• authorcmowens

Gypsy Blood Sneak Peek

Live release on December 15, 2018!


Gypsy Pride:

· (1A) Only maintained if a gypsy doesn’t stray too far from the Code.

· (1B) A gypsy with gypsy pride is known to draw in the gypsies who’ve lost their own.

Gypsy Code:

The song of a Gypsy’s Pride:

The tea leaves warned of blood and death.

Four gypsy first-borns breathed the last breath.

War! War! Beyond the double-dutch doors!

Sing, sweet gypsies, who will be mistaken no more.

Six gypsy families all stood nigh.

Five gypsy families for one sacrifice.

Four gypsy families broken apart.

Three gypsy families turned cold of heart.

Two gypsy families couldn’t back down.

One gypsy family went underground.

Forever is such a long time to bleed.

Worst are the gypsies brought to their knees.

Sing, gypsies, sing of your lies.

Never trust a gypsy with no gypsy pride.

Sing, gypsies, sing of your truths.

The apples have all rotted; the oranges just bruised.



Prologue

VIOLET

There’s a lot to being a Portocale gypsy. There’s an entire cult devoted to wiping out the last of our bloodline for a “Forsaken” deity of some sort. That’s just the beginning of our bad luck.

Sounds fun to be me, huh?

Don’t judge me for not having the details. This cult doesn’t give many details when they’re attempting to kill you and stuff. Maybe their parents didn’t love them enough and it made them stabby?

Most Portocale gypsies fake their deaths young and don’t come back out until much later on. I’m sketchy on those details too, since Mom always said she’d tell me when it was time.

It’s hard to rely on the stories I’ve heard, because gypsies are natural-born storytellers, and you never know which stories are fact or fiction.

Most people think it’s because we’re constantly exposed to the semi-undead and have to contend with the wild stories the dead tell. The ‘dead men tell no tales’ thing is a total load of crap, by the way. Ghosts never shut the hell up, and it’s hard to believe half the shit they say.

I didn’t even start seeing ghosts until this past year or so, but my crazy-level grows with each new one that pops into my life.

They whine more than I have this week. I’m not usually a whiner, but today is the exception. Today is the day I’m watching them carry my mother’s casket into a viewing room, and I clutch the program in my hand a little harder than necessary.

“The chick in the coffin has a total hot mom vibe. Yours, I presume,” the ghost riding my mother’s casket says just as I break a gypsy’s number one rule: Never make eye contact.

I suck at that rule. Again, the ghost thing is new for me, so I deserve a break.

A grin curves the red head’s lips as she hops off the coffin and struts toward me. “Well…I think we should talk, since I know you can see me. Tell me, does this bra make my boobs look disproportionate?”

When I don’t answer the disrespectful ghost, who is dressed only in a bra and panties and won’t stop probing at her phantom breasts, she moves right up beside me. My focus is on the casket as they lift the end that shows my mother’s face, and I have to lower myself to the chair when my knees try to wobble.

A single tear rolls down my cheek as the ghost takes a seat beside me.

“Man, if you’re her daughter, you guys must get hotter with age. Because she is way hotter than you. She’s tanner too, and she’s dead.”

The dead aren’t a sensitive people once they’ve lost their physical foothold in the world of the more sensitive living.

“You’re totally cute, though. Your lips are definitely a fun feature about you. I’d kiss you if I could, just so I could feel those lips, and I’m not even particularly into girls.”

“Do you mind?” I hiss, giving her side-eye.

When she grins, I glare at her and look back over at the door, wondering if someone—anyone—else is going to show up. I’ve never met another Portocale gypsy, but Mom always swore we had family out there.

I wish her spirit would rise so I could ask her all the really important questions wadding in my gut.

“How’d she die?” the ghost asks.

Since I’m now alone in here with her and simply waiting on my mother’s spirit to emerge, I answer. “There was no definitive cause of death.”

“Oh, that sucks,” she answers with a firm nod. “How long’s she been down?”

“Four days.”

“Well, at least they were quick with the funeral stuff.”

“Too quick,” I mutter under my breath.

“So…why are you staring at her like you expect her nose to wiggle? Do you not see that she’s dead?”

“I’m waiting on her spirit to detach. It sometimes takes up to five days. There’s a reason wakes once lasted a lot longer.”

“There’s no spirit inside that body,” she tells me like I should know this already.

