Friday, August 30, 2019

The Indigo Spell Chapter Twenty-One

SOME PART OF ME BEGGED FOR there to be a mistake. I watched the footage three more times, tossing crazy theories around in my head. Maybe Master Jameson had a twin who wasn't a fanatic who hated vampires. No. The video didn't lie. Only the Alchemists did. I couldn't ignore this. I couldn't wait. I needed to resolve this immediately. If not sooner. I sent Marcus a text as soon as my plane was on the ground: We meet tonight. No games. No runaround. TONIGHT. There was no response from him by the time I got back to my dorm. What was he doing? Reading Catcher in the Rye again? If I'd known what dive he was holed up in, I would've marched over there right then. There was nothing I could do but wait, so I called Ms. Terwilliger both as a distraction and to buy some freedom. â€Å"Nothing to report,† she told me when she answered. â€Å"We're still just watching and waiting – although, your extra charm is almost complete.† â€Å"That's not why I'm calling,† I said. â€Å"I need you to get me a curfew extension tonight.† I felt bad using her for something totally unrelated, but I had to do this. â€Å"Oh? Are you paying me an unexpected visit?† â€Å"Er – no. This is for something else.† She clearly thought that was funny. â€Å"Now you use my assistance for personal matters?† â€Å"Don't you think I've earned it?† I countered. She laughed, something I hadn't heard from her in a while. She agreed to my request and promised to call the dorm's front desk right away. As soon as we hung up, my phone chimed with the expected message from Marcus. All the text contained was an address that was a half hour away. Assuming he was ready for me now, I grabbed my messenger bag and got on the road. In light of my past meetings with Marcus, I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd led me to a department store or karaoke bar. Instead, I arrived at a vintage music shop, the kind that sold vinyl records. A large CLOSED sign hung on the door, emphasized by dark windows and an empty parking lot. I got out of my car and double-checked the address, wondering if my GPS had led me astray. My earlier zeal gave way to nervousness. How careless was this? One of Wolfe's first lessons was to avoid sketchy situations, yet here I was, exposing myself. Then, from the shadows, I heard my name whispered. I turned toward the sound and saw Sabrina materialize out of the darkness, carrying a gun as usual. Maybe if I showed her the one in my glove compartment, we could have a bonding moment. â€Å"Go around back,† she said. â€Å"Knock on the door.† Without another word, she returned to the shadows. The back of the building looked like the kind of place that screamed mugging, and I wondered if Sabrina would come to my aid if needed. I knocked on the door, half expecting some kind of speakeasy situation where I'd be asked for a password like â€Å"rusted iguana.† Instead, Marcus opened the door, ready with one of those smiles he kept hoping would win me over. Strangely, tonight it put me at ease. â€Å"Hey, gorgeous, come on in.† I stepped past him and found we were in the store's back room, which was filled with tables, shelves, and boxes of records and cassette tapes. Wade and Amelia stood against a wall in mirrored stances, their arms crossed over their chests. Marcus shut the door behind me and locked it. â€Å"Glad to see you back in one piece. Judging from your text – and your face – you found something.† All the rage I'd been holding in since my discovery came bursting out. I retrieved my laptop from my bag and had to resist the urge to slam it against a table. â€Å"Yes! I can't believe it. You were right. Your insane, far-fetched theory was right. The Alchemists have been lying! Or, well, some of them. I don't know. Half of them don't know what the other half's doing.† I expected some smug remark from Marcus or at least an â€Å"I told you so.† But that handsome face was drawn and sad, reminding me of the picture I'd seen of him and Clarence. â€Å"Damn,† he said softly. â€Å"I was kind of hoping you'd come back with a bunch of boring video. Amelia, go swap with Sabrina. I want her to see this.† Amelia looked disappointed to be sent away, but she didn't hesitate to obey his order. By the time Sabrina came back in, I had the video cued up to the correct time. They gathered around me. â€Å"Ready?† I asked. They nodded, and I could see a mix of emotions in all of them. Here it was, the conspiracy theory they'd all been waiting to prove. At the same time, the implications were staggering, and the three of them were well aware of how dangerous what they were about to see could be. I played the video. It was only a few seconds long, but they were powerful ones as that bearded figure appeared on the screen. I heard an intake of breath from Sabrina. â€Å"It's him. Master Jameson.† She looked between all our faces. â€Å"That's really the Alchemist place? He's really there?† â€Å"Yes,† said Wade. â€Å"And that's Dale Hawthorne with him, one of the directors.