Last Sacrifice Chapter Seven

THE PROBLEM WAS, OF COURSE, that I soon lost myself in the darkness.

After living in the wilds of Montana, I was used to how completely the night could swallow you once you stepped away from even the tiniest hint of civilization.I was even used to wandering the twists and turns of dark forests.But the St.

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Vladimir’s terrain had been familiar. The woods of West Virginia were new and foreign, and I had completely lost my bearings.

Once I was pretty sure I’d put enough distance between me and the motel, I paused and looked around. Night insects hummed and sang, and the oppressive summer humidity hung around me. Peering up through the leafy canopy of trees, I could see a brilliant sky of stars, totally untouched by city lights. Feeling like a true wilderness survivor, I studied the stars until I spotted the Big Dipper and figured out which direction was north. The mountains Sydney had driven us through had been to the east, so I certainly didn’t want to go in that direction. It seemed reasonable that if I hiked north, I’d eventually hit an interstate and either hitchhike or walk my way back to civilization. It wasn’t an airtight plan, but it wasn’t the worst one I’d ever had, not by a long shot.

I wasn’t really dressed for hiking, but as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I managed to avoid most trees and other obstacles. Following the tiny road out of town would have been easier–but was also what Dimitri would expect me to do.

I fell into a steady, subconscious rhythm as I made my way north. I decided it was a good time to check in on Lissa, now that I had time on my hands and no guardians trying to arrest me. I slipped into her mind and found her within the depths of the guardians’ headquarters, sitting in a hallway lined with chairs. Other Moroi sat nearby, including Christian and Tasha.

“They’ll question you hard,’ Tasha murmured. “Especially you.’ That was to Christian. “You’d be my first choice if something illicitly blew up.’ That seemed to be everyone’s opinion. From the troubled look on her face, I could see Tasha had been as surprised by my escape as I had. Even if my friends hadn’t filled her in on the whole story yet, she had probably pieced most things together–at the very least, who was behind it.

Christian gave her as charming a smile as he could manage, like a kid trying to dodge being grounded. “They’ll know by now that it wasn’t caused by magic,’ he said. “The guardians will have scoured every inch of those statues.’ He didn’t elaborate, not in public, but Lissa’s mind was working along the same lines as his. The guardians would know now the explosion hadn’t been elemental. And even if my friends were the primary suspects, the authorities would have to wonder–just as I had–how teenagers would get a hold of C4.

Lissa nodded her agreement and rested her hand on Christian’s. “We’ll be okay.’

Her thoughts turned to both Dimitri and me, wondering if we’d made it out according to the plan. She couldn’t focus on finding Tatiana’s killer until she knew we were safe. Like me, the breakout had been a hard choice: freeing me put me in more danger than keeping me locked up. Her emotions were keyed up, prickly and a bit wilder than I would have liked. So much spirit, I realized. She’s using too much. Back at school, she’d managed it with prescription medication and later through self-control. But somewhere, as our situations grew increasingly complicated, she’d allowed herself to wield more and more. Recently, she’d used astonishing amounts, and we’d come to take it for granted. Sooner or later, Lissa’s reliance on spirit would catch up with her. With us.

“Princess?’ A door across from Lissa opened, and a guardian peered out. “We’re ready for you.’

The guardian stepped aside, and inside the room, Lissa heard a familiar voice say, “Always a pleasure speaking with you, Hans. We should do it again sometime.’ Abe then appeared, strutting out with his usual swagger. He stepped past the guardian in the doorway and gave Lissa and the Ozeras a winning, all-is-right-in-the-world grin. Without a word, he strode past them toward the hall’s exit.

Lissa almost smiled but reined it in, putting on a sober look as she and her companions entered. The door shut behind them, and she found herself facing three guardians seated at a table. One of them I’d seen around but had never met. I think his last name was Steele. The other two I knew well. One was Hans Croft, who ran the guardians’ operations at Court. Beside him–to my astonishment–was Alberta, who was in charge of St. Vladimir’s guardians and novices.

