"How many times do I have to explain the logic behind what we're doing?' he asked in exasperation. "Until you give up.' I pushed back against him, trying again to get loose, but all it did was put us closer together. I had a feeling the kissing trick wouldn't work this time.
He jerked me to my feet, keeping my arms and hands pinned behind my back. I had a little more room to maneuver than I had on the ground, but not quite enough to break free. Slowly, he began trying to make me walk back toward the direction I'd come from.
"I am not letting you and Sydney risk getting in trouble with me. I'll take care of myself, so just let me go!' I said, literally dragging my feet. Seeing a tall, skinny tree, I stuck one leg out and hooked myself onto the trunk, completely bringing us to a halt.
Dimitri groaned and shifted his grip to get me away from the tree. It almost gave me an escape opportunity, but I didn't even manage two steps before he had a hold of me again.
"Rose,' he said wearily. "You can't win.'
"How's your face feeling?' I asked. I couldn't see any marks in the poor lighting but knew the punch I'd given him would leave a mark tomorrow. It was a shame to damage his face like that, but he'd heal, and maybe it would teach him a lesson about messing with Rose Hathaway.
Or not. He began dragging me again. "I'm seconds away from just tossing you over my shoulder,' he warned.
"I'd like to see you try.'
"How do you think Lissa would feel if you got killed?' His grip tightened, and while I had a feeling he'd make good on his over-the-shoulder threat, I also suspected he wanted to shake me. He was that upset. "Can you imagine what it would do to her if she lost you?'
For a moment, I was out of snappy retorts. I didn't want to die, but risking my life was exactly that: risking my life. No one else's. Still, I knew he was right. Lissa would be devastated if anything happened to me. And yet ... it was a risk I had to take.
"Have a little faith, comrade. I won't get killed,' I said stubbornly. "I'll stay alive.'
Not the answer he'd wanted. He shifted his hold. "There are other ways to help her than whatever insanity you're thinking of.'
I suddenly went limp. Dimitri stumbled, caught by surprise at my sudden lack of resistance. "What's wrong?' he asked, both puzzled and suspicious.
I stared off into the night, my eyes not really focused on anything. Instead, I was seeing Lissa and Abe back at Court, remembering Lissa's feeling of powerlessness and longing for her vote. Tatiana's note came back to me, and for a moment, I could hear her voice in my head. She is not the last Dragomir. Another lives.
"Youre right,' I said at last.
"Right about ... ?' Dimitri was at a total loss. It was a common reaction for people when I agreed to something reasonable.
"Rushing back to Court won't help Lissa.'
Silence. I couldn't fully make out his expression, but it was probably filled with shock.
"I'll go back to the motel with you, and I won't go running off to Court.' Another Dragomir. Another Dragomir needing to be found. I took a deep breath. "But I'm not going to sit around and do nothing. I am going to do something for Lissa--and you and Sydney are going to help me.'
IT TURNED OUT I WAS wrong about the local police department comprising of one guy and a dog. When Dimitri and I walked back to the motel, we saw flashing red and blue lights in the parking lot and a few bystanders trying to see what was happening.
"The whole town turned out,' I said.
Dimitri sighed. "You just had to say something to the desk clerk, didn't you?'
We'd stopped some distance away, hidden in the shadow of a run-down building. "I thought it would slow you down.'
"It's going to slow us down now.' His eyes did a sweep of the scene, taking in all the details in the flickering light. "Sydney's car is gone. That's something, at least.'
My earlier cockiness faded. "Is it? We just lost our ride!'
"She wouldn't leave us, but she was smart enough to get out before the police came knocking on her door.' He turned and surveyed the town's one main road. "Come on. She has to be close, and there's a good chance the police might actually start searching around if they thought some defenseless girl was being chased down.' The tone he used for "defenseless' spoke legions.
Dimitri made an executive decision to walk back toward the road that had led us into town, assuming Sydney would want to get out of there now that I'd blown our cover. Getting the police involved had created complications, but I felt little regret over what I'd done. I was excited about the plan that had occurred to me in the woods and wanted, as usual, to get moving on it right away. If I'd helped get us out of this hole of a town, so much the better.
Dimitri's instincts about Sydney were right. About a half-mile outside of town, we spotted a CR-V pulled off on the road's shoulder. The engine was off, the lights dark, but I could see well enough to identify the Louisiana plates. I walked over to the driver side window and knocked on the glass. Inside, Sydney flinched. She rolled down the window, face incredulous.
"What did you do? Never mind. Don't bother. Just get in.'
Dimitri and I complied. I felt like a naughty child under her disapproving glare. She started the car without a word and began driving in the direction we'd originally come from, eventually merging with the small state highway that led back to the interstate. That was promising. Only, once we'd driven a few miles, she pulled off again, this time at a dark exit that didn't seem to have anything at it.
She turned off the car and turned to peer at me in the backseat. "You ran, didn't you?'
"Yeah, but I got this--'
Sydney held up a hand to silence me. "No, don't. Not yet. I wish you could have pulled off your daring escape without attracting the authorities.'
"Me too,' said Dimitri.
I scowled at them both. "Hey, I came back, didn't I?' Dimitri arched an eyebrow at that, apparently questioning just how voluntary that had been. "And now I know what we have to do to help Lissa.'
"What we have to do,' said Sydney, "is find a safe place to stay.' "Just go back to civilization and pick a hotel. One with room service. We can make that our base of operation while we work on the next plan.'
"We researched that town specifically!' she said. "We can't go to some random place--at least not nearby. I doubt they took down my plates, but they could put out a call to look for this kind of car. If they've got that and our descriptions, and it gets to the state police, it'll get to the Alchemists and then it'll--'
"Calm down,' said Dimitri, touching her arm. There was nothing intimate about that, but I still felt a spark of envy, particularly after the tough love I'd just had being nearly dragged through the woods. "We don't know that any of that's going to happen. Why don't you just call Abe?'