† That triggered a memory. â€Å"I know that name. He's one of Stanton's peers, right?† â€Å"Pretty much.† â€Å"Is it possible she wouldn't know about a visit like this?† I asked. â€Å"Even at her level?† It was Marcus who answered. â€Å"Maybe. Although, walking him right in there – even to the secure level – is pretty ballsy. Even if she doesn't know about the meeting, it's a safe bet others do. If it were completely shady, Hawthorne would've met him off-site. Of course, the secure list means this wasn't out in the open either.† So, it was possible Stanton hadn't lied to me – well, at least not about the Alchemists being in contact with the Warriors. She'd certainly lied about the Alchemists knowing about Marcus since he'd said he was a notorious figure to most higher-ups. Even if she was ignorant about Master Jameson, it didn't change the fact that other Alchemists – important ones – were keeping some dangerous company. Maybe I didn't always like their procedures, but I'd desperately wanted to believe they were doing good in the world. Maybe they were. Maybe they weren't. I just didn't know anymore. When I dragged my eyes from the frozen frame of Master Jameson, I found Marcus watching me. â€Å"Are you ready?† he asked. â€Å"Ready for what?† He walked over to another table and returned with a small case. When he opened it, I saw a small vial of silver liquid and a syringe. â€Å"What is – oh.† Realization hit me. â€Å"That's the blood that'll break the tattoo.† He nodded. â€Å"Pulling the elements out creates a reaction that turns it silver. It takes a few years, but eventually, the gold in your skin will fade to silver too.† All of them were looking at me expectantly, and I took a step back. â€Å"I don't know if I'm ready for this.† â€Å"Why wait?† asked Marcus. He pointed at the laptop. â€Å"You've seen this. You know what they're capable of. Can you keep lying to yourself? Don't you want to go forward with your eyes open?† â€Å"Well . . . yes, but I don't know if I'm ready to have some strange substance injected into me.† Marcus filled the syringe with the silver liquid. â€Å"I can demonstrate on my tattoo if it'll make you feel better. It won't hurt me, and you can see that there aren't any dire side effects.† â€Å"We don't know for sure that they've done anything to me,† I protested. He had a logical argument, but I was still terrified of taking this step. I could feel my hands shaking. â€Å"This could be a waste. There may be no group loyalty compulsion in me.† â€Å"But you also don't know for sure,† he countered. â€Å"And there's always a little loyalty put in the initial tattoo. I mean, not enough to make you some slave robot, but still. Wouldn't you feel better knowing everything's gone?† I couldn't take my eyes off the needle. â€Å"Will I feel any different?† â€Å"No. Although you could walk up to someone on the street and start telling them about vampires.† I couldn't tell if he was joking or not. â€Å"Then you'd just get thrown into a psych ward.† Was I ready for this? Was I really going to take the next step into becoming part of Marcus's Merry Men? I'd passed his test – which he'd been right about. Clearly, this group wasn't useless. They had eyes on the Alchemists and the Warriors. They also seemingly had the Moroi's best interests at heart. The Moroi – or, more specifically, Jill. I hadn't forgotten Sabrina's offhand remark about the Warriors being interested in a missing girl. Who else could it be but Jill? And did this Hawthorne guy have access to her location? Had he passed it on to Master Jameson? And would this information put those around her at risk, like Adrian? They were questions I didn't have the answers to, but I had to uncover them. â€Å"Okay,† I said. â€Å"Do it.† Marcus didn't waste any time. I think he was afraid I'd change my mind – which, perhaps, was not an unfounded fear. I sat down in one of the chairs and tipped my head to the side so that he'd have access to my cheek. Wade gently held my head with his hands. â€Å"Just to make sure you stay still,† he told me apologetically Before Marcus started, I asked, â€Å"Where'd you learn to do this?† His face had been solemn with the task ahead, but my question made him smile again. â€Å"I'm not technically tattooing you, if that's what you're worried about,† he said. I was actually worried about a lot of things. â€Å"These are just some small injections, just like being re-inked.† â€Å"What about the process itself? How'd you find out about it?† It was probably a question I should have asked before I sat down in this chair. But I hadn't expected to be doing this so soon – or suddenly. â€Å"A Moroi friend of mine theorized about it. I volunteered to be a guinea pig, and it worked.† He switched to business mode again and held up the needle. â€Å"Ready?† I took a deep breath, feeling like I was standing on the edge of a precipice. Time to jump. â€Å"Go ahead.