“I’m aware,” I say through clenched teeth as my spine prickles, the beginnings of the moon’s cycle tugging at me.
“You should probably go frolic in your forest now, mutt. Leave the perverted window-watching to those of us who don’t have to grow a tail on a full moon,” he says like the condescending prick he’s always been.
“Come visit me tonight. See how much I frolic, blacksmith,” I say with my own smirk, even as my canines begin to elongate.
“One day, I’ll take you up on it. Don’t think I won’t.” His eyes narrow like he’s baiting me, a blade peeking out of the jacket of his suit coat.
The last time he stabbed me, it took the damn wound a full day to heal. He won’t be stabbing me today.
“I’ve been waiting on it to happen for centuries, yet all you ever do is stab me when I’m not looking,” I say with a smug grin as I turn and start walking away.
He snorts, and I glance over my shoulder one last time to see Violet, as she coughs out her window, another pointless potion going awry.
I pause and glance at Vance, just as his gaze come back to mine. Exhaling harshly, I turn back to face him fully.
“She’s trying to save that ghost,” I tell him.
His lips thin. “Then she really doesn’t have a fucking clue what’s going on right now.”
“Gifted Portocale blood with no gifted Portocale knowledge,” I state a little quieter.
“What the hell was Marta thinking?” he asks on a frustrated breath.
“Marta lived longer than any Portocale before her. Maybe she figured out something and never planned on not being around to see it through herself,” I suggest.
“Leave the thinking to me, mutt. I’ll call you if anyone needs to be ripped to shreds,” the tosser says dismissively.
Without a second thought, I blur to him when he turns his back, and hear him curse when I slam my fist against his side. My knuckles almost break on impact, but it’s bloody well worth it when he yelps in pain and gets launched forward from the force.
He topples off the side of the roof, and I soak in the satisfying crunch I hear when he crashes into the pavement below.
Proud of myself, I peer over, not seeing any witnesses. He slowly starts popping his bones back into place, making a frustrated sound when manages to flop to his back and reaches a hand up to feel his mangled face.
That’s going to take some work and some re-breaking. Now I feel better about life, and the moon’s tug isn’t quite so imposing with that off my chest.
“Oh, you stupid fucking mutt,” he growls.
“Sucks when you don’t see it coming, doesn’t it, Blacksmith?” I call down.
“I’m going to kill you this time!” he emptily threatens.
“Make sure she doesn’t go into the woods tonight.”
A dark smile curves my lips as I turn and head to the back of the courthouse in a town that is quiet this evening.
After all, it’s Shadow Hills.
Everyone knows to stay in on a full moon. The wolves always howl.
“Ah, Honey, Honey,” Anna sings as I knock on the door of the Arion household.
Weirdly, the only name on the order is Shera Ward. No Arion.
My best paying clients call their homes House of insert pompous rich name here. Four families do this. House of Arion is my first delivery. I confirmed over the phone, and since I’ve not yet made a fool of myself by being caught off guard, I’m putting my best foot forward.
The door swings open, and an elderly woman greets me with a weighted smile when her eyes dip to the Portocale Magic box in my hands.
“Are you working for the Portocale shop, dearest?” she asks me.
“Actually, I own it. My aunt left it to me in her will.”
Her eyes widen as her heavy smile falls completely away. “Why would you come here?” she asks in a worried whisper, looking behind her and back at me. “You know better than to cross the gates right now. Our alpha is still—”
“What do we have here?” a woman drawls from behind me, interrupting the older lady’s weird ramble.
I whirl around, feeling a prickle up my spine as the redhead’s eyes pass over me.
“Tell that bitch you already have a redheaded sidekick, and to get lost,” Anna chimes in from…somewhere.
“I’m just dropping off an order. I confirmed last week that the House of Arion would still be getting their supplies from Portocale Magic,” I state with a strange uneasiness gathering in the pit of my stomach.
The new chick’s eyes meet mine.
“Yes, but since when are Portocale gypsies brave enough to step foot on Arion land?”
This again? Really?
“I’m not actually a Portocale. Marta was my aunt by marriage,” I explain, my eyes darting from her to my van…then back to her.
Why does her brow crinkle? More importantly, why does she sniff the air really loudly?
Hesitating for only a second, I manage to keep my poker face in place.
“Her ex-husband’s niece is more exact, but I was all the family she had in the end,” I resume, pretending not to be attached to my mother while playing the part of an estranged niece.
I’m not really sure why she licks her lips, nor do I understand why her pupils seem larger than they did a minute ago.
