Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1)(3)

“Yours will be even better.” Vittoria’s grip tightened in comfort. “By then I will be Queen, and I’ll make sure you have whatever you like.”

One night they decided to be brave. Nearly a month had passed since their eighth birthday and Nonna Maria’s dire warnings seemed a lifetime ago. Vittoria thrust her amulet at her sister, her face determined. “Here,” she commanded, “take it.”

Emilia hesitated only a minute before clasping the golden horn in her palm.

A shimmering lavender-black light exploded from their amulets, startling Emilia enough that she dropped her sister’s necklace. Vittoria swiftly fastened it back where it belonged, brown eyes wide as the glittering light abruptly faded. Both girls remained silent. Whether in fear or fascination, they couldn’t be sure. Emilia flexed her hand, trying to work out the pin-prickling sensation crawling under her skin. Vittoria watched; her face hidden in shadow.

Nearby a hellhound howled up at the moon, though later they’d convince themselves it was only the wind snarling through the cramped streets of their quarter. They never told anyone what they’d done, and never spoke of the strange inky-purple light.

Not even to each other. And especially not to Nonna Maria.

Since they pretended the incident away, Emilia didn’t tell her sister she’d been irrevocably changed—from that evening forward, whenever she held her cornicello and concentrated, she saw what she’d call luccicare. A faint shimmer or aura surrounding a person.

The only exceptions being herself and her twin.

If Vittoria also possessed this new talent, she never admitted so. It was the first of many secrets the twins would keep from each other. And would prove deadly for one.


Ten years later

Nonna Maria buzzed around the kitchen like she’d guzzled every drop of espresso in our restaurant. Her mood was downright frantic. My twin was late for dinner service and our grandmother saw it as a portent of doom, especially since Vittoria was out the night before a holy day. Goddess forbid.

The fact that the moon was not only full, but also a putrid shade of yellow had Nonna muttering the kind of warnings that normally made my father bolt the doors. Thankfully he and Uncle Nino were in the dining room with a frosty bottle of limoncello, pouring after-dinner drinks for our customers. No one left Sea & Vine without sipping the dessert liqueur and feeling the utter satisfaction and bliss that followed a good meal.

“Mock me all you like, but it’s not safe. Demons are prowling the streets, searching for souls to steal.” Nonna chopped cloves of garlic for the scampi, her knife flying across the worn cutting board. If she wasn’t careful, she’d lose a finger. “Your sister is foolish to be out.” She stopped, immediately shifting her attention to the little horn-shaped amulet around my neck. Worry lines carved a deep path around her eyes and mouth. “Did you see if she was wearing her cornicello, Emilia?”

I didn’t bother responding. We never took our amulets off, not even while bathing. My sister broke every rule except that one. Especially after what happened when we were eight. . . . I briefly closed my eyes, willing the memory away. Nonna still didn’t know about the luccicare I could see shimmering around humans while holding my amulet, and I hoped she never would.

“Mamma, please.” My mother raised her gaze to the ceiling as if the goddess of sky might send an answer to her prayers in the form of a lightning bolt. I wasn’t sure if the bolt was meant for Nonna, or my mother. “Let’s get through dinner service before worrying about the Wicked. We have more pressing problems at the moment.” She nodded to the sauté pan. “The garlic is starting to burn.”

Nonna mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like “So will their souls in Hell if we don’t save them, Nicoletta,” and I bit my lip to keep from smiling.

“Something’s terribly wrong, I feel it in my bones. If Vittoria isn’t home soon, I’ll go looking for her myself. The Malvagi won’t dare to steal her soul around me.” Nonna brought her cleaver down on an unsuspecting mackerel, its head flopping to the limestone floor.

I sighed. We could’ve used it to make fish stock. Nonna was really getting herself worked up. She was the one who’d taught us the value in using every part of an animal.

Bones, however, could only be used for stock, not spells. At least those were the rules for us di Carlos. Le arti oscure was strictly forbidden. I scooped the fish head into a bowl to give to the alley cats later, banishing thoughts of the dark arts.

I poured some chilled wine for Nonna, adding orange slices and sugared peels to sweeten it. In moments, condensation bloomed like morning dew across the glass. It was mid-July in Palermo, which meant the air was stifling at night, even with our windows open, coaxing a breeze.

It was especially hot in the kitchen now, though during colder months I still wore my long hair up because of the soaring temperatures created by our oven fires.

Sea & Vine, the di Carlo family trattoria, was known across Sicily for our sinfully delicious food. Each evening our tables were crowded with hungry patrons, all waiting to dine on Nonna’s recipes. Lines formed in the late afternoons, no matter the weather. Nonna said simple ingredients were her secret, along with a touch of magic. Both of those statements were true.

“Here, Nonna.” We weren’t supposed to use magic outside of our home, but I whispered a quick spell, and, using the condensation dripping onto the stone, slid the drink along the counter in front of her. She paused long enough in her worrying to sip the sweet red wine. My mother mouthed her thanks when my grandmother’s back was turned, and I grinned.

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