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Chapter fourteen

I CONTINUED SPYING ON LISA over the next couple of days, feeling mildly guilty each time.

She'd always hated it when I did by accident, and now I did it on purpose.

Steadily, I watched as she reintegrated herself into the royal power players one by one. She couldn't do group compulsion, but catching one person alone was just as effective, if slower. And really, a lot didn't need to be compelled to start hanging out with her again. Many weren't as shallow as they seemed; they remembered Lisa and liked her for who she was. They flocked to her, and now, a month and a half after our return to theAcademy, it was like she'd never left at all. And during this rise to fame, she advocated for me and rallied against Mia and Jesse.

One morning, I tuned into her while she was getting ready for breakfast. She'd spent the last twenty minutes blow-drying and straightening her hair, something she hadn't done in a while. Natalie, sitting on the bed in their room, watched the process with curiosity. When Lisa moved on to makeup, Nataliefinally spoke.

" Hey, we're going to watch a movie inErin 's room after school.You going to come? " I'd always made jokes about Natalie being boring, but her friend Erin had the personality of dry wall.

" Can't.I'm going to help Camille bleach Carly's hair."

" You sure spend a lot of time with them now."

" Yeah, I guess. " Lisa dabbed mascara across her lashes, instantly making her eyes look bigger.

" I thought you didn't like them anymore."

" I changed my mind."

" They sure seem to like you a lot now. I mean, not that anyone wouldn't like you, but once you came back and didn't talk to them, they seemed okay ignoring you too. I heard them talking about you a lot. I guess that's not surprising, because they're Mia's friends too, but isn't it weird how much they like you now? Like, I hear them always waiting to see what you want to do before they make plans and stuff.

And a bunch of them are defending Rose now, which isreally crazy. Not that I believe any of that stuff about her, but I never would have thought it was possible-"

Underneath Natalie's rambling was the seed of suspicion, and Lisa picked up on it. Natalie probably never would have dreamed of compulsion, but Lisa couldn't risk innocent questions turning into something more. " You know what? " she interrupted. " Maybe I will swing byErin 's after all. I bet Carly's hair won't take that long."

The offer derailed Natalie's train of thought. " Really? Oh wow, that would be great. She was telling me how sad she was that you're not around as much anymore, and I told her... "

On it went. Lisa continued her compulsion and return to popularity. I watched it all quietly, always worrying, even though her efforts were starting to reduce the stares and gossip about me.

" This is going to backfire, " I whispered to her in church one day. " Someone's going to start wondering and asking questions."

" Stop being so melodramatic.Power shifts all the time around here."

" Not like this."

" You don't think my winning personality could do this on its own? "

" Of course I do, but if Christian spottedit right away, then someone else will-"

My words were interrupted when two guys farther down the pew suddenly exploded into snickers.

Glancing up, I saw them looking right at me, not even bothering to hide their smirks.

Looking away, I tried to ignorethem, suddenly hoping the priest would start up soon. But Lisa returned their looks, and a sudden fierceness flashed across her face. She didn't say a word, but their smiles grew smaller under her heavy gaze.

" Tell her you're sorry, " she told them. " And make sure she believes it."

A moment later, they practically fell all over themselves apologizing to me and begging for forgiveness. I couldn't believe it. She'd used compulsion in public-in church, of all places.Andon two people at the same time.

They finally exhausted their supply of apologies, but Lisa wasn't finished.

" That's thebest you can do? " she snapped.

Their eyes widened in alarm, both terrified that they'd angered her.

" Lis', " I said quickly, touching her arm. " It'sokay I, uh, accept their apologies."

Her face still radiated disapproval, but she finally nodded. The guys slumped in relief.

Yikes. I'd never felt so relieved to have a service start. Through the bond, I felt a sort of dark satisfaction coming from Lisa. It was uncharacteristic for her, and I didn't like it.

Needing to distract myself from her troubling behavior, I studied other people as I so often did. Nearby, Christian openly watched Lisa, a troubled look on his face. When he saw me, he scowled and turned away.

Dimitri sat in the back as usual, for once not scanning every corner for danger. His attention was turned inward, his expression almost pained. I still didn't know why he came to church. He always seemed to be wrestling with something.

In the front, the priest was talking about St. Vladimir again.

" His spirit was strong, and he was truly gifted by God. When he touched them, the crippled walked, and the blind could see. Where he walked, flowers bloomed."

Man, the Moroi needed to get more saints-

Healing cripples and blind people?

I'd forgotten all about St. Vladimir. Mason had mentionedVladimir bringing people back from the dead, and it had reminded me of Lisa at the time. Then other things had distracted me. I hadn't thought about the saint or his " shadow-kissed " guardian-and their bond-in a while. How could I have overlooked this? Ms. Karp, I realized, wasn't the only other Moroi who could heal like Lisa.Vladimir could too.

" And all the while, the masses gathered to him, loving him, eager to follow his teachings and hear him preach the word of God...."

Turning, I stared at Lisa. She gave me a puzzled look. " What? "

I didn't get a chance to elaborate-I don't even know if I could have formed the words-because I was whisked back to my prison almost as soon as I stood up at the end of the service.

Back in my room, I went online to research St. Vladimir but turned up nothing useful. Damn it. Mason had skimmed the books in the library and said there was little there. What did that leave me with? I had no way of learning more about that dusty old saint.

