Home > The Fiery Heart (Bloodlines #4)(3)

The Fiery Heart (Bloodlines #4)(3)
Author: Richelle Mead

But myself? I didn’t know what to do for me. Maybe it was just an artistic block. Maybe I didn’t know myself. As I stared at the canvas, my frustration growing, I had to fight off the need to go to my neglected liquor cupboard and pour a drink. Alcohol didn’t necessarily make for the best art, but it usually inspired something. I could practically taste the vodka already. I could mix it with orange juice and pretend I was being healthy. My fingers twitched, and my feet nearly carried me to the kitchen—but I resisted. The earnestness in Sydney’s eyes burned through my mind, and I focused back on the canvas. I could do this—sober. I’d promised her I’d have only one drink a day, and I’d hold true to that. And for the time being, that one drink was needed for the end of the day, when I was ready for bed. I didn’t sleep well. I never had in my entire life, so I had to use whatever help I could get.

My sober resolve didn’t result in inspiration, though, and when five o’clock came around, the canvas remained bare. I stood up and stretched out the kinks in my body, feeling a return of that earlier darkness. It was more angry than sad, laced with the frustration of not being able to do this. My art teachers claimed I had talent, but in moments like this, I felt like the slacker most people had always said I was, destined for a lifetime of failure. It was especially depressing when I thought about Sydney, who knew everything about everything and could excel at any career she wanted. Putting aside the vampire-human problem, I had to wonder what I could possibly offer her. I couldn’t even pronounce half the things that interested her, let alone discuss them. If we ever managed some normal life together, she’d be out paying the bills while I stayed home and cleaned. And I really wasn’t good at that either. If she just wanted to come home at night to eye candy with good hair, I could probably be that reasonably well.

I knew these fears eating at me were being amped up by spirit. Not all of them were real, but they were hard to shake. I left the art behind and stepped outside my door, hoping to find distraction in the night to come. The sun was going down outside, and the Palm Springs winter evening barely required a light jacket. It was a favorite time of the evening for Moroi, when there was still light but not enough to be uncomfortable. We could handle some sunlight, not like Strigoi—the undead vampires who killed for their blood. Sunlight destroyed them, which was a perk for us. We needed all the help we could get in the fight against them.

I drove out to Vista Azul, a suburb only ten minutes away from downtown that housed Amberwood Prep, the private boarding school that Sydney and the rest of our motley crew attended. Sydney was normally the group’s designated chauffeur, but that dubious honor had fallen on me tonight while she scurried off to her clandestine meeting with the coven. The gang was all waiting at the curb outside the girls’ dorm as I pulled up. Leaning across the passenger seat, I opened up the door. “All aboard,” I said.

They piled in. There were five of them now, plus me, bringing us up to a lucky seven, had Sydney been there. When we’d first come to Palm Springs, there’d just been four. Jill, the reason we were all here, scooted in beside me and flashed me a grin.

If Sydney was the main calming force in my life, Jill was the second. She was only fifteen, seven years younger than me, but there was a grace and wisdom that radiated from her already. Sydney might be the love of my life, but Jill understood me in a way no one else could. It was kind of hard not to, with that psychic bond. It had been forged when I used spirit to save her life last year—and when I say “save,” I mean it. Jill had technically been dead, only for less than a minute, but dead nonetheless. I’d used spirit’s power to perform a miraculous feat of healing and bringing her back before the next world could claim her. That miracle had bonded us with a connection that allowed her to feel and see my thoughts—though not the other way around.

People brought back that way were called “shadow-kissed,” and that alone would have been enough to mess up any kid. Jill had the added misfortune of being one of two people left in a dying line of Moroi royalty. This was recent news to her, and her sister, Lissa—the Moroi queen and a good friend of mine—needed Jill alive in order to hold on to her throne. Those who opposed Lissa’s liberal rule consequently wanted Jill dead, in order to invoke an ancient family law requiring a monarch to have one other living family member. And so, someone had come up with the questionably brilliant idea to send Jill into hiding in the middle of a human city in the desert. Because seriously, what vampire would want to live here? It was certainly a question I asked myself a lot.

Jill’s three bodyguards climbed into the backseat. They were all dhampirs, a race born of mixed vampire and human heritage from the time our races had shared in free love. They were stronger and faster than the rest of us, making ideal warriors in the battle against Strigoi and royal assassins. Eddie Castile was the de facto leader of the group, a dependable rock who’d been with Jill from the beginning. Angeline Dawes, the red-haired spitfire, was slightly less dependable. And by “less dependable,” I mean “not at all.” She was a scrapper in a fight, though. The newest addition to the group was Neil Raymond, aka Tall, Proper, and Boring. For reasons I didn’t understand, Jill and Angeline seemed to think his non-smiling demeanor was a sign of some kind of noble character. The fact that he’d gone to school in England and had picked up a faint British accent especially seemed to fire up their estrogen.

The last member of the party stood outside the car, refusing to get in. Zoe Sage, Sydney’s sister.

She leaned forward and met my eyes with brown ones almost like Sydney’s, but with less gold. “There’s no room,” she said. “Your car doesn’t have enough seats.”

“Not true,” I told her. On cue, Jill moved closer to me. “This seat’s meant to hold three. Last owner even fitted it with an extra seat belt.” While that was safer for modern times, Sydney had nearly had a heart attack over altering the Mustang from its original state. “Besides, we’re all family, right?” To give us easy access to one another, we’d made Amberwood believe we were all siblings or cousins. When Neil arrived, however, the Alchemists had finally given up on making him a relative since things were getting kind of ridiculous.

Zoe stared at the empty spot for several seconds. Even though the seat really was long, she’d still be getting cozy with Jill. Zoe had been at Amberwood for a month but was in full possession of all the hang-ups and prejudices her people had around vampires and dhampirs. I knew them well because Sydney used to have all of them too. It was ironic because the Alchemists’ mission was to keep the world of vampires and the supernatural hidden from their fellow humans, who they feared wouldn’t be able to handle it. The Alchemists were driven by the belief that members of my kind were twisted parts of nature best ignored and kept separate from humans, lest we taint them with our evil. They helped us grudgingly and were useful in a situation like Jill’s, when arrangements with human authorities and school officials needed to occur behind the scenes. Alchemists excelled at making things happen. That was how Sydney had originally been drafted, to smooth the way for Jill and her exile, since the Alchemists didn’t want a Moroi civil war. Zoe had been sent recently as an apprentice and had become a huge pain in the ass for hiding our relationship.

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