Lissa's feelings grew darker, but she didn't say anything else. Stopping just outside the dressing room, she pulled a black dress off the rack. She brightened a little.

"This is the dress you were born for. I don't care how practical you are now."

Made of silky black material, the dress was strapless and sleek, falling about to the knees. Although it had a slight flair at the hemline, the rest looked like it would definitely manage some serious clinging action. Super sexy. Maybe even challenge-the-school-dress-code sexy.

"That is my dress," I admitted. I kept staring at it, wanting it so badly that it ached in my chest. This was the kind of dress that changed the world. The kind of dress that started religions.

Lissa pulled out my size. "Try it on."

I shook my head and started to put it back. "I can't. It would compromise you. One dress isn't worth your grisly death."

"Then we'll just get it without you trying it on." She bought the dress.

The afternoon continued, and I found myself growing tired. Always watching and being on guard suddenly became a lot less fun. When we hit our last stop, a jewelry store, I felt kind of glad.

"Here you go," said Lissa, pointing at one of the cases. "The necklace made to go with your dress."

I looked. A thin gold chain with a gold-and-diamond rose pendant. Emphasis on the diamond part.

"I hate rose stuff."

Lissa had always loved getting me rose things - just to see my reaction, I think. When she saw the necklace's price, her smile fell away.

"Oh, look at that. Even you have limits," I teased. "Your crazy spending is stopped at last."

We waited for Victor and Natalie to finish up. He was apparently buying her something, and she looked like she might grow wings and fly away with happiness. I was glad. She'd been dying for his attention. Hopefully he was buying her something extra-expensive to make up for it.

We rode home in tired silence, our sleep schedules all messed up by the daylight trip. Sitting next to Dimitri, I leaned back against the seat and yawned, very aware that our arms were touching. That feeling of closeness and connection burned between us.

"So, I can't ever try on clothes again?" I asked quietly not wanting to wake up the others. Victor and the guardians were awake, but the girls had fallen asleep.

"When you aren't on duty, you can. You can do it during your time off."

"I don't ever want time off. I want to always take care of Lissa." I yawned again. "Did you see that dress?"

"I saw the dress."

"Did you like it?"

He didn't answer. I took that as a yes.

"Am I going to endanger my reputation if I wear it to the dance?"

When he spoke, I could barely hear him. "You'll endanger the school."

I smiled and fell asleep.

When I woke up, my head rested against his shoulder. That long coat of his-the duster-covered me like a blanket. The van had stopped; we were back at school. I pulled the duster off and climbed out after him, suddenly feeling wide awake and happy. Too bad my freedom was about to end.

"Back to prison," I sighed, walking beside Lissa toward the commons. "Maybe if you fake a heart attack, I can make a break for it."

"Without your clothes?" She handed me a bag, and I swung it around happily. "I can't wait to see the dress."

"Me either. If they let me go. Kirova's still deciding if I've been good enough."

"Show her those boring shirts you bought. She'll go into a coma. I'm about ready to."

I laughed and hopped up onto one of the wooden benches, pacing her as I walked along it. I jumped back down when I reached the end. "They aren't that boring."

"I don't know what to think of this new, responsible Rose."

I hopped up onto another bench. "I'm not that responsible."

"Hey," called Spiridon. He and the rest of the group trailed behind us. "You're still on duty. No fun allowed up there."

"No fun here," I called back, hearing the laughter in his voice. "I swear - shit."

I was up on a third bench, near the end of it. My muscles tensed, ready to jump back down. Only when I tried to, my foot didn't go with me. The wood, at one moment seemingly hard and solid, gave way beneath me, almost as though made of paper. It disintegrated. My foot went through, my ankle getting caught in the hole while the rest of my body tried to go in another direction. The bench held me, swinging my body to the ground while still seizing my foot. My ankle bent in an unnatural direction. I crashed down. I heard a cracking sound that wasn't the wood. The worst pain of my life shot through my body.

And then I blacked out.


I WOKE UP STARING AT the boring white ceiling of the clinic. A filtered light - soothing to Moroi patients - shone down on me. I felt strange, kind of disoriented, but I didn't hurt.


The voice was like silk on my skin. Gentle. Rich. Turning my head, I met Dimitri's dark eyes. He sat in a chair beside the bed I lay on, his shoulder-length brown hair hanging forward and framing his face.

"Hey," I said, my voice coming out as a croak.

"How do you feel?"

"Weird. Kind of groggy."

"Dr. Olendzki gave you something for the pain - you seemed pretty bad when we brought you in."

"I don't remember that...How long have I been out?"

"A few hours."

"Must have been strong. Must still be strong." Some of the details came back. The bench. My ankle getting caught. I couldn't remember much after that. Feeling hot and cold and then hot again. Tentatively, I tried moving the toes on my healthy foot. "I don't hurt at all."

He shook his head. "No. Because you weren't seriously injured."

The sound of my ankle cracking came back to me. "Are you sure? I remember...the way it bent. No. Something must be broken." I manage to sit up, so I could look at my ankle.

"Or at least sprained."

He moved forward to stop me. "Be careful. Your ankle might be fine, but you're probably still a little out of it."

I carefully shifted to the edge of the bed and looked down. My jeans were rolled up. The ankle looked a little red, but I had no bruises or serious marks.

"God, I got lucky. If I'd hurt it, it would have put me out of practice for a while."

Smiling, he returned to his chair. "I know. You kept telling me that while I was carrying you. You were very upset."

" carried me here?"

"After we broke the bench apart and freed your foot."

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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