“I’m just saying. Maybe it would help to have someone not in the mage fold to talk to. Someone familiar. Someone who’s been in a similar situation.”
I held up a hand. “Wait a second. You’re not seriously suggesting we become friends.”
He looked me dead in the eyes. “That’s exactly what I’m suggesting.”
“Ha! Please recall a few minutes ago when I told you I don’t trust you. Isn’t trust the foundation of all friendship?”
He tilted his head. “You don’t believe that any more than I do. You can’t ever truly know or trust anyone, can you? Look where that got you with the Dominae. You trusted them your whole life, and look what happened. At least with me, you know what you’re getting into. I’m a son-of-a-bitch, no doubt about it. But I also know this town, and I understand the politics among the races. I could be a very good friend to have.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. There was a catch, of course. “What’s in it for you?”
He took a sip from the scotch Earl set in front of him. “You said yourself you thought we could be partners. Maybe we should explore that option.”
“What kind of partners?”
He shrugged and set down his tumbler. “I need someone I can trust with some sensitive jobs. Light stuff, nothing you couldn’t handle.”
“Ah,” I said. “Why me? Guy like you probably has dozens of flunkies begging to do your dirty work.”
“No one with the kind of training you’ve had. Plus, you’re new in town. No loyalties or history with any of my competitors.”
I sighed and nodded. Before I teamed up with Slade on my first official assassination, the Dominae had used me as an Enforcer. Shaking down vamps who hadn’t paid their tithes. Roughing up those who needed a message to get back into line. So I knew exactly the kind of work he was talking about. Probably, he also wouldn’t mind putting my assassin skills to work every now and then to knock off a competitor or two.
I didn’t trust Slade. We’d established that. But I had to admit to myself his offer was tempting. After all, my savings would run out eventually, and I currently had no source of income. Padding my nest egg with some side work intrigued me. But working for Slade didn’t. Besides that, I found myself cringing at the idea of making a living as an Enforcer again. One of the appeals of coming to New York was getting a fresh start. If I agreed to Slade’s offer, I’d be right back where I started thirty years ago.
“Look, Slade, I understand there might be certain benefits to the partnership you’re offering. But I’m gonna pass.”
His eyes narrowed. “Gonna pass on working for me, or on being friends in general?”
I stopped and thought about it. Making an enemy of Slade wouldn’t do me any favors. I had to play this the right way. “Working for you. I’m fine right now. That might change at some point, but for now I don’t need the work. As for being friends, well, I’m willing to work on not wanting to kick your ass every time I see you.”
Slade laughed. “Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.”
I shrugged and took a sip of my drink. A small smile hovered on my lips. Though I wasn’t ready for Slade to be my BFF—far from it—it was kind of nice hanging out with a vampire again. Especially one who wasn’t loyal to the Dominae.
“So I guess it would be too much to ask for the benefits you mentioned earlier, huh?” His expression was serious, but the devilish light in his eye hinted he was trying to provoke me.
“You would be correct. But I’m sure one of your nymphs wouldn’t mind helping you out.”
Slade set his elbows on the table. His posture was relaxed, as if he was enjoying our banter as much as I was starting to. “I prefer my bedmates a little less fragile. But then, you already knew that.”
A flash of Slade slamming into me against a wall pushed its way into my mind. I blinked away the image. Definitely not a healthy train of thought.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “In my experience, nymphs are stronger than they look.” I was referring, of course, to Vinca. Another unhealthy train of thought, but a damned sight better than thinking about f**king Slade again.
At that moment, a door to the back rooms opened and Giguhl stumbled out looking dazed, with a blue satin demi-bra hanging around his neck. The stupid grin on his face indicated the nymphs he’d disappeared with weren’t too fragile, either.
“On that note,” I said, “I better get my demon home. He’s had a big night.”
Slade nodded. “Sabina?”
I stopped. “Yeah?”
“I’m glad you don’t want to kick my ass anymore.”
I allowed the smile to show this time. “Just make sure it stays that way.”
He saluted me with his scotch. “Yes, ma’am.”
Our first stop after leaving Vein was to grab some cash for the cab ride home. I finally found one on Forty-second Street near the flashing lights of Times Square. But when I entered my pass code into the ATM, the thing started beeping manically.
“What’s wrong?” Giguhl asked, his voice muffled by the carrier and the cacophony of Times Square at night. He’d been so spent from his quality time with Tansy and Cinnamon that he didn’t even argue about switching back to cat from for the trip home.
I slammed a palm on the machine. “It ate my card!”
I’d have chosen a more colorful response. As it was, I shocked several passersby with a string of invectives against the Dominae. They’d obviously found my secret accounts. Freakin’ great. Now I couldn’t get to any of my money.
“What are you going to do?”
I turned my back on the traitorous machine. “I have no clue.” A passing tourist shot me an odd look for speaking to my handbag, so I ducked my head and kept walking.
My boots struck an angry percussion on the sidewalk. A chilly wind whipped down the street, bringing with it the sour scent of sewer. On the street, cabs honked like angry geese. And on the sidewalk, people bustled past like determined arrows headed for a target.
Freaking New York, I thought. Los Angeles had smog and traffic, too. But it also had a temperate climate, beaches, and adequate parking.
Giguhl shifted in the bag. “Sabina?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Where are we going?”
“I have no idea.” Pressure built in my head, my lungs. I wondered if this was what the proverbial fish out of water felt like.