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

Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1)(3)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

“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.

I wasn’t sure why Nonna was so agitated tonight. Over the last several weeks—starting around our eighteenth birthday—my twin missed quite a few dinner services, and had snuck in well past sunset, her bronze cheeks flushed and her dark eyes bright. There was something different about her. And I had a strong suspicion it was because of a certain young vendor in the market.

Domenico Nucci Junior.

I’d stolen a peek at her diary and had seen his name scribbled in the margins before guilt had overtaken me and I’d tucked it back under the floorboard where she’d hidden it. We still shared a room on the second floor of our small, crowded home, so thankfully she didn’t notice my snooping.

“Vittoria is fine, Nonna.” I handed her some fresh parsley to garnish the shrimp. “I told you she’s been flirting with the Nucci boy who sells arancini for his family near the castle. I’m sure he’s busy with all the pre-festival celebrations tonight. I bet she’s passing out fried rice balls to everyone who’s overindulged. They need something to soak up all that sacramental wine.” I winked, but my grandmother’s fear didn’t abate. I set the rest of the parsley down and hugged her close. “No demon is stealing her soul, or eating her heart. I promise. She’ll be here soon.”

“One day I hope you’ll take signs from the goddesses seriously, bambina.”

Maybe one day. But I’d heard stories about red-eyed demon princes my whole life and hadn’t met one yet. I wasn’t too worried things would suddenly change now. Wherever the Wicked had gone, it seemed to be permanent. I feared them as much as I worried about dinosaurs suddenly returning from extinction to take over Palermo. I left Nonna to the scampi, and smiled as music filtered in between the sounds of knives chopping and spoons stirring. It was my favorite kind of symphony—one that allowed me to focus entirely on the joy of creation.

I inhaled the fragrant scent of garlic and butter.

Cooking was magic and music combined. The crack of shells, the hiss of pancetta hitting a hot pan, the metallic clang of a whisk beating the side of a bowl, even the rhythmic thwack of a cleaver against a wooden cutting board. I adored each part of being in a kitchen with my family. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect way to spend an evening.

Sea & Vine was my future and it promised to be filled with love and light. Especially if I saved enough coin to purchase the building next door and expand our family business. I’d been experimenting with new flavors from across Italy and wanted to create my own menu one day.

My mother hummed along while forming marzipan into fruit shapes. “He’s a nice boy. Domenico. He’d make a good match for Vittoria. His mother is always pleasant.”

Nonna tossed a flour-coated hand in the air, waving it around as if the idea of an engagement with a Nucci stunk worse than the streets of the nearby fish market. “Bah! She’s too young to worry about marriage. And he’s not Sicilian.”

My mother and I both shook our heads. I had a feeling his Tuscan roots had little to do with Nonna’s disapproval. If she had it her way, we’d live in our ancestral home—in our little quarter of Palermo—until our bones turned to dust. Nonna didn’t believe anyone else could watch over us as well as she could. Especially a mere human boy. Domenico wasn’t witch-born like my father, and therefore Nonna didn’t think he could ever fully be trusted with our secret.

“He was born here. His mother is from here. I’m fairly certain that makes him Sicilian,” I said. “Stop being grumpy. It doesn’t suit someone as sweet as you.”

She harrumphed, ignoring my blatant attempt to charm her. Stubborn as a mule, as my grandfather would’ve said. She picked up her carved wooden spoon and pointed it in my direction. “Sardines washed themselves onto the shore. Gulls didn’t touch them. You know what that means? It means they’re no fools. The devil’s stirring the seas, and they’ll have nothing to do with his offerings.”

“Mamma,” my mother groaned and set the almond paste down. “A boat carrying kerosene crashed into the rocks last night. The oil killed the fish, not the devil.”

Nonna shot my mother a look that would sink lesser souls to their knees. “You know as well as I do it’s a sign the Malvagi have arrived, Nicoletta. They’ve come to collect. You’ve heard of the bodies. The timing matched what was foretold. Is that a coincidence, too?”

“Bodies?” My voice shot up several octaves. “What are you talking about?”

Nonna clamped her mouth shut. My mother whipped her head around, forgetting about the marzipan again. A look passed between them, so deep and meaningful that chills crept down my spine.

“What bodies?” I prodded. “What was foretold?”

Our restaurant was busier than normal while we prepared for the influx of people attending the festival tomorrow, and it had been days since I’d listened to gossip swirling around the marketplace. I hadn’t heard anything about bodies.

My mother gave my grandmother a look that said You started this, you finish it, and went back to her candy shaping. Nonna settled onto a chair she kept near the window, clasping her wine tightly. A breeze lifted the oppressive heat. Her eyes fluttered shut, as if soaking it in. She looked exhausted. Whatever was happening, was bad.

“Nonna? Please. What happened?”

“Two girls were murdered last week. One in Sciacca. And one here. In Palermo.”

Sciacca—a port town facing the Mediterranean Sea—was almost directly south of us. It was a little jewel on an island filled with visual treasure. I couldn’t imagine a murder there. Which was ridiculous since death didn’t discriminate between paradise and hell.

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