“Lovely,’ growled Hans. “A whole entourage.’ Christian had insisted on being present when Lissa was questioned, and Tasha had insisted on being present with Christian. If Abe had known the interrogation time, he probably would have joined the group too, undoubtedly followed by my mother … Hans didn’t realize he’d dodged a house party.

Lissa, Christian, and Tasha sat down opposite the guardians. “Guardian Petrov,’ said Lissa, ignoring Hans’s disapproval. “What are you doing here?’ Alberta gave Lissa a small smile but otherwise kept in professional guardian mode. “I was here for the funeral, and Guardian Croft decided he’d like an outside opinion for the investigation.’

“As well as someone familiar with Hathaway and her, uh, associates,’ added Hans. Hans was the kind of guy who got straight to the point. Usually, his attitude bothered me–that was my normal reaction to most authority figures–but I did respect the way he ran operations here. “This meeting was intended just for you, princess.’

“We won’t say a word,’ said Christian.

Lissa nodded and kept her face smooth and polite, even though there was a trembling in her voice. “I want to help … I’ve been so, I don’t know. I’m so stunned about everything that’s happened.’

“I’m sure,’ said Hans, voice dry. “Where were you when the statues exploded?’

“With the funeral procession,’ she said. “I was part of the escort.’

Steele had a pile of papers in front of him. “That’s true. There are plenty of witnesses.’

“Very convenient. What about afterward?’ asked Hans. “Where did you go when the crowd panicked?’

“Back to the Council’s building. That’s where all the others were meeting up, and I thought it’d be safest.’ I couldn’t see her face but could feel her trying to look cowed. “I was afraid when things started going crazy.’

“We also have witnesses to support that,’ said Steele.

Hans drummed his fingers on the table. “Did you have any prior knowledge about any of this? The explosions? Hathaway’s breakout?’

Lissa shook her head. “No! I had no clue. I didn’t even know it was possible to get out of the cells. I thought there was too much security.’

Hans ignored the dig on his operations. “You’ve got that bond thing, right? You didn’t pick up anything through that?’

“I don’t read her,’ explained Lissa. “She sees my thoughts but not the other way around.’

“That,’ said Alberta, speaking up at last, “is true.’

Hans didn’t contradict her but still wasn’t buying my friends’ innocence. “You realize, if you’re caught concealing information–or aiding her–you’ll face consequences almost as serious as hers. All of you. Royalty doesn’t exempt you from treason.’

Lissa lowered her gaze, as though his threat had frightened her. “I just can’t believe … I just can’t believe she’d do this. She was my friend. I thought I knew her. I didn’t think she could do any of these things … I never thought she’d murder anyone.’ If not for the feelings in the bond, I might have taken offense. I knew the truth, though. She was acting, trying to distance herself from me. It was smart.

“Really? Because not long ago, you were swearing up and down that she was innocent,’ pointed out Hans.

Lissa looked back up and widened her eyes. “I thought she was! But then … then I heard about what she did to those guardians in the escape …’ Her distress wasn’t entirely faked this time. She still needed to act like she thought I was guilty, but the news of Meredith’s condition had reached her–which truly had shocked her. That made two of us, but at least I now knew Meredith was okay. Hans still looked skeptical at Lissa’s change of heart but let it go. “What about Belikov? You swore he wasn’t a Strigoi anymore, but obviously something went wrong there as well.’

Christian stirred beside Lissa. As an advocate for Dimitri, Christian grew as irritated as us at the suspicions and accusations. Lissa spoke before Christian could say anything.

“He’s not Strigoi!’ Lissa’s remorse over me vanished, her old, fierce defense of Dimitri kicking in. She hadn’t expected this line of questioning about him. She’d been preparing herself to defend me and her alibi. Hans seemed pleased at the reaction and watched her closely.

“Then how do you explain his involvement?’

