I spun slowly, searching for whoever’d called out for my sister. My attention landed on a man around my father’s age, half sitting in his chair, half falling to the floor. Gambling chips and empty glasses were stacked in haphazard piles around him. He lifted his gaze, and I drew in a sharp breath. Domenico Nucci Senior.
“Signore Nucci. Do you—”
“Vittoria, be a good girl and see about my drink, will you?” His focus slid to the next card someone slapped down. “Maybe get some of those fried calamari with extra arrabbiata to dip them in, too. It’s gonna be another long game. These cheaters are making me feel wolfish.”
He smiled like we were sharing some big secret.
“I’m not—I’m Emilia, my sister is . . .” Signore Nucci was obviously intoxicated and probably thought he was at Sea & Vine, ordering dinner. The spicy marinara and fried octopus were one of our most popular dishes to share. It also explained his confusion over calling me Vittoria—she used to help our father and uncle in the dining room sometimes. “I’ll make sure someone brings your food soon.”
I turned and smacked into a hard chest. One of the nicely dressed men who’d been guarding the door glared down at me. “The boss would like a word with you. Come this way.”
Whatever pain I’d felt about being mistaken for my sister was immediately replaced with fear. I followed the muscular man as he cleared a path to the door. Power seeped from whatever lay beyond it, and I knew it meant a prince of Hell was in residence. I steeled my buzzing nerves.
The man wasted little time with entertaining my trepidation, and shoved the door open. He barreled into the room without a second glance, and, with little choice, I followed.
“She’s here, signore.”
I don’t know what I expected to find—maybe a fire-breathing dragon guarding a mountain of gold and jewels, or a really large poisonous frog lashing out with a whiplike tongue covered in spikes—but a lavish room fitted with layered Persian rugs, an oversized desk, plush leather chairs, and a dazzling crystal chandelier wasn’t it. Everything was elegant and warm. So very at odds with the shivers running down my back.
The Prince of Greed sat behind the mammoth desk, fingers steepled beneath his chin, a bored look on his finely carved face. He was, in a word, bronzed. From his dark auburn hair to the deep russet of his eyes, he reminded me of copper coins melted and recast in a humanoid form. If he had a dagger like Envy and Wrath, he’d hidden it well. Which made me trust him even less.
“I wasn’t anticipating this meeting, but I am pleased nonetheless.” He smiled. There was something off about it. Something not quite natural. “Please, sit.”
He motioned to one of the chairs in front of him, but I lingered near the door. Either his powers were greatly diminished despite the greed pouring from his gambling den, or he’d tamped them down for this meeting. A demon game—feigning weakness to lure in prey, though, in this room he didn’t really seem to hide who he was or where he was from.
Two demon guards stood behind him with their arms crossed, growling deep in their throats. One had pale green reptile skin and matching eyes. And the other was covered in short fur—similar to a deer, and had liquid ebony eyes. Two antlers curled up and away from the top of the fur-covered demon’s head. It was disconcerting, seeing something that almost looked human with the skin and eyes of an animal. I tried to convince myself to cross the room, but couldn’t force my body to carry me anywhere near those demons. “I . . .”
Greed’s attention slowly shifted from me to what had caught my eye. He snapped his fingers and the room cleared. When he looked at me again, there was a hunger in his gaze—one that spoke of possession. He didn’t want to seduce me, he wanted to own me. I wouldn’t be a trophy to him like Envy, I’d be a tool for power.
“Emilia. Please,” he nodded to the unoccupied chair, “no one will harm you while you’re here. You have my word.”
Said the wolf to the little hen. His use of my name unnerved me, but I managed my best impression of a confident stride and sat down. “Did my sister tell you my name?”
“No. You did. Pardon my rudeness, but I have informants stationed throughout the club. They heard your exchange with one of my regular customers.” His smile was almost convincing this time. I wondered if he sensed my fear and adjusted his responses accordingly. That thought brought on a new rush of nerves I didn’t need. Being alone with Greed was a terribly rash idea, but I really couldn’t think of a better way to get information from him. “Vittoria didn’t mention you at all, actually. This is quite a surprise.”
He poured two glasses of water from a pitcher I hadn’t noticed and slid one to me. Crowned frogs were etched onto the glasses. I accepted the water, but didn’t drink. “Why a frog?”
