"I like that he's smart," I said. "I like that I don't have to dumb myself down around him." Now Adrian frowned. "You do that a lot for people?"
I was surprised at the bitterness in my own laugh. "'A lot?' Try all the time. Probably the most important thing I've learned at Amberwood is that people don't like to know how much you know. With Brayden, there's no censoring for either of us. I mean, just look at this morning.
One minute we were talking Halloween costumes, the next we were discussing the ancient Athenian origins of democracy."
"I'm not going to claim to be a genius, but how the hell did you make that leap?"
"Oh," I said. "Our Halloween costumes. We're dressing Greek. From the Athenian era."
"Of course," he said. And this time, I could tell the snark was about to return. "No sexy cat costumes for you. Only the most dignified, feminist attire will do." I shook my head. "Feminist? Oh, no. Not Athenian women. They're about as far from feminist as you can - well, forget it. It's not really important." Adrian did a double take. "That's it, isn't it?" He leaned toward me, and I nearly moved back... but something held me where I was, something about the intensity in his eyes.
"What?" I asked.
He pointed at me. "You stopped yourself just now. You just dumbed it down for me." I hesitated only a moment. "Yeah, I kind of did."
"Because you really don't want to hear about ancient Athens, any more than you wanted to hear Brayden talk about Chaos Theory."
"That's different," said Adrian. He hadn't moved away and was still standing so, so close to me. It seemed like that should've bothered me, but it didn't. "He's boring. You make learning fun. Like a children's book or after school special. Tell me about your... um, Athenian women." I tried not to smile. I admired his intentions here but knew he really wasn't up for a history lesson. Again, I wondered what game was going on. Why was he pretending to be interested?
I tried to compose an answer that would take less than sixty seconds.
"Most Athenian women weren't educated. They mostly stayed inside and were just expected to have kids and take care of the house. The most progressive women were the hetaerae.
They were like entertainers and high-class prostitutes. They were educated and a little flashier.
Powerful men kept their wives at home to raise children and then hung out with hetaerae for fun." I paused, unsure if he'd followed any of that. "Like I said, it's not really important."
"I don't know," said Adrian thoughtfully. "I find prostitutes vastly important."
"Well. How refreshing to see that things haven't changed," a new voice cut in.
We both flinched and looked up at the scowling man who had just joined us.
Adrian's father had arrived.
THOSE OF US WHO KNEW what to look for could instantly spot Moroi by their pale complexions and tall, slim builds. To most human eyes, those features stood out but weren't a vampire tip-off. Humans just noted the features as striking and unusual, much as Lia regarded Jill as the perfect ethereal runway form. I didn't want to play upon stereotypes, but after a quick assessment of Mr. Ivashkov's Moroi-paleness, long face, dour look, and silver hair, I kind of wondered that he didn't get mistaken for a vampire more often. No, vampire wasn't really the correct term, I decided. More like undertaker.
"Dad," said Adrian stiffly. "Always a pleasure."
"For some of us." His father studied me, and I saw his eyes fall on my cheek. He extended a hand. I took it, proud that shaking hands with Moroi was a non-event for me now. "Nathan Ivashkov."
"Sydney Sage," I replied. "It's very nice to meet you, sir."
"I met Sage while I was bumming around out here," explained Adrian. "She was nice enough to give me a ride from ll.A. today since I don't have a car." Nathan looked at me in astonishment. "That's a long drive." Not nearly as long as the drive from Palm Springs, but we'd figured it would be safest - and more believable - to let him think Adrian was in Los Angeles.
"I don't mind, sir," I said. I glanced over at Adrian. "I'll go get some work done. You want to text me when you're ready to go?"
"Work?" he asked in disgust. "Come on, Sage. Go buy a bikini and enjoy the pool while you're hanging around."
Nathan looked between us incredulously. "You made her drive you out here, and now you're just going to make her wait around for your convenience?"
"Really," I said. "I don't - "
"She's an Alchemist," continued Nathan. "Not a chauffeur. There's a big difference." Actually, there were days at Amberwood I doubted that. "Come, Miss Sage. If you've wasted your day driving my son here, the least I can do is buy you lunch." I shot a panicked look at Adrian. It wasn't panicked because I was afraid of being with Moroi. I'd long since gotten used to these sorts of situations. What I was unsure of was if Adrian really wanted me around for his family reunion. That hadn't been part of the plan. Also, I wasn't sure that I really wanted to be around for said reunion either.
"Dad - " Adrian attempted.
"I insist," said Nathan crisply. "Pay attention and learn common courtesy." He turned and began walking away, assuming we'd follow. We did.
"Should I find a reason to leave?" I whispered to Adrian.
"Not when he uses his 'I insist' voice," came the muttered response.
For a moment, catching sight of the gorgeous terrace restaurant and its sunny ocean view, I thought I could handle the Ivashkovs. Sitting out there in that warmth and beauty would be well worth the drama. Then, Nathan walked right past the balcony doors and led us to the elevator. We followed obediently. He took us down to the hotel's ground floor, to a pub called The Corkscrew. The place was dim and windowless, with low-hanging wood beams and black leather booths. Oak barrels lined the walls, and what light there was came filtered through red glass lamps. Aside from a lone bartender, the pub was empty, which didn't entirely surprise me this time of day.
What did surprise me was that Nathan had taken us here instead of the ritzy outdoor restaurant.
The guy was dressed in an expensive suit that looked like it had come straight from a Manhattan boardroom. Why he'd ignore a trendy, elite restaurant for lunch and instead choose a stuffy, dark - Dark.
I nearly groaned. Of course the terrace wasn't an option, not with Moroi. The sunny afternoon that made such enchanting conditions for me would have resulted in a pretty miserable lunch for the Ivashkovs - not that either of them looked like they planned on enjoying this one anyway.