“So,” he said. “The fight went well. Don’t worry about Romulus. The fight was fair. He can save face with the pack by claiming I stopped the fight.”

He sat in his leather executive chair and motioned us to take the chairs opposite. I sat and took stock of the changes in Slade. Thirty years ago, he’d been an assassin with a chip on his shoulder. Looking at him now, though, it was clear the years had smoothed out the rough edges and buffed them to a shine. I’d bet money the charcoal pinstripe number was designer. His hair was darker, too, just a shade darker than the light auburn of his younger days. His posture was that of a man accustomed to calling the shots. But his devilish sense of humor lurked under the powerful veneer. Okay, fine, he was still hot. Also still an ass**le, I quickly reminded myself.

Giguhl cleared his throat and nudged me. I realized then Slade had been staring at me, too, and the room had gone silent. “What?” I asked him.

“Damn, it’s good to see you,” he said. “When the Lone Wolves told me who kicked their asses in the park, I thought they were joking. But the description they gave me couldn’t have been anyone else.”

That statement told me he knew why I’d left Los Angeles, but not exactly why I’d come to New York. Something told me to keep my sister out of this discussion.

“Well, I wish I could say the same—about seeing you again, I mean.”

The corner of Slade’s mouth lifted. “That’s the past talking. We’re not so different now, you and me.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“I defected from the Dominae. You betrayed them.”

I shook my head. “That’s different.”

“Is it?” he asked with a lifted brow.

“So I can tell the Hekate Council Sabina’s debt has been paid?” Rhea interrupted.

Slade sighed and grimaced. “Not exactly. There is still the issue of the unpaid blood tax.”

“Blood tax? What the hell is that?” I asked, scooting to the edge of my seat in case I needed to sock him again.

“All vampires must pay a blood tax if they want to feed in my city.”

Rhea elbowed me to keep quiet. “Not to split hairs here, but this is the Hekate Council’s city. And considering who Sabina’s sister is, I’m sure you can make an exception in her case.”

Slade’s eyes swiveled to me. “Sister?”

I cursed under my breath. Time to change the subject before he realized the sister in question was a high priestess of the council and the oracle of New York. A guy like Slade? He’d find some way to use that bit of intel in his favor. “It’s a long story. And Rhea’s right. I shouldn’t have to pay the blood tax.”

“And why is that?”

“A. The only time I tried to feed I was a victim of suckus interuptus.”

“How so?”

“The guy shot me,” I admitted.

Slade threw back his head and laughed. “Priceless!”

My cheeks flamed, but I forged ahead. “B. The Hekate Council has requested I forego feeding from humans for the time being. So there’s no reason for me to pay your tax.”

“You have already bitten a human in my territory, therefore you owe me a retroactive payment of two grand.”

“What?” I yelled. “That’s highway robbery!”

“Come now, Sabina. Surely two grand is spare change for someone with an assassin’s salary.”

I gritted my teeth. “As you already pointed out, I don’t work for the Dominae anymore.”

Slade nodded, seeming unimpressed with my predicament. Knowing Slade, he knew every last detail of what had happened. And I’m sure he loved the irony. I’d been pissed at him not just for taking my money, but also for abandoning the Dominae. And now here I’d committed the worse crime against them—betrayal.

“Anyway,” I continued, “Seeing as how I’m out of a job for the time being, I’m finding it hard to justify paying that much money for feeding rights I have no intention of using.”

“Then I’m afraid we’ve reached an impasse,” Slade said. “Unless…”

I rolled my eyes at his baiting. Rhea cleared her throat—a warning to hear Slade out. “Unless what?” I sighed, not bothering to hide the impatience in my tone.

Slade rubbed his lower lip, thinking. “How about a compromise? You let your demon here compete in my Demon Fight Club, and I’ll forgive the tax.”

Giguhl stiffened next to me. I glared at him to keep quiet. “What the hell is Demon Fight Club?”

He leaned back in the chair, looking pleased with himself. “It’s exactly what it sounds like. Two demons meet in the ring and duke it out. The customers love it, and I love the money they bring in.”

Giguhl shifted next to me. I glanced at him. He was trying to look casual, but his posture told me he was interested. However, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of spending any more time with Slade than necessary. “I don’t know—”

“I think it sounds fu—” I shot Giguhl a glare, cutting him off.

“I need to think about it,” I said to both Slade and Giguhl.

Slade nodded. “Think about it, but let me know ASAP. If you say no, you’ll be paying interest for every day you made me wait.”

“I said no, Giguhl.”

“C’mon, Sabina.” The cat hadn’t shut up since we left Vein. He stuck his little bald head up through the open zipper of the bag. The partition between us and the cabbie afforded enough privacy that I felt comfortable allowing it. But if the cat didn’t stop his bitching soon, I was going to change my mind.

“I said we’d discuss it. Later.” I turned and watched the New York streets zoom by. Rhea had been quiet since we left the bar.

“You’re just being stubborn.” He crossed his arms, clearly telling me he thought I was a jerk for not liking his new buddy.

I sighed and looked at him. “It’s not that. It’s the principle of the matter. I shouldn’t have to pay Slade a dime.”

Rhea sighed. “Sabina, I hate to break it to you, but Slade is well within his rights to demand compensation. And I think Orpheus will agree when I tell him what happened.”

I cursed under my breath. “I guess it’s a good thing Orpheus isn’t my leader, then, isn’t it?”

Rhea tilted her head. “Quit fooling yourself, Sabina. You can’t expect the council to offer you protection and training without them expecting you to follow their rules.”

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