“I’m so glad you’re okay!” A little squeal escapes my lips and accentuates my delight. Looking into his deep blue eyes he really is alive, my smile grows wider. The pain of seeing him, cold and limp, I thought he was dead and I was overwhelmed with guilt. But he’s standing before me, his sandy-blonde hair matted and caked with blood, but he’s alive! It’s a miracle, my heavy heart gets a little bit lighter, one less life I’ve ruined.
“Hey Rose,” Joshua says with a boyish grin and a slight blush reaching his cheeks.
“Dimitri!” Christian yells from somewhere in the tree line. My heart immediately starts pounding, turning on my heels I see Christian running at full speed toward the camp. I glance to Dimitri, his jaw clenched and his eyes dark and menacing. Whatever it is, it mustn’t be good. I walk to Dimitri, his fists balled in tight knots, his arm tense. I place my hand on his forearm; his shoulders slightly relax at my touch. I stand next to him awaiting Christian approach.
“Mikhail and Eddie,” Christian says between breaths, “they found one, a Strigoi. They um…they questioned him. He said they also tracked Rose to some place in Russia. A blood-whore community, I think he called it Baia.” My heart shatters. I look to Dimitri with tears threatening my eyes. Baia. He doesn’t register my look but somehow his hand finds mine. He’s staring at the ground and finally collapses to his knees. I stand taller, blinking away any unshed tears and square my shoulders. He needs me to be strong, I squeeze his hand hard, and after a while he squeezes back.
“Christian, where is Eddie and Mikhail now?” I ask with a tone of authority.
“They’re in the field, finishing him off.” Christian says looking between Dimitri and me, his blue eyes full of questions.
“Where’s Adrian and Sonya?” I look around the camp, faces appearing and disappearing in the flickering of firelight and the shadows of dusk.
“Adrian’s sleeping.” Joshua says. I watch his face as he speaks, his eyes glaze over and his features contort ever so slightly, then looking directly at me he blushes.
“ADRIAN!” My voice is pitched and raspy as it bellows out of my lungs. I squeeze Dimitri’s hand before letting it go. Kneeling in front of him taking his face between my hands I look into his eyes and see his pain. My chest tightens.
“I’ll be right back, okay Comrade.” I say as I gently kiss his lips and then his forehead. “I love you.” Standing up I look to Christian, “Stay with him.” I whisper, pleading with my eyes. He nods and sits down next to Dimitri. I storm off toward Joshua.
“Where is he?” I growl, all prior pleasantries lost.
“I…I don’t know.” He stutters.
“But you can find him.” I eye him warily. It is possible I’m wrong, or maybe he doesn't know. “Close your eyes and think of him.” My tone softens.
“I…I don’t want to.” He looks down, diverting from my eyes. His rose colored cheeks bring out his golden highlights. Damn. I can only imagine what he’s thinking.
“ADRIAN!” I yell again. This time I hear a growl from a tent across the bonfire. Marching with force I pull open the tent flap and see Adrian’s green eyes watching me with curiosity.
“What’s wrong Lil Dhampir?” He says too innocently. There is nothing innocent about Adrian Ivashkov.
“What have you done?” My voice betrays me as it quivers and struggles against my dry throat.
“What do you mean?” He gives me a questioning look. I sit down, all prior venom and anger gone. Adrian flashes me a look of panic. “Rose, are you okay? Where’s Belikov?”
“Adrian, I think…” Damn. How do I tell him? I take a deep breath. “Adrian, I think Joshua is shadow-kissed.” I see worry on his face. He never wanted anyone to get inside his head, and now a stranger, a complete opposite of him. He starts to drift off into his crazy no man’s land, but I won’t let him. We have our differences, but he’s still a good friend. I hold out my arms to him, he hesitates a moment them lunges toward me. When I feel Adrian’s body relax, I realize he’s over his initial shock.
“Come on, I’ll introduce you.” I release Adrian and stand up. “He’s about my age, but, um, naïve, so behave.” I smile as we exit the tent. To my surprise a small gathering has surrounded the tent, Joshua and Sonya in the middle.
“Hey Joshua this is Adrian. He’s the one who saved you.” I motion to Adrian and give an encouraging wink.
“Hey man.” Adrian says extending his hand in a friendly gesture.
“Hi. Um, thank you, for, hmm, saving my life.” Joshua stumbles over his words, shifting his weight around.
“Adrian, Joshua, we need to talk.” I say, catching Sonya’s eye she nods. “In private.” Raymond steps out from the crowd catching my attention for the first time.
