“Suck it up, trampire,” the demon cat said from the passenger seat. “At least your shorn testicles won’t be swaying in the frigid breeze.”
“You wouldn’t have the problem if you’d worn the snowsuit I bought you.”
“It was pink!”
I bit my lip to keep from laughing out loud. “Real males wear pink, G. It’s a sign of confidence in your masculinity.”
“The only thing I’m confident of is that you’re a sadistic hose beast.”
I shot the demon a look that had him easing back into his seat with his claws raised. “Jeez, sorry. You’re so touchy.”
“Bite me, demon.”
He grew so quiet that I dragged my eyes off the road to see what was wrong. Silence and Giguhl usually meant trouble. But when I looked over, his feline lips were spread into a wide smile.
“I’ve missed this.”
“This. Us. It’s been so long since we’ve hung out, just the two of us.”
“You’re crazy.” I shifted my eyes back to the road. “We’re together all the time.”
“That’s not the same and you know it.” His paw touched my hand on the armrest. “It’s been too long since we’ve spent quality time together.”
“Dude, stop. You’re freaking me out.”
He laughed. “Oh, c’mon. Can’t a magepire and her demon minion share a tender moment of intimacy without it being weird?”
I shot him a look.
“Okay, that sounded wrong. But you know what I mean. You’re my best friend, Sabina.”
I cleared my throat against the sudden emotion welling there. Maybe it was the stress catching up with me. Or maybe, just maybe, I couldn’t believe my luck. Who knew that the same demon who tried to kill me the first time we met would become my best friend. “Back at ya, Mr. Giggles.”
At that point, I pulled the Escalade off from the main road and onto the dirt track leading to the Crossroad’s massive gates. I jumped through the security hoops, which took an extra five minutes because of the heightened alert everyone was on for the festival.
Soon, we rolled through the gates and wound our way through the forest to the manor house. Now that we were there, all of the qualms I’d been ignoring rushed up like bile.
Rhea had left an excited message on my cell that afternoon, reporting that Maisie had spent another day locked in her studio. Even better, she’d informed Rhea she would be ready to share a prophecy at the Imbolc rites. I’d tried to call her back to get details, but I guess she was too busy with last-minute tasks to take the call. Regardless, knowing Maisie was prepared to offer a prophecy went a long way toward easing my worries. There were other issues, of course, but I was happy to have one less crisis to worry about.
Up ahead, the Crossroads manor glowed warmly against the dark wintry sky. Dozens of cars crammed the front drive, so we parked in the grass. As we approached, I pulled my coat tighter around me, both against the cold and the feeling of dread. Not only was I about to see Adam for the first time since our blowup, but also too many things could go wrong once the festival began.
“Relax,” Giguhl said from my arms. “In a few hours, the dark races will finally be at peace. You should be happy.”
He was right. That night was supposed to be a celebration. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were all fooling ourselves. But I reminded myself that was just habit talking. I’d spent so long expecting nasty surprises that it was hard to break the habit. I forced myself to relax.
“Peace,” I said, testing the sound of it. The word felt foreign and sticky on my tongue.
We’d just made it inside the house when Rhea ran by. When she saw us, she skidded to a halt and doubled back. “Orpheus and Tanith are looking for you.”
I tensed. “Is everything okay?”
“I think so.” She nodded. “But they wanted to see you before the rites began.”
“Okay,” I said, relaxing. “How’s Maisie?”
“All good, as far as I can tell. She spent the last two days up in her studio painting, so…” She crossed her fingers. “But listen, I’ve got to go deal with a minor crisis with Queen Maeve.”
“What’s up with her?” I shot Rhea a sympathetic glance, but really, better her deal with the Queen than me.
Rhea waved a hand. “She probably just wants to be sure the pen she signs the treaty with is filled with the blood of a virgin unicorn.” She winked. “You know, standard stuff.”
I laughed as I watched her go. If Rhea of all people wasn’t worried about the night, then I felt I could relax, too. After all, like Giguhl said, it was a party.
I hefted the cat higher. “All right, let’s go see what Orpheus and the Ice Vamp want.”
We found them in Orpheus’s office on the second floor. The two leaders stood in front of the massive bay window behind his desk, looking out over the festival. Already, hundreds of dark-race beings wandered the grounds. Light from the huge bonfire and dozens of torches formed a golden dome over the revelers.
