As we count down to The Italian Screwjob’s March 15th release, I’m sharing one chapter a day from the book. Despite calls from the peanut gallery to pick those chapters randomly and without context, I have once again opted to start at the beginning.
As ever with later books in the series, the text will contain spoilers from previous books, so read at your own risk! Here is The Italian Screwjob: Chapter 2.
IN WHICH PACKING AIN’T EASY
“You’re going to Rome? With Lucia?” Juliette was looking at me like I’d sprouted a second head. “Have you been drinking the hard stuff again, little bird? You know what tequila does to you…”
“Funny. And I thought we’d pinky sworn to never again mention the T-word after last month’s debacle.” I polished off my second-to-last piece of toast, wishing it had been an Egg McMuffin. “Ana’s in trouble.”
“Who’s Ana?” Angel snagged the remaining piece of toast from my plate, willfully disregarding the sacred laws of breakfast ownership.
“Anastasia Dumenyova, Secundus, Stone Lady, emotionless robot, blah blah blah,” recited Juliette. “She’s Lucia’s assassin and John’s would-be girlfriend.”
“You’re dating an assassin?” Angel gave me a confused look. “How have I never met her?”
“The key word you missed was would-be, sweet cheeks.”
“She’s very busy,” I said. “Mainly thanks to Queen Crazy Pants, who you just met. We’ve been on a couple of dates since I moved in with you guys, but—”
“But little bird wouldn’t know how to close the deal if someone gave him an instruction manual and a thirty-minute head start. He has the game of a prepubescent choirboy.”
“—but it’s hard when she spends so little time here in San Diego,” I finished, ignoring Juliette.
“Did Lucia say what Anastasia has been imprisoned for?” The mocking tone had—mostly—left the femmepire’s voice.
“Other than breaking her exile? No.”
“What was she even doing in Rome?”
“I have no idea.”
“And how will the two of you putting yourself in danger help?”
“We… hadn’t gotten to that part yet when you walked in.”
“And somehow you’re the senior partner of our agency.” She shook her head. “You’re going to Rome purely on the say-so of a woman who has consistently lied through her pointy eyeteeth even as she manipulated you from one catastrophe to another?”
When she put it like that…
“Be honest: it’s the enormous rack that makes you act like a moron, isn’t it?”
I opted not to answer that question. “Ana is the closest thing Lucia has to a friend. Also, she’ll be breaking her own exile by returning to Rome.”
“Unless she plans to slip off the plane before it departs. Or has promised the Italian Court a peek into your funky brain in exchange for clemency. Or is just sick of sharing Anastasia with you.”
Angel’s eyes went wide at the last comment, but Juliette and I turned to her, speaking in unison.
“Not that way.”
Juliette’s blood donor seemed disappointed.
“Any of that could be true,” I admitted, “but Ana has been gone for the last few weeks.” Sixteen days, two hours, and roughly five minutes, to be precise. “And before she left, she told me where she was going.”
Juliette raised one eyebrow. “Rome?”
“It’s almost like you’re a detective, Duchess.” Ana had actually said Europe—her willingness to spill secrets about her work for Lucia only went so far—but I wasn’t going to let reality get in the way of an awesome burn. “Anyway, I don’t know what Ana was doing there, or how she got caught, or how it is that I’m supposed to help,” I added, heading off the other questions I saw lurking in Juliette’s yellow eyes, “but if my presence can make a difference—”
“Then you’re going. Just another empty-headed knight galloping off to rescue the dragon.”
I didn’t think that was how the fairy tale usually went… but vampires did have their own literature.
“Even if I wasn’t in love with her, I owe her for saving my life like half a dozen times.”
“You do need saving a lot,” Juliette mused.
I gave the femmepire a look. “I’m not the only one. Xavier. The Hawthorne house fire. And let’s not forget the witches and their summoned demons.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine, she’s a paragon of cold-blooded virtue, and I guess I owe her too. But if you really think I’m going to just drop everything to go to Rome with you—”
“Oh. Well, okay then.” She chewed on that a little bit, nonplussed. “Are you sure you want to do this alone?”
“Backup would be awesome,” I admitted, “but you’re still getting your new, post-House life set up here with Angel and Bobo. You need to focus on yourself for a bit.”
“That’s shockingly considerate of you, little bird.”
“We’re starting the Superchargers investigation tomorrow.”
“Oh, right.” Juliette started to nod, then froze. “Wait, you’re leaving me alone on that? No freaking way!”
