Blood Promise Chapter Twenty

The days after that were like a dream.In fact, I honestly can’t say how many days even passed.Maybe it was one.

Maybe it was a hundred.

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I lost track of day and night too. My time was divided into Dimitri or not-Dimitri. He was my world. When he wasn’t there, the moments were agony. I’d pass them as best I could, but they seemed to drag on forever. The TV was my best friend during those times. I’d lie on the couch for hours, only half following what was going on. In keeping with the rest of the suite’s luxury, I had access to satellite television, which meant we were actually pulling in some American programming. Half the time, though, I wasn’t sure that it really made a difference to me if the language was Russian or English.

Inna continued her periodic checks on me. She brought my meals and did my laundry-I was wearing the dresses now-and waited around in that silent way of hers to see if I needed anything else. I never did-at least not from her. I only needed Dimitri. Each time she left, some distant part of me remembered I was supposed to do something… follow her, that was it. I’d had some plan to check out the exit and use her as a way to escape, right? Now, that plan no longer held the appeal. It seemed like a lot of work.

And then, finally, Dimitri would visit, and the monotony would be broken. We’d lie together on my bed, wrapped in each other’s arms. We never had sex, but we’d kiss and touch and lose ourselves in the wonder of each other’s bodies-sometimes with very little clothing. After a while, I found it hard to believe I’d once been afraid of his new appearance. Sure, the eyes were a bit shocking, but he was still gorgeous… still unbelievably sexy. And after we’d talked and made out for a while-for hours, sometimes-I’d let him bite me. Then I’d get that rush… that wonderful, exquisite flood of chemicals that lifted me from all my problems. Whatever doubts I’d had about God’s existence vanished in those moments because surely, surely I was touching God when I lost myself in that bite. This was heaven.

“Let me see your neck,” he said one day.

We were lying together as usual. I was on my side, and he was snuggled up against my back, one arm draped around my waist. I rolled over and brushed my hair away from where it had fallen over my neck and cleavage. The dress I wore today was a navy halter sundress, made of some light, clingy material.

“Already?” I asked. He usually didn’t bite me until the end of his visits. While part of me longed for that and waited in anticipation to feel that high again, I did kind of enjoy these moments beforehand. It was when the endorphins in my system were at their lowest, so I was able to manage some sort of conversation. We would talk about fights we’d been in or the life he imagined for us when I was Strigoi. Nothing too sentimental-but nice nonetheless.

I braced myself for the bite now, arching up in anticipation. To my surprise, he didn’t lean down and sink his teeth into me. He reached into his pocket and produced a necklace. It was either white gold or platinum-I didn’t have the skill to tell which-and had three dark blue sapphires the size of quarters. He’d brought me a lot of jewelry this week, and I swore each piece was more beautiful than the last.

I stared in amazement at its beauty, at the way the blue stones glittered in the light. He placed the necklace against my skin and fastened it behind my neck. Running his fingers along the necklace’s edges, he nodded in approval.

“Beautiful.” His fingers drifted to one of the dress’s straps. He slid his hand underneath it, sending a thrill through my skin. “It matches.”

I smiled. In the old days, Dimitri had almost never gotten me gifts. He hadn’t had the means, and I hadn’t wanted them anyway. Now, I was continually dazzled by the presents he seemed to have at each visit.

“Where’d you get it?” I asked. The metal was cool against my flushed skin but nowhere near as cold as his fingers.

He smiled slyly. “I have my sources.”

That chastising voice in my head that sometimes managed to penetrate through the haze I lived in noted that I was involved with some sort of vampire gangster. Its warnings were immediately squashed and sank back down into my dreamy cloud of existence. Ho w could I be upset when the necklace was so beautiful? Something suddenly struck me as funny.

“You’re just like Abe.”

“Who?”

“This guy I met. Abe Mazur. He’s some kind of mob boss… he kept following me.”

Dimitri stiffened. “Abe Mazur was following you?”

I didn’t like the dark look that had suddenly fallen over his features. “Yeah. So?”

“Why? What did he want with you?”

“I don’t know. He kept wanting to know why I was in Russia but finally gave up and just wanted me to leave. I think somebody from home hired him to find me.”

