"One step at a time,' repeated Abe.

He spoke in that sly tone of his that annoyed me sometimes, but to Lissa today, it was grating. Until now, all of her energy had been focused on getting me out of jail and somewhere safe. That was the goal that had driven her and kept her going in my escape's aftermath.

Now, after some of the intensity had faded, the pressure of it all was beginning to crash down on her. Christian put an arm around her shoulders, sensing her dismay. He turned to Abe, unusually serious. "Do you have any ideas?' Christian asked Abe. "We certainly don't have any real evidence.'

"We have reasonable assumptions,' Abe replied. "Like that whoever killed Tatiana would have had access to her private rooms. That's not a long list.'

"Its not short either.' Lissa ticked off people on her fingers. "The royal guards, her friends and family ... and that's assuming no one altered the guardians' records of her visitors. And for all we know, some visits were never logged at all. She probably had secret business meetings all the time.'

"Unlikely she'd have business meetings in her bedroom, in her nightgown,' mused Abe. "Of course, it depends on the type of business, I suppose.'

Lissa stumbled, realization stunning her. "Ambrose.'


"Hes a dhampir ... really good-looking ... He and Tatiana were, um ...'

"Involved?' said Christian with a smile, echoing the interrogation.

Now Abe came to a stop. Lissa did the same, and his dark eyes met hers. "I've seen him. Sort of a pool boy type.'

"He'd have access to her bedroom,' said Lissa. "But I just can't--I don't know. I can't see him doing this.'

"Appearances are deceiving,' said Abe. "He was terribly interested in Rose back in the courtroom.'

More surprise for Lissa. "What are you talking about?'

Abe stroked his chin in an evil-villain sort of way. "He spoke to her ... or gave her some signal. I'm not really sure, but there was some kind of interaction between them.'

Clever, watchful Abe. He'd noticed Ambrose giving me the note but hadn't fully realized what had happened.

"We should talk to him then,' said Christian.

Lissa nodded. Conflicting feelings churned inside of her. She was excited by a lead-- but upset that it meant kind, gentle Ambrose might be a suspect.

"I'll take care of it,' said Abe breezily.

I felt her gaze fall heavily on him. I couldn't see her expression, but I did see Abe take an involuntary step back, the faintest glimmer of surprise in his eyes. Even Christian flinched. "And I'm going to be there when you do,' she said, steel in her voice. "Do not attempt some crazy torture-style interrogation without me.'

"You want to be there for the torture?' asked Abe, recovering.

"There won't be any. We'll talk to Ambrose like civilized people, understand?' She stared hard at him again, and Abe finally shrugged in acquiescence, as though being overpowered by a woman half his age was no big deal.

"Fine. We'll do it together.'

Lissa was a little suspicious at his willingness, and he must have picked up on that.

"We will,' he said, continuing walking. "This is a good time--well, as good as any time--for an investigation. Court's going to get chaotic as the monarch elections get under way. Everyone here will be busy, and new people will start pouring in.'

A breeze, heavy with humidity, ruffled Lissa's hair. The promise of heat was on it, and she knew Abe would be right about sunrise. It would be worth going to bed early.

"When will the elections happen?' she asked. "As soon as they put dear Tatiana to rest. These things move fast. We need our government restored. She'll be buried tomorrow at the church with a ceremony and service, but there'll be no repeat of the procession. They're still too uneasy.'

I felt kind of bad that she hadn't received a full queenly funeral in the end, but then, if it meant her true murderer was found, maybe she would have preferred it that way.

"Once the burial happens and elections begin,' Abe continued, "any family who wants to put out a candidate for the crown will do so--and of course they'll want to. You've never seen a monarchial election, have you? It's quite a spectacle. Of course, before the voting occurs, all the candidates will have to be tested.'

There was something ominous in the way he said "tested,' but Lissa's thoughts were elsewhere. Tatiana had been the only queen she'd ever known, and the full impact of a regime change was staggering. "A new king or queen can affect everything--for better or worse. I hope it's someone good. One of the Ozeras, maybe. One of Tasha's people.' She glanced hopefully at Christian, who could only shrug. "Or Ariana Szelsky. I like her. Not that it matters who I want,' she added bitterly. "Seeing as I can't vote.' The Council's votes determined the election's winner, so again, she was locked out of the Moroi legal process.

"A lot of work will go into the nominations,' Abe explained, avoiding her last comment. "Each family will want someone to further their interests but who also has a chance of getting votes from--'


I was thrust harshly out of the calculating world of Moroi politics and back into the wilds of West Virginia--very painfully so. Something solid and fierce slammed me against the hard-packed earth, leaves and branches cutting my face and hands. Strong hands held me down, and Dimitri's voice spoke in my ear.

"You should have just hidden in town,' he said, a little amused. His weight and position allowed me no room to move. "It would have been the last place I looked. Instead, I knew exactly where you'd go.'

"Whatever. Don't act so smart,' I said through gritted teeth, trying to break out of his hold. Goddamn it. He was smart. And once again, the closeness of him was disorienting. Earlier, it had seemed to affect him too, but he'd apparently learned his lesson. "You made a lucky guess, that's all.'

"I don't need luck, Roza. I'll always find you. So, really it's up to you how difficult you want this situation to be.' There was an almost conversational tone to his voice, made all the more ridiculous by the situation we were in. "We can do this over and over, or you can do the reasonable thing and just stay put with Sydney and me.'

"It's not reasonable! It's wasteful.'

He was sweating, from the heat and undoubtedly because he'd had to run pretty hard to catch up with me. Adrian wore a cologne that always made me heady, but the natural scent of Dimitri's warm skin was intoxicating too. It was amazing to me that I could keep noticing these little things--and be attracted to them--even when I was legitimately mad at him for keeping me captive. Maybe anger was a turn-on for me.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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