The Ruby Circle (Bloodlines #6)(7)


by Richelle Mead

“Probably yours,” said Ms. Terwilliger. “To key a spell like this to a specific person, you need something that’s part of the recipient. Hair. Nail. Skin.”

I wrinkled my nose at that as I opened up the first piece of paper and tried not to think about how someone would have obtained one of my hairs. The paper turned out to be a flyer for a robot museum in Pittsburgh. That would’ve been comical if not for the chilling words written over the picture of one of the museum’s featured exhibits, the Raptorbot 2000: COME PLAY, SYDNEY. My breath caught, and I looked up sharply. Everyone else looked as bewildered as I felt. The writing was none I recognized.

“What’s the other piece of paper?” asked Neil.

It too was folded and had a sheen to it, like it was from a magazine. At a glance, it appeared to be some sort of travel ad. I opened it up and found myself looking at a picture of a bed-and-breakfast in Palo Alto. “What’s this have to do with a robot museum in Pittsburgh?”

Ms. Terwilliger stiffened. “I don’t think that’s the page you’re meant to see.”

I flipped the paper over and gasped at what—or more importantly, whom—I saw.

Jill.

I’d nearly forgotten about this ad. Ages ago—or at least it felt that way—Jill had briefly done some modeling for a Palm Springs fashion designer. I should’ve never allowed it, seeing what a security breach it was. The picture I now looked at was one that had been done in secret, against my wishes. Jill wore a pair of large, gilt sunglasses and a peacock-colored scarf wrapped around her abundant curly hair. She was gazing off at a cluster of palm trees, and unless someone knew her well, it would be difficult to realize this was her. In fact, it would be difficult for most people to even recognize she was Moroi.

“What the hell is this?” demanded Eddie. He looked as though he might rip the page away from me. Few things could make him lose his cool and collected nature. Jill’s safety was one of them.

I shook my head in disbelief. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Adrian leaned over me and picked up the first page. “Surely it doesn’t mean Jill’s being held prisoner at some robot museum? In Pittsburgh?”

“We have to go,” said Eddie fiercely. He turned as though he might walk out the door then and there.

“I have to go,” I said, pointing at the flyer Adrian held. “The box was intended for me. This note is even addressed to me.”

“You’re not going alone,” Eddie retorted.

“You’re not going anywhere,” said Adrian. He set the paper back down. “Before my little, uh, fallout with Wesley, I had a chat with her majesty, who made it very clear you and I are not allowed to leave Court.”

Sorrow and guilt filled me as I gazed at Jill’s profile. Jill. Missing for almost a month. We’d waited desperately for some lead, and now it had come to us. But as Ms. Terwilliger had speculated: Was it too late? What had happened while this box sat around?

“I have to,” I said. “There’s no way I can ignore this. Adrian, you know that.”

Our eyes met. So many feelings churned between us, and he finally nodded. “I do.”

“You don’t think Lissa would really forcibly have security stop me?”

He sighed. “I don’t know. But she—correctly—pointed out that after all the trouble we gave her by staying here, it’d cause even more if you left and were caught by the Alchemists. We could try to sneak out . . . but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re checking cars at the gates.”

“I thought something like that might be going on,” said Ms. Terwilliger. She’d overcome her shock and was slipping into her let’s-get-things-done mode, which I found immensely reassuring. “Which is why I came prepared. I have a way to smuggle you out, Sydney, if you’re willing.” Her gaze lifted to Adrian. “Just Sydney, I’m afraid.”

“No way,” he said promptly. “If she goes, I go.”

“No,” I said slowly. “She’s right.”

His eyebrows rose. “Look, you risk a lot more than I do by going out there. I’m not going to let you go and endanger yourself while I stay safe, so don’t—”

“It’s not that,” I interrupted. A moment later, I amended that. “I mean, I want you safe, yes, but listen to what you just said. If I go out there, I risk more because the Alchemists are looking for me. Except they aren’t looking right now because they think I’m safely locked away with you. And so long as they keep thinking that, they aren’t going to be actively looking for me. No one sees me here around Court, but they do see you every once in a while for feeder visits. If we both suddenly disappear, word might get out to the Alchemists that we’ve left. But if people still see you . . .”

Adrian grimaced. “Then they’ll think you’re still here too, just hiding away from the mean vampires.”

“You’d be part of my cover,” I said, placing my hand over his. “I know you don’t like that, but this really would help. It’d let me move around more freely in the world and try to figure out how that”—I nodded at the robot flyer—“is tied to Jill.”

He took a few moments to answer. I could tell he knew the truth of my argument—but still didn’t like it. “It just bothers me to think of you out there alone while I sit around.”

“She won’t be alone,” said Eddie. “I don’t have any assignment, and no one’s after me. I can come and go freely from Court.”

“Me too,” said Neil.

“One of you needs to stay with Adrian,” I argued. “Just in case there’s another repeat of today. Neil, would you? And Eddie, you’ll come with me to check this out?”

I made it sound like a request, a favor even, but knew there was nothing on earth Eddie would rather do right now than search for Jill.

“Here’s the deal,” said Adrian, once the dhampirs had agreed. “I’ll stay here and cover for you, but as soon as there’s a way I can join you without blowing our cover, I will.”

I met his eyes again, wishing I could tell him so much. Like that I was sorry about our earlier fight, that I wasn’t trying to control him. I was worried. I loved him so much that I just wanted him to be safe. I hoped he knew all of that. All I could do now, with so many witnesses, was nod in agreement.