“Yes. There is,” I state tightly.

“No. There isn’t. I’m a ghost. We know these things.”

An uneasy feeling settles in my stomach. If the cult got her, they wouldn’t be able to also capture her spirit. So does that mean a spirit hunter is also after her? There’s no other way she’d be anywhere but right here right now otherwise.

I told her I could see ghosts now. She knows I could see her too.

I check my phone, seeing my father has left a message.

DAD: Can’t get out of here early enough to get out there before the funeral procession. Sorry.

Instead, of replying, I simply drop my phone into my purse.

“My name’s Anna, by the way,” the ghost tells me.

“Anna, if you start stalking me, I will salt you at every given opportunity,” I warn her while sighing and pinching the bridge of my nose.

“Do you have salt right now?” she asks.

“No.”

“Good to know,” she chirps as she glances around the otherwise silent, empty room.

“Your mom was popular, huh?”

I shrug a shoulder, not letting the next tear fall. Mom would be pissed if she knew I was crying in front of her casket right now.

“When you’re a Portocale gypsy, it’s hard to keep friends,” I answer absently.

“Why?” Anna muses.

My eyes cut away from my mother’s body as I sigh. “Because we never know who wants us dead.”

“I hope you don’t think that makes you interesting,” she calls to my back as I stand. “Just wait until I tell you about how awesome I am. You’ll never let me go.”


Chapter 1

VIOLET

Tearing the covering away from the couch, I look around and start swatting at the dust plumes. It takes less than three months for an entire home devoid of life to be covered in dust.

Fortunately, I’ve yet to see any pests. I’d probably be tempted to burn the place down if something with fur or scales scurried across my foot right now. This day is shitty enough.

“You could totally pay someone to do this,” Anna says as she follows me through the home.

“I totally could not,” I remind her absently, lifting a picture of my mother and me, swiping a finger through the dust that carries over our faces, revealing hidden smiles.

Mom’s eyes have always held soulful secrets. She said it was a Portocale thing. But my eyes never seem to hold soulful secrets, so I’m starting to think that gaze must skip a generation.

Clearing my throat, I put the picture down.

“You could be rich. With a curvy body like that, I’d be rich,” Anna states candidly, still following me through as I push open the three doors on this side of the stairs.

“I guess I was born in the wrong era,” I state distractedly.

More things are covered. More daunting layers of dust are still left to contend with.

“It’ll take me months to get this house clean,” I groan.

“Or you could use your ass and get rich,” Anna unhelpfully counters, as I continue tearing away the many coverings. “Better yet, use your gypsy magic!”

“That’s not how gypsy magic works.”

“Okay, so how does gypsy magic work?” she volleys.

“I’m not entirely sure, but I do know it doesn’t allow you to circumvent manual labor,” I say as I move into a different room that has a sickly feeling trickling up my spine.

“I think I was a gypsy once,” she says on a sigh. “Traveling the road, tempting male travelers with debauchery as my shady brothers cleaned out their pockets. I didn’t know I was setting a fashion trend that would catch fire in the twenty-first century,” she says on a wistful sigh.

“That is the romanticized version of it,” I tell her absently. “You’re not a gypsy if you think that’s the truth of it, though.”

“Well, consider me an honorary gypsy and tell me the truth,” she says as I lift some fallen books from the ground and place them inside the bottom cabinet before me.

“The word gypsy is actually used as a racial slur in most countries still to this day. I’m fortunate to live in a time and place where gypsy culture is appreciated and even embraced by a lot of gadjo—”

“Gadjo?”

“Non-gypsy,” I state dismissively. “Can be an offensive term, depending on tone,” I add.

She pops her head out of the curio cabinet suddenly, and I groan while working around her as she pretends like she’s trying to find a comfortable place to sit.

“Anyway, gypsies have lived through religious persecution, unprovoked violence, unrepentant prejudice, and unapologetic massacres that rarely get more than a footnote’s mention in the history books. And in some parts of the world, they’re still facing all the same barbaric problems.”

“Bummer,” she states. “Anyone ever tell you that you shouldn’t piss on rainbows? Are you still cranky because of the dead mommy issues?”

I’m not really sure why I try to tell her things.

“What does the town look like?” I ask her, lifting a cushion on the sofa in Mom’s office.

This room hurts the worst so far. It has so much of her in it.

