Death. Life. Both mean nothing, in the absence of love.
The plane jolts and I grip my seat, trying to contain my nerves. Anxiety rolls through my chest as the aircraft descends into Romania, carrying me towards my destiny…and quite possibly, my doom.
I don’t want to go home. Even now, I want this plane to turn around and take me back to Russia. But since most of my companions were murdered last night, I know that’s not an option. Home is the only place in the world that’s still safe.
As we emerge from the grey cover of clouds, I witness my domain. Scattered, fairytale cities cluster against emerald pine forests, hundreds of kilometers wide. The woodland is bitterly cold, even during midsummer, lurking with monsters only witnessed by most in stories. Rolling green farmlands kiss crumbling castles, and long highways wind through gray mountains that have been chiseled from the hard resilience of the earth.
My country appears as a painting through the dirty window, and I spread my hand over it. All of it, including all its responsibilities, are mine. It feels like such a heavy burden.
From far below I can make out a thin, moving line. At first I think it’s a row of cars, but as the plane drops downward, a bitter taste enters my mouth. The sight of my enemy. I’m fooling myself if I think this will be a joyful family reunion. I’m here to do a job, nothing else. I guarantee that before the night ends, there will be blood.
Doubt surges through my head. I’ve been gone for so many years. Will they even recognize me?
I shake off a trail of fear. I am Grand Duchess Lysandra Romanova-Dracula. Princess of vampires. Heir to the throne. As the Chosen One, I can’t afford to be afraid. All my training and travels for the past four years have led me to this moment. Fear is an irrelevant thing that will only hinder my task.
I steel my nerves and avoid a lurch of nausea as the plane touches down, and the sun with it. The safety of night has come. I grab my small carry-on, my only luggage, and make my way off the plane.
The airport is busy. The crowd of bodies pressing against each other makes it difficult to move. No one notices me, the porcelain girl, maneuvering quickly through the crowd. I can hear the beat from each heart, and feel the rush of blood pounding through their veins as the warm, soft skin of the humans brushes against my icy, hard exterior.
I ignore temptation easily, though the stench of their life force is equivalent to the smells coming off a fast food court in the middle of a shopping center. My stomach rumbles, but I roll my eyes and tell it to quiet down. Never have I tasted human blood. The idea of it is vile to me.
I take a sip of the lamb’s blood carefully concealed inside my tumbler, which I’d made sure to grab before the trip as a way to stave off hunger. I maneuver through the crowded airport, wishing I had some sort of chocolate or sweets. Now where would they be?
After wandering the airport for fifteen minutes with no luck, I have to use the restroom. While washing my hands, I hear a faint noise. It is too soft for a human to hear, but not for a vampire. My eyes glance to the mirror, and I see a lock slightly fiddle. Something is in the stall behind me.
I knew it would be dangerous coming back, but I hadn’t expected to be cornered so soon. Welcome back, Lysandra. Coolly, I dry my hands, acting like I’m unaware while the stall door creeps open. I couldn’t take any weapons on the plane. All I have to defend myself with is my tumbler. I keep the corner of my eye on the mirror, stilling my body for the opportune moment.
It begins with the flash of a knife, the screeching wail of a heathen. I dive my body to the side just as the corner of the knife nicks my t-shirt and tears a tiny hole in my jeans. With incredible speed, I slam the plastic tumbler as hard as I can against the assailant’s head, and the blood goes splashing onto the floor. I then grab my attacker, a male vampire, by the back of his shirt collar, my other hand buried in his hair. I use all my strength to slam his skull into the wall, and the linoleum shatters. I twist the hand holding the knife until I have taken it for my own and then push him down, putting a knee on my attacker’s chest to hold him, raising the blade.
“Who are you? What do you want?” I demand.
Then I notice something. The mark on the vampire’s wrist is one of a bat spreading its wings, flying against a red and black coat of arms. That’s my father’s crest. This is his soldier. What’s going on?
