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 3.
IN WHICH THE BEST FAREWELLS INCLUDE BEER AND DEATH THREATS
I returned to our condo at the appointed time to find Juliette alone in the kitchen. The femmepire had her feet on the table, a bottle of beer in her hands, and a satiated smile that spoke volumes about the day’s activities.
“Bedroom.” The smile morphed into a grin. “Poor girl is kind of wiped out.”
“From feeding you or…?”
“Oh, I’d say it’s a little bit of A and a lot of B.” Juliette’s grin widened. Feet still propped up on the table, she extended both arms above her head in a slow stretch that revealed a wide expanse of taut stomach. “Me? I feel pretty damn fantastic.”
“I’m sure you do.” She looked it too, bright eyed and glowing like she’d gotten an extra ten hours of sleep. The morning’s shirt had been replaced by a white, cropped, Sex Pistols tee, one of her favorites for lounging around the apartment. “Did Bobo ever make it home?”
“Brian is still out. Whenever he gets back, we will have a long talk about opening the door to strange and impossibly obnoxious women.”
“It didn’t sound like she even needed to compel him.” My stealthy campaign to get Bobo evicted was weeks in the making, but swiftly picking up steam.
“If you’re any indication, all she had to do was shake her oversized breasts in his face. Besides, it’s your fault she was here at all.”
And just like that, my hopes of a quick victory went up in smoke. I retreated to fight another day, nodding at the beer in Juliette’s hand.
“You know it. They make one hell of a red ale.”
“And do those ales travel in packs…?”
Juliette smirked and waved in the direction of the cupboard. “Have at it, little bird.”
Best. Partner. Ever. I set my shopping bag down and made a detour to grab a beer. Upon returning, I held the bottle out and she casually popped the cap off with one flick of her thumb.
“Sometimes, your species has its uses.”
“Pity the same can’t be said for humans. Most of them anyway.” Yellow eyes flickered in the direction of the master bedroom.
“And here you thought keeping donors of your own would be too much trouble.”
“Sixty years ago, the neighbors freaked when someone populated their house with unmarried sex objects. These days, nobody gives a crap. I’m not sure the world would care even if they knew the whole truth. It definitely makes things less of a drag.” Her eyes drifted to the bag at my feet. “Did you get everything you needed for the trip?”
“Of course.” I paused to reconsider. “At least I think so.”
“You think so?”
“A pair of gray slacks, some nice socks, and two more dress shirts that should work with my suit.”
“That’s it? After five hours of shopping?”
“I got lunch too.”
“Of course you did.”
“Between this and what I already have, I should be fine.”
“John, can we assume that Lucia wants you to mediate on Anastasia’s behalf?”
I nodded. While my shining secondary career as San Diego’s mediator for the supernatural had been stuck in neutral this past year, a political brouhaha in Rome pretty much demanded my particular set of skills.
“And do we agree that the nobles of my species are always enormous pains in the ass when it comes to matters of politics?”
“I wish it was just politics.”
“Then shouldn’t you expect to be in Rome for at least a few weeks? I don’t think one suit is going to cut it.”
“Weeks? Shit. Mike’s getting married on the 7th!”
“That’s almost a month away, little bird. You’ll either be dead or done with the mediation by then.” She paused, the beer halfway to her lips. “I don’t still have to go to your so-called best friend’s wedding if you’re dead, do I? I’ve never even met him!”
“Given that my parents will be coming back to San Diego to attend, you might be too busy telling them how I died doing something stupid. Besides, you technically weren’t even invited; you were just going as my plus-one… and only if Ana was still away.”
“And isn’t that the sort of thing every woman loves to hear?”
Her expression told me I’d answered incorrectly.
“Anyway,” I continued, “it’s not like my budget is unlimited. This pretty much wiped out my reserves.”
“Seriously? The agency isn’t doing that badly. All joking aside… if I’m charging you too much rent, you should tell me. I don’t have a clue what you humans pay for things these days.”
“Only because you so rarely pay for anything.”
“Obviously.” Like most vampires, Juliette had no moral issues with using her powers to simply take what she wanted, whether that something was a pair of Louboutin heels or a Ducati. The only reason she paid for groceries was because Angel had given her a long speech about how retail theft hurt the unfortunate employees.
