I stopped waltzing (or whatever dance move it was I’d been attempting to do) and brought my mouth down to hers in a very different sort of kiss than the one I’d just given her. Heat filled me as I felt the softness of her lips, and I was surprised to sense an answering passion in her. In light of our recent circumstances, Sydney hadn’t been feeling particularly physical, and honestly, I couldn’t blame her. I’d respected her wishes and kept my distance . . . not realizing how much I’d missed that fire in her until now.
We found ourselves sinking down onto the couch, arms wrapped tightly around each other, still kissing passionately. I paused to study her, admiring the way the candlelight shone on her blond hair and brown eyes. I could’ve drowned in that beauty, that and the love I could feel radiating off of her. It was a perfect, much-needed romantic moment . . . at least, it was until the door opened.
“Mom?” I exclaimed, leaping off Sydney like I was a high school kid and not a married man of twenty-two.
“Oh, hello, dear,” my mother said, strolling into the living room. “Why are all the lights off? It looks like a mausoleum in here. Was the power out?” She flipped on a light switch, making both Sydney and me wince. “It’s back now. But you really shouldn’t have lit so many candles. It’s dangerous.” She helpfully blew a cluster out.
“Thanks,” said Sydney flatly. “It’s nice to know you’re taking safety seriously.” Her expression reminded me of the time my mother had “helpfully” pulled out a bunch of sticky notes that were “cluttering up” a book Sydney had spent hours painstakingly notating.
“Mom, I thought you were going to be gone a couple of hours,” I said pointedly.
“I was, but it was just getting too awkward over at the feeders’ salon. You’d think everyone would be busy at the council meeting, but no. So many stares. I couldn’t relax. So they just let me bring one with me.” She glanced around. “Where’d he go? Ah, there.” She stepped back out into the hallway and steered in a dazed-looking human who was a little older than me. “Sit over there on that chair, and I’ll be right with you.”
I leapt to my feet. “You brought a feeder here? Mom, you know how Sydney feels about that.”
Sydney made no comment but blanched at the sight of the feeder sitting across the room. His eyes—dazed and happy from the endorphins he received from letting vampires feed off of him—stared around blankly.
My mother sighed in exasperation. “What do you expect me to do, darling? There was absolutely no way I could feed with Maureen Tarus and Gladys Dashkov sitting there and gossiping right beside me.”
“I expect you to have a little consideration for my wife!” I exclaimed. Since Sydney and I had gotten married and sought refuge at Court, most people—including my own father—had turned their backs on us. My mom had stood by us, even going so far as to live with us—which wasn’t without its complications.
“I’m sure she can just wait in your bedroom,” my mother said, leaning over to blow out more candles. Spotting the truffles on the table, she paused to pop one in her mouth.
“Sydney doesn’t have to go hide away in her own home,” I argued.
“Well,” said my mother, “neither do I. It’s my home too.”
“I don’t mind,” said Sydney, getting to her feet. “I’ll wait.”
I was so frustrated, I wanted to rip my hair out. Passion was no longer the issue. All traces of that earlier happiness I’d seen in Sydney were gone. She was retreating back into herself, back to that hopeless feeling of being a human stuck in a world of vampires. And then, impossibly, things got worse. My mother had noticed one of the peony vases.
“These are beautiful,” she said. “Melinda must have been so grateful for that healing.”
Sydney froze mid-step. “What healing?”
“It’s not important,” I said hastily, hoping my mother would get the hint. At other times, Daniella Ivashkov was a remarkably astute woman. Today, however, she seemed to be in fully oblivious mode.
“Melinda Rowe, the Court florist,” my mother explained. “Adrian and I ran into her the last time we were out at a feeding. She was having a terrible acne flare-up, and Adrian was nice enough to speed along its healing. She promised to help get some peonies in stock in return.”
Sydney turned on me, speechless in her fury. Needing to calm this situation immediately, I grabbed hold of her arm and pulled her into our bedroom. “Make it fast,” I called to my mom, just before I shut the door.
Sydney lashed out immediately. “Adrian, how could you? You promised! You promised no more spirit, unless it was to help find Jill!”
“It was nothing,” I insisted. “It hardly took any power at all.”
“It adds up!” Sydney cried. “You know it does. Every little bit. You can’t waste it on stuff like this . . . on someone’s acne!”
Although I understood why she was upset, I couldn’t help but feel a bit hurt. “I did it for us. For our anniversary. I thought you’d like it.”
“What I’d like is for my husband to stay sane,” she snapped back.
“Well, we’re long past that,” I said.
She doesn’t know the half of it, remarked Aunt Tatiana.
Sydney crossed her arms and sat on the bed. “See? There you go. Making a joke of everything. This is serious, Adrian.”
“And I’m being serious. I know what I can handle.”
She met my gaze levelly. “Do you? I still think you’d be better off stopping spirit altogether. Go back on your pills. It’s safest.”
“What about finding Jill?” I reminded her. “What if we need my spirit magic for that?”
Sydney looked away. “Well, it hasn’t been of much use so far. No one’s magic has.”
That last remark was a condemnation of herself as much as of me. Our friend Jill Mastrano Dragomir had been kidnapped a month ago, and so far, our efforts to find her had been for nothing. I hadn’t been able to reach Jill in spirit dreams, nor had Sydney—an adept student of human witchcraft—been able to locate her using the spells at her disposal. The best Sydney’s magic had been able to tell us was that Jill was still alive, but that was it. The general belief was that wherever she was, Jill was being drugged—which could effectively hide someone from both human and Moroi magic. It didn’t stop us from both feeling useless, though. We both cared about Jill immensely—and my relationship with her was particularly intense since I’d once used spirit magic to bring her back from the brink of death. Not knowing what had happened to her now had cast a shadow over Sydney and me—and any attempts at happiness we’d mustered while under this self-imposed house arrest.