Chapter Twenty-two

 

"YOU'RE AWFULLY HAPPY.' I blinked and found Sonya staring at me. The CR-V and smooth stretch of I-75 hummed around us, the outside revealing little except Midwestern plains and trees. Sonya didn't seem quite as creepy crazy as she had back at school or even at her house. Mostly, she still just seemed scattered and confused, which was to be expected. I hesitated before answering but finally decided there was no reason to hold back.

"Lissa passed her second monarch test.'

"Of course she did,' said Victor. He was staring out the window away from me. The tone of his voice suggested I'd just wasted his time by saying something that was a given. "Is she okay?' asked Dimitri. "Injured?'

Once, that would have sparked jealousy in me. Now, it was just a sign of our shared concern for Lissa.

"She's fine,' I said, wondering if that was entirely true. She wasn't physically injured, but after what she'd seen ... well, that had to leave scars of a different type. The back door had been quite a surprise too. When she'd seen a small crowd by the first door, she'd thought it meant only a few people were up that late to see the candidates. Nope. Turned out everyone was just waiting out back to see the victors. True to her promise, Lissa hadn't let it faze her. She walked out with her head held high, smiling at her onlookers and fans as though she already owned the crown.

I was growing sleepy but Lissa's triumph kept me smiling for a long time. There's something tiring about an endless, unknown stretch of highway. Victor had closed his eyes and was leaning against the glass. I couldn't see Sydney when I twisted around to check on her, meaning she also had decided on a nap or was just lying down. I yawned, wondering if I dared risk sleeping. Dimitri had urged me to when we left Sonya's house, knowing that I could use more than the couple hours Sydney had given me.

I tipped my head against the seat and closed my eyes, falling instantly asleep. The blackness of that sleep gave way to the feel of a spirit dream, and my heart leapt with both panic and joy. After living through Lissa's test, spirit dreams suddenly had a sinister feel. At the same time, this might be a chance to see Adrian. And ... it was.

Only we appeared somewhere entirely unexpected: Sonya's garden. I stared in wonder at the clear blue sky and the brilliant flowers, nearly overlooking Adrian in the process. He wore a dark green cashmere sweater that made him blend in. To me, he was more gorgeous than any of the garden's other wonders.

"Adrian!'

I ran to him, and he lifted me easily, spinning me around. When he placed me back on my feet, he studied the garden and nodded in approval. "I should let you pick the place more often. You have good taste. Of course, since you're dating me, we already knew that.'

"What do you mean, "pick the place?'' I asked, lacing my hands behind his neck.

He shrugged. "When I reached out and sensed you were sleeping, I summoned the dream but didn't feel like thinking up a place. So I left it to your subconscious.' Irritably, he plucked at the cashmere. "I'm not dressed for the occasion, though.' The sweater shimmered, soon replaced by a light gray T-shirt with an abstract design on the front. "Better?'

"Much.' He grinned and kissed the top of my forehead. "I've missed you, little dhampir. You can spy on Lissa and us all the time, but the best I get are these dreams, and honestly, I can't figure out what schedule you're on.'

I realized that with my "spying,' I knew more about what had just happened at Court than he did. "Lissa took her second test,' I told him.

Yup. His expression verified it. He hadn't known about the test, probably because he'd been sleeping. "When?'

"Just now. It was a tough one, but she passed.'

"Much to her delight, no doubt. Still ... that keeps buying us time to clear you and get you home. Not sure I'd want to come home if I were you, though.' He looked around the garden again. "West Virginia's a lot better than I thought.'

I laughed. "It's not West Virginia--which isn't that bad, by the way. It's Sonya Karp's-- '

I froze, unable to believe what I'd nearly said. I'd been so happy to see him, so at ease ... I'd let myself screw up. Adrian's face grew very, very serious.

"Did you say Sonya Karp?'

Several options played out in my head. Lying was the easiest. I could claim this was some place I'd been a long time ago, like maybe she'd taken us on a field trip to her house. That was pretty flimsy, though. Plus, I was guessing the look on my face screamed guilt. I'd been caught. A pretty lie wouldn't fool Adrian.

"Yes,' I said finally.

"Rose. Sonya Karp's a Strigoi.'

"Not anymore.'

Adrian sighed. "I knew you staying out of trouble was too good to be true. What happened?'

"Um, Robert Doru restored her.'

"Robert.' Adrian's lip curled in disdain. The two spirit users hadn't gotten along well. "And just because I feel like we're marching into full-fledged Crazy Territory--which means something, coming from me--I'm going to take a guess that Victor Dashkov is also with you.'

I nodded, wishing desperately then that someone would wake me up and get me away from Adrian's interrogation. Damn it. How could I have slipped up like this?

Adrian released me and walked around in small circles. "Okay, so. You, Belikov, the Alchemist, Sonya Karp, Victor Dashkov, and Robert Doru are all hanging out in West Virginia together.'

"No,' I said.

"No?'

"We're, uh, not in West Virginia.'

"Rose!' Adrian halted his pacing and strode back over to me. "Where the hell are you then? Your old man, Lissa--everyone thinks you're safe and sound.'

"I am,' I said haughtily. "Just not in West Virginia.'

"Then where?'

"I can't ... I can't tell you.' I hated saying those words to him and seeing the look they elicited. "Part of it's for safety. Part of it's because ... well, um, I don't actually know.' He caught hold of my hands. "You can't do this. You can't run off on some crazy whim this time. Don't you get it? They'll kill you if they find you.'