“Well done, Lysandra,” a familiar voice says behind me. “I am very impressed.”
I turn to witness an ancient vampire, wrinkles marking the places around his stern gray eyes, experienced and weathered hands clasped firmly before his fine suit. Not a strand of his salt-and-pepper hair is out of place. Even in his old age he appears very handsome, rigid, and noble.
I smile. Serghei. Of course he would have something to do with this. “Grandfather,” I cry, leaping to my feet and tossing the knife down.
“Lysandra,” Serghei says, spreading his arms wide and smiling at me, a rare thing. I run into his arms and throw myself into his embrace, squeezing tightly. Though it’s like hugging concrete, Grandfather feels like home to me. It’s been too long.
“What’s all this?” I laugh, glancing down at the other vampire, who is still moaning on the floor.
“I wanted to make sure you were adequately prepared in your time away. I am quite pleased with what you have learned,” Serghei says gruffly, pulling away. “It seems you are ready for the task ahead.”
My mood darkens. “Yes. Of course,” I say, nodding curtly. I resume my dignified figure and ask, “So when do we begin? Will Father declare war once I arrive, or will he wait for the shifters to strike first? Do we start killing wolves in the open, or eliminate the packs one by one? Does my engagement to Tomlien still stand?” The questions that have been nagging at me for months pour out of my mouth, and I’m unable to halt their flow.
“All is for Tsar Dragomir to decide,” Serghei says. “After he has considered your role in the coven.”
The floor falls out from under me. “My role?”
“Things have been very…different since you left, Lysandra.” Serghei chooses his words carefully. “The imperial palace has been attacked by wolves near every fortnight since you’ve been gone. Your role as the Chosen One will not be acknowledged by your father unless you can first prove yourself worthy. Otherwise, you'll be forced from the grounds.”
“You mean if he doesn’t accept me, I’ll be banished?”
“I’m afraid so,” Serghei says, and even his stone eyes appear worried. “But don’t be afraid, Granddaughter. I’m sure you will pass the test.”
My heart feels like it’s being twisted by a pair of rough, brutish hands. I’d thought my father, Dragomir, would welcome me back into the coven eagerly. It was his decision that I leave, after all. Banishing me would mean he had lost all faith in the prophecy.
Or had he lost faith in me instead? I wouldn’t know what I would do if I was banished. I would lose my inheritance, not to mention I had nowhere to go. The other covens wouldn’t take me back if my own father, lord of the vampires, disowned me.
Whatever he decided, I had to go along with it. I had no choice. “Very well. Let me go to my fate.”
“It will be a good one, I’m sure. You! Get up!” Serghei kicks the vampire lying on the ground, and he groans. “We must leave! Time is of the essence. The Grand Duchess cannot be discovered here.”
The other vampire stumbles to his feet. It is only now that I realize how gigantic he is. He’s a brute of a thing, one of his biceps larger around than my head. He looks at the blood pooling around the fallen tumbler hungrily. It appears he wants to lick it off the floor. I wrinkle my nose.
“Forgive Boris,” Serghei says, giving him a sharp look. “He is currently weaning himself off of human sustenance. Blood is all he craves.”
Boris recoils, and looks away. I keep quiet. I wonder why my grandfather would bring a ticking time-bomb such as Boris to the middle of a bustling airport, but then things become clear. If we’re attacked, nothing is more dangerous than a vampire trying to kick the habit of feeding on humans. He’ll kill whatever’s in sight.
Following my grandfather and with Boris behind, we leave the airport and walk outside, where a stretch limo is waiting. Inside are four other vampires, all male, all huge. My guard, I suppose, taken from the best of my grandfather’s ranks. At least my father cares enough about me to get me there, before he makes a seamless judgement about my usefulness. I settle against the leather seat and, with nothing else to do, look out the window.
