THE SKI TRIP COULDN'T HAVE come a moment too soon. It was impossible to get the Dimitri and Tasha thing out of my head, but at least packing and getting ready made sure I didn't devote 100 percent of my brain power to him. More like 95 percent.
I had other things to distract me, too. The Academy might- rightfully- be overprotective when it came to us, but sometimes that translated into pretty cool stuff. Example: The Academy had access to a couple of private jets. This meant no Strigoi could attack us at an airport, and it also meant we got to travel in style. Each jet was smaller than a commercial plane, but the seats were cushy and had lots of leg room. They extended far enough back that you could practically lie down to sleep. On long flights, we had little consoles in the seats that gave us TV movie options. Sometimes they'd even break out fancy meals. I was betting this flight, however, would be too short for any movies or substantial food.
We left late on the twenty-sixth. When I boarded the jet, I looked around for Lissa, wanting to talk to her. We hadn't really spoken after the Christmas brunch. I wasn't surprised to see her sitting with Christian, and they didn't look like they wanted to be interrupted. I couldn't hear their conversation, but he'd put his arm around her and had that relaxed, flirty expression that only she could bring out. I remained fully convinced that he could never do as good a job as me of taking care of her, but he clearly made her happy. I put on a smile and nodded at them as I passed down the aisle toward where Mason was waving at me. As I did, I also walked by Dimitri and Tasha sitting together. I pointedly ignored them.
"Hey," I said sliding into the seat beside Mason.
He smiled at me. "Hey. You ready for the ski challenge?"
"As ready as I'll ever be."
"Don't worry," he said. "I'll go easy on you."
I scoffed and leaned my head back against the seat. "You're so delusional."
"Sane guys are boring."
To my surprise, he slid his hand over mine. His skin was warm, and I felt my own skin tingle where he touched me. It startled me. I'd convinced myself Dimitri was the only one I'd ever respond to again.
It's time to move on, I thought. Dimitri obviously has. You should have done it a long time ago.
I laced my fingers with Mason's, catching him off guard. "I do. This is going to be fun."
And it was.
I tried to keep reminding myself that we were here because of a tragedy, that there were Strigoi and humans out there who might strike again. No one else seemed to remember that, though, and I admit, I was having a difficult time myself.
The resort was gorgeous. It was built to sort of look like a log cabin, but no pioneer cabin could have held hundreds of people or had such luxury accommodations. Three stories of gleaming, golden-colored wood sat among lofty pine trees. The windows were tall and gracefully arched, tinted for Moroi convenience. Crystal lanterns- electric, but shaped to look like torches- hung around all the entrances, giving the entire building a glittering, almost bejeweled look.
Mountains- which my enhanced eyes could just barely make out in the night- surrounded us, and I bet the view would have been breathtaking when it was light out. One side of the grounds led off to the skiing area, complete with steep hills and moguls, as well as lifts and tow ropes. Another side of the lodge had an ice rink, which delighted me since I'd missed out that one day by the cabin. Near that, smooth hills were reserved for sledding.
And that was just the outside.
Inside, all sorts of arrangements had been made to cater to Moroi needs. Feeders stayed on hand, ready to serve twenty-four hours a day. The slopes ran on a nocturnal schedule. Wards and guardians circled the entire place. Everything a living vampire could want.
The main lobby had a cathedral ceiling and an enormous chandelier hanging over it. Its floor was intricately tiled marble, and the front desk stayed open around the clock, ready to indulge our every need. The rest of the lodge, hallways and lounges, had a red, black, and gold color scheme. The deep shade of red dominated over the other hues, and I wondered if its resemblance to blood was a coincidence. Mirrors and art adorned the walls, and little ornamental tables had been placed here and there. They held vases of pale green, purple-spotted orchids that filled the air with a spicy scent.
The room I shared with Lissa was bigger than our dorm rooms put together and had the same rich colors as the rest of the lodge. The carpet was so plush and deep that I immediately shed my shoes at the door and walked in barefoot, luxuriating in the way my feet sank into that softness. We had king-size beds, covered in feather duvets and set with so many pillows that I swore a person could get lost in them all and never be seen again. French doors opened on to a spacious balcony, which, considering we were on the top floor, would have been cool if not for the fact it was freezing outside. I suspected the two-person hot tub on the far end would go a long way to make up for the cold.
Drowning in so much luxury, I reached an overload point where the rest of the accommodations started swimming together. The jetted marble bathtub. The plasma-screen TV. The basket of chocolate and other snacks. When we finally decided to go skiing, I had to practically drag myself from the room. I could probably have spent the rest of my vacation lounging in there and been perfectly content.