“It’s not the rent.”
“Then what is it? If you had a drug habit, I’d smell it on you… and I know you’re not a gambler.”
“I could be a gambler.” Riverboat John had a certain ring to it.
“You play the nickel slots.”
“What’s wrong with nickel slots?”
“Which leaves—as usual—Anastasia Dumenyova,” she concluded with a sigh.
“Dating is expensive,” I admitted. Especially when dating a four-century-old woman with more elegance and sophistication in her little finger than I had in my entire body. The infrequency of those dates had been one of the few things keeping me afloat.
“You do remember that she’s filthy rich, right?”
“It’s impossible not to, when she picks me up in her Model S.” I sighed. “I can’t have her pay for everything. That would kind of ruin this whole responsible adult image I’m going for.”
“So will going bankrupt. Or,” smirked Juliette, “showing up to Rome in flip-flops.”
“I do have shoes!”
I made a mental note to pack my shoes.
Juliette eyed her now-empty bottle of beer and shrugged. “Well, it’s not like fashion has ever been a key contributor to your success. Clearly. I’m sure everything will be fine.”
“I hope so.” I finally remembered my own beer and took a sip. “Is this… warm?”
Some people preferred room temperature ale, but I’d been raised to drink it cold, like a civilized human being. Without waiting for a reply, I wrapped a hand around the bottle and concentrated. My next sip was ice cold.
“You’re getting better at using Lucia’s power,” said Juliette, “and it’s been a while since you passed out from doing it.”
“I only fainted the one time, and I’d just skewered a demon with an ice spear the size of my Corolla. Something minor like this just makes me tired. And hot. Thankfully, nothing cures heat exhaustion like a frosty beer.” I took a healthy swallow.
“There’s something very wrong with that logic—”
“Says the femmepire drinking warm beer.”
“—but you’ve got more important things to focus on.”
“Like getting packed?”
“Oh. That.” I couldn’t help but grin. I was flying to Europe on someone else’s dime to save the woman I loved.
How freaking cool was that?
Angel had left her bag out for me, and my predictions of hipster-satcheltude proved painfully accurate. If my twin careers as detective and mediator ever finished fizzling out, I could always try my hand as a carnival fortune teller.
To be fair, it was more rucksack than satchel, which was good, since even my limited wardrobe would have been tough to squeeze into a satchel. The bag did scream hipster though, from the distressed brown leather to the unnecessarily long straps and preponderance of buckles. I packed most of my clothes, my toiletries, my well-worn copy of Mediation for Dummies, and… pretty much everything else I owned into the bag, and cinched it shut.
My suit, however, was going to be a problem.
“Duchess,” I called out into the hall, “do you have something I can put my suit in? Something that won’t end with it looking like it was wadded into a very small ball?”
“Keep your voice down, idiot.” I heard the door to the master bedroom she shared with Angel and Bobo creak open as she ducked inside. Moments later, it closed again, and she came back with a long, flat garment bag.
“Thank you.” I paused after taking it from her. “Why do you have a bag like this?”
“Is that a trick question?”
“I just have a hard time picturing you carrying it with you as you trailed punk bands across America,” I explained.
“Times have changed since the 70s, little bird. These days, I travel in style, and with more than one outfit.” She nodded to the bag I still held in my hands. “That works as well for dresses as it does suits.”
“Dresses?” I eyed the femmepire. In addition to the aforementioned t-shirt, she was wearing cut-off sweats that were the furthest thing from formal.
“I do have dresses, asshole.”
“Sure, but all the ones I’ve seen to this point were handkerchief-sized.”
“Are you complaining?”
“Absolutely not.” I was dating Anastasia, but only a blind idiot would be unaware that Juliette was dangerously attractive. “But I’m pretty sure you could fit three of those dresses into your purse.”
“And this is why you’re a man, and cannot have nice things,” Juliette replied primly. “That is no way to treat silk. Now, do you want the damn bag or not?”
A very short time later, I carried both bags with me into the kitchen and dropped into a chair next to Juliette. The femmepire had her laptop on the table and was focusing intently on its screen.
