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Authors: Richelle Mead

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“And you gave it back.”

“I was angry.”

“And now?”

He shrugged. “Now I’m just determined.”

“Adrian.” I sighed. “Why do you keep doing this? The touching . . . the kissing . . .
you know I don’t want it.”

“You don’t act that way.”

“Stop saying that. It’s obnoxious. Next you’ll be saying I’m ‘asking for it.’” Why
did he have to be so infuriating? Okay . . . I hadn’t really sent a clear message
back at the sorority. Or Pies and Stuff. But this time I’d done better. “I just pulled
away. How much more direct do I have to be?”

“It’s not your actions, exactly,” he said. He still clutched the cross in his hand.
“It’s your aura.”

I groaned. “No, no, not that. I don’t want to hear about auras.”

“But I’m serious.” He shifted over and stretched out on the bed, lying on his side.
He patted the bed near him. “Lie down.”

“Adrian—”

“I won’t kiss you,” he said. “I promise.”

“How stupid do you think I am?” I said. “I’m not falling for this.”

He gave me a long, level look. “Do you really think I’d assault you or something?”

“No,” I said quickly. “Of course not.”

“Then humor me.”

Warily, I lay down on my side as well, facing him with only a few powerful inches
between us. An enraptured, slightly distracted look appeared in his eyes. He’d given
himself over to spirit. “Do you know what I see in you now? The usual aura. A steady
golden yellow, healthy and strong, with spikes of purple here and there. But when
I do this. . . .”

He rested a hand on my hip, and my whole body tensed up. That hand moved around my
hip, slipping under my shirt to rest on the small of my back. My skin burned where
he touched me, and the places that were untouched longed for that heat.

“See?” he said. He was in the throes of spirit now, though with me at the same time.
“Well, I guess you can’t. But when I touch you, your aura . . . it
smolders
. The colors deepen, it burns more intensely, the purple increases. Why? Why, Sydney?”
He used that hand on me to pull me closer. “Why do you react that way if I don’t mean
anything to you?” There was a desperation in his voice, and it was legitimate.

It was hard for me to talk. “It’s instinct. Or something. You’re a Moroi. I’m an Alchemist.
Of course I’d have a response. You think I’d be indifferent?”

“Most Alchemist responses would involve disgust, revulsion, and holy water.”

That was an excellent point. “Well . . . I’m a little more relaxed around Moroi than
most Alchemists. Probably this is just some purely physical response driven by hormones
and years of evolution. My body doesn’t know any better. I’m as susceptible to lust
as anyone else.” There was probably a book about that or at least an article in
Cosmopolitan
.

The hint of a smile played over his lips. He was fully in tune with me again. “No,
you aren’t. I mean, you are, but not without reason. I know you well enough to realize
that now. You’re not the kind of person who’s ‘susceptible to lust’ without some emotion
to back it.” He moved his hand back to my hip, sliding it down my leg. I shuddered,
and his face moved closer to mine. There was so much in his eyes, so much desire and
longing. “See? There it is again. My flame in the dark.”

“Don’t kiss me,” I whispered. It was the only defense I could muster. If he kissed
me, I’d be lost. I closed my eyes. “You said you wouldn’t.”

“I won’t.” His lips were only a breath away. “Unless you want me to.”

I opened my eyes, ready to tell him no, that it didn’t matter what my aura allegedly
said . . . this couldn’t keep happening. There was no emotion backing this desire,
and I tried to cling to my earlier argument. I was so comfortable around Moroi now
that clearly some primal part of me kept forgetting what he was. This was a base instinct.
I was simply having a physical reaction to him, to his hands, to his lips, to his
body. . . .

He caught hold of my arm and rolled me over. I closed my eyes again and wrapped my
arms around his neck. I felt his lips touch mine, not quite a kiss, just the barest
brush of—

The door opened, and I flinched. Alicia stepped inside, gasped, and put a hand up
over her mouth to cover a shocked squeal. “O-oh,” she stammered. “I’m so sorry . . .
I . . . I didn’t realize . . .”