“Lots of ghosts are out there. Seems like the town is full of them,” she answers dryly.

It’s getting more and more difficult to figure out when she’s telling the truth.

“Great,” I state instead of grilling her to see if she’s being truthful.

No, I’m not some special person because I can see ghosts. It’s a gypsy thing. Sometimes you can see glimpses of the future, and sometimes you see remains from the past.

“Oh, and there are some major hotties in town, so there are a few perks. I can watch you like that one time when we invaded the frat house and you started that orgy,” Anna goes on.

I palm my face, groaning internally. “I did not start an orgy. I’ve never even been to a frat house. And you’re getting more ridiculous by the second,” I snap, before I turn away and blow out a long breath.

I constantly remind myself to be patient with her, because she can’t help the lies or the scattered way her mind works. But my patience is waning today.

“Have you ever started an orgy other than that one time?” she asks, clicking her tongue, completely infuriating me as she abruptly appears in front of me.

I hate it when she does that.

I level her with a cold look. “I’ve never and will never start an orgy!” I shout. A little too loudly.

Especially since my eyes lock onto a man’s mystic blue peepers when my gaze darts over Anna’s slightly shorter head.

She whirls around, her eyes going round, as she moves closer. “Hubba Hubba,” she stage whispers.

I hate her so hard right now that I’m tempted to salt her.

The man with blondish hair and the beginnings of an intentional beard is grinning at me as he arches an eyebrow with flawless condescension.

“Well, that’s possibly the first time anyone has ever shouted that at me before we even made introductions,” he drawls, letting his eyes rake over me before they meet mine again.

His suit-and-tie look isn’t usually my thing, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man wear a suit the way he does. Anna starts fanning me, which fortunately debunks the electrical current in the air.

I should probably look into fumigating the house for residual magic before I do something stupid…like attack a man for being indecently tempting in a suit while I’m still emotionally vulnerable.

“Tell him I spent the thirties as a gangsta’s prostitute, so I learned a few things. Tell him now,” Anna says a little dreamily.

Pretending not to see the horny ghost at my side, since he can’t see her and I already look insane, I try to play it off. “I find it best to leave the most memorable first impression possible, no matter how outrageous the memory may seem.”

His grin only grows.

“So another Portocale gypsy is in town?” he muses, taking a step closer and perching at a lean on the wall as his arms cross over his really impressive chest.

“Tell him the prostitute thing,” Anna says like she’s still in a lusty trance.

“I’m actually Marta’s niece by marriage, so there’s no gypsy blood in me,” I lie easily, weirdly causing both his eyebrows to bounce up in confusion. “I’m Violet Carmine,” I add tightly.

He straightens and adjusts his tie, his facial expressions closing down like he’s turning into an entirely different man before my eyes.

“I don’t think he was expecting that,” Anna rhetorically points out.

“Violet Carmine?” he asks as though he’s struggling to believe that, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.

“Yes,” I state warily, wondering why he seems to believe otherwise.

The man before me distracts me from my silent concerns when he runs a hand over the back of his neck, smiling tightly. “I’m Vancetto Valhinseng. Head of House of Valhinseng,” he tells me, his eyes meeting mine expectantly.

“Valhinseng…oh! You’re one of my aunt’s clients,” I say with a breath of relief. Mom wouldn’t be collecting enemies as clients to pass onto me. “I’m taking over the business, so I’ll start sending your supplies within a week or so, unless you’ve already made other arrangements.”

He cocks his head, his eyes studying me even more intently. “My current arrangements have been temporary and by far less sufficient than your aunt was capable of. You carry the gypsy gift?”

Very few people even believe in gypsy magic—or any magic, for that matter—anymore. Shadow Hills is one exception. It’s a tourist town for the believers, the curious, or the weekend fixers.

“No. I’m not of gypsy blood, but I do have the recipes, and a gypsy friend who helps out with the more majestic side of things,” I state vaguely, using my rehearsed lines like the seasoned liar any good gypsy is.

His lips almost give into a curve of amusement, but his eyes are no longer playful. They’re full of guarded intrigue and wary curiosity.

The eyes, in case you’re wondering, are the answers to the thoughts in someone’s mind. Though, it’s never easy to accurately read them. It’s all an educated guess, based on context and observable information regarding one’s surroundings.

