"I know where more are," he added, beginning to look uneasy that his "saviors" weren't immediately jumping in to make his dreams come true. "One's young - a dhampir."

"I haven't had a dhampir in a while," said the curly-haired Strigoi, almost wistfully.

Dawn sighed. "I don't really care, Jacqueline. If you want to awaken him, go for it. I just want these two. He doesn't matter to me."

"I get the dhampir all to myself, then," warned Jacqueline.

"Fine, fine," said Dawn. "Just hurry up."

Lee turned so radiant, so happy... it was sickening. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you so much! I've been waiting so long for this that I can't believe it's  - ahh!"

Jacqueline moved so quickly that I hardly saw it happen at all. One moment she was standing in the doorway, the next she had Lee pinned against the recliner. Lee gave out a semi-muffled scream as she bit into his neck, a scream that soon quieted. Dawn shut the door and nudged us forward. I flinched at her touch.

"Well," she said with amusement. "Let's get a good view."

Neither Adrian nor I responded. We simply moved into the living room. I dared a glance at him but could discern little. He was so good at hiding his true feelings in general that I supposed I shouldn't be surprised he could mask abject terror just as easily. He offered me no encouragement with either his expression or words, which I actually found kind of refreshing. Because really, I didn't see any good end to this situation.

Up close, forced to watch Jacqueline's attack, I could now see the blissful expression that had settled over Lee's face. It was the most awful thing I'd ever witnessed. I wanted to squeeze my eyes shut or turn away, but some force beyond me kept me staring at the grisly spectacle. I'd never seen any vampire feed, Moroi or Strigoi, but I now understood why feeders like Dorothy could so willingly sign up for their lifestyles. Endorphins were being released into Lee's bloodstream, endorphins so strong that they blinded him to the fact that he was having his life drained away. He instead existed in a joyous state, lost in a chemical high. Or maybe he was just thinking about how happy he'd be once he was a Strigoi again, if it was possible to have any sort of conscious thought under these circumstances.

I lost track of how long it took to drain Lee. Each moment was agonizing for me, as though I was taking the pain Lee should have been feeling. The process seemed to last forever, and yet there was also a weird sense of speed to it. It felt wrong that someone's body could be drained in so short a time.

Jacqueline drank steadily, pausing only once to remark, "His blood's not as good as I expected."

"Then stop," suggested Dawn, who was starting to look bored. "Just let him die and have these two with me."

Jacqueline looked as though she was actually considering it, again reminding me what a fool Lee had been to put his trust in these two. After a few minutes, she shrugged. "I'm almost done. And I really want him to get me that dhampir."

Jacqueline resumed drinking, but as she'd said, it didn't take much longer. By this point, Lee was nearly as pale as the Strigoi, and there was a strange, stretched quality to his skin. He was perfectly still now. His face seemed frozen in a grin that was nearly as much shock as it was joy. Jacqueline lifted her face and wiped off her mouth, surveying her victim with pleasure. She then pushed up her shirtsleeve and rested her nails on his wrist. Before she could tear her own flesh, however, she caught sight of something.

"Ah, much neater." She stepped away and leaned down, retrieving Lee's knife. It had slid under the love seat in our altercation. Jacqueline took it and effortlessly slashed her wrist, causing deep red blood to well out. Part of my brain didn't think their blood should look so similar to mine. It should be black.

Or acidic.

She placed her bleeding wrist against Lee's mouth and tipped Lee's head back so that gravity could help the blood flow. Every horror I'd witnessed tonight had been worse than the last. Death was terrible - but it was also part of nature. This? This was no part of nature's plan. I was about to witness the world's greatest sin, the corruption of the soul through black magic to reanimate the dead. It made me feel dirty all over, and I wished I could run away. I didn't want to see this. I didn't want to see the guy I'd once regarded as something like a friend suddenly rise up as some perversion of nature.

A touch to my hand made me jump. It was Adrian. His eyes were on Lee and Jacqueline, but his hand had caught hold of mine and squeezed it, even though he was still cuffed. I was surprised at the warmth of his skin. Even though I knew Moroi were as living and warm-blooded as me, my irrational fears always expected them to be cold. Equally surprising was the sudden comfort and connection in that touch. It wasn't the kind of touch that said, Hey, I've got a plan, so hang in there because we're going to get out of this. It was more like the kind of touch that simply said, You aren't alone. It was really the only thing he could offer. And in that moment, it was enough.

Then, something strange happened. Or rather, didn't happen.

Jacqueline's blood was pouring steadily into Lee's mouth, and while we didn't have many documented cases of Strigoi conversions, I knew the basics. The victim's blood was drained, and then the killing Strigoi fed his or her blood back into the deceased. I didn't know exactly how long it took to work - it certainly didn't require all of the Strigoi's blood - but at some point, Lee should be stirring and getting up as one of the walking dead.

Jacqueline's cool, smug expression began to change to curiosity and then became outright confusion. She glanced questioningly at Dawn.

"What's taking so long?" Dawn asked.

"I don't know," Jacqueline said, turning back to Lee. With her free hand, she nudged Lee's shoulder as though that might serve as a wake-up call.

Nothing happened.

"Haven't you done this before?" asked Dawn.

"Of course," snapped Jacqueline. "It didn't take nearly this long. He should be up and moving around. Something's wrong." I remembered Lee's words, describing how all his desperate attempts at taking innocent lives hadn't converted him back. I only knew a little about spirit - and even less about it restoring Strigoi - but something told me there was no force on earth that would ever turn Lee Strigoi again.

Another long minute passed as we watched and waited. At last, disgusted, Jacqueline backed away from the recliner and rolled up her sleeve. She glared at Lee's motionless body. "Something's wrong," she repeated. "And I don't want to waste any more blood figuring out what it is. Besides, my cut's already healing."

Tags: Richelle Mead Bloodlines Fantasy
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