Adrian and I jerked away and sat up. My heart was ready to beat out of my chest, and
I knew I was blushing. I quickly patted my wig and was relieved to feel it was still
in place. He recovered his voice more quickly.

“Sorry . . . we kind of got carried away. We started checking out the other rooms
and decided to, uh, try them out.” Despite his sheepish words, there was a smug look
on his face, the kind you’d expect from a guy who’d just made a conquest. Was it part
of the act, or did he really think he’d gotten away with something?

Alicia looked as uncomfortable as I felt. “I see. Well, this room’s occupied. It’s—”
She frowned and did a double take. “It’s Veronica’s. It looks like she left.”

I finally managed to speak. “That’s why we thought it was empty,” I said hastily.
“There was nothing in here.”

Alicia thankfully seemed to have forgotten about our compromising position. “That’s
weird. She didn’t formally check out. I mean, she paid in advance in cash, but still.
It’s so strange.”

We made a hurried escape of our own after that, once again feeding Alicia lines about
how we’d be in touch. Neither of us spoke much when we got in the car. I was lost
in my own thoughts, which were equal parts frustration over Veronica and confusion
over Adrian. I refused to acknowledge the latter, though, and opted for my usual tactic.
The sooner that moment was forgotten, the better. I was pretty sure I could keep telling
myself that. Some part of me—nearly as snarky as Adrian—suggested I pick up a book
on denial the next time I was in the self-help section.

“Another dead end,” I said once we were on the road. I texted Ms. Terwilliger:
V’s gone. No need for action.
Her response came a few minutes later:
We’ll keep trying.
I could practically feel her disappointment through the display on my phone. She
wasn’t the only one. Adrian seemed particularly melancholy on the drive back. He responded
whenever I spoke, but it was clear he was distracted.

When he dropped me off at Amberwood later that night, I found everything mercifully
quiet. No crises, no dangerous missions. It felt like it had been ages since I had
a moment to myself, and I curled up on my bed, taking solace in the ordinary tasks
of homework and reading. I fell asleep with my face on my calculus book.

I experienced one of those nonsensical dreams that everyone has. In it, my family’s
cat could talk, and he was driving Adrian’s Mustang. He asked me if I wanted to take
a road trip to Birmingham. I told him I had a lot of homework to do but that if he
wanted to go to Fargo, I’d consider it.

We were in the middle of negotiating who’d pay for gas when the dream suddenly dissolved
to blackness. A cold feeling swept over me, followed by a feeling of dread that rivaled
the time Adrian and I had faced down Strigoi in his apartment. A woman’s laughter
rolled around me, foul and sickening, like some sort of toxic smoke. A voice came
out of the darkness, echoing in my mind.

She’s kept you well hidden, but it can’t stay that way forever. You can’t conceal
power like yours forever. I’ve caught your trail. I’ll find you.

Hands suddenly reached out of the darkness for me, wrapping around my throat and cutting
off my air. I screamed and woke up in my own bed, surrounded in books. I’d left the
light on, and it chased some of the dream’s terror away. But only some. Sweat poured
off me, making my shirt stick to me. I touched my neck, but there was nothing wrong
with it. The garnet hung in place but not my cross.

No need to fear a dream,
I thought. It didn’t mean anything, and really, with everything going on lately,
it was a wonder I didn’t have nightmares more often. But thinking back on it, I wasn’t
so sure. There had been something so terrible and real about it, a horror that seemed
to reach into my very soul.

I didn’t want to sleep after that, so I made a cup of coffee and tried to read again.
It worked for a while, but somewhere around four, my body couldn’t take it anymore.
I fell asleep on my books again, but this time, my sleep stayed dream free.

CHAPTER 16

I GAVE MS. TERWILLIGER
a full report on our trip to the inn the next morning. We met at Spencer’s, and in
a rare show of early rising, Adrian joined us. “I’ve got a study group meeting soon,”
he explained. His mood was a lot better, with no mention of yesterday’s . . . indiscretion.

Even though there wasn’t much to tell, lines of worry creased her face as she heard
our story. The true panic came when I mentioned my dream. Ms. Terwilliger’s eyes went
wide, and she gripped her coffee cup so tightly, I thought it would break.

