Christian was kissing her, and wow, was it a kiss.He wasn’t messing around.It was the kind of kiss that small children shouldn’t be allowed to see.
Hell, it was the kind of kiss no one should be allowed to see- let alone experience through a psychic link.
As I’ve noted before, strong emotion from Lissa could make this phenomenon happen- the one where I got pulled inside her head. But always, always, it was because of some negative emotion. She’d get upset or angry or depressed, and that would reach out to me. But this time? She wasn’t upset.
She was happy. Very, very happy.
Oh man. I needed to get out of here.
They were up in the attic of the school’s chapel or, as I liked to call it, their love nest. The place had been a regular hangout for them, back when each of them was feeling antisocial and wanted to escape. Eventually, they’d decided to be antisocial together, and one thing had led to another. Since they started publicly dating, I hadn’t known they spent much time here anymore. Maybe they were back for old time’s sake.
And indeed, a celebration did seem to be going on. Little scented candles were set up around the dusty old place, candles that filled the air with the scent of lilacs. I would have been a little nervous about setting all those candles in a confined space filled with flammable boxes and books, but Christian probably figured he could control any accidental infernos.
They finally broke that insanely long kiss and pulled back to look at each other. They lay on their sides on the floor. Several blankets had been spread under them.
Christian’s face was open and tender as he regarded Lissa, his pale blue eyes aglow with some inner emotion. It was different from the way Mason regarded me. There was certainly adoration with him, but Mason’s was a lot like when you walk into a church and fall to your knees in awe and fear of something you worship but don’t really understand. Christian clearly worshipped Lissa in his way, but there was a knowing glint to his eyes, a sense that the two of them shared an understanding of each other so perfect and powerful that they didn’t even need words to convey it.
“Don’t you think we’re going to go to hell for this?” asked Lissa.
He reached out and touched her face, trailing his fingers along her cheek and neck and down to the top of her silky shirt. She breathed heavily at that touch, at the way it could be so gentle and small, yet evoke such a strong passion within her.
“For this?” He played with the shirt’s edge, letting his finger just barely brush inside of it.
“No,” she laughed. “For this.” She gestured around the attic. “This is a church. We shouldn’t be doing this kind of, um, thing up here.”
“Not true,” he argued. Gently, he pushed her onto her back and leaned over her. “The church is downstairs. This is just storage. God won’t mind.”
“You don’t believe in God,” she chastised. Her hands made their way down his chest. Her movements were as light and deliberate as his, yet they clearly triggered the same powerful response in him.
He sighed happily as her hands slid under his shirt and up his stomach. “I’m humoring you.”
“You’d say anything right now,” she accused. Her fingers caught the edge of his shirt and pushed it up. He shifted so she could push it all the way off him and then leaned back over her, bare-chested.
“You’re right,” he agreed. He carefully undid one button on her blouse. Just one. Then he again leaned down and gave her one of those hard, deep kisses. When he came up for air, he continued on as though nothing had happened. “Tell me what you need to hear, and I’ll say it.” He unfastened another button.
“There’s nothing I need to hear,” she laughed. Another button popped free. “You can tell me whatever you want- it’d just be nice if it were true.”
“The truth, huh? No one wants to hear the truth. The truth is never sexy. But you …” The last button came undone, and he spread her shirt away. “You are too goddamned sexy to be real.”
His words held his trademark snarky tone, but his eyes conveyed a different message entirely. I was witnessing this scene through Lissa’s eyes, but I could imagine what he saw. Her smooth, white skin. Slender waist and hips. A lacy white bra. Through her, I could feel that the lace was itchy, but she didn’t care.
Feelings both fond and hungry spread over his features. From within Lissa, I could feel her heart race and breathing quicken. Emotions similar to Christian’s clouded all other coherent thoughts. Shifting down, he lay on top of her, pressing their bodies together. His mouth sought hers out again, and as their lips and tongues made contact, I knew I had to get out of there.
Because I understood it now. I understood why Lissa had dressed up and why the love nest had been decked out like a Yankee Candles showroom. This was it. The moment. After a month of dating, they were going to have sex. Lissa, I knew, had done it before with a past boyfriend. I didn’t know Christian’s past, but I sincerely doubted many girls had fallen prey to his abrasive charm.
But in feeling what Lissa felt, I could tell that none of that mattered. Not in that moment. In that moment, there were only the two of them and the way they felt about each other right now. And in a life filled with more worries than someone her age should have had, Lissa felt absolutely certain about what she was doing now. It was what she wanted. What she’d wanted for a very long time with him.
And I had no right to be witnessing it.
Who was I kidding? I didn’t want to witness it. I took no pleasure in watching other people get it on, and I sure as hell didn’t want to experience sex with Christian. It’d be like losing my virginity virtually.
But Jesus Christ, Lissa wasn’t making it easy to get out of her head. She had no desire to detach from her feelings and emotions, and the stronger they grew, the stronger they held me. Trying to distance myself from her, I focused my energies on coming back to myself, concentrating as hard as I could.
