Surely if I told myself that often enough, it would become true.

Yet why Rose's ominous statement? Why Eddie's presence? Had this mission really been bumped from "inconvenient" to "life-threatening"?

Knowing how close Jill and Rose were, I kind of expected their goodbye to be more tearful. Instead, it was Adrian whom Jill had the most difficulty leaving. She flung herself at him in a giant hug, fingers clinging to his shirt. The young Moroi girl had remained quiet for most of the visit, simply watching the rest of us in that curious, nervous way of hers. The most I'd heard her talk was when Lee had tried to draw her out earlier. Her goodbye display seemed to surprise Adrian too, though the snarky look he'd worn on his face softened into something like affection as he awkwardly patted her shoulder. "There, there, Jailbait. I'll see you again soon."

"I wish you were coming with us," she said in a small voice.

He crooked her a grin. "No, you don't. Maybe the rest of them can get away with playing back-to-school, but I'd be thrown out on my first day. At least here, I won't corrupt anyone... unless it's Clarence and his liquor cabinet."

"I'll be in touch," promised Jill.

His smile twitched, and he gave her a knowing look that was both amused and rueful. "So will I."

This small moment between them was odd. With his flippant, arrogant nature and her sweet shyness, they seemed like an unlikely pair of friends. Yet there was obvious affection between them. It didn't seem romantic but had a definite intensity I couldn't quite understand. I remembered the conversation I'd overheard between Abe and Adrian, where Abe had said it was imperative Adrian stay near Jill. Something told me there was a connection between that and what I was witnessing now, but I didn't have enough information to put it all together. I filed this mystery away for later.

I was sad to leave Rose but glad that our departure meant parting ways with Abe and Keith. Abe left with his typically cryptic remarks and a knowing look for me that I didn't appreciate. I dropped Keith off at his place before going on to Amberwood, and he told me he'd keep me updated. Honestly, I wondered what exactly he had to update me on, since I was doing most of the work around here. As far as I could tell, he really had nothing to do except lounge around in his downtown apartment. Still, it was worth it to be rid of him. I never thought I'd be so happy to drive off with a vampire and a dhampir. Jill still seemed troubled during the car ride to the school. Eddie, sensing this, tried to soothe her. He peered back at her from the passenger seat.

"We'll see Adrian soon."

"I know," she said with a sigh.

"And nothing else bad is going to happen. You're safe. They can't find you here."

"I know that too," she said.

"How bad was it?" I asked. "The attack, I mean. No one's getting into details." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Eddie glance back at Jill again. "Bad enough," he said grimly. "But everyone's okay now; that's what matters."

Neither of them said any more, and I quickly picked up on the hint that no more details would be forthcoming. They acted as though the attack had been no big deal, that it was done and over with, but they were being too evasive. Something had happened that I didn't know about - that the Alchemists likely didn't know about - something that they were working to keep secret. My guess was that it had to do with Adrian being here. He had mentioned an "obvious reason" for coming to Palm Springs, and then Abe had hinted at some ulterior motive that Adrian himself didn't know about. It was all kind of annoying, seeing as I was risking my life here. How did they expect me to adequately do my job if they insisted on making this a tangle of secrets? Alchemists dealt in secrets, and despite my rocky past, I was still Alchemist enough to resent being denied answers. Fortunately, I was also Alchemist enough to hunt those answers down myself.

Of course, I knew grilling Jill and Eddie right away wasn't going to get me anywhere. I needed to play it friendly and get them to relax around me. They might not harbor the secret belief that humans were creatures of darkness, but that didn't mean they trusted me yet. I didn't blame them. After all, I certainly didn't trust them either.

It was well into evening when we arrived at Amberwood. Keith and I had scoped out the school earlier, but Eddie and Jill took it in with wide eyes. Whereas Clarence's home had seemed old-fashioned, the school was bright and modern, consisting of stucco buildings that were so typical of California and southwest architecture. Palm trees skirted along lush green lawns. In the fading light, students were still strolling, in pairs and groups, along the many walking paths that wove throughout the grounds.

We'd picked up fast food along the way, but the late hour meant Jill and I had to split from Eddie. At eighteen, with a car and "parental permission," I had a lot of freedom to come and go, but I had to answer to curfew just like everyone else when night came. Eddie was uneasy about leaving Jill, particularly when he realized how far away from her he'd be.

Amberwood Prep's sprawling grounds were divided into three campuses: East, West, and Central. East Campus housed the girls' dorm while West contained the boys'. Central, the largest of the three, was where the administrative, academic, and recreational facilities were. The campuses were about a mile apart from each other and served by a shuttle bus that ran throughout the day, though walking was always an option for those who could stand the heat.

Eddie had to have known he couldn't stay in the girls' dorm, though I suspected that if he had his way, he would have slept at the foot of Jill's bed like a loyal dog. Watching the two of them was kind of amazing. I'd never observed a guardian-Moroi pairing before. When I'd been with Rose and Dimitri, they'd been simply trying to keep themselves alive - plus, they were both dhampirs. Now, I was finally able to see the system in action and understood why dhampirs trained so hard. You'd have to, to remain that vigilant. Even in the most mundane moments, Eddie always watched our surroundings. Nothing escaped his notice.

"How good is the security system here?" he demanded when we stepped inside the girls' dorm. He'd insisted on seeing it before going to his own. The lobby was quiet at this hour, and only a couple of students wandered through with boxes and suitcases as they finished last-minute move-ins. They gave us curious looks as they passed, and I had to quell the knot of anxiety rising in me. Considering everything else going on for me, high school social life shouldn't scare me - but it did. The Alchemists didn't cover that in their lessons.

"Security's good enough," I said, keeping my voice low as I turned back to Eddie. "They aren't worried about vampire assassins, but they certainly want their students safe. I know there are security guards that patrol the grounds at night."

Tags: Richelle Mead Bloodlines Fantasy
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