I’m not exactly a pro at it…

When he just continues to stare like he expects more, I add, “You may have to use a little more of my recreational products for it to be as potent as Aunt Marta’s, but it’ll be closer than anything else you can find.”

“You are so a gypsy drug dealer, you sassy little fiend,” Anna scoffs, causing me to inwardly groan.

Vancetto scrubs a hand over his jaw, eyes locked like he’s lost in thought as he tries to unravel me. It’s unnerving, because it feels like he thinks I’m hiding something.

I don’t like it when people seem to see right through me.

“Will you be taking over her medium clients as well?” he muses, almost as though he followed my train of thought and decided to bait me.

“I’m afraid not. Medium work is more advanced and incredibly dangerous without proper training or at least gypsy blood,” I answer, smiling tightly as I once again reiterate my lie and leave it at that.

He nods like that’s acceptable and claps his hands together. “Well, then, Ms. Portocale, don’t let me keep you from getting set up. If you find yourself in need of assistance, I’d be happy to let you pick a few of my maids to help you along.”

“My name is Carmine. And are you offering to let me pick some of your workers as if they’re property, Mr. Valhinseng?” I ask a little bitterly, smiling a little less friendly.

From sexy to douche in under ten minutes. Not a new record, but definitely close. I’ve dated the ones who snap their fingers and bitch about the temperature of their soup, when I’m just happy it’s not scalding my tongue right out of the microwave.

“My panties are still wet. I don’t care if he is an unapologetic rich prick,” Anna states seriously.

I really do hate her as much as I love her.

His lips twitch again. “I pay them generously. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.”

“I’ve got this,” I tell him, reminding myself I know his name because he was a big-spending client of my mother’s.

Douche or not, his account alone will pay the bills and most of my living expenses.

“Very well. But if you change your mind, you have my number and address. Feel free to use either,” he states, a sardonic grin briefly ghosting his lips.

“I’ll let you know when your order is ready,” I tell him dismissively.

His grin spreads like he expected that answer. “For a moment, Violet Carmine, I think you almost liked me. How very novel.”

He turns and struts away, leaving that weird remark lingering in the air.

“I feel like you should be insulted, but I’m not sure why,” Anna states thoughtfully. “Or maybe it was a compliment?”

I wait until I hear the front door close before saying, “I hate you.”

“You didn’t tell him I was a gangsta’s prostitute in the thirties,” she says accusingly, turning an annoyed look on me. “It’s I who hates you.”

I’m back to the forgotten face-palming. “Because you were a lounge singer in the thirties. We’ve gone over this. You weren’t ever an astronaut, nor were you a prostitute, nor did you kill Hitler, since Hitler didn’t even die in the thirties!”

“Or so they want you to think,” she states in a hushed, conspiratorial tone, pointing her finger at me.

“Why am I feeding your delusions? I’m supposed to be ignoring you unless you’re telling the truth,” I grumble as I turn and start down the stairs.

“Rude!”

“No, it’s called therapy. No ghost comes back from this phase, but I’m determined to make you the first,” I call over my shoulder. “Step one is getting you to focus on what is really happening.”

For whatever reason, I happen to like the pretty redhead who died in her prime when her boyfriend got jealous and shot her in the bedroom after catching her with another man.

She’s stuck in ghost limbo, unable to move on.

And sadly, she’s the closest thing to a real friend I’ve ever had.

My mother’s most important rule? Never grow fond of the dead. They still have a worse death coming for them.


Chapter 2

VANCE

“A Van Helsing is truly walking onto my land,” Emit says as I step onto his patio.

He’s bloody naked under the robe that he hasn’t bothered to tie shut. Some things never change, no matter how many centuries flit by.

“It’s always puzzled me why you think your dick is really worth showing off,” I drawl, pocketing my hands as I lean against the side of his house.

He gives me a crooked, smug grin as he drinks from a glass of wine.

“It’s always puzzled me why you have to look at my cock before my eyes,” he fires back.

I almost forgot why I hate speaking to the mutt. The only one looking at his dick is himself. Matter of fact, that’s where his eyes are now as he grins down at it.

Neanderthal.

“Why the hell did you ask to speak with me? I rather prefer our arrangement of sticking to our own corners of town,” he says more seriously, eyes finally up.

“Violet Carmine is in town,” I tell him, watching for his reaction to see if he’s visited her yet.

