I’d no sooner set the fish on a platter when my father stepped into the kitchen, waving around a folded note. He expertly swiped a piece of stuffing that had fallen out, and I shook my head, but smiled all the same. My father was always very helpful in the kitchen, sampling each new recipe for quality purposes. Or so he kept claiming.
“Salvatore dropped this off for you, Emilia,” he said around a mouthful of food. “Said your friend asked him to deliver it right away.”
Mamma wore a rosary like other humans, and I imagined she’d be kissing it later, uttering novenas if she ever found out who my “friend” really was. I hastily snatched the note before she could. “Grazie, Papà.”
My father pulled a stool over and started loading a plate, drawing my mother’s attention. I used the distraction to hurry into the corridor and read the short message.
Piazza Zisa and Via degli Emiri. Eight in the evening.
I didn’t recognize the careful, neat penmanship but it dripped regal arrogance and made my stomach twist. The address he’d given was Castello della Zisa. La Zisa was a sprawling Moorish palace that mostly sat in ruin now. The king who’d had it built was called Il Malo—“the bad one”—so it was more than fitting the demon prince had taken up temporary residence there.
I refolded the note, shoved it down my bodice, then made my way back into the kitchen. I’d have just enough time to finish dinner service and hurry over to the palace before dark.
I crept into the abandoned castle from the rear garden, and roamed around several desolate yet ornate rooms before finally circling around to the main entrance and finding another note tacked to the front door—the last place I’d expect a secret meeting location to be posted. I stared out across the lawn at the reflecting pool, and shook my head.
Subtlety was an artform lost on the demon, apparently. Though I supposed when he was the biggest, baddest predator around, he had little to fear.
I inwardly sighed. This palace had been built in such a way that cool air filtered through it like an ice box, but of course a creature from Hell would be happiest in the scorching heat. I was dripping with sweat, and spitting mad by the time my foot hit the last stair.
I marched across the roof, determined to flay the demon alive, and halted.
Wrath lay stretched out on his back, hands laced behind his head, soaking in the last rays of the sun as it hovered above the horizon in the distance. Light gilded his profile and he turned his face toward it, smiling at the warmth. He hadn’t noticed me yet, and part of me was relieved.
His expression was serene, a look I hadn’t seen from him. Though his body was relaxed, an undercurrent of alertness remained that made me believe he could spring up and attack in less than a breath. He was like a serpent, laying in a patch of sun.
Lethal, beautiful. Wholly untouchable.
I wanted to kick him for being so dangerously breathtaking. His head snapped in my direction, his gaze capturing mine. For a minute, I forgot how to breathe.
He slowly took me in. “Did something happen on the way here?”
“Then why do you look confused?”
“I thought you couldn’t bear daylight.”
“Why is that?”
I rolled my eyes. As if he didn’t know. “Because the Malvagi turn to ash in the sun. That’s why we always meet at dusk.”
He looked at me oddly. “What else, exactly, have you heard of the Wicked?”
I lifted a shoulder. Everyone knew the legends. Since they concerned him, I doubted he was that clueless. “You’re bloodthirsty demons. You’ve got red flecks in your eyes, your skin is like ice, you’re beautiful, and your kisses are addictive enough to make someone sell their soul for another.”
A bemused smile touched his lips. “It’s nice to know you find me so attractive, but I’m not one of those demons. My eyes aren’t red. And if you’d like to find out if my skin is warmer than ice, that can easily be arranged.”
To further his point, he undid a few buttons on his shirt, exposing a patch of bronzed skin. A light sheen of sweat glistened, as if beckoning. My face heated, having nothing to do with the sun. “I work in a kitchen and can break down a chicken carcass in under three minutes, I imagine doing the same to you wouldn’t be that different.”
“I assure you, there’s no truth to these stories.” His eyes sparked with mischief. “Though I can’t promise my kisses wouldn’t be sinfully good.”
“I thought we were supposed to meet later tonight. Did something happen to change that?”
Wrath stared at me a moment longer and for some reason, I held my breath. He looked like he wanted to say something else, but an inner battle was being waged. Finally, he laid back down, face tipped up at the sun, and closed his eyes. I exhaled.
“No. Nothing of note.”
“Do you know who the next witch is?”