“I don’t want you near Abe Mazur. He’s dangerous.” Dimitri was angry, and I hated that. A moment later, that fury faded, and he ran his fingers along my arm once more, pushing the strap down further. “Of course, people like that won’t be an issue when you awaken.”

Somewhere, in the back of my head, I wondered if Dimitri had the answers I wanted about Abe-about what Abe did. But talking about Abe had made Dimitri upset, and I cringed at that, hastily wanting to switch topics.

“What have you been doing today?” I asked, impressed at my ability to make normal small talk. Between the endorphins and him touching me, coherence was difficult.

“Errands for Galina. Dinner.”

Dinner. A victim. I frowned. The feelings that inspired in me weren’t of repulsion so much as… jealousy.

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“Do you drink from them… for fun?”

He ran his lips along my neck, teeth taunting my skin but not biting. I gasped and pressed closer to him.

“No, Roza. They’re food; that’s all. It’s over quickly. You’re the only one I take pleasure in.”

I felt smug satisfaction in that, and that annoying mental voice pointed out that that was an incredibly sick and twisted view for me to have. I kind of hoped he would bite me soon. That usually shut the rational voice up.

I reached up and touched his face, then ran my hand through that wonderful, silky hair that I’d always loved. “You keep wanting to awaken me… but we won’t be able to do this anymore. Strigoi don’t drink from each other, do they?”

“No,” he agreed. “But it’ll be worth it. We can do so much more…”

He left the “so much more” to my imagination, and a pleasant shiver ran through me. The kissing and blood taking were intoxicating, but there were some days that I did want, well… more. The memories of the one time we’d made love haunted me when we were this close together, and I often longed to do it again. For whatever reason, he never pushed for sex, no matter how passionate things became. I wasn’t sure if he was using that as a lure for me to turn or if there was some incompatibility between a Strigoi and a dhampir. Could the living and the dead do that?

Once, I would have found the thought of sex with one of them absolutely repulsive. Now… I just didn’t think about the complications so much.

But although he didn’t attempt sex, he would often taunt me with his caresses, touching my thighs and sternum and other dangerous places. Plus, he would remind me of what it had been like that one time, how amazing it had been, how our bodies had felt… His talk of such things was more taunting than affectionate, though.

In my semi-clear moments, I honestly thought it was strange that I hadn’t yet consented to becoming Strigoi. The endorphin fog made me agree to almost everything else he wanted. I’d fallen comfortably into dressing up for him, staying in my gilded prison, and accepting that he took a victim every couple days. Yet even in my most incoherent moments, even when I wanted him so badly, I couldn’t agree to turning. There was some intrinsic part of me that refused to budge. Most of the time, he would shrug off my refusal, like it was a joke. But every once in a while when I declined, I’d see a spark of anger in his eyes. Those moments scared me.

“Here it comes,” I teased. “The sales pitch. Eternal life. Invincible. Nothing to stand in our way.”

“It’s not a joke,” he said. Oops. My flippancy had brought that hardness back to him. The desire and fondness that I’d just seen now fractured into a million pieces and blew away. The hands that had just stroked me suddenly grabbed my wrists and held me in place as he leaned down. “We can’t stay like this forever. You can’t stay here forever.”

Whoa, that voice said. Be careful. That doesn’t sound good. His grip hurt, and I often wondered if that was his intent or if he just couldn’t help his violence.

When he finally released me, I wrapped my arm around his neck and tried to kiss him. “Can’t we talk about that later?” Our lips met, fire blossoming between us and urgency coursing through my body. I could tell he had a matching desire, but a few seconds later, he broke away. The cold annoyance was still on his face.

“Come on,” he said, pulling away from me. “Let’s go.”

He stood up, and I stared stupidly. “Where are we going?”

“Outside.”

I sat up on the bed, dumbfounded. “Out… outside? But… that’s not allowed. We can’t.”

“We can do anything I want,” he snapped.

He extended his hand and helped me up. I followed him to the door. He was as skilled as Inna at blocking me from the keypad, not that it mattered now. There was no way I could ever remember that long of a sequence anymore.