Orpheus looked every inch the distinguished leader of a magical race. He wore a white chiton, the ceremonial uniform of all members of the Hekate Council. The golden staff in his right hand identified him as the High Councilman.
Even Tanith had shed her matronly suit in favor of a more festive ensemble. She’d donned a black satin gown with a high-necked collar. Her frizzy, dark auburn hair had been tamed into soft curls around her face. She’d obviously invested in some image consulting since I’d last seen her because her expertly applied makeup toned down the harsh, mannish features until they looked—dare I say it?—handsome with soft feminine edges.
I cleared my throat to alert them of my presence. They both turned. Tanith snapped her fingers and another figure stepped out of the corner of the room. I went still. It had been almost half a year since I’d seen Persephone. Still a beauty, she wore a satin gown in dove gray. I couldn’t help but think the color choice symbolized her position as the Despina’s shadow. She had not been allowed to take part in the treaty negotiations and I assumed her presence at the signing was only a formality.
“Sabina,” she said, her voice quiet.
I dipped my head. I had to catch myself before I knelt before the two ancient vampires. I owed them no allegiance. Not anymore. “Persephone, you look well.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. Technically, her features were as perfect as ever. But something about her submissive posture and the shadows behind her eyes dulled the shine of her beauty.
While I was surprised to see Persephone, Alexis’s presence wasn’t a shock. Instead of her normal leather-and-latex fashion disaster, she wore a simple black velvet gown. The choice was both tasteful and surprising. But if I had to guess, her thighs were so strapped with weaponry she’d practically clank when she walked. She met my eyes across the room and raised an eyebrow. I responded with a bitch-please expression I’d learned from Giguhl.
Orpheus stepped forward. “Sabina, thank you for seeing us. I know holding a business meeting right before a ritual is quite unconventional but we needed to finalize this one last detail before the signing could proceed.”
I frowned. “Okay,” I said slowly. Why the hell did they need me here for a business meeting?
The Despina took over then. “As you know, we have relieved Mr. Corbin of his duties as the leader of New York’s nonmage races. He will remain active in the Black Light District, but he will not have the authority to negotiate policy or mediate disputes. Orpheus will take a more active role in the werewolf and fae populations, but the vampires will fall directly under my leadership going forward.”
I nodded but said nothing. We’d been over this before. What I wanted to know was why they invited me here to watch them give Slade’s job to Alexis.
“I am restructuring my government so all the states will have a vampire governor. Because New York is a special case, given the dominance of mages in this region, my choice of governor here is especially important. The candidate needs to not only be familiar with vampire culture and political issues, but also be sympathetic to the needs and culture of the mages.”
“So where do I come in?” Gods help me, I knew. I knew what she was going to say before her mouth tilted up in a let’s-make-a-deal smile.
Orpheus smiled broadly and rushed to speak over the Despina. “We’d like you to become the governor of New York.”
I went totally still. So still that Giguhl shifted restlessly in worry. I released my hold so he could jump to the ground. Whether he wanted down because he wanted to get out of the way in case I went ballistic or because he wanted to watch the fireworks from a better vantage point, I didn’t know. Dumbfounded, I looked around the room, from Orpheus’s and Tanith’s self-satisfied smiles to Persephone’s pained grimace to… Alexis’s red-faced rage.
“Despina!” she said. “You promised that position to me!”
Tanith’s head whipped around so fast I was surprised it didn’t fly off her neck. “Silence!”
Alexis blanched. She shot me a look so full of venom the air shimmered green around her. But the Despina’s barked order made her back down like a good little soldier.
I couldn’t help it. The irony was too delicious. The first laugh escaped before I could stop it. And then I was doubled over with deep belly laughs.
“Sabina!” Orpheus scolded.
I held up a finger and tried to catch my breath. My stomach cramped and my jaw ached.
“I believe once you have a moment to think it over, you’ll recognize you’re the perfect candidate,” Tanith said in her all-business tone. “Your experience with both the Council and my own government gives you insight into the special situation that exists for New York’s vampires.”
I waved a hand in the air, a silent plea for her to stop before I peed my pants. She and Orpheus shared a look that implied they worried about my sanity. Through the tears running down my cheeks, I saw Giguhl crouched on the floor in front of me. He looked like he wasn’t sure whether to join me or go get help.