"So are you," he teased.
"Yeah, but I just thought—"
"That I was human? Because of the bite marks?"
"Yeah," I admitted. No point in lying.
"We all have to survive," he said. "And dhampirs are good at figuring out ways to."
"Yeah, but most of us become guardians," I pointed out. "Especially men." I still couldn't believe he was a dhampir— or that I hadn't spotted it right away.
Long ago, dhampirs had been born from humans and Moroi getting together. We were half-vampire, half-human. Over time, Moroi started keeping themselves separate from humans. Humans grew too plentiful and no longer needed Moroi for magic. Moroi now feared they'd become human experiments if ever discovered. So no more dhampirs were being made that way, and in a bizarre genetic twist, dhampirs getting together with dhampirs couldn't make more dhampirs.
The only way my race kept reproducing was through Moroi mixing with dhampirs. Normal logic would make you think that a dhampir and a Moroi would make children who were 3/4 Moroi. Nope. We came out with perfect dhampir genes, half and half, mixing some of the best traits of both races. Most dhampirs came from dhampir women and Moroi men. For centuries, these women had sent their kids off to be raised somewhere else, so that the mothers could go back to being guardians. That's what mine had done.
Over time, though, some dhampir women had decided they wanted to raise their children themselves. They refused to be guardians and instead banded together in communities. That's what Dimitri's mother had done. Lots of ugly rumors surrounded these women because Moroi men often visited in the hopes of getting cheap sex. Dimitri had told me that a lot of these stories were exaggerated and that most dhampir women weren't that easy. The rumors came from the fact that these women were almost always single mothers who had no contact with their kids' fathers—and because some dhampirs would let Moroi drink blood during sex. It was a kinky, dirty thing in our culture and was where the nickname for these non-guardian dhampirs had come from: blood whores.
But I'd never even thought about a male blood whore.
My mind was reeling. "Most guys who don't want to be guardians just run off," I said. It was rare, but it happened. Guys bailed on guardian school and disappeared to hide out among humans. It was another disgraceful thing.
"I didn't want to run off," said Ambrose, seeming very cheerful about all this. "But I didn't want to fight Strigoi either. So I did this."
Beside me, Lissa was stunned. Blood whores stayed on the fringes of our world. Having one right in front of her—a guy, no less—was incredible.
"This is better than being a guardian?" I asked in disbelief.
"Well, let's see. Guardians spend all their time watching out for others, risking their lives, and wearing bad shoes. Me? I have great shoes, am currently massaging a pretty girl, and sleep in an awesome bed."
I made a face. "Let's not talk about where you sleep, okay?"
"And giving blood isn't as bad as you think. I don't give as much as a feeder, but the high's pretty neat."
"Let's not talk about that either," I said. No way would I admit that I knew Moroi bites were indeed "pretty neat."
"Fine. But say what you want, my life's good." He gave me a lopsided smile.
"But aren't people, like…well, aren't they mean to you? They must say things…"
"Oh yes," he agreed. "Horrible things. I get called a lot of ugly names. But you know where I get the most grief from? Other dhampirs. Moroi tend to leave me alone."
"That's because they don't understand what it's like to be a guardian, how important it is." It occurred to me, with some unease, that I sounded exactly like my mother. "It's what dhampirs are meant to do."
Ambrose rose, unkinking his legs and giving me a face full of muscled chest. "You sure? How would you like to find out what you're really meant to do? I know someone who might be able to tell you."
"Ambrose, don't do it," groaned Lissa's manicurist. "That woman's crazy."
"She's psychic, Eve."
"She's not psychic, and you cannot take the Dragomir princess to go see her."
"The queen herself goes to her for advice," he argued back.
"That's a mistake too," grumbled Eve.
Lissa and I exchanged looks. She'd latched onto the word psychic. Psychics and fortune-tellers were generally regarded with the same disbelief as ghosts—except that Lissa and I had recently learned that psychic abilities we'd previously believed to be fantasy were actually part of spirit. Hope that she might have stumbled onto another spirit user shot through Lissa.
"We'd love to see a psychic. Can we go? Please?" Lissa glanced at a nearby clock. "And soon? We have a flight to catch."
Eve clearly thought it was a waste of our time, but Ambrose could hardly wait to show us. We put our shoes back on and were led out of the massage area. The spa rooms had been in a maze of halls behind the front salon, and we soon found ourselves in another maze that was farther back still.