† It hurt about as much as re-inking did, just a number of small pricks on my skin. Uncomfortable, but not really painful. In truth, it wasn't a long process, but it felt like it took forever. All the while, I kept asking myself, What are you doing? What are you doing? At last, Marcus stepped back and regarded me with shining eyes. Sabrina and Wade smiled too. â€Å"There you go,† Marcus said. â€Å"Welcome to the ranks, Sydney.† I took my compact out of my purse to check the tattoo. My skin was pink from the needle's piercing, but if this process continued to be like re-inking, that irritation would fade soon. Otherwise, the lily looked unchanged. I also didn't feel that changed on the inside. I didn't want to storm the Alchemist facility and demand justice or anything like that. Taking him up on his dare to tell an outsider about vampires was probably my best bet to see if my tattoo had been altered, but I didn't really feel like doing that either. â€Å"That's it?† I asked. â€Å"That's it,† Marcus said. â€Å"Once we get it sealed, you won't have to worry about – â€Å" â€Å"I'm not getting it sealed.† All those smiles vanished. Marcus looked confused, as though he might have misheard. â€Å"You have to. We're going to Mexico next weekend. Once that's done, the Alchemists won't ever be able to get to you again.† â€Å"I'm not getting it sealed,† I repeated. â€Å"And I'm not going to Mexico.† I gestured toward my laptop. â€Å"Look what I was able to pull off! If I stay where I'm at, I can keep finding out more. I can find out what else the Alchemists and Warriors are doing together.† I can find out if Jill is in danger. â€Å"Getting permanently marked and becoming an outcast kills all those opportunities for me. There's no going back after that.† I think Marcus almost always got his way, and this new development totally threw him off. Wade took up the argument. â€Å"There's no going back now. You're leaving a trail of bread crumbs. Look at what you've done. You already made inquiries about Marcus. Even if you haven't gotten super-friendly with the Moroi, the Alchemists still know you spend a lot of time with them. And one day, someone may realize you were there when the data was stolen.† â€Å"No one knows it was stolen,† I said promptly. â€Å"You hope they don't,† corrected Wade. â€Å"These little things are enough to raise red flags. Keep doing more, and you'll make it worse. They'll finally notice you, and that's when it'll be over.† Marcus had recovered from his initial shock. â€Å"Exactly. Look, if you want to stay where you're at until we go to Mexico, that's fine. Make your peace with it or whatever. After that, you need to escape. We'll keep working from the outside.† â€Å"You can do whatever you want.† I began packing up my laptop. â€Å"I'm going to work from the inside.† Marcus caught hold of my arm. â€Å"You're setting yourself up for a fall, Sydney!† he said sternly. â€Å"You're going to get caught.† I pulled away from him. â€Å"I'll be careful.† â€Å"Everyone makes mistakes,† said Sabrina, speaking up for the first time in a while. â€Å"I'll take that risk.† I slung my bag over my shoulder. â€Å"Unless you guys are going to forcibly stop me?† None of them answered. â€Å"Then I'm going. I'm not afraid of the Alchemists. Thank you for everything you've done. I really do appreciate it.† â€Å"Thank you,† said Marcus at last. He shook his head at Wade, who looked like he wanted to protest. â€Å"For getting the data. I honestly didn't think you'd be able to pull it off. I figured you'd return empty-handed, though I still would've broken the tattoo for you. A for effort, you know. Instead, you just proved what I'd thought before: you're remarkable. We could really use you.† â€Å"Well, you know how to get in touch with me.† â€Å"And you know how to get in touch with us,† he said. â€Å"We'll be here all week if you change your mind.† I opened the door. â€Å"I won't. I'm not running away.† Amelia called goodbye to me when I got into my car, oblivious to the fact that I'd just defied her beloved leader. As I drove back to Amberwood, I was amazed at how free I felt – and it had nothing to do with the tattoo. It was the knowledge that I had defied everyone – the Alchemists, the Warriors, the Merry Men. I didn't answer to anyone, no matter the cause. I was my own person, able to take my own actions. It wasn't something I had a lot of experience with. And I was about to do something drastic. I hadn't told Marcus and the gang because I'd been afraid they really would stop me. When I got back to Amberwood, I went straight to my room and dialed Stanton. She answered on the first ring, which I took as a divine sign that I was doing the right thing. â€Å"Miss Sage, this is unexpected. Did you enjoy the services?† â€Å"Yes,† I said. â€Å"They were very enlightening. But that's not why I'm calling. We have a situation. The Warriors of Light are looking for Jill.† I wasn't going to waste any time. â€Å"Why on earth would they do that?† She sounded legitimately surprised, but if there was one thing in all of this that I believed wholeheartedly, it was that the Alchemists were exceptional liars. â€Å"Because they know if Jill's whereabouts got out, it could throw the Moroi into chaos. Their focus is still on the Strigoi, but they wouldn't mind seeing thing go bad for the Moroi.