“Thanks,” I say tightly, willing to play along, especially since his lips are on my neck again right now.
He sucks the skin into his mouth as he presses closer to me, and he releases a groan against my throat.
“You’re too tense,” he murmurs as he releases my skin. “You wanted me in the flesh, love. You know you did.”
“Do you know how to cure final decay?” I ask quietly, tensing again when he kisses his way down my throat and drags my body closer, angling me as he starts pushing my long shirt up my legs.
“I’m afraid it’s irreversible. Like all curses,” he says on a heavy exhale.
“Whoa. This guy is totally forward,” Anna says as she pops up beside us. “I like it.”
“I can tell you’re still terrified,” he says on a harsh exhale like he’s trying to be patient with me, and I idly note he’s not covered in blood smears. He also doesn’t have it all over his face—thankfully—the way horror movies depict.
Which is weird, given the amount of really dehydrated bodies in the room. It should be messy, like in that first room.
“You remember your gypsy promise?” he muses as a cold settles over me and snaps me out of my inner tangent.
“I’m not meant to uphold promises to people who betray me,” I point out with a glare.
“I’m not sure how I betrayed you,” he says with a smirk.
When I open my mouth to point out the very obvious, he continues on, talking before I can.
“I told you it was a long shot, and not to get your hopes up. I told you the oranges would lead the lost. I told you it would calm the spirits. It did guide me. I was buried much deeper than the traditional six feet. Deep enough that I had no idea which way to actually dig because all the scents of the earth collided. I told you to loosen the soil, but you never asked why—”
“Because I started feeling redundant and trusted you,” I bite out, tears pricking my eyes for a whole new reason.
He cups my chin again, running his thumb along my jaw. “You trusted me because you thought I was dead and couldn’t share your secrets with anyone. You thought I had stock in ghosts not dying, so you trusted me more. Most gypsies don’t make eye contact,” he goes on. “In your mind, I was no threat.”
“How?” I ask him as I look up, refusing to let the tears fall.
“The others, well, they haven’t even been able to get you to seriously consider them, because you’re a Portocale,” he goes on, not answering my question. “Portocale gypsies don’t really trust anyone. Not even another Portocale.”
“I trust my mother,” I’m quick to argue. “And my father.”
“The human father who doesn’t have the ability to instruct you on how or who to be when he has no way to fathom the exact predicament you find yourself in? The one who knows nothing about your true life, because you have to keep it all quiet, since you’re worried he’ll run again when he hears what your new life is shaping up to look like?” he asks, using our long chats on my bed against me right now.
I word-vomited my life story one piece at a time, fortunately leaving out the darkest, most dangerous secrets. And he’s one of those people who uses it against a girl.
“I trust my mother,” I amend.
“Your dead mother who’s not here, even though she knows you can easily see her and she could still be here for you? The mother who sent you to a town full of monsters with no warning?” he volleys.
“Damn. He doesn’t pull punches when he’s trying to hurdle you right into Stockholm’s Syndrome,” Anna states like she’s impressed. “Just give in. I’ve heard it can be hot,” she adds very seriously.
“Mom’s obviously being hunted—”
“The only ones who hunt spirits are other Portocale gypsies. They can’t consume one of their own kind, so they can’t rid the world of a gypsy spirit. In fact, the Portocale gypsy spirits are very likely the reason the town is under mounds of snow right now. They’re entirely too pissed about the fact the Portocale Council hasn’t found your mother’s killers, and they’re probably reminding them they’re still waiting for results.”
He says it all as though it’s common knowledge and I’m supposed to already know. I have no idea if he’s telling the truth or just spewing bullshit to warp my head.
“I’m going to help you figure out a way to ease the curse—”
“Ease the curse?” I ask incredulously.
“There’s always a way to ease it, but every curse is irrevocable, in most cases.”
He’s talking in circles. I know a good circle-talk when I hear it. I grew up with the best circle-talker there ever was.
His fingertips dance along my neck, since he’s shown a lot of attention to my throat, unsurprisingly, given the fact he’s a starved vampire.
He steps between my legs again as he stares directly into my eyes.
“What do you want from me?” I finally decide to ask, clearing my throat.
“He wants you to get Stockholm’s,” Anna dutifully reminds me.
My eyes stay on his as his lips twitch in a grin.
“Why trick me into breaking you free? What are you planning to do?” I go on.
“Isn’t it as obvious to you as it is to me, Violet?” he murmurs as he leans over, nuzzling the side of my face with his like he can’t stop touching me.
I’m so numbed by terror that I barely feel it, but I unfortunately do feel a little of his touch, and small pieces of my mind fuse that with him being Ace. The man I’ve talked for weeks about anything and almost everything.
