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The epic conclusion to Richelle Mead's New York Times bestselling Bloodlines series is finally here...
Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets—and human lives.
After their secret romance is exposed, Sydney and Adrian find themselves facing the wrath of both the Alchemists and the Moroi in this electrifying conclusion to Richelle Mead’s New York Times bestselling Bloodlines series. When the life of someone they both love is put on the line, Sydney risks everything to hunt down a deadly former nemesis. Meanwhile, Adrian becomes enmeshed in a puzzle that could hold the key to a shocking secret about spirit magic, a secret that could shake the entire Moroi world.
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Richelle Mead is the author of the international #1 bestselling Vampire Academy series, its spinoff series, Bloodlines, and the Age of X series. A lifelong reader, Richelle has always had a particular fascination with mythology and folklore. When she can actually tear herself away from books (either reading or writing them), she enjoys bad reality TV, traveling, trying interesting cocktails, and shopping for dresses to wear on tour. She is a self-professed coffee addict, works in her pajamas, and has a passion for all things wacky and humorous. Originally from Michigan, Richelle now lives in Seattle, Washington, where she is hard at work on her next novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
MARRIED LIFE WASN’T WHAT I’D EXPECTED.
Don’t get me wrong: I had no regrets about the woman I’d married. In fact, I loved her more than I’d ever imagined it was possible to love a person. The reality we lived in, though? Well, let’s just say I’d never really imagined anything like that either. In all our previous fantasies, we’d dreamed of exotic locations and, most importantly, freedom. Being cooped up in a small suite of rooms had never been part of any escape plan, let alone a romantic getaway.
But I was never one to back down from a challenge.
“What’s this?” asked Sydney, startled.
“Happy anniversary,” I said.
She’d just finished getting showered and dressed and now stood in the bathroom’s doorway, staring around at the transformation I’d wrought in our living room. It hadn’t been easy doing so much in so little time. Sydney was an efficient person, and that extended to showers as well. Me? You could have conducted full demolition and remodeling in the time it took me to shower. With Sydney, there’d been barely enough time to decorate the place in candles and flowers. But I’d managed.
A smile crept over her face. “It’s only been one month.”
“Hey, don’t say ‘only,’” I warned. “It’s still monumental. And I’ll have you know that I plan on celebrating every month for the rest of our lives.”
Her smile turned into a full-on grin as she ran her fingers over the petals of a vase full of flowers. It made my heart ache. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen such a genuine smile on her. “You even got peonies,” she said. “How’d you manage that?”
“Hey, I have my ways,” I stated loftily.
Though it’s probably better she doesn’t know what those ways are, a voice in my head warned.
Sydney strolled around and assessed the rest of my handiwork, which included a bottle of red wine and a box of chocolate truffles artfully set out on the kitchen table. “Isn’t it a little early in the day?” she teased.
“Depends on whom you’re asking,” I said, nodding toward the dark window. “For you, it’s technically evening.”
Her smile dimmed a little. “Honestly, I hardly ever know what time it is anymore.”
This lifestyle is taking its toll on her, my inner voice warned. Just look at her.
Even in the flickering light of the candles, I could see signs of the stress Sydney was feeling. Dark shadows under her eyes. A perpetually weary look—born more of despair than fatigue. She was the only human at the royal Moroi Court who wasn’t here specifically to feed us vampires. She was also the only human in any civilized Moroi place to have married one of us. Doing so had meant incurring the wrath of her own people and cutting herself off from friends and family (the ones who were still speaking to her, at least) in the outside world. And thanks to the scorn and prying looks she received around Court, Sydney had pretty much cut herself off from people here as well, narrowing her whole world down to our suite of rooms.
“Wait, there’s more,” I said quickly, hoping to distract her. With a button push, classical music began playing through the living room’s sound system. I extended my hand to her. “Since we didn’t get to dance at our wedding.”
That brought the smile back. She took my hand and let me draw her close. I twirled her around the room, careful not to bump any of the candles, and she regarded me with amusement. “What are you doing? It’s a waltz. It has three beats. Can’t you hear it? One-two-three, one-two-three.”
“Really? That’s what a waltz is? Huh. I just picked something that sounded fancy. Since we don’t really have a song or anything.” I pondered that for a second. “I guess we’ve failed as a couple in that regard.”
