Home > Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1)(6)

Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1)(6)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

I jumped back so quickly, I tripped over my skirts and crashed into the basket of supplies. Silverware clattered to the ground. The bottle of my special balsamic shattered.

Antonio clutched a wooden rosary that had been hidden under his robes, and stepped forward, placing himself between me and the intruder. “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to be gone, demon.”

Suddenly, the figure doubled over and… giggled. Terror stopped coursing through me, and was swiftly replaced with anger. I pushed myself away from the wall and glared. “Vittoria.”

My twin stopped laughing and tossed her hood back. “Don’t mind me. I’m picturing the expression on your face again, and it’s even more hilarious the second time.”

Antonio slowly moved away, frowning down at the mess of glass and vinegar. I took a deep breath and silently counted to ten. “That wasn’t funny. And you made me break my balsamic.”

Vittoria winced at the bits of glass scattered across the floor. “Oh, Emilia. I’m really sorry.” She crossed the small room and crushed me against her in a giant hug. “When we get home you can break my favorite white sage and lavender perfume as retribution.”

I blew out a long breath. I knew she sincerely meant it; she’d happily hand over her bottle and watch me smash it to bits, but I would never choose revenge. “I’ll settle for a glass of the limoncello wine concoction you make instead.”

“I’ll make an entire pitcher.” She kissed each of my cheeks loudly, then nodded to Antonio. “You’re very intimidating with the whole lord’s command, brother Antonio. If I were a demon, I’m sure I would’ve definitely been banished back to Hell.”

“Next time I’ll brandish holy water. Burn the devil right out of you.”

“Hmm. You might need to bring a jug for that to work, especially if I summon him here.”

He shook his head, then turned to me. “I should be going; the brotherhood needs my help preparing for tomorrow. Don’t worry about the spilled vinegar—I’ll come back later to clean it up. Thank you again for the food, Emilia. After the festival, I’ll be traveling for a little while to dispel more superstitious rumors, but I hope to see you when I return.”

Not two breaths after he left the chamber, my stupid sister started dancing around the room, pretending to passionately kiss what I could only assume was Antonio. “Oh, Emilia. I hope to see you when I return. Preferably naked, in my bed, screaming the lord’s name.”

“Stop that!” I swatted at her, mortified. “He can probably still hear you!”

“Good.” She wiggled her hips suggestively. “Maybe it’ll give him some ideas. It’s not too late for him to leave the brotherhood. There’s no law or decree that says once he’s accepted orders he needs to stay forever. There are plenty more interesting ways for a man to find religion. Maybe you can bathe in holy water and show him.”

“You’re impossibly blasphemous.”

“And you are cherry red. Why not tell him how you feel? Or maybe you should just kiss him. Judging by the way he looks at you, I doubt he’d mind. Plus, the worst that can happen is he’ll wax poetic on his religious orders, and you’ll have to strangle him with his rosary.”

“Come on, Venus. You’ve had enough matchmaking for one day.”

I grabbed her hand and hurried out of the room, relieved to find the corridor empty.

No Antonio. Or any other member of the holy brotherhood. Thank the goddess. We rushed down the shadowy halls, and didn’t stop running until the monastery was a speck in the night.

 

 

From the comfort of our home kitchen, Vittoria gathered blood oranges, limoncello, red wine, and a bottle of prosecco. I watched from the island as she methodically added everything to a pitcher. A cup of this, a splash of that, a few sugared peels—potions and perfumes were where her magic shined brightest, and it often translated to drinks. It was one of the few times she was entirely serious, and I loved watching her get lost in pure happiness.

My mouth watered as she sliced oranges. This was my favorite drink by far—Vittoria was inspired by sangria, which in recent years had also become quite popular in France and England. Some English families who’d moved to Palermo brought their recipes with them, adding to our already eclectic history. Nonna said the Spanish had actually been influenced by an Ancient Roman spiced wine called hippocras. No matter where it originated, I simply loved the taste of orange juice mixed with the wine and the fizzy bubbles created from the prosecco.

Vittoria dipped a spoon into the mixture, stirred vigorously, then tasted it before pouring a generous glass for me. She swiped the bottle of limoncello and motioned us up the stairs.

“Hurry, Emilia, before anyone wakes up.”

“Where were you earlier?” I quietly shut the bedroom door behind us. “Nonna was one step away from using all of our olive oil to see if evil entered Sea & Vine, and probably the rest of the island if she could.”

Vittoria collapsed onto her mattress, bottle of limoncello in hand, and grinned. “I was summoning the devil. An ancient book whispered its secrets to me, and I’ve decided to take him as my husband. I’d invite you to the wedding, but I’m pretty sure the ceremony takes place in Hell.”

I gave her a sharp look. If she didn’t want to tell me the truth, fine. She could keep her secret romance with Domenico to herself for however long she liked. “You need to stop drawing so much attention to yourself.”

“Or else what? The Malvagi will come and steal my soul? Maybe I’ll just sell it to them.”

“Or else things will end badly for our family. Two girls were murdered last week. Both were witches. Antonio said people in the last town he visited were talking about shape-shifters. Now isn’t the time to be joking about the devil. You know how humans get. First it’s shape-shifters, then demons, and then it’s only a matter of time before witches are targeted.”

“I know.” Vittoria swallowed hard and looked away. I opened my mouth to ask what she’d been doing at the monastery, but when she turned back around, her gaze sparkled with mischief. “So. Have you had any special wine or spirits lately?”

I let my interrogation go. “Special wine or spirits” was her code for “supernatural witch sense.” She often used code to discuss topics we wanted to hide from humans, or nosy grandmothers. I nestled against my pillow and drew my knees up. Before I told my story, I whispered a spell of silence to cover the sound of our voices. “Well, the other night I dreamed about a ghost…”

“Wait!” Vittoria set her limoncello down and grabbed her diary, pen in hand and ink pot at the ready. “Tell me everything. Every last detail. What did the ghost look like? Did you see any shimmering outline or shadow, or was it more like a thing you sensed? Did it speak to you? When did this happen, right as you fell asleep, or later in the night?”

“It was closer to the morning. I thought I was awake at first.”

I sipped my drink and told her about the strange dream—the disembodied voice whispering too low to hear anything other than what sounded like the nonsensical language of dreams—believing it had only been my overactive imagination at work, and not the first signs of the horror to come.

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