But we finally ventured outside, and once I managed to push Dimitri and my mother out of my head, I started to enjoy myself. It helped that the lodge was so enormous; there was little chance of running into them.
For the first time in weeks, I was able to finally focus on Mason and realize just how much fun he was. I also got to hang out with Lissa more than I had in a while, which put me in an even better mood.
With Lissa, Christian, Mason, and me, we were able to get kind of a double-date thing going. The four of us spent almost all of the first day skiing, though the two Moroi had a bit of trouble keeping up. Considering what Mason and I went through in our classes, he and I weren't afraid to try daring stunts. Our competitive natures made us eager to go out of our way to outdo each other.
"You guys are suicidal," remarked Christian at one point. It was dark outside, and tall light posts illuminated his bemused face.
He and Lissa had been waiting at the bottom of the mogul hill, watching Mason and me come down. We'd been moving at insane speeds. The part of me that had been trying to learn control and wisdom from Dimitri knew it was dangerous, but the rest of me liked embracing that recklessness. That dark streak of rebelliousness still hadn't let me go.
Mason grinned as we skidded to a halt, sending up a spray of snow. "Nah, this is just a warm-up. I mean, Rose has been able to keep up with me the whole time. Kid stuff."
Lissa shook her head. "Aren't you guys taking this too far?"
Mason and I looked at each other. "No."
She shook her head. "Well, we're going inside. Try not to kill yourselves."
She and Christian left, arm and arm. I watched them go, then turned back to Mason. "I'm good for a while longer. You?"
We took a lift back up to the top of the hill. When we were just about to head down, Mason pointed.
"Okay, how about this? Hit those moguls there, then jump over that ridge, swing back with a hairpin turn, dodge those trees, and land there."
I followed his finger as he pointed out a jagged path down one of the biggest slopes. I frowned.
"That one really is insane, Mase."
"Ah," he said triumphantly. "She finally cracks."
I glowered. "She does not." After another survey of his crazy route, I conceded. "Okay. Let's do it."
He gestured. "You first."
I took a deep breath and leapt off. My skis slid smoothly over the snow, and piercing wind blasted into my face. I made the first jump neatly and precisely, but as the next part of the course sped forward, I realized just how dangerous it really was. In that split second, I had a decision to make. If I didn't do it, I'd never hear the end of it from Mason- and I really wanted to show him up. If I did manage it, I could feel pretty secure about my awesomeness. But if I tried and messed up ... I could break my neck.
Somewhere in my head, a voice that sounded suspiciously like Dimitri's started talking about wise choices and learning when to show restraint.
I decided to ignore that voice and went for it.
This course was as hard as I'd feared, but I pulled it off flawlessly, one insane move after another. Snow flew up around me as I made each sharp, dangerous turn. When I safely reached bottom, I looked up and saw Mason gesturing wildly. I couldn't make out his expression or words, but I could imagine his cheers. I waved back and waited for him to follow suit.
But he didn't. Because when Mason got halfway down, he wasn't able to pull off one of the jumps. His skis caught, and his legs twisted. Down he went.
I reached him at about the same time some of the resort staff did. To everyone's relief, Mason hadn't broken his neck or anything else. His ankle did appear to have a nasty sprain, however, which was probably going to limit his skiing for the rest of the trip.
One of the instructors monitoring the slopes ran forward, fury all over her face.
"What were you kids thinking?" she exclaimed. She turned on me. "I couldn't believe it when you did those stupid stunts!" Her glare fixed on Mason next. "And then you had to go ahead and copy her!"
I wanted to argue that it had all been his idea, but blame didn't matter at this point. I was just glad he was all right. But as we all went inside, guilt began to gnaw at me. I had acted irresponsibly. What if he'd been seriously injured? Horrible visions danced through my mind. Mason with a broken leg ... a broken neck...
What had I been thinking? No one had made me do that course. Mason had suggested it... but I hadn't fought back. Goodness knew I probably could have. I might have had to endure some mockery, but Mason was crazy enough about me that feminine wiles probably would have stopped this madness. I'd gotten caught up in the excitement and the risk- much as I had in kissing Dimitri- not giving enough thought to the consequences because secretly, inside of me, that impulsive desire to be wild still lurked. Mason had it too, and his called to me.
That mental Dimitri voice chastised me once more.
After Mason was safely returned to the lodge and had ice on his ankle, I carried our equipment back outside toward the storage buildings. When I went back inside, I went through a different doorway than I normally used. This entrance was set behind a huge, open porch with an ornate wooden railing. The porch was built into the side of the mountain and had a breathtaking view of the other peaks and valleys around us- if you felt like standing around long enough in freezing temperatures to admire it. Which most people didn't.