“It wasn’t because he was Strigoi,’ said Lissa, forcing her control back. Her heart was pounding rapidly. “He changed back. There’s no Strigoi left.’

“But he attacked a number of guardians–on more than one occasion.’

It looked like Tasha wanted to interrupt now and defend Dimitri as well, but she visibly bit her lip. It was remarkable. The Ozeras liked to speak their minds, not always tactfully.

“It wasn’t because he was Strigoi,’ Lissa repeated. “And he didn’t kill any of those guardians. Not one. Rose did what she did … well, I don’t know why. She hated Tatiana, I guess. Everyone knew that. But Dimitri … I’m telling you, being Strigoi had nothing to do with this. He helped her because he used to be her teacher. He thought she was in trouble.’

“That was pretty extreme for a teacher, particularly one who–before turning Strigoi– was known for being level-headed and rational.’

“Yeah, but he wasn’t thinking rationally because–‘

Lissa cut herself off, suddenly caught in a bad situation. Hans seemed to have realized quickly in this conversation that if Lissa was involved with recent events–and I don’t think he was certain yet–she would have an airtight alibi. Talking to her, however, had given him the chance to pursue another puzzle in my escape: Dimitri’s involvement. Dimitri had sacrificed himself to take the fall, even if it meant others not trusting him again. Lissa thought she’d made people think his actions were a former teacher’s protective instinct, but apparently, not everyone was buying that.

“He wasn’t thinking rationally because?’ prompted Hans, eyes sharp. Before the murder, Hans had believed Dimitri truly had become a dhampir again. Something told me he still believed that but sensed there was something big dangling before him.

Lissa stayed silent. She didn’t want people thinking Dimitri was Strigoi. She wanted people to believe in her powers to restore the undead. But if Dimitri helping a student didn’t seem convincing enough to others, all that mistrust might surface again.

Glancing at her interrogators, Lissa suddenly met Alberta’s eyes. The older guardian said nothing. She wore that neutral, scrutinizing expression that guardians excelled at. She also had an air of wisdom about her, and Lissa briefly allowed spirit to show her Alberta’s aura. It had good, steady colors and energy, and in Alberta’s eyes, Lissa swore she could see a message, a knowing glint.

Tell them, the message seemed to say. It’ll create problems–but they won’t be as bad as your current ones. Lissa held that gaze, wondering if she was just projecting her own thoughts onto Alberta. It didn’t matter who’d come up with the idea. Lissa knew it was right.

“Dimitri helped Rose because … because they were involved.’

As I’d guessed, Alberta wasn’t surprised, and she seemed relieved to have the truth out there. Hans and Steele, however, were very surprised. I had only seen Hans shocked a few times.

“When you say “involved,’ do you mean …’ He paused to structure his words. “Do you mean romantically involved?’

Lissa nodded, feeling horrible. She’d revealed a big secret here, one she’d sworn she’d keep for me, but I didn’t blame her. Not in this situation. Love–I hoped–would defend Dimitri’s actions.

“He loved her,’ said Lissa. “She loved him. If he helped her escape–‘

“He did help her escape,’ interrupted Hans. “He attacked guardians and blew up priceless, centuries-old statues brought over from Europe!’

Lissa shrugged. “Well, like I said. He wasn’t acting rationally. He wanted to help her and probably thought she was innocent. He would have done anything for her–and it had nothing to do with Strigoi.’

“Love only justifies so much.’ Hans clearly wasn’t a romantic.

“Shes underage!’ exclaimed Steele. That part hadn’t escaped him.

“She’s eighteen,’ corrected Lissa.

Hans cut her a look. “I can do the math, princess. Unless they managed some beautiful, touching romance in the last few weeks–while he was mostly in isolation– then there were things going on at your school that someone should have reported.’