† â€Å"I see.† I always wondered if she paused to gather her thoughts or if it was simply for effect. â€Å"And how exactly did you learn this?† â€Å"That guy I know who used to be with the Warriors. We're still friendly, and he's been having doubts about them. He mentioned hearing them talk about finding a missing girl that could cause all sorts of trouble.† Maybe it was wrong to drag Trey into this lie, but I seriously doubted Stanton would interrogate him anytime soon. â€Å"And you assume this is Miss Dragomir?† â€Å"Come on,† I exclaimed. â€Å"Who else would it be? Do you know any other Moroi girls? Of course it's her!† â€Å"Calm down, Miss Sage.† Her voice was flat and untroubled. â€Å"There's no need for theatrics.† â€Å"There's a need for action! If they might be on to her, then we need to get out of Palm Springs immediately.† â€Å"That,† she said crisply, â€Å"is not an option. A lot of planning went into getting her to her current location.† I didn't believe that argument for a second. Half our job was doing damage control and adapting to rapidly changing situations. â€Å"Yeah? Well, did you also plan on those psycho vampire hunters finding her?† Stanton ignored the jab. â€Å"Do you have any evidence at all that the Warriors actually have concrete data about her? Did your friend supply you with details?† â€Å"No,† I admitted. â€Å"But we still need to do something.† â€Å"There's no ‘we' here.† Her voice had gone from flat to icy. â€Å"You do not decide what we do.† I nearly protested and then caught myself. Horror set in. What had I just done? My initial intent had been to either get Stanton to take legitimate action or else find out if she might accidentally reveal knowledge of a Warrior connection. I'd thought mentioning Trey would give me valid backup since I could hardly tell her the real reason I feared for Jill. Yet, somehow, I'd gone from a request to a demand. I'd practically yelled an order at her. That wasn't typical Sydney behavior. That wasn't typical Alchemist behavior. What had Wade said? You're leaving a trail of bread crumbs. Was this because I'd broken the tattoo? This was no crumb. This was a full loaf. I was on the verge of insubordination, and my mind could suddenly imagine that list Marcus kept warning about, the one that kept track of every suspicious thing I did. Was Stanton already updating that list right now? I had to fix this, but how? How on earth did I take this back? My mind was racing frantically, and it took several moments for me to calm down and start thinking logically. The mission. Focus on the mission. Stanton would understand that. â€Å"I'm sorry, ma'am,† I said at last. Be calm. Be deferential. â€Å"I'm just . . . I'm just so worried about this mission. I saw my dad at the services, you know.† That would be a fact she could check on. â€Å"You had to have seen how it was that night I left. How bad things are between us. I . . . I have to make him proud. If things fall apart here, he'll never forgive me.† She didn't respond, so I prayed that meant she was listening intently . . . and believing me. â€Å"I want to do a good job here. I want to fulfill our goals and keep Jill hidden. But there have already been so many complications no one predicted – first Keith and then the Warriors. I just never feel like she's fully safe now, even with Eddie and Angeline. It eats at me. And – † I was no actress who could muster tears, but I did my best to make my voice crack. â€Å"And I never feel safe. I told you, when I asked to go to the services, how overwhelming it is with the Moroi. They're everywhere – and the dhampirs too. I eat with them. I'm in class with them. Being with other Alchemists this last weekend was a lifesaver. I mean, I'm not trying to dodge my duties, ma'am. I understand we have to make sacrifices. And I've gotten better around them, but sometimes the stress is just unbearable – and then when I heard this thing about the Warriors, I cracked. All I could think about was that I might fail. I'm sorry, ma'am. I shouldn't have flipped o ut on you. I was out of control, and it was unacceptable.† I cut off my rant and tensed as I waited for her response. Hopefully I'd given her enough to dismiss any thoughts of me being a dissident. Of course, I might have just come off as a totally weak and unstable Alchemist who needed to be pulled from this mission. If that happened . . . well, maybe I'd have to take Marcus up on Mexico. Her characteristic pause was especially painful this time. â€Å"I see,† she said. â€Å"Well, I'll take this all into consideration. This mission is of the utmost importance, believe me. My earlier questioning of your information was not some weakening of our resolve. Your concerns have been heard, and I will decide the best course of action.† It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but hopefully she would be true to her word. I really, really wanted to believe she was on the up-and-up. â€Å"Thank you, ma'am.