“I told you before, we’re the center,” she said. “And the center will hold.”
“Being with you is the best thing that's ever happened to me, the one perfect decision I've made in a lifetime of fumbling and poor judgment. I'd go through it all again to be by your side. Never doubt that. Never doubt how I feel about you.”
“My wife, ladies and gentlemen. Beauty, brains, and now brawn.”
“Dimitri held up a car seat with one hand, which was almost comical. “We can go whenever you’re ready. Lana gave us this and swears it’s easy to install.”
Rose laughed at that. “Oh, this I’ve got to see, comrade. Dimitri Belikov, badass god, installing a baby’s car seat.”
“Are we...does that mean...are we cousins?”
“Am I still married to a cat? (Adrian)”
“Sydney had to call Jackie back, and since my hands were full, she handed Declan off to Rose. “Just rock him,” I said, seeing her panic.
Rose blanched but complied, earning laughter in return from Dimitri. “Rose Hathaway, notorious rebel, showing her maternal side.”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “Enjoy it while you can, comrade. This is as close as you’ll ever get to it.”
“Sweetest baby ever,” my mother said with a sigh.
“You mean second sweetest, right?” I corrected.”
“Those words, that voice, had more power over me than any phantom ever could.”
“Holy crap,” I said. While staring off at Rose and Dimitri, a brilliant flash had caught my eye—a flash on Rose’s finger.
“What’s that?” I exclaimed. “Did you rob Lissa’s crown jewels?”
“Did you pick that out?" I asked Dimitri. Honestly, I would have expected him to bend a piece of steel with his bare hands and present her with that.”
“Where are you going to put the other one?” asked Daniella.
“Wherever you like,” said Ms. Terwilliger. “I can’t take him with me. The guards saw me come in with one cat. They’ll see me leave with one.”
“What?” My mother-in-law’s voice came out extra shrill to my ears. “That creature’s staying?” It figured. Her daughter-in-law transforming into an animal? No problem. Having to take care of a cat? Crisis.”
“Adrian," she interrupted. "Didn't you just say I'm brilliant and always know everything? Then trust me on this."
"Always," I said, letting her pull me back down to her. "Always.”
“I couldn’t be certain, but I think Rose swore in Russian.”
“What was that you showed Sonya?”
Dimitri suddenly joined Rose on the screen. She shot him an amused look. “Easy, comrade. You’ll get your chance to lecture them too.”
“Geez,” said Adrian. “How many other people are there lurking off-screen?”
“Hey,” she murmured. “There are people in the house.”
“There are always people in the house,” I reminded her. “That’s why we escaped up here to the castle tower. Escape plan number . . . hell, I don’t know. I lost count. We haven’t had to come up with some dreamy escape plan in a while.”
Sydney trailed her fingers down the side of my face. “That’s because we’re living it, Adrian. This is the only escape plan we need.”
“Yes, it’s—” Dimitri bit off his words and glanced at Rose, then back at the drawing. “It’s a kind of marker worn by women in, uh, dhampir communes.”
Rose had no problem stating what his delicate sensibilities had held back from. “A blood whore camp?” Her eyes widened, and suddenly, she turned as angry as Lissa had been earlier. “Adrian Ivashkov! You should be ashamed of yourself, going to a place like that, especially now that you’re married—”
“Sydney,” Adrian interrupted, cupping my face in his hands. “Never, ever think like that. I don’t regret anything we’ve faced. Being with you is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, the one perfect decision I’ve made in a lifetime of fumbling and poor judgment. I’d go through it all again to be by your side. Never doubt that. Never doubt how I feel about you.”
“And I’d rather you have a worthy partner who’s a human than a Moroi who can’t help you share your burdens.”
“You’re a terrible liar, boy,” Rand called after us.
“Is he right?” I asked quietly, once we’d put some distance between the guest cabin and us.
“That I’m a terrible liar? No. I’m a fantastic liar.”
“I'm Marcus Finch. Of course I have an escape car.”
