I heard a few scattered screams. The people working at the cafe ducked behind their counter like they expected automatic weapons to come out. The other patrons who'd been eating breakfast hurriedly sprang from their tables, heedlessly knocking over food and dishes. They ran for the exits--exits that were blocked by still more guardians. This brought more screams, even though the exits were being cut off because of me.

Meanwhile, other guardians were joining the fray. Although I got a couple of good punches in, I knew the numbers were too overwhelming. One guardian caught hold of my arm and began trying to put the cuffs on me. He stopped when another set of hands grabbed me from the other side and jerked me away.


"Don't touch her," he growled.

There was a note in his voice that would have scared me if it had been directed toward me. He shoved me behind him, putting his body protectively in front of mine with my back to the table. Guardians came at us from all directions, and Dimitri began dispatching them with the same deadly grace that had once made people call him a god. He didn't kill any of the ones he fought, but he made sure they were out of action. If anyone thought his ordeals as a Strigoi or being locked up had diminished his fighting ability, they were terribly mistaken. Dimitri was a force of nature, managing to take on both impossible odds and stop me each time I tried to join the fight. The queen's guards might have been the best of the best, but Dimitri... well, my former lover and instructor was in a category all his own. His fighting skills were beyond anyone else's, and he was using them all in defense of me.

"Stay back," he ordered me. "They aren't laying a hand on you."

At first, I was overwhelmed by his protectiveness--even though I hated not being part of a fight. Watching him fight again was also entrancing. He made it look beautiful and lethal at the same time. He was a one-man army, the kind of warrior that protected his loved ones and brought terror to his enemies--

And that's when a horrible revelation hit me.

"Stop!" I suddenly yelled. "I'll come! I'll come with you!"

No one heard me at first. They were too involved with the fight. Guardians kept trying to sneak behind Dimitri, but he seemed to sense them and would shove chairs or anything else he could get a hold of at them--while still managing to kick and punch those coming at us head-on. Who knew? Maybe he really could have taken on an army by himself.

But I couldn't let him.

I shook Dimitri's arm. "Stop," I repeated. "Don't fight anymore."



I was pretty sure I'd never screamed any word so loudly in my life. It rang through the room. For all I knew, it rang through the entire Court.

It didn't exactly make everyone come to a halt, but many of the guardians slowed down. A few of the cowering cafe workers peered over the counter at us. Dimitri was still in motion, still ready to take everyone on, and I had to practically throw myself at him to get him to notice me.

"Stop." This time, my voice was a whisper. An uneasy silence had fallen over everyone. "Don't fight them anymore. I'm going to go with them."

"No. I won't let them take you."

"You have to," I begged.

He was breathing hard, every part of him braced and ready to attack. We locked gazes, and a thousand messages seemed to flow between us as the old electricity crackled in the air. I just hoped he got the right message.

One of the guardians tentatively stepped forward--having to go around the unconscious body of his colleague--and Dimitri's tension snapped. He started to block the guardian and defend me again, but I instead put myself between them, clasping Dimitri's hand and still looking into his eyes. His skin was warm and felt so, so right touching mine.

"Please. No more."

I saw then that he finally understood what I was trying to say. People were still afraid of him. No one knew what he was. Lissa had said him behaving calmly and normally would soothe fears. But this? Him taking on an army of guardians? That was not going to get him points for good behavior. For all I knew, it was already too late after this, but I had to attempt damage control. I couldn't let them lock him up again--not because of me.

As he looked at me, he seemed to send a message of his own: that he would still fight for me, that he would fight until he collapsed to keep them from taking me.

I shook my head and gave his hand a parting squeeze. His fingers were exactly as I remembered, long and graceful, with calluses built up from years of training. I let go and turned to face the guy who had originally spoken. I assumed he was some sort of leader.

I held out my hands and slowly stepped forward. "I'll go quietly. But, please... don't lock him back up. He just thought... he just thought I was in trouble."

The thing was, as the handcuffs were clamped onto my wrists, I was starting to think I was in trouble too. As the guardians helped each other up, their leader took a deep breath and made the proclamation he'd been trying to make since entering. I swallowed, waiting to hear Victor's name.

"Rose Hathaway, you are under arrest for high treason."

Not quite what I'd expected. Hoping my submission had earned me points, I asked, "What kind of high treason?"

"The murder of Her Royal Majesty, Queen Tatiana."

Chapter Twenty-Six

MAYBE IT WAS SOMEONE'S SICK sense of humor, but I ended up in Dimitri's now-vacated cell.

I had come quietly after that guardian laid the charges before me. In fact, I'd become comatose because too much of what he'd said was impossible to process. I couldn't even really get to the part about me. I couldn't feel outrage or indignation over the accusation because I was still stuck on the part about Tatiana being dead.

Not just dead. Murdered.


How had that happened? How had that happened around here? This Court was one of the most secure places in the world, and Tatiana in particular was always guarded--by the same group that had descended on Dimitri and me so quickly. Unless she'd left Court--and I was pretty sure she hadn't--no Strigoi could have killed her. With the constant threats we faced, murder among dhampirs and Moroi was almost unheard of. Sure, it happened. It was inevitable in any society, but with the way ours was hunted, we rarely had time to turn on each other (shouting in Council meetings aside). That was part of why Victor had been so condemned. His crimes were about as bad as things got.

Until now.

Once I got past the impossible idea of Tatiana being dead, I was able to ask the real question: Why me? Why were they accusing me? I was no lawyer, but I was pretty sure calling someone a sanctimonious bitch was not hard evidence in a trial.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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