We snuck in and took seats near the back, not wanting to disturb the proceedings. Our news was bad enough without interrupting not one, not two, but three dark-race leaders. I was struck by how much things had changed in the last six months. Back then, a gathering of the two races would have ended in magical fireworks and copious bloodshed. But now they all sat around as civilized as can be, discussing the agenda for peace.
Adam, Alexis, Slade, and I hadn’t spoken much since leaving Tiny’s club. Alexis and I shot each other occasional glares. Adam glowered at both of us. And Slade ignored everyone, choosing instead to remain stonily silent. We’d forced him to come along both as a witness to Tiny’s demise and to answer to the Despina and Orpheus about his interference.
By the time Orpheus and the Despina hung up with the Queen and summoned us forward, our resentments simmered like a pungent stew. The pair behind the table were oblivious to this, of course. They still hadn’t looked up from the paperwork they were going over.
“What news?” Orpheus said in the clipped tone of a man too busy to worry about niceties.
Alexis and I bookended the males. She posed with her arms at her sides like a good little solider. I chose a less formal posture with my arms crossed and my hip cocked at a rebellious angle. Beside me, Slade’s resentment radiated off him in waves. Knowing that none of us wanted to be the first to speak, Adam stepped in. “We’ve just returned from Tiny Malone’s club.”
“And?” Tanith looked up. She saw me first and frowned. “Sabina, what happened to your hair?” Orpheus’s gaze shot up then. My hand flew toward my head. I’d totally forgotten about the stupid glamour. But before I could answer, she saw Slade. “Mr. Corbin? What are you doing here?”
Slade cleared his throat and stepped forward. “Despina. High Councilman.” He bowed slightly but offered no explanation.
Orpheus threw down his pen and sighed. “Gods, please tell me there hasn’t been another murder.”
“There hasn’t been another murder. Not exactly.”
“Explain yourself,” Tanith snapped.
Alexis butted in. “We went to Mr. Malone’s club as instructed,” she said. “However, when we arrived, Mr. Corbin was already interrogating the suspect.”
Orpheus’s gaze zeroed in on Slade. “You were told to stay out of the investigation.”
Slade nodded to acknowledge the truth of that statement. “I’d hoped that securing a confession from Tiny would help redeem my earlier missteps on this case.”
“You hoped to redeem yourself by disobeying a direct order?” the Despina said, her tone cold. “I don’t follow that logic.”
Slade shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Orpheus’s frown deepened. “Lazarus, what happened when you discovered Mr. Corbin at the club?”
I raised a hand. “Actually, I was the one who walked in on their meeting. Unfortunately, my arrival distracted Slade and Mr. Malone was able to push a panic button to alert his bouncers he was in trouble.” Slade shot me a sharp look, as if he was surprised that I’d downplayed his screwup. “They shot first. Mr. Corbin and I returned fire. Adam and Alexis assisted and together we killed six of Tiny’s men.”
“Any innocents harmed?” Orpheus asked.
I shook my head. “No, sir. The damage was contained.” I swallowed, knowing this next part was going to open Pandora’s box. “We then proceeded to interrogate Mr. Malone. He denied any connection to the murders.”
The Despina snorted. “Of course he did.”
“However,” Alexis said, cutting in, “he did admit to trying to incite rebellion against Mr. Corbin due to his connection to the Despina.”
Tanith’s eyebrow lifted. “Oh?”
“Yes, ma’am,” she continued. “He was quite adamantly opposed to the idea of New York’s vampires being under your control.”
“So he was the one behind the murders,” Tanith concluded.
“Not necessarily,” I said, unable to help myself. “Having strong opinions doesn’t make one a murderer.”
Tanith arched a brow at me. “You disagree that his subversive opinions don’t indicate a motive?”
I crossed my arms. “Oh, I think Tiny had plenty of motive. That’s not the issue. My problem is that motive is not the same as proof.”
Orpheus sat up straighter. “Do we need to bring Mr. Malone in for a more persuasive interrogation after all?”
“Unfortunately that’s not possible.” I jerked my head toward Alexis. “The Enforcer over there killed him.”
“That’s a bit of an oversimplification, isn’t it?” Alexis replied. “He all but admitted he was behind the murders.”
I rounded on her. “It’s the ‘all but’ that concerns me. The only thing he admitted to was that he thought Tanith is a bitch, which wasn’t exactly a shocking revelation.”
