His fingertips slid along my back, applying hardly any pressure, yet sending shock waves over my flesh. Slowly, slowly, his hands moved across my skin, down the sides of my stomach to finally rest in the curves of my hips. Just below my ear, I felt his lips press against my neck, followed by another kiss just below it, then another, then another....
His lips moved from my neck toward my cheek and then finally found my mouth. We kissed, wrapping ourselves closer together. My blood burned within me, and I felt more alive in that moment than I ever had. I loved him, loved Christian so much that—
Some coherent part of me immediately realized what was happening—and boy, was it pissed off. The rest of me, however, was still actually living in this encounter, experiencing it as though I was the one being touched and kissed. That part of me couldn’t break away. I’d merged too much with Lissa, and for all intents and purposes, this was happening to me.
No, I told myself sternly. It’s not real—not for you. Get out of there.
But how could I listen to logic when every nerve of my body was being set on fire?
You aren’t her. This isn’t your head. Get out.
His lips. There was nothing in the world right now except his lips.
It’s not him. Get out.
The kisses were the same, exactly as I remembered with him....
No, it’s not Dimitri. Get out!
Dimitri’s name was like cold water hitting me in the face. I got out.
I sat upright in my bed, suddenly feeling smothered. I tried kicking off the covers but mostly ended up entangling my legs even more. My heart beat hard in my chest, and I tried to take deep breaths to steady myself and return to my own reality.
Times sure had changed. A long time ago, Lissa’s nightmares used to wake me from sleep. Now her sex life did. To say the two were a little different would be an understatement. I’d actually gotten the hang of blocking out her romantic interludes—at least when I was awake. This time, Lissa and Christian had (unintentionally) outsmarted me. In sleep, my defenses were down, allowing strong emotions to pass through the psychic link that connected me to my best friend. This wouldn’t have been a problem if the two of them had been in bed like normal people—and by “being in bed,” I mean “asleep.”
“God,” I muttered, sitting up and swinging my legs over the side of the bed. My voice was muffled in a yawn. Couldn’t Lissa and Christian have seriously kept their hands off each other until waking hours?
Worse than being woken up, though, was the way I still felt. Sure, none of that making out had actually happened to me. It hadn’t been my skin being touched or my lips being kissed. Yet my body seemed to feel the loss of it nonetheless. It had been a very long time since I’d been in that kind of situation. I ached and felt warm all over. It was idiotic, but suddenly, desperately, I wanted someone to touch me—even just to hold me. But definitely not Christian. The memory of those lips on mine flashed back through my mind, how they’d felt, and how my sleepy self had been so certain it was Dimitri kissing me.
I stood up on shaky legs, feeling restless and . . . well, sad. Sad and empty. Needing to walk off my weird mood, I put on a robe and slippers and left my room for the bathroom down the hall. I splashed cool water on my face and stared in the mirror. The reflection looking back at me had tangled hair and bloodshot eyes. I looked sleep-deprived, but I didn’t want to go back to bed. I didn’t want to risk falling asleep quite yet. I needed something to wake me up and shake away what I’d seen.
I left the bathroom and turned toward the stairwell, my feet light on the steps as I went downstairs. The first floor of my dorm was still and quiet. It was almost noon—the middle of the night for vampires, since they ran on a nocturnal schedule. Lurking near the edge of a doorway, I scanned the lobby. It was empty, save for the yawning Moroi man sitting at the front desk. He leafed halfheartedly through a magazine, held to consciousness only by the finest of threads. He came to the magazine’s end and yawned again. Turning in his revolving chair, he tossed the magazine on a table behind him and reached for what must have been something else to read.
While his back was turned, I darted past him toward the set of double doors that opened outside. Praying the doors wouldn’t squeak, I carefully opened one a crack, just enough to slip through. Once outside, I eased the door shut as gently as possible. No noise. At most, the guy would feel a draft. Feeling like a ninja, I stepped out into the light of day.
