What is it they say? Pride goeth before the fall? Well, mine went the second I realized the cider bullet missed her. “Let him go.”
Lavinia scooted closer, squeezed my chin tighter. “What was that?”
I swallowed the bile and taste of copper coating my tongue. “Spare him.”
“Ah-ah-ah, ask nicely.”
“If you’re going to beg, do it properly. Please, who?”
I closed my eyes. “Please spare him, Domina.”
She released me as if she couldn’t stand to touch me. “Pathetic.” She spat on the ground at my feet. “No blood of mine begs for the life of a mage!” She turned her back to me, dismissing me like an abomination.
Just beyond her, I finally spied Adam again. Despite the new gashes on his lip and forehead and the hands bound in front of him in brass shackles, he looked so brave with his shoulders thrown back and his head held high. His eyes burned at me with strong emotion. I knew better than to hope love made his eyes shine. Everything he’d predicted— and worse— had come to pass. Shame and regret washed over me like acid. That I begged for his life wouldn’t matter. If it weren’t for my stupidity, his life wouldn’t be in danger at all.
Near the vampires holding Adam, a burly male with a copper-colored buzz cut backhanded Maisie. Her body slumped instantly, and the vamp hefted her easily over his shoulder. Eurynome wrenched me from the ground. My feet struggled to hold my weight and I stumbled. My clumsiness earned me a cuff to the back of the head.
The same claw that hit me grabbed a handful of hair to lift me off the ground. Eurynome’s gravelly voice sounded next to my ear. “Where’s your pet now, bitch?” He raised a claw to hit me again, but Lavinia’s voice stilled his hand.
“Enough! We want to be sure there’s enough left of her for the Master.” To the rest of the bad guys she called, “Take them all inside. It’s time to begin the summoning rites.”
The stained-glass dome depicted scenes from the Garden of Eden. Not the story mortals know from their Bible, but the story of Lilith and Adam, the Great Mother’s exodus to the Red Sea and her eventual union with the outcast Cain.
Hundreds of candles lit the rotunda. Set in niches and along the floor, their light cast menacing shadows on the faces of statues standing guard along the perimeter.
Brass chains scraped my wrists and ankles. A linen gag choked my throat and abraded the sensitive corners of my mouth. Cold air raised gooseflesh on my arms and legs, which were exposed thanks to the flimsy ankle length tunic they’d forced on me.
Turning my head on the black marble slab, I looked across an expanse of polished stone floor to the slab holding the prone body of my sister. The Caste members had dressed her in the twin to my gown, but the fabric nearly engulfed her emaciated frame. She looked too still lying there, too brittle. She hadn’t made a sound since passing out after the vamp struck her. Part of me hoped she remained unconscious during whatever horrors our grandmother had planned for us.
Lavinia entered leading a procession of her flunkies. Eurynome and the Caste members came first with their golden eight-point-star pendants flashing in the light. Behind them, the robed and hooded Brotherhood silently followed, chanting low over the candles they each carried.
At the end of the dark procession, I spied a flash of golden hair and bare flesh. My chest ached. Lavinia probably got some sick glee out of stripping Adam and forcing him to wear nothing but a scrap of fabric around his waist. Hoped to degrade him. But the truth was, he’d never looked stronger than with his head raised high as the Brothers led him to his death. The Hekate’s Wheel on his lower stomach stood out in sharp contrast to the stark white of the cloth over his hips.
His eyes flicked to mine. For a brief instant, I swore I saw a trace of longing and regret in the green depths. But the Brother leading him shoved at his back, forcing him to stumble. He regained his balance quickly, but he moved out of my line of sight. I craned my neck, trying to see him again, but Lavinia moved in, filling my vision.
An icy finger ran down my cheek. She leaned over me with a swish of silk and the scent of dirty pennies. “I’ve changed my mind,” she said. My eyes flared, but inside I knew better than to hope her next words would be our salvation. “Even though I’d love to make you watch as I drain your mancy lover, I’ll admit I detest the flavor of mage blood. It has its benefits, naturally, but the taste is just,” she shuddered, “vile.”
She pulled away. “But this opportunity is too good to waste. Luckily, the perfect solution presented itself.” She snapped her fingers. Three Brothers rushed forward and begun loosening Maisie’s bonds.
I shouted against the gag and jerked against my own chains.
“Having your sister feed from your lover is just good sense. Because you took so long to find her, she’s weak and in desperate need of blood. A good feeding will restore her enough for the rites. And, well, the poetic justice is just delicious.”
I fought harder. The fabric muffled my screams into impotent moans and the metal dug into me until blood ran freely. Lavinia patted my shoulder. “I’m thrilled to see you agree.” Turning to the Brothers, she called, “Begin.”
The men slapped Maisie’s face until she woke with a start. Her body had already used up the little bit of blood she’d consumed and now yearned for more. Three more Brothers came forward to help restrain her. She fought against them like a berserker, all claws and fangs.
Lavinia groaned, clearly annoyed by the complication. “Eurynome, please assist the mortals.”
The Avenger demon emerged from the clump of beings. His hooves stomped against the stone, and his ram’s horns lowered with purpose. He pushed the mortals out of the way. He subdued Maisie easily, wrapping his arms around her like steel. Then he lifted, carrying her toward Adam.
Two vampires grabbed Adam’s arms and pushed him forward. Now that he could see what was happening, his composure fled. His hands were bound, so he used his shoulders and head to fight. For his insolence, he received a fist to the gut. As he fell to his knees, I strained against my bonds. Tears streamed down my face, and my throat burned from muffled screams.
Lavinia clapped and nodded to the vamp to Adam’s right. He unsheathed a knife. Adam saw the glint of metal and shied away. The blade slashed across the skin just above his heart. Blood bloomed and spilled down his chest and his abdomen to stain the white fabric.
The scent of blood hit Maisie like an electric shock. She strained and hissed in Eurynome’s grasp, eager to feast.