My lip involuntarily curled. “Are you sure you’re of House Wrath? If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were general to a vacuous, shirtless battalion belonging to House Narcissism.”
His expression was anything but friendly. “You flatter me. If you’re so repulsed by my company, why not set me free?”
“Dangerous word. I’d avoid speaking in absolutes if I were you. They have a tendency to never stick.”
I forced myself to breathe. What I had wanted before I recognized him were answers. Now I wanted to carve him into a thousand bloody pieces and serve them to sharks. “Why did you murder my sister?”
He slowly paced around the summoning circle, likely testing its strength. “Is that what you think? That I ripped out your sister’s heart?”
“You were standing over her body, licking her blood from your fingers, you revolting beast.” I drew in a furious breath, watching him closely, though it was an effort in futility. His expression was inhumanly blank. Not one emotion betrayed his thoughts. Without thinking, I reached up and clutched my cornicello again. “Why did you murder my sister?”
“Why should I believe you?”
“Her death was most inconvenient.”
“Inconvenient?” I gripped the hilt of his dagger, debating how fast I might shove it into his heart before he hit me back. Not that he had. In fact, he didn’t so much as lay a hand on me while I’d kicked and punched him. Odd for a demon of war. I shook my head. My protection charm was at work, not his conscience. “Yes, I imagine it must’ve been terribly inconvenient for you to find my sister murdered. Why were you in the monastery, then?”
A faint shimmering gold light flared up and fell back to the earth like a waterfall. It took a second to realize he was only answering me because of the summoning circle. And apparently he was fighting it. Feeling bold, I stepped near the line of bones and asked again, “Why were you there that night?”
Hatred burned in his eyes. “For your sister.”
“What did you want her for?”
He smiled again, but it was more a promise of payback than amusement. “She made a bargain with my brother. I came to collect on it.”
I turned away quickly, hoping to hide my surprise. I’d suspected that Vittoria had made a bargain with a demon to spell her diary, but I didn’t think she’d summoned one of the Wicked. My focus slid to the basket I’d brought. My twin’s diary was hidden a few feet away. Carolina said it called to the Malvagi, and I wondered if Wrath felt it now. I didn’t want him getting his demon hands on whatever was in there, and decided against asking him to break the spell. I faced him again. “What were the exact terms of the bargain?”
I narrowed my eyes. He was obviously lying, but I had no way to force the truth from him. Unless I used one of the Forbidden spells. And that seemed like too much dark magic for one night. I was only willing to tempt Fate so much. “What did you do with her heart?”
“Nothing.” He gritted his teeth. “She was dead when I got there.”
I winced. Even though there wasn’t anything particularly cruel about what he said, the cold assessment of my sister’s death still hurt. “Why are you so concerned with the exact phrasing of the spell?”
This time his answer was much slower in coming, as if he was choosing his words very carefully. He finally said, “In order to adhere to its rules, I need to fully understand the protection spell, as you called it. Knowing the phrasing will also help me make sure others adhere to it. We have strict rules we’re governed by in the Seven Circles, and severe penalties if they’re broken.”
“By ‘others’ do you mean me?” He shook his head. “Who, then?”
I knew there were seven demon princes, but I didn’t think they were related. Imagining demons having families was disturbing. “Do all demons have to obey these rules, or just princes of Hell?”
“If we’re exchanging secrets now, I’d like to know how many witches live on this island, and the name of the coven elder from each city. Then you can tell me where the First Witch’s grimoire is and I’ll consider us even.” He smirked at my look of repulsion. “I didn’t think so. But I would like to know the Latin portion of the spell you used tonight.”
I weighed the benefits against the disadvantages of telling him the protection spell. He couldn’t harm me, that much was clear. And it wasn’t like he could reverse it, only I could do that.
“Aevitas ligati in aeternus protego.”
For a second, he didn’t appear to be breathing. He stared at me, his expression close to horror. A deep sense of satisfaction filled me. It wasn’t every day a witch caused that much fear in a demon prince, especially the mighty demon of war.
“No snide remark?” I asked, not bothering to hide my smug tone. “It’s all right. I know it’s an impressive one.”
“What’s impressive is how wrong you are.” He crossed his arms, his countenance once again carefully blank. “Regardless of your pedestrian attempt at dark magic, I’ll offer you a bargain in return. The length is negotiable, how we bind it is not.”
