And then the kissing started again. There was no avoiding it, not when we were together like this, far away from the real world of our normal lives. The setting was too perfect. He was too perfect, despite being one of the most imperfect people I knew. And honestly, we'd wasted far too much time with doubts and games. The one thing you learn from constantly having your life in danger is that you'd better not waste it. Even Marcus had admitted that in the arcade.

Adrian and I spent the rest of the day at the Villa, most of it kissing in the gardens, though I did convince him to check out some of the artifacts inside. Maybe I was in love, but I was still me, after all. When things finally closed down for the evening, we had dinner at a beachside fondue restaurant and lingered there for a long time afterward, keeping close to each other and watching the waxing moon shine on the ocean.

I was caught up in watching the crashing waves when I felt Adrian's lips brush my cheek. "Whatever happened to the dragon?"

I mustered my primmest tone. "He has a name, you know."

Adrian pulled back and gave me a curious look. "I didn't know, actually. What'd you decide on?"

"Hopper." When Adrian laughed, I added, "Best rabbit ever. He'd be proud to know his name is being passed on."

"Yes, I'm sure he would. Did you name the Mustang too?"

"I think you mean the Ivashkinator."

He stared at me in wonder. "I told you I loved you, right?"

"Yes," I assured him. "Many times."

"Good." Adrian pulled me closer. "Just making sure, Miss 'I'm a Quick Study'"

I groaned. "I'm never going to live that down, am I?"

"Live it down? Hell, I'm going to hold you to it."

I suspected Marcus's car was stolen, so we left it in Malibu. Adrian drove me back to the dorm and kissed me goodbye, promising to call me first thing in the morning. It was hard to let him go, even though I knew I was being silly to think I couldn't go without him for twelve hours. I walked into my dorm like I was dancing on air, my lips still burning from his kisses.

It was crazy, I knew, attempting to have a relationship with him. Scratch that. It was going to be perilous - enough so that some of my euphoria dimmed as that realization hit me. I'd talked a good game with him, trying to ease his fears, but I knew the truth. Trying to figure out secrets within the Alchemists was going to be difficult enough, and my tattoo still wasn't secure. What I had going on with Adrian had raised the stakes exponentially, but that was one of those risks I gladly accepted.

"Miss Melrose."

Mrs. Weathers's cool voice snapped me back to reality with a jolt. I came to a halt in the middle of the dorm's lobby and looked over at her. She stood up from her desk and strolled over.

"Yes, ma'am?"

"It's midnight."

I looked at a clock, surprised to see she was right. "Yes, ma'am."

"Even though winter break is here, you're still registered in the dorm until tomorrow, which means you're still subject to the rules. It's after curfew."

The only thing I could manage was stating the obvious. "Yes, it is, ma'am."

Mrs. Weathers waited, as though she were hoping I'd say more. "Were you . . . doing another assignment for Ms. Terwilliger?" There was an almost comically desperate look on her face. "I didn't receive notification, but surely she can retroactively fix things."

I realized then that Mrs. Weathers didn't want me to be in trouble. She was hoping I had some reason for breaking the rules, some reason that I could avoid punishment. I knew I could've lied and said I'd been helping Ms. Terwilliger. I knew Ms. Terwilliger would even back me up. But I couldn't do it. It seemed wrong to taint my day with Adrian with a lie. And really, I had broken the rules.

"No," I told Mrs. Weathers. "I wasn't with her. I was just . . . out."

Mrs. Weathers waited a few moments more and then bit her lip with resignation. "Very well then. You know the rules. You'll have to serve a detention - once classes start again."

I nodded solemnly. "Yes, ma'am. I understand."

She looked as though she was still hoping I'd correct the situation. I had nothing to offer her and turned to walk away. "Oh, I nearly forgot!" she called. "I was too astonished by this . . . transgression." She turned back into the efficient dorm matron I knew. "Please let me know if your cousin will be staying with you in your room or if she needs her own."

I blinked in confusion. "Why would Angeline be staying with me?"

"Not her. Your other cousin."

I started to say I didn't have another cousin, but some warning voice inside me told me to neither deny nor confirm her words. I had no idea what was going on, but all my alarms were saying that something was definitely about to happen. Whatever it was, I needed to keep my options open.

"She had all the appropriate paperwork," explained Mrs. Weathers. "So I just let her into your room since it's only for the night."

I swallowed. "I see. Can I, um, let you know after break?"

"Certainly." After a moment's hesitation, she added, "And we'll discuss your detention then too."

"Yes, ma'am," I said.

I went upstairs, a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach.

Who was waiting in my room? Who in the world was part of my imaginary family now?

As it turned out, it was someone from my real family.

When I unlocked the door, I found Zoe sitting on my bed. Her face lit up when she saw me, and she sprang forward to grab me in a fierce embrace.

"Sydney!" she exclaimed. "I was so worried you weren't coming back tonight."

"Of course I was," I said stiffly. I was so shocked that I could barely return her hug. "What are you doing here?"

She pulled back and looked up at me with a big grin. There was no anger in her, not even the wariness she'd had in St. Louis. She was full of joy, truly happy to see me. I didn't know why she was here, but hope began to blossom within me that we'd finally get our reconciliation.

Until she spoke.

"They gave me a field position! I'm assigned here." She turned her face, showing me a golden lily tattoo on her cheek. My heart nearly stopped. "I'm officially an Alchemist now. Well, a junior one. I've got a lot to learn, so they thought it'd be best if I was with you."

"I see," I said. The room was spinning. Zoe. Zoe was here - and she was an Alchemist, one who would be staying with me.

Her exuberant expression became a little perplexed. "And I guess you were telling Stanton something about needing Alchemist backup? That it was really hard being around so many Moroi by yourself?"

Tags: Richelle Mead Bloodlines Fantasy
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