Sorry, but there are no substitutions of nouns, so before you read up, you might consider expecting a lot of spoilers. I'm bolding every start of a quote. FF doesn't like "double-entering."

'You didn't ask what happened to me,' I pointed out, a little miffed.

'Don't need to. You're here. That's what counts.'

'I got in a fight.'

'I can tell. Your sleeve is ripped.'

I glanced down. Yup, ripped. I'd also lost the hat in my mad dash. No big loss.

'Don't you want to know anything about the fight?'

His eyes stayed on the road ahead of us. 'I already know. You took down your enemy. You did it fast, and you did it well. Because you're just that good.'

I pondered his words for a moment. They were matter-of-fact, all business . . . and yet, his statement brought a tiny smile to my lips. 'Okay. So what now, General?'

'I don't like him,' said Adrian, making a face. 'He's always telling me to do something useful with my life.'

'Monarch nominees don't need a Council position or quorum to run for the throne.'

'That makes no sense,' said Nathan. There were mutters of agreement.

'Check the law books, Nate—I mean, Lord Ivashkov.'

Yes, there he was at last. My tactful father had joined the conversation. Abe had been leaning against a wall near the doorway, dressed splendidly in a black suit with a shirt and tie that were exactly the same shade of emerald green. My mother stood beside him, the slightest hint of a smile on her face. For a moment, I was captivated as I studied them side by side. My mother: the perfect picture of guardian excellence and decorum. My father: always capable of achieving his goals, no matter how twisted the means. Uneasily, I began to understand how I'd inherited my bizarre personality.

'Hey, enjoy where you're at, remember? Not where you can't go.'

He reluctantly shut the book and dragged his eyes away from it. 'How'd you get so wise?' he teased.

'I had a good teacher.'

'After . . . after being Strigoi . . .' He stumbled over the words a little. 'I gained a new appreciation for life. It took a while. I'm still not there. We're talking about focusing on the present, not the future—but it's my past that haunts me. Faces. Nightmares. But the farther I get from that world of death, the more I want to embrace life. The smell of these books and the perfume you wear. The way the light bends through that window. Even the taste of breakfast with the Keepers.'

Dimitri grew loud and angry again, his voice becoming—if possible—more sinister. I suddenly felt trapped, and even Sydney looked scared now. She swallowed. 'He's telling this guy that if he doesn't get answers by tomorrow night, Dimitri's going to find him and rip him apart and . . .' Sydney didn't bother finishing. Her eyes were wide. 'Use your imagination. It's pretty terrible.'

'Having your own, um, cave at eighteen is pretty cool.' It would have been cooler still with electricity, Internet, and plumbing, but there was no need to bring that up.

'You can stay if you want,' he said. 'The other Tainted would never find you here. We could get married, and then when we had kids, we could build a loft like my parents' and—'

The word married had me moving toward the entrance as shocked and panicked as I would be by a Strigoi attack. Except, I usually had fair warning before those. 'Whoa, whoa, slow down.' No. I hadn't seen a proposal coming. 'We just met!'

'That's smart. We could live together first, see how we get along.' His serious expression turned back into a smile. 'But I'm pretty easygoing. I'd let you win every argument.'

I couldn't help it. I laughed. 'Well, then, I'm going to have to win this one and tell you I'm just not ready for . . . any of it. Besides, I'm already involved with someone.'


'No. Another guy. He's back at the Tainted Court.' I couldn't even believe I was saying that.

Joshua frowned. 'Why isn't he here protecting you then?'

'Because . . . that's not how he is. And I can take care of myself.'

'Take me with you,' she said, grabbing a hold of my arm, just as I started down the forest path toward the car.

'Sorry,' I said, still a little weirded out after her earlier hostility. 'We have to do this alone.'

'I can help! You beat me . . . but you saw what I can do. I'm good. I could take a Strigoi. Please. It's not just the Strigoi! I want to see the world. I need to see something else outside of this place!' Her voice was pitched low, out of the range of the others. 'I've only been to Rubysville twice, and they say that's nothing compared to other cities.'

'Fine,' she said. 'I guess it's okay. Go ahead.'

'Huh? What's okay?' I demanded.

'It's okay if you marry my brother.'

'Are you sure?' Abe gave Tasha a sly look. 'I'm surprised you didn't get your special guardian 'friend' on board.'

'What special friend?' demanded Christian, instantly picking up on the insinuation.

Tasha, to my astonishment, flushed. 'Just a guy I know.'

'Who follows you with puppy-dog eyes,' continued Abe. 'What's his name? Evan?'

'Ethan,' she corrected.

My mother, looking exasperated by such ridiculous talk, promptly put an end to it—which was just as well since Christian looked like he had a few things to say. 'Leave her alone,' she warned Abe. 'We don't have time for it. Ethan's a good guy, but the fewer people who know about this, the better.'

I saw something on Donovan's face that I'd never seen in a Strigoi before: fear. I'd thought it was an emotion they simply didn't possess. Or, if they did, it was only in the battles they fought with one another. They wouldn't waste time with fear around lowly dhampirs.

But oh, Donovan was scared of Dimitri. And to be honest, I was too.

'It's never enough, Roza,' he whispered. The grief in his voice killed me. 'It'll never be enough.'