My face heated. Nonna said the Malvagi’s bargains almost always involved kissing—that once they’d locked lips with someone, that person lost their senses entirely. Always craving more, going so far as offering up their soul for another taste of the wicked sin they’d gotten addicted to. I didn’t know if all that was true, but I refused to find out.
“I’d rather die than subject myself to kissing you, demon.”
His expression held little humor as he took my measure. It was a slow, deliberate sweep of my body, my stance, the way I aimed his own dagger at his heart. If he looked at the bleached bones that surrounded us, he didn’t give them more than a cursory glance. When he dragged his attention back to my face, something dark lurked in his gaze, forged deep in the pits of Hell.
Chills ran down my spine, tingling in warning. This was not the kind of prince written about in fairy tales. There was no golden crown sitting atop his dark head, or promises of safety waiting in his sculpted, tattooed arms. He was death and rage and fire and anyone stupid enough to forget that would be consumed by his inferno.
“One day you might beg me to kiss you.” He stepped close enough for me to stab him. Heat radiated off him. Around me. A bead of sweat rolled between my shoulders, slipped down my spine. I shivered. He smelled of mint and warm summer days—so at odds with the darkness of his luccicare. “You might hate it. Or love it. But temptation will surge through those magical veins of yours, obliterating all common sense. You’ll want me to save you from the endless torment by giving you everything you love to loathe. And when I do, you’ll thirst for more.”
An image of him pressing me against the wall, the stone sharp as talons in my back, his lips soft but demanding as he tasted me, crossed my mind. My mouth went as dry as the bones in my summoning circle. I would sooner sell my soul than be with him.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered, his lips brushing the delicate skin on my neck. I froze. He’d moved so swiftly, I hadn’t even seen him take a step. “You’d need to be the last creature in all the realms combined for me to want you, witch. Even then it might not be enough to tempt me. What I’m offering is a blood trade.”
Never enter into a bargain with a demon, but most especially a prince of Hell. The Malvagis’ lies are like sugar—sweet, but deadly when too much is ingested over time. Beware: Very few antidotes can be crafted for such a wicked poison.
—Notes from the di Carlo grimoire
My heart thrashed from his proximity, the sound almost as loud as the waves attacking the cliffs below. He lingered a moment before stepping away, like he not only heard it, too, but relished the rhythmic, primal beat. I wondered if it reminded him of war drums, and if he suddenly craved battle. I certainly did. Too many emotions were swirling inside me, making my decision especially hard. My sister’s possible bargain with his brother. Wrath’s blood trade. This whole strange, impossible night. I was barely able to wrap my mind around the fact that the Wicked were not only real, but that one was standing before me, offering a bargain.
“Well?” he asked. “Do you willingly accept my blood trade?”
“You haven’t bothered to explain why you’re offering it, so no.”
He took a deep breath, like the very act of explaining himself to a witch was exhausting. “Per the terms of your protection spell, I must ensure your safety. The spell binds me from harming you, but it also requires me to grant you protection from others. A blood bond between us will alert other demons that you are a temporary member of House Wrath, and therefore they should not kill or maim you too terribly. There. Will you agree to the blood bond now?”
Not maiming me too terribly wasn’t the same as not maiming me at all. I stared, lips pursed. After a minute, I slowly shook my head. “No, I don’t think I will. You’re bound until I release you, and I don’t plan on summoning any other demon. Therefore, I don’t need your protection.”
“First, I’m bound to this circle for three days. Not until you release me. Your . . . protection charm is different—that is, unfortunately, for eternity now.” He rolled his shoulders, though it didn’t appear to undo the tension in them. “Second, the blood trade will allow me to sense when you’re in danger. Without it, I can’t guarantee your safety. Which puts me in violation of the rules that you made when you crafted that spell.”
“Is that so.” My tone accused him of being the worst liar I’d ever met. “None of that matters. When our time’s up, I’m releasing you back to Hell, not the shopping district.”
“Blood of a half-dead demon. This was your first summoning spell, wasn’t it?” He watched me carefully. I glared, but said nothing to deny it. He sighed. “Of course I’m bound to an incompetent fledgling until the end of time. Do us both a favor and don’t accept my offer. I’d prefer to not be your lapdog anyway.”