Lissa said nothing, but from the corner of her eye, she could see Tasha and Christian. They were trying to keep their expressions neutral, but it was obvious this news wasn’t a surprise to them, no doubt confirming Hans’s suspicions that illicit things had been going on. I actually hadn’t realized Tasha knew about Dimitri and me and felt a little bad. Had she known that part of his rejection of her had been because of me? And if she knew, how many others did? Christian had probably tipped her off, but something told me more people were probably starting to find out as well. After the school’s attack, my reaction had likely been a big clue about my feelings for Dimitri. Maybe telling Hans now wasn’t so big a deal after all. The secret wouldn’t be a secret much longer.

Alberta cleared her throat, speaking up at last. “I think we have more important things to worry about right now than some romance that may or may not have happened.’

Steele gave her an incredulous look and slammed his hand against the table. “This is pretty serious. Did you know about it?’

“All I know is that we’re getting distracted from the point here,’ she replied, neatly dodging the question. Alberta was about twenty years older than Steele, and the tough look she gave him said that he was a child wasting her time. “I thought we were here to figure out if Miss Hathaway had any accomplices, not dredge up the past. So far, the only person we can say for sure that helped her is Belikov, and he did it out of irrational affection. That makes him a fugitive and a fool, not a Strigoi.’

I’d never thought of my relationship with Dimitri as “irrational affection,’ but Alberta’s point was taken. Something in Hans’s and Steele’s faces made me think soon the whole world would know about us, but that was nothing compared to murder. And if it cleared Dimitri of being a Strigoi, then it meant he’d be imprisoned instead of staked if ever captured. Small blessings.

Lissa’s questioning continued a bit longer before the guardians decided she was free and clear of any part in my escape (that they could prove). She did a good job playing surprised and confused the whole time, even mustering a few tears over how she could have so misjudged me. She spun a little bit of compulsion into her act too–not enough to brainwash anyone, but enough that Steele’s earlier outrage transformed to sympathy. Hans was harder to read, but as my group left, he reminded Tasha and Christian that he would be speaking with each of them later, preferably without an entourage.

For now, the next person in the hot seat was waiting in the hall: Eddie. Lissa gave him the same smile she’d give any friend. There was no indication that they were both part of a conspiracy. Eddie nodded in return as he was called to the room for his interrogation. Lissa was anxious for him, but I knew his guardian self-control would make sure he stuck to the story. He probably wouldn’t pull the tears Lissa had, but he’d likely act just as shocked by my “treason’ as she had.

Tasha left Christian and Lissa once they were outside, first warning them to be careful. “You’ve gotten out of this so far, but I don’t think the guardians have completely cleared you. Especially Hans.’

“Hey, I can take care of myself,’ said Christian.

Tasha rolled her eyes. “Yes. I see what happens when you’re left to your own devices.’

“Hey, don’t get all pissy because we didn’t tell you,’ he exclaimed. “We didn’t have time, and there were only so many people we could get involved. Besides, you’ve done your share of crazy plans before.’

“True,’ Tasha admitted. She was hardly a role model for playing by the rules. “It’s just that everything’s gotten that much more complicated. Rose is on the run. And now Dimitri …’ She sighed, and I didn’t need her to finish to guess her thoughts. There was a profound look of sadness in her eyes, one that made me feel guilty. Just like the rest of us, Tasha had wanted Dimitri’s reputation restored. By freeing the queen’s accused assassin, he’d seriously damaged any chance at acceptance. I really wished he hadn’t gotten involved and hoped my current escape plan paid off.

“This’ll all work out,’ said Christian. “You’ll see.’ He didn’t look so confident as he spoke, and Tasha gave him a small, amused smile.

“Just be careful. Please. I don’t want to see you in a cell, too. I don’t have time for jail visits with everything else going on.’ Her amusement faded, and her outspoken activist mode kicked in. “Our family’s being ridiculous, you know. Can you believe they’re actually talking about running Esmond for us? Good God. We’ve already had one tragedy after another around here. At the very least, we should try to salvage something out of this mess.’

