Evernight Page 69

I shook my head. “There’s not. You know it as well as I do. Lucas, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

He took one step toward me, and I wanted to fling myself into his arms and hold him at least once more. If I did that, though, I knew I’d never be able to let go. For both our sakes, I had to be strong.

“I love you,” I said, and then I turned and ran toward my parents.

My father’s hand closed around my arm as he and my mother pulled me outside. The door swung shut behind us. “Bianca!” Mom embraced me tightly, and I realized that she was crying. Her body shook with each sob. “My baby, oh, my baby, we didn’t think we’d ever see you again.”

“I’m sorry.” I hugged her back while grabbing my father’s hand in one of mine. I could see his bruised, black-eyed face over her shoulder. Instead of the anger or hurt I’d imagined, there was only relief in his eyes. “I love you both so much.”

“Honey, are you okay?” Dad said.

“I’m fine, I promise. Just let them go. Please. For me. Let them go.”

My parents both nodded, and if Balthazar disagreed, he didn’t say so out loud. We all made our way toward the front of the meetinghouse. Thick smoke from the ceiling billowed upward in a dark, coiling pillar. A driver in her car on the nearby street was already shouting into her cell phone. The fire engines would be here soon.

As we stepped onto the sidewalk, the three of us still huddled together with Balthazar following closely, Mrs. Bethany hurried toward us, her long black skirt flapping behind her. “What are you doing?” she demanded. “Guard the back! Don’t let them out!”

“No!” I cried. “You can’t do that. You can’t just kill them!”

“It’s what they’d do to us,” Mrs. Bethany rasped, her dark lips twisting in an unnatural smile.

Mom took a deep breath. “No. Let them go.” Dad shot her a look, but he didn’t object; he just kept holding my hand.

“You heard me.” Stepping closer, Mrs. Bethany fixed her black eyes on me, the way a hawk does before swooping down upon its prey. “Do you question my authority? I am the headmistress of Evernight!”

It was Balthazar who answered her by casually slinging his crossbow back upon his shoulder so that it just happened to be aimed straight at Mrs. Bethany. He wasn’t threatening her, exactly, but it was very clear that he wasn’t going to back down. As she jerked upright in shock, Balthazar drawled, “School’s out.”

Mrs. Bethany scowled, but she said nothing and didn’t make another move, not even as we heard the ruckus in the back driveway that could only have been the members of Black Cross making their escape. I closed my eyes tightly and wished for the sirens of the fire trucks, so that I wouldn’t have to hear Lucas’s footsteps as he ran away from me forever.

“Your parents say you were abducted.”

Mrs. Bethany stood behind the desk in her office, the one in the carriage house at Evernight. I sat in front of her in an uncomfortable wooden chair. My clothes were filthy with soot and rumpled. I was chilled to the bone, exhausted, and hungry for both food and blood. The day’s last rays of sunlight filtered orange through the windowpane. It hadn’t even been twenty-four hours since my world fell apart and the truth about Lucas came out. It felt like a thousand years.

“That’s right,” I said hollowly. “Lucas demanded that I come with him.”

She pulled the gold locket around her neck back and forth, back and forth on its chain, so that I could hear the faint metallic clicking. Unlike me, Mrs. Bethany was completely poised and collected, and the frilly lace at her throat remained crisp with starch. But she smelled like smoke, not lavender. “Curious, that you couldn’t defend yourself. You are, after all, a vampire.”

Am I? I wasn’t even sure of that anymore. I said only, “He’s in Black Cross. He has some of our powers. He outfought my father and Balthazar at once. What chance did I have?”

“Now you know how to answer difficult questions with more questions.” Mrs. Bethany sighed heavily, and for the first time, I saw a glint of dark humor in her gaze. “No longer the shrinking violet, I see. At least you’ve learned something this year.”

I remembered what Lucas had told me the night before: Mrs. Bethany had changed centuries-old rules in order to invite human students to Evernight. He hadn’t been able to learn why, and I couldn’t guess. As I looked at her, I knew only that she was older, stronger, and more devious than I’d ever imagined. Yet I wasn’t afraid of her anymore, because I knew even Mrs. Bethany was vulnerable.

If she had allowed human students at Evernight, there was something she needed, badly. That meant she had a weakness, and that made her no different from the rest of us. I could face her now, knowing that.

Without asking permission to leave, I rose from my chair. “Good night, Mrs. Bethany.”

Her dark eyes glittered dangerously, but she simply waved me off with a flick of her fingers. “Good night.”

That night, my parents fussed over me like they hadn’t since I was a little girl—finding me snuggly socks and soft pillows and microwaving a glass of blood to body temperature for me. I didn’t have to ask if they really thought I’d been abducted by Lucas; they were smarter than that. I knew they didn’t really understand, because any sympathy they might have had for Lucas was clearly obliterated by their hatred of Black Cross. But even if they didn’t agree with my choices, they could forgive me for them. That was more than enough to remind me how much I was loved. They even piled up in bed on either side of me, with Rosemary Clooney on the record player in the other room, and told me old stories about the way the wheat fields in England used to look—sweet, pretty stories that held no danger or change, only beauty. They talked for a long time before exhaustion won out over misery and I finally, finally fell asleep.

That night I dreamed once more of the storm, the creeping hedge that grew up like a wildfire of brambles around Evernight, and the mysterious flowers that bloomed black beneath my hands. Even in my dream, I knew I’d seen it all before. I had been warned even before I met Lucas that the flowers weren’t for me, but I reached for them anyway, despite the thorns and the storm.

“You’re daydreaming again.”

Raquel’s words brought me back to reality. We were out in the fringe of woods closest to the grounds, beneath new, pale-green leaves so soft they curled at the edges. I’d been standing still, my hand on one branch for no telling how many minutes. She was a good enough friend to allow me space when I needed it and smart enough to know when it was time to bring me down to earth once more.

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