And my mother had given it to me.


I ANGRILY PUSHED THROUGH THE double doors that led into the Moroi dorm. Snow swirled in behind me, and a few people lingering on the main floor glanced up upon my entrance. Not surprisingly, several of them did double takes. Swallowing, I forced myself not to react. It would be okay. No need to freak out. Novices got injured all the time. It was actually rarer not to get injured. Admittedly, this was a more noticeable injury than most, but I could live with it until it healed, right? And it wasn't like anyone would know how I'd received it.

"Hey Rose, is it true your own mother punched you?"

I froze. I'd know that taunting soprano voice anywhere. Turning slowly, I looked into the deep blue eyes of Mia Rinaldi. Curly blond hair framed a face that might have been cute if not for the malicious smirk on it.

A year younger than us, Mia'd taken on Lissa (and me by default) in a war to see who could tear apart the other's life most quickly - a war, I should add, that she started. It had involved her stealing Lissa's ex-boyfriend - despite the fact Lissa had decided in the end she didn't want him - and the spreading of all sorts of rumors.

Admittedly, Mia's hatred hadn't been entirely unjustified. Lissa's older brother, Andre - who had been killed in the same car accident that technically "killed" me - had used Mia pretty badly when she was a freshman. If she weren't such a bitch now, I would have felt sorry for her. It had been wrong of him, and while I could understand her anger, I don't know that it was fair of her to take that out on Lissa in the way she did.

Lissa and I had technically won the war in the end, but Mia had inexplicably bounced back. She didn't run with the same elite that she once had, but she had rebuilt a small contingent of friends. Malicious or not, strong leaders always attract followers.

I'd found that about 90 percent of the time, the most effective response was to ignore her. But we had just crossed over to the other 10 percent, because it's impossible to ignore someone announcing to the world that your mother just punched you - even if it was true. I stopped walking and turned around. Mia stood near a vending machine, knowing she'd drawn me out. I didn't bother asking how she'd found out about my mother giving me the black eye. Things rarely stayed secret around here.

When she caught full sight of my face, her eyes widened in unabashed delight. "Wow. Talk about a face only a mother could love."

Ha. Cute. From anyone else, I would have applauded the joke.

"Well, you're the expert on face injury," I said. "How's your nose?"

Mia's icy smile twitched a little, but she didn't back down. I'd broken her nose about a month ago - at a school dance of all places - and while the nose had since healed, it now sat just the tiniest bit askew. Plastic surgery could probably fix it up, but from my understanding of her family's finances, that wasn't possible just now.

"It's better," she replied primly. "Fortunately, it was only broken by a psychopathic whore and not anyone actually related to me."

I gave her my best psychopathic smile. "Too bad. Family members hit you by accident. Psychopathic whores tend to come back for more."

Threatening physical violence against her was usually a pretty sound tactic, but we had too many people around right now for that to be a legitimate concern for her. And Mia knew it. Not that I was above attacking someone in this kind of setting - hell, I'd done it lots of times - but I was trying to work on my impulse control lately.

"Doesn't look like much of an accident to me," she said. "Don't you guys have rules about face punches? I mean, that looks really far out of bounds."

I opened my mouth to tell her off, but nothing came out. She had a point. My injury was far out of bounds; in that sort of combat, you aren't supposed to hit above the neck. This was way above that forbidden line.

Mia saw my hesitation, and it was like Christmas morning had come a week early for her. Until that moment, I don't think there'd ever been a time in our antagonistic relationship in which she'd rendered me speechless.

"Ladies," came a stern, female voice. The Moroi attending the front desk leaned over it and fixed us with a sharp look. "This is a lobby, not a lounge. Either go upstairs or go outside."

For a moment, breaking Mia's nose again sounded like the best idea in the world - to hell with detention or suspension. After a deep breath, I decided retreat was my most dignified action now. I stalked off toward the stairs leading up to the girls' dorm. Over my shoulder, I heard Mia call, "Don't worry, Rose. It'll go away. Besides, it's not your face guys are interested in."

Thirty seconds later, I beat on Lissa's door so hard, it was a wonder my fist didn't go through the wood. She opened it slowly and peered around.

"Is it just you out here? I thought there was an army at the - oh my God." Her eyebrows shot up when she noticed the left side of my face. "What happened?"

"You haven't heard already? You're probably the only one in the school who hasn't," I grumbled. "Just let me in."

Sprawling on her bed, I told her about the day's events. She was properly appalled.

"I heard you'd been hurt, but I figured it was one of your normal things," she said.

I stared up at the spackled ceiling, feeling miserable. "The worst part is, Mia was right. It wasn't an accident."

"What, you're saying your mom did it on purpose?" When I didn't answer, Lissa's voice turned incredulous. "Come on, she wouldn't do that. No way."

"Why? Because she's perfect Janine Hathaway, master of controlling her temper? The thing is, she's also perfect Janine Hathaway, master of fighting and controlling her actions. One way or another, she slipped up."

"Yeah, well," said Lissa, "I think her stumbling and missing her punch is more likely than her doing it on purpose. She'd have to really lose her temper."

"Well, she was talking to me. That's enough to make anyone lose their temper. And I accused her of sleeping with my dad because he was the soundest evolutionary choice."

"Rose," groaned Lissa. "You kind of left out that part in your recap. Why'd you say that to her?"

"Because it's probably true."

"But you had to know it'd upset her. Why do you keep provoking her? Why can't you just make peace with her?"

I sat upright. "Make peace with her? She gave me a black eye. Probably on purpose! How do I make peace with someone like that?"

Lissa just shook her head and walked over to the mirror to check her makeup. The feelings coming through our bond were ones of frustration and exasperation. Lingering in the back was a bit of anticipation, too. I had the patience to examine her carefully, now that I'd finished my venting. She had on a silky lavender shirt and a knee-length black skirt. Her long hair had the kind of smooth perfection only achieved by spending an hour of your life on it with a hair dryer and flat iron.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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