Last Sacrifice Chapter Fifteen

I DIDN’T LIKE TO SEE Victor Dashkov proven right.But, oh, was he ever.

With Lissa’s proclamation, the room that had been holding its breath suddenly exploded.I wondered if there had ever been a peaceful Council session in Moroi history or if I just kept coincidentally tuning into controversial ones.

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What followed today reminded me a lot of the day the dhampir age decree had passed. Shouting, arguments, people out of their chairs … Guardians who normally lined the walls and watched were out among the people, looks of concern on their faces as they prepared for any disputes that might go beyond words.

As quickly as Lissa had been at the center of everything, the room seemed to forget her. She sat back down, and Christian found her hand again. She squeezed it tightly, so much so I wondered if she was cutting off his circulation. She stared straight ahead, still reeling. Her mind wasn’t focused on all the chaos, but everything her eyes and ears perceived came through to me. Really, the only attention my friends received was when Daniella came over and scolded Adrian for nominating outside his family. He shrugged it off in his usual way, and she huffed off, realizing–like many of us–that there was really no point in trying to reason with Adrian.

You’d think that in a room where everyone was scrambling to push their own family’s advantage, every single person would therefore be arguing that Lissa’s nomination was invalid. That wasn’t the case, however–particularly because not everyone in the room was royal. Just as I’d noted earlier, Moroi from all over had come to witness the events that would determine their future. And a number of them were watching this Dragomir girl with interest, this princess from a dying line who could allegedly work miracles. They weren’t ravenously chanting her name, but many were in the thick of the arguments, saying she had every right to step up for her family. Part of me also suspected that some of her “common’ supporters simply liked the idea of thwarting the royal agenda. The young couple that had been harassed by Lady Badica weren’t the only ones there who’d been pushed around by their “betters.’

Most surprisingly, there were some royals speaking up for Lissa too. They might be loyal to their own families, but not all of them were heartless, selfish connivers. Many had a sense of right and wrong–and if Lissa had the law on her side, then she was in the right. Plus, lots of royals simply liked and respected her. Ariana was one person who advocated for Lissa’s nomination, despite the competition it created. Ariana knew the law well and undoubtedly realized the loophole that allowed Lissa to run would fail when election time came. Still, Ariana stood her ground, which endeared her to me even more. When the real voting did come, I hoped Ariana would win the crown. She was intelligent and fair–exactly what the Moroi needed.

Of course, Ariana wasn’t the only one who knew the law. Others picked up on the loophole and argued the nomination of a candidate that no one could vote for was pointless. Normally, I would have agreed. On and on the debate raged while my friends sat quietly in the hurricane’s eye. At long last, the matter was settled the way most decisions should be: through voting. With Lissa still denied her Council seat, that left eleven members to determine her future. Six of them approved her candidacy, making it official. She could run. I suspected some of those who voted for her didn’t truly want her running, but their respect for the law prevailed.

Many Moroi didn’t care what the Council said. They made it clear they considered this matter far from over, proving what Victor had said: this was going to rage on for a while, getting worse if she actually passed the tests and made it to the voting stages. For now, the crowd dispersed, seeming relieved–not only because they wanted to escape the yelling but also because they wanted to spread this sensational news.

Lissa continued saying little as she and our friends left. Walking past the gawkers, she remained a model of regality and calmness, like she’d already been declared queen. But when she finally escaped it all and was back in her room with the others, all those locked-up, frozen feelings exploded.

“What the hell were you guys thinking?’ she yelled. “What have you done to me?’ Along with Adrian, Christian, and Eddie, the rest of the conspirators had shown up: Tasha, Abe, and my mom. All of them were so completely stunned by this reaction from sweet Lissa that none of them could reply now. Lissa took advantage of their silence.

“You set me up! You’ve put me in the middle of a political nightmare! Do you think I want this? Do you really think I want to be queen?’

Abe recovered first, naturally. “You won’t be queen,’ he said, voice uncharacteristically soothing. “The people arguing about the other part of the law are right: no one can actually vote for you. You need family for that.’

“Then what’s the point?’ she exclaimed. She was furious. She had every right to be. But that outrage, that anger … it was fueled by something worse than this situation alone. Spirit was coming to claim its price and making her even more upset than she would have been.

“The point,’ said Tasha, “is everything crazy you just saw in the Council room. For every argument, for every time someone drags out the law books again, we have more time to save Rose and find out who killed Tatiana.’

