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The fiery heart, p.1
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       The Fiery Heart, p.1

         Part #4 of Bloodlines series by Richelle Mead  
The Fiery Heart
Page 1

  Chapter 1

  ADRIAN

  I WON’T LIE. Walking into a room and seeing your girlfriend reading a baby-name book can kind of make your heart stop.

  “I’m no expert,” I began, choosing my words carefully. “Well—actually, I am. And I’m pretty sure there are certain things we have to do before you need to be reading that. ”

  Sydney Sage, the aforementioned girlfriend and light of my life, didn’t even look up, though a hint of a smile played at her lips. “It’s for the initiation,” she said matter-of-factly, as though she were talking about getting her nails done or picking up groceries instead of joining a coven of witches. “I have to have a ‘magical’ name they use during their gatherings. ”

  “Right. Magical name, initiation. Just another day in the life, huh?” Not that I was one to talk, seeing as I was a vampire with the fantastic yet complicated abilities to heal and compel people.

  This time, I got a full smile, and she lifted her gaze. Afternoon sunlight filtering through my bedroom window caught her eyes and brought out the amber glints within them. They widened in surprise when she noticed the three stacked boxes I was carrying. “What are those?”

  “A revolution in music,” I declared, reverently setting them on the floor. I opened the top one and unveiled a record player. “I saw a sign that some guy was selling them on campus. ” I opened a box full of records and lifted out Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. “Now I can listen to music in its purest form. ”

  She didn’t look impressed; surprising for someone who thought my 1967 Mustang—which she’d named the Ivashkinator—was some sort of holy shrine. “I’m pretty sure digital music is as pure as it gets. That was a waste of money, Adrian. I can fit all the songs in those boxes on my phone. ”

  “Can you fit the other six boxes that are in my car on your phone?”

  She blinked in astonishment and then turned wary. “Adrian, how much did you pay for all that?”

  I waved off the question. “Hey, I can still make the car payment. Barely. ” I at least didn’t have to pay rent, since the place was prepaid, but I had plenty of other bills. “Besides, I’ve got a bigger budget for this kind of stuff now that someone made me quit smoking and cut back on happy hour. ”

  “More like happy day,” she said archly. “I’m looking out for your health. ”

  I sat down beside her on the bed. “Just like I’m looking out for you and your caffeine addiction. ” It was a deal we’d made, forming our own sort of support group. I’d quit smoking and cut back to one drink a day. She’d ousted her obsessive dieting for a healthy number of calories and was down to only one cup of coffee a day. Surprisingly, she’d had a harder time with that than I’d had with alcohol. In those first few days, I thought I’d have to check her into caffeine rehab.

  “It wasn’t an addiction,” she grumbled, still bitter. “More of a . . . lifestyle choice. ”

  I laughed and drew her face to mine in a kiss, and just like that, the rest of the world vanished. There were no name books, no records, no habits. There was just her and the feel of her lips, the exquisite way they managed to be soft and fierce at the same time. The rest of the world thought she was stiff and cold. Only I knew the truth about the passion and hunger that was locked up within her—well, me and Jill, the girl who could see inside my mind because of a psychic bond we shared.

  As I laid Sydney back on the bed, I had that faint, fleeting thought I always had, of how taboo what we were doing was. Humans and Moroi vampires had stopped intermingling when my race hid from the world in the Dark Ages. We’d done it for safety, deciding it was best if humans didn’t know of our existence. Now, my people and hers (the ones who knew about Moroi) considered relationships like this wrong and, among some circles, dark and twisted. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything except her and the way touching her drove me wild, even as her calm and steady presence soothed the storms that raged within me.

  That didn’t mean we flaunted this, though. In fact, our romance was a tightly guarded secret, one that required a lot of sneaking around and carefully calculated planning. Even now, the clock was ticking. This was our weekday pattern. She had an independent study for her last period of the day at school, one managed by a lenient teacher who let her take off early and race over here. We’d get one precious hour of making out or talking—usually making out, made more frantic by the pressure bearing down on us—and then she was back to her private school, just as her clingy and vampire-hating sister Zoe got out of class.

  Somehow, Sydney had an internal clock that told her when time was up. I think it was part of her inherent ability to keep track of a hundred things at once. Not me. In these moments, my thoughts were usually focused on getting her shirt off and whether I’d get past the bra this time. So far, I hadn’t.

  She sat up, cheeks flushed and golden hair tousled. She was so beautiful that it made my soul ache. I always wished desperately that I could paint her in these moments and immortalize that look in her eyes. There was a softness in them that I rarely saw at other times, a total and complete vulnerability in someone who was normally so guarded and analytical in the rest of her life. But although I was a decent painter, capturing her on canvas was beyond my skill.

  She collected her brown blouse and buttoned it up, hiding the brightness of turquoise lace with the conservative attire she liked to armor herself in. She’d done an overhaul of her bras in the last month, and though I was always sad to see them disappear, it made me happy to know they were there, those secret spots of color in her life.

  As she walked over to the mirror at my dresser, I summoned some of the spirit magic within me to get a glimpse of her aura, the energy that surrounded all living things. The magic brought a brief surge of pleasure inside me, and then I saw it, that shining light around her. It was its typical self, a scholar’s yellow balanced with the richer purple of passion and spirituality. A blink of the eye, and her aura faded away, as did the deadly exhilaration of spirit.

  She finished smoothing her hair and looked down. “What’s this?”

