"So you're going to be a guardian when you grow up."
He exhaled smoke, and I watched it drift away into the night. Heightened vampire senses or no, it was a wonder he could smell anything around those cloves.
"How long until you grow up?" he asked. "I might need a guardian."
"I graduate in the spring. But I'm already spoken for. Sorry."
Surprise flickered in his eyes. "Yeah? Who is he?"
"She's Vasilisa Dragomir."
"Ah." His face split into a huge grin. "I knew you were trouble as soon as I saw you. You're Janine Hathaway's daughter."
"I'm Rose Hathaway," I corrected, not wanting to be defined by my mother.
"Nice to meet you, Rose Hathaway." He extended a gloved hand to me that I hesitantly took. "Adrian Ivashkov."
"And you think I'm trouble," I muttered. The Ivashkovs were a royal family, one of the wealthiest and most powerful. They were the kind of people who thought they could get anything they wanted and walked over those in their way. No wonder he was so arrogant.
He laughed. He had a nice laugh, rich and almost melodious. It made me think of warm caramel, dripping from a spoon. "Handy, huh? Each of our reputations precedes us."
I shook my head. "You don't know anything about me. And I only know of your family. I don't know anything about you."
"Want to?" he asked tauntingly.
"Sorry. I'm not into older guys."
"I'm twenty-one. Not that much older."
"I have a boyfriend." It was a small lie. Mason certainly wasn't my boyfriend yet, but I hoped Adrian would leave me alone if he thought I was taken.
"Funny you didn't mention that right away," Adrian mused. "He didn't give you that black eye, did he?"
I felt myself blushing, even in the cold. I'd been hoping he wouldn't notice the eye, which was stupid. With his vampire eyes, he'd probably noticed as soon as I stepped onto the porch.
"He wouldn't be alive if he did. I got it during ... practice. I mean, I'm training to be a guardian. Our classes are always rough."
"That's pretty hot," he said. He dropped this second cigarette to the ground and put it out with his foot.
"Punching me in the eye?"
"Well, no. Of course not. I meant that the idea of getting rough with you is hot. I'm a big fan of full-contact sports."
"I'm sure you are," I said dryly. He was arrogant and presumptuous, yet I still couldn't quite force myself to leave.
The sound of footsteps behind me made me turn. Mia came around the path and walked up the steps. When she saw us, she stopped suddenly.
She glanced between the two of us.
"Another guy?" she asked. From her tone, you would have thought I had my own harem of men.
Adrian gave me a questioning, amused look. I gritted my teeth and decided not to dignify that with a response. I opted for uncharacteristic politeness.
"Mia, this is Adrian Ivashkov."
Adrian turned on the same charm he'd used on me. He shook her hand. "Always a pleasure to meet a friend of Rose's, especially a pretty one." He spoke like he and I had known each other since childhood.
"We aren't friends," I said. So much for politeness.
"Rose only hangs out with guys and psychopaths," said Mia. Her voice carried the usual scorn she harbored for me, but there was a look on her face that showed Adrian had clearly caught her interest.
"Well," he said cheerfully, "since I'm both a psychopath and a guy, that would explain why we're such good friends."
"You and I aren't friends either," I told him.
He laughed. "Always playing hard to get, huh?"
"She's not that hard to get," said Mia, clearly upset that Adrian was paying more attention to me. "Just ask half the guys at our school."
"Yeah," I retorted, "and you can ask the other half about Mia. If you can do a favor for her, she'll do lots of favors for you." When she'd declared war on Lissa and me, Mia had managed to get a couple of guys to tell everyone at school that I'd done some pretty awful things with them. The ironic thing was that she'd gotten them to lie for her by sleeping with them herself.
A flicker of embarrassment passed over her face, but she held her ground.
"Well," she said, "at least I don't do them for free."
Adrian made some cat noises.
"Are you done?" I asked. "It's past your bedtime, and the grown-ups would like to talk now." Mia's youthful looks were a sore point with her, one I frequently enjoyed exploiting.
"Sure," she said crisply. Her cheeks turned pink, intensifying her porcelain-doll appearance. "I have better things to do anyway." She turned toward the door, then paused with her hand resting on it. She glanced toward Adrian. "Her mom gave her that black eye, you know."
She went inside. The fancy glass doors swung shut behind her.
Adrian and I stood there in silence. Finally, he took out the cigarettes again and lit another. "Your mom?"
"You're one of those people who either has soul mates or mortal enemies, aren't you? No in-between. You and Vasilisa are probably like sisters, huh?"
"How is she?"
"Huh? What do you mean?"
He shrugged, and if I didn't know better, I'd have said he was overdoing casualness. "I don't know. I mean, I know you guys ran away...and there was that stuff with her family and Victor Dashkov...."
I stiffened at the reference to Victor. "So?"
"Dunno. Just figured it might be a lot for her to, you know, handle."
I studied him carefully, wondering what he was getting at. There had been a brief leak about Lissa's fragile mental health, but it had been well-contained. Most people had forgotten about it or assumed it was a lie.
"I've got to go." I decided avoidance was the best tactic just now.
"Are you sure?" He sounded only mildly disappointed. Mostly he seemed as cocky and amused as before. Something about him still intrigued me, but whatever it was, it wasn't enough to combat everything else I was feeling, or to risk discussing Lissa. "I thought it was time for the grown-ups to talk. Lots of grown-up things I'd like to talk about."
"It's late, I'm tired, and your cigarettes are giving me a headache," I growled.
"I suppose that's fair." He drew in on the cigarette and let out the smoke. "Some women think they make me look sexy."