“Whoever did it must have an interest in the throne,’ explained Christian. He rested a hand on Lissa’s shoulder, and she jerked away. “Either for themselves or someone they know. The longer we delay their plans, the more time we have to find out who it is.’

Lissa raked her hands through her long hair in frustration.

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I tried to pull that coil of fury from her, taking it into myself. I succeeded a little, enough that she dropped her hands to her side. But she was still pissed off.

“How am I supposed to look for the murderer when I’m tied up doing all those stupid tests?’ she demanded.

“You won’t be looking,’ said Abe. “We will.’

Her eyes widened. “That was never part of the plan! I’m not going to jump through royal hoops when Rose needs me. I want to help her!’

It was almost comical. Almost. Neither Lissa nor I could handle “sitting around’ when we thought the other needed our help. We wanted to be out there, actively doing what we could to fix the situation.

“You are helping her,’ said Christian. His hand twitched, but he didn’t try to touch her again. “It’s in a different way than you expected, but in the end, it’s going to help her.’

The same argument everyone kept using on me. It also made her just as angry as it had made me, and I desperately tugged at the wave of instability spirit kept sending through her.

Lissa peered around the room, looking accusingly at each face. “Who in the world thought of this idea?’

More uncomfortable silence followed.

“Rose did,’ said Adrian at last.

Lissa spun around and glared at him. “She did not! She wouldn’t do this to me!’

“She did,’ he said. “I talked to her in a dream. It was her idea, and … it was a good one.’ I didn’t really like how that seemed to come as a surprise to him. “Besides, you kind of put her in a bad situation too. She kept going on about how much the town she’s in sucks.’

“Okay,’ snapped Lissa, ignoring the part about my plight. “Supposing that’s true, that Rose passes this “brilliant’ idea on to you, then why didn’t anyone bother to tell me? Didn’t you think a little warning might help?’ Again, it was just like me complaining about how my jailbreak had been kept a secret from me.

“Not really,’ said Adrian. “We figured you’d react exactly like this and have time to plan a refusal. We kind of gambled that if you were caught on the spot, you’d accept.’

“That was kind of risky,’ she said.

“But it worked,’ came Tasha’s blunt response. “We knew you’d come through for us.’ She winked. “And for what it’s worth, I think you’d make a great queen.’

Lissa gave her a sharp look, and I made one more attempt to drag away some of the darkness. I concentrated on those churning emotions, imagining them in me instead of her. I didn’t pull it all but managed enough to take the fight out of her. Rage suddenly flared in me, blinding me momentarily, but I was able to push it off to a corner of my mind. She suddenly felt exhausted. I kind of did too.

“The first test is tomorrow,’ she said quietly. “If I fail it, I’m out. The plan falls apart.’

Christian made another attempt to put his arm around her, and this time, she let him. “You won’t.’

Lissa didn’t say anything else, and I could see the relief on everyone’s faces. No one believed for a second she liked this, but they seemed to think she wasn’t going to withdraw her nomination, which was as much as they could hope for.

My mother and Eddie had said nothing this entire time. As was common for guardians, they’d kept to the background, remaining shadows while Moroi business was conducted. With the initial storm passing over, my mother stepped forward. She nodded toward Eddie. “One of us is going to try to stay near you at all times.’

“Why?’ asked Lissa, startled.

“Because we know there’s someone out there who isn’t afraid to kill to get what they want,’ said Tasha. She nodded toward Eddie and my mom. “These two and Mikhail are really the only guardians we can trust.’

“Are you sure?’ Abe gave Tasha a sly look. “I’m surprised you didn’t get your special guardian “friend’ on board.’

“What special friend?’ demanded Christian, instantly picking up on the insinuation.

Tasha, to my astonishment, flushed. “Just a guy I know.’

“Who follows you with puppy-dog eyes,’ continued Abe. “What’s his name? Evan?’

“Ethan,’ she corrected.

My mother, looking exasperated by such ridiculous talk, promptly put an end to it– which was just as well since Christian looked like he had a few things to say. “Leave her alone,’ she warned Abe. “We don’t have time for it. Ethan’s a good guy, but the fewer people who know about this, the better. Since Mikhail has a permanent post, Eddie and I will do security.’