“She found out,” she murmured. “Whether it was that Alicia girl or some other way,
Veronica found out about you. I should never have sent you. I thought you’d slip underneath
her radar if the other girls were charmed, but I was wrong. I was selfish and naive.
It would’ve been better if she knew I was on to her from the very beginning. You’re
sure you were masking Sydney’s appearance?” That was to Adrian.

“Positive,” he said. “Everyone we talked to, all the girls and even Alicia . . . none
of them would have a clear idea of what Sydney looks like.”

“Maybe she’s been spying on you,” I suggested. “And saw us together. I haven’t been
in disguise around here.”

“Maybe,” Ms. Terwilliger conceded. “But we also know she was active in Los Angeles.
She would have to spend considerable time stalking her victims, which wouldn’t give
her the chance to come here and watch me extensively. Even with her powers, she can’t
teleport.” Her expression hardened with resolve. “Well, there’s nothing to be done
now but damage control. She doesn’t seem to know exactly where you are yet or that
you’re even connected to me. I’ll make you another charm to try to boost this one,
but it may not work if she’s found a way to reach out to you. And in the meantime,
don’t worry about offense anymore. You need to focus on defense—particularly invisibility
spells. Your best protection against Veronica at this point is for her simply not
to find you if she comes looking around Palm Springs.”

I’d continued reading the advanced offense spells, despite her warnings. With this
new development, though, I knew she was right about defense being more important.
Still, I couldn’t shake the worry that Veronica had discovered me by watching Ms.
Terwilliger, which in turn made me fear for my teacher’s safety. “You keep saying
she’s not after you . . . but are you really sure?”

“She’ll avoid me if she can,” said Ms. Terwilliger, sounding confident. “I have the
power but not the youth and beauty she’s after. And even she would draw the line at
taking on her sister. It’s the only remnant of human decency she has left.”

“Will she still have that attitude when you confront her?” asked Adrian.

Ms. Terwilliger shook her head. “No. Then anything goes. I’d like to meet with you
tonight to practice a couple other defensive tactics.”

I eyed her carefully. “Are you up for that? No offense, ma’am, but you already look
exhausted.”

“I’ll be fine. Meet me at the park again around ten. I’ll get Weathers to let you
go. We must keep you safe.” She stared off into space for several moments and then
focused on me again. “In light of this development . . . it wouldn’t be a bad idea
for you to find some, ah, more basic means of defense as well.”

“Basic?” I asked, puzzled.

“She means like a gun or a knife,” supplied Adrian, catching on to what I hadn’t.

Ms. Terwilliger nodded. “If you ever confront Veronica, it’ll most likely come down
to magic fighting magic . . . but, well, one can never say. Having something else
for backup might prove invaluable.”

I wasn’t a fan of this idea. “I have no clue how to knife fight. And I don’t like
guns.”

“Do you like being put into a coma and aging before your time?” asked Adrian.

I shot him a glare, surprised he’d be on board with this. “Of course not. But where
would we even get one on such short notice?”

From the look on his face, he knew I had a point. Suddenly, he became enthusiastic
again. “I think I know.”

“I’m sure you two will figure it out,” said Ms. Terwilliger, her mind already moving
to something else. She glanced at her watch. “Almost time for classes.”

We all stood up, preparing to go our own ways, but I held Adrian back. I couldn’t
imagine how in the world he would know where to get a gun on no notice. He wouldn’t
elaborate and simply said he’d meet me after school. Before he left, I remembered
something I’d wanted to ask.

“Adrian, did you keep my cross?”

“Your—oh.” Looking into his eyes, I could practically see yesterday’s events playing
through his mind—including us rolling around on the bed. “I dropped it when—ah, well,
before we left. You didn’t pick it up?”

I shook my head, and his face fell.

“Shit, I’m sorry, Sage.”

“It’s okay,” I said automatically.

“It’s
not
okay, and it’s my fault. I know how much it means to you.”

It did mean a lot to me, but I almost blamed myself as much as him. I should’ve thought
of it before we left, but I’d been a little preoccupied. “It’s just a necklace,” I
told him.