Bucharest is still a few hours away from the castle. It will be a long drive, and nearly daylight before we reach the homestead. We drive through small towns made from picturesque buildings, preserved through the ages, constructed with gothic, baroque, and renaissance architecture, until the view changes and dark forests emerge, barely lit under the light of the full moon.
During the long drive, my mind wanders. Over and over, it repeats the prophecy that the family witch, Valentina, had foretold the night before my birth, the prophecy that had determined the course of my life before I was even born.
“The one who shall end the shifter line comes.
Borne on winter’s first breath,
Fair of hair,
Blue of eye,
Descended from the Romanov Dynasty.”
I had been gone for four years, ever since I was fourteen, traveling to the various covens of the world and learning how to kill werewolves. Each of them had something different to teach me, but in all the time I was gone I hadn’t even seen a shifter, let alone fought one. If I told my father this, would he already think me inadequate?
The last night I saw a wolf was the twilight before I left for Russia. A night I never wish to remember again, but am forced to each day in my dreams.
Serghei said things had changed at the imperial palace. How? What is home now like? Surely my best friend, Lidia, is still the bright and cheery girl I used to know. Does she still consider me a friend?
And Tomlien. My betrothed. He was always athletic, strong. Brave. I can’t imagine him changing, either.
There’s that same tickle of doubt. It’s been four years. I used to be little. Naïve. I’m nothing like I was when I left. How can I expect anyone else to be the same?
Eventually, exhaustion takes over and I doze off. A little while later, I feel Serghei’s hand on my arm.
“Lysandra. We’re almost there,” he whispers. “Just a little while longer, and you’ll be able to rest properly, in your own bed.”
I yawn. So father was willing to give me a good day’s sleep before he made his decision? How nice of him. I blink blearily and force myself to wake up. Just as I’m getting my bearings, I hear the driver cry out from the front, “Sir! Sir, come see this!”
“What? What’s happening?” Serghei asks irritably, turning his weary head.
“Sir, they’re blocking the road! We’re under attack!” the driver shouts.
There’s no time to react. From somewhere in the back an explosion rocks the car, flipping it over and sending it careening through the air. I hold on tight as the car goes rolling, the seatbelt the only thing holding me in place as we tumble over and over dozens of times.
The car finally screeches to a sickening stop. Around me there are groans, but my throat cannot make a sound. Boris punches out a door and we crawl out, some of us sawing off seatbelts that have gotten stuck. I look around under the pale light of the moon and see that everyone is accounted for. Though the limo is totaled, we’re all fine. Explosions and car crashes aren’t enough to kill vampires. Someone just wanted to get us off the road.
Then I see them. Long shadows in the darkness. A dozen or so figures lurking among the trees.
It’s a hunting party. And they’re hunting me.
They’re vampires, but they don’t look like us, and they couldn’t disguise themselves as humans like we do. Their skin is ashen gray, cracked like desert ground that doesn’t have enough water, with wiry hair, and crooked fangs that protrude from their lips. Their red eyes glow in the dark while sharp nails, longer than their forearm, glint by crooked bodies. They’re what’s known as the cei blestemati. The Cursed Ones.
By the blood droplet crest tattooed on their wrists, I can tell they’re servants of the Grigori family. A rival coven of my father’s, and the only opposers to the monarchy. They’d gladly take the crown if they could. Too bad there’s no chance in hell I’ll let them have it by killing me, the only living heir.
The tallest raises a finger, pointing his deadly claw at me. “Give us the princess, and the rest of you will escape alive,” he rasps, and the others emit a collection of hoarse laughter. The guards circle closer around me.
“You’ve made a mistake by interrupting our journey tonight,” Serghei says, unaffected by the threat. “You shall not be permitted to leave. Boris, go.”
Boris is like an unleashed dog at Serghei’s command. He charges forward as a rabid animal, foam leaking from his mouth. He grabs the arm of the tall vampire pointing at me and rips it clean off. The vampire hisses in surprise, and Boris dives on him, plunging his fangs into the vampire’s neck and drinking deeply while the creature howls.