I walked up the steps to the porch, stomping snow off my boots as I did. A thick scent, both spicy and sweet, hung in the air. Something about it felt familiar, but before I could identify it, a voice suddenly spoke to me out of the shadows.
"Hey, little dhampir."
Startled, I realized someone was indeed standing on the porch. A guy- a Moroi- leaned against the wall not far from the door. He brought a cigarette up to his mouth, took a long drag, and then dropped it to the floor. He stamped the butt out and crooked me a smile. That was the scent, I realized. Clove cigarettes.
Warily, I stopped and crossed my arms as I took him in. He was a little shorter than Dimitri but wasn't as lanky as some Moroi guys ended up looking. A long, charcoal coat- probably made out of some insanely expensive cashmere-wool blend- fit his body exceptionally well, and the leather dress shoes he wore indicated more money still. He had brown hair that looked like it had been purposely styled to appear a little unkempt, and his eyes were either blue or green- I didn't have quite enough light to know for sure. His face was cute, I supposed, and I pegged him to be a couple years older than me. He looked like he'd just come from a dinner party.
"Yeah?" I asked.
His eyes swept over my body. I was used to attention from Moroi guys. It just usually wasn't so obvious. And I usually wasn't bundled up in winter clothing and sporting a black eye.
He shrugged. "Just saying hi, that's all."
I waited for more, but all he did was stuff his hands into the coat's pockets. With a shrug of my own, I took a couple steps forward.
"You smell good, you know," he suddenly said.
I stopped walking again and gave him a puzzled look, which only made his sly smile grow a little bigger.
"I... um, what?"
"You smell good," he repeated.
"Are you joking? I've been sweating all day. I'm disgusting." I wanted to walk away, but there was something eerily compelling about this guy. Like a train wreck. I didn't find him attractive per se; I was just suddenly interested in talking to him.
"Sweat isn't a bad thing," he said, leaning his head against the wall and looking upward thoughtfully. "Some of the best things in life happen while sweating. Yeah, if you get too much of it and it gets old and stale, it turns pretty gross. But on a beautiful woman? Intoxicating. If you could smell things like a vampire does, you'd know what I'm talking about. Most people mess it all up and drown themselves in perfume. Perfume can be good...especially if you get one that goes with your chemistry. But you only need a hint. Mix about 20 percent of that with 80 percent of your own perspiration...mmm." He tilted his head to the side and looked at me. "Dead sexy."
I suddenly remembered Dimitri and his aftershave. Yeah. That had been dead sexy, but I certainly wasn't going to tell this guy about it.
"Well, thanks for the hygiene lesson," I said. "But I don't own any perfume, and I'm going to go shower all this hot sweaty action off me. Sorry."
He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered it to me. He moved only a step closer, but it was enough for me to smell something else on him. Alcohol. I shook my head at the cigarettes, and he tapped one out for himself.
"Bad habit," I said, watching him light it.
"One of many," he replied. He inhaled deeply. "You here with St. Vlad's?"
"So you're going to be a guardian when you grow up."
He exhaled smoke, and I watched it drift away into the night. Heightened vampire senses or no, it was a wonder he could smell anything around those cloves.
"How long until you grow up?" he asked. "I might need a guardian."
"I graduate in the spring. But I'm already spoken for. Sorry."
Surprise flickered in his eyes. "Yeah? Who is he?"
"She's Vasilisa Dragomir."
"Ah." His face split into a huge grin. "I knew you were trouble as soon as I saw you. You're Janine Hathaway's daughter."
"I'm Rose Hathaway," I corrected, not wanting to be defined by my mother.
"Nice to meet you, Rose Hathaway." He extended a gloved hand to me that I hesitantly took. "Adrian Ivashkov."
"And you think I'm trouble," I muttered. The Ivashkovs were a royal family, one of the wealthiest and most powerful. They were the kind of people who thought they could get anything they wanted and walked over those in their way. No wonder he was so arrogant.
He laughed. He had a nice laugh, rich and almost melodious. It made me think of warm caramel, dripping from a spoon. "Handy, huh? Each of our reputations precedes us."
I shook my head. "You don't know anything about me. And I only know of your family. I don't know anything about you."
"Want to?" he asked tauntingly.
"Sorry. I'm not into older guys."
"I'm twenty-one. Not that much older."
"I have a boyfriend." It was a small lie. Mason certainly wasn't my boyfriend yet, but I hoped Adrian would leave me alone if he thought I was taken.
"Funny you didn't mention that right away," Adrian mused. "He didn't give you that black eye, did he?"
