I put on a dubious look. "You knew Lissa's fath--Eric Dragomir?"

"Sure." The Moroi gestured for a refill. "I've been a manager here for years. He was here all the time. Believe me, he had an appreciation for those girls."

"You're lying," I said coolly. "He adored his wife." I'd seen Lissa's parents together. Even at a young age, I'd been able to see how crazy in love they were.

"I'm not saying he did anything. Like your boyfriend said, nothing wrong with looking. But a lot of people knew the Dragomir prince liked to party it up wherever he went--especially if there was female company." The Moroi sighed and lifted his glass. "Damn shame what happened to him. Here's hoping they catch that Dashkov bastard and leave Eric's little girl alone."

I didn't like this guy's insinuations about Lissa's dad and was grateful she wasn't around. What made me uneasy was that we'd recently found out Lissa's brother Andre had also been kind of a party boy who fooled around and broke hearts. Did that kind of thing run in the family? What Andre had done wasn't right, but there was a big difference between a teenage boy's exploits and those of a married man. I didn't like to admit it, but even the most in-love guys still checked out other women without cheating. Adrian was proof. Still, I didn't think Lissa would like the idea of her dad flirting around with other women. The truth about Andre had been hard enough, and I didn't want anything to shatter the angelic memories of her parents.

I shot Adrian a look that said listening to this guy any longer really would come down to a fistfight. I didn't want to be standing here if Lissa came searching for us. Adrian, always more astute than he appeared, smiled down at me.

"Well, my sweet, shall we try our luck? Something tells me you're going to beat the odds--like always."

I cut him a look. "Cute."

Adrian winked at me and stood up. "Nice talking to you," he told the Moroi.

"You too," the man said. The thrall of compulsion was wearing off. "You should dress her better, you know."

"I'm not interested in putting clothes on her," Adrian called as he steered me away.

"Watch it," I warned through gritted teeth, "or you might be the one with a wineglass in your face."

"I'm playing a part, little dhampir. One that's going to make sure you stay out of trouble." We stopped near the casino's poker room, and Adrian gave me a head-to-toe assessment. "That guy was right about the clothes, though."

I gritted my teeth. "I can't believe he said those things about Lissa's dad."

"Gossip and rumors never go away--you of all people should know that. Doesn't matter if you're dead. Besides, that conversation was actually to our--by which I mean your--advantage. Somebody else is probably considering the inside-job theory already. If that guy can help get it around even more, it'll ensure no one even thinks the world's most dangerous guardian could have been involved."

"I suppose." Forcibly, I pushed my temper down. I had always been trigger-happy, and I knew for sure now that the bits of darkness I'd gleaned from Lissa in the last twenty-four hours were making things worse, as I'd feared. I changed the subject, steering to safer ground. "You're being pretty nice now, considering how mad you were earlier."

"I'm not all that happy, but I've done some thinking," Adrian said.

"Oh? Care to enlighten me?

"Not here. We'll talk later. We've got more important things to worry about."

"Like covering up a crime and getting out of this city without being attacked by Strigoi?"

"No. Like me winning money."

"Are you crazy?" Asking Adrian that was never a good idea. "We just escaped a bunch of bloodthirsty monsters, and all you can think about is gambling?"

"The fact that we're alive means we should live," he argued. "Especially if we've got the time, anyway."

"You don't need any more money."

"I will if my dad turns me out. Besides, it's really about enjoying the game."

By "enjoying the game," I soon realized that Adrian meant "cheating." If you considered using spirit cheating. Because there was so much mental power tied into spirit, its users were very good at reading people. Victor had been right. Adrian joked and kept ordering drinks, but I could tell he was paying close attention to the others. And even though he was careful not to say anything explicitly, his expressions spoke for him--confident, uncertain, annoyed. Without words, he was still able to project compulsion and bluff the other players.

"Be right back," I told him, feeling Lissa's call.

He waved me off, unconcerned. I wasn't worried about his safety either, seeing as there were a few guardians in the room. What concerned me was the possibility some casino official would notice his compulsion and throw us all out. Spirit users wielded it the most strongly, but all vampires had it to a certain extent. Using it was considered immoral, so it was banned among Moroi. A casino would definitely have reason to be on the lookout for it.

The business center turned out to be near the poker room, and I found Lissa and Eddie quickly. "What's the report?" I asked as we walked back.

"We've got a flight in the morning," said Lissa. She hesitated. "We could have gone out tonight, but..."

She didn't need to finish. After what we'd faced today, no one wanted to risk even the slightest chance of running into a Strigoi. Going to the airport would only require a taxi ride, but even still, that would mean we'd have to risk walking out into the darkness.

I shook my head and led them toward the poker room. "You did the right thing. We've got time to kill now.... Do you want to get a room and get some sleep?"

"No." She shivered, and I felt fear in her. "I don't want to leave this crowd. And I'm kind of afraid of what I'd dream...."

Adrian might be able to act like he didn't care about the Strigoi, but those faces were still haunting Lissa--especially Dimitri's. "Well," I said, hoping to make her feel better, "staying up will help get us back on the Court's schedule. You can also watch Adrian get thrown out by casino security."

As I'd hoped, watching Adrian cheat with spirit did indeed distract Lissa--so much so that she grew interested in trying it herself. Great. I urged her to safer games and recapped how Adrian had planted the idea of an inside job in the Moroi guy's head. I left out the part about Lissa's father. The night miraculously passed without incident--either of the Strigoi or security type--and a couple of people even recognized Lissa, which would help our alibi. Eddie didn't speak to me the entire night.

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