The one who listened and didn’t seem at all as psychotic as he does right now as…Arion.
“There’s not a war on the horizon,” he says like he’s assuring me. “The wars have already been fought. The bloodshed will never be over, but bloodshed and war are very different,” he says when I stare vacantly ahead at the bodies still piled up as my gift for raising him.
I have no idea if they’re really affiliated with the ones who took me, considering no one else has bothered following up to see if the dead girl is really dead now that four unimportant vampire assassins have gone missing.
“You,” he goes on, lifting me on the bar as the song changes to Weak by AJR, “are simply the beginning of the end of the story,” he continues saying as he carries me.
I remain a board of dead weight in his arms as he puts me down, and begins dancing with me, singing along with the lyrics like this song was turned on just for him.
His voice is almost hauntingly enchanting, and as he tips his head back to really enjoy the lyrics while dancing me around the room full of corpses, I try to just stare at his chest, worried what I’ll see if my gaze strays around the massacre.
Don’t panic, Violet. There’s no need. You can’t die.
More of Mom’s words try cajoling me as my breaths get quicker and quicker.
Oblivious to the panic attack I’m barely staving off, he keeps dancing as the song flips again to a salsa-dancing melody.
“And by that, I don’t mean the end. I simply mean you’re the beginning of whatever in the fucking hell happens next, because it’s time to move the fuck on,” he prattles on, holding me closer as he lifts me and spins me over one dead body.
I swallow the bile in my throat as I’m lowered back to the ground, and he kisses the top of my head, an action that both terrifies and soothes me.
Head kisses are reserved for concern and tenderness. Affection without sexual undertones.
“I like this monster. You dance around an orgy with him, and he doesn’t hide that he wants you,” Anna says on an awed sigh. “Give in to the Stockholm’s.”
I feel Arion’s grin against my forehead.
“Our story started in another country, in another language, and in a much different time. It started with a brotherhood of gypsies…until one woman. Then it devolved quickly into betrayal, lies, rage and a legion of curses we’re still stuck with for possibly all eternity,” he tells me conversationally as he sways to the new song: Lips of an Angel.
“Gypsies?” I ask on a rasp as I snap out of my trance and look up, finding his cold, dark eyes on mine.
His slow grin forms. “You think I’m the only one who’s hidden my true identity, Violet?” he muses as a hand slips into my hair.
I hiss out a pained breath from the tender scalp that hasn’t stopped fully aching, and he frowns as he stares expectantly.
“I was put in my place before getting tossed in here to stand before the vampire alpha,” is all the explanation I give him.
“I’m sure Shera is currently handling that. Good vampire help has always been hard to find,” he says by way of what I think is an apology.
I barely resist the urge to snort, since I’d rather he not be pissed off by me being disrespectful or something.
“But yes, Violet. The alphas in this town, and every other fault line, are most certainly from strong gypsy bloodlines,” he adds, sending a chill up my spine.
“Wait. That means they can see me,” Anna says incredulously.
Arion grins down at me. “First rule of being a gypsy: Never make eye contact with the dead.”
“Why wouldn’t they have told you that?” Anna asks me.
“Second rule of being a gypsy with pride,” Arion answers for me with a little shrug and a wicked smirk. “Never trust a gypsy, because you don’t know if they have pride or not, unless you’re a prideless gypsy.”
“Gypsies with pride are rare these days,” I say, echoing my mother’s words with my eyes fixed on Arion.
“Yet you have pride, don’t you, love? Can I kiss you?” he asks so randomly, and I actually startle when he leans over like he’s going to try.
He immediately pulls back, sighing as he shakes his head.
“You’re clearly not understanding what I’m telling you. I’m giving you the world right now, Violet. Four alphas you could reunite around your sweet Portocale blood and effortless intrigue.”
“Is he seriously asking you to be their happily-ever-after?” Anna asks like she can’t believe what she’s hearing, giving me a phantom slap on the arm like she’s making sure I’m paying attention to the screwed-up situation at hand.
What else could I possibly be focused on in this moment?
“Yes,” Arion says as he looks over at Anna.
She squeals when he makes eye contact.
“I am,” he adds, looking back down at me with a dark grin.
“Oh! Violet, do it! You have to do it! I will die the happiest-ever woman if I know you’re about to be the happy ending to a monster orgy love story.”
I wish someone would try to kill me so I could faint and get it over with.
“The others will take a little work, but you’ve already started laying the groundwork, unintentionally, so it shouldn’t be too terribly hard to make them see the way. Especially given how exquisitely intrigued with you they all are,” he assures me. “I’d like to think we’ve all grown a lot over these past few centuries.”