At that rate, it doesn’t matter. After going without human blood for so long, any sort of blood will do to sate the desire.
As their leader screams, the other Cursed Ones spring into action. They hurtle towards us, using their long nails as they would swords and knives to brandish as weapons. As they approach, the guards pull weapons from their utility belts. Pistols, loaded with silver bullets.
I wince at the familiar metal, shocked that my father would condone the use of such a thing. If I were to touch one of the bullets, it would burn through my skin just as easily as it would the Cursed Ones. If vampires have begun using silver against each other, things must be bad.
The guards begin firing and the Cursed Ones start dropping, weakened the instant the silver embeds in their bodies. Eventually, the ammunition runs out and the guards begin dueling with the broad, thick knives they have attached to their belts, clashing steel against claws. My grandfather is a terrifying sight, killing three Cursed Ones at a time despite his advanced age. Even during the fray, I have a hard time not watching in awe.
At first I grow frustrated that I cannot fight, for the guards are too close for me to move, but soon they’re dispersed to various foes and I find myself able to help.
“Lysandra!” Serghei calls, and he tosses me a knife. I snatch it out of the air and fix my attention on the nearest foe. He’s ugly, with nails that are longer than the others. He flies at me, swinging his arms, but he’s clumsy and unrefined. I smack away his nails once, twice, three times before kicking him away, rolling onto my side and slashing the knife down his back. He wails as I grab him by the back of the neck, slicing open his jugular and kicking him to the ground.
A threatening hiss draws my attention behind me. Two Cursed Ones charge at once, plunging their sharp nails towards my gut. They tear the edges of my shirt as I duck, resulting in them getting their claws tangled. While they’re trying to rip themselves free, I take my chance. Without even thinking, I plunge the knife into the forehead of one vampire, ripping it out and swinging it downward into the heart of the other. They fall instantly and I rise to my full height, taking long, gasping breaths.
I look around, and realize all is utterly silent. The guards have finished the others, and are currently staring at me with gazes of disbelief.
I look down at the bodies of my enemies. I didn’t realize what I was doing, while I was doing it, but now, the reality hits me. In the past four years, I have become a killing machine, designed for one purpose…to slaughter anything in my path.
The knife has also been embedded with silver. I can feel it burning through the hilt. I hand it back to Serghei, who is the only one who doesn’t appear surprised. He’s talking on his cell phone as he takes the blade back.
“Yes. Send a helicopter. Immediately.” Serghei hangs up, his attention back on me. “I apologize, Granddaughter. I did not expect the Grigori to be so foolish as to attack us tonight, though I’m glad I made the necessary precautions in case they did.”
“She held up pretty good against them,” Boris laughs brutishly. Although the rest of the guards are basically clean, he’s covered in blood, like he took a bath in it. So gross.
“The Grigori made a mistake in underestimating the princess. Her abilities surpass even those of my best warriors,” Serghei says, laying a hand on my shoulder.
“What are we going to do about them? I didn’t know they’d become so bold recently,” I say. This is a huge shock to me. When I left, the Grigori were too cowardly to come out of their hiding places in caves, scattered throughout Romania. Now they appear organized.
“Tsar Dragomir plans to eliminate the Grigori family when our business with the shifters is done,” Serghei informs me. “Once the wolves have been terminated, the Cursed Ones will be next.”
With me leading the brigade, no doubt. My father’s greatest weapon. Or pawn. However you want to see it. I sit on a rock to wait for the helicopter and decide not to ask any more questions. I’m going home, but it feels like I’m returning to a totally different place.
The helicopter arrives and the other guards are told to stay behind, to scout the area if any more Grigori show up. Serghei is the only one who comes with me. As the sky begins to muddle with the darkest hour before the dawn, I look down and see the imperial palace below me.
