Antonio’s arm had a surprising bit of muscle hidden beneath his robes, but he didn’t try and stop me as I guided him into the corridor.
“Is it all right if we stay for a few more minutes to say our prayers?”
Antonio looked down into my eyes, and his expression softened. “Of course. I’ll be in the next corridor near the colatoio if you need me.”
I exhaled as he slowly made his way down the hall toward the preparation room, waiting until his lantern could no longer be seen before I reentered the chamber. Wrath leaned against the altar and stared at me, one brow arched. It was one of the most human expressions I’d ever seen him wear. “Samael, really? That was the best name you could come up with?”
“He was a prince of Rome and an angel of death. I’d say that sounds pretty fitting. You’re more than welcome to tell me your real name. Then you won’t have to get your undergarments twisted about ones I make up.”
He strode over to me, stopping at an almost decent space. “Do not ever call me that again. I am no angel, witch. Never make that mistake.”
“You don’t say. And here I was under the impression most humans considered Samael the devil.” I brushed past him and went back to the traces of wax left from Vittoria’s summoning circle. “Do you—”
“Have you and that human ever shared a bed?”
I spun around, completely taken off guard by his question. I expected to see a smirk or sneer and wasn’t prepared for the genuine curiosity I found. I wasn’t sure which was more disturbing. “First, that’s none of your business. And second, why would you ask such an asinine thing? In case you didn’t notice, he’s a man of God.”
“He hasn’t always been.”
I clamped my mouth shut. He’d only recently become a member of the brotherhood, and it hadn’t stopped me from pining over him. Truth was, I often dreamed of him trailing kisses down my throat, knotting his fist in my hair, and choosing me instead of his holy brotherhood.
Right before he took that oath, I swore he seemed interested in pursing a romance with me. He’d stop by Sea & Vine, offer to walk me home and linger outside my door. A few times I was convinced he was working up the nerve to steal a kiss. He’d chatter nervously about his favorite books. Vittoria would waggle her brows and slip inside, leaving me alone with him, but he never closed the distance between us.
And none of that mattered now. For multiple reasons.
“Are you able to find anything useful here to help us with Vittoria’s murder?”
“Your pulse is pounding.” Wrath made to reach for the vein in my neck, but stopped shy of making contact with my skin. “Just like your human’s when I claimed you. Odd for such a pious man to get so jealous.”
His attention moved across my face, and he took his time shifting it to my eyes, my lips, tracing each curve and whirl of the tattoo my fluttering sleeves couldn’t hide. Wildflowers continued to bloom across each of our arms along with vibrant frangipani blossoms. It must have happened after the spell he’d used to save me. He studied me carefully, as if he was imagining what Antonio saw, and slid his focus down inch by inch until he’d taken in everything from my face to my sandals then dragged it back up just as slowly. I had little doubt that he’d catalogued minute details and stored them away for future analysis. Perhaps he was memorizing my size for a coffin.
I commanded my heart to steady itself. “Is there a point to any of this, or are you simply trying to evoke my wrath again?”
“There’s a point to everything, witch. We just have to figure out how it all connects. Don’t discount your friend simply because he’s mortal. Emotions are powerful forces. People kill for much less than greed or jealousy.”
I tried to imagine Antonio sneaking around at night, murdering young women. I’d say Wrath was wrong, but I knew enough of man to believe that anyone was capable of anything at any time. While I wasn’t convinced Antonio had any motivation for killing, I’d keep all options open just in case. For all I knew, he really was running around summoning demons and ripping out hearts between prayer sessions.
“If we can’t find proof Vittoria summoned Pride,” I said, “what should we do next?”
He stared at me a moment too long before looking away. “I’ll send a message to the next potential bride. Hopefully she’ll meet us tomorrow and we can be done with this.”
The world stopped spinning. I stared at him a beat, processing the fact that another witch had made a bargain, and he’d been aware of it. “You promised to stop helping Pride. And you knew about another witch?” He nodded. “Why is this the first you’re telling me?”
“First, I agreed to not harm a witch or force her into a bargain. Second, I was going to share the information after the Viperidae attack, but you banished me to the summoning circle before I got the chance to.”
How convenient for him. “Did you return to your realm to get this information?”
