Instead of arguing with me or telling me I was overreacting, like he normally did, Orpheus put a hand on my arm and shot me a smile. “I appreciate you sharing your concerns. But let me ask you this: If you don’t approve of Alexis, whom would you suggest?”

I raised my chin. “Slade.”

“Sabina—”

I held up a hand. “No, hear me out. If we all agree that Tiny was the culprit, then we also have to admit that Slade was set up. Punishing him for Tiny’s manipulations is unfair.”

“Sabina, I understand what you’re saying. I’ve worked with The Shade for years and have always found him capable. But like it or not, his ability to lead effectively was compromised by Tiny’s scheme. We need a strong, competent leader to guide the city’s vampires into the new era.” He smiled to soften the unfairness of the situation. “And I’m afraid Slade Corbin isn’t the man for that job.”

“But you think Alexis is?”

“I didn’t say that.” Orpheus’s expression became shuttered. “Look, the Despina went home to Los Angeles for a few days to handle some pressing business. No decision will be made until she returns in time for the Imbolc festival. In the meantime, I’m afraid you’re going to just have to trust me on this.”

Trust? How could I trust him when he’d proven himself so easily swayed in the past? But what choice did I have? Throwing a fit and starting a fight would only make his mind more closed to other possibilities. Plus, like his decisions or not, Orpheus always tried to do what was in the best interest for the entire race. I might not always like the results, but I couldn’t fault his intentions. So instead of arguing with him, I sighed. “Okay, since you trusted Rhea and me to take care of Maisie, I’ll trust you to not f**k up in choosing a good leader.”

His lip twitched. “Thanks so much for that vote of confidence.”

After my discussion with Orpheus, I returned to the apartment for a quick shower before Georgia and I headed out to find Michael. She sat on the couch, dressed and ready to go when I walked in.

“There you are,” she said, sounding nervous. “I was worried you’d bailed.”

“Just grabbed a quick workout. I need to change and then we can go,” I said. “Where are Giguhl and Pussy Willow?”

“They had to go audition some new girls for the Roller Derby team. They have another bout in a couple of nights.”

I frowned. “Why do they need new girls?”

Georgia looked uncomfortable. “If our talk with Michael doesn’t go well, they’ll be down two players.”

I nodded but didn’t comment. I didn’t want to entertain the possibility of the talk not having a positive outcome. “I’ll be right back.”

When I reached my room, I noticed right away something was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew Adam had been there. I stepped back into the hall. “Hey, Georgia?”

“Yeah?”

“Was Adam here?”

A beat. “Yes. He came to get some clothes while you were gone. I’m sorry I didn’t mention it but I didn’t want to upset you.”

It was a good thing she couldn’t see me from the living room because her news made me slump against the wall in defeat. Had Adam been watching the apartment, hoping I’d leave so he could sneak in? Was he really that determined not to be near me?

“Sabina?” Georgia called, waiting for an answer.

Forcing a casual tone, I called back, “Did he say where he’s staying?”

“No,” she admitted. “He didn’t say much at all, actually.”

“Okay, thanks.”

I escaped into my room and headed to the bathroom. Next to the sink, a glaring blank spot where Adam’s toothbrush normally sat flashed like neon. It was such a small thing, the absence, but it felt huge.

I forced myself to turn away before I took an inventory of everything else he’d taken. Soon, the shower’s hot spray eased my tense muscles. The soap scrubbed off the stink and sweat, like a baptism. Too bad it couldn’t wash away the regret.

24

Georgia and I walked into Vein an hour later. I’d made a few calls after my shower and tracked Michael down to the club. Apparently, he had a weekly meeting with The Shade to report on pack business. With the Despina back in Los Angeles and the new leader not being announced for a few days, Slade was still unofficially in charge of the Black Light District.

I didn’t have mixed feelings about seeing Slade. No, I felt very strongly that he was the last person I wanted to see. But I’d promised Georgia we’d talk to Michael, so I didn’t have a choice.

When we arrived, Michael and Slade stood at the bar, talking over a couple of beers. Across the bar, I spotted Giguhl and Pussy Willow near the stage. Judging from their stiff postures and jerky movements, they were arguing about something and didn’t notice our arrival. Seeing my minion helped me relax a fraction. If this conversation didn’t go well, it was nice to know he’d have my back.

“Oh, gods,” Georgia groaned. “I don’t know if I can do this. I thought Mac would be here.”

I grabbed her hand. “Michael’s probably keeping her out of the public so she won’t do anything dumb.” I turned to Georgia and made her look at me. “Remember why we’re here. Keep a hold of yourself and we’ll get through this, okay?”

Michael had his back to us and hadn’t seen us come in yet. However, Slade and Rex, Michael’s Beta, spotted us immediately. If the Beta had a reaction to seeing us, he didn’t show it except for a slight tensing around his eyes. Rex knew me so he wouldn’t stop me from approaching the Alpha, but one look from Michael and the Beta wouldn’t hesitate to intervene. Which might happen the instant Michael got an eyeful of the vampire by my side.

“How are we going to play this?” Georgia whispered to me as we made our way over.

“Michael doesn’t like games. Our best bet is a direct approach,” I said. “Direct but diplomatic.”

“Okay,” she breathed out. “Here goes nothing.”

I tapped the Alpha on the shoulder. “Michael?”

He turned then, his eyebrows raised. But when he saw Georgia and me standing there, those same brows slammed down. “Oh, it’s you,” he said, his voice dripping scorn. “Back to cause more trouble?”

“Don’t be like that, Mike. We just want a couple of moments of your time.”

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