“Harry Potter fan fiction?”
“Funny. I prefer Draco anyway.”
“Of course you do.”
She waved a hand at the screen. “This is info on our local goblin tribes. Since you’re dumping the investigation on me, I figured I should brush up on things.”
I wasn’t the most astute of individuals—something of a career limiting characteristic for my primary profession—but even I could pick up on Juliette’s worry. “After I’ve made a sandwich, why don’t we go over the particulars of the case together?”
“Don’t you need to head downstairs?”
“Nah.” I checked my bond. “From the feel of it, Lucia just left Ana’s place in Cardiff. It’ll be half an hour at least before she makes it here to pick me up.”
“I’m sure I’d be fine without your help, but if you’re bored…”
We spent the next twenty minutes reviewing the details of the case. San Diego had three local goblin tribes: the Superchargers, the Padres, and the Clippers. I had no idea why goblin tribes took their names from local sports franchises or why the Clippers had stuck around after the NBA team moved to Los Angeles, but it did make them easy to remember.
My former client, Chief Tikky-Wokka Tomlinson—four and a half feet of foul breath and gray, knobby skin—had hired us to look into the affairs of one of his wives, Rihanna Mariah Kardashian. And by the affairs, I meant he wanted us to prove that she was having one.
“I still don’t get it,” decided Juliette.
“How someone who looks like that can have multiple wives?”
“That too,” she admitted. “But if he thinks she’s sleeping around on him, why doesn’t he kick her ass to the curb? Why does he need to hire us?”
“Adultery is a killing offense in goblin society,” I reminded her, “and Rihanna was originally part of the Clippers. If he kills her without proof, the other tribe will retaliate. And a blood war between tribes would be bad.”
Juliette shivered. Goblins made up for their size through viciousness and sheer numbers, as a pack of Infected had learned to their regret when coming to town to root on their Denver Broncos. If the werehorses had asked permission before intruding, they might have made it back to Colorado alive.
Or maybe not. Team affiliation bordered on a religion for goblins. My predecessor, the Rook, had mediated the resulting fallout, and given that the city was still standing, I could only assume he’d been successful.
“So, we just need to find that proof?” Juliette seemed relieved. Despite the supernatural trappings, this really was like one of our usual cases.
“If it exists, yeah.” I finished my sandwich and pushed the plate away with a sigh. “Although if you can figure out some way for this to not end in someone’s death, that would be awesome too. Corporal punishment for a broken marriage is frankly unacceptable.”
“So is cannibalism, which goblins also practice.”
That was a good point. “Well, just do what you can. At the end of the day, nobody’s paying us to modernize goblin society.”
“Thank the gods,” my partner muttered.
“Remember, I’ll be a phone call away if you need anything.”
The bond informed me of Lucia’s arrival moments before the door buzzer sounded. I spared a glance for my dirty plate.
“I’ll take care of it,” said Juliette. “This once.”
“Thanks.” I met her yellow eyes and smiled, trying to appear confident. “I’ll be back in a few weeks.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“My room is just down the hall from yours, little bird, and I do have super hearing. I’ve heard the nightmares. Every. Single. Night.”
I swallowed. “Can we just pretend they’re sex dreams and never, ever talk about them again?”
“If they were sex dreams, we would totally talk about them. You know that, right? I need my entertainment.”
“Of course you do.” I sighed. “I won’t pretend the last few years have been easy. I’m still trying to process everything that happened with the witches and Zorana, but…”
“Ana’s in trouble.”
“Right.” The femmepire sagged back in her chair. “And you wouldn’t be you if you took the safe way out. I get that. I just want you to know—” She flushed and fell silent.
“I love you too. Just don’t tell Angel or she’ll stab me in my sleep with one of those latte art pens.”
“You are such a moron.” She smiled and walked me to the door. “Try not to get yourself killed.”
“I’ll do my best.” Rucksack over one shoulder and garment bag in hand, I exited the apartment.
Juliette’s voice, oddly pensive, followed me down the hall.
“That’s what worries me.”
I’ll be back tomorrow with Chapter 4, in which a long journey begins with a shorter one.