“I don’t think I know Esmond,’ said Christian.

“Moron,’ she said matter-of-factly. “Him, I mean. Not you. Someone’s got to talk sense into our family before they embarrass themselves.’

Christian grinned. “And let me guess: you’re just the one to do it?’

“Of course,’ she said, a mischievous gleam in her eye. “I’ve already drawn up a list of ideal candidates. Our family just needs some persuasion to see how ideal they are.’ “I’d feel bad for them if they weren’t still being assholes to us,’ Christian remarked, watching his aunt walk away. The stigma of his parents turning Strigoi still lingered after all these years. Tasha accepted it more gracefully–despite her complaining–if only to be able to participate in the Ozera family’s larger decisions. Christian made no such attempts at civility. It was terrible enough to be treated as less than other Moroi, to be denied guardians and other things royals were entitled to. But from his own family? It was especially harsh. He refused to pretend it was acceptable.

“They’ll come around eventually,’ said Lissa, sounding more optimistic than she felt.

Any response of Christian’s was swallowed when a new companion fell into step with them: my father. His abrupt appearance startled both of my friends, but I wasn’t surprised. He probably knew about Lissa’s interrogation and had been skulking outside the building, waiting to talk to her.

“It’s nice out,’ said Abe amiably, looking around at the trees and flowers as though the three of them were on a nature walk through Court. “But it’s going to be scorching when the sun comes up.’

The darkness that was giving me so much trouble in the woods of West Virginia made for pleasant, “midday’ conditions for those on a vampiric schedule. Lissa gave Abe a sidelong glance. With eyes well-tuned to low light, she had no difficulty taking in the brilliant teal dress shirt under his beige sports jacket. A blind person could have probably seen him in that color.

Lissa scoffed at Abe’s faked casualness. It was a habit of his, opening with small talk before moving on to more sinister topics. “You’re not here to talk about the weather.’

“Trying to be civilized, that’s all.’ He fell silent as a couple of Moroi girls passed them. Once they were well out of ear-shot, he asked in a low voice, “I assume everything went well at your little meeting?’

“Fine,’ she said, not bothering to fill him in about “irrational affection.’ She knew all he’d care about was that none of their associates had been implicated.

“The guardians have Eddie now,’ said Christian. “And want me later, but I think that’ll be it for all of us.’

Lissa sighed. “Honestly, I have a feeling the interrogation was the easy part, compared to what’s coming.’ She meant figuring out who had really killed Tatiana.

“One step at a time,’ murmured Abe. “No point in letting the larger picture overwhelm us. We’ll just start at the beginning.’

“That’s the problem,’ said Lissa, kicking irritably at a branch lying across the cobblestone path in front of her. “I have no idea where to start. Whoever killed Tatiana did a good job covering their tracks and shifting it all to Rose.’

“One step at a time,’ repeated Abe.

He spoke in that sly tone of his that annoyed me sometimes, but to Lissa today, it was grating. Until now, all of her energy had been focused on getting me out of jail and somewhere safe. That was the goal that had driven her and kept her going in my escape’s aftermath.

Now, after some of the intensity had faded, the pressure of it all was beginning to crash down on her. Christian put an arm around her shoulders, sensing her dismay. He turned to Abe, unusually serious. “Do you have any ideas?’ Christian asked Abe. “We certainly don’t have any real evidence.’

“We have reasonable assumptions,’ Abe replied. “Like that whoever killed Tatiana would have had access to her private rooms. That’s not a long list.’

“Its not short either.’ Lissa ticked off people on her fingers. “The royal guards, her friends and family … and that’s assuming no one altered the guardians’ records of her visitors. And for all we know, some visits were never logged at all. She probably had secret business meetings all the time.’

“Unlikely she’d have business meetings in her bedroom, in her nightgown,’ mused Abe. “Of course, it depends on the type of business, I suppose.’

Lissa stumbled, realization stunning her. “Ambrose.’


