Stargazer Page 25

Now I understood. “You want me to take you to her. You want me to use Black Cross to figure out where Charity is, so you can get to her first.”

“And for you to keep throwing Black Cross off her trail, if you can.” He squared his broad shoulders. The sun had begun to set, painting the sky orange behind him. “I know it’s a lot to ask. I’m prepared to offer a lot in return.”

“You mean, you won’t tell about me and Lucas.”

“Your secret is safe with me no matter what.” Balthazar meant it; when he spoke, it sounded like surrender. My relief turned to amazement as he continued, “If you’ll help me with this, I’ll help get you off campus so that you can be with Lucas.”

“You mean it? You really will?” My head whirled. “But how?”

“Easy.” His smile was strained. “We’ll tell one simple lie. We’ll say that we’re together.” Together? Oh. But I saw the sense of it, even before Balthazar explained the rest. “Older vampires can come and go from Evernight if they get permission, and Mrs. Bethany is pretty free with permissions for the vampires she trusts. She trusts me. Your parents haven’t made any secret of the fact that they’d like us to spend more time together. If you and I are supposedly a couple—”

He looked down at the ground, lips pressed together for a second. That supposedly had cost him.

“—then I can ask permission to take you off campus sometimes. If your parents okay it, Mrs. Bethany probably will, too. They’ll see it as you becoming closer to a ‘real vampire.’ They’ll encourage it. They’ll let us go.”

It was a good plan. Solid. “You’ve been thinking about this.”

“For a few days now. If you need time to consider, I understand.”

“I only have one question. Why do you have to keep Charity a secret? I mean, she went here all those years ago, so Mrs. Bethany knows all about her, right?”

“Like I said, they didn’t get along, and that’s an understatement. If I bring Charity here, Mrs. Bethany will give her sanctuary—she has to give sanctuary to any vampire who seeks it. That’s the most sacred rule here. But Mrs. Bethany would do anything she had to do in order to make sure that I couldn’t bring Charity here. She’d try to scare her off, maybe even drive another wedge between us. I can’t lose another thirty-five years.”

“I understand.” I would do what I could to spare Balthazar that pain. Besides—in return, he would make it possible for me to be with Lucas. There was almost nothing I wouldn’t have done for that.

“Do we have a deal?” he asked.

“Yeah. When do we begin?”

“Might as well start now.” Balthazar held out his hand.

I took it, and together we walked back toward the school. We remained hand in hand as we walked through the great hall, where a few students were milling around between classes. I could feel their glances on us, hungry and avid, as eager for new gossip as they were for blood. At the bottom of the staircase to the girls’ dorm, Balthazar bent and kissed my cheek. His lips were cool against my skin.

The entire way upstairs, I tried to think of how I would explain this to Lucas. I’m not dating Balthazar. I’m pretend dating him. Which involves some not pretend hand-holding. And maybe some not pretend kissing. But it’s all actually pretend, see?

I groaned. My explanations were making my head hurt already.

Chapter Nine


Ever since my first break-in at Mrs. Bethany’s house had come up empty, I had meant to do more snooping around. But Mrs. Bethany hadn’t taken any more trips away from Evernight, which had left me with no opportunity to sneak back to the carriage house. Where else could I look for answers?

There was one possible place—the records room in the north tower—but I had originally disregarded that as a possibility. If Mrs. Bethany had anything up there that suggested the real reason she’d admitted humans to Evernight Academy, surely Lucas would have found it last year. He’d had plenty of time to search.

But as I lay in bed that night, unable to sleep and hungry for blood, I kept trying to imagine how I was going to explain my arrangement with Balthazar to Lucas. I tried out several versions of the speech—jokey, flirty, short, long—and none of them sounded convincing, even to me. I knew Lucas would eventually see the sense of it, but I also knew it would take time.

Sighing, I rolled onto my back and clasped my pillow around my ears, trying to muffle my own confused voice in my head. My stomach growled and my jaw ached. I wanted blood. I’d sneaked a glass around lunchtime, and that should have been enough to hold me for a full day—at least, it always would have been, before. My appetite was growing stronger all the time.

Uncertainties tumbled over and over in my mind, crowding out any hope of sleep. As I put on my slippers and my robe, I cast a quick glance at Raquel, who lay sprawled, facedown, on her bed. She slept soundly—maybe too soundly. Frowning, I remembered the sleeping pills I’d advised her to take last year. I hoped she wasn’t still using them and reminded myself to ask later.

The blood in my thermos was lukewarm but welcome. I drank as I walked downstairs, descending the staircase of the south tower. Mostly I was on autopilot, moving just for the sake of movement, but as I reached the classroom level—the bridge to the guys’ dorms in the north tower—I remembered seeing Lucas in these hallways. That was the only time Evernight had ever felt like home.

If I could get answers for Lucas—if I could tell him about the compromises I’d made for us to be together after I told him that I’d finally learned the secret Black Cross was so desperate to know—everything would be so much easier. He’d be able to throw our success in Eduardo’s face, and he’d love that. Afterward, explaining about Balthazar would be a piece of cake.

I slipped my thermos into my robe pocket and sneaked toward the guys’ dorm. The new blood flowing through me sharpened my hearing, so I could discern the footsteps of the monitor—one of the teachers, strolling around, making sure none of the vampire students decided to turn a human student into a midnight snack. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the sound, waiting until the teacher was out of earshot and my path was clear.

Quietly I opened the heavy door and stepped through. It was tempting to let the door go quickly and run for it, but I had to be patient and ease the door back so that it slipped silently back into place. Then I made my way upstairs, ears pricking at every tiny sound: a faucet dripping, somebody snoring, even the click of a desk lamp.

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