I stood there, waiting for him to elaborate. When he didn’t bother, I walked over and glared at him until he looked up grudgingly, shielding his face with a strong hand. “If you don’t have information on the next witch, why did you ask me to come here?”
“I . . .” He squinted at me. “I’ve secured the building with my magic so, unless you invite something in, it’ll be safe from humans, my brothers, and most supernatural creatures. I wasn’t sure what you’d had planned for the evening, and thought you might like to see where we’d be staying. I’ll be out for a little while, so please look around, make yourself comfortable, and grab your things.”
I stared at him, ignoring the whole “moving in together” scenario. “Where are you going?”
“To meet one of Pride’s messengers.”
“Is he the one who gave you Giulia’s name?”
Wrath nodded. “My associate has been watching him since late last night, and witnessed him passing information this morning to someone wearing a hood. I believe whoever he spoke to is our murderer.”
“Why didn’t your associate follow the hooded figure?”
“He tried. When he closed in, the person crossed into a crowd and disappeared.”
I blew out a breath. Of course. “What’s the plan?”
“I’m supposed to meet Pride’s messenger to retrieve the next name soon. Instead, I’ll interrogate him, and will hopefully discover the identity of the robed figure that way.”
“Or I could just use a truth spell.”
“Too dangerous. Plus, you’ll be grabbing your things. I won’t be gone for long.”
“I see.” Something in my tone made him sit up again, a wary expression on his face. So, he could be a smart demon. “You know I won’t stay when there’s a chance we can find out who killed my sister,” I said. “Either take me with you, or I’ll follow you.”
He studied me for a long minute then sighed. “I will not be pleasant. I can have the meeting, and tell you about it. I promise to not hunt down the murderer without you.”
“Wait . . . are you suggesting you’ve been pleasant?” I snorted. “I pity your enemies.”
His grin was anything but friendly when he said, “That might be the wisest observation you’ve made yet, witch.”
A clock in the city square chimed the hour. He stood, then ran his golden gaze over my clothes, appraising. “We leave in forty minutes. Try to wear something less . . . pedestrian. Better yet, I’ll have something more appropriate sent to your home.”
I glanced at my dress, frowning. It was a modest cotton gown I’d dyed a deep lavender last summer. It didn’t have a corset, which I was very pleased with, but it still had a pretty shape. I liked how it was fitted through the bust and waist and then dreamily flowed down to my ankles. It was hardly pedestrian, and yet . . . “What if I don’t want to wear your fancy clothing again?”
He didn’t bother responding.
I looked up, ready to snap about his rudeness, but he was gone. I cursed him the entire way home, wondering why I’d gotten stuck with such a clothes-obsessed snob of a demon.
Perhaps Nonna was right about the cost of le arti oscure; being subjected to Wrath certainly felt like a punishment for using the dark arts.
I was so annoyed, it took far too long for me to focus on the most important detail of all that he’d let slip—Wrath knew where I lived.
I looked down at my new, finely made dress and frowned at the dark layers. “Why do villains always wear black?”
“Better to hide the blood with, witch.”
I eyed the demon standing in the alley next to me, thinking his response explained a lot about his personal style. Then I wondered how much blood he planned to spill tonight if he’d dressed us both like living, breathing shadows.
I was almost disturbed the thought didn’t terrify me more.
“Who are we meeting? Human? Demon? Werewolf?”
“Werewolves are like puppies. It’s hellhounds you need to watch out for.” Wrath chuckled at my look of horror. “We’re meeting a mortal who sold his soul. Speaking of, I need my House dagger back before he arrives.”
I gave him a flat stare. Arming a demon didn’t seem very beneficial to me. Then again, he needed me to be his precious anchor. He’d mentioned it before, but had shared a few more details on the walk here. I handed the blade over.
“Say I were to die . . . how long would it take for your powers to start diminishing?”
“Depends on how much magic I expend. If I don’t use much, I could retain them for a small amount of time.”
A small amount of time for an immortal was probably a decade for me. “Can someone else act as an anchor?”
He blew out a breath. “Technically, yes. Any human or denizen of this world can strike a bargain, and agree to anchor a demon. It is rare and not worth the time it would take to find someone, and agree to terms both parties accepted.”