Adrian still wore his distress around him like a cloak and looked as though he might fall over if he didn't get nicotine or alcohol soon. I hated to see him like that, particularly over me. There was strength within him, no question, but his nature--and the sketchy effects of spirit--made coping with this hard. Yet, through his agitation, he managed to pull up a memory to help his frantic mother.

"There was someone in the building lobby when I came in... a janitor or something, I think. No one at the front desk, though." Most buildings usually kept a staff member around for emergencies or concierge services.

Daniella's face lit up. "That's it. That's what we'll need. Damon will find out the time you were there so that we can get you free and clear of this."

"And so he can defend me if things turn bad?"

"Of course," she answered swiftly.

"What about Rose?"

"What about her?"

Adrian still looked ready to fall apart, but there was seriousness and focus in his green eyes. "If you find out Aunt Tatiana was killed before I was there, and Rose is thrown to the wolves alone, will Damon be her lawyer?"

His mother faltered. "Oh, well, darling... Damon doesn't really do that sort of thing...."

"He will if you ask him to," said Adrian sternly.

"Adrian," she said wearily, "you don't know what you're talking about. They say the evidence against her is bad. If our family's shown supporting--"

"It's not like we're supporting murder! You met Rose. You liked her. Can you look me in the eye and say it's okay for her to go in with whatever half-assed defense they dredge up for her? Can you?"

Daniella blanched, and I swear, she actually cringed away. I don't think she was used to such fierce resoluteness from her devil-may-care son. And though his words were perfectly sane, there was kind of a crazy desperation in his voice and attitude that was a little scary. Whether that was caused by spirit or just his own emotion, I couldn't say.

"I... I'll speak to Damon," Daniella said at last. She'd had to swallow a few times before actually getting the words out.

Adrian let out a deep breath and some of that fury went with it. "Thank you."

She scurried away, melting into the crowd and leaving Adrian alone with Christian and Lissa. The two of them looked only a little less stunned than Daniella had.

"Damon Tarus?" Lissa guessed. Adrian nodded.

"Who's that?" asked Christian.

"My mom's cousin," said Adrian. "The family lawyer. A real shark. Kind of sleazy too, but he can pretty much get anyone out of anything."

"That's something, I suppose," mused Christian. "But is he good enough to fight this so-called hard evidence?"

"I don't know. I really don't know." Adrian absentmindedly reached for his pocket, the usual cigarette spot, but he had none today. He sighed. "I don't know what their evidence is or how Aunt Tatiana even died. All I heard was that they found her dead this morning."

Lissa and Christian exchanged grimaces. Christian shrugged, and Lissa turned back to Adrian, taking on the role of messenger.

"A stake," said Lissa. "They found her in bed with a silver stake through her heart."

Adrian said nothing, and his expression didn't really change. It occurred to Lissa that in all this talk about innocence, evidence, and lawyers, everyone had kind of overlooked the fact that Tatiana had been Adrian's great-aunt. He hadn't approved of some of her decisions and had made plenty of jokes about her behind her back. But she was still his family, someone he'd known his entire life. He had to be feeling the pain of her death on top of everything else. Even I felt a little conflicted. I hated her for what she'd done to me, but I'd never wanted her dead. And I couldn't help but remember that she'd occasionally spoken to me like I was a real person. Maybe it had been faked, but I was pretty sure she'd been sincere the night she'd stopped by the Ivashkovs'. She'd been weary and thoughtful, mostly just concerned about bringing peace to her people.

Lissa watched Adrian go, sympathy and sorrow flooding through her. Christian gently tapped her arm. "Come on," he said. "We've found out what we needed to know. We're just in the way here."

Feeling helpless, Lissa let him lead her outside, dodging more panicked crowds. The orange of a low sun gave every leaf and tree a golden, warm feel. There had been a lot of people out when we returned from the warehouse with Dimitri, but it was nothing compared to this. People were buzzing with fear, hurrying to pass the news. Some were already in mourning, clad in black, with tears on their faces. I wondered how much of that was real. Even in the midst of tragedy and crime, royals would be scrambling for power.

And each time she heard my name, Lissa would grow more and more angry. It was the bad anger too, the kind that felt like black smoke in our bond and often made her lash out. It was spirit's curse.

"I can't believe this!" she exclaimed to Christian. I noticed, even if she didn't, that he was hurriedly taking her somewhere where there weren't people. "How could anyone think that about Rose? It's a set up. It has to be."

"I know, I know," he said. He knew spirit's danger signs too and was trying to calm her down. They'd reached a small, grassy area in the shade of a large hazelnut tree and settled onto the ground. "We know she didn't do it. That's all there is to it. We'll prove it. She can't be punished for something she didn't do."

"You don't know this group," grumbled Lissa. "If someone's out to get her, they can make all sorts of things possible." With only the faintest awareness, I drew a little of that darkness from her into me, trying to calm her down. Unfortunately, it just made me angrier.

Christian laughed. "You forget. I grew up around this group. I went to school with this group's kids. I know them--but we're not panicking until we know more, okay?"

Lissa exhaled, feeling much better. I was going to take too much darkness if I wasn't careful. She gave Christian a small, tentative smile.

"I don't remember you being this reasonable before."

"It's because everyone has different definitions of 'reasonable. ' Mine's just misunderstood, that's all." His voice was lofty.

"I think you must be misunderstood a lot," she laughed.

His eyes held hers, and the smile on his face transformed into something warmer and softer. "Well, I hope this isn't misunderstood. Otherwise, I might get punched."

Leaning over, he brought his lips to hers. Lissa responded with no hesitation or thought whatsoever, losing herself in the sweetness of the kiss. Unfortunately, I was swept along with it. When they pulled away, Lissa felt her heart rate increase and her cheeks flush.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
Articles you may like