“It’s a cheating spouse case. You’ve already done like five of those since joining the agency.”
“For human clients! Humans that don’t have your stupid immunity to compulsion. What the hell am I supposed to do with goblins?”
“You could try actually investigating?” I didn’t bother hiding my smile. Since inviting herself on as my partner at the agency, Juliette had been using her vampire mojo as a shortcut on investigations that would have otherwise taken weeks. It was bad enough that she could physically run laps around me… having her do the same in my primary profession, without any training whatsoever, was totally unfair.
The Superchargers, however, were one of our local goblin tribes, and goblins, like many of the creepy-crawlies of the world, were resistant to vampire mojo. Which meant Juliette was going to have to rely on genuine detective skills for the first time in her brief investigative career.
“You’ve been working with me for almost a year now. I’m sure you’ll be fine.” I pretended to give it some serious thought. “Either that or the tribe will eat you.”
“You and Lucia deserve each other.”
“I’ll call and check in every night, assuming I don’t get kidnapped, stripped naked, and tortured again.”
“Again?” asked Angel.
“It happens more than you’d think,” Juliette informed her human chew toy.
“It really does.” In the past few years, I’d seen almost as many dungeons as motel rooms. And I’d seen a lot of motel rooms. “Hopefully, Italy will be different.”
“Do you even have a passport?”
“We live half an hour north of the Mexican border. Of course I have a passport.” A sudden thought wiped the smug smile off my face. “What I don’t have is luggage.”
“I’ve got a bag you could use,” Angel offered unexpectedly. Maybe she and I were finally turning a corner in our relationship. Or maybe she was still coming down from the overwhelming experience of meeting Lucia for the first time.
“That would be great. It’s not… hipster couture, is it?”
“What would hipster luggage even look like, asshole?”
“I’m guessing it would be described as a satchel and have at least one thoughtfully scrawled Bukowski quote on it.”
“If you don’t want it…”
“No! I’d be delighted to make use of your hipster satchel,” I assured her. “Only…”
“It doesn’t have any sentimental value, does it?”
“Things have a history of blowing up around John when he’s on a case,” explained Juliette. “Cars… houses…”
“And you invited him to live here with us?!?!”
“He caught me in a moment of weakness.”
“She was drunk.”
“Plus, his rent covers our groceries.”
I was pretty sure Angel didn’t pay rent. Then again, if the alternative involved having to serve as a juice box for a hungry vampire… I was going to choose rent every time.
“You will bring my bag back. Undamaged.” Angel’s eyes were kind of pretty when they glinted angrily like that. Violent disdain had always been my sexual kryptonite.
“Of course I will!” Unless circumstances beyond my control resulted in that bag getting fed to an angry volcano god, obviously. “Let’s go dig it out of your closet, and then I’ll… pack.”
Juliette sighed. “You don’t have any clothes to wear, do you?”
“I have clothes. But Lucia said I should be presentable. Other than my mediator suit, I’m not sure my wardrobe is particularly appropriate for hobnobbing with vampire nobility. Unless they like Star Wars?”
If Lucia was any indication, they wouldn’t even know what Star Wars was. Heathens.
“Screw ‘em.” Juliette shrugged, not at all self-conscious in her faded t-shirt and scuffed jeans. “What are they going to do, murder you for not wearing a tie?”
“Fair. It is Europe. Maybe call up Kayla and her morsel and get them to take you shopping?”
“They’re out of town, remember? K’s taking Darlene to Australia to meet the family.” Darlene was one my best friends in the world, and Kayla, her vampire lover, wasn’t far behind.
“That sucks. I guess you’re on your own then.” Juliette turned to her donor, ignoring my pleading expression. She gently plucked Angel’s hand off the table and held it in her own, tracing patterns on the other woman’s pale skin.
“Do you want to maybe come along—”
“Nope.” The replies came in stereo, right on top of one another. Neither woman spared me a glance. It was almost creepy.
“We’ll be busy,” said Juliette.
She gave me a pointed look.
“Right.” I coughed. Even baristas got more action than me.
“If Lucia is sending someone to pick you up at five, that gives you plenty of time to get your shopping done. Why don’t you go do your thing until… let’s say three?”
“It’s barely ten in the morning,” I pointed out. “Are you really planning on being ‘busy’ for five hours?”
That just seemed excessive. And exhausting.
“There’s a reason he’s still single, isn’t there?”
“Dozens of them,” confirmed Juliette.
“You both suck.”
I’ll be back tomorrow with Chapter 3, in which the best farewells include beer and death threats.