"No, no... I mean..." Adrian looked at me and then quickly averted his eyes. "After what he said about me, I can't stand the thought that you might think less of me." I was so surprised that I couldn't muster a response right away. When I did, I just blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Of course I don't." He still wouldn't look at me, apparently not believing my words. "Adrian." I laid my hand over his and felt a warm spark of connection.

He jerked his head toward me in astonishment. "Nothing he said could change what I think of you. I've had my mind made up about you for a long time... and it's all good." Adrian looked away from me and down to where my hand covered his. I blushed and pulled away. "Sorry." I'd probably freaked him out.

He glanced back up at me. "Best thing that's happened to me all day. Let's hit the road." We got back on the highway, and I found myself distracted by two things. First was my hand. It still tingled and felt warm from where I'd touched his, which was kind of funny. People always thought vampires were cold, but they weren't. Certainly not Adrian. The sensation was fading the longer I drove, but I kind of wished it'd stay.

The other thing that kept distracting me was all that sugar I'd just consumed. I kept running my tongue over my teeth. My whole mouth was coated in sickening sweetness. I wanted to brush my teeth and then drink a bottle of mouthwash. Liquid sugar. Yes, that was exactly what it had been. I hadn't wanted to drink one, but I'd known if I'd just brought a slush for Adrian, he really would've read that as pity and refused. I had to act as though I'd wanted one too, with him as an afterthought. He seemed to have believed my lie about the drink's sugar content, though a quick trip into the gas station would have quickly alerted him to the fact that Jumbo Jim's most certainly didn't carry sugar-free slushes. I'd asked them. They'd laughed.

Skipping lunch wasn't going to compensate for those calories, I thought glumly. And I wasn't going to get that sugary taste out of my mouth anytime soon. With as quickly as Adrian had sunk back into his depression, I suddenly felt stupid for even attempting this ruse. A slush couldn't change what his father had said, and I'd be a pound up on the scale tomorrow. This probably hadn't been worth it.

Then, I thought back to that brief moment by the car, and Adrian's fleeting look of contentment, followed later by: God, those are awesome. I think I needed that.

A brief moment of peace in the midst of his dark despair. That was what I had wanted, and that was what I had gotten. Was it worth it? I rubbed my fingertips together, still feeling that warmth.

Yes, I decided. Yes, it was worth it.

Chapter 10

THE SAN DIEGO TRIP continued to bother me, even though I knew I should let it go. As I often reminded myself, Adrian wasn't my concern, not like Jill and the others. Yet, I couldn't stop thinking about the terrible confrontation with him and Nathan - or Adrian's face afterwards.

I felt even worse when a worried Eddie came to talk to me about Jill during breakfast on the following Monday.

"Something's wrong with her," he told me.

Immediately, I looked up toward the cafeteria line, where Jill was waiting with her tray.

There was a vacant look on her face, like she was barely aware of her surroundings. Even with no magical talent for auras, I could practically see the misery radiating off of her.

"Micah's noticed it too," Eddie added. "But we don't know anything that could be upsetting her this much. Is it because of Lia? Or is she being harassed again?" In that moment, I wasn't sure who I felt worse for: Adrian, Jill - or Eddie. There was practically as much pain in Eddie as there was in Jill. Oh, Eddie, I thought. Why do you keep doing this to yourself? He was clearly worried about her but wouldn't dare approach her or offer comfort.

"There's nothing wrong with Jill. It's Adrian, and she's feeling it through the bond. He's going through a rough time." I offered no more details on Adrian's situation. It wasn't my story to tell.

Eddie's face darkened a little. "It's not fair that she has to endure his moods."

"I don't know," I said. "Seems like it might be a fair trade for her being alive." Adrian using spirit to bring Jill back from the dead was still a troubling matter for me. Every bit of Alchemist training I had said that kind of magic was wrong, far worse than any of the other magic I'd witnessed.

One could even argue that what he'd managed was only a few steps away from the undead immortality of Strigoi. At the same time, whenever I saw Jill bright and alive, I was convinced that Adrian had done a good thing. I'd meant it when I said as much to him in San Diego.

"I suppose," said Eddie. "I wish there was a way she could block him out. Or at least a way to make him a little less moody."

I shook my head. "From what I've heard, Adrian was like that long before Jill was shadow-kissed."

Still, that conversation stuck with me, and I spent the day asking myself: what could I do to make Adrian happier? A new father obviously wasn't possible. I would have tried that on myself years ago if I could. Slushes were also out, partially because they only offered ten minutes of comfort and because I was still recovering from the last one. An idea finally came to me later on, but it wasn't one I could easily implement. In fact, I knew my superiors would say it was nothing I should even attempt - which is why I decided to do it in a way that wouldn't leave an e-mail or paper trail. I couldn't do it today, however, so I made a mental note to deal with it later. Besides, who could say? Maybe Adrian would shake off the effects of his fatherly encounter on his own.

These hopes were actually reinforced when I saw Jill the next day at a school assembly.

Assemblies like this were still a new concept to me, and we'd had exactly two since school started. One had been a welcoming gathering during our first week. The other had been a pep rally to cheer on the football team before Homecoming. Today's was called "Healthy Lifestyles." I couldn't figure out what it was about or why it was important enough to interrupt my chemistry class.

We were seated by grade in the school's gym, putting Jill and me in separate sections of the bleachers. Craning my neck to get a glimpse of her, I saw her sitting down near the front with Angeline and several friends she'd made through Micah. They'd welcomed her easily once they got to know her, which wasn't a surprise with how nice she was. Even Laurel, a girl who'd once tormented Jill, now gave her a friendly look. Angeline said something that made Jill laugh, and, overall, there was definitely an improvement in Jill's attitude. A very big improvement, judging from how much she was giggling. My spirits rose. Maybe Adrian really had bounced back.

Tags: Richelle Mead Bloodlines Fantasy
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