This didn’t comfort him. He looked so dejected when we parted ways that I hoped he
wouldn’t forget about us meeting up later to visit his mysterious gun source. There
was nothing to worry about, though. When classes ended, he was outside my dorm in
the Mustang and looked much more upbeat, with no more mention of the necklace.

When he told me his gun plan, I was shocked, but after a few moments of thought, I
realized he might be on to something. And so, a little less than an hour later, we
found ourselves far outside the city, driving up to a forlorn-looking home on a large,
barren piece of land. We had reached the Wolfe School of Defense.

“I never thought we’d be here again,” I remarked.

Wolfe’s house had no windows, and there were no cars in sight as we walked up to the
door. “He may not even be home,” I murmured to Adrian. “We probably should have called
first.”

“Wolfe never struck me as a guy who leaves the house very much,” said Adrian. He knocked
on the door, and almost instantly, we heard a flurry of barking and scampering feet.
I grimaced. Wolfe, for reasons I would never be able to understand, kept a herd of
Chihuahuas in his house. He’d once told us that they could kill a man upon a single
command.

We waited a few minutes, but the barking was the only sign that there was any sort
of life inside. Adrian knocked one more time (driving the dogs into an even greater
frenzy) and then shrugged. “I guess you were—”

The door suddenly opened—just a slit—and one gray eye peered out at us from underneath
a chain. “Oh,” came a grizzled voice. “It’s you two.”

The door closed, and I heard the chain being unlocked. A moment later, Wolfe slipped
outside, careful not to let any of the dogs out. He had a patch over his left eye,
which was probably just as well since his other eye alone seemed to peer straight
through me. “You should’ve called,” he said. “I nearly turned the dogs on you.”

Wolfe was dressed in his favorite pair of Bermuda shorts as well as a T-shirt showing
a bald eagle riding on a monster truck. The eagle held an American flag in one set
of talons and a samurai sword in the other. That seemed a weird weapon choice for
such a patriotic shirt, but we’d long since learned not to question his wardrobe.
That had come after he’d kicked a woman out of our class who’d dared to ask if he
only had one pair of shorts or several identical ones.

“What do you kids need?” he asked. “Next classes don’t start until after New Year’s.”

Adrian and I exchanged glances. “We, um, need a gun,” I said. “I mean, just to borrow.”

Wolfe scratched his beard. “I don’t lend them out to students who haven’t taken my
gun class. Safety first.” I found it promising, however, that he lent out guns at
all. It was a sign of his character that he didn’t even bother asking why we wanted
one.

“I’ve already had training,” I said. That was true. It was mandatory for all Alchemists.
I’d done well in it, but as I’d mentioned to Adrian, I really didn’t like guns at
all. At least a knife had other uses. But a gun? It was only there to injure or kill.

Wolfe arched an eyebrow, the one over his good eye. Clearly, he didn’t believe me.
“Can you back that up?”

“Do you have a shooting range?” I returned coolly.

He almost looked offended. “Of course I do.”

He led us to a building beyond the garage we’d trained in. I’d never been inside this
building before, but like his house, it had no windows. The door was covered in enough
locks to meet with Alchemist security standards. He let us inside, and I gaped when
I saw not only a practice range but also a wall covered in various types of guns.
Wolfe gave the small holding space a once-over.

“Earmuffs must be in the house. Be right back.”

I continued staring at the wall, knowing my eyes were wide. “There’s no way those
are all legal.”

Adrian’s response was unexpected. “Did you notice his eye patch?”

I dragged my gaze from the arsenal. “Um, yes. From the day we first met him.”

“No, no. I mean, I swear it was on his other eye last time.”

“It was not,” I said immediately.

“Are you sure?” asked Adrian.

I wasn’t, I realized. Words and numbers were easy for me to memorize. But other details,
like clothing or hair—or eye patches—were sometimes easy for me to miss. “That doesn’t
make any sense,” I finally said. “Why would he do that?”

“He’s Malachi Wolfe,” said Adrian. “Why wouldn’t he do that?”

I couldn’t argue against that.

