted by my own personal additional curse. He and my other siblings enjoy life so much more.”
“What curse?” she asks as I drag my thumb across her lips, entranced by how soft they are.
“My personal curse? I can give a woman plenty of pleasure. But if I find my own, it’ll be at the cost of her life.”
Her hooded gaze stays fixed on mine. “Why are you the only one with that curse?”
Putting the mirror in my back pocket, my other hand snakes around her waist like I simply can’t help myself. She’s made my damn heart start beating with the images she won’t stop seeing—images of my hands all over her bare body.