Orpheus gasped. “Sabina! That is quite enough. You will apologize to the Despina immediately.”
I glared at him and then at Tanith. It was no secret to anyone in the room that I was not her biggest fan. In fact, the only reason I helped her gain her position as Despina was that it happened to fit it with my plan of killing Lavinia Kane. Regardless, insulting her publicly wasn’t going to encourage her to listen to my side of this argument. “Despina, I apologize if I offended you by repeating Mr. Malone’s insult.”
She nodded regally, but her eyes were hard. “I fail to see why you’re so upset, Sabina. Alexis may have acted rashly, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t ultimately do the right thing.”
“If I may, I’d like to point out that our objective was not to execute Mr. Malone, guilty or no,” Adam said. “You and the Despina instructed us to gather information and, if we deemed he was the likely culprit, to bring him to you. Regardless of whether he ultimately would have been executed, Miss Vega was out of line.”
I shot the mancy a smile for taking my side. Adam wasn’t a hothead like me. If he thought Alexis was justified he’d let me know.
Orpheus heaved a sigh. “Do you have any other suspects?”
Adam hesitated. “No, sir.”
“And isn’t it true that during your investigation, no additional evidence was found to indicate that another might be responsible?”
“Actually, sir,” Adam said with great reluctance. “Just before Alexis shot Mr. Malone, he indicated he believed the Despina was behind the murders.”
Silence. Then, after a few tense seconds, the air filled with a rusty-sounding screech. “Oh, that’s priceless,” Tanith said between chortles. “Orpheus, can you believe Mr. Malone had the nerve to say such a thing?”
Orpheus wasn’t quite as amused as the Despina. “Well, it certainly does shed new light on Alexis’s actions, doesn’t it?”
Tanith’s laughter cut off abruptly. “You aren’t serious,” she said, her voice hard. “What possible motive would I have to kill a human or a mage?”
“The human could have been a botched feeding,” I offered.
Tanith’s reptilian gaze glinted at me. “I assure you that if I were to lower myself to feed from a common human, I would not botch the job.”
She had me there. I knew that the Dominae all refused to drink any but the finest blood from human virgins or genetically superior specimens. “You’ve got me there, but who’s to say you didn’t kill him just for fun?”
“I will admit I’ve killed humans for sport.” She shrugged. “But that doesn’t explain why I’d risk peace negotiations by killing a mage. How would that benefit me?”
Orpheus rubbed his lower lip thoughtfully. “She has a point. Tanith knows that screwing me over will result in me unleashing the full brunt of mage magic on her and every vampire in existence.” He said the words conversationally, but the threat in them glowed like neon. “Besides, are we really going to believe the ravings of a known criminal over the Despina?”
“Plus,” Alexis said, “the Despina was in a meeting with Orpheus the night the human was murdered.”
Orpheus inclined his head to confirm Alexis’s claim. “She’s correct.”
Adam nodded. “I apologize, Despina, but you yourself said we should explore every angle.”
Tanith lowered her head regally. “Understood. Now that that’s settled, I believe you were telling us you had found no other evidence.”
“But that doesn’t mean that evidence doesn’t exist,” I pointed out.
“Mr. Corbin?” Tanith said, ignoring me. “Did you find any additional clues in your club?”
He shook his head. “No, Despina.”
“And should we assume by your presence at Mr. Malone’s club earlier this evening that you also believed he was the culprit?”
“Yes. Of all the vampires under my jurisdiction, Tiny was the most vocal about his opposition. I had reports from more than one witness who heard Mr. Malone say that he wanted to take me down.”
“Wait,” I said. “Something’s been bothering me about Tiny as a suspect. If all he wanted to do was make Slade look bad, why would he go to such lengths?”
Orpheus frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Think about it. The human in Central Park wasn’t just murdered. He was brutalized and dismembered. That level of violence was either orchestrated to make the cops freak out or it was done by a monster who couldn’t control himself. And let’s not forget the mage’s murder was over the top on the violence scale with bonus Dominae symbolism thrown in for good measure.”
“So?” Alexis said. “You know as well as I do that most hired killers aren’t exactly the most stable beings. Maybe he decided to play with his food before carrying out Tiny’s orders.”
“Right, and now we’re supposed to believe that if Tiny contracted this, the killer’s just going to stop?”