“No. Once summoned, I cannot leave this world until you send me back. Or unless my connection is severed with a demon blade.”
“What about the transve-whatever?”
“Transvenio. My ties to you prevent me from freely traveling between realms. But they also allow me to stay here longer than I normally could. Put simply: our bond anchors me here.”
“So how did you get the information about the new bargain?”
“Pride sent a messenger.”
It was too simple for comfort. I didn’t like that the devil could send messages between realms. It made me think of the Umbra demon again, and how it had taken the blade to my grandmother with ease. Maybe the devil was tired of witches wearing his horns.
“If you can only leave this realm when I send you back, how are you planning on delivering her to Hell?”
A spark of admiration lit his gaze. “I’m only speaking with her tomorrow. I said nothing of taking her to Hell.” He gave me a once-over and I wondered if he found me to be a formidable opponent. “I’m going to secure a building tonight. Once I find a location, I’ll send a note telling you where I’ll be. If you don’t hear from me by dusk, meet me back at the cavern.”
I pulled the mortar and pestle from the shelf, face strained in concentration as I gathered up the olive oil, garlic, almonds, basil, pecorino, and cherry tomatoes for the pesto alla Trapanese. On days such as this, when the sun was sweltering before noon and even the thinnest dress clung like a second skin, I enjoyed adding fresh mint to the tomato pesto. Unfortunately, we were out of it at the moment.
I set my supplies down and pulled up my wavy hair, allowing a few shorter strands to frame my face. There were no flowers in my locks today—they’d go limp and wither in moments. The back of my neck was already sticky and the day had only just begun. I was seriously reconsidering my choice to wear white as I tied an apron over my sleeveless dress. I would have prefered to keep my magical tattoo hidden, but there was no way I’d survive the heat, even with sheer sleeves. Hopefully, no one in my family would notice the pale ink, especially if I angled my arm away.
I was deep in thoughts of picturing Wrath trying the tomato pesto when my mother joined me in our little kitchen and grabbed sardines from the ice box.
“You didn’t come home.” My mother wasn’t asking, and her tone was almost as sharp as the knife she was using to debone the fish. “Would you care to explain where you were all night?”
I would sooner sell my soul.
I kept my attention on the pesto, crushing the almonds just right. There was no way I was admitting to working with a blood-drinking demon to solve Vittoria’s murder. And not only had I temporarily aligned myself with one of the Malvagi, but I had also spoken with two others.
Oh, and, by the way, an invisible mercenary demon was following me around, sputtering cryptic warnings, attacked Nonna, and might assassinate me if ordered to. Then, I’d almost died in a Viperidae attack, and a prince of Hell saved me using ancient, dark magic that required both of us to be naked in a tub. My mother’s head would spin. But at least the tattoo wouldn’t seem half as bad.
“I was at the monastery.”
I jerked my gaze to hers, startled. “How?”
“Fratello Antonio stopped by this morning, concerned.” She went at the next sardine with gusto. Slipping the knife under the skin, dragging it down the spine. “He said you were with a young man. A friend of our family’s. Said his name was an odd one.”
“Save your lies, child.” Mamma’s grip on her knife tightened. “They’re the gateway to Hell.”
I snapped my mouth shut. My mother must know. She must have seen through my ruse, and had somehow pieced together that I’d used the dark arts. And Fratello Antonio Bernardo had confirmed her fears. I swallowed hard, debating how honest I should be with her.
“Well, you see—”
“Tumbling around dark places with handsome young men might distract from the pain for a little while, but it won’t ever take it away. You need to find your own inner strength for that.”
Mamma shook her knife in my direction. “Don’t go pretending you have no idea what I’m saying. You’re lucky your grandmother was sleeping and didn’t overhear him. She has enough to worry about while she’s healing. She doesn’t need to stress over devilish men. Fratello Antonio told me all about that young man. From the sound of it, you’ve bewitched him, too. Antonio said he called you his Emilia. You’re no one’s but your own, girl. Don’t ever forget it.”
Sweet goddess above. This was so much worse than Nonna finding out I’d summoned a demon. Heat blossomed across my face and crept down my neck that had nothing to do with the soaring temperatures. My mother thought Wrath and I had been . . .
I might die of mortification.