'It is for now,' I said. I pulled him to me. Unresisting, he let go of his stake and buried his face against my shoulder. I dropped my stake as well and embraced him, drawing him closer. He wrapped his arms around me in return, seeking the contact of another living being, the contact I'd long known he needed.

'You're the only one.' He clung more tightly to me. 'The only one who understands. The only one who saw how I was. I could never explain it to anyone . . . you're the only one. The only one I can tell this to . . .'

'You said it yourself: you escaped with me to feel the world again. Its beauty.'

'Find one thing. One thing that's beautiful. Anything. Anything that shows you're not one of them.'

'Your hair.'

'What?' For a second, I wondered if it was on fire or something. I touched a stray lock. No, nothing wrong except that it was a mess. I'd bound it up for battle to prevent the Strigoi from using it as a handhold. Much of it had come undone in the struggle, though.

'Your hair,' repeated Dimitri. His eyes were wide, almost awestruck. 'Your hair is beautiful.'

'Yes . . . always a lure to that . . . kill to live, live to kill. Immortality and freedom from these chains, but oh, what a loss . . .'

Adrian gazed off. 'Sometimes . . . sometimes I can believe the insanity is all imagined, you know? I've never felt it like the others . . . like Lissa or old Vlad. But once in a while . . .' he paused. 'I don't know. I feel so close, Rose. So close to the edge. Like if I allow myself one small misstep, I'll plunge away and never come back. It's like I'll lose myself.'

'You're not crazy,' I said fiercely, pulling him to me. I loved his warmth and the way he felt against my skin. 'You'll be okay. You're strong.' He pressed his cheek to my forehead. 'I don't know,' he said. 'I think you're my strength.'

'I'm going to kill you all,' Sonya snarled. 'And consume you one by one. Normally, I'd start with the human and work up to the Moroi, but . . .' She glanced at Dimitri and me, her face full of rage. 'I think I'll save you two for last and drag out your suffering.' She paused and almost comically added, 'You've annoyed me the most.'

'Poor guy,' said Blake. He was back to his calm, arrogant self. 'He's been through a lot between his aunt, mom, and murdering girlfriend. That's why really, at the end of the day, you just can't trust women.'

'Need anything?'

'A feeder would be nice, but barring that, Robert has an especial liking for Cheerios. The apple cinnamon kind.' He smiled at Sydney. 'I never thought I'd see the day an Alchemist would be an errand girl. It's charming.'

'Robert really likes Cheerios, so if you want some, you're out of luck. He doesn't seem like the sharing type.'

'What?' I asked uneasily. 'Why are you looking at me like that?'

He shook his head, the smile rueful now. 'Because sometimes, a person can get so caught up in the details that they miss the whole. It's not just the dress or the hair. It's you. You're beautiful. So beautiful, it hurts me.' (This made me cry instantly—it is really nostalgic)

'…when you're with Dimitri, your aura's like the sun. So is his.'

'Well, you've got to figure it out. I don't believe in soul mates, not exactly. I think it's ridiculous to think there's only one person out there for us. What if your 'soul mate' lives in Zimbabwe? What if he dies young? I also think 'two souls becoming one' is ridiculous. You need to hold onto yourself. But I do believe in souls being in sync, souls that mirror each other. I see that synchronicity in auras. I can see love too. And I see all of that in his aura and in yours. Only you can choose what to do with that information—if you even believe it.'

'Mastrano,' said Hans. 'Something Mastrano.'

'Jill Mastrano?' exclaimed Lissa.

'Jailbait?' asked Adrian.

'When I first met Rose, she didn't seem like the murdering type—I mean, aside from killing Strigoi. Which isn't murder at all, really.' Sydney threw in a little Alchemist disdain. It was a nice touch. 'So, when she said she was innocent and could prove it, I decided to help her. I gave her a ride.'

'Well done,' he gasped out.

'I've been wanting to do that for a very long time,' I growled.

Victor smiled through the pain and the blood. 'Of course you have. I used to think Belikov was the savage one, but it's really you, isn't it? You're the animal with no control, no higher reasoning except to fight and kill.'

'She was right about something else too,'

'What's that?' I asked.

'That I do still love you.'

With that one sentence, everything in the universe changed.

'…I looked at you . . . saw your goodness, your hope, and your faith. Those are what make you beautiful. So, so beautiful.'

'So it wasn't my hair,'

'…I love you. I've never stopped loving you. You have to know that.'

'I don't belong to him,'

'And you're with Adrian,'

'But I was meant for you.'

'You see something you like?' I asked, echoing something I'd said to him long ago, when he'd caught me in a compromising position at school.

'Lots,' he said.

'What I'd like to know is: who in the world are you?'

'I'm Rose Hathaway.'

'I loved you, and you destroyed me. You took my heart and ripped it up. You might as well have staked me! I. Loved. You. And you used me the whole time.'

I had that missing piece of my world back. The soul that complemented mine. My match. My equal. Not only that, I had my life back— my own life. I would protect Lissa, I would serve, but I was finally my own person.

In the end, I couldn't help but just cry. It was amazing. Vampire Academy is over, and I wonder what the very talented Richelle Mead has in store for us soon with her spin-off.

I'm still trying to get over the "shock" I felt—still feel—after reading LS. Trying to make myself feel better by writing new chapters of my new story, When Lightning Strikes. I hope you all who read this will take the time to read and review When Lightning Strikes while waiting for more much-awaited VA news.