Mal wouldn’t let him. As much as Chrysabelle had disrupted Mal’s life, as much as he wanted to be rid of her, he wouldn’t let Dominic prostitute her like the rest of his homemade comarré. Chrysabelle was too good for that. What else might become of her, Mal couldn’t say. He handed her the bone dagger. ‘Sheath that and follow me.’
The blade vanished up her sleeve. ‘I told you I could protect myself.’
He nodded, feeling the weight of truth upon him like a blanket of fresh snow, cold and clean. ‘So you did.’ Now was not the time to explain that stabbing a wounded fringe in no way compared to taking on a full-powered noble vampire with a few hundred years of age on him.
She’d find that out for herself when they walked into Dominic’s office.
On the inside, Chrysabelle’s nerves buzzed against her skin like a swarm of bees trying to escape a burning hive. She’d killed fringe before, but always in practice sessions, never in a situation where her life was clearly in danger. The feelings unsettled her – she was at once proud of her ability to protect herself so well and yet stunned by how easily she’d ended a life. She’d never felt that way in training, but maybe the steps she’d been taking away from her comarré life were changing her in more ways than she was aware.
She shook off the strangeness as best she could. Time to focus on getting Dominic’s help, something that might be a little harder now that she’d offed one of his customers.
Beside her, Mal walked with purpose. He knew where he was going because he’d been here before. Been in those Pits before. She cringed inwardly. The idea of him there made an unused part of her ache. She glanced at Mal. His eyes stayed straight ahead. ‘I’m guessing it doesn’t always end in death.’
‘What doesn’t?’ He turned, obviously caught off guard.
‘What happens in the Pits.’
‘No. Death, a draw, or one combatant admits defeat.’
Or, she was guessing, one combatant kept the other alive so he could be defeated and humiliated repeatedly. ‘Did you ever beat Ronan?’
A brief silence. ‘No.’
‘You could now.’
He stopped, narrowing his eyes, then turned, and for a moment she thought he was going to argue. Instead, he pushed his hand against the wall behind him. A door opened under the pressure of his touch.
She went through, bracing herself. Dominic had not reacted well to what she’d done to one of his paying customers. No telling what he would do in the privacy of his office. The door only led to another passage and, farther down, another door. Just as she was about to question Mal, the door swung open.
Dominic glared at them, moving aside enough to allow them entrance. He wore his true face like a king wore a crown. How he must despise Mal for being another displaced noble, a possible usurper to his throne. To the fringe, they were equally grand.
Another thought occurred. Had Dominic had a hand in Mal’s subjugation? Certainly Dominic and his harem of fake comarré could have supplied Mal with an endless supply of human blood. Why hadn’t he?
Head full of new suspicions, she stared back as she made her way forward, glad for Mal’s presence at her back. Dominic said nothing as she brushed past. Leather and silk upholstery decorated the expanse beyond him, mixing with marble floors and honey wood-paneled walls. Near the right-hand wall and diagonal to a set of gilded French doors – presumably the ones that led to the balcony over the Pits – an antique Renaissance-style desk held court, its slick marble surface like vanilla ice cream swirled with caramel. Behind it, a chair of thronelike proportions. She took a seat in one of the burgundy silk armchairs opposite the desk, adjusting her sacre so its point canted to the side.
Mal was not yet seated when Dominic slammed the door and twisted to face them. The menace in his eyes lifted the small hairs on the back of her neck.
‘Porca vacca! How dare you come into my home and execute—’
Mal snarled, body tensing. ‘We were attacked in your home—’
‘None of that matters.’ Chrysabelle leaped to her feet. ‘They’ve taken—’
‘Of course it matters,’ Dominic raged, approaching them. ‘My word is law, and you’ve broken that law. Brought weapons into my club—’
‘They’ve taken Maris.’ Chrysabelle waited a moment for that news to sink in. ‘Do you still think a dead fringe matters?’
Dominic’s mouth hung open midsentence, and he paled, an incredible feat for a vampire who’d not seen the sun in his many years. ‘When?’
‘A few hours ago. Velimai showed us. It was a vampire named Tatiana and one other noble, Mikkel.’
He stumbled toward the desk, groping for the tall chair behind it like he’d suddenly lost his sight. Collapsing onto the stocky gilt frame, he stared vacantly at the space behind Chrysabelle, finally blinking and returning his gaze to her. ‘Why didn’t you come sooner?’
His accusatory tone set her nerves on edge. ‘We came as soon as we could.’
Beside her, Mal sprawled in the seat like he hadn’t a care in the world. ‘Your staff did their best to keep us from getting here at all.’
Dominic, face now wiped of all trace of shock, lifted one brow. ‘As well they should, considering what I pay them.’
Chrysabelle wanted to smack the pompousness out of his voice. How dare he act so cavalier when her aunt’s life was at stake?