"There's no directory here," I said as we walked past closed doors. "What are these rooms for?"
"Everything and anything people will pay money for," he said.
"Ah, Rose. You're such an innocent."
We finally reached a door at the end of the hall. We stepped inside and found a small room that only held a desk. A closed door sat beyond it. A Moroi at the desk looked up, obviously recognizing Ambrose. He walked over to her, and the two got into a quiet argument as he tried to get her to let us in.
Lissa turned to me, keeping her voice soft. "What do you think?"
My eyes were on Ambrose. "That all that muscle's going to waste."
"Forget the blood whore thing already. I mean about this psychic. Do you think we've found another spirit user?" she asked eagerly.
"If a party boy like Adrian can be a spirit user, then a woman who tells the future probably can be too."
Ambrose returned to us, grinning. "Suzanne was happy to fit you into the schedule before your flight. It'll be just a minute while Rhonda finishes up with her current client."
Suzanne didn't look very happy about fitting us in, but I didn't have time to ponder that because the inner door opened and an older Moroi man walked out, entranced. He gave Suzanne some cash, nodded at the rest of us, and left. Ambrose stood and made a wide sweeping motion toward the door.
Lissa and I walked inside the other room. Ambrose followed and closed the door behind us. It was like walking into someone's heart. Everything was red. Plush red carpet, a red velvet couch, velvet brocade wallpaper, and red satin cushions on the floor. Sitting on the cushions was a Moroi in her forties, with curly black hair and equally dark eyes. There was a very faint olive cast to her skin, but her overall look was pale, like all Moroi. Her black clothing stood out in stark contrast to the red room, and jewelry the color of my nails gleamed on her neck and hands. I expected her to speak in a spooky, mysterious voice—one with an exotic accent—but her words sounded blandly American.
"Please, sit down." She pointed to some cushions across from her. Ambrose sat on the couch. "Who've you brought?" she asked him as Lissa and I settled down.
"Princess Vasilisa Dragomir, and her guardian-to-be, Rose. They need a fast fortune."
"Why do you always want to rush these things?" Rhonda asked.
"Hey, it's not me. They have a plane to catch."
"It'd be the same if you didn't. You're always in a rush."
I shook off my awe of the room enough to pay attention to their easy banter and similar hair. "Are you guys related?"
"This is my aunt," said Ambrose fondly. "She adores me." Rhonda rolled her eyes.
That was a surprise. Dhampirs rarely had contact with their extended Moroi family, but then, Ambrose was hardly normal. Lissa was intrigued by all of this too, but her interest was different from mine. She was studying Rhonda intently, trying to find any indication that the woman might be a spirit user.
"Are you a gypsy?" I asked.
Rhonda made a face and began shuffling some cards. "I'm Roma," she said. "A lot of people call us gypsies, though the term isn't exactly accurate. And really, I'm Moroi first." She gave the cards a few more shuffles, then handed them to Lissa. "Cut, please."
Lissa was still staring, half-hoping she might see an aura. Adrian could sense other spirit users, but she didn't have that skill yet. She cut the cards and handed them back. Rhonda put the deck back together and dealt out three cards to Lissa.
I leaned forward. "Cool." They were tarot cards. I didn't know much about them, only that they supposedly had mystical powers and could tell the future. I didn't believe in that stuff much more than I'd ever believed in religion, but then, until recently, I'd never really believed in ghosts, either.
The three cards were the Moon, the Empress, and the Ace of Cups. Ambrose leaned over my shoulder to peer at the cards. "Ooh," he said. "Very interesting."
Rhonda glanced up at him. "Hush. You don't know what you're talking about." She turned back to the cards and tapped the Ace of Cups. "You're on the verge of a new beginning, a rebirth of great power and emotion. Your life will change, but it will be a change that takes you in a direction that, while difficult, will ultimately illuminate the world."
"Whoa," I said.
Rhonda then pointed to the Empress. "Power and leadership lie ahead of you, which you will handle with grace and intelligence. The seeds are already in place, though there's an edge of uncertainty—an enigmatic set of influences that hang around you like mist." Her attention was on the Moon as she said those words. "But my overall impression is that those unknown factors won't deter you from your destiny."
Lissa's eyes were wide. "You can tell that just from the cards?"
Rhonda shrugged. "It's in the cards, yes, but I also have a gift that lets me see forces beyond what ordinary people can perceive."
