Arriving in the woods, we parked and prepared to hike the rest of the way just as we did with Sydney. After a few steps Dimitri and I tense. Sensing our hesitation, Mikhail and Eddie protectively surround the Moroi. We see movement from behind a tree.
"YOU! What do you want?" A loud voice growls from behind our group.
"Angeline. Calm down, we're here to help." I say as calmly as possible. We aren't here to fight anyone, well, not The Keepers. If we run into any Strigoi we will kill them.
"It's because of you we were attacked!" Angeline's voice is laced with bitterness.
"We know, that's why we're here, to help." Gesturing with his hands, Dimitri tries to calm her down.
"It's because of you my father and brother are dying!" Her words hit me like a load of bricks. More lives I've ruined, I flinch.
"No!" My eyes grow wide and I raise my hand to cover my mouth as I gasp.
"Where are they?" Dimitri grabs Angeline's arm with a firm grip. His dark brown eyes holding her glare. "Take us to them! We can help!" His voice is firm; he's taking on his guardian tone of authority.
"Fine. But they're," she motions to Christian, Adrian, and Sonya, "not welcome."
"Noted. But they're still coming with us." Dimitri surprises me with his harshness. He glances my way and our eyes briefly meet. I see it in his eyes. He's doing what he does best, he's taking charge. He excels in dire situations. My heart swells, the smile that fills my face is full of admiration and adoration for Dimitri, my mentor, my lover, and my man.
It's then that I realize with Raymond and Joshua injured the weight of leading The Keepers rests on the shoulders of Angeline. She's a spitfire, untrained and unrefined - only 16 years old. No one that young should have to be a leader, especially not through a time like this. My face flushes with pride, realizing yet again how heroic Dimitri is at this moment, stepping up and taking charge. He's a true leader.
As we follow her through the woods, more men and women come out of the tree line to follow us. They watch us carefully, I see recognition cross their faces as Dimitri and I pass, but we have many new faces with us, both Dhampir and Moroi. I see sparks of interest, curiosity, nervousness, and fear in their eyes as we walk through camp. Whispers trailing behind us.
"Angeline these are our friends. Mikhail and Eddie are Guardians. Sonya, Christen, and Adrian are Mor, er, The Tainted, but they're cool. They're here to help." I say loud enough for anyone in earshot to hear.
"How are they going to help?" The coolness in her tone sends shivers down my spine and I flinch. Wow. This girl has so much raw potential. Is this how I was with Dimitri when we first met? I slip him a sideways look. His smirk tells me he's thinking the same thing. He nods in response and we both stifle a small laugh, earning us a few looks.
"Adrian and Sonya can heal." I say, flipping my hair off my shoulder and flashing one of my best Rose Hathaway smiles, which earned no recognition from Angeline.
I wasn't sure what to expect and honestly, I hadn't really given it much though. I wish I had, maybe I would have been better prepared. When we walked into their house the stench of death hit me. New and old blood covered every surface. Many women and children tiptoed around with buckets of water and dirty rags.
Dimitri instantly came to my side. I didn't realize I had frozen in the doorway. He pulled me aside and engulfed me in his arms. As his embrace spreads warmth through my body I begin to take in more of the surroundings. By this time, Adrian and Sonya have entered behind me.
"Let's get to work." Sonya said with a brief nod to Adrian.
I take a deep breath and hug Dimitri tightly one last time before releasing him. His eye brow arches up in his signature look, I smirked. God, why did I tell him how much I loved that? He does it all the time now. I smile and lean into him kissing his cheek. He smiles a boyish grin. I think I see a slight blush.
"I'll be back." He says, kissing my forehead. Now it's my turn for a questioning look. "I'm going to check the perimeter and assess the current status of the group." I nod and kiss him again. The man I love never ceases to amaze me; my heart flutters as he walks past. Our arms extending out, holding onto each other hands until we're out of reach, our gaze locked on each other until he disappears through the threshold.
I turn my attention to the room. Adrian and Sonya are both working. I've never seen Adrian so attentive before he's so focused, concentrating hard. I see Sarah sitting with someone, it's Raymond. And Angeline on the other side of the room standing over someone else, Joshua. My heart sinks. My feet are walking toward them before I realize I'm moving.
"How is he?" My voice is just above a whisper. I kneel taking Joshua's hand in my own. I squeeze and realize it's cold and limp. I feel tears run down my cheeks. I look to Angeline through glossy eyes. Her face shows no emotion, yet I see the pain in her eyes. I hear a wail pierce through the quiet room. Adrian runs to me and I realize it was my own.
"Can you help him?" I reach for Adrian with trembling hands. He looks to Joshua and our grasped hands. Everything after that is a blur. I'm vaguely aware of Dimitri storming through the door, moving with purpose to me, catching me just before I fall. Wrapped in his embrace, I watch Adrian and see his brow line glisten with sweat. My eyes flutter, then only darkness.
I smell his cologne and feel his strong arms protectively holding me. I bask in the moment before opening my eyes.
"Hey Comrade." I turn to look up at him.
"Roza," he says twirling my long dark brown hair between his long fingers. "How are you feeling?" His fingers gentle trace the side of my face and I feel electricity course through my body at his touch. We lean in closing the distance between our lips when we're interrupted by loud clapping and laughing from outside our cozy tent. We both smirk and realize a brief kiss will have to do.
Exiting our tent we see a crowd gathering around the fire. Someone is playing a guitar in the center of the group. And then I see a man step up holding something else foreign to me.
"A banjo." Dimitri whispers into my ear, holding back a slight chuckle. Then a woman joins them, making a trio. She's holding a violin, yet it sounds like nothing I've ever heard before. "A fiddle." I heard Dimitri say, amusement plastering his face.
"You're loving this aren't you Comrade? It's just like the wild west in your books, only its redneck vampires in the mountains." We both laugh.
"Rose! Dimitri! Come join the celebration!" Sarah shouts above the music. Everyone turns, noticing us for the first time. Their eyes widen as they notice our intimate embrace. Of course they're shocked. Last time we were here, Dimitri and I barely spoke to each other, and Joshua tried to court me. Oh Joshua. I remember his cold, lifeless body and a shiver runs through me.
"Why is everyone so happy?" I look to Dimitri, his eyes shimmering with joy. Are those tears welling up? Then I see him, walking through the crowd toward us.
"Joshua?" My eyes go wide as I look into Dimitri's eyes, pulling him into a tight embrace I kiss him on the cheek and run to Joshua.