Castel de Sange is ominous against the cloudy, brooding sky. The black stone builds a fortress around sharp, gothic towers that lurk over battlements and cluster around the keep, which is even more massive than I remembered. Below, I can spot the patches of red roses from the courtyard just below my bedroom, blooming next to a dark, murky pond. An elaborate fountain sits by two double doors hundreds of feet tall, made from bronze. Though it is late, light still emerges from the thin slits of windows. Custom-built cars, valued at millions, pull in the circular, cobblestone drive-around, next to the gold fountain. Castel de Sange is the greatest of mansions, built with fineries only reserved for the highest members of society. It wasn’t impressive when I was small, but then again, I never left the grounds back then. After having been away for so long, it’s breathtaking.
The helicopter lands on the roof. Serghei and I disembark to be met by an older woman. Black hair falls past her waist, and she’s wearing a long, velvet dress. It’s the House Witch, the one who made my prophecy. Valentina.
“Welcome, Lysandra.” She kisses my cheek lightly, then kisses Serghei’s. “We’ve been expecting you. Come.”
She turns, and I follow the trail of her gown as she opens a door and descends a staircase. We go winding down in the dark until she leads us to another door, which she pushes open, exposing the hallway.
The castle is carpeted in plush red, tapestries and paintings hanging against the black stone, suits of armor standing beside works of art on pedestals. She takes us past room after grand room, until I feel the castle will never end, finally stopping before a library with a large, burning fireplace. “Here. I imagined she would be the first person you wished to see.”
I peer around the corner, and cover my mouth to suppress a squeak. My first thought is she doesn’t remember me, or doesn’t care, but when brown eyes meet mine the other girl squeals, dropping her book and rushing towards me. “Lysandra!”
“Lidia!” She nearly slams me against the wall as she flings herself into my arms, hugging me tightly and crushing my arms against my sides. “I missed you.”
“I missed you as well. You’re so pretty now!” She exclaims, backing away and looking at me with wide eyes. As she takes me in, I do the same. She’s thinner, and almost as tall as me. The awkwardness of early adolescence is gone from her, replaced by natural beauty. She’s gorgeous.
“You too!” I say, truly meaning it. Underneath my thin fingers, I can feel Lidia’s heart beating quickly. “What have you been doing all this time?”
“This and that. I graduated high school, and have been helping Valentina.” She shrugs. “But mostly, I just waited for you to come home.”
“As was before, Lidia will be your maidservant,” Valentina says. “If things go as planned, of course.” She and Serghei share a glance.
“We must stay up all day and talk,” I say, squeezing her hands. “We’ve been apart for so long. I have to know everything.”
“There will be time to talk later,” Lidia says, smiling and giving me a light push. “I can tell you’re exhausted. Go on. Get to bed.”
I’m taken aback by her insistence. Lidia would never turn down an opportunity to gossip, and especially not after we’ve been apart for so long.
But it has been long. And things have changed. I smile and nod. “Yes. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
I feel a little lonely when I leave her behind, but I remind myself it’s just until tomorrow. Serghei and Valentina say goodbye when they reach my bedroom, and I close the elaborate door behind me, sighing as I do so.
My room is just how I left it. A four-poster bed in the middle, with a large armoire, and plush couch. A widescreen TV is attached to the wall, next to the walk-in closet, opposite the bathroom.
An open breeze blows through a beautiful balcony, just like in Romeo and Juliet. I walk to the glass doors and shut them, drawing the shades. It’ll be day soon. Time to go to bed.
I shrug off my clothes and slip into a lacy nightgown, lavishing the feel of silk against my cold skin. I climb into bed and sink into the mattress, sighing in contentment as my body begins to float on a cloud made of dreams and goose feathers.
I hear something move on the other side of the room, but think nothing of it. My eyes close just as the first ray of dawn breaks over the horizon.
When I awaken, it’s dark again. I slept longer than I intended. I open my eyes slowly, giving a tired sigh and running a hand through my hair, gazing at the edge of my bed.
There’s a vampire standing at the edge of my bed. I jolt awake with a start, scampering to a sitting position and clutching my chest.
