Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1)(11)

I followed it farther into the monastery.

At the very end of the next corridor I halted outside a room with its door ajar. Whatever had been calling me led inside; I felt it. A slight tug in my center, a summoning I had no hope of fighting. I didn’t know what sort of magic was at play, but clearly sensed it.

I dropped my amulet and held my breath as I slipped in unseen, wary of what drew me. Nonna always scolded my ability to sneak around undetected, but, at present, it felt more like a blessing than a curse.

Inside, traces of thyme mixed with something metallic and some burnt paraffin wafted around. It took a moment for my vision to adjust, but once it did, I bit down on a gasp, wondering how I’d missed him. Perhaps his preternatural stillness was to blame.

Now that I was aware of his presence, I couldn’t drag my gaze away. It was too dark to make out his features clearly, but his hair was a shade close to onyx, almost iridescent like the wings of a raven catching sunlight. He was tall and powerfully built, like a statue of a Roman warrior, though his clothes were that of a fine gentleman.

There was something about him that made me cling to the shadows, though, uneasy about detection.

He loomed over a shrouded body. My mind churned with a dozen stories. Perhaps the love of his life died tragically before they could live out their dreams together, and he was angry with the world. Maybe she passed away peacefully in her sleep. Or maybe she was the murdered witch Nonna mentioned yesterday.

The one whose body was discovered in our city.

That thought was like a pail of ice water being poured over me. I stopped playing out mental fantasies and focused harder on the chamber. A strange assortment of half-blown-out candles were carefully placed in a circle around the stone altar where the body lay. Fragrant wisps of thyme wafted over to me again.

Odd for a human man to set up candles and burn herbs. I recalled the scent of thyme last night, and wondered if he’d been here while Antonio and I were cooking a few chambers down.

I stared at him, pulse thrumming, trying to determine if he was the source of magic that originally caught my attention. I didn’t think so. There was no pull to him, only this chamber. Without warning, the air pressure suddenly felt wrong—like there was some distortion occurring in the space around us. Even the shadows seemed to bow in acquiescence.

Right. It was a ludicrous thought. First, invisible ghost demons were following me through the corridors, and now this. There was nothing menacing about a young man saying good-bye to the girl he loved. Placing candles around a body wasn’t so strange, either. Plenty of people lit them while praying to their god. Once again, my—

He suddenly bent toward the body, his hands skimming the area above her heart, and I waited for him to tug the shroud away and kiss his beloved good-bye one final time. When he removed his hand from beneath the cloth, his fingers were coated in blood. Slowly, as if in some devil’s trance, he brought those fingers to his mouth and licked them. For a moment, I stared, unable to process what I’d seen.

Everything inside me buzzed and went immobile. Fear and rage swirled together in a cacophony as I finally understood my earlier innate sense of wrongness.

Warnings rang through me, screeching about bloodthirsty demons, but I was incensed beyond reason. This wasn’t a midnight creature, born of darkness and moonlight like Nonna claimed. This all too human monster had broken into the catacombs and committed the vilest of acts; he tasted the blood of the dead. Before I could heed the warnings my grandmother had beaten into our thick skulls from birth, I was out of my hiding spot, screaming like I was a feral creature of the night.


Either from the raw command in my voice, or more likely the ear-splitting shrillness of it, the stranger jumped back a few feet, his movement almost too fast to detect. There was something else odd . . . something . . . I grabbed my cornicello and concentrated on his aura; his luccicare wasn’t lavender, but a shimmering, multitoned black with specks of gold. It reminded me of Nonna’s titanium quartz. I’d never seen anything like it before.

He glanced from the kitchen knife I held to the body lying on the table, probably debating his next move. For the first time, I noticed the dagger in his hand. A gold snake with lavender eyes twined around its hilt, fangs bared. It was beautiful. Wicked. Deadly.

For a moment, I thought he’d aim it straight at my heart.

“Stay away from her,” I warned, taking a small step in his direction, “or I’ll scream loud enough to summon every fratello in this building.”

It was a lie. The whole brotherhood was out doing their duties for Santa Rosalia. As far as I knew, he and I were the only ones in the entire monastery. Deep as we were within the catacombs, no one would hear my screams if he lunged for me. But I wasn’t defenseless.

My hand dropped from my amulet and moved toward the moon-blessed chalk Nonna insisted we carry in our secret skirt pockets, ready to fall to my knees and draw a protection circle. It would work against a human just as well as it would protect against any supernatural threat. I hesitated just in case he was a witch hunter and using magic gave my secret away.

He opened his mouth about to say—whatever it was a person said after they were caught licking blood from the dead—when his gaze landed on the area near my chest. The heat of his focus almost singed my dress off. He’d tasted blood then had the nerve to stare at me like I was another delicacy put on this earth for his pleasure alone. Or was that . . .

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