I agreed with all of what she’d just said, but it struck me that to get my mother on board, someone–probably Abe–had filled her in on all the illicit activity that had occurred recently. He was either really convincing or she loved me a lot. Grudgingly, I suspected both were true. When Moroi were at Court, their guardians didn’t need to accompany them everywhere, meaning my mom would most likely be free of her assignment while Lord Szelsky stayed here. Eddie didn’t have an assignment yet, which also gave him flexibility. Lissa started to say something else when a sharp jolt in my own reality snapped me away from her.

“Sorry,’ said Sydney. Her slamming on the brakes was what had brought me back. “That jerk cut me off.’

It wasn’t Sydney’s fault, but I felt irritated at the interruption and wanted to yell at her. With a deep breath, I reminded myself that I was simply feeling spirit’s side effects and that I couldn’t allow it to make me act irrationally. It would fade, like always, yet some part of me knew I couldn’t keep taking that darkness from Lissa forever. I wouldn’t always be able to control it.

Now that I was back to myself, I looked out the windows, taking in our new surroundings. We weren’t in the mountains anymore. We’d reached an urban area, and while the traffic was hardly heavy (seeing as it was still the middle of the human night), there were definitely more cars on the road than we’d seen in a while.

“Where are we?’ I asked.

“Outskirts of Lexington,’ Sydney said. She pulled over to a nearby gas station, both to refill and so we could plug Donovan’s address into her GPS. His place was about five miles away.

“Not a great part of town, from what I hear,’ Dimitri said. “Donovan runs a tattoo parlor that’s only open at night. A couple of other Strigoi work with him. They get partiers, drunk kids … the kind of people that can easily disappear. The kind Strigoi love.’

“Seems like the police would eventually notice that every time someone went for a tattoo, they disappeared,’ I pointed out.

Dimitri gave a harsh laugh. “Well, the “funny’ thing is that they don’t kill everyone who comes in. They actually give tattoos to some of them and let them go. They smuggle drugs through the place too.’

I regarded him curiously, as Sydney slipped back into the car. “You sure know a lot.’

“I made it my business to know a lot, and Strigoi have to keep a roof over their heads too. I actually met Donovan once and got most of this straight from the source. I just didn’t know where exactly he worked out of until now.’

“Okay, so, we’ve got the info on him. What do we do with it?’

“Lure him out. Send in a “customer’ with a message from me needing to meet him. I’m not the kind of person he can ignore–well, that he used to not–never mind. Once he’s out, we get him to a place we choose.’

I nodded. “I can do that.’

“No,’ said Dimitri. “You can’t.’

“Why not?’ I asked, wondering if he thought it was too dangerous for me.

“Because they’ll know you’re a dhampir the instant they see you. They’ll probably smell it first. No Strigoi would have a dhampir working for him–only humans.’

There was an uncomfortable silence in the car.

“No!’ said Sydney. “I am not doing that!’

Dimitri shook his head. “I don’t like it either, but we don’t have a lot of options. If he thinks you work for me, he won’t hurt you.’

“Yeah? And what happens if he doesn’t believe me?’ she demanded.

“I don’t think he can take the chance. He’ll probably go with you to check things out, with the idea that if you’re lying, they’ll just kill you then.’ This didn’t seem to make her feel any better. She groaned.

“You can’t send her in,’ I said. “They’ll know she’s an Alchemist. One of those wouldn’t work for Strigoi either.’

Surprisingly, Dimitri hadn’t considered that. We grew quiet again, and it was Sydney who unexpectedly came up with a solution.

“When I was inside the gas station,’ she said slowly, “they had, like, one rack of makeup. We could probably cover most of my tattoo up with powder.’

And we did. The only compact the station sold wasn’t a great match for her skin tone, but we caked enough of it on to obscure the golden lily on her cheek. Brushing her hair forward helped a little. Satisfied we’d done all we could, we headed off to Donovan’s.

It was indeed in a rundown part of town. A few blocks away from the tattoo parlor, we spotted what looked like a nightclub, but otherwise, the neighborhood appeared deserted. I wasn’t fooled, though. This was no place you’d want to walk around alone at night. It screamed “mugging.’ Or worse.

We checked out the area until Dimitri found a spot he felt good about. It was a back alley two buildings away from the parlor. A gnarled wired fence stood on one side while a low brick building flanked the other. Dimitri instructed Sydney on how to lead the Strigoi to us. She took it all in, nodding along, but I could see the fear in her eyes.

“You want to look awed,’ he told her. “Humans who serve Strigoi worship them– they’re eager to please. Since they’re around Strigoi so much, they aren’t as startled or terrified. Still a little afraid, of course, but not as much as you look now.’

