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 . . .”