The door clicked open, and he led me out. I stared in wonder, my dazed brain still trying to process this freedom. As I’d noticed that one day, the door led to a short corridor blocked by another door. It too was heavy and bore a keypad lock. Dimitri opened it, and I was willing to bet the two doors had different codes.

Taking my arm, he guided me through that door and into another hallway. Despite his firm hold, I couldn’t help but come to a standstill. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at the opulence I suddenly faced. After all, I was living in this place’s penthouse suite. But the corridor leading out of my room had been stark and industrial-looking, and somehow I’d imagined the rest of the house to be equally institutional or prisonlike.

It wasn’t. Instead, I felt like I was in some old movie, the kind where people took tea in the parlor. The plush carpet was covered by a gold patterned runner that stretched off in both directions of the hall. Antique-looking paintings dotted the walls, showing people from ages ago in elaborate clothing that made my dresses look cheap and ordinary. The whole place was illuminated by tiny chandeliers that were spaced along the ceiling every six feet or so. The teardrop-shaped crystals caught the light with their facets, scattering small flecks of rainbows on the walls. I stared, enchanted by the glitter and the color, which is probably why I failed to notice one other fixture in the hall.

“What are you doing?”

The harsh sound of Nathan’s voice jerked me from my crystal gazing. He’d been leaning against the wall opposite my door and straightened immediately upon seeing us. He had that same cruel expression on his face that was so characteristic of Strigoi, the one I occasionally saw on Dimitri, no matter how charming and kind he seemed sometimes.

Dimitri’s posture turned rigid and defensive. “I’m taking her for a walk.” He kind of sounded like he was talking about a dog, but my fear of Nathan trumped any offense I might take.

“That’s against the rules,” said Nathan. “Bad enough you’ve still got her here. Galina gave orders for you to keep her confined. We don’t need some rogue dhampir running around.”

Dimitri nodded toward me. “Does she look like she’s a threat?”

Nathan’s eyes flicked over at me. I wasn’t entirely sure what he saw. I didn’t think I looked that different, but a small smirk crossed his lips that promptly disappeared when he turned back to Dimitri. “No, but I was ordered to babysit this door, and I’m not going to get in trouble for you taking a field trip.”

“I’ll deal with Galina. I’ll tell her I overpowered you.” Dimitri gave a fang-filled grin. “It shouldn’t be that hard for her to believe.”

The look Nathan gave Dimitri made me unconsciously step back until I hit the wall. “You’re so full of yourself. I didn’t awaken you so that you could act like you’re in charge around here. I did it so that we could use your strength and inside knowledge. You should be answering to me.”

Dimitri shrugged. Taking my hand, he started to turn away. “Not my fault if you’re not strong enough to make me do it.”

That was when Nathan lunged at Dimitri. Dimitri responded so quickly to the attack that I think he knew it would happen. He instantly released my hand, turned to catch hold of Nathan, and tossed the other Strigoi against the wall. Nathan immediately got up-it took more than that kind of hit to faze someone like him-but Dimitri was ready. He punched Nathan in the nose-once, twice, and then a third time, all in rapid succession.

Nathan fell down, blood covering his face. Dimitri kicked him hard in the stomach and loomed over him.

“Don’t try it,” said Dimitri. “You’ll lose.” He wiped Nathan’s blood off of his hand and then laced his fingers through mine again. “I told you, I’ll deal with Galina. But thanks for your concern.”

Dimitri turned away again, apparently feeling there’d be no more attacks. There weren’t. But as I started to follow him, I cast a quick glance over my shoulder to where Nathan sat on the floor. His eyes shot daggers at Dimitri, and I was pretty sure I’d never seen a look of such pure hatred-at least until he turned his gaze on me. I felt cold all over and stumbled to keep up with Dimitri.

Nathan’s voice rang out behind us. “You’re not safe! Neither of you is. She’s lunch, Belikov. Lunch.”