My gaze darts to my van, and then back at her again, double-checking the distance. Everything about this is incredibly weird, and if I had a spidey sense, I bet it would be tingling.
Anna appears behind her, sniffing her like she has a sense of smell. “This girl smells like a sour whore. Maybe she smells herself and thinks it’s you? That’s gonna be awkward later when she peels those tight pants off and realizes what she was really smelling.”
It really doesn’t help to adopt a ghost these days.
“I wasn’t aware there was any conflict with my name, since the orders came from my aunt’s shop and I’m using as many of her same recipes as possible,” I go on. “I called to confirm,” I say again, just because she’s not speaking or even blinking, as those pupils dilate more.
She looks utterly stunned for a flicker of a second, but then she schools her features. “Fascinating,” she says, her eyes going studious on me. “Well, Ms. Carmine, allow me to take that heavy package off your hands. Would you care for some tea?” she asks, doing an abrupt one-eighty that I really don’t feel comfortable with.
“I have a lot of deliveries to make, so I’ll graciously have to decline this time, ma’am,” I say.
The ma’am being said to a woman, who’s about my age, just makes it all…weirder, but I’m not really sure what else to call her.
“Will you also be visiting the other Houses today?” she asks idly, but for whatever reason, I think she’s hoping I’ll say yes.
Shrugging like she’s not freaking me out a little, I nod. “I’m visiting a lot of houses.”
She continues to eye me like she’s expecting a trick, as she takes the box from my hands. “Well, then. I won’t keep you. Let me know if you decide you want tea sometime.”
Anna has disappeared, but I can’t exactly wait on her.
I just give this slightly creepy woman an awkward goodbye and start toward the van.
Anna lands in the seat beside me just as I start up the van, still feeling the weight of that woman’s gaze on me.
Pretending not to notice, I back out of the driveway and head in the direction of the next house, hoping it won’t take too long to get the store back on its feet and into hiring territory.
“Deliveries are officially my least favorite thing,” I mutter.
“Yeah, well, you’re delivering goods to vampires. There was some serious blood drinking going on in that house,” Anna states in a dead-serious tone.
I groan, wishing the last fifteen potions had done at least a little to alleviate her urge to constantly lie.
“I was a vampire once, until a bitch staked me through the heart. They called her Buffy,” she manages to add with a straight face, appearing a little bitter. “She looked more like a Sarah to me, though, if I’m being honest.”
Ignoring her, I turn up the music for the next few miles until I reach the massive estate similar in size to the last one. These people love their creepy, slow-opening gates and long, ominous driveways.
“I could be reading into things, but the people here seem a little dangerous and far too interested in you,” Anna says as we both lean over the dash to stare up at the massive house I’ve just parked in front of.
I catch sight of a curtain shutting upstairs.
“I’m a Portocale. People always seem dangerous,” I tell her absently.
“These people seem pretty certain you’re a Portocale. It’s like no one believes you’re not. Are you sure you’re safe here?”
“Mom wouldn’t have left me everything if she didn’t want me coming here.”
“Sure. Makes perfect sense, since she died here,” she states with dramatic sarcasm. “And you call me crazy.”
“You think Buffy killed you. You are crazy.”
“Actually, I think it was an astronaut who killed me when I was on the space station,” she says, as I shake out of the trance and hop out of the driver’s side. “Again, are you sure you’re safe here?”
“Despite the creepy feel of it, I trust my mother. This is probably the safest place I can be.”
“How long did she work here before she died?” she asks me like she doesn’t already know the answer.
I answer, even as I rein in my own doubts. “Three months.”
“And you still think you’re safe?” she asks incredulously.
“That’s actually a fair point, but I still trust her, Anna. The will stated I received it all—and this is all she had. She wouldn’t have led me here if she thought I’d be in danger.”
“Risky assessment, considering she wouldn’t even let you visit her after she moved here,” she immediately fires back.
Refusing to allow her to chip away at my resolve, I ignore her. I’m certain Mom wanted me to come here. Considering she was killed here, it’s also the best place to start finding answers.
Then I’ll have wine with my mother’s ghost, wherever she is. That’s the only reason I can think of that her spirit is in hiding. She’d come to me otherwise.
They can likely still harm her even from beyond the grave, possibly even track her the way she used to track spirits, and she won’t lead them to me. Which means there’s a high probability that I’m dealing with gypsies.
“Where do you think your mother is right now?” Anna asks as I start picking through the boxes, finding the correct one.
“If I’m right, she’s as far away from me as possible,” I mutter as I lift the box and start carrying it toward the front door.