She swallowed. “I can’t really help it.’

I felt bad for her. She strongly believed all vampires were evil, and we were sending her into a nest of the worst kind, putting her at great risk. I knew also that she’d only ever seen one live Strigoi, and despite Dimitri’s coaching, seeing more could completely shell shock her. If she froze in front of Donovan, everything could fall apart. On impulse, I gave her a hug. To my surprise, she didn’t resist.

“You can do this,’ I said. “You’re strong–and they’re too afraid of Dimitri. Okay?’

After a few deep breaths, Sydney nodded. We gave her a few more encouraging words, and then she turned the corner of the building, heading toward the street, and disappeared from our sight. I glanced at Dimitri.

“We may have just sent her to her death.’

His face was grim. “I know–but we can’t do anything now. You’d better get into position.’

With his help, I managed to make it onto the roof of the low building. There was nothing intimate in the way he hoisted me up, but I couldn’t help but have the same electric feeling all contact with him caused or note how easily we worked together. Once I was securely positioned, Dimitri headed for the opposite side of the building Sydney had gone around. He lurked just around the corner, and then there was nothing to do but wait.

It was agonizing–and not just because we were on the verge of a fight. I kept thinking about Sydney, what we’d asked her to do. My job was to protect the innocent from evil–not thrust them into the middle of it. What if our plan failed? Several minutes passed, and I finally heard footsteps and muttered voices at the same time a familiar wave of nausea moved through me. We’d pulled the Strigoi out. Three of them walked around the building’s corner, Sydney in the lead. They came to a halt, and I spotted Donovan. He was the tallest–a former Moroi–with dark hair and a beard that reminded me of Abe’s. Dimitri had given me his description so I wouldn’t (hopefully) kill him. Donovan’s henchmen hovered behind him, all of them alert and on guard. I tensed, my stake gripped tightly in my right hand.

“Belikov?’ demanded Donovan, voice harsh. “Where are you?’

“I’m here,’ came Dimitri’s response–in that cold, terrible Strigoi voice. He appeared from around the building’s opposite corner, keeping to the shadows.

Donovan relaxed slightly, recognizing Dimitri–but even in darkness, Dimitri’s true appearance materialized. Donovan went rigid–suddenly seeing a threat, even if it was one that confused him and defied what he knew. At the exact same moment, one of his guys jerked his head around. “Dhampirs!’ he exclaimed. It wasn’t Dimitri’s features that tipped him off. It was our scent, and I breathed a silent prayer of thanks that it had taken them this long to notice.

Then, I leapt off the roof. It wasn’t an easy distance to jump–but not one that would kill me. Plus, my fall was broken by a Strigoi.

I landed on one of Donovan’s guys, knocking him to the ground. I aimed my stake at his heart, but his reflexes were quick. With my lighter weight, I was easy to shove off. I’d expected it and managed to keep my footing. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sydney dropping low and hurrying off out of here, per our instructions. We wanted her away from the crossfire and had told her to go to the car, readying herself to take off if things went bad.

Of course, with Strigoi, things were always bad. Donovan and his other guy had both gone for Dimitri, assessing him as the greater threat. My opponent, judging from his fanged smile, didn’t seem to regard me as a threat at all. He lunged toward me, and I dodged away, but not before snaking out a kick that took him in the knee. My hit didn’t seem to hurt him, but it did ruin his balance. I made another strike at staking and was thrown off again, hitting the ground hard. My bare legs scraped against the rough cement, tearing skin. Because my jeans had grown too dirty and torn, I’d been forced to wear a pair of shorts from the backpack Sydney had brought me. I ignored the pain, shooting right back up with speed the Strigoi didn’t expect. My stake found his heart. The hit wasn’t as hard as I would have liked, but it was enough to throw him off, then allowing me to drive the stake in further and finish him. Not even waiting to see him fall, I jerked my stake out and turned toward the others.

I hadn’t hesitated once in the battle I’d just fought, but now, I paused at what I saw. Dimitri’s face. It was … terrifying. Ferocious. He’d had a similar look when he’d defended me at my arrest–that badass warrior god expression that said he could take on hell itself. The way he looked now … well, it took that fierceness to a whole new level. This was personal, I realized. Fighting these Strigoi wasn’t just about finding Sonya and helping Lissa. This was about redemption, an attempt to destroy his past by destroying the evil directly in his path.