† â€Å"Is there anything else, Miss Sage?† â€Å"No, ma'am. And . . . and I'm sorry ma'am.† â€Å"Your apology is noted.† Click. I'd paced while I'd talked and now stood staring at the phone. A gut instinct told me I really had driven Stanton to take some sort of action. The mystery was whether that action would prove beneficial or catastrophic for me. Falling asleep was difficult after that, and it had nothing to do with Veronica for a change. I was too keyed up, too anxious about what had happened with Marcus and Stanton. I tried to seize that feeling of freedom again, using it to strengthen me. It was only a spark this time, flickering with my new uncertainties, but it was better than nothing. I fell asleep sometime around three. I had a vague sense of a couple hours passing before I was swept into one of Adrian's dreams, back in the reception hall. â€Å"Finally,† he said. â€Å"I almost gave up checking in. I thought you were going to pull an all-nighter.† He'd stopped wearing his suit in these dreams, probably because I always showed up in jeans. Tonight he wore jeans also, along with a plain black T-shirt. â€Å"Me too.† I wrung my hands and began pacing here as well. The nervous energy from my waking self had carried over into the dream. â€Å"A lot of stuff's kind of happened tonight.† The dream felt real, solid. Adrian was sober. â€Å"Didn't you just get back? How much could've happened?† When I told him, he shook his head in amazement. â€Å"Man, Sage. It's all or nothing with you. Never a dull moment.† I came to a halt in front of him and leaned against a table. â€Å"I know, I know. Do you think I just made a huge mistake? God, maybe Marcus was right, and there was some compulsion forcing me to be loyal in the tattoo. I'm free for one hour and completely go over the edge with my superior.† â€Å"It sounds like you covered your tracks,† he said, though a small frown appeared on his face. â€Å"But I would be disappointed if they sent you somewhere less stressful. That seems like it might be the worst-case scenario from everything you said.† I started laughing, but it was the hysterical kind. â€Å"What in the world's happened to me? I was doing crazy stuff way before Marcus broke the tattoo tonight. Meeting with rebels, chasing evil sorceresses, even buying that dress! Yelling at Stanton is just one more thing on a long list of insanity. It's just like I said at Pies and Stuff: I don't know who I am anymore.† Adrian smiled and clasped my hands, taking a few steps toward me. â€Å"Well, first off, I'm the expert in insanity, and this is nothing. And as for who you are, you're the same beautiful, brave, and ridiculously smart caffeinated fighter you've been since the day I met you.† Finally, he put â€Å"beautiful† at the top of his list of adjectives. Not that I should have cared. â€Å"Sweet talker,† I scoffed. â€Å"You didn't know anything about me the first time we met.† â€Å"I knew you were beautiful,† he said. â€Å"I just hoped for the rest.† He always got this glint in his eyes when he complimented my looks, like he was seeing so much more than just my actual appearance. It was disorienting and heady . . . but I didn't mind. And that wasn't the only thing I suddenly found overwhelming. How had he gotten so close to me without me even realizing it? It was like he had secret stealth abilities. His hands were warm on mine, our fingers locked together. I still had remnants of that earlier joy within me, and being connected to him amplified those feelings. The green of his eyes was as lovely as usual, and I wondered if mine had the same effect on him. There was a little amber mixed with the brown that he had once said looked like gold. He's the only one who never tells me to do anything, I realized. Oh, sure, he asked me to do lots of things, often with cajoling and fast talking. But he made no demands on me, not like the Alchemists or Marcus. Even Jill and Angeline tended to preface their requests with, â€Å"You have to . . .† â€Å"Speaking of that dress,† he added, â€Å"I still haven't seen it.† I laughed softly. â€Å"You couldn't handle it.† He raised an eyebrow at that. â€Å"Is that a challenge, Sage? I can handle a lot.† â€Å"Not if our history is any indication. Each time I wear some moderately attractive dress, you lose it.† â€Å"That's not exactly true,† he said. â€Å"I lose it no matter what you're wearing. And that red dress was not ‘moderately attractive.' It was like a piece of heaven here on earth. A red, silky piece of heaven.