She shuffled the cards again and then handed them to me to cut. I did, and she flipped three more over. The Nine of Swords, the Sun, and the Ace of Swords. The Sun card was upside down.
Now, I knew nothing about this stuff, but I immediately got the feeling I was about to get a raw deal compared to Lissa. The Empress card had shown a woman in a long dress, with stars on her head. The Moon had shown a full moon with two dogs below it, and the Ace of Cups had shown a bejeweled chalice filled with flowers.
Meanwhile, my Nine of Swords showed a woman sobbing in front of a wall of swords, and the Ace of Swords was a boring hand holding a plain iron sword. The Sun at least looked cheerful. It had what looked like an angel riding a white horse, with a brilliant sun shining above.
"Shouldn't that be flipped right-side up?" I asked.
"No," she said, eyes on the cards. After several moments of heavy silence, she said, "You will destroy that which is undead."
I waited about thirty seconds for her to continue, but she didn't. "Wait, that's it?"
She nodded. "That's what the cards say to me."
I pointed at them. "Seems like they've got a little bit more to say than that. You gave Lissa a whole encyclopedia worth of information! And I already know I'm going to kill the undead. That's my job." Bad enough I'd gotten a minuscule fortune. It was also totally unoriginal.
Rhonda shrugged, as though that were some sort of explanation.
I started to say that she'd better not even think about charging me for that crap reading when there was a soft knock at the door. It opened, and to my surprise, Dimitri stuck his head inside. His eyes fell on Lissa and me. "Ah, they said you were in here." He walked in and noticed Rhonda. To my further surprise, he gave her a low nod of respect and said very politely, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I need to bring these two to their flight."
Rhonda examined him—but not in a checking-him-out kind of way. It was more like he was mystery she wanted to figure out. "There's nothing to apologize for. But maybe you've got time for a reading of your own?"
With our similar views on religion, I expected Dimitri to tell her he had no time for her scam-artist fortune-telling. Yet the look on his face stayed serious, and he finally nodded, sitting down beside me, letting me smell the sweet scent of leather and aftershave. "Thank you." His words were still perfectly polite.
"I'll be brief." Rhonda was already shuffling up my useless cards. In record time, she had them ready for cutting and had dealt out three cards in front of Dimitri. The Knight of Rods, the Wheel of Fortune, and the Five of Cups. I couldn't get a feel for these. The Knight of Rods was what it sounded like, a man on horseback with a long wooden spear. The Wheel of Fortune was a circle with strange symbols floating in the clouds. The Five of Cups showed five knocked-over cups spilling some kind of liquid out while a man stood with his back to them.
Her eyes flicked over the cards, looked at Dimitri, then looked back at the cards. Her expression was blank. "You will lose what you value most, so treasure it while you can." She pointed to the Wheel of Fortune card. "The wheel is turning, always turning."
The reading wasn't as good as Lissa's, but he'd gotten a hell of a lot more than me. Lissa elbowed me in a silent warning to be quiet, which startled me at first. Without even realizing it, I'd opened my mouth to protest. I shut it and glowered.
Dimitri's face was dark and thoughtful as he stared at the cards. I didn't know if he knew anything about this stuff, but he was staring at the images as though they really held all the secrets of the world. At last, he gave Rhonda another respectful nod. "Thank you."
She nodded back, and then the three of us rose to catch our flight. Ambrose told us the readings were on him and that he'd settle up with Suzanne afterward. "It was worth it," he told me. "Worth it to see you think twice about your fate."
I scoffed. "No offense, but those cards didn't make me think much about anything." Like everything else, this just made him laugh.
We were about to leave Suzanne's little waiting room when Lissa suddenly dashed back to Rhonda's open doorway. I followed after her.
"Um, excuse me," Lissa said.
Rhonda looked up from more shuffling, her face troubled. "Yes?"
"This is going to sound weird, but…um, could you tell me what element you specialized in?"
I could feel Lissa holding her breath. She so, so wanted Rhonda to say she hadn't specialized, which was often the sign of having spirit. There was still so much to learn, and Lissa loved the ideas of finding others who could teach her—and she especially loved the idea of someone teaching her to foretell the future.
"Air," said Rhonda. A soft breezed rustled through our hair to prove the point. "Why?"
Lissa let go of her breath, disappointment washing over me through her link. "No reason. Thank you again."