“Godsdammit, where are you?”
I walked deeper into the room, fear for Maisie knotting my stomach. Then I saw the canvas propped up on an easel next to a window. My heart stopped.
Against the stark white of the canvas, the rust-colored medium was unmistakable. In blood, someone had written: “Checkmate.”
Adam found me a few minutes later. I was sitting on the floor, panting. All around me, splintered easels and art supplies littered the floor like assault victims. My hands were sticky with drying paint and stung from the splinters I’d collected during my brief freak-out.
But now that the anger had passed and fear took its place, I couldn’t rip my eyes from the canvas to acknowledge his arrival. “Sabina?” He knelt beside me.
“She has her.”
Despite my unclear statement, he seemed to get I was talking about Maisie. “Who has Maisie?”
I pointed a trembling finger at the canvas. “Lavinia.”
His eyes turned to look at the canvas. When he saw the message, he cursed under his breath. I could smell his anger rising, intensifying his sandalwood scent. “How do you know?”
I didn’t tell him that this one simple word had told me everything I needed to know. I didn’t tell him that even before I’d sniffed the canvas, I’d known it was Maisie’s blood. And I didn’t tell him that even before I’d found the canvas painted in blood, my gut told me that Lavinia had somehow managed to take Maisie.
Checkmate. The word banged around in my brain like a stray bullet.
“I just know,” I said, finally.
He nodded, seeming to take my word as proof enough. “But why take Maisie? If she could manage to kidnap her under our noses, surely she could have gotten you instead.”
I turned my face on my knee and looked at him. His tone was calm, but his eyes burned with the same mixture of fear and rage boiling inside me. “That would have been too easy. This is punishment. She’s wants me to know she’s running the game now.”
A muscle worked in Adam’s jaw. His fists clenched so hard his knuckles turned white. “Like hell she is. We’ll figure out how to get her back.”
I shook my head. “There’s only one way to get Maisie back now.”
“Sabina,” Adam said in a warning tone. “Don’t say it.”
I raised my head. “It’s the only way.”
“Bullshit. You think Lavinia will just let you trade places with Maisie? They’ll never let both of you out of there alive. It’s bad enough Maisie’s life is in danger. I won’t risk you, too.”
I threw up my hands. “What other choice is there?”
He ran a hand through his hair. “We’ll figure something out. But first we need to break the news to Orpheus.”
He held out a hand and helped me stand. His arms wrapped around me. This wasn’t a romantic gesture, but one of comfort. I accepted the strength he offered, absorbing it into my skin along with his sandalwood scent.
“Am I interrupting something?”
I pulled back to see Slade standing at the door. Adam turned, too, but kept an arm around my shoulder. “Lavinia has Maisie,” I said.
Slade’s face went hard as he cursed out loud. “Gods, I’m sorry.”
“We were just about to go let Orpheus know. We’ve got some decisions to make now.”
“Actually, that’s why I came to talk to you.” He looked pointedly at Adam.
Adam took the hint. I missed the weight of his arm as he withdrew. “I’ll just go tell Orpheus.” He shot Slade a look. “Will you be okay?” he asked me.
I nodded. “Thanks, Adam. I’ll be down in a minute.”
Slade watched Adam as he crossed the room. Earlier, when we’d been rushing into battle, I hadn’t had the luxury of comparing them side by side. But now I was struck by how different they were.
Slade, even covered in the detritus of battle, looked like he belonged more in a boardroom than a battlefield. The years had polished off his rough edges, leaving him lean and distinguished-looking. Adam, with his muscles and goatee, looked tougher—more like a street brawler. But the truth was, each man was dangerous in his own way. Slade with his fangs and assassin background. And Adam with his magic and his experience as a special-ops mage. Looking at both of them now, I realized they were each dangerous to me in different ways, too. But where Slade was dangerous because he knew me so well, Adam was dangerous because he knew who I had the potential to become. But none of that mattered now. Not with my sister missing and my grandmother waiting for a showdown.
Adam shot me one final look before exiting. Slade shut the door behind the mage with a click. “Should I assume I have some competition there?”
I shook my head. I so was not going there right now. “What did you want to talk about?”
He sighed and came forward. “From the looks of things, the mages will be on the move soon.”
I nodded. “I assumed they wouldn’t stay now that the compound is compromised.”
“Will you go with them?”
I shook my head. “I have other business to take care of.”
“You’re not seriously considering going after Lavinia by yourself, are you?”
I crossed my arms. “I haven’t decided yet,” I lied.
Slade raised an eyebrow. He knew me too well to believe that. “Don’t be an idiot, okay? Take someone with you. I’m sure the mage”—he nodded to the door to indicate Adam—“would love to help you.”
I noticed Slade hadn’t offered to help. Maybe I should have felt hurt or at least surprised, but I wasn’t. “You’re staying.” It wasn’t a question. What was the point of pretending I didn’t know he’d already made up his mind?
His expression didn’t change. No guilt crept into his eyes. “You know this isn’t my fight.”
I raised an eyebrow. “If that’s true, why did you fight tonight?”
“Because it was on my turf.” He shrugged. “But I’m not going to tuck tail and run like the council’s planning. I put too many years into building a life here to leave.”
I understood his reasons, but part of me was disappointed. This wasn’t the Slade Corbin I’d come to know. Now he was The Shade. And The Shade looked out only for himself. I crossed my arms. “Fine. See ya.”
“Sabina, don’t be like that.”
“Me?” I laughed humorlessly. “Like it or not, this war is going to affect all the dark races. It’s only a matter of time before it comes right to your door. I thought you were a fighter, Slade.”