Christian seemed torn between smugness at my discomfort and his own unease at watching a woman he regarded as a mother get hit upon by a pirate mobster guy. A moment later, Christian's expression softened as he turned back to Jill and continued our conversation.

"Hey, you don't need me," he said. "You'll find others around here. You'll have your own superhero club before you know it."

I found myself smiling again, but my kindly feelings were suddenly shattered by a jolt of jealousy. It wasn't my own, though. It was Lissa's, coming through the bond. Startled, I glanced around and spotted her across the room, giving Christian the look of death as he spoke to Jill.

It's worth mentioning that Christian and Lissa used to date. More than date. They'd been deeply in love, and honestly, they kind of still were. Unfortunately, recent events had badly strained their relationship, and Christian had broken up with her. He'd loved her but had lost his trust in her. Lissa had spun out of control when another spirit user named Avery Lazar had sought to control her. We'd eventually stopped Avery, and she was currently locked away in a mental institution, last I'd heard. Christian now knew the reasons for Lissa's horrible behavior, but the damage was done. Lissa had initially been depressed, but her sorrow had now turned to anger.

She claimed she wanted nothing to do with him anymore, but the bond gave her away. She was always jealous of any girl he talked to--particularly Jill, whom he'd been spending a lot of time with lately. I knew for a fact there was nothing romantic going on there. Jill idolized him as some wise teacher, nothing more. If she had a crush on anyone, it was Adrian, who always treated her like a kid sister. We all kind of did, really.

Christian followed my gaze, and his expression hardened. Realizing she had his attention, Lissa immediately turned away and began talking to the first guy she found, a good-looking dhampir from my class. She turned on the flirtatious charm that came so easily to spirit users, and soon, both of them were laughing and chatting in a way similar to Abe and Tasha. My party had turned into a round of speed dating.

Christian turned back to me. "Well, looks like she's got plenty to keep her busy."

I rolled my eyes. Lissa wasn't the only one who was jealous. Just as she grew angry whenever he hung out with other girls, Christian became prickly when she spoke to other guys. It was infuriating. Rather than admit they still had feelings and just needed to patch things up, those two idiots just kept displaying more and more hostility toward each other.

"Will you stop already and actually try to talk to her like a rational person someday?" I groaned.

"Sure," he said bitterly. "The day she starts acting like a rational person."

"Oh my God. You guys are going to make me rip my hair out."

"It'd be a waste of nice hair," said Christian. "Besides, she's made her attitude perfectly clear."

I started to protest and tell him how stupid he was, but he had no intention of sticking around to hear a lecture I'd already given a dozen times.

"Come on, Jill," he said. "Rose needs to mingle more."

He quickly stepped away, and I had half a mind to go beat some sense into him when a new voice spoke.

"When are you going to fix that?" Tasha was standing next to me, shaking her head at Christian's retreat. "Those two need to be back together."

"I know that. You know that. But they can't seem to get it through their heads."

"Well, you'd better get on it," she said. "If Christian goes to college across the country, it'll be too late." There was a dry--and exasperated--note in her voice when she mentioned Christian going to college.

Lissa was going to Lehigh, a university near the Court, per an arrangement with Tatiana. Lissa would get to attend a bigger university than Moroi usually went to, in exchange for spending time at the Court and learning the royal trade.

"I know," I said in exasperation. "But why am I the one who has to fix it?"

Tasha grinned. "Because you're the only one forceful enough to make them see reason."

I decided to let Tasha's insolence go, mostly because her talking to me meant that she wasn't talking to Abe. Glancing across the room, I suddenly stiffened. He was now talking to my mother. Snatches of their conversation came to me through the noise.

"Janine," he said winningly, "you haven't aged a day. You could be Rose's sister. Do you remember that night in Cappadocia?"

My mother actually giggled. I had never heard her do that before. I decided I never wanted to again. "Of course. And I remember how eager you were to help me when my dress strap broke."

"Dear God," I said. "He's unstoppable."

Tasha looked puzzled until she saw what I was talking about. "Abe? He's actually pretty charming."

I groaned. "Excuse me."

I headed toward my parents. I accepted that they'd once had a romance--one that led to my conception--but that didn't mean I wanted to watch them relive it. They were recounting some walk on the beach when I reached them. I promptly tugged Abe's arm away. He was standing way too close to her.

"Hey, can I talk to you?" I asked.

He looked surprised but shrugged. "Certainly." He gave my mother a knowing smile. "We'll talk more later."

"Is no woman safe around here?" I demanded as I led him away.

"What are you talking about?"

We came to a stop by the punch bowl. "You're flirting with every woman in this room!"

My chastising didn't faze him. "Well, there are so many lovely women here.... Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?"

"No! I wanted to talk to you about threatening my boyfriend. You had no right to do that."

His dark eyebrows shot up. "What, that? That was nothing. Just a father looking out for his daughter."

"Most fathers don't threaten to disembowel their daughters' boyfriends."

"That's not true. And anyway, that's not what I actually said. It was much worse."

I sighed. He seemed to delight in my exasperation.

"Think of it as a graduation gift. I'm proud of you. Everyone knew you'd be good, but no one knew you'd be that good." He winked. "They certainly didn't expect you to destroy their property."

"What property?"

"The bridge."

I frowned. "I had to. It was the most efficient way. God, that was a bitch of a challenge. What'd the other grads do? They didn't actually fight in the middle of that thing, did they?"

Abe shook his head, loving every minute of his superior knowledge. "No one else was put in that situation."

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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