I knew he wasn’t double-crossing anyone, but liked hearing him get flustered. “Do you think one of your brothers killed her?”
“And we’re back to one-word answers.”
“Careful, witch, or I might think you’re interested in having a civil conversation.” The barest hint of a smile ghosted across his lips as I rolled my eyes. “Simple answers don’t require padding.”
“Why don’t you think one of your brothers did it?”
“What reason would they have?”
“Let me count the ways, oh, wicked one.” I ticked off motivations on my fingers. “Greed might be interested in taking the throne. Maybe Envy is jealous and wants more power. If Pride doesn’t marry, then he remains cursed and can’t leave Hell. Which is a pretty decent motivation if one of your brothers wants to rule this realm. Shall I go on?”
Wrath glared at me, but didn’t respond. Apparently he didn’t like my accusations, but couldn’t find a way to discredit them as foolish theories. We turned the corner, stepped around a pile of precariously towering wooden crates, and narrowly avoided getting speared by a swordfish head. Wrath took in all the sights and colors silently. I wondered if he had anything like it where he was from, but didn’t ask.
A sea of people standing in line for gelato parted for us as we crossed the road and entered the clothing section. Salvatore was in the middle of arguing with someone over another threadbare tunic when Wrath stopped at his table, emanating that quiet menace he was so good at. Conversations ceased. The other patron took one look at the expression on the demon’s face and bolted into the crowd, the clothing in question discarded and forgotten.
“You and I have business, vendor.”
“I don’t believe we . . .” Sal’s attention shifted to the shirt Wrath wore, then shot to me. I gave him a little finger wave. I’d tried warning him about the condition and cost. Now he could deal with an angry demon. I felt the not-so-subtle rattling of Wrath’s namesake emotion as it slithered toward Sal and wound around him.
The vendor’s hand trembled as he pushed it through his dark hair. “Signore, h-how nice. The shirt is—”
“Being exchanged for that one.”
Wrath jerked his chin toward the row of clothing hanging behind the stall; the most expensive pieces judging from the drape of them. Sal opened his mouth, took in the set of Wrath’s shoulders, then closed it and plastered on a big false smile. Smart man.
“A bargain indeed!” Sal cringed as he removed the black shirt from a hanger and handed it over. Well, he tried to hand it over. He clutched it before Wrath finally snatched it away. “This is a fine, fine garment, signore. It’s a perfect match for your trousers. May you wear it well.”
I rolled my eyes skyward. Sal cracked under pressure from the demon faster than an egg hitting the ground. Next time I wanted a good deal, I’d have to try scowling and summoning some quiet menace, too.
Wrath was out of the tawny monstrosity a breath later and tossed the offending garment back at the vendor. If the demon prince hadn’t already caused a disturbance before, his bare, sculpted chest certainly did now. He slipped the new shirt on, seemingly unaware of the effect he had on the people nearest us. Muscles, supple and sinuous, moved with practiced ease. His serpent tattoo also caused quite a stir. Someone nearby commented on how large it was, how lifelike. Another person whispered about its possible meaning.
A line of people that had been meandering through the clothing stalls halted to watch.
I begged the goddess of serenity to send me some in buckets, then turned to Salvatore to get what we actually came here for. “Do you have any information about Giulia?”
“I sure do. Reliable sources, too. I heard from Bibby down at the docks, who spoke to Angelo who makes ricotta near the palace, that her heart was ripped clean from her chest.” Despite the graphic nature of his gossip, Sal looked immensely pleased with himself. “Her nonna was the one who went a bit . . .”
He lifted his pointer finger to his temple and made circles, an offensive gesture indicating madness. I went to admonish him when a member of the brotherhood walked by the stall and touched his forehead, heart, and each shoulder in the sign of the cross.
“Anyway . . . whatever got her was vicious. Angelo said blood sprayed all over the building. Looked like animals ripped her apart. He had a devil of a time cleaning it up. Chunks of . . .”
“I’m sorry, but where was her body found?” I asked, cutting him off mid-description. I had my own nightmares about how that looked firsthand, and didn’t need any more details. “You mentioned someone who works near the palace?”
“That’s right. Angelo with the ricotta said it was near his stall out front. Prime location.” Sal jerked his chin to the right. “The police are still there, so you won’t miss the crowd. If you hurry, you might still see the body.”
