“No,” Juan Carlos said, grasping Daria by the face and drawing her in close so they were nose to nose and all she could see was his cold eyes. “You have betrayed us.”
Her bottom lip quivered. I’d never seen a vampire approach tears. “I didn’t betray you.”
“To betray the Tribunal is to betray me.”
“Don’t you understand? He has too much power. I did this to restore balance,” she pleaded.
“You did it to seize power,” Sig interjected. “You didn’t want to divide my power, you wanted it for yourself.”
Daria kept her eyes on Juan Carlos, and he pushed her face away in disgust.
“Death is too kind for her,” he said to Sig.
Sig had released Daria and was standing with his back to her, looking down at me. Gently, he placed a finger under my chin and raised my face to get a better look at me. Just one touch, and the coiled springs inside me that had been prepared for another fight fell loose. My whole body felt like a sack of broken, disjointed pieces I didn’t know how to put back together. I sagged, and he caught me.
“She hasn’t got long,” he told Juan Carlos. “We need to get her to the Oracle.”
Brigit skirted the group and took me from Sig, propping me up effortlessly. The Tribunal leader turned back to Daria.
“You sought to hurt me by attacking that which I hold dearest?” He hauled back as if he might hit her, and she flinched. “It wasn’t enough you planned to kill me?”
“Her death would weaken you,” she said meekly.
“And your death will weaken us all,” Sig replied.
“Why? You have shown none.”
“I meant to spare her.”
“Only when she could not be killed!” Sig bellowed. It was the first time I’d ever heard him raise his voice, and it chilled me to the marrow. I leaned my face into Brigit to shut it out. “You only thought to keep her alive because you realized she might prove some further use to you.” He grabbed Daria by the throat and lifted her off the ground.
Even though she didn’t need to breathe, she strained against him, kicking futilely at the air and clawing at his hands while his grip began to crush her windpipe. His skin was a patchwork of bloody ribbons when he threw her to the grass.
“You will be confined until a suitable punishment is agreed upon.”
Juan Carlos nodded his smug agreement. No one had ever explained confinement to me, but I’d always gathered it was considered a fate worse than death. Daria was apparently among the group who believed this.
“No,” she screamed. “I won’t go.”
“You don’t get to make those decisions anymore,” Juan Carlos taunted. There was something hauntingly sad in his countenance.
“Kill me,” she begged, her words directed to Juan Carlos, who turned away.
“No,” Sig said, his voice flat and emotionless.
She got to her feet, faltering on the grass in her heels, and continued to look imploringly at Juan Carlos, holding her hands out to him as if begging for something. When he showed her no sympathy, she swung back to me. There was nothing human about her face.
“This is all your fault.”
“Okay,” I whispered, still leaning against Brigit, blood seeping out of me from the multitude of wounds covering my body.
My acceptance of her accusation enraged her more. With more speed than I would have thought she still possessed, she ripped me free of Brigit’s hold. My ward attempted to pull the feral vampire off me, but Daria was of a singular purpose now. She wanted to die and she was going to take me with her.
She tried to latch on to my neck, but I’d come to expect this as the first move for any blood-frenzied vampire. I smashed my elbow across her face, and her neck snapped to the side. She was still pushing on a forward course, and the momentum of my hit caused her to trip on her high heels.
This was why I’d learned to always wear flats to a fight.
Her feet tangled with mine, and she grabbed hold of me, taking me with her as she tumbled down the hill. When we stopped, my head was against Noriko’s thigh and the sword was still in my hand. Daria had already found her footing and was standing over me with a victorious leer.
“You want to die?” I asked.
She said nothing and darted in for the killing bite instead. I was anticipating it and was already swinging my arm upward before she dove. The two motions came together with the precision of a well-oiled machine. Her neck fell through the path of the sword, and when her body came down on top of me, her head was watching from a few feet away.
I lay gasping, unable to find the strength to push her dead weight off me.
“Help,” I croaked.
It was Nolan of all people who got to me first, pulling the headless corpse off me and lifting me from the ground as if I were weightless. He was joined by the three vampires, and Juan Carlos checked on Daria’s body to ensure she was dead. He seemed satisfied.
“Sorry,” I told him.
“You didn’t want her dead.”