Dimitri’s hand tightened on mine, and he picked up the pace. I could feel the fury radiating off of him and suddenly wasn’t sure whom I should be more afraid of: Nathan or Dimitri. Dimitri was a badass, alive or undead. In the past, I’d seen him attack foes without fear or hesitation. He’d always been magnificent, behaving just as bravely as I’d told his family. But in all those times, he’d always had a legitimate reason for fighting usually self defense. His confrontation with Nathan just then had been about more, though. It had been an assertion of dominance and a chance to draw blood. Dimitri had seemed to enjoy it. What if he decided to turn on me like that? What if my constant refusal pushed him into torture, and he hurt me until I finally agreed? “Nathan scares me,” I said, not wanting Dimitri to know that I feared him too. I felt weak and utterly defenseless, something that didn’t happen to me very often. Usually, I was ready to take on any challenge, no matter how desperate.

“He won’t touch you,” Dimitri said harshly. “You have nothing to worry about.”

We reached a set of stairs. After a few steps, it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to handle four flights. Aside from the drugged stupor his bites kept me in, the frequent blood loss was weakening me and taking its toll. Without saying a word, Dimitri swept me up in his arms and carried me downstairs effortlessly, gently setting me down when we reached the staircase’s bottom.

The main floor of the estate had the same grand feel as the upstairs hall. The entryway had a huge vaulted ceiling with an elaborate chandelier that dwarfed the little ones I’d seen. Ornate double doors faced us, set with stained-glass windows. What also faced us was another Strigoi, a man sitting in a chair and apparently on guard duty. Near him was a panel set into the wall with buttons and flashing lights. A modern security system set amongst all this old-world charm. His posture stiffened as we approached, and at first, I thought it was a natural bodyguard instinct-until I saw his face. It was the Strigoi I’d tortured that first night in Novosibirsk, the one I’d dispatched to tell Dimitri I was looking for him. His lips curled back slightly as he met my eyes.

“Rose Hathaway,” said the Strigoi. “I remember your name-just like you told me.”

He said no more than that, but I tightened my grip on Dimitri’s hand as we passed. The Strigoi’s eyes never left me until we’d stepped outside and shut the door behind us.

“He wants to kill me,” I told Dimitri.

“All Strigoi want to kill you,” Dimitri returned.

“He really does… I tortured him.”

“I know. He’s been in disgrace ever since then and lost some of his status here.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better.”

Dimitri seemed unconcerned. “Marlen is no one you need to worry about. You fighting him only proved to Galina that you’re a good addition around here. He’s beneath you.”

I didn’t find that overly reassuring. I was making too many personal Strigoi enemies-but then, it wasn’t like I could really expect to be making Strigoi friends.

It was nighttime, of course. Dimitri wouldn’t have taken me out otherwise. The foyer had made me think we were at the front of the house, but the extensive gardens that spread out around us made me wonder if we were in the back now. Or maybe the entire house was wrapped in this kind of greenery. We were surrounded in a hedge maze cut with beautiful detail. Within the maze were small courtyards, decorated with fountains or statues. And everywhere were flowers and more flowers. The air was heavy with their scent, and I realized that someone had gone to an awful lot of trouble to find night-blooming ones. The only type I immediately recognized was jasmine, its long, white-flowered vines climbing up trellises and statues in the maze.

We walked in silence for a bit, and I found myself lost in the romance of it all. The whole time Dimitri and I had been together at school, I’d been consumed with the fears of how we would juggle our relationship and our duty. A moment like this, walking in a garden on a spring night lit with stars, had seemed like a fantasy too crazy to even start to consider.

Even without the difficulty of stairs, too much walking grew exhausting in my state. I came to a halt and sighed. “I’m tired,” I said.

Dimitri stopped too and helped me sit down. The grass was dry and tickly against my skin. I lay back against it, and a moment later, he joined me.

I had an eerie moment of deja vu, recalling the afternoon we’d made snow angels.

“This is amazing,” I said, staring up at the sky. It was clear, no clouds in sight. “What’s it like for you?”

“Hmm?”

“There’s enough light that I can see pretty clearly, but it’s still dim compared to day. Your eyes are better than mine. What do you see?”

“For me, it’s as bright as day.” When I didn’t respond, he added, “It could be like that for you, too.”

I tried to picture that. Would the shadows seem as mysterious? Would the moon and stars shine so brightly? “I don’t know. I kind of like the darkness.”

“Only because you don’t know any better.”

I sighed. “So you keep telling me.”