More clothes disappeared …
Come on, come on, I told myself sternly.
The condom came out… yikes.
You’re your own person, Rose. Get back in your head.
Their limbs intertwined, their bodies moving together …
Son of a-
I ripped out of her and back to myself. Once again, I was back in my room, but I no longer had any interest in packing my backpack. My whole world was askew. I felt strange and violated- almost unsure if I was Rose or if I was Lissa. I also felt that resentment toward Christian again. I certainly didn’t want to have sex with Lissa, but there was that same pang inside of me, that frustrated feeling that I was no longer the center of her world.
Leaving the backpack untouched, I went right to bed, wrapping my arms around myself and curling into a ball to try to squelch the ache within my chest.
I fell asleep pretty quickly and woke up early as a result. Usually, I had to be dragged out of bed to go meet Dimitri, but today I showed up early enough that I actually beat him to the gym. As I waited, I saw Mason cutting across to one of the buildings that held classrooms.
“Whoa,” I called. “Since when are you up this early?”
“Since I had to retake a math test,” he said, walking over to me. He gave me his mischievous smile. “Might be worth skipping, though, to hang out with you.”
I laughed, remembering my conversation with Lissa. Yes, there were definitely worse things I could do than flirt and start something with Mason.
“Nah. You might get in trouble, then I’d have no real challenge on the slopes.”
He rolled his eyes, still smiling. “I’m the one with no real challenge, remember?”
“You ready to bet on something yet? Or are you still too afraid?”
“Watch it,” he warned, “or I might take back your Christmas present.”
“You got me a present?” I hadn’t expected that.
“Yup. But if you keep back-talking, I might give it to someone else.”
“Like Meredith?” I teased.
“She isn’t even in your league, and you know it.”
“Even with a black eye?” I asked with a grimace.
“Even with two black eyes.”
The look he gave me just then wasn’t teasing or even really suggestive. It was just nice. Nice, friendly, and interested. Like he really cared. After all the stress lately, I decided I liked being cared about. And with the neglect I was starting to feel from Lissa, I realized I also kind of liked having someone who wanted to pay so much attention to me.
“What are you doing on Christmas?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Nothing. My mom almost came down but had to cancel at the last minute … you know, with everything that happened.”
Mason’s mother wasn’t a guardian. She was a dhampir who’d chosen to just be domestic and have kids. As a result, I knew he saw her quite a bit. It was ironic, I thought, that my mom actually was here, but for all intents and purposes, she might as well have been somewhere else.
“Come hang with me,” I said on impulse. “I’ll be with Lissa and Christian and his aunt. It’ll be fun.”
“That’s not what I was asking about.”
I grinned. “I know. Just be there, okay?”
He swept me one of the gallant bows he liked to make. “Absolutely.”
Mason wandered off just as Dimitri showed up for our practice. Talking to Mason had made me feel giddy and happy; I hadn’t thought about my face at all with him. But with Dimitri, I suddenly became self-conscious. I didn’t want to be anything less than perfect with him, and as we walked inside, I went out of my way to avert my face so he couldn’t look at me full-on. Worrying about that brought my mood down, and as it plummeted, all the other things that had been upsetting me came tumbling back.
We returned to the training room with the dummies, and he told me he simply wanted me to practice the maneuvers from two days ago. Happy he wasn’t going to bring up the fight, I set to my task with a burning zeal, showing the dummies just what would happen if they messed with Rose Hathaway. I knew my fighting fury was fired up by more than just a simple desire to do well. My feelings were out of control this morning, raw and intense after both the fight with my mother and what I’d witnessed with Lissa and Christian last night. Dimitri sat back and watched me, occasionally critiquing my technique and offering suggestions for new tactics.
“Your hair’s in the way,” he said at one point. “Not only are you blocking your peripheral vision, you’re running the risk of letting your enemy get a handhold.”
“If I’m actually in a fight, I’ll wear it up.” I grunted as I shoved the stake neatly up between the dummy’s “ribs.” I didn’t know what these artificial bones were made of, but they were a bitch to work around. I thought about my mom again and added a little extra force to the jab. “I’m just wearing it down today, that’s all.”
“Rose,” he said warningly. Ignoring him, I plunged again. His voice came more sharply the next time he spoke. “Rose. Stop.”
I backed away from the dummy, surprised to find my breathing labored. I hadn’t realized I was working that hard. My back hit the wall. With nowhere to go, I looked away from him, directing my eyes toward the ground.
“Look at me,” he ordered.
“Look at me.”
No matter our close history, he was still my instructor. I couldn’t refuse a direct order. Slowly, reluctantly, I turned toward him, still tilting my head slightly down so the hair hung over the sides of my face. Rising from his chair, he walked over and stood before me.
I avoided his eyes but saw his hand move forward to brush back my hair. Then it stopped. As did my breathing. Our short-lived attraction had been filled with questions and reservations, but one thing I’d known for sure: Dimitri had loved my hair. Maybe he still loved it. It was great hair, I’ll admit. Long and silky and dark. He used to find excuses to touch it, and he’d counseled me against cutting it as so many female guardians did.