It was impossible to get within sight of the murder scene. Sal’s information was indeed reliable. And it looked like he’d told a few hundred of his closest confidants the same thing he’d shared with us. Wrath was about to barrel his way through, but I reached out to stop him.
“How close do you need to be to . . .” I glanced around. There were too many humans around for me to start talking about demons. “To do your special investigation?”
Wrath was well versed in the art of deception. He didn’t miss a beat. “I’d like to get a better visual, but I can tell from here that none of my brothers have recently been in the area.”
I scrunched my nose. His heightened sense of smell was unsettling. I rolled up onto my toes, trying to see over the heads of everyone. Wrath startled me by briefly placing a hand on my back so I wouldn’t wobble. I couldn’t see the body, thank the goddess, but I saw a priest tossing holy water around and assumed he was doing some sacramental blessing for her soul. It would be a long while before the crowd dispersed, so there was no point in waiting here until then. We might as well return tomorrow night when all was quiet.
“Follow me,” I said, turning toward an alley. Wrath didn’t protest and kept close as we maneuvered out of the thickest part of the crowd. A little food stand that had already closed up for the night caught my attention. There was a painting on its side—a pawprint clutching a stalk of wheat, and something about it made me think of Greed. I waited until we were far enough away to speak openly. “You’re sure you didn’t find any traces of Greed?”
“Unless he’s come up with a way to mask his magic, no. He wasn’t here. Why are you so convinced he’s to blame? What evidence do you have?”
“I’m not convinced of anything. I’m just trying to tug on threads that seem likely.” I bumped into a few people still on their way to the murder scene, muttered apologies, and turned down another street. “As for evidence? Based on my conversation with him, his desire to possess the Horn of Hades, and the attack on my grandmother immediately following my meeting with him, Greed makes the most sense right now.”
I felt Wrath’s attention on me as we moved into a narrower street, a constant prickle of energy between my shoulder blades, but he didn’t ask how my grandmother was or offer apologies.
And to be perfectly honest, he was the last creature in the world I wanted comfort from.
I stopped at the turnoff to my neighborhood. “Who is the next witch on your list?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“That needs to be our next priority,” I said, glancing past him. The street was quiet in this quarter. “Once you find out who she is, we’ll have to hide her somewhere safe.”
Wrath pressed his lips together, but finally nodded in agreement. “I’ll send word to my realm tonight. I should have an answer by morning.”
It wasn’t cold, but I rubbed my hands over my arms anyway. My dress was creamy white and sleeveless. Perfect for warm summer nights, but terrible for fighting chills brought on by fear. Wrath tracked the movement, his attention focused on my forearm. Wildflowers twisted and tangled all the way up to my elbow now. I didn’t have to see his arm to know his tattoo was the same. I looked down my street, relieved to see a few children out playing. I didn’t want to be scared of Greed or Envy lurking in the shadows, but I was.
“All right,” I said. “I’ll see you tomorrow then. Where should we meet?”
“Don’t worry.” Wrath flashed a wolfish grin. “I’ll find you.”
“You know that’s deeply unsettling, right?”
“Iucundissima somnia.” Sweetest dreams. And then he was gone.
“I was thinking of making cassata for tomorrow’s dessert.”
Mamma turned to me, her expression worn, but hopeful. Somehow I managed to hide the swift emotional punch from registering on my face. The sponge cake with sweet ricotta layers was a favorite of both mine and Vittoria’s. We used to request it each year for our birthday and Mamma never disappointed us. She’d roll out a thin layer of marzipan, covering the whole cake in the sweet paste before decorating it with brightly colored candied fruit. I loved how that slightly chewier upper layer contrasted against the soft deliciousness of the wet cake hidden inside.
I wasn’t sure I could ever eat it again without feeling crushed by a wave of sadness, but refused to dampen my mother’s spirits. When I smiled, it was genuine.
“That sounds delicious.”
My mother shuffled over to the dry goods cabinet, seemingly exhausted again from her brief spurt of conversation, and pulled out a bowl, filling it with sugar and all the supplies she needed for the cake. Today was a bad day for her. I watched her, then went back to removing the sarde a beccafico from the oven. I inhaled the fragrant scent of stuffed sardines.
Nonna’s recipe called for golden raisins, pine nuts, and breadcrumbs in the stuffing, then she’d drizzle melted sage butter and thyme over it before finishing it off with large bay leaves to separate the fish while it baked. The result was a symphony of flavors that melted in your mouth and stuck to your ribs.