"It's not a crazy whim! We're doing something important. Something that's going to help all of us.'

"Something you can't tell me,' he guessed.

"It's better if you're not involved,' I said, squeezing his hands tightly. "Better if you don't know the details.'

"And in the meantime, I can rest easy knowing you've got an elite team at your back.'

"Adrian, please! Please just trust me. Trust that I've got a good reason,' I begged.

He let go of my hands. "I believe you think you've got a good reason. I just can't imagine one that justifies you risking your life.'

"It's what I do,' I said, surprised at how serious I sounded. "Some things are worth it.'

Pieces of static flickered across my vision, like TV reception going bad. The world started to fade. "What's going on?' I asked.

He scowled. "Someone or something's waking me up. Probably my mom checking in for the hundredth time.'

I reached for him, but he was fading away. "Adrian! Please don't tell anyone! Anyone.'

I don't know if he heard my pleas or not because the dream completely disappeared. I woke up in the car. My immediate reaction was to swear, but I didn't want to give away the idiotic thing I'd done. Glancing over, I nearly jumped out of my seat when I saw Sonya watching me intently.

"You were having a spirit dream,' she said.

"How'd you know?'

"Your aura.'

I made a face. "Auras used to be cool, but now they're just starting to get annoying.'

She laughed softly, the first time I'd heard her do so since being restored. "They're very informative if you know how to read them. Were you with Vasilisa?'

"No. My boyfriend. He's a spirit user too.'

Her eyes widened in surprise. "That's who you were with?'

"Yeah. Why? What's wrong?'

She frowned, looking puzzled. A few moments later, she glanced up toward the front seat, where Dimitri and Robert sat, and then studied me in a scrutinizing way that sent chills down my spine.

"Nothing,' she said. "Nothing's wrong.'

I had to scoff at that. "Come on, it sure seemed like--'

"There!' Sonya abruptly turned from me, leaned forward, and pointed. "Take that exit.'

We were nearly past "that exit,' and Dimitri had to do some fancy maneuvering--kind of like in our escape back in Pennsylvania--to make it. The car jerked and lurched, and I heard Sydney yelp behind me.

"A little warning next time would be helpful,' Dimitri noted.

Sonya wasn't listening. Her gaze was totally fixated on the road we'd pulled off onto. We came to a red light, where I caught sight of a cheery sign: WELCOME TO ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN. The spark of life I'd seen in her moments ago was gone. Sonya had returned to her tense, almost robotic self. Despite Sydney's clever negotiating, Sonya still seemed uncomfortable about this trip. She still felt guilty and traitorous. "Are we here?' I asked eagerly. "And how long were we on the road?' I'd hardly noticed the drive. I'd stayed awake for the first part of it, but the rest had been a blur of Lissa and Adrian.

"Six hours,' said Dimitri.

"Go left at that second light,' said Sonya. "Now right at the corner.'

Tension built in the car. Everyone was awake now, and my heart raced as we pushed deeper and deeper into suburbia. Which house? Were we close? Was one of these it? It was a fast drive but seemed to stretch forever. We all let out a collective breath when Sonya suddenly pointed.

"There.'

Dimitri pulled into the driveway of a cute brick house with a perfectly trimmed lawn. "Do you know if your relatives still live here?' I asked Sonya.

She said nothing, and I realized we were back to promise territory. Lockdown mode.

So much for progress. "I guess there's only one way to find out,' I said, unbuckling my seatbelt. "Same plan?'

Earlier, Dimitri and I had discussed who would go and who would stay behind if Sonya got us to the right place. Leaving the brothers behind was a no-brainer. The question had been who would guard them, and we'd decided Dimitri would while Sydney and I went with Sonya to meet her relatives--who were undoubtedly in for a shocking visit.

"Same plan,' agreed Dimitri. "You go to the house. You look less threatening.'

"Hey!'

He smiled. "I said "look.''

But his reasoning made sense. Even at ease, there was something powerful and intimidating about Dimitri. Three women going up to the door would freak these people out less--especially if it turned out Sonya's relatives had moved. Hell, for all I knew, she'd purposely led us to the wrong house.

"Be careful,' Dimitri said, as we got out of the car.

"You too,' I replied. That got me another smile, one a little warmer and deeper.

The feelings that stirred in me flitted away as Sonya, Sydney, and I walked up the sidewalk. My chest tightened. This was it. Or was it? Were we about to reach the conclusion of our journey? Had we really found the last Dragomir, against all odds? Or had I been played from the beginning?

I wasn't the only one who was nervous. I could feel Sydney and Sonya crackling with tension too. We reached the front step. I took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.

Several seconds later, a man answered--and he was Moroi. A promising sign.

He looked at each of our faces, no doubt wondering what a Moroi, a dhampir, and a human were doing at his door. It sounded like the start of a bad joke.

"Can I help you?' he asked.

I was suddenly at a loss. Our plan had covered the big stuff: find Eric's mistress and love child. What we'd say once we actually got there wasn't so clear. I waited for one of my companions to speak up now, but there was no need. The Moroi man's head suddenly whipped to my side as he did a double take.

"Sonya?' he gasped. "Is that you?'

Then, I heard a young female voice behind him call, "Hey, who's here?' Someone squeezed in beside him, someone tall and slim--someone I knew. My breath caught as I stared at waves of unruly light brown hair and light green eyes--eyes that should have tipped me off a long time ago. I couldn't speak.

"Rose,' exclaimed Jill Mastrano. "What are you doing here?'

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