I moved to join him, just as he staked the second henchman. There was power in that strike, much more power than Dimitri needed as he shoved the Strigoi against the brick wall and pierced his heart. It was impossible, but I could imagine that stake going straight through the body and into the wall. Dimitri put more attention and effort into that kill than he should have. He should have responded like I had and immediately turned to the next threat, once the Strigoi was dead. Instead, Dimitri was so fixated on his victim that he didn’t notice Donovan taking advantage of the situation. Fortunately for Dimitri, I had his back.

I slammed my body into Donovan’s, shoving him away from Dimitri. As I did, I saw Dimitri pull out his stake and then slam the body against the wall again. Meanwhile, I’d successfully drawn Donovan’s attention and was now having a difficult time eluding him without killing him.

“Dimitri!’ I yelled. “Come help me. I need you!’

I couldn’t see what Dimitri was doing, but a few seconds later, he was by my side. With what almost sounded like a roar, he leapt at Donovan, stake out, and knocked the Strigoi to the ground. I breathed a sigh of relief and moved in to help with the restraint. Then, I saw Dimitri line up his stake with Donovan’s heart.

“No!’ I dropped to the ground, trying to both hold Donovan and push away Dimitri’s arm. “We need him! Don’t kill him!’

From the look on Dimitri’s face, it was unclear if he even heard me. There was death in his eyes. He wanted to kill Donovan. The desire had suddenly taken precedence.

Still trying to hold Donovan with one arm, I smacked Dimitri in the face with my other hand–going for the side I hadn’t punched the other night. I don’t think he felt the pain in his adrenaline rage, but the hit got his attention. “Don’t kill him!’ I repeated.

The command made it through to Dimitri. Our struggle, unfortunately, gave Donovan maneuvering room. He started to break free of us, but then, as one, Dimitri and I threw ourselves into holding Donovan. I was reminded of the time I’d questioned Strigoi in Russia. It had taken a whole group of dhampirs to restrain one Strigoi, but Dimitri seemed to have unnatural strength.

“When we were interrogating, we used to–‘

My words were interrupted when Dimitri decided to utilize his own method of interrogation. He gripped Donovan by the shoulders and shook him hard, causing the Strigoi to keep hitting his head against the cement.

“Where is Sonya Karp?’ roared Dimitri.

“I don’t–‘ began Donovan. But Dimitri had no patience for Strigoi evasion.

“Where is she? I know you know her!’


“Where is she?’

I saw something on Donovan’s face that I’d never seen in a Strigoi before: fear. I’d thought it was an emotion they simply didn’t possess. Or, if they did, it was only in the battles they fought with one another. They wouldn’t waste time with fear around lowly dhampirs.

But oh, Donovan was scared of Dimitri. And to be honest, I was too.

Those red-ringed eyes were wide–wide, desperate, and terrified. When Donovan blurted out his next words, something told me they were true. His fear wasn’t giving him a chance to lie. He was too shocked and unprepared by all of this.

“Paris,’ he gasped out. “She’s in Paris!’

“Christ,’ I exclaimed. “We cannot road trip to Paris.’ Donovan shook his head (in as much as he could with Dimitri shaking him in return). “It’s a small town–an hour away. There’s this tiny lake. Hardly anyone on it. Blue house.’

Vague directions. We needed more. “Do you have an addr–‘

Dimitri apparently didn’t share my need for more information. Before I could finish speaking, his stake was out–and in Donovan’s heart. The Strigoi made a horrible, blood-curdling scream that faded as death took him. I winced. How long until someone heard all this and called the police?

Dimitri pulled his stake out–and then stabbed Donovan again. And again. I stared in disbelief and horror, frozen for a few moments. Then, I grabbed Dimitri’s arm and began shaking him, though I felt like I would have had more effect shaking the building behind me.

“He’s dead, Dimitri! He’s dead! Stop this. Please.’

Dimitri’s face still wore that terrible, terrible expression–rage, now marked with a bit of desperation. Desperation that told him if he could only obliterate Donovan, then maybe he could obliterate everything else bad in his life.

I didn’t know what to do. We had to get out of here. We had to get Sydney to disintegrate the bodies. Time was ticking, and I just kept repeating myself.

“He’s dead! Let it go. Please. He’s dead.’

Then, somewhere, somehow, I broke through to Dimitri. His motions slowed and finally stopped. The hand holding the stake dropping weakly to his side as he stared at what was left of Donovan–which wasn’t pretty. The rage on Dimitri’s face completely gave way to desperation … and then that gave way to despair.