“With Alicia and the Alchemists on the loose, Sydney couldn’t leave a secure location like this without good reason. She contented herself by holing up in a guest room and prepping some spells that would be of use in the search for Alicia tomorrow. That left Dimitri and me to babysit, which seemed like the setup for some sort of wacky sitcom.”
“What’s this?” I asked.
“I was hoping you could tell me,” she said. “It arrived a few weeks ago, left on my doorstep. At first, I thought it was some sort of gift from Malachi—even though this isn’t his style.”
“Right,” agreed Adrian. “Grenades, camo vests . . . those are his usual gifts of choice.”
“She took off her engagement and
wedding rings and walked over to me. “I don’t want anything to happen to these while I’m there.”
I clasped both of her hands in mine. “It’s not the rings I’m worried about.”
A faint smile crossed her lips, and even though the face was different, there was a feel to that smile
that was uniquely Sydney. “I’ll be fine . . . but I want you to hold on to these for me until I get back.”
“Deal,” I said in a low voice that only she could hear, “but I get to put them back on you.”
“Okay,” she said.
“On my knees,” I added.
“And we both have to be nake—”
“Adrian,” she said warningly.
“We’ll discuss the terms later,” I said with a wink.”
“No,” said Dimitri bluntly. “Adrian’s not responsible. His intentions are honorable here. I’ll vouch
for him. I’m Dimitri Belikov. This is Rose Hathaway, Sydney Ivashkov.”
Normally, a human introduced with a royal Moroi last name would have warranted a double take.
But it was clear this woman never heard anything past Rose and Dimitri’s names. I saw it clearly in
her eyes: the same awe and worship I’d observed in so many other faces whenever this dynamic duo
introduced itself. And like that, the woman turned from fiercely protective doorkeeper to swooning fangirl.”
“No surprise you’ve got dhampirs with you. What happened to that Moroi boy you had in tow last time? The one with the nice cheekbones?”
“Oh, he’s over there,” I said, flushing slightly. “I, uh, married him.”
Inez’s pointed eyebrows rose. “Did you now? Well, good for you.”
“She Blinded Me With Science.’”
“What?” Sydney asked.
“That could be our song.”
She laughed outright, and I realized I hadn’t heard that sound in a very long time. It somehow managed to make my heart both ache and leap. “Well,” she said. “I guess that’s better than ‘Tainted Love.”
“Through the metal grating on my carrier door, Adrian's face suddenly appeared, peering in at me. "What new, pussycat?”
“Rose laughed at that. “Oh, this I’ve got to see, comrade. Dimitri Belikov, badass god, installing a baby’s car seat.”
“I shook my head, smiling in spite of myself, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Adrian. My husband. If anyone had told me a year ago that I'd be married, I would've said they were joking. If they'd told me I'd be married to a vampire, I would've said they were delusional. Looking at Adrian now, I felt a surge of love well up within me, despite our earlier tension. I could no longer imagine a life without him in it. It was impossible. Could I imagine a life with him that didn't involve us being trapped in a suite of rooms with his mother while both our people reviled us and made plans against us? Definitely. There were any number of futures I'd love to have for us, but his was our current path until something spectacular happened. Outside, the Court's gates, my people wanted to imprison me. Inside them, his people wanted to assault him. At least in this suite, we were safe. Most importantly, we were together.”
“I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me.
If I had had words to speak such a thing, I would have. But there were none that seemed big enough for it, to hold that swelling truth.
As if he had heard me, he reached for my hand. I did not need to look; his fingers were etched into my memory, slender and petal-veined, strong and quick and never wrong.
“Patroclus,” he said. He was always better with words than I.”
“You need to face what you're running from ”
“Secrets... nothing eats away at love faster.”
“Despair came over her, as it will when nobody around has any sexual relevance to you.”
“To look at the height of Snäfell it seemed impossible to reach the summit. But after an hours' fatigue and athletic exercise, a sort of staircase suddenly appeared in the midst of the vast carpet of snow lying on the croup of the volcano, and this greatly simplified our ascent. (p. 73)”
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