I raised my hands in a futile gesture. “What choice do I have otherwise? Are you going to pick which one of you I kill?”

Tristan raised his chin. “Me.”

I stared at him in shocked silence. “What?”

His stare didn’t waver, but he said nothing more.

“I second that selection,” Lavinia said with a shit-eating grin.

Ignoring her, I gaped at my father. “Why would you do that?”

“My life has been dedicated to one purpose: stopping Cain. If surrendering my own life will aid you in that mission, I will give it gladly.”

“Tristan, no!” Nyx gasped. “Sabina, kill me.” She started to undo her shirt to remove her vest. “It’s the only way to convince Asclepius to leave you alone.”

“Stop!” Persephone yelled.

We all turned to stare at her. She rose from her throne and came down the steps. Her gorgeous face was pale, like she was terrified. “Nicolette, I will not allow you to sacrifice yourself.”

Nyx blanched and gaped at the Domina. “How do you know my real name?”

Persephone raised her chin. “Because I named you myself.” She rounded on Lavinia. “Before you forced me to abandon her.”

“I ordered you to kill that child!” Lavinia shouted.

A hush fell over the room as we all watched the drama unfold. Persephone and Lavinia faced off with fangs flashing. Nyx looked like someone had slapped her, but she opened her mouth to say something. I grabbed her hand and shook my head. If Lavinia and Persephone threw down, we might just get a chance to escape making the impossible choice I’d been given.

“I could not kill my own child,” Persephone said. “You of all of us should understand the pain of losing your own blood.” Lavinia’s scowl faltered. “So I gave her to a family in France, far away from your notice. My greatest regret is that I did not find her myself before I died.”

Nyx was trembling now. “I… I don’t believe you.”

Persephone turned to look at her daughter. “Your adopted parents’ names were Antoine and Josephine. I threatened to kill them if they ever revealed your connection to me.”

“Well, you didn’t have to worry. Cain killed them before they had the chance.”

“This is all very touching,” the ancient one said. “But let’s get back to Sabina’s choice, shall we?”

I shot at glare at the ancient bitch. Persephone and Nyx were unaware of anything but staring at each other. Tristan turned to face me.

“I know when I met you I said that I didn’t believe you were the Chosen. I am still not positive on that account.”

“Gee, thanks,” I said.

“But,” he continued as if I hadn’t spoken, “based on the valor you have exhibited tonight, I believe in my gut you will find a way to pass Lilith’s tests.” I cringed, knowing he was wrong. “If sacrificing myself allows you that chance, then so be it.”

My eyes stung suddenly and my throat tightened. As much as I’d resisted the idea that I needed Tristan Graecus’s approval or respect, hearing those words opened something inside me. Something that felt a lot like… pride. But if he thought I was going to murder him now, he was an idiot.

I poked a finger at his chest. He jerked as if I’d slapped him instead. “You listen to me now,” I said, my voice thick. “Don’t think you know me. Because you don’t. At all.”

“I know that and not having the privilege of watching you grow into the woman you’ve become is one of my greatest regrets. But now I have a chance to make up for it.”

“Shut up,” I said. He frowned. “And stop interrupting me or I won’t be able to get through this.” He clamped his lips together and nodded. “I’ve done a lot of sick shit in my life. Things I’m not proud of. Things that make me capable of killing you right now and not giving it a second thought.”

Nyx gasped behind me, but a low murmur from Horus followed, indicating he was preventing her from intervening.

“However,” I continued, “I’ve learned a few things in the last six months. Things about family.” I looked toward Lavinia. “Things about love.” I glanced at Adam. “Things about myself. Things you couldn’t possibly know because you haven’t been around.” My father grimaced but stayed silent. “One of those lessons was that good friends are hard to come by. And when the shit comes down, your team is all you’ve got. So, no, I won’t be killing you tonight. Because I may not need a dad, but I sure as hell need all the friends I can get.”

The corner of Tristan’s lips lifted into an ironic smile. “If we’re going to be friends, we really need to work on your flagrant use of profanity.”

My lips twitched in response. “Fuck you.”

He grabbed me and pulled me into a hug. It was the first time I’d ever hugged my father. I realized I didn’t care if we’d never have a normal father-daughter relationship. It just felt damned good to know he was on my side.

“Enough!” Lavinia’s shrill voice cut through the air like lightning. “Have you made your choice, then?”

I turned, standing shoulder to shoulder with my father. “Take them,” I said. “Take my fangs, my immortality. Take every trait that ties me to your poisonous blood.”

Lavinia chuckled. “Such brave words. One wonders how brave you’ll be in the demon realm when you’re as weak as a human.”

I cocked a brow. “While you’re at it, take this f**king red hair, too.”

The remaining Dominae rose and started toward me. Adam grabbed me for a quick, hard kiss. “I love you,” he whispered. Then he walked away to join the others, leaving me alone in the center of the seven most powerful vampire females ever created.

Persephone refused to take part in the ceremony. Instead, she came to stand next to Nyx. No doubt there’d be repercussions for her once we moved on, but for now I appreciated her solidarity—late as it was.

The five remaining younger Dominae joined hands. Lavinia didn’t look too happy to be touching Tanith. Not a surprise given Tanith had conspired with the Hekate Council to kill Lavinia. However, my grandmother’s desire to officially erase me from her race must have overridden her hatred of the turncoat Domina.

The two ancients came forward then. One held a black apple like the ones I’d seen outside. The other held a pair of silver pliers.

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