I don’t know this vampire… but wait… I do. He’s slightly older than I, with muscular arms and a toned body. He is dark, dark all over. Dark hair, dark eyes… a dark soul. Hard muscles peek out from his v-neck shirt. He takes a step closer, and the thought crosses my mind that I’ve never seen a more beautiful man in my life.
He turns his head, and I’m struck with the thought that he’s an Adonis, a gorgeous face sculpted with tender hands. He’s not the boy I remembered. This vampire is mysterious…alluring… handsome. He is someone who could take a woman’s breath away, and anything else from her he wanted. Willingly.
With a soothing, velvet voice, he speaks. “Hello, Lysandra. You’re even more beautiful than my dreams imagined you to be.”
I try to catch my breath. Prince Tomlien is in my room, staring at me, lying in bed. And by the longing look in his eyes, it’s clear he wants to join me.
“Tomlien,” I gasp. “Good… good morning.”
“Good morning.” He grins back. “I thought you’d like breakfast in bed.”
He turns, and picks up a tray that was sitting behind him and sets it before me. On it is a cup of warm blood, a rose in a vase, and a chocolate éclair on a soft napkin.
“Thank you,” I say, picking up the éclair and taking a soft bite. I have a sip of the blood, which I taste is mixed with a hint of hot cocoa, before saying, “I haven’t seen you in…”
“Ages, I know.” He sits on the bed beside me and my stomach squirms. As he grins, I get a glimpse of his sharp fangs, pearly white and perfect. “I heard you were back, and I couldn’t wait to see you.”
“Obviously.” I laugh.
I finish the éclair. Tomlein picks up the napkin and says, “You’ve got some on your face.”
He wipes the frosting off my lip before he leans forward and, delicately, kisses the side of my mouth. The next thing I know, those soft lips transfer to mine, and we’re making out.
His kiss is firm, demanding. A cold, ceaseless want presses against my own reluctance, and he puts a hand on the back of my head, drawing me close as we kiss.
I’m not sure what to do about this, but Tomlien is my betrothed, so I return the affection politely, hoping that he thinks I’m a good kisser.
Or, at least, a semi-decent one.
“Sorry about that,” he says sheepishly as he pulls away, though he doesn’t appear sorry at all. “It’s just been so long since I’ve seen you. This past year, you’re all that’s been on my mind. I can’t stop thinking about you.”
This is a revelation to me. “We haven’t talked since I left,” I say, perplexed.
“I know. But during the past few months, I realized you were coming back, and I got excited,” he says quickly. “I really missed you when you were gone. We had a lot of fun when we were kids.”
“Yeah, we did.” Memories of Tomlien and I playing in the palace gardens, and wreaking havoc in the kitchens comes to mind. We grew up in the palace together, almost as close of friends as Lidia and I. It’s hard to transition from that to lovers. At least, in my head. “How did you get in here? I’m sure I would’ve heard the door open.”
“You’ll have to forgive me. I snuck in through the balcony. Figured it would be more romantic.”
“Ah.” I think about the open balcony door earlier. “Were you here last night? Just before I went to bed?”
“Last night?” He appears confused. “No. That wasn’t me.”
I shrug. “Must’ve been my imagination. I thought I heard something.”
“Can’t say I wasn’t tempted.” He moves closer, stroking my hand with the back of his fingers. “What I had imagined for your first night back at the palace wasn’t exactly sweet.”
I freeze. Although we’re eighteen now and, by vampire law, can sleep with anyone we like without repercussions, jumping into bed with Tomlein seems like…way too much.
“I think we need to wait until after the wedding,” I say, taking his hand and putting it down on the side of the bed, hoping he doesn’t get offended. “We’ve known each other forever, but I think we need time to become reacquainted.”
“I can understand that.” He stands, the champion willing to prove himself. “I promise that you won’t be disappointed by the vampire I’ve become. I have a lot to offer, Lysandra. I’m excited for our future together.”
