Usually, they were just casual affairs that resulted in the reproduction of more dhampirs.

In addition to the scandal of even being involved, Mikhail had actually wanted to hunt down Sonya when she was a Strigoi to free her from that twisted state. Rose had attempted the same with Dimitri, believing death was better than being a Strigoi. Mikhail had failed, but their love had remained steadfast enough through the ordeal that when she'd defied the odds and been restored, they'd immediately gotten back together. I couldn't even begin to imagine love like that.

"We're still deciding on flowers," she continued. "Hydrangeas or lilies. I'm guessing I know what your vote is for."

"Actually, I'd say hydrangeas. I'm around too many lilies already." She laughed at that and suddenly knelt near a flower bed filled with gladiolas. "More than you know. There are lilies sleeping in this bed."

"They're out of season," I pointed out.

"Nothing's ever out of season." Sonya glanced around covertly and then rested her fingers on the earth. Moments later, dark green shoots appeared, growing taller and taller until a red trumpet lily opened up on top. "Ah. Red. Alchemists ones are white - oh, are you okay?" I had backed up so far on the sidewalk that I'd nearly walked into the street. "You... you shouldn't do that. Someone might see."

"No one saw," she said, getting to her feet. Her face softened. "I'm so sorry. I forget sometimes how you feel about this. It was wrong of me."

"It's okay," I said, not sure that it was. Vampire magic always made my skin crawl. Vampires, creatures who needed blood, were bad enough. But being able to manipulate the world with magic? Even worse. That lily, although beautiful, took on a sinister edge now. It shouldn't have existed this time of the year.

No more was said about magic, and we soon reached the main strip downtown, where the Thai restaurant was. We placed a giant carryout order and were told it would take about fifteen minutes. Sonya and I lingered outside, admiring downtown Palm Springs in twilight. Lastminute shoppers were out before the boutiques closed, and all the restaurants were hopping with those coming and going. Many of them had outdoor tables on the sidewalk, and friendly conversation buzzed around us. A large fountain, tiled in bright colors, fascinated children and inspired tourists to stop for photo ops. Sonya was easily distracted by the various plants and trees that the city used to beautify the streets. Even without spirit's ability to affect living things, she was still quite the gardener.

"Hey you! Elder Melrose!"

I turned and winced when I saw Lia DiStefano striding toward me. Lia was a fashion designer with a shop here in downtown Palm Springs. I hadn't realized we were standing directly across from her store. If I had, I would've waited inside the restaurant. Lia was short but had an overwhelming presence, enhanced by the flamboyant gypsy style she often chose for her personal attire.

"I've been calling you for weeks," she said, once she reached our side of the street. "Why don't you answer?"

"I've been really busy," I said straight-faced.

"Uh-huh." Lia put her hands on her h*ps and tried to stare me down, which was kind of amazing since I was taller. "When are you going to let your sister model for me again?"

"Miss DiStefano," I said patiently, "I've told you before. She can't do it anymore. Our parents don't like it. Our religion doesn't allow faces to be photographed." Last month, Jill's runway-perfect build and gorgeous, ethereal features had attracted Lia's attention. Seeing as having your picture taken en masse was kind of a bad way to stay in hiding, we'd only agreed to let Jill walk in Lia's fashion show because all the models wore Venetian masks. Lia had been on me ever since to let Jill model again. It was hard because I knew Jill wanted to, but she understood as well as I did that her safety came first. Claiming we were part of some obscure religion had often explained away our weird behaviors to others, so I'd figured it would get Lia off my back. It hadn't.

"I never hear from these parents of yours," Lia said. "I've watched your family. I see how it is. You're the authority. You're the one I have to go through. I have the chance to do a major magazine spread for my scarves and hats, and Jill was born to do it. What's it going to take to get her? You want a cut of the pay?"

I sighed. "It's not about the money. We can't show her face. If you want to put her in a Venetian mask again, then be my guest."

Lia scowled. "I can't do that."

"Then we're at an impasse."

"There must be something. Everyone has a price."

"Sorry." There was no price in the world she could offer to get me to shirk my duty to Jill and the Alchemists.

A restaurant clerk stuck his head outside and called that our order was ready, mercifully freeing us from Lia. Sonya chuckled as we loaded up on our bags and headed back down the street to make the walk to Adrian's. The sky was still purple with the last of the day's light, and street lamps made whimsical patterns on the sidewalk as they cast their light through the leaves of palm trees.

"Did you ever imagine your job here would involve dodging aggressive fashion designers?" Sonya asked.

"No," I admitted. "Honestly, I never foresaw half the stuff this job has - "


A young man appeared seemingly out of nowhere, blocking our path. He was no one I knew and looked to be a little older than me. He wore his black hair in a buzz cut and was staring curiously at Sonya.

She came to a halt and frowned. "Do I know you?"

He brightened. "Sure. Jeff Eubanks. Remember?"

"No," she said politely, after a few moments of study. "You must have me mistaken for someone else. I'm sorry."

"No, no," he said. "I know it's you. Sonya Karp, right? We met in Kentucky last year." Sonya stiffened. She'd made Kentucky her home while she was a Strigoi. I knew those couldn't be pleasant memories.

"I'm sorry," she repeated, voice strained. "I don't know what you're talking about." The guy was undaunted, still smiling as though they were best friends. "You've come a long ways from Kentucky. What brings you out here? I just transferred for work."

"There's some mistake," I told him sternly, nudging Sonya forward. I didn't know what that mistake could be exactly, but Sonya's attitude was all I needed. "We have to go." The guy didn't follow us, but Sonya remained silent for most of the walk home.

"Must be hard," I said, feeling like I should say something. "Meeting people from your past."

Tags: Richelle Mead Bloodlines Fantasy
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