“Marta’s niece? So? We knew she was coming to take over her aunt’s shop,” he says, eyeing me like I’m an idiot.

Definitely hasn’t gone to see her.

“She has Portocale blood.”

He looks caught off guard, frowning. “Okay. Most Portocale gypsies use fake names, so it’s not a shocker. But another Portocale comes to live in Shadow Hills? Is this one also willing to supply us?”

“Indeed. She said she’d have orders running soon.”

“Marta was a unique Portocale. She hated us but didn’t mind taking our money and giving us the things we need. I don’t see how this second one is so special as to warrant a face-to-face conversation,” he states distractedly as he flicks through his phone. “We all actively avoided Marta after observing her for a brief day or so.”

“This new little Portocale had no idea who I was,” I tell him, waiting on his slow wheels to start turning and catch up.

I’m worried smoke is about to plume from his ears when he continues to stare at me like he needs more information and is overworking that canine brain of his.

“She’s lying about her name to me…and about her gypsy heritage. However, she’s certainly not lying about the fact she doesn’t know me. I gave her my name, and she never blinked an eye. Had I not forgotten this era’s version of manners, she very well may have stayed pleasant,” I explain.

He still looks confused.

Fucking idio—

“It sounds like you’re trying to tell me that a Portocale met you and still posed as a non-Portocale and has no idea who you are, but that makes no sense, unless she has no idea who you are...”

“You really do overcomplicate things,” I dutifully inform him.

“Whoever she is, Marta left her everything, and Marta sure as hell knew who you are. Every Portocale does. How long have we been alive?” he asks, sounding genuinely baffled.

“It got a little depressing to keep count, so I stopped trying for the sake of my health,” I say in a droll tone and a roll of my eyes. “You just simply can’t count that high.”

He growls, and I give him an unimpressed glare.

“The point is, there’s no such thing as a Portocale who doesn’t know you.”

“Or you,” I point out, since he’s making it sound as though I’m in this on my own.

He gives me a bored expression before sipping more of his wine.

“Is she playing you by any chance?” he asks as he sits back.

“I’m not sure what the point would be. We certainly don’t pose a threat to Portocale gypsies—anymore. With Marta dead, her fake niece-by-marriage just likely became someone’s new prime target, if they even know she exists.”

“You’re sure she’s a Portocale?” he asks seriously, and I nod in response. “Marta had a daughter that died a couple years back. January Portocale. Is it her?”

I smirk. “January Violet Carmine—Marta’s ex-husband’s surname,” I tell him. “She didn’t bother to be too creative, which means her faked death must have been really convincing.”

“Some details were that it was gory and bloody, but I never got specifics. Someone tried to cover it up, and I’m leaning toward it being the ones behind her death as opposed to Marta, if that’s the case,” he continues.

“I’d toss you a treat if I had any,” I say with thick condescension as he scowls at me. Rolling my eyes, I add, “Yes, someone thought they covered their asses, but Marta was damn powerful. She could have easily manipulated minds, or possibly had Damien to do it as payment for his life debt.”

He snorts from behind me. “That debt will never be paid. The Portocale gypsies love our punishment too much.”

I shrug a shoulder.

“If this is her daughter, why didn’t she instill that same traditional hatred?” I point out, causing him to bristle. “See, Wolf? It’s possible Damien paid her mother a life debt, though he’d never share that information with us.”

He sits back, seeming lost in thought. This time, I think I smell his brain smoking.

“There’s something else, though, which is another reason I’m here,” I tell him idly.

He puts his glass down and leans forward, finally covering himself…somewhat.

“I’m listening, but I’m not known for my patience, so save your typical, theatrical pauses for Damien,” he says on a sneer.

I smirk. “She has a ghost hanging around her. Rather attractive one too,” I tell him.

He arches an eyebrow. “Glad you’ve got a boner for a dead chick, but I thought there was an important—”

His eyes widen like he finally gets it, being the slow, daft bloke he is.

I decide to set the record straight while he finishes putting together the obvious. “I’m not quite so easy to get erect; a pretty ghost didn’t do it for me. It’s hard to impress me these days,” I say as I pick off a piece of lint from one of my lapels. “But she must have died in her underwear. Terrible waste. Could have met her in her time—”

“Stop talking about the ghost. This Violet girl can’t be a Portocale. She’d be sucking the life right out of that ghost.”