“Hes a dhampir … really good-looking … He and Tatiana were, um …’

“Involved?’ said Christian with a smile, echoing the interrogation.

Now Abe came to a stop. Lissa did the same, and his dark eyes met hers. “I’ve seen him. Sort of a pool boy type.’

“He’d have access to her bedroom,’ said Lissa. “But I just can’t–I don’t know. I can’t see him doing this.’

“Appearances are deceiving,’ said Abe. “He was terribly interested in Rose back in the courtroom.’

More surprise for Lissa. “What are you talking about?’

Abe stroked his chin in an evil-villain sort of way. “He spoke to her … or gave her some signal. I’m not really sure, but there was some kind of interaction between them.’

Clever, watchful Abe. He’d noticed Ambrose giving me the note but hadn’t fully realized what had happened.

“We should talk to him then,’ said Christian.

Lissa nodded. Conflicting feelings churned inside of her. She was excited by a lead– but upset that it meant kind, gentle Ambrose might be a suspect.

“I’ll take care of it,’ said Abe breezily.

I felt her gaze fall heavily on him. I couldn’t see her expression, but I did see Abe take an involuntary step back, the faintest glimmer of surprise in his eyes. Even Christian flinched. “And I’m going to be there when you do,’ she said, steel in her voice. “Do not attempt some crazy torture-style interrogation without me.’

“You want to be there for the torture?’ asked Abe, recovering.

“There won’t be any. We’ll talk to Ambrose like civilized people, understand?’ She stared hard at him again, and Abe finally shrugged in acquiescence, as though being overpowered by a woman half his age was no big deal.

“Fine. We’ll do it together.’

Lissa was a little suspicious at his willingness, and he must have picked up on that.

“We will,’ he said, continuing walking. “This is a good time–well, as good as any time–for an investigation. Court’s going to get chaotic as the monarch elections get under way. Everyone here will be busy, and new people will start pouring in.’

A breeze, heavy with humidity, ruffled Lissa’s hair. The promise of heat was on it, and she knew Abe would be right about sunrise. It would be worth going to bed early.

“When will the elections happen?’ she asked. “As soon as they put dear Tatiana to rest. These things move fast. We need our government restored. She’ll be buried tomorrow at the church with a ceremony and service, but there’ll be no repeat of the procession. They’re still too uneasy.’

I felt kind of bad that she hadn’t received a full queenly funeral in the end, but then, if it meant her true murderer was found, maybe she would have preferred it that way.

“Once the burial happens and elections begin,’ Abe continued, “any family who wants to put out a candidate for the crown will do so–and of course they’ll want to. You’ve never seen a monarchial election, have you? It’s quite a spectacle. Of course, before the voting occurs, all the candidates will have to be tested.’

There was something ominous in the way he said “tested,’ but Lissa’s thoughts were elsewhere. Tatiana had been the only queen she’d ever known, and the full impact of a regime change was staggering. “A new king or queen can affect everything–for better or worse. I hope it’s someone good. One of the Ozeras, maybe. One of Tasha’s people.’ She glanced hopefully at Christian, who could only shrug. “Or Ariana Szelsky. I like her. Not that it matters who I want,’ she added bitterly. “Seeing as I can’t vote.’ The Council’s votes determined the election’s winner, so again, she was locked out of the Moroi legal process.

“A lot of work will go into the nominations,’ Abe explained, avoiding her last comment. “Each family will want someone to further their interests but who also has a chance of getting votes from–‘


I was thrust harshly out of the calculating world of Moroi politics and back into the wilds of West Virginia–very painfully so. Something solid and fierce slammed me against the hard-packed earth, leaves and branches cutting my face and hands. Strong hands held me down, and Dimitri’s voice spoke in my ear.

“You should have just hidden in town,’ he said, a little amused. His weight and position allowed me no room to move. “It would have been the last place I looked. Instead, I knew exactly where you’d go.’

