Cursed By Destiny Page 40

“Well done, my darling. Now try again.”

I repeated the same steps that had brought on the talons, this time without success. It was extremely frustrating, but I continued, motivated now that I’d experienced an inkling of progress. After another hour of hard work, I saw my pinkie toe nail elongate and turn black. The moment I touched it, it dissolved into my flesh and resumed its normal appearance.

My muscles felt ready to slip off my bones and land with a splat. Sweat dripped between my shoulder blades and br**sts. I sucked in a breath, surprised how much my concentration physically taxed me.

“You seem weary.”

Misha sensed my obvious fatigue, but my stubbornness and the excitement that accompanied my newfound talent motivated me to continue. “I’m okay.”

“No. You have done enough for the day. Come, let us dine. We will continue our practice tomorrow.”

“We? All you did was hold the bird.”

He smiled. “Nonsense. You wouldn’t have achieved that level of success had it not been for my encouragement.”

“You’re just a regular cheerleader, aren’t you? Okay, grab the pom-poms and let’s go.”

“She wants him to grab her pom-poms,” Edith whispered excitedly from the door.

“What de hell does dat mean?” Maria hissed, her annoyance deepening her Brazilian accent.

“It means they’re going to bang like shudders during a tornado. Pay up, O naughty ones.”

Liz poked her head in briefly and scowled. “I’m not paying you shit, Hank. They still have their clothes on. And what the hell’s up with the bird?”

Misha and I reached the entrance in time for Edith to open the door. She smiled at Misha with so much sizzle, I thought his black cashmere turtleneck would burst into an inferno. “Oh, Master, what sort of mischief have you been up to?”

Misha returned her grin. “Tell Chef to prepare Celia her dinner and fetch me an equally deserving feast.”

The vamps took off.

“Does it bother you that they have this whole bet thing going?” I hadn’t known if Misha was aware, but I supposed it was his job to know all of his family’s bizarre antics.

“No. It’s similar to children at play.”

“Children don’t often bet on whether their parents are going to have sex.”

Misha’s sly grin slid across his face like a seasoned figure skater across ice. “Does this mean you consider yourself their mother?”

“Mom to the fang-banging Brady Bunch? Oh, hell no. Besides, they barely tolerate me.” My voice softened. “If I ever do have children, I hope they would at least like me.”

He slipped his free arm around me and the deep twinkle of mischief in his eyes dissolved into tenderness. “They would love you, Celia.”

My heart melted at the softness of his words. I buried my head into his shoulder. “Thank you, Misha.”

• • •

We practiced again on the following day, stopping only for meals.

“That is barely a wing.”

I flapped out the half wing I managed from my elbow down. The breeze tickled my underarm briefly before the whole thing vanished. I rubbed the sweat off my brow. “No kidding.”

I managed a beak, a few talons, and some eagle eyes, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep the form for long. Just before it was time to get ready for the gala, I changed completely into an eagle. It lasted only a few seconds, long enough for me to see my reflection in the mirror the vamps had brought in. Not to brag, but my eagle form was magnificent—and immense. Like my tigress, it was about four times bigger than my human self.

My human body returned in one painful rush. I collapsed, panting and exhausted on the floor, surrounded by the tattered remains of my clothes. Misha perched the eagle on his stand and quickly knelt next to me. “Are you hurt?”

I shook my head. “No, mostly just tired. I’ll be fine in a moment.”

Misha smiled. I wasn’t sure whether he was proud of me or whether it was because I was naked. I grabbed at my torn rags and tried my best to cover myself. He inched his way closer, his face moving toward mine. Whatever he’d planned was interrupted by wretched screaming.

The little Russian dressmaker hurried in, the tap, tap, tap of her pointy black shoes echoing in the room as she launched into one mean-ass fit. She waved a garment bag above her head, all the while shaking her bony finger at me. She motioned to Misha, spurting angry Russian like venom from a cobra. Finally she shoved the bag into Misha’s hands and whirled off like a hurricane.

I narrowed my eyes. “What did she say?”

“She said your dress is ready.”

I changed into a tigress so I wouldn’t be naked, abandoning Misha, who continued to laugh out loud. The interaction between me and the old twit had entertained him tremendously. Goody for him. I returned to my quarters to shower her bitchiness off my skin.

My muscles ached. The hot water helped relax them. It failed, however, to wash away my nerves. I was going to see Aric. And he would be in a tux. My hands skimmed over my body as I applied lotion, remembering the first time I’d seen Aric in a tuxedo. He hated opera and didn’t care for any type of classical music. But he knew my love for Il Divo and surprised me with tickets on a romantic getaway to Sacramento. My olive skin was deeply tanned from our time on the lake. I’d slipped into a strapless canary yellow cocktail dress in the bathroom of our hotel room. When I stepped out into the master suite, Aric had just finished adjusting his bow tie. We gawked at each other for roughly three-point-five seconds before he pounced. We never did see Il Divo. Not to mention my dress lay in pieces and he lost the deposit on his tux.

“What’s with the stupid grin on your face?”

Leave it to Liz to buzz-kill my memory. She and Edith lounged on my bed like lazy heathens. They were dressed in sexy black plaid dresses that still screamed uniform. I pinched the bridge of my nose. Maria and Agnes probably wore the same getup. “What are you doing here?”

Liz tossed back her ice blond hair and narrowed her eyes. “You will be representing our house tonight. We’re here to make you look decent, for once in your life.”

Edith smiled and I instinctively covered my liver. “Don’t f**k this up for us, Celia.”

Liz agreed. “Yeah. Don’t f**k it up.”

There were three reasons I allowed their “help.” The first was that they didn’t have anything sharp or pointy in their hands. The second was that, as much as they made me want to gouge my own eyes out with a spoon, hair and makeup was their thing—not mine. And the third reason—albeit the most selfish on my part—was that if they somehow messed me up, Misha would kill them. That in itself was worth the chance.

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