“Her pet ghost has reached the phase of pathological liar, and still, she’s perfectly well, instead of a pile of salt. No ghost that far along in the final decay could be in the presence of a Portocale for that long, and it seems like they’re rather familiar with each other,” I continue.

“Then she’s not a Portocale,” he says again. “You just don’t want to admit you’re wrong, per the usual.”

“I know perfectly well the scent of Portocale blood. You’re not the only one with that particular curse,” I go on.

“My head hurts,” he says on a groan, leaning forward to massage his temples.

“Doesn’t take much, does it, mutt?”

When he gives me a feral growl, I grin and push off from the house.

“I’ll be the true test. She’ll hate me worse than even you,” he says as he stretches his arms above his head. “I’ll do my own lie detection test, while making sure you’re not just full of shit, which you probably are.”

“Have fun with that. When you realize she’s an anomaly by being a clueless Portocale, don’t let her in on the secret just yet,” I pointedly tell him, since it’s possible he’s stupid enough to open his mouth.

“Like I’m that stupid,” he growls, almost prompting me to slip up and grin too much as I turn to walk away.

“Watch your manners, since she’s a stickler like that,” I call over my shoulder. “But remember, she’s still a Portocale, even if she doesn’t know what that means.”

“What the hell kind of fucking thing is that to say?” he gripes at my back.

I continue grinning as I turn around, deciding not to give him the true warning. Violet Portocale has all the subtle Portocale beauty without the Portocale bitterness foaming from her very intriguing lips. There’s a certain vulnerability about her that I’ve not had to see in a Portocale’s eyes for too many centuries to count, and it’s unnervingly distracting.

Emit should be as caught off guard by that as I was.

“She doesn’t know we can see her ghost. Good luck keeping a straight face,” is what I say instead.

“Bullshit. She’s faking it or you’re pulling my dick,” he says to my back when I turn and walk away again, leaving him to think whatever he wants.

It’ll have more humorous charm when he sees for himself.


Chapter 3

VIOLET

The vapor engulfs the room, and I cough like my lungs are trying to hack their way up my throat. I can feel the bruises forming as I blindly stumble and fumble my way around the unfamiliar hard edges of the furniture in the cluttered house.

Tearing my throat raw with the violent coughs, I finally reach the outside.

Doubling over with my hands on my knees, I try to breathe air into my starving lungs, but I’m burning up and struggling on which hell is currently worse. The heat is licking up my veins, and I feel like I’m on fire as I start shedding my clothes as quickly as possible, cursing the day I decided I liked Anna enough to try and save her.

“I don’t think it worked too well! I feel the urge to tell you I spent five years possessing Bonnie’s body when she was fucking Clyde, and I’m pretty sure that’s a lie!” she calls out as I heave for more air. “Or is it? Did you fuck Clyde while making me watch?” she calls out with an indignant gasp, taking an abrupt turn with no blinker to warn me.

Utter failure. I possibly have chemical burns on my internal organs for no reason at all.

“No, I did not fuck Clyde,” I bite out in frustration. “The only Clyde I know has four legs and a long snout, and before your sick mind goes there, I will kill you for making any disgusting jokes like that—”

My words stop short when I see a man barely grinning as though he’s entertained. His eyes rake over my Ghost Busters panties and a bra that I actually made. I’m a terrible seamstress, so the bra is horrendous and makes my nipples look unintentionally pointed in different directions. And maybe slightly warped…

Why? Just why?

“My life sucks so hard,” I mutter under my breath as I pinch the bridge of my nose, putting my other hand on my hip as I exhale harshly.

After an awkwardly silent moment of collecting myself, I lower my hand and stare at his long, darkish hair first…because, it’s not the norm. Long hair on guys doesn’t usually work, but…some exceptions are definitely legit.

He’s tall and rough around the edges with just the right amount of beard. In fact, he’s the sort of gorgeous specimen that will no doubt have Anna spewing all kinds of crazy sex lies the second she—

“Ooooo la la. Hello, you sexy, devilish savage,” Anna purrs, appearing beside me. “Tell him I’m a porn star from the nineties. Or was it early two-thousands when they started keeping the downstairs painfully tidy?” she asks, tapping her chin with her index finger while seriously deliberating the matter.