Cold wind blasted me in the face, but it was exactly what I needed. Leafless tree branches swayed in that wind, clawing at the sides of the stone dorm like fingernails. The sun peeped at me from between lead-colored clouds, further reminding me that I should be in bed and asleep. Squinting at the light, I tugged my robe tighter and walked around the side of the building, toward a spot between it and the gym that wasn’t quite so exposed to the elements. The slush on the sidewalk soaked into the cloth of my slippers, but I didn’t care.
Yeah, it was a typically miserable winter day in Montana, but that was the point. The crisp air did a lot to wake me up and chase off the remnants of the virtual love scene. Plus, it kept me firmly in my own head. Focusing on the cold in my body was better than remembering what it had felt like to have Christian’s hands on me. Standing there, staring off at a cluster of trees without really seeing them, I was surprised to feel a spark of anger at Lissa and Christian. It must be nice, I thought bitterly, to do whatever the hell you wanted. Lissa had often commented that she wished she could feel my mind and experiences the way I could feel hers. The truth was, she had no idea how lucky she was. She had no idea what it was like to have someone else’s thoughts intruding on yours, someone else’s experiences muddling yours. She didn’t know what it was like to live with someone else’s perfect love life when your own was nonexistent. She didn’t understand what it was like to be filled with a love so strong that it made your chest ache—a love you could only feel and not express. Keeping love buried was a lot like keeping anger pent up, I’d learned. It just ate you up inside until you wanted to scream or kick something.
No, Lissa didn’t understand any of that. She didn’t have to. She could carry on with her own romantic affairs, with no regard for what she was doing to me.
I noticed then that I was breathing heavily again, this time with rage. The icky feeling I’d felt over Lissa and Christian’s late-night hookup was gone. It had been replaced by anger and jealousy, feelings born of what I couldn’t have and what came so easily to her. I tried my best to swallow those emotions back; I didn’t want to feel that way toward my best friend.
“Are you sleepwalking?” a voice asked behind me.
I spun around, startled. Dimitri stood there watching me, looking both amused and curious. It would figure that while I was raging over the problems in my unfair love life, the source of those problems would be the one to find me. I hadn’t heard him approach at all. So much for my ninja skills. And honestly, would it have killed me to pick up a brush before I went outside? Hastily, I ran a hand through my long hair, knowing it was a little too late. It probably looked like an animal had died on top of my head.
“I was testing dorm security,” I said. “It sucks.”
A hint of a smile played over his lips. The cold was really starting to seep into me now, and I couldn’t help but notice how warm his long leather coat looked. I wouldn’t have minded wrapping up in it.
As though reading my mind, he said, “You must be freezing. Do you want my coat?”
I shook my head, deciding not to mention that I couldn’t feel my feet. “I’m fine. What are you doing out here? Are you testing security too?”
“I am security. This is my watch.” Shifts of school guardians always patrolled the grounds while everyone else slept. Strigoi, the undead vampires who stalked living Moroi vampires like Lissa, didn’t come out in sunlight, but students breaking rules—say, like, sneaking out of their dorms—were a problem night and day.
“Well, good work,” I said. “I’m glad I was able to help test your awesome skills. I should be going now.”
“Rose—” Dimitri’s hand caught my arm, and despite all the wind and chill and slush, a flash of heat shot through me. He released me with a start, as though he too had been burned. “What are you really doing out here?”
He was using the stop fooling around voice, so I gave him as truthful an answer as I could. “I had a bad dream. I wanted some air.”
“And so you just rushed out. Breaking the rules didn’t even cross your mind—and neither did putting on a coat.”
“Yeah,” I said. “That pretty much sums it up.”
“Rose, Rose.” This time it was his exasperated voice. “You never change. Always jumping in without thinking.”
“That’s not true,” I protested. “I’ve changed a lot.”
The amusement on his face suddenly faded, his expression growing troubled. He studied me for several moments. Sometimes I felt as though those eyes could see right into my soul. “You’re right. You have changed.”