Or did I? What had Christian said that first day with Lisa?

Over there, we have an old box full of the writings of the blessed and crazy St. Vladimir.

The storage room above the chapel.It had the writings. Christian had pointed them out. I needed to look at them, but how? I couldn't ask the priest. How would he react if he found out students were going up there? It'd put an end to Christian's lair. But maybe...maybe Christian himself could help.

It was Sunday, though, and I wouldn't see him until tomorrow afternoon. Even then, I didn't know if I'd get a chance to talk to him alone.

While heading out to practice later, I stopped in the dorm's kitchen to grab a granola bar. As I did, I passed a couple of novice guys, Miles and Anthony. Miles whistled when he saw me.

" How's it been going, Rose? You getting lonely? Want some company? "

Anthony laughed. " I can't bite you, but I can give you something else you want."

I had to pass through the doorway they stood in to get outside. Glaring, I pushed past, but Miles caught me around the waist, his hand sliding down to my butt.

" Get your hands off my ass before I break your face, " I told him, jerking away. In doing so, I only bumped into Anthony.

" Come on, " Anthony said, " I thought you didn't have a problem taking on two guys at the same time."

A new voice spoke up. " If you guys don't walk away right now, I'll take both of you on. " Mason.My hero.

" You're so full of it, Ashford, " said Miles. He was the bigger of the two and left me to go square off with Mason. Anthony backed off from me, more interested in whether or not there'd be a fight. There was so much testosterone in the air, I felt like I needed a gas mask.

" Are you doing her too? " Miles asked Mason. " You don't want to share? "

" Say one more word about her, and I'll rip your head off."

" Why? She's just a cheap blood-"

Mason punched him. It didn't rip Miles' head off or even cause anything to break or bleed, but it looked like it hurt. His eyes widened, and he lunged toward Mason. The sound of doors opening in the hall caused everyone to freeze. Novices got in a lot of trouble for fighting.

" Probably some guardians coming. " Mason grinned. " You want them to know you were beating up on a girl? "

Miles and Anthony exchanged glances. " Come on, " Anthony said. " Let's go. We don't have time for this."

Miles reluctantly followed. " I'll find you later, Ashford."

When they were gone, I turned on Mason. " 'Beat up on a girl'? "

" You're welcome, " he said drily.

" I didn't need your help."

" Sure. You were doing just fine on your own."

" They caught me off guard, that's all. I could have dealt with them eventually."

" Look, don't take being pissed off at them out on me."

" I just don't like being treated like...a girl."

" Youare a girl. And I was just trying to help."

I looked at him and saw the earnestness on his face. He meant well. No point in being a bitch to him when I had so many other people to hate lately.

" Well...thanks. Sorry I snapped at you."

We talked a little bit, and I managed to get him to spill some more school gossip. He had noticed Lisa's rise in status but didn't seem to find it strange. As I talked to him, I noticed the adoring look he always got around me spread across his face. It made me sad to have him feel that way about me.Guilty, even.

How hard would it be, I wondered, to go out with him? He was nice, funny, and reasonably good-looking. We got along. Why did I get caught up in so many messes with other guys when I had a perfectly sweet one here who wanted me? Why couldn't I just return his feelings?

The answer came to me before I'd even finished asking myself the question. I couldn't be Mason's girlfriend because when I imagined someone holding me and whispering dirty things in my ear, he had a Russian accent.

Mason continued watching meadmiringly, oblivious to what was going on in my head. And seeing that adoration, I suddenly realized how I could use it to my advantage.

Feeling a little guilty, I shifted my conversation to a more flirty style and watched Mason's glow increase. I leaned beside him on the wall so our arms just touched and gave him a lazy smile. " You know, I still don't approve of your whole hero thing, but you did scare them. That was almost worth it."

" But you don't approve? "

I trailed fingers up his arm. " No. I mean, it's hot in principle but not in practice."

He laughed. " The hell it isn't. " He caught hold of my hand and gave me a knowing look. " Sometimes you need to be saved. I think you like being saved sometimes and just can't admit it."

" And I thinkyou get off on saving people and just can't admit it."

" I don't think you know what gets me off. Saving damsels like you is just the honorable thing to do, " he declared loftily.

I repressed the urge to smack him over the use ofdamsels. " Then prove it. Do me a favor just because it's 'the right thing to do.'"

" Sure, " he said immediately. " Name it."

" I need you to get a message to Christian Ozera."

His eagerness faltered. " What the-? You aren't serious."

" Yes.Completely."

" Rose...I can't talk to him. You know that."

" I thought you said you'd help. I thought you said helping 'damsels' is the honorable thing to do."

" I don't really see howhonor's involved here. " I gave him the most smoldering look I could manage. He caved. " What do you want me to tell him? "

" Tell him I need St. Vladimir's books.The ones in storage. He needs to sneak them to me soon. Tell him it's for Lisa. And tell him...tell him I lied the night of the reception. " I hesitated. " Tell him I'm sorry."

" That doesn't make any sense."

" It doesn't have to. Just do it. Please? " I turned on the beauty queen smile again.

With hasty assurances that he'd see what he could do, he left for lunch, and I went off to practice.

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