Stargazer Page 16

“You gotta learn how to take a compliment, because I’m not going to stop making them.” Lucas lifted one of my hands to his mouth. His lips were soft against my knuckles. Outside I heard the conversation between the others in Black Cross getting louder. “How long can you stay?”

“Until tomorrow afternoon.”

“Almost a whole day?” He brightened so much that I couldn’t help but blush happily. “That’s amazing.”

“Yeah, it is.” By next week, I knew, this short time would seem like nothing. But for now it stretched out before me as infinite as a sky full of stars, and I didn’t want to think about what would come after. That would ruin it. What mattered was here and now.

I sat down on the corner of the cot, and Lucas sat beside me, laying his head on my shoulder. His arms circled my waist. I ran my fingers through his scruffy hair.

His voice was muffled against my shoulder as he said, “There were times I thought I’d never see you again. Sometimes I told myself that would be the best thing for both of us. But I couldn’t accept it.”

“Don’t ever believe that.” I kissed his cheek. “Not ever.”

The noise from downstairs grew louder yet, and I realized that it was an argument. I tensed, but Lucas sat up and sighed. “Eduardo’s mad as hell.”

“That girl—the one from tonight—she’s the one you guys are here to hunt?”

“That’s the whole reason we’re in Amherst. There have been reports in this area for a few months now. This vampire—we think she’s part of a gang that’s been causing trouble more and more often.”

“Reports? Like, in newspapers?”

“Sometimes, though of course the papers don’t know what they’re reporting. But we hear from people—people who know what’s really going on in the world, who know about us. Every once in a while, we even get info from vampires. They’ll try to buy us off by telling us there’s somebody more dangerous around the corner. Sometimes they’re telling the truth. The word we got was that this gang is killing about once a week—and that’s a lot, even for the deadliest vamps out there.”

I tried to think of that as encouraging. Even Black Cross hunters could talk to vampires rationally sometimes. “The girl we saw tonight can’t be part of any deadly gang. Lucas, she was scared to death.”

Lucas looked over at me again, and in his dark-green eyes I saw that he was wary. We’d had this discussion before, but it never ended well. Quietly he said, “Some vampires really are dangerous, Bianca.”

“Some really aren’t,” I said, just as quietly.

“I know that now.” Lucas leaned his head back against the wall, and I could glimpse a kind of tiredness in his eyes. He was three years older than me, an age difference I hadn’t really been able to see last year, but his maturity was more visible now. “There are bad vampires who ought to be stopped. We stop them. So I tell myself that what I’m doing here with Black Cross is the right thing to do. But if we were wrong about this girl tonight—if we’re ever wrong, even once—I don’t know how to deal with that. And I don’t know how to tell what’s true about the vampires we hunt.”

I wanted to provide some answer for him, but I didn’t know what that answer could possibly be.

Footsteps echoed on the floor outside, coming closer. “Incoming!” Dana called before she opened the door. When she did peer inside the first aid room, she frowned. “Oh, man, I thought I was going to interrupt some crazy monkey sex in here. Figured at least I’d get flashed for my trouble.”

I blushed bright purple. Lucas rolled his eyes. “We’ve been alone for five minutes, Dana.”

“You gotta learn to strike while the iron is hot. Because privacy and this place do not go together.” Dana braced her arms against the doorjamb. “We’re about to head back out. Kate and Eduardo want to resume the hunt before the vampire’s gone too far away.”

Resume the hunt? Oh, no.

“They said no patrol tonight.” Lucas scowled. “The equipment’s not ready, half of us aren’t even dressed—”

“That’s why we train to get ready fast, buddy.” Dana grinned at me, and the overlapping tooth in the front somehow made her look almost sweet. “Bianca can stay safe and warm here. But you and me and everybody else in the crew, we’re heading out.”

“Dana.” Lucas gave her his most melting, pleading look. “I haven’t seen Bianca in months. Come on.”

That look would’ve been more than enough to dissolve me into a puddle, but it didn’t seem to do much for Dana. “You know I don’t care, but Kate and Eduardo don’t want to hear it. You’re lucky they even let her get a look at this place. Hell, when you sent that distress page in, Eduardo was this close to putting us into lockdown.”

Lucas sighed as he looked at me. “Basically, we’re screwed. But only for a little while, okay? We’ll be back before too long.”

“Whatever we can have. It’s enough.”

“You gotta move, Lucas.” Dana started edging out the door. “Like, in about two minutes, when I come back into this room to get our med supplies ready.”

“Thanks,” Lucas said. I gave Dana a quick smile as she went.

As soon as the door shut, he kissed me very gently, with his lips closed, but then more roughly as our mouths began to part. That warm tide of feeling inside me started to flow again, so that I wanted to pull him closer, but neither of us could forget that Dana was just outside. Instead, Lucas leaned his forehead against mine and cradled my cheeks in his hands. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Lucas kissed me once more. After that he let go of me, stood up, and yelled, “All yours, Dana!”

“I don’t want your girlfriend!” she called back. “Just the damn first aid kit!” A few people outside laughed, but it was a kind laugh. Maybe Eduardo saw me as a nuisance, but everybody else in Black Cross seemed happy for Lucas and me. I could never get over how a bunch of vampire hunters could seem so—well—nice.

We’ll be okay, I told myself. I can make it through this. Already I was hungry, but I knew that if anybody in Black Cross caught me drinking blood, they’d attack first and ask questions later. Tomorrow, maybe, I’d have a chance to eat in private, or at least to pour the blood in my thermos down the drain. I could hang on until Saturday night if I needed to.

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