I tugged gently on his arm. “It’s over. You’ve done enough.’

“It’s never enough, Roza,’ he whispered. The grief in his voice killed me. “It’ll never be enough.’

“It is for now,’ I said. I pulled him to me. Unresisting, he let go of his stake and buried his face against my shoulder. I dropped my stake as well and embraced him, drawing him closer. He wrapped his arms around me in return, seeking the contact of another living being, the contact I’d long known he needed.

“You’re the only one.’ He clung more tightly to me. “The only one who understands. The only one who saw how I was. I could never explain it to anyone … you’re the only one. The only one I can tell this to …’

I closed my eyes for a moment, overpowered by what he was saying. He might have sworn allegiance to Lissa, but that didn’t mean he’d fully revealed his heart to her. For so long, he and I had been in perfect sync, always understanding each other. That was still the case, no matter if we were together, no matter if I was with Adrian. Dimitri had always kept his heart and feelings guarded until meeting me. I thought he’d locked them back up, but apparently, he still trusted me enough to reveal what was killing him inside.

I opened my eyes and met his dark, earnest gaze. “It’s okay,’ I said. “It’s okay now. I’m here. I’ll always be here for you.’

“I dream about them, you know. All the innocents I killed.’ His eyes drifted back to Donovan’s body. “I keep thinking … maybe if I destroy enough Strigoi, the nightmares will go away. That I’ll be certain I’m not one of them.’ I touched his chin, turning his face back toward mine and away from Donovan. “No. You have to destroy Strigoi because they’re evil. Because that’s what we do. If you want the nightmares to go away, you have to live. That’s the only way. We could have died just now. We didn’t. Maybe we’ll die tomorrow. I don’t know. What matters is that we’re alive now.’

I was rambling at this point. I had never seen Dimitri so low, not since his restoration. He’d claimed being Strigoi had killed so many of his emotions. It hadn’t. They were there, I realized. Everything he had been was still inside, only coming out in bursts–like this moment of rage and despair. Or when he’d defended me from the arresting guardians. The old Dimitri wasn’t gone. He was just locked away, and I didn’t know how to let him out. This wasn’t what I did. He was always the one with words of wisdom and insight. Not me. Still, he was listening now. I had his attention. What could I say? What could get through to him?

“Remember what you said earlier?’ I asked. “Back in Rubysville? Living is in the details. You’ve got to appreciate the details. That’s the only way to defeat what the Strigoi did to you. The only way to bring back who you really are. You said it yourself: you escaped with me to feel the world again. Its beauty.’

Dimitri started to turn toward Donovan again, but I wouldn’t let him. “There’s nothing beautiful here. Only death.’

“That’s only true if you let them make it true,’ I said desperately, still feeling the press of time. “Find one thing. One thing that’s beautiful. Anything. Anything that shows you’re not one of them.’

His eyes were back on me, studying my face silently. Panic raced through me. It wasn’t working. I couldn’t do this. We were going to have to get out of here, regardless of whatever state he was in. I knew he’d leave, too. If I’d learned anything, it was that Dimitri’s warrior instincts were still working. If I said danger was coming, he would respond instantly, no matter the self-torment he felt. I didn’t want that, though. I didn’t want him to leave in despair. I wanted him to leave here one step closer to being the man I knew he could be. I wanted him to have one less nightmare.

It was beyond my abilities, though. I was no therapist. I was about to tell him we had to get out there, about to make his soldier reflexes kick in, when he suddenly spoke. His voice was barely a whisper. “Your hair.’

“What?’ For a second, I wondered if it was on fire or something. I touched a stray lock. No, nothing wrong except that it was a mess. I’d bound it up for battle to prevent the Strigoi from using it as a handhold, like Angeline had. Much of it had come undone in the struggle, though.

“Your hair,’ repeated Dimitri. His eyes were wide, almost awestruck. “Your hair is beautiful.’

I didn’t think so, not in its current state. Of course, considering we were in a dark alley filled with bodies, the choices were kind of limited. “You see? You’re not one of them. Strigoi don’t see beauty. Only death. You found something beautiful. One thing that’s beautiful.’

Hesitantly, nervously, he ran his fingers along the strands I’d touched earlier. “But is it enough?’

“It is for now.’ I pressed a kiss to his forehead and helped him stand. “It is for now.’

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