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You don’t need to, Aunt Tatiana whispered in my mind. I’ll take care of you.

A spark of compassion showed in Jill’s eyes as she sensed the dark mood coming on. “It was great. Don’t worry—we’ll show you pictures. They had a professional photographer doing everything, and it’ll go online.”

I tried to swallow back that darkness and managed a tense smile. “Glad to hear it. Well, how about we all go out and celebrate then? Dinner’s on me.”

Jill’s face fell. “Angeline and I are eating with a study group. I mean, maybe I could cancel. Exams are still a month away, so I could always—”

“Forget it,” I said, getting to my feet. “Someone in this bond needs to be ready for exams. Go have fun. I’ll catch you later.”

No one tried to stop me, but Trey Juarez soon fell in step with me. He was perhaps the oddest member of our circle: a human who’d once been part of a group of vampire hunters. He’d broken ties with them, both because they were psycho and because he’d fallen—against all reason—for Angeline. Those two were the only ones in our little group with any semblance of a happy love life, and I knew they tried to downplay it for the rest of us miserable souls.

“And how exactly are you going to get home?” asked Trey.

“Who says I’m going home?” I retorted.

“Me. You have no business going out and partying. You look like crap.”

“You’re the second person to tell me that today.”

“Well, then, maybe you’ll start listening,” he said, steering me toward the student parking lot. “Come on, I’ll drive.”

It was an easy offer for him to make because he was my roommate.

Things hadn’t started out that way. He’d been a boarder at Amberwood, living at school with the others. His former group, the Warriors of Light, had the same hang-ups the Alchemists had about humans and vampires interacting. Whereas the Alchemists dealt with this by covering up the existence of vampires from ordinary humans, the Warriors took a much more savage approach and hunted vampires. They claimed they only went after Strigoi, but they were no friends to Moroi or dhampirs either.

When Trey’s father had found out about Angeline, he’d taken a different approach than Sydney’s father. Rather than kidnapping his son and making him disappear without a trace, Mr. Juarez had simply disowned Trey and cut off all his funding. Lucky for Trey, tuition had already been paid for through the end of the school year. Room and board had not, and so the Amberwood dorm had turned Trey out a few months ago. He’d shown up on my doorstep, offering to pay me rent with his meager coffee shop earnings so that he could finish high school at Amberwood. I’d welcomed him in and refused the money, knowing it was what Sydney would’ve wanted. My only condition had been that I had better never, ever come home and find him making out with Angeline on my couch.

“I suck,” I said, after several minutes of uncomfortable silence into our drive.

“Is that some kind of vampire joke?” Trey asked.

I shot him a look. “You know what I mean. I screwed up. No one asks that much of me. Not anymore. All I had to do was remember to go to her fashion show, and I blew it.”

“You’ve had a lot of crap going on,” he said diplomatically.

“So has everyone else. Hell, look at you. Your whole family denies your existence and did their best to get you kicked out of school. You found a workaround, kept up your grades and sports, and managed to nab some scholarships in the process,” I sighed. “Meanwhile, I may have failed an introductory art class. A few of them, actually, if I’ve got more exams coming this week—which seems likely. I don’t even know.”

“Yeah, but I’ve still got Angeline. And that makes it worth putting up with all the other crap. Whereas you . . .” Trey couldn’t finish, and I saw pain flash over his tanned features.

My friends here in Palm Springs knew about Sydney and me. They were the only ones in the Moroi world (or the human world that shadowed the Moroi) who knew about our relationship. They felt bad for what had happened for my sake and also for hers. They’d loved Sydney too. Not like I did, of course, but she was the kind of person who was fiercely loyal and inspired deep bonds in her friends.

“I miss her too,” Trey said softly.

“I should’ve done more,” I said, slouching into my seat.

“You did plenty. More than I would’ve thought to do. And not just the dream walking. I mean, you harassed her dad, pressured the Moroi, made life a living hell for that Maura girl . . . you exhausted everything.”

“I am good at being annoying,” I admitted.

“You’ve just run into a wall, that’s all. They’re just too good at keeping her prison a secret. But they’ll crack, and you’ll be there to find that crack. And I’ll be right by your side. So will the rest of us.”

The pep talk was unusual for him but didn’t cheer me up any. “I don’t know how I’m going to find that crack.”

Trey’s eyes went wide. “Marcus.”

I shook my head. “He’s exhausted his leads too. Haven’t seen him in a month.”

“No.” Trey pointed as he pulled the car up to my apartment building. “There. Marcus.”

Sure enough. There, sitting on the building’s front step, was Marcus Finch, the rebel ex-Alchemist who’d encouraged Sydney to think for herself and who had been trying—futilely—to locate her for me. I had the door open before Trey even brought the car to a stop.

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