Sometimes she knows she’s lying but enjoys it. Sometimes she has no clue if she’s lying at all. The urge to lie is growing stronger, regardless of which kind of lie she’s telling.

“Can I help you?” I ask the man, not even bothering to scrape together my dignity by this point.

Anna takes a lot out of me.

He gives me an incredulous look.

“Just to be safe, tell him I have a neatly trimmed landing strip instead of the tangled forest,” Anna goes on. “I’d check to see what’s actually down there, but I can’t physically move my underwear,” she adds while passing her hand through her pelvis.

I need to start carrying around salt.

“Rather odd way to introduce yourself, don’t you think, little Portocale?” the man asks in a weirdly sexy gravel-like tone that doesn’t usually do it for me.

He’s an anomaly, it seems. Wrong hair. Wrong voice. Entirely too tall. Much too broad shouldered—he could crush me. Still, it’s like it all just works on him, for whatever reason, and even at this terrible moment, I simply can’t help but notice just how well it works.

I’m seriously too emotionally vulnerable to be cold and dismissive of attractive men right now.

Anna makes several thrusting motions because she doesn’t have a functioning brain cell.

I’m a little distracted by the fact he seems oddly amused, which quickly reels my headspace back in to the fact Anna is humming Ghost Busters…and actually singing the part about there being something strange in the neighborhood.

When she wildly points to me and thrusts her hips again, it becomes abundantly clear I did something awful in a previous life to deserve the shit that happens to me.

“I’m Carmine, not Portocale. I’m not related to the Portocale family by blood,” I reply on autopilot, recovering from the surprise of having an audience who…looks like him. “And if seeing a girl in her fashionable underwear isn’t a memorable first impression, then I don’t know what is.”

“Are you trying to be memorable?” he muses.

“Seems that way,” I chirp, not missing a beat. “If you’re a client, I’ve been working on your supply list. Deliveries will start as soon as Monday, and I swear I will be clothed during all future encounters.”

“Prude,” Anna pops off immediately. “I’d pull that hair of his while asking him who’s been a naughty savage,” she adds, mocking a playful bite in the air.

Heaven help me.

“I’m Emit Morrigan. Head of House of Morrigan,” he informs me as he intensely studies me, absently running a hand over his beard.

Yep. I’m off to a great start. One of my other wealthy clients who will help afford a good life is getting a memorable first impression of me.

“Very nice to meet you, Mr. Morrigan. I usually wear clothes. Would you like to come inside?” I ask, the overheating gone as I quickly start pulling my clothes back on.

All my necklaces are clanging together, the protective charms tangling and jingling as I jostle around, drawing more gloriously awkward attention my way with the noise.

A few other people are on the street and gawking. Some are taking pictures…or possibly live-streaming this entire situation, so I make sure to hide my face and just give them mostly my panty-clad ass. The fun never ends.

I’m going to be the crazy gypsy girl of the town. Awesome.

I was the crazy gypsy girl in the last town too. Shit happens.

As soon as I’m dressed, I notice him staring skeptically at the entryway.

“Is it safe?” he asks.

I glance inside, and then look back at him. “Good question.”

He gives me a dubious look. “Are you sure you’re going to be capable of recreating Marta’s products?”

“Aunt Marta was gifted and admittedly better, but I’m good at what I do. I’m testing out some new stuff. Trial and error comes with new territory, but I have a gypsy to bless the stuff,” I explain, feeling more confident once I’m fully covered. “But as a show of good faith, I’ll run in and get you a sample pack.”

The second I turn my back on him, I hear him ask, “Are you sure you’re not a Portocale?”

Frowning, I glance over my shoulder, not showing any outward signs of the growing knot of worry that is spreading with each person who questions me. “Why is that so hard to believe?”

While I have some things in common with all the Portocale gypsies, I’ve never had their signature features, such as the eyes, the curly hair, nor the perfectly almond skin tone.

For the most part, I have my Dad’s genes. I look just like his grandmother when she was my age. I’ve had to hear that my entire life, no matter the age.

His jaw relaxes slightly, and I note that he looks late twenties or early thirties as he allows his sinfully playful lips to curve in a secretive grin. “No reason.”

Great. He’s a weirdo with soulful and secretive eyes, distracting lips, and vague responses after asking me probing questions. Does he have to wear a sleeveless shirt? Why does he have to have arm porn?