“I am too,” I say, but my words sound hesitant. Forced.
But maybe only to me. Tomlien seems confident. He kisses me on the head and says, “I’ll wait for you in the great hall, after you’re done getting ready.”
“Tomlien,” I say, and he pauses at the door. “How can you be so sure my father will accept me?”
His gaze darkens. “Your father would be unwise to anger my family. Banishing you from the palace would be a very foolish move on his part.”
He leaves, the door closing with a snap. A small bit of anxiety about my father’s decision lifts from my chest. If Father banishes me, it would mean breaking the engagement between Tomlien and I, an eighteen-year agreement. It would certainly cause a rift between Tomlien’s family and mine.
I arise, going to the bathroom. After debating whether to use the walk-in waterfall or the multi-jet jacuzzi, I decide to take a shower. After I’m done I see Lidia is there, going through my closet. It’s a little weird to me, but I guess I just haven’t had time to be a teenager since I left, so I just roll with it, hoping Lidia still likes me.
“You should probably wear something nice, just in case you run into your dad,” she says, flinging clothes off the hanger and onto the floor. She pulls out a dress with puffy sleeves, wrinkles her nose and says, “My god, I’m going to kill your stylist. She’s trying to murder you. Or make you wear ugly clothes, which is just as bad.”
I was used to jeans or combat gear while I was on the road. Dresses had become foreign to me. “What were you thinking?”
She sighs dramatically, flinging another dress over her head. “I don’t know. Oh, nothing’s working!” She falls back on the bed, a hand over her head and giving a long sigh. “You have nothing to wear. It’s hopeless.”
“People would think you’re the one being banished,” I say, flipping through the few clothes I have left in the closet.
“You’re not getting banished.” She snaps her head up, looking determined. “If you get banished, I rampage. Then kill your dad. Then bring you back and make you tsarina, then we can run the palace by your rules and have chocolate and smoothies every day.” She taps her chin. “On second thought, let’s get you banished. Much funner plan.”
“Let’s not. I don’t think I could handle being tsarina.”
“Why? You’d be the big boss. And then you could marry whoever you want!” She says the last part with emphasis.
I pause. “Tomlien is who I want to marry. He’s handsome. And nice.”
“Come on, Lysandra. It’s not to say he’s not dreamy.” She shrugs. “It’s obvious he’s hot. I’m just not convinced you two should be together. You didn’t exactly have a crush on him when you left.”
“We just met after being apart for four years. Give it some time.”
“You and me are okay.” She nudges me with her foot.
“We’re different. We couldn’t be strangers if we were separated for a century.” I finally settle on a short red dress, holding it in front of me. “So?”
“Oh, it’ll have to do.” Lidia gazes at the dress, as if it’s a dime-store slip and not a Vera Wang original. “Put it on and I’ll do something with your hair.”
Lidia begins to braid my locks, and I mention, “By the way, Tomlien was here. He brought me breakfast. He was staring at me when I woke up.”
Lidia pauses abruptly. “He was in here staring at you when you were sleeping? Wow, that’s a little creepy.” She says the words critically, tightening her grip on my braid.
“He’s just trying to be romantic,” I say with a laugh.
“I know, but that’s weird. Watching you sleep? Totally awkward.” She finishes my braid and puts her hands on her hips. “There. Put on some lipstick and we’ll meet up with sexy-but-super-creeper.”
I giggle, but it’s interrupted by a shadow at my window. I jump up from my seat, turning towards the balcony. “Did you see that?”
“There’s someone out there.” I jog to the balcony doors, flinging them open and looking around. No one. I look down. I’m sure I see the bushes below my window waver a little, but it’s nothing more than the wind. Or is it?
“Girl, are you crazy?” Lidia comes beside me and looks around. “Who do you think is stalking you? Your fan club?”
“Could be.” I scowl. “Do you think someone is playing a prank?”
“Maybe it’s Tomlien, spying on you again.”
“I don’t think so.”