Juan Carlos smiled, and I wished he hadn’t. It reminded me of looking at a demented jack-o’-lantern. His joviality was more sinister than his seriousness. “It no longer matters. You’ve done the job we asked of you as a council, and I believe we can consider your warrant fulfilled.”
Sig watched our exchange and tried to take me from Nolan, but the boy refused to hand me over.
“She promised to protect me,” Nolan explained. “The least I can do is the same for her now.”
Sig looked surprised by the boy’s courage and didn’t argue. After this, I would have to stop thinking of Nolan as a boy. I sagged in his arms.
“Holden is safe now?” I asked to no one in particular.
“Yes,” Sig confirmed.
“Okay,” I said, smiling, and then the world slipped into darkness.
Three weeks had passed since my trip to Rhinebeck, and August had come to New York City.
The air outside was steamy hot and out for blood. News reports were discussing a wave of brownouts, and people by the dozens were succumbing to heat exhaustion. But in my apartment below street level, with a newly installed air conditioner humming away under its full power, I was satisfied to wait out the heat.
In the weeks following Daria’s death, my only contact with the council had been through Brigit. She told me that when she awoke in her shower and remembered her dream, she’d called Sig and relayed my message. While he would have been right to doubt a three-month-old vampire who claimed to have spoken to me in a dream, he had already received word from Christof, the witch. Christof, it seems, had received a fairly insistent phone call from a certain werewolf lieutenant insisting the witch owed restitution to a half-breed by the name of Secret McQueen.
Sig and Juan Carlos picked up Brigit, who refused to tell them where she was going unless she could come with them. The three were met en route by the witch, who relayed to them the confession he’d been able to overhear when I broke the window.
Brigit had driven Nolan and me back to the city in my car, and I hadn’t spoken to Sig since. Nor had I heard from Holden since Juan Carlos pardoned him. My sleep had been peacefully blank.
Plus, I had a new roommate to distract me from any concerns I had about the council. A roommate who was currently trying to annoy me to death.
“Where is it?” I demanded, digging through the fridge.
Since Desmond had moved in, my fridge had filled itself with strange things like vegetables and milk. My freezer was packed with frozen steaks and burger patties. My cupboards had spices and peanut butter in them. Plates and cutlery were being used. The kitchen smelled daily of cooking food.
“Where is what?” Desmond’s innocent voice replied from the living room. He was teasing me. I could tell by his tone he knew exactly what I was talking about.
“You know what.”
He appeared in the doorway. “Tell me why you need it, and I’ll tell you where it is.”
“It’s brand new,” I whined, shutting the door and opening the freezer.
“Cold,” he said, then laughed at his unintentional joke and decided to take it all the way. “Freezing.”
“Hilarious.” I slammed the door and stomped into the living room.
“Seriously, why do you need it?”
“I just want to know where it is.” I knelt on the floor and looked under the couch. Rio’s bright eyes reflected back at me.
“Breow?” she said.
“No. Not you.”
“Purrrrrrr,” she said.
I grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and pulled her out. She purred in my arms while I petted her absently and stalked around the apartment. I heard the hall closet open and ran out of the bedroom still clutching the cat.
Desmond was holding my brand new SIG P229. He had the gun in one hand and the cartridge in the other.
“Now you know where it is.”
I tried to act nonchalant, which lasted all of two seconds before I placed Rio on the floor and jumped for the gun. He knew it was coming because he held it out of my reach.
We’d been having this same fight for over a week. I thought I was ready to go back to work, and I knew Keaty would be thrilled to have me return. Nolan had begun to work for him in the meantime, and though the boy was a much more suitable student than I had been, I also knew Keaty needed me.
Desmond, on the other hand, loved to point out that my wounds from the silver katana were still healing, and he as Queen’s Guard decided it wasn’t wise for me to go back to work just yet.
I kept scrambling for the gun until I managed to irritate the healing scar on my ribs.
“Ugh.” I stopped fighting for the gun and placed a hand on my side. “Fine.”
“Don’t make me start hiding it outside the apartment,” he threatened.
“Don’t make me drain you in your sleep.”
He pfft’d at me and angled me back to the couch, leaving the gun on the hall table for the time being. I had to admit, once I’d gotten used to having Desmond here, I remembered how pleasant it was to have someone next to me when I woke up every night. It was different than living with Gabriel had been, because with Desmond I could keep blood in the fridge and he wouldn’t find it weird.