We'd all slipped into the water by then. It was so hot I felt like I was in a soup kettle. Now that Lissa seemed convinced of my innocence with Adrian, I tuned into the others' discussion.

"What are you talking about?" I interrupted. It was easier than listening and figuring it out myself.

"The meeting," said Mason excitedly. Apparently, he'd gotten over seeing me and Adrian together.

Christian had settled onto a small shelf in the pool. Lissa curled up beside him. Putting a proprietary arm around her, he tipped his back so it rested on the edge.

"Your boyfriend wants to lead an army against the Strigoi," he told me. I could tell he was saying it to provoke me.

I looked at Mason questioningly. It wasn't worth the effort to challenge the "boyfriend" comment.

"Hey, it was your aunt who suggested it," Mason reminded Christian.

"She only said we should find the Strigoi before they find us again," countered Christian. "She wasn't pushing for novices fighting. That was Monica Szelsky."

A waitress came by then with a tray of pink drinks. These were in elegant, long-stemmed crystal glasses with sugared rims. I had a strong suspicion the drinks were alcoholic, but I doubted anyone who made it into this party was going to get carded. I had no idea what they were. Most of my experiences with alcohol had involved cheap beer. I took a glass and turned back to Mason.

"You think that's a good idea?" I asked him. I sipped the drink, cautiously. As a guardian in training, I felt like I should always be on alert, but tonight I once again felt like being rebellious. The drink tasted like punch. Grapefruit juice. Something sweet, like strawberries. I was still pretty sure there was alcohol in it, but it didn't appear strong enough for me to lose sleep over.

Another waitress soon appeared with a tray of food. I eyed it and recognized almost nothing. There was something that looked vaguely like mushrooms stuffed with cheese, as well as something else that looked little round patties of meat or sausage. As a good carnivore, I reached for one, thinking it couldn't be that bad.

"It's foie gras," said Christian. There was a smile on his face I didn't like.

I eyed him warily. "What's that?"

"You don't know?" His tone was cocky, and for once in his life, he sounded like a true royal touting his elite knowledge over us underlings. He shrugged. "Take a chance. Find out."

Lissa sighed in exasperation. "It's goose liver."

I jerked my hand back. The waitress moved on, and Christian laughed. I glared at him.

Meanwhile, Mason was still hung up on my question about whether novices going to battle before graduation was a good idea.

"What else are we doing?" he asked indignantly. "What are you doing? You run laps with Belikov every morning. What's that doing for you? For the Moroi?"

What was that doing for me? Making my heart race and my mind have indecent thoughts.

"We aren't ready," I said instead.

"We've only got six more months," piped in Eddie.

Mason nodded his agreement. "Yeah. How much more can we learn?"

"Plenty," I said, thinking of how much I'd picked up from my tutoring sessions with Dimitri. I finished my drink. "Besides, where does it stop? Let's say they end school six months early, then send us off. What next? They decide to push back further and cut our senior year? Our junior year?"

He shrugged. "I'm not afraid to fight. I could have taken on Strigoi when I was a sophomore."

"Yeah," I said dryly. "Just like you did skiing on that slope."

Mason's face, already flushed from the heat, turned redder still. I immediately regretted my words, particularly when Christian started laughing.

"Never thought I'd live to see the day when I agreed with you, Rose. But sadly, I do." The cocktail waitress came by again, and both Christian and I took new drinks. "The Moroi have got to start helping us defend themselves."

"With magic?" asked Mia suddenly.

It was the first time she'd spoken since we'd got here. Silence met her. I think Mason and Eddie didn't respond because they knew nothing about fighting with magic. Lissa, Christian, and I did- and were trying very hard to act like we didn't. There was a funny sort of hope in Mia's eyes, though, and I could only imagine what she'd gone through today. She'd woken up to learn her mother was dead and then been subjected to hours and hours of political bantering and battle strategies. The fact that she was sitting here at all seeming semi-composed was a miracle. I assumed people who actually liked their mothers would barely be able to function in that situation.

When no one else looked like they were going to answer her, I finally said, "I suppose. But... I don't know much about that."

I finished the rest of my drink and averted my eyes, hoping someone else would take up the conversation. They didn't. Mia looked disappointed but said no more when Mason switched back to the Strigoi debate.

I took a third drink and sank into the water as far as I reasonably could and still hold the glass. This drink was different. It looked chocolatey and had whipped cream on top. I took a taste and definitely detected the bite of alcohol. Still, I figured the chocolate probably diluted it.

When I was ready for a fourth drink, the waitress was nowhere in sight. Mason seemed really, really cute to me all of a sudden. I would have liked a little romantic attention from him, but he was still going on about Strigoi and the logistics of leading a strike in the middle of the day. Mia and Eddie were nodding along with him eagerly, and I got the feeling that if he decided to hunt Strigoi right now, they'd follow. Christian was actually joining the talk, but it was more to play devil's advocate. Typical. He thought a sort of preemptive strike would require guardians and Moroi, much as Tasha had said. Mason, Mia, and Eddie argued that if the Moroi weren't up to it, the guardians should take matters into their own hands.

I confess, their enthusiasm was kind of contagious. I rather liked the idea of getting the drop on Strigoi. But in the Badica and Drozdov attacks, all of the guardians had been killed. Admittedly the Strigoi had organized into huge groups and had help, but all that told me was that our side needed to be extra careful.

His cuteness aside, I didn't want to listen to Mason talk about his battle skills anymore. I wanted another drink. I stood up and climbed over the edge of the pool. To my astonishment, the world started spinning. I'd had that happen before when I got out of baths or hot tubs too quickly, but when things didn't right themselves, I realized those drinks might have been stronger than I thought.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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