Those athletic pants should not look that sexy. He’s one of those annoying people who make slouchy clothes look fashionable, while also looking like…well, a sexy savage, as Anna has pointed out. I’m not telling her that, though.

Shaking off the silly distraction, I jog up the steps and through the house, coughing a little at the lingering vapor.

Quickly, I retrieve a small box with my sample work, and bring it back out, ignoring the slight burning in my veins and the urge to strip again when I emerge.

Really glad he didn’t come in now. I’d probably have lost the account.

If the lingering vapor is working that strongly on me, a normal person would probably be running around and screaming in pain.

He accepts the box of vials, but he’s still staring at me like he’s trying to solve a puzzle. It’s the way Vancetto stared at me.

“I can’t believe you’re doing a drug deal in broad daylight,” Anna says on a horrified gasp.

“Try it out and see if it’s close enough. The three on the right are your recreational—”

“Drugs,” Anna says like she’s finishing my sentence, and I clear my throat before continuing.

“—orders. The ones on the left are for healing.”

“Healing?” he asks, sniffing it and wrinkling his brow.

“My own recipe.”

“Interesting,” he says with a growing grin, his eyes once again raking over me. “You don’t have the traditional Portocale eyes.”

“Well, I’m not a Portocale.” I’m not sure why he’s making this an issue, but again, I trust Mom wouldn’t do business with men who would kill her.

She wasn’t taken by surprise because she turned her back on the wrong person. She was hunted down. That much I know, due to the vague voicemail she left me the night of her death.

“Your eyes are very unique,” he goes on, taking a step too close for my comfort, staring at me so intensely, as something almost palpable in electric energy moves between us.

His eyes seem to dance with flakes of autumn embers, coming to life as I feel myself lean forward like there’s a subtle pull on my body, dragging me. Even without touching him, I almost feel warmth from his body, and it’s like my head tries to get lost as his pupils dilate.

Anna is suddenly at my side and fanning me again.

“I just came,” she states in a loud whisper. “All from that look.”

It’s enough to defuse the weird crackles of electricity surrounding us, and I take a spacious step back while clearing my throat, as he mutters something I can’t hear.

“I’ll have your order delivered on Monday, should you still want it,” I tell him, recovering and sounding somewhat professional, even as I battle the weird chill slithering over me.

I’m so tempted to apologize, but I’m afraid that’ll just make it weird.

If Anna were real, I’d cut her for whatever she just did to my body.

He eyes the vials and closes the small box, before he tucks it under his arm. “Will you be delivering it yourself?” he muses.

“Yes. I’ve deemed Mondays and Fridays as delivery days. The rest of the time will be allotted to opening the store. At least until I have things caught up enough to hire some help.”

His lips thin like he finds that confusing.

I’m not quite sure what the paradox is.

“Then until Monday, Ms. Carmine,” he says before backing away.

I turn and start toward the house, unsure what to say to that, since it sort of sounds like he’s still questioning my surname.

He makes some sound from behind me, but when I turn to look back, he’s gone.

Anna is singing Ghost Busters once more and dancing on the porch, her back to me. I walk on by, ignoring her as she puts my name in the lyrics.

I’m officially the weird chick in this town, and I keep wondering why people act weird around me. Little hypocritical, I suppose.

“Why didn’t you fuck him? He gave you all the right signals, along with that smoldering look,” Anna says in utter disappointment.

“I’m almost positive you just did something to me, and you better not do it again,” I caution her.

“I won’t do it again,” she agrees, but that doesn’t mean anything. Hell, she may not even know if she did it.

“What are you doing?” Anna asks as she follows me up the stairs.

“Well, I’m going to go through more of my mother’s things, and then I’m going to see if I can rework that potion that went so wrong. But first I’m going to take a cold shower,” I answer as I start stripping, eager for some cool relief, thanks to the freaking potion that went awry.

“I could use a cold shower too. That savage man radiated barbaric sexual energy.” She makes a scratching sign like she has claws, and then adds a little feminine roar.

Groaning, I push through to the bathroom and slam the door in her face.

It’s the one room I have salted, and she can’t enter because of it.

So instead, she starts singing loudly through the door as I step into the cold spray of the shower, trying not to think about the overwhelming amount of things I need to do.

Unfortunately, since I’m a gypsy, I can’t help but sing along with her, and I’m a defective gypsy…because I sure as hell don’t sing pretty.

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