“They’re greedy creatures. Content with neither land nor water, they desire both.”
Made sense. In a demon logic sort of way. “Did Vittoria summon you?”
“You’re full of questions.” He studied me closely. “It’s strange . . . how identical you are.”
His tone didn’t hold any clues to his emotions. It was a statement of fact. Nothing more. He didn’t seem to mind one way or the other that my sister was dead.
“I know my sister came here before she was murdered. I want to know why. What did she want from you?”
“Hmmm. Right for the jugular. A bold move, little mouse.” He leaned back, his gaze sharp, calculating. I did my best not to squirm under his scrutiny. “It seems I have valuable information that you’d like. And you, Signorina di Carlo, also have something of great value to me. I will answer your questions to the best of my ability, only in exchange for your amulet.”
My hand automatically moved to my cornicello. “Why do you want it?”
“Do you know what it is?”
“A folk charm to ward off the evil eye.” Unlike Malocchio charms humans wore, it would also bring the world into eternal twilight if I brought it together with my sister’s amulet, according to Nonna. I decided to keep that to myself, in case he started drooling on his finely trimmed suit.
“Mmh.” Greed removed a velvet pouch from the desk drawer, and dropped a necklace into his palm—a gold chain with a ruby the size of a quail egg that twinkled in the light. A strange essence came off it, almost like a high-keening wail in the distance, setting my teeth on edge.
I wanted him to put it back where he’d found it. Immediately. “What is that?”
“It’s called the Eye of Darkness, and it grants whoever wears it true protection from creatures of malevolent intent. Give me your amulet, and it’s yours.”
A gift like that didn’t come without a price. “What else do you want?”
“For you to join yourself to House Greed.”
I stared at Greed and I swore my skin physically tried to crawl away from my body in protest as he gazed back. He was classically handsome, but there was something off about him. His eyes were void of human emotion. He looked alien and wrong. I couldn’t imagine my sister falling in love or even lust with him. Which meant her reason for coming here was not a result of seduction. He had information she wanted. And I wanted to know what it was.
“Why do you want me to align myself with you?”
“Because I believe you’ll be very useful to me in the future. If you become queen, you’ll owe me a favor. A powerful one, too, if this charm ends up saving your life.”
Greed didn’t strike me as a betting kind of creature, which made me even more hesitant to accept this little present. I had no plans of becoming Queen of the Wicked, and would be damned if I gave him a reason to help put me on that dark throne.
“Did you offer the Eye of Darkness to my sister?”
“Accept my bargain and find out.”
“If you won’t answer simple questions, I’m afraid we’re through.” I stood, ready to be as far away from this prince and place as possible, when his chair scraped across the floor.
“Wait.” He sat back down and put the ruby necklace in its pouch again. Some of the unease in my shoulders loosened. “In a show of good faith, I will answer one of your questions.”
“In exchange for . . .”
“Nothing. You have my word. Remember, the offer is for one question, anything else will cost you.”
I reclaimed my seat, calculating my next move. There were so many questions I needed answers to, but none of them would be worth the cost of handing over my cornicello. I thought carefully about the list I’d written out last night, and focused on one detail that bothered me the most. It meant something. I wanted to know what. I chose my words with exacting precision.
“Tell me about the Horn of Hades.”
If he was surprised by my choice, it didn’t show. “It’s a key that locks the gates of Hell.”
“I heard it was part of a curse. That if a witch wears it she’ll have power over the devil.”
“Witch legends are fascinating in their falsehoods. The Horn of Hades was a gift. Your sister knew the true story.”
I desperately wanted to ask him what it was, but there was something more important I needed to know. “How do you break a demon spell that was cast on an object?”
Greed’s answering smile was toxic. “I told you about the Horn of Hades. The rest will cost you. I don’t believe in giving without gain.”
Now my smile turned sharp. “Per your rules, that was my first actual question.”
He rolled his shoulders back, his nostrils flaring a bit. I was half convinced he was about to spring across the desk and wrap his hands around my neck. A long moment passed before he spoke.
“Clever girl.” He reached for his glass and drank deeply, his knuckles turning white while he probably thought over my phrasing. “Sacrifice a bit of yourself.”
“That’s not an honest answer.”