  “Hmm?” I came to stand behind her and wrapped my arms around her waist. Then, I saw what she’d picked up and stiffened: sparkling cuff links set with rubies and diamonds. And just like that, the warmth and joy I’d just felt were replaced by a cold but familiar darkness. “They were a birthday present from Aunt Tatiana a few years ago. ”

  Sydney held one up and studied it with an expert eye. She grinned. “You’ve got a fortune here. This is platinum. Sell these and you’d have allowance for life. And all the records you want. ”

  “I’d sleep in a cardboard box before I sold those. ”

  She noticed the change in me and turned around, her expression filled with concern. “Hey, I was just joking. ” Her hand gently touched my face. “It’s okay. Everything’s okay. ”

  But it wasn’t okay. The world was suddenly a cruel, hopeless place, empty with the loss of my aunt, queen of the Moroi and the only relative who hadn’t judged me. I felt a lump in my throat, and the walls seemed to close in on me as I remembered the way she’d been stabbed to death and how they’d paraded those bloody pictures around when trying to find her killer. It didn’t matter that the killer was locked away and slated for execution. It wouldn’t bring Aunt Tatiana back. She was gone, off to places I couldn’t follow—at least not yet—and I was here, alone and insignificant and floundering. . . .

  “Adrian. ”

  Sydney’s voice was calm but firm, and slowly, I dredged myself out of the despair that could come on so quickly and heavily, a darkness that had increased over the years the more I used spirit. It was the price for that kind of power, and these sudden shifts had become more and more frequent recently. I focused on her eyes, and the light returned to the world. I still ached for my aunt, but Sydney was here, my hope and my anchor. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t misunderstood. Swallowing, I nodded and gave her a weak smile as spirit’s dark hand released its hold on me. For now.

  “I’m okay. ” Seeing the doubt in her face, I pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Really. You need to go, Sage. You’ll make Zoe wonder, and you’ll be late for your witch meeting. ”

  She stared at me with concern a few moments longer and then relaxed a little. “Okay. But if you need anything—”

  “I know, I know. Call on the Love Phone. ”

  That brought her smile back. We’d recently acquired secret prepaid cell phones that the Alchemists, the organization she worked for, wouldn’t be able to track. Not that they regularly tracked her main phone—but they certainly could if they thought something suspicious was happening, and we didn’t want a trail of texts and calls.

  “And I’ll come by tonight,” I added.

  At that, her features hardened again. “Adrian, no. It’s too risky. ”

  Another of spirit’s benefits was the ability to visit people in their dreams. It was a handy way to talk since we didn’t have a lot of time together in the waking world—and because we didn’t spend much time talking in the waking world these days—but like any use of spirit, it was a continual risk to my sanity. It worried her a lot, but I considered it a small thing in order to be with her.

  “No arguments,” I warned. “I want to know how things go. And I know you’ll want to know how things go for me. ”

  “Adrian—”

  “I’ll keep it short,” I promised.

  She reluctantly agreed—not looking happy at all—and I walked her out to the door. As we cut through the living room, she paused at a small terrarium sitting near the window. Smiling, she knelt down and tapped the glass. Inside was a dragon.

  No, really. Technically, it was called a callistana, but we rarely used that term. We usually called him Hopper. Sydney had summoned him from some demonic realm as a sort of helper. Mostly he seemed to want to help us out by eating all the junk food in my apartment. She and I were tied to him, and to maintain his health, we had to take turns hanging out with him. Since Zoe had moved in, however, my place had become his primary residence. Sydney lifted the lid of the tank and let the small golden-scaled creature scurry into her hand. He gazed up at her adoringly, and I couldn’t blame him for that.

  “He’s been out for a while,” she said. “You ready to take a break?” Hopper could exist in this living form or be transformed into a small statue, which helped avoid uncomfortable questions when people came by. Only she could transform him, though.

  “Yeah. He keeps trying to eat my paints. And I don’t want him to watch me kiss you goodbye. ”

  She gave him a light tickle on the chin and spoke the words that turned him into a statue. Life was certainly easier that way, but again, his health required he come out now and then. That, and the little guy had grown on me.

  “I’ll take him for a while,” she said, slipping him into her purse. Even if he was inert, he still benefited from being near her.

  Free of his beady little gaze, I gave her a long kiss goodbye, one I was reluctant to let end. I cupped her face in my hands.

  “Escape plan number seventeen,” I told her. “Run away and open a juice stand in Fresno. ”

  “Why Fresno?”

  “Sounds like the kind of place people drink a lot of juice. ”

  She grinned and kissed me again. The “escape plans” were a running joke with us, always far-fetched and numbered in no particular order. I usually made them up on the spot. What was sad, though, was that they were actually more thought out than any real plans we had. Both of us were painfully aware that we were very much living in the now, with a future that was anything but clear.

  Breaking that second kiss was difficult too, but she finally managed it, and I watched her walk away. My apartment seemed dimmer in her absence.

  I brought in the rest of the boxes from my car and sifted through the treasures within. Most of the albums were from the sixties and seventies, with a little eighties here and there. They weren’t organized, but I didn’t make any attempts at that. Once Sydney got over her stance that they were a wasteful splurge, she wouldn’t be able to help herself and would end up sorting them all by artist or genre or color. For now, I set up the record player in my living room and pulled out an album at random: Machine Head by Deep Purple.

  I had a few more hours until dinner, so I crouched down in front of an easel, staring up at the blank canvas as I tried to decide how to deal with my current assignment in advanced oil painting: a self-portrait. It didn’t have to be an exact likeness. It could be abstract. It could be anything, so long as it was representative of me. And I was stumped. I could’ve painted anyone else I knew. Maybe I couldn’t capture that exact look of rapture Sydney had in my arms, but I could paint her aura or the color of her eyes. I could have painted the wistful, fragile face of my friend Jill Mastrano Dragomir, a young princess of the Moroi. I could have painted flaming roses in tribute to my ex-girlfriend, who’d torn my heart apart yet still managed to make me admire her.

 
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