Wolfe returned with ear protection. After examining his wall, he selected a small
handgun and then unlocked a cabinet containing ammunition. At least he didn’t leave
a bunch of loaded guns around.

“I’ll do that,” I told him. I took the gun from him and effortlessly loaded it. He
made a small grunt of approval. He gestured toward the far end of the range, to a
large paper cutout showing a human silhouette with various targets marked on it.

“Now then,” he said. “Don’t worry about hitting the—”

I fired, perfectly emptying the clip into the most difficult targets. I handed the
gun to him. He handed it back. Behind him, I could see Adrian staring at me with enormous
eyes.

“Keep it,” said Wolfe. “You passed. You’ve gotta buy your own ammunition, but as long
as you fill out the rental agreement, you’re good to go.”

As it turned out, the “rental agreement” was a piece of paper where he wrote the gun
type on one side and I put my initials on the other. “Really?” I asked. “That’s all
I need to do? I mean, I’m glad, but . . .” I didn’t really know what else to say.

Wolfe waved off my protests. “You’re a good kid. If you say you need a gun, I believe
you. Someone giving you trouble?”

I slipped the gun into my messenger bag. “Something like that.”

Wolfe glanced over at Adrian. “What about you? You need a gun too?”

“I’m good,” said Adrian. “Besides, I haven’t had the training. Safety first.”

Wolfe opened up the ammunition cabinet again and produced a long wooden tube and a
sandwich bag of what looked like small darts. “You want to borrow my blowgun? Not
much of a learning curve on this. I mean, you’ll never be able to match the skill
and cunning of the Amazonian warriors that I stole this from, but it can get you out
of a pinch.”

“Thanks, but I’ll take my chances,” Adrian said after several long moments. He almost
sounded as though he’d considered it.

I was still hung up on Wolfe’s other words, not sure I believed what I’d heard. “You
were in the Amazon?”

This time, Wolfe arched the eyebrow above his eye patch. “You don’t believe me?”

“No, no, of course I do,” I said quickly. “It’s just, you’ve never mentioned it before.”

Wolfe gazed off beyond us. “I’ve been trying for years to forget my time there. But
some things, you just can’t escape.”

A very long and very uncomfortable silence followed. At last, I cleared my throat.
“Well, thank you, sir. We should get going. Hopefully I won’t need the gun for very
long.”

“Keep it as long as you need,” he said. “If I want it back, I’ll find you.”

And on that disturbing note, Adrian and I left. Although I understood Ms. Terwilliger’s
reasons for “old-fashioned” defense, I was in no way comfortable having a gun around.
I’d have to keep it in my car in case school authorities ever did a search of my room
and discovered it. My Alchemist and magical kits were already a liability. I was pretty
sure there’d be no talking my way out of a gun.

Adrian returned me to Amberwood. I started to open the door and then paused to glance
over at him. “Thanks,” I said. “For everything. Going to the inn. Suggesting we see
Wolfe.”

“Hey, that was worth it just to know Wolfe owns a blowgun.”

I laughed. “Actually, I’d be more surprised if he didn’t. See you later.”

Adrian nodded. “Sooner than you think.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked, suspicion rearing up in me.

He dodged the question and reached underneath his seat. “I called Alicia,” he told
me, producing a small box. “She couldn’t find your cross. Her housekeeping service
had already gone through and cleaned the room, but she says she’ll check to see if
it got caught up in the bedding. Oh, and I also asked about Veronica. She hasn’t been
back.”

That was disheartening news, but I was touched he’d called. “Thanks for trying.”

He opened the box and pulled out a necklace with a tiny wooden cross on it. “I got
you a replacement. I mean, I know there’s no real substitute, but I wanted to get
you something. And don’t start about not being able to accept some fancy gift,” he
said, guessing the protest I was about to make. “It cost me five dollars from a street
vendor, and I’m pretty sure the chain is brass.”

I bit off my words and took the necklace from him. The cross barely weighed anything.
Studying it more closely, I could see a tiny pattern of silver flowers painted on
its surface. “The vendor didn’t do that. That’s your handiwork.”

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