She scoffed. “If that’s our biggest failing, then I think we’re doing okay.”
Long moments passed as I danced her around the room, then I suddenly said, “‘She Blinded Me With Science.’”
“What?” Sydney asked.
“That could be our song.”
She laughed outright, and I realized I hadn’t heard that sound in a very long time. It somehow managed to make my heart both ache and leap. “Well,” she said. “I guess that’s better than ‘Tainted Love.’”
We both laughed then, and she rested her cheek against my chest. I kissed the top of her golden head, taking in the mingled scents of her soap and skin. “It feels wrong,” she said quietly. “To be happy, I mean. When Jill’s out there . . .”
At that name, my heart sank, and a heavy darkness threatened to descend on me and shatter this small moment of joy I’d created. I had to forcibly push away the darkness, making myself step back from a dangerous precipice I knew all too well these days. “We’ll find her,” I whispered, tightening my hold on Sydney. “Wherever she is, we’ll find her.”
If she’s still alive, that inner voice said nastily.
It’s probably worth pointing out that the voice that kept speaking in my head wasn’t part of some mental exercise. It was actually a very distinct voice, belonging to my dead aunt Tatiana, former queen of the Moroi. She wasn’t with me in any ghostly form, though. Her voice was a delusion, born out of the increasing grip insanity was taking on me, thanks to the rare type of magic I used. A quick prescription would have shut her up, but it also would’ve cut me off from my magic, and our world was too unpredictable right now for me to do that. And so this phantom Aunt Tatiana and I had become roommates in my mind. Sometimes that delusional presence terrified me, making me wonder how long it would be until I completely lost it. At other times, I found myself taking her in stride—and that scared me even more, that I was coming to regard her as normal.
For now, I managed to ignore Aunt Tatiana as I kissed Sydney again. “We’ll find Jill,” I said more firmly. “And in the meantime, we have to keep living our lives.”
“I suppose so,” said Sydney with a sigh. I could tell she was trying to summon back that earlier cheer. “If this is supposed to make up for our lack of a wedding dance, I feel kind of underdressed. Maybe I should go dig out that gown.”
“No way,” I said. “Not that that dress wasn’t great. But I kind of like you underdressed. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if you were a lot more underdressed . . .”
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.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “When we do find her, I need my magic. There’s no telling what I’ll need to do.”
“Like fix her acne?” asked Sydney.
I flinched. “I told you, it was nothing! Let me worry about me and how much spirit I can use. It’s not your job.”
She turned incredulous. “Of course it is! I’m your wife, Adrian. If I’m not going to worry about you, who will? You need to keep spirit in check.”
“I can handle it,” I said through gritted teeth.
“Is your aunt still talking to you?” she demanded.
I looked away, refusing to meet her eye. In my head, Aunt Tatiana sighed. You never should have told her about me.
At my silence, Sydney said, “She is, isn’t she? Adrian, that’s not healthy! You have to know that!”
I spun around in anger. “I can handle it. Okay? I can handle it, and I can handle her!” I shouted. “So stop telling me what to do! You don’t know everything—no matter how much you want everyone to think you do!”
Stricken, Sydney took a step back. The pain in her eyes hurt me a lot more than her earlier words had. I felt terrible. How had this day gone so wrong? It was supposed to have been perfect. Suddenly, I needed to get out. I couldn’t stand these four walls anymore. I couldn’t stand my mother’s control. I couldn’t stand feeling like I was always disappointing Sydney—and Jill. Sydney and I had come to Court to seek protection from our enemies, hiding here so we could be together. Lately, it seemed like this arrangement was in danger of tearing us apart.
“I have to get out,” I said.
Sydney’s eyes widened. “To where?”
I raked a hand through my hair. “Anywhere. Anywhere to get some air. Anywhere but here.”
I turned before she could say anything and stormed out through the living room, past where my mom was drinking from the feeder. She gave me a quizzical look, but I ignored it and kept on going until I was out our door and through the lobby of the guest-housing building. It wasn’t until I emerged outside, until the balmy summer air hit my skin, that I paused to evaluate my actions—and pop a piece of gum, which was my current way to avoid smoking when stressed. I stared back up at the building, feeling guilty and cowardly for running out on our fight.
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