Stargazer Page 48

“Good luck trying.” Lucas hugged me even more tightly. Despite the layers of clothes between us, the embrace was enough to make me warm inside.

“I have a secret to tell you.” My anticipation made my heart leap; I so hoped he’d be happy about this news. “I know why Mrs. Bethany invited human students to Evernight.”

“Really? Why?”

I told Lucas about the deduction Balthazar and I had made about Mrs. Bethany’s attempt to track ghosts, expecting him to share my satisfaction. Instead, his smile slowly dimmed. Confused, I said, “Come on, Lucas. This is huge. This is what you’ve been trying to find out for almost two years! Can’t you use this to show up Eduardo? Or do you think I’m wrong?”

“No, I’d bet cash money you’re right. When I applied to Evernight Academy, we used old Professor Ravenwood’s address in Providence, and she always did talk about the ghost in the basement. She was getting pretty senile before she died, though, so I didn’t put much stock in it.

Guess I owe her an apology at her graveside.”

“Then this is it. You can go back to Black Cross and tell them what we’ve learned. You’ll complete your mission. That’ll get Eduardo off your back, right?”

Lucas sighed. “I wish. The thing is, Eduardo’s not going to like it.

Some Black Cross cells deal with ghosts pretty regularly, but we almost never do. So another group of hunters would probably take over the investigation.”

“But you still got the answer, and now you know no humans are at risk.”

“You don’t know Eduardo. The guy doesn’t care how well-defended the school is, or how it’s the one place vampires never attack humans.

He hates it. He wants to wipe it off the map. This looked like his excuse.

Now he’s just going to have to turn it over to someone else.”

“That means—you won’t have as many reasons to come back to this area. It’s going to be even harder for us to be together.” All my efforts had only made things worse. I hung my head.

Lucas took my face in his hands. The coarse wool of his gloves felt scratchy against my cheeks. “We’ll find a way. We’ll always find a way.

You have to believe that.”

The lump in my throat kept me from replying except with a nod. Lucas kissed me hard, as if that alone could tie us together.

Balthazar cleared his throat.

I took one step back, belatedly realizing how awkward this had to be for him. Lucas would take this as a cue to be snide, I thought, but he surprised me. “Okay, moving on. Balthazar, I think your sister is here in Albion, right now.”

“You’ve seen Charity.” Balthazar lifted his chin, readying himself.

“Earlier today. West side of town. While I was driving in, I saw her walking along the road, out near the woods. Wheeled the truck around right away, but it was like she’d vanished.”

Balthazar nodded. “I think I know where to look.” Lucas squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry, but you know we have to get on this.”

“I know.” I was actually sort of excited about it. If we could finally reunite Balthazar and Charity, they’d both be so happy. My time with Lucas could only be sweeter if I knew that we’d accomplished our goal and helped somebody else.

We ended up taking Lucas’s truck, even though it was a tight squeeze with all three of us in the front seat. I felt a little uncomfortable wedged between Lucas and Balthazar, in more ways than one. Balthazar was in the same state of mind that I recognized in Lucas, the kind of determina-tion that demanded action, not reflection. It was strange to see this sameness in them—a hard, driven core that was simultaneously compel-ling and intimidating.

But I could see the differences between them, too.

“Don’t pull a weapon unless I say so,” Balthazar said as we rumbled along a winding side road that led into a field. “If she’s in Albion, she’s probably alone.”

Lucas’s hands gripped the steering wheel like he was holding it in front of him as a shield. “I’m keeping a stake on me. Sorry, man, but I’m not going in there unarmed.”

I saw the angry flash in Balthazar’s eyes and quickly asked, “Should Lucas and I even be there? I mean, wouldn’t you have better luck talking to her alone?”

“Maybe. Still, I’d like her to see you, so