"Okay," I said once we were heading upstairs, "what gives? I thought you weren't going to Marina's."
Viktoria grinned and beckoned me into her bedroom. I'd recently learned her bedroom used to be Dimitri's, and every time I was in here, I had to resist the urge to go bury myself in the bed, even though I knew the sheets had been washed countless times since those days. Somehow, I could imagine them smelling like Dimitri and feeling warm as though we were both lying there together.
"I'm not." Viktoria began rifling through her closet and pulled out a short, sleeveless red dress with lace around the straps. The fabric was stretchy -the kind that looked like it'd show everything. I was shocked when she began putting it on. It was pretty trashy.
"Is this a joke?"
Nope. Viktoria took off her shirt and jeans and pulled the dress on. She had no trouble with it, but it was every bit as clingy as it had appeared. She wasn't as filled out as I was on top, but in a dress like that, it didn't matter.
"Okay," I said, catching on at last. "What's his name?"
"Rolan," she said. "Oh, Rose. He's amazing. And this is the last night I'll get to see him before school."
I didn't know whether to feel happy for her or sad for Nikolai. This Rolan guy must have been the reason she couldn't give Nikolai the time of day.
She was totally in love with someone else. Still, that dress...
"You must really like him," I observed dryly.
Her eyes widened. "Do you want to meet him?"
"Er, well, I don't want to interfere with your date..."
"You won't. Just stop by and say hi, okay?"
It felt pretty intrusive, yet at the same time... well, I was kind of curious about a guy who could get her to leave the house in that kind of outfit, particularly when she started applying really heavy makeup: extra-dark eyeliner and bright red lipstick. So I agreed to meet Rolan, and we left the house as quietly as we could. Despite wearing a coat over her dress, Viktoria still didn't want to run into her mother.
We headed downtown, following a few twists and turns until we ended up behind what looked like an ordinary warehouse in an abandoned part of town. All was quiet, but a tall, tough-looking dhampir stood by a door leading into the building, his arms crossed in front of him. Viktoria brought us to a halt nearby, saying we had to wait there. A minute later, a group of Moroi men of mixed ages wandered up, chatting and laughing. The dhampir gave them a once-over and then opened the door for them. Light and music spilled out until the door shut-and all went silent again.
"So this is Baia's secret dhampir world," I murmured. She didn't hear me because suddenly, her face lit up.
"There he is!"
She pointed to two approaching guys. Both were Moroi. Well, who knew? Viktoria's secret boyfriend wasn't a dhampir. I guessed that wasn't too shocking, really, though the way she'd dressed tonight still bothered me. She gave him a fierce hug and introduced us. His friend was named Sergey, and he smiled politely before hurrying inside where he was apparently meeting a girl too.
I had to give Viktoria credit: Rolan was hot. His hair was dark auburn, soft and wavy. The green of his eyes reminded me-painfully-of Adrian's.
And when he smiled at Viktoria, it was dazzling. The look on her face was exactly like Nikolai's whenever he was around her.
Rolan took a hold of Viktoria's hands and brought them to his lips, kissing each one. Those green, green eyes gazed at hers, and he murmured something I couldn't hear. She blushed and replied in Russian. I didn't need any translation to know the content was sexy and flirty. Still smiling, he glanced over at me, and although she'd introduced us, it was like he was noticing me for the first time-and was interested.
"You're new here, aren't you?" he asked.
Viktoria wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his chest. "Rose is visiting. She's a friend of the family."
"Ah," he said. "Now I remember hearing about you. I had no idea such a fierce Strigoi killer would be so beautiful."
"It's part of the job description," I said dryly.
"Will you be returning to school with Viktoria?" he asked.
"No. I'll be staying here a little longer." I still had no clue, though, if "a little longer" was one hour or one year.
"Hmm," he said thoughtfully. He looked back down at Viktoria and pressed a kiss to her hair, running his fingers along her throat. His next words were to her. "I'm glad you were able to come here before you left. I don't know how I'll get by with you so far away."
She beamed. "There was no way I could leave without seeing you one more time..." She trailed off, too overcome with emotion, and as he leaned down, hand still on her throat, I thought for an awful moment that they were going to start making out then and there.
Fortunately, the appearance of an approaching dhampir girl interrupted them. Viktoria broke from Rolan and embraced the other girl. They apparently hadn't seen each other in a while and chatted rapidly in Russian, ignoring Rolan and me. Free of her for a moment, he leaned toward me.
"Once Viktoria has returned to school, you'll be all alone here. Maybe I could show you around then?"
"Thanks, but I've already seen everything."
He kept that big smile on. "Of course. Well, then, perhaps we could simply get together and... talk?"
I couldn't believe it. This guy had had his hands all over Viktoria thirty seconds ago and was now trying to score plans with me the instant she left town. I was disgusted and had to restrain myself from doing something stupid.
"Sorry, but I don't think I'll be around long enough."
I got the impression that women didn't refuse him very often. He frowned and started to protest, but Viktoria returned and wrapped herself around him again. He studied me for several more puzzled seconds and then shifted his attention to her, smiling and turning on the charm. She ate it all up, and while the two tried to include me in their conversation, it was clear they were totally absorbed in each other. Rolan might be interested in me, but for now, she was an easier target-and one that wouldn't be available much longer. I felt that disgust roil up in me again. The longer we stood out there, the more I realized what was going on. All the people going inside were Moroi guys or dhampir girls. And the girls were all dressed like Viktoria. This was a blood whore den. Suddenly, Baia's secret dhampir world held no appeal.
I hated it. I wanted nothing more than to get out of here. No, wait. I wanted nothing more than to get out of here and drag Viktoria away, even kicking and screaming. Rolan was sleazy, no question, and I didn't want her anywhere near him. Yet it soon became clear they weren't going to stand out in the alley all night. They wanted to go inside and do God only knew what.
"Viktoria," I said, trying to be reasonable, "are you sure you don't want to come back home and hang out? I mean, I won't get to see you tomorrow."
She hesitated, then shook her head. "I won't get to see Rolan either. But I promise I'll come see you as soon as I get home later. We'll stay up all night. Mom won't care."
I didn't know what other protests to make. Rolan's impatience, now that I'd refused him, was starting to show. He wanted to go inside. I wondered what was there... a dance floor? Bedrooms? I probably could have gone with them to see for myself, despite being underdressed-or, well, overdressed as far as amounts of clothing went. Yet I couldn't bring myself to do it. All my life, I'd been taught about blood whores and why their lifestyle was wrong. I didn't know if Viktoria was becoming one-and I hoped she wasn't-but there was no way I could set foot in there. It was a matter of principle.
I watched them go with a heavy heart, wondering what I'd just let my friend walk into. Seeing her in that ultra-tight dress, plastered all over him, suddenly made me reevaluate everything. How much of this peaceful life in Baia was a sham? Was Viktoria-the girl who'd called me a sister really not the person I thought she was? Confused, I turned away to head back home-And almost walked into Abe. Again.
"What the hell?" I exclaimed. He wore a tuxedo tonight, complete with tails and a silvery silk scarf. "Are you stalking me?" Stupid question. Of course he was. I hoped his formal wear meant he wouldn't be dragging me off this evening. His guardians were equally well dressed. Idly, I wondered if a place like this had something to do with his illegal business dealings. Was he trafficking blood whores? Like some kind of pimp?