Adrian brushed my forehead with his lips and then leaned down toward my mouth. "Be careful, Rose. No matter what happens, please, please be careful. I can't lose you."

I didn't know what to say to that, how to respond to all that emotion pouring from him. My own mind and heart were flooded with so many mixed feelings that I could barely form a coherent thought. Instead, I drew my lips to his and kissed him. In the midst of all the death tonight--the death that already had happened and that which was still to come--that kiss seemed more powerful than any he and I had ever shared. It was alive. I was alive, and I wanted to stay that way. I wanted to bring Lissa back, and I wanted to return to Adrian's arms again, return to his lips and all this life....

"Hathaway! Good God, do I need to hose you down?"

I broke abruptly from Adrian and saw Hans glaring at me. Most of the SUVs were loaded up. Now it was my turn to act. I gave Adrian a look of farewell, and he forced a small smile that I think was supposed to be brave.

"Be careful," he repeated. "Bring them back--and bring yourself back too."

I gave him a quick nod and then followed an impatient Hans into one of the SUVs. The most bizarre sense of deja vu settled over me as I slid into the backseat. This was so like the time Victor had kidnapped Lissa that I nearly froze up. Then, too, I had ridden in a similar black SUV, directing guardians toward Lissa's location. Only it had been Dimitri sitting beside me--the wonderful, brave Dimitri I'd known so long ago. Yet those memories were so etched into my mind and heart that I could picture every detail: the way he'd tucked his hair behind his ears, the fierce look in his brown eyes as he'd stepped on the gas to get us to Lissa faster. He'd been so determined, so ready to do what was right.

This Dimitri--Dimitri the Strigoi--was also determined. But in a very different way.

"You gonna be able to do this?" asked Hans from the front seat. A hand gently squeezed my arm, and I was startled to see Tasha beside me. I hadn't even noticed she was riding with us. "We're counting on you."

I nodded, wanting to be worthy of his respect. In best guardian fashion, I kept my emotions off my face, trying not to feel that conflict between the two Dimitris. Trying not to remember that the night we'd gone after Lissa and Victor had been the same night Dimitri and I had fallen prey to the lust charm....

"Head toward Lehigh," I said in a cool voice. I was a guardian now. "I'll direct you when we get closer."

We'd only been on the road for about twenty minutes when I sensed Lissa's group coming to a halt. Dimitri had apparently chosen a hideout not too far from the university, which would make it easier for us to find than if they'd kept moving. Of course, I had to remind myself that Dimitri wanted to be found. Knowing that the guardians with me wouldn't need my directions until we were closer to Lehigh, I steeled myself and jumped into Lissa's head to see what was going on.

Lissa and Christian hadn't been harmed or attacked, aside from being pushed and dragged around. They sat in what looked like a storage room--a storage room that hadn't been used in a very long time. Dust coated everything in a heavy layer, so much that it was hard to make out some of the objects piled on the rickety shelves. Some tools, maybe. Paper here and there, as well as the occasional box. A bare lightbulb was the only light in the room, giving everything a harsh and dingy feel.

Lissa and Christian sat in straight-backed wooden chairs, their hands bound behind their backs with rope. For a moment, deja vu hit again. I remembered last winter when I too, along with my friends, had been bound to chairs and held captive by Strigoi. They'd drunk from Eddie, and Mason had died....

No. Don't think like that, Rose. Lissa and Christian are alive. Nothing's happened to them yet. Nothing will happen to them.

Lissa's mind was on the here and now, but a little probing let me see what the overall building had looked like when she'd been brought in. It had seemed to be a warehouse--an old, abandoned one--which made it a nice place for the Strigoi to hole up with their prisoners.

There were four Strigoi in the room, but as far as Lissa was concerned, only one really mattered. Dimitri. I understood her reaction. Seeing him as a Strigoi had been hard for me. Surreal, even. I'd adapted somewhat, simply because of all the time I'd spent with him. Still, even I was caught by surprise sometimes at seeing him like that. Lissa hadn't been prepared at all and was in total shock.

Dimitri's dark brown hair was worn loose around his chin today, a look I'd always loved on him, and he was pacing rapidly, causing his duster to swirl around him. A lot of the time, his back was to Lissa and Christian, which made it that much more troubling for her. Without seeing his face, she could almost believe it was the Dimitri she'd always known. He was arguing with the other three as he walked back and forth across the small space, agitation radiating off him in an almost palpable wave.

"If the guardians really are coming," snarled one Strigoi, "then we should be posted outside." She was a tall, gangly redhead who appeared to have been Moroi when turned. Her tone implied that she did not think guardians were actually coming, though.

"They're coming," said Dimitri in a low voice, that lovely accent making my heart ache. "I know they are."

"Then let me get out there and be useful!" she snapped. "You don't need us to babysit these two." Her tone was dismissive. Scornful, even. It was understandable. Everyone in the vampire world knew Moroi didn't fight back, and Lissa and Christian were firmly bound.

"You don't know them," said Dimitri. "They're dangerous. I'm not even sure this is enough protection."

"That's ridiculous!"

In one smooth motion, Dimitri turned and backhanded her. The hit knocked her back a few feet, her eyes widening in fury and shock. He resumed his pacing as though nothing had happened.

"You will stay here, and you will guard them as long as I tell you to, do you understand?" She glared back and gingerly touched her face but said nothing. Dimitri glanced at the others. "And you'll stay too. If the guardians actually make it this far inside, you'll be needed for more than just guard duty."

"How do you know?" demanded another Strigoi, a black-haired one who might have been human once. A rarity among Strigoi. "How do you know they'll come?"

Strigoi had amazing hearing, but with their bickering, Lissa had a brief opportunity to speak undetected to Christian. "Can you burn my ropes?" she murmured in a nearly inaudible voice. "Like with Rose?"

Christian frowned. When he and I had been captured, it was what he'd done to free me. It had hurt like hell and left blisters on my hands and wrists. "They'll notice," he breathed back. The conversation went no further because Dimitri came to an abrupt halt and turned toward Lissa.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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