† I should've rolled my eyes. I should've told him I wasn't here for his personal entertainment. But there was something in the way he was looking at me and something in the way I felt tonight that made me want to see his reaction. Breaking the tattoo hadn't affected anything between us, but it – and the deeds I'd done this weekend – had left me feeling bold. For the first time, I wanted to take a risk with him, despite my usual set of logical arguments. Besides, there was nothing dangerous in letting him look. I manipulated the dream the way he'd taught me. A few moments later, the lacy minidress replaced my jeans and blouse. I even summoned the heels, which bumped my height up. I was still nowhere near as tall as him, but the small boost brought our faces closer together. His eyes widened. Still holding my hands, he took a step back so that he could take in the whole look. There was almost something tangible to the way his gaze swept my body. I could practically feel every place it touched. By the time his eyes reached mine again, my breathing was heavy, and I was acutely aware that there really wasn't that much clothing between the two of us. Maybe there was something dangerous in letting him look after all. â€Å"A piece of heaven?† I managed to ask. He slowly shook his head. â€Å"No. The other place. The one I'm going to burn in for thinking what I'm thinking.† He'd moved toward me again. His hands released mine and moved to my waist, and I noticed I wasn't the only one breathing heavily. He pulled me to him, bringing our bodies together. The world was all heat and electricity, thick with tension that was only one spark away from exploding around us. I was balancing on another precipice, which wasn't easy to do in heels. I wrapped my arms around his neck, and this time I was the one who drew him closer. â€Å"Damn,† he murmured. â€Å"What?† I asked, never taking my eyes off his. He ran his hands over my hips. â€Å"I'm not supposed to kiss you.† â€Å"It's okay.† â€Å"What is?† â€Å"It's okay if I kiss you.† Adrian Ivashkov wasn't easy to surprise, but I surprised him then when I brought his mouth toward mine. I kissed him, and for a moment, he was too stunned to respond. That lasted for, oh, about a second. Then the intensity I'd come to know so well in him returned. He pushed me backward, lifting me so that I sat on the table. The tablecloth bunched up, knocking over some of the glasses. I heard what sounded like a china plate crash against the floor. Whatever logic and reason I normally possessed had melted away. There was nothing but flesh and fire left, and I wasn't going to lie to myself – at least not tonight. I wanted him. I arched my back, fully aware of how vulnerable that made me and that I was giving him an invitation. He accepted it and laid me back against the table, bringing his body down on top of mine. That crushing kiss of his moved from my mouth to the nape of my neck. He pushed down the edge of my dress and the bra strap underneath, exposing my shoulder and giving his lips more skin to conquer. A glass rolled off and smashed, soon followed by another. Adrian broke off his kissing, and I opened my eyes. He had an exasperated look on his face. â€Å"A table,† he said. â€Å"A goddamned table.† A few moments later, the table was gone. I was in his apartment, on his bed, and was glad that I no longer had silverware underneath me. With the venue change complete, his lips found mine again. The urgency in the way I responded surprised even me. I never would've thought myself capable of a feeling so primal, so removed from the reason that usually governed my actions. My nails dug into his back, and he trailed his lips down the edge of my chin, down the center of my neck. He kept going until he reached the bottom of the dress's V-neck. I let out a small gasp, and he kissed all around the neckline, just enough to tease. â€Å"Don't worry,† he murmured. â€Å"The dress stays on.† â€Å"Oh? Is that your decision to make?† â€Å"Yes,† he said. â€Å"You're not losing your virginity in a dream. If that's even possible. I don't want to deal with the philosophical side of it. And besides, there's no need to rush anyway. Sometimes it's worth lingering on the journey for a while before getting to the destination.† Metaphors. This was the cost of making out with an artist. I nearly said as much. Then his hand slid up my bare leg, and I was lost again. Maybe the dress was staying on, but he didn't mind taking liberties with it. That hand slipped under my dress, running along the side of my leg and up to my hip. I burned where he touched me, and everything within me became focused on that hand. It was moving far too slowly, and I grabbed it, ready to urge it on. Adrian chuckled and caught hold of my wrist, pulling my hand away and pinning it down against the covers. â€Å"Never thought I'd be the one slowing you down.† I opened my eyes and met his. â€Å"I'm a quick study.† All that burning and animal need within me must have shone through because he caught his breath and lost the smile. He released my wrist and cupped my face in his hands, bringing his face down only a whisper away from mine. â€Å"Good God, Sydney. You are – † The passion in his eyes turned to surprise, and he suddenly looked up. â€Å"What's wrong?† I asked, wondering if this was some weird part of â€Å"the journey.† He grimaced and began to fade away before my eyes. â€Å"You're being woken up.†

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