He turned toward me and pushed the hair away from my face. “Rose, this is driving me crazy. I’m tired of this waiting. I want us to be together.

Don’t you like this? What we have? It could be even better.” His words sounded romantic, but not the tone.

I did like this. I loved the haze I lived in, the haze in which all worries disappeared. I loved being close to him, loved the way he kissed me and told me he wanted me…

“Why?” I asked.

“Why what?” He sounded puzzled, something I hadn’t heard yet in a Strigoi.

“Why do you want me?” I had no idea why I even asked that. He apparently didn’t know either.

“Why wouldn’t I want you?”

He spoke in such an obvious way, like it was the stupidest question in the world. It probably was, I realized, and yet… I’d somehow been expecting another answer.

Just then, my stomach twisted. With all the time I’d spent with Dimitri, I really had managed to push the Strigoi nausea off my radar. The presence of other Strigoi increased it, though. I’d felt it around Nathan, and I felt it now. I sat up, and Dimitri did too, almost at the same time. He’d likely been alerted by his superior hearing.

A dark shape loomed over us, blotting out the stars. It was a woman, and Dimitri shot up. I stayed where I was, on the ground.

She was strikingly beautiful, in a hard and terrible way. Her build was similar to mine, indicating she hadn’t been a Moroi when turned. Isaiah, the Strigoi who’d captured me, had been very old, and power had radiated from him. This woman hadn’t been around nearly so long, but I could sense that she was older than Dimitri and much stronger.

She said something in Russian to him, and her voice was as cold as her beauty. Dimitri answered back, his tone confident yet polite. I heard Nathan’s name mentioned a couple of times as they spoke. Dimitri reached down and helped me up, and I felt embarrassed at how often I needed his assistance, when I used to almost be a match for him.

“Rose,” he said, “this is Galina. She’s the one who has been kind enough to let you stay.”

Galina’s face didn’t look so kind. It was devoid of all emotion, and I felt like my entire soul was exposed to her. While I was uncertain of a lot of things around here, I’d picked up enough to realize that my continual residence here was a rare and fragile thing. I swallowed.

“Spasibo,” I said. I didn’t know how to tell her it was nice to meet her-and honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was-but I figured a simple thank-you was good enough. If she’d been his former instructor and trained at a normal Academy, she probably knew English and was faking it like Yeva. I had no clue why she’d do that, but if you could snap a teen dhampir’s neck, you were entitled to do whatever you wanted.

Galina’s expression-or lack thereof-didn’t change with my thanks, and she turned her attention back to Dimitri. They conversed over me, and Dimitri gestured to me a couple of times. I recognized the word for strong.

Finally, Galina issued something that sounded final and left us without any sort of goodbye. Neither Dimitri nor I moved until I felt the nausea dissipate.

“Come on,” he said. “We should get back.”

We walked back through the maze, though I had no idea how he knew where to go. It was funny. When I’d first arrived, my dream had been to get outside and escape. Now that I was here… well, it didn’t seem that important. Galina’s anger did.

“What did she say?” I asked.

“She doesn’t like that you’re still here. She wants me to awaken you or kill you.”

“Oh. Um, what are you going to do?”

He stayed silent for a few seconds. “I’ll wait a little longer and then… I will make the choice for you.”

He didn’t specify which choice he’d be making, and I almost began my earlier pleas to die before becoming Strigoi. But suddenly, instead, I said, “How long?”

“Not long, Roza. You need to choose. And make the right choice.”

“Which is?”

He held up his hands. “All of this. A life together.”

We’d emerged from the maze. I stared at the house-which was crazy enormous when viewed from the outside-and at the beautiful gardens around us. It was like something from a dream. Beyond that, endless countryside rolled away, eventually becoming lost in the darkness and blending into the black sky-except for one tiny part that had a soft purple glow on the horizon. I frowned, studying it, then turned my attention back to Dimitri.

“And what then? Then I work for Galina too?”

“For a while.”

“How long is a while?”

We came to a stop outside the house. Dimitri looked down into my eyes, his face alight with a look that made me take a step back.

“Until we kill her, Rose. Until we kill her and take all of this for ourselves.”

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