“Whatever. Don’t act so smart,’ I said through gritted teeth, trying to break out of his hold. Goddamn it. He was smart. And once again, the closeness of him was disorienting. Earlier, it had seemed to affect him too, but he’d apparently learned his lesson. “You made a lucky guess, that’s all.’

“I don’t need luck, Roza. I’ll always find you. So, really it’s up to you how difficult you want this situation to be.’ There was an almost conversational tone to his voice, made all the more ridiculous by the situation we were in. “We can do this over and over, or you can do the reasonable thing and just stay put with Sydney and me.’

“It’s not reasonable! It’s wasteful.’

He was sweating, from the heat and undoubtedly because he’d had to run pretty hard to catch up with me. Adrian wore a cologne that always made me heady, but the natural scent of Dimitri’s warm skin was intoxicating too. It was amazing to me that I could keep noticing these little things–and be attracted to them–even when I was legitimately mad at him for keeping me captive. Maybe anger was a turn-on for me.

“How many times do I have to explain the logic behind what we’re doing?’ he asked in exasperation. “Until you give up.’ I pushed back against him, trying again to get loose, but all it did was put us closer together. I had a feeling the kissing trick wouldn’t work this time.

He jerked me to my feet, keeping my arms and hands pinned behind my back. I had a little more room to maneuver than I had on the ground, but not quite enough to break free. Slowly, he began trying to make me walk back toward the direction I’d come from.

“I am not letting you and Sydney risk getting in trouble with me. I’ll take care of myself, so just let me go!’ I said, literally dragging my feet. Seeing a tall, skinny tree, I stuck one leg out and hooked myself onto the trunk, completely bringing us to a halt.

Dimitri groaned and shifted his grip to get me away from the tree. It almost gave me an escape opportunity, but I didn’t even manage two steps before he had a hold of me again.

“Rose,’ he said wearily. “You can’t win.’

“How’s your face feeling?’ I asked. I couldn’t see any marks in the poor lighting but knew the punch I’d given him would leave a mark tomorrow. It was a shame to damage his face like that, but he’d heal, and maybe it would teach him a lesson about messing with Rose Hathaway.

Or not. He began dragging me again. “I’m seconds away from just tossing you over my shoulder,’ he warned.

“I’d like to see you try.’

“How do you think Lissa would feel if you got killed?’ His grip tightened, and while I had a feeling he’d make good on his over-the-shoulder threat, I also suspected he wanted to shake me. He was that upset. “Can you imagine what it would do to her if she lost you?’

For a moment, I was out of snappy retorts. I didn’t want to die, but risking my life was exactly that: risking my life. No one else’s. Still, I knew he was right. Lissa would be devastated if anything happened to me. And yet … it was a risk I had to take.

“Have a little faith, comrade. I won’t get killed,’ I said stubbornly. “I’ll stay alive.’

Not the answer he’d wanted. He shifted his hold. “There are other ways to help her than whatever insanity you’re thinking of.’

I suddenly went limp. Dimitri stumbled, caught by surprise at my sudden lack of resistance. “What’s wrong?’ he asked, both puzzled and suspicious.

I stared off into the night, my eyes not really focused on anything. Instead, I was seeing Lissa and Abe back at Court, remembering Lissa’s feeling of powerlessness and longing for her vote. Tatiana’s note came back to me, and for a moment, I could hear her voice in my head. She is not the last Dragomir. Another lives.

“Youre right,’ I said at last.

“Right about … ?’ Dimitri was at a total loss. It was a common reaction for people when I agreed to something reasonable.

“Rushing back to Court won’t help Lissa.’

Silence. I couldn’t fully make out his expression, but it was probably filled with shock.

“I’ll go back to the motel with you, and I won’t go running off to Court.’ Another Dragomir. Another Dragomir needing to be found. I took a deep breath. “But I’m not going to sit around and do nothing. I am going to do something for Lissa–and you and Sydney are going to help me.’

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