His hand hovered there, and the world stood still as I waited to see what he would do. After what seemed like an eternity, he let his hand gradually fall back to his side. Burning disappointment washed over me, yet at the same time, I’d learned something. He’d hesitated. He’d been afraid to touch me, which maybe- just maybe- meant he still wanted to. He’d had to hold himself back.
I slowly tipped my head back so that we made eye contact. Most of my hair fell back from my face- but not all. His hand trembled again, and I hoped again he’d reach forward. The hand steadied. My excitement dimmed.
“Does it hurt?” he asked. The scent of that aftershave, mingled with his sweat, washed over me. God, I wished he had touched me.
“No,” I lied.
“It doesn’t look so bad,” he told me. “It’ll heal.”
“I hate her,” I said, astonished at just how much venom those three words held. Even while suddenly turned on and wanting Dimitri, I still couldn’t drop the grudge I held against my mother.
“No, you don’t,” he said gently.
“You don’t have time to hate anyone,” he advised, his voice still kind. “Not in our profession. You should make peace with her.”
Lissa had said exactly the same thing. Outrage joined my other emotions. That darkness within me started to unfurl. “Make peace with her? After she gave me a black eye on purpose! Why am I the only one who sees how crazy that is?”
“She absolutely did not do it on purpose,” he said, voice hard. “No matter how much you resent her, you have to believe that. She wouldn’t do that, and anyway, I saw her later that day. She was worried about you.”
“Probably more worried someone will bring her up on child abuse charges,” I grumbled.
“Don’t you think this is the time of year for forgiveness?”
I sighed loudly. “This isn’t a Christmas special! This is my life. In the real world, miracles and goodness just don’t happen.”
He was still eyeing my calmly. “In the real world, you can make your own miracles.”
My frustration suddenly hit a breaking point, and I gave up trying to maintain my control. I was so tired of being told reasonable, practical things whenever something went wrong in my life. Somewhere in me, I knew Dimitri only wanted to help, but I just wasn’t up for the well-meant words. I wanted comfort for my problems. I didn’t want to think about what would make me a better person. I wished he’d just hold me and tell me not to worry.
“Okay, can you just stop this for once?” I demanded, hands on my hips.
“The whole profound Zen crap thing. You don’t talk to me like a real person. Everything you say is just some wise, life-lesson nonsense. You really do sound like a Christmas special.” I knew it wasn’t entirely fair to take my anger out on him, but I found myself practically shouting. “I swear, sometimes it’s just like you want to hear yourself talk! And I know you’re not always this way. You were perfectly normal when you talked to Tasha. But with me? You’re just going through the motions. You don’t care about me. You’re just stuck in your stupid mentor role.”
He stared at me, uncharacteristically surprised. “I don’t care about you?”
“No.” I was being petty- very, very petty. And I knew the truth- that he did care and was more than just a mentor. I couldn’t help myself, though. It just kept coming and coming. I jabbed his chest with my finger. “I’m another student to you. You just go on and on with your stupid life lessons so that- “
The hand I’d hoped would touch my hair suddenly reached out and grabbed my pointing hand. He pinned it to the wall, and I was surprised to see a flare of emotion in his eyes. It wasn’t exactly anger…but it was frustration of another kind.
“Don’t tell me what I’m feeling,” he growled.
I saw then that half of what I’d said was true. He was almost always calm, always in control- even when fighting. But he’d also told me how he’d once snapped and beaten up his Moroi father. He’d actually been like me once- always on the verge of acting without thinking, doing things he knew he shouldn’t.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” I asked.
“You’re always fighting for control. You’re the same as me.”
“No,” he said, still obviously worked up. “I’ve learned my control.”
Something about this new realization emboldened me. “No,” I informed him. “You haven’t. You put on a good face, and most of the time you do stay in control. But sometimes you can’t. And sometimes …” I leaned forward, lowering my voice. “Sometimes you don’t want to.”
I could see his labored breathing and knew his heart was beating as quickly as mine. And he wasn’t pulling away. I knew this was wrong- knew all the logical reasons for us staying apart. But right then, I didn’t care. I didn’t want to control myself. I didn’t want to be good.
Before he realized what was happening, I kissed him. Our lips met, and when I felt him kiss me back, I knew I was right. He pressed himself closer, trapping me between him and the wall. He kept holding my hand, but his other one snaked behind my head, sliding into my hair. The kiss was filled with so much intensity; it held anger, passion, release….
He was the one who broke it. He jerked away from me and took several steps back, looking shaken.
“Do not do that again,” he said stiffly.
“Don’t kiss me back then,” I retorted.
He stared at me for what seemed like forever. “I don’t give ‘Zen lessons’ to hear myself talk. I don’t give them because you’re another student. I’m doing this to teach you control.”
“You’re doing a great job,” I said bitterly.
He closed his eyes for half a second, exhaled, and muttered something in Russian. Without another glance at me, he turned and left the room.