I felt myself blushing, even in the cold. I'd been hoping he wouldn't notice the eye, which was stupid. With his vampire eyes, he'd probably noticed as soon as I stepped onto the porch.
"He wouldn't be alive if he did. I got it during ... practice. I mean, I'm training to be a guardian. Our classes are always rough."
"That's pretty hot," he said. He dropped this second cigarette to the ground and put it out with his foot.
"Punching me in the eye?"
"Well, no. Of course not. I meant that the idea of getting rough with you is hot. I'm a big fan of full-contact sports."
"I'm sure you are," I said dryly. He was arrogant and presumptuous, yet I still couldn't quite force myself to leave.
The sound of footsteps behind me made me turn. Mia came around the path and walked up the steps. When she saw us, she stopped suddenly.
She glanced between the two of us.
"Another guy?" she asked. From her tone, you would have thought I had my own harem of men.
Adrian gave me a questioning, amused look. I gritted my teeth and decided not to dignify that with a response. I opted for uncharacteristic politeness.
"Mia, this is Adrian Ivashkov."
Adrian turned on the same charm he'd used on me. He shook her hand. "Always a pleasure to meet a friend of Rose's, especially a pretty one." He spoke like he and I had known each other since childhood.
"We aren't friends," I said. So much for politeness.
"Rose only hangs out with guys and psychopaths," said Mia. Her voice carried the usual scorn she harbored for me, but there was a look on her face that showed Adrian had clearly caught her interest.
"Well," he said cheerfully, "since I'm both a psychopath and a guy, that would explain why we're such good friends."
"You and I aren't friends either," I told him.
He laughed. "Always playing hard to get, huh?"
"She's not that hard to get," said Mia, clearly upset that Adrian was paying more attention to me. "Just ask half the guys at our school."
"Yeah," I retorted, "and you can ask the other half about Mia. If you can do a favor for her, she'll do lots of favors for you." When she'd declared war on Lissa and me, Mia had managed to get a couple of guys to tell everyone at school that I'd done some pretty awful things with them. The ironic thing was that she'd gotten them to lie for her by sleeping with them herself.
A flicker of embarrassment passed over her face, but she held her ground.
"Well," she said, "at least I don't do them for free."
Adrian made some cat noises.
"Are you done?" I asked. "It's past your bedtime, and the grown-ups would like to talk now." Mia's youthful looks were a sore point with her, one I frequently enjoyed exploiting.
"Sure," she said crisply. Her cheeks turned pink, intensifying her porcelain-doll appearance. "I have better things to do anyway." She turned toward the door, then paused with her hand resting on it. She glanced toward Adrian. "Her mom gave her that black eye, you know."
She went inside. The fancy glass doors swung shut behind her.
Adrian and I stood there in silence. Finally, he took out the cigarettes again and lit another. "Your mom?"
"You're one of those people who either has soul mates or mortal enemies, aren't you? No in-between. You and Vasilisa are probably like sisters, huh?"
"How is she?"
"Huh? What do you mean?"
He shrugged, and if I didn't know better, I'd have said he was overdoing casualness. "I don't know. I mean, I know you guys ran away...and there was that stuff with her family and Victor Dashkov...."
I stiffened at the reference to Victor. "So?"
"Dunno. Just figured it might be a lot for her to, you know, handle."
I studied him carefully, wondering what he was getting at. There had been a brief leak about Lissa's fragile mental health, but it had been well-contained. Most people had forgotten about it or assumed it was a lie.
"I've got to go." I decided avoidance was the best tactic just now.
"Are you sure?" He sounded only mildly disappointed. Mostly he seemed as cocky and amused as before. Something about him still intrigued me, but whatever it was, it wasn't enough to combat everything else I was feeling, or to risk discussing Lissa. "I thought it was time for the grown-ups to talk. Lots of grown-up things I'd like to talk about."
"It's late, I'm tired, and your cigarettes are giving me a headache," I growled.
"I suppose that's fair." He drew in on the cigarette and let out the smoke. "Some women think they make me look sexy."
"I think you smoke them so you have something to do while thinking up your next witty line."
He choked on the smoke, caught between inhaling and laughing. "Rose Hathaway, I can't wait to see you again. If you're this charming while tired and annoyed and this gorgeous while bruised and in ski clothes, you must be devastating at your peak."
"If by 'devastating' you mean that you should fear for your life, then yeah. You're right." I jerked open the door. "Good night, Adrian."
"I'll see you soon."
"Not likely. I told you, I'm not into older guys."
I walked into the lodge. As the door closed, I just barely heard him call behind me, "Sure, you aren't."
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