The scariest change of all would be within, the loss of my connection to my soul. Both Dimitri and Nathan had been cruel and antagonistic. Even if I hadn't been around to start the fight, it probably wouldn't have taken long for them to find some other reason to turn on each other. I was combative, but it was always driven by some passion for others. Strigoi fought because they relished the bloodshed. I didn't want to be like that, seeking blood and violence because I enjoyed it.

I didn't want to believe that of Dimitri either, but his actions had already branded him as a Strigoi. I also knew what he had to have been eating this whole time to survive. Strigoi could go longer without blood than Moroi, but it had been over a month since he was turned. There was no question he had fed, and Strigoi almost always killed their victims to eat. I couldn't picture that of Dimitri... not the man I'd known.

I opened my eyes. The topic of feeding had brought my lunch to mind. Pizza and brownies. Two of the most perfect foods on the planet. The pizza had long gone cold during my escape efforts, but as I stared at the plate, both it and the brownie looked delicious. If the outside light was any indication, it hadn't been a full twenty-four hours since Dimitri had caught me, but it was getting pretty close. That was a long time to go without food, and I wanted to eat that pizza badly, cold or not. I didn't really want to starve to death.

Of course, I didn't want to become Strigoi either, but this situation was quickly running away from what I wanted. Starvation took a long time, and I suspected Dimitri was right: he'd turn me long before I had a chance to truly starve. I'd have to find some other way to die-God, not that I wanted that at all-and in the meantime, I decided I might as well keep up my strength on the feeble chance I might be able to escape.

Once the decision was made, I gobbled down the food in about three minutes. I had no idea who Strigoi hired to do their cooking-hell, Strigoi couldn't even eat regular food, unlike Moroi-but it was fantastic. Some wry part of me noted that I'd been given food that required no silverware.

They really had thought of every possible way I might get my hands on a weapon. My mouth was full of my last giant bite of brownie when the door suddenly opened. Inna slipped deftly inside, the door shutting almost immediately.

"Son of a bitch!" Or at least I tried to say that through my mouthful of food. While I'd been debating whether to eat or not, I should have been staking out the door. Dimitri had said Inna would check in on me. I should have been waiting to overpower her. Instead, she'd gotten in while I wasn't paying attention. Once again, I'd slipped up.

Just like when she was around Dimitri and Nathan, Inna made very little eye contact. She held a pile of clothes in her arms and paused in front of me, holding them out. Uncertain, I took them from her and set them beside me on the couch.

"Um, thanks," I said.

Pointing at the empty tray, she actually glanced up at me shyly, a question in her brown eyes. Seeing her straight on, I was surprised at how pretty she was. She might even have been younger than me, and I wondered how she'd ended up being forced to work here. Understanding her query, I nodded.


She picked the tray up and waited a moment. I wasn't sure why; then it occurred to me she must be waiting to see if I wanted anything else. I was pretty sure "the combination to the lock" wouldn't translate very well. I shrugged and waved her off, my mind spinning as I watched her approach the door. I should wait for her to open the door and then jump her, I thought. Immediately, a gut reaction sprang up in me, hesitation at striking out at an innocent. Another thought squashed that one: It's me or her. I tensed.

Inna pressed herself close to the door as she punched in the combination, effectively blocking my view. Judging by how long she was punching in numbers, the code appeared to be pretty long. The door clicked open, and I braced myself to act. Then-I decided against it at the last moment.

For all I knew, there could be an army of Strigoi out there. If I was going to use Inna to escape, I probably only had one opportunity. I needed to make it count. So, instead of leaping up, I shifted slightly so that I could see beyond her. She was just as fast as before, slipping out as soon as the door unlocked. But in that moment, I caught a glimpse of a short corridor and what looked like another heavy door.

Interesting. Double doors on my prison. If I did follow her, that would prevent me from making an immediate escape. She could simply wait by the other locked door, holding out until Strigoi backup showed up. That made things more difficult, but understanding the setup at least gave me a spark of hope. I just needed to figure out what to do with this information, provided I hadn't screwed myself by not acting now. For all I knew, Dimitri was about to walk in and turn me into a Strigoi.

I sighed. Dimitri, Dimitri, Dimitri.

Looking down, I took the time to actually see what she'd brought me. My current attire wasn't bothering me, but if I stayed here much longer, my jeans and T-shirt were going to get pretty gross.

Like Tamara, someone wanted to dress me up.

The clothes Inna had brought were all dresses and all in my size. A red silk sheath. A long-sleeved, form-fitting knit dress edged in satin. An empire-waist, ankle-length chiffon gown.

"Oh, great. I'm a doll."

Digging deeper into the stack, I discovered there were a few nightshirts and nightgowns tucked in there-as well as some underwear and bras. All of those were satin and silk. The most casual item in the whole lot was a forest-green sweater dress, but even it was made of the softest cashmere.

I held it up, trying to imagine myself making a daring escape in it. Nope. With a shake of my head, I heedlessly tossed all of the clothes onto the floor. Looked like I'd be wearing grungy clothes for a while.

I paced around after that, turning over futile escape plans that I'd already spun around in my head a million times. In walking, I realized how tired I was. Aside from the blackout when Dimitri had hit me, I hadn't slept in over a day. Deciding how to handle this was like deciding how to deal with the food. Let down my guard or not? I needed strength, but each concession I made put me more at risk.

At last, I gave in, and as I lay down on the massive bed, an idea suddenly occurred to me. I wasn't totally without help. If Adrian came to visit me in my sleep, I could tell him what had happened. True, I'd told him to stay away last time, but he'd never listened to me before. Why should this time be any different? I focused on him as hard as I could while I waited for sleep to come, as though my thoughts might act as some sort of bat signal and summon him.

It didn't work. There was no visit in my dreams, and when I woke up, I was surprised at just how much that hurt me. Despite Adrian's infatuation with Avery, I couldn't help but recall how kind he'd been to Jill the last time I saw them. He was worried about Lissa, too, and he'd displayed none of his usual carefree bravado. He'd been serious and... well, sweet. A lump formed in my throat. Even if I had no romantic interest in him, I'd still treated him badly. I'd lost both our friendship and any chance of calling for help through him.

The soft rustling of paper snapped me from my musings and I jerked upright. Someone was in the living room, his back to me as he sat on the couch, and it took me only a moment to recognize who. Dimitri.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, climbing out of bed. In my groggy state, I hadn't even registered the nausea.

"Waiting for you to wake up," he said, not bothering to turn around. He was overly confident in my inability to inflict damage-as well he should have been.

"Sounds kind of boring."

I walked into the living room, moving myself far to the side of him and leaning against the wall. I crossed my arms over my chest, again taking comfort in that meaningless protective posture.

"Not so boring. I had company."

He glanced over at me and held up a book. A western. I think that shocked me almost as much as his altered appearance. There was something so ... normal about it all. He'd loved western novels when he was a dhampir, and I'd often teased him about wanting to be a cowboy. Somehow, I'd imagined that hobby would go away when he turned. Irrationally hopeful, I studied his face as though I might see some radical change, like maybe he'd turned back to the way he'd been while I slept. Maybe the last month and a half had been a dream.

Nope. Red eyes and a hard expression looked back at me. My hopes shattered.

"You slept for a long time," he added. I dared a quick look at the window. Totally black. It was nighttime. Damn. I'd only wanted a two-hour power nap. "And you ate."

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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