“We don’t have secrets here. Anything you have to say to Joshua you can say to all of us.” Raymond says as Sarah steps next to him nodding in agreement.
“Okay. It was an accident, Adrian was only trying help.” My voice starts out strong, but then I quickly start to fade.
“It would appear that Joshua died and Adrian brought him back to life using Spirit.” Sonya interrupts sensing my insecurities. “Joshua’s been shadow-kissed. He’s bonded to Adrian. He can sense Adrian’s moods and will even be able to see inside his head as the bond strengthens. Unfortunately it’s irreversible, well,” Sonya looks at me and continues, “Rose can help Joshua lean how to control it, she was shadow-kissed.” Looking at the faces around the camp I was expecting to see anger, but that is not the emotion I saw at all.
“Shadow-kissed…Morori and Dhampir…bonded…” Whispers flying through the air their faces full of awe and intrigue. I feel a flutter in my stomach as realization hits me. These people, The Keepers, they stick to the old ways, of course they know the stories.
They close the space to crowd around and meet Adrian and speak with Joshua. I take a moment to glance around, looking for Christian and Dimitri. They’re gone. I see Christian sitting outside the tent I was in earlier.
Christian sees me walking toward him and meets me halfway. “How is he?” I ask.
“Sleeping.” Christian hesitates a moment before continuing. “Will he be okay?” I smile a sheepish grin. My heart swells at the thought of Christian worried about Dimitri, because honestly they were never very close.
“Yes. He’ll be fine.” I say with confidence, knowing he’ll be better as soon as I get my arms wrapped around him. “Baia, Baia is his hometown. His family still lives there.” My voice soft and full of emotion, Christian gives me a small hug and walks toward the campfire.
Crawling into the tent, I snuggle next to Dimitri and engulf him with my entire body.
“Roza.” A whisper escapes his lips as he pulls me closer in his sleep. I close my eyes knowing that when we wake we’ll formulate a plan together.
I wake to soft lips gently touching mine. Opening my eyes I see Dimitri, my love smiling above me.
“Hmm…good morning Comrade.” I smile and pull him closer for a more powerful kiss. A low growl escapes him.
“Good morning Roza.” Just as our lips are about to touch we jump as someone barges through our tent.
“I want to learn to fight!” Angeline stands in our doorway, glaring between the two of us.
“Perfect timing Angeline.” I sigh. “We’re not busy or anything.” Dimitri controls a chuckle, his eyes shining with amusement.
“I’m serious! I want you to train me. Mikhal and Eddie say you’re the best.” Angeline continues, “Well, that you two are the best. But you were her mentor, right? You taught Rose, she was your student? I want to be your student.” Dimitri catches my arm before I can form a punch, I glare at him.
“Angeline, give us a minute please.” He says, caressing the back of my hand with his thumb. Does he know what this does to me? It’s the opposite of calm. I smirk.
“We should go to Russia.” I firmly say after Angeline leaves.
“No.” He says, showing no emotion.
“Comrade, it’s your family!”
“They’ll be fine, and if not then it’s already too late.” He’s wearing his guardian mask, closed off from the world.
“Dimitri!” My voice cracks. “You can’t be serious, you’re just going to give up? They’re your family!” Tears threaten my eyes.
“Rose,” He reaches for me and I jerk away crawling toward the entrance.
“So are you going to mentor her as you did me?” My voice laced with anger. I storm out and head straight for Christian.
“Whoa. You okay?” He says.
“Fine. I need your cell.” My eyes burning with anger. I grab it from his hand and walk away. After reaching the clearing, I dial a number I told myself I’d never call. After two rings a husky voice answers, a voice at that moment I longed to hear.
“Hey Old Man.” I say as a smile creeps to my face.
Returning to camp I see several of The Keepers are standing in tight groups facing Dimitri, Mikhail, and Eddie, who are standing in front. Dimitri sees me, whispers something to Mikhail and heads toward me. I really hate arguing with him, my stomach twists in knots.
“Hey.” He says carefully watching my face.
“Hey.” I sigh.
“Oh Roza. I’m so sorry, I don’t want to fight.” He pulls me into a tight embrace. My heart swells and my arms hug him back.
“Exactly what are you sorry for, Comrade?” I look up to him and smirk.
“Making you upset.” He leans down and gives me the gentlest kiss, I feel a tingly sensation cover my body.
“So what’s going on here?” I motion to the groups.
“After you left I talked more to Angeline, but Raymond came up with an idea. We’ll provide basic lessons to anyone interested.” His face showing a hint of sorrow. I nod.
“Three days Comrade, three days.” I say as I walk toward Eddie and Mikhail.