The Ruby Circle (Bloodlines #6)(4)

by Richelle Mead

Somehow, she heard my voice through the others and beckoned me forward once she finished answering someone else’s questions. Her guardians parted to let me get close. That triggered everyone’s interest—especially when the onlookers saw whom she’d allowed into her personal space. I could see they were dying to know what we were discussing, but the guardians kept them back, and there was too much noise in the room anyway.

“Well, this is an unexpected surprise. You couldn’t have scheduled an appointment?” she asked me in a low voice, still keeping that public smile on her face. “It would’ve attracted a lot less attention.”

I shrugged. “Everything I do attracts attention these days. I’ve stopped noticing.”

A spark of legitimate amusement flashed in her eyes, so I felt good for at least bringing that about. “What can I do for you, Adrian?”

“It’s what I can do for you,” I said, still fired up by the idea that had hit me earlier. “You need to let Sydney and me go look for Jill.”

Her eyes widened, and the smile slipped. “Let you go? You begged me to let you stay here a month ago!”

“I know, I know. And I’m grateful. But your people haven’t found Jill yet. You need to call in some special help with special abilities.”

“If I recall,” she said, “you and Sydney have already tried those special abilities—and failed.”

“Which is why you need to let us get out there!” I exclaimed. “Go back to Palm Springs and—”

“Adrian,” Lissa interrupted. “Do you hear yourself? You came here because the Alchemists were trying to hunt you two down. And now you want to walk right back out there into their clutches?”

“Well, not when you put it that way. I figured we’d sneak out when they didn’t know and—”

“No,” she interrupted again. “Absolutely not. I have enough to worry about without you two getting caught by the Alchemists. You wanted me to protect you, and that’s what I’m going to do. So don’t get any ideas about sneaking out—I’m having the gates watched. You’re both staying here, where you’re safe.”

Safe and starting to lose it, I thought, recalling the bleak look in Sydney’s eyes.

Darling, Aunt Tatiana whispered to me, you were starting to lose it long before this.

“I have good people looking for Jill,” Lissa continued when I didn’t answer her. “Rose and Dimitri are out there.”

“Why haven’t they found her? And if someone wanted to remove you, why haven’t they—”

I couldn’t finish, but the sadness in Lissa’s jade-green eyes told me she knew. Thanks to a law she was trying to change, Lissa’s throne required her to have one living relative. Anyone wanting to remove Lissa would have simply had to kill Jill and show proof. The fact that it hadn’t happened yet was a blessing but also deepened the mystery around this. Why else would someone have taken Jill?

“Go home, Adrian,” said Lissa gently. “We’ll talk more later—in private—if you want. Maybe we’ll come up with some other options.”

“Maybe,” I agreed. But I didn’t really believe it.

I left Lissa to her admirers and slipped back out through the gawking crowd, as a dark and all-too-familiar mood began to settle on me. Going to Lissa had been an impulse, one that had given me momentary hope. When Sydney and I had sought sanctuary, we’d had no idea what was about to happen to Jill. It was true that Lissa had good people looking for Jill—and even the reluctant help of Sydney’s old organization, the Alchemists. Still, I couldn’t shake the guilt-ridden feeling that if Sydney and I were out there, instead of hiding away, we’d find Jill. There was something going on that we didn’t understand yet. Otherwise, Jill’s abductors would have—

“Well, well, well. Look who decided to show his cowardly face.”

I came to a halt and blinked, barely aware of where I was. My thoughts had been churning so furiously that I’d made it halfway home and now stood on a stone path that cut between two buildings—a quiet, out-of-the-way path that was perfect for an ambush. Wesley Drozdov, a royal Moroi who’d become a nemesis of mine recently, stood blocking my way, with several cronies around him.

“That’s more than you usually travel with, Wes,” I said mildly. “Dig up a few more, and maybe you’ll finally have a fair fight to—”

A fist struck me from behind, in my lower back, knocking the wind out of me and causing me to stumble forward. Wesley surged toward me and caught me with a right hook before I could respond. I realized dimly, through my pain, that the comment I’d been about to make to him was actually spot-on: Wesley was traveling with a group because it was the only way he could combat my spirit magic. As someone’s foot struck my knee, forcing me to the ground, I realized I had, in fact, been an idiot to reveal myself so publicly. Wesley had been waiting for a chance to get back at me for past grievances, and now he had it.

“What’s the matter?” Wesley asked, kicking me hard in the stomach as I lay on the ground, struggling to get up. “Your feeder wife not here to save you?”

“Yeah,” someone else chided. “Where’s your human whore?”

I couldn’t respond through the pain. More kicks followed, from more people than I could keep track of. Their faces swam above me, and I was shocked to recognize a number of them. They weren’t all Wesley’s usual tagalongs. Some of them were people I knew, had partied with in the past . . . people I might have once counted as friends.

A blow to my head caused stars to dance before my eyes, momentarily blurring their faces in my vision. Their taunts blended into an unintelligible cacophony as hit followed upon hit. I curled up in agony, struggling to breathe. Suddenly, through the din, a clear voice demanded, “What the hell is going on?”

Blinking, trying to bring the world back into focus, I just barely saw strong hands rip Wesley away and hurl him against the side of a nearby building. It took a second and then a third of his toadies following suit before they realized something had gone wrong. They backed away like the scared sheep they were, and a familiar face suddenly appeared as Eddie Castile stood over me.

“Anyone else feel like sticking around?” I croaked. “You still outnumber us.”