She glances down at my hand and back up to my eyes, the absence of fear alarmingly worrisome.
“It wasn’t smart to come to our houses, tease us, play with us, and then walk away. And we haven’t found something to exchange for the mirror you gave me.”
I pat my pocket with my free hand, ensuring it’s still there, and she grins up at me.
“You’re carrying it around? I didn’t think you’d like it that much.”
I hate the genuine way she says something, because she’s a gypsy. Everyone knows you can’t trust a gypsy, and she’s proven that very well already.
“You happen to have Portocale oranges—”
“I didn’t realize they’re such a delicacy,” she says with a shrug as she walks off. “Now I know, and it’s just more to barter with in the future,” she adds over her shoulder as she walks down the stairs.
Her naivety is both charming and infuriating sometimes, because I never know when she’s being naïve and when she’s being calculating. Maybe that was Marta’s grand plan for her—to drive us to the edge of paranoia with the most fascinating Portocale gypsy to walk into our worlds in too many centuries to count.
“And you just happen to have an exquisite mirror on hand to simply pass on to me,” I call out a little accusingly, even as my eyes stay fixed to her lovely ass, now that I’ve started noticing her body more and more.
The more my heart beats, the sexier the peculiar gypsy becomes. Even in her terrible wardrobe full of too many loud colors.
“I’m not letting you stall long enough to do your freaky mind trick on me and turn me into a flesh-and-blood version of a horny ghost,” she says, confusing the hell out of me for the briefest of seconds.
“I’m afraid that’s all you, Violet Portocale,” I chirp, grinning at her when she turns to give me an unimpressed look. “I can only lower your inhibitions,” I tell her more seriously.
Her gaze flicks to my lips once again, and predictably back up to my eyes just as quickly, telling me she’s already struggling with our proximity, which is probably why she’s trying to get away from me.
Taking a step closer, I push her hair away from her face, letting my fingers linger on her cheek as images of her dropping to her knees before me and doing indecently glorious things with her mouth appear in my mind.
“You’re trying to say you’re not giving me a vision of me—”
“All you, gypsy girl,” I say as my thumb drags over her lips, remembering how soft and delicate they feel when she’s letting me bruise them with mine.
She swallows thickly and steps into me. Just when I think she’s going to finally fucking kiss me again, which has honestly taken entirely too long, I’m suddenly yelping and collapsing to my knees as excruciating pain rockets from my groin to my gut.
A groan is ripped out of me, even as I struggle to breathe, while the vicious gypsy who just kneed me in the balls and felled me like a tree is kneeling down and kissing me on the cheek.
“Don’t come in without knocking. Stop being invisible so you can attempt to spy on me. And stop playing games with my head. I have enough shit to deal with,” she says softly, kissing my cheek again before standing and walking out.
I’m busy trying to roll back up to my knees, so all I do is glare at her when she darts back in, hissing out a breath as she dances from foot to snow-covered foot and pulls off the knit slippers.
“Forgot my shoes,” she says before quickly changing them out and darting away again.
Downed by a gypsy too foolish to learn how to properly fear, and who can’t even remember her bloody shoes. This is an all new low.
“I may be in love with you now,” Ace says at my side, still grinning even ten minutes after leaving Damien on the floor.
I feel bad about it now, damn it. But he can’t follow me, and he doesn’t need to know why. And he really does need to stop being a total creep.
“Just his face was priceless. I feel like I owe you a debt,” he says on a happy sigh.
“You constantly tell me to let Damien have his wicked way with me, despite the danger—”
“He’d never endanger you,” he immediately points out. “Portocale gypsies are safe from alphas.”
“Regardless, you want me to go to bed with him—”
“And let me watch so I can be with you through vicarious means,” he interrupts again, because all ghosts are prone to interrupting to insert their dirty agenda.
Ignoring the really inappropriate butterflies that make me feel even more abnormal than I already am, given the fact he’s a ghost wanting to watch me have sex with a monster so he can pretend it’s him instead, I go on. “—yet love seeing him get kneed in the balls.”
“I didn’t say I like him,” he says with a small smirk. “But in the interest of your well-being, I think having Damien under your thumb would be wise. And you’re the first thing to interest him in far too long.”
“Are you ever going to tell me how long you’ve stalked them?”
“All things come out eventually, love,” he tells me before gesturing to the cloak. “Time to pull it on. Spirits on this land are vicious, and that will protect you.”
I pause at the archway that has vines grown all over it, wedging the gates shut. It looks like I’m the first person to visit this place in decades.
“It couldn’t be a normal cemetery? Those are creepy enough,” I mutter under my breath as I pull on the cloak and tie it under my chin.
“Afraid not. This cemetery isn’t even known to exist, and it’s very important that Vance doesn’t know we’re out here, so move quickly and do exactly as I say.”
“What happens if Vance finds me?” I ask him quietly, now second-guessing this idea, since I never want to have to get on a monster hunter’s bad side.
“Stay here,” he tells me as he disappears.
I honestly don’t think I can ever kill someone I know, regardless of my mother’s strictest instructions to never let anyone live after witnessing me die.
Why would you ever let anyone who thinks they’ve killed you just walk away, Violet? Be smart, sweet girl. Life isn’t sunny-side-up. Her words always play in my head anytime I have doubts, as though she’s still instructing me from right at my side.
Ace returns, popping up in front of me.
“We have less than ten minutes before one of his obnoxious drones flies back over. If it spots motion or body heat, it will sound an alarm. Remember that Vance won’t hurt you, but that he can imprison you for trespassing on Van Helsing property. It’s a grave offense, I’m afraid.”
I exhale harshly, seeing my breath fog over in front of my face.
“Great. So I need to hurry,” I say as I pull my satchel strap tighter and start heaving myself over the vine-ridden gate, ignoring the spiders and other insects that crawl over me as I do so.
“My kind of woman,” Ace says from the ground.
I turn to look back, seeing him wink at me before he disappears again. Stupid, inappropriately-timed butterflies wreak havoc on my stomach, causing my transparent grin to spread much too easily. He knows he’s reached the point where he can say the simplest things and make me an idiot.
I land on the other side of the wall, and he turns to start quickly running through the graveyard.
He’s all ghost grace and poise, while I try not to trip over the headstones.
“Why is there a hidden cemetery back here?” I ask a little uneasily.
“It was here before Van Helsing,” he assures me, leaping over one set of really tall headstones that I elect to run around.
I’m not a very good jumper. At all.
“This town killed a lot of proposed witches in search of actual witches who were indeed slaughtering and butchering townspeople for the sake of working dangerous blood magic. They moved on after the paranoia hit full steam, and left the mortals to suffer their punishment in their stead.”
Before I can comment on the morbid share, he stops abruptly.
“It’s here,” he says, looking over his shoulder at me. “Violet, don’t get your hopes up. This is very much a longshot.”
“I spent the day buying Anna all the things she wants for what may very well be her last day,” I say as my hands shake, and I begin opening the satchel I made myself. “I’m not getting my hopes up,” I add, even though my hopes are up just a little.
Putting the bowl on the ground first, I kneel, quickly pulling out the air-tight container that holds the oranges I was worried Damien would smell.
As I unload the oranges, I look up at Ace as he kneels and smiles down at the ground.
“So now I just spill my blood over this spot?”
“Portocale blood on consecrated ground will possibly do the trick,” he says very quietly.
Before I can make any move to do anything, I hear a loud buzzing, and Ace’s eyes widen.
“Run,” he says sharply, looking back as one of the head-sized drones come soaring right toward us.
Heat and motion sensors…
I drop to the ground, letting my heartbeat drop as low as safely possible, as I absorb the cold from the snow.
My teeth chatter for just a second until my heart is too slow to allow my body to move. The drone continues right over me, never once picking up any signatures, and Ace’s head pokes over mine as a quizzical expression dons his face.
“How in the world did you manage that?”
I’m slow to sit up, and my heart is slow to speed back up to where it needs to be for me to be quick, but I languidly lay out potions exactly like the diagram I drew while he coached me.
“Cold snow and still girl,” I tell him absently.
“Far too simple,” he says with narrowing eyes.
His gaze darts over my head, distracted by the retreating drone, as I finish placing all the very volatile vials in their places.
Turning my head to guard my eyes from the blinding flash, I strike one, and feel the vibrations of them all going off at once.
The light flashes from behind me, and a cracking, creaking, and groan sound behind it.
Fortunately, that’s as loud as it gets, and I turn back around to see the snowy fog before me as I close my hand over a blade and hiss out a breath when I feel the burn of pain.
“I still don’t know what part the oranges play,” I tell him as I let my blood drip.
“Strong, sweet scents such as that can have a sort of guiding power for the lost and a soothing effect on the restless. Plenty of restless spirits in the area who will need calming once you do this,” he says as he lowers himself next to me, eyes riveted to the blood steadily running from my hand in a thin stream.
“That should be plenty, love. Wrap your hand before you lose too much blood,” he tells me when I get a little dizzy.
I quickly reach into the bag, hiding my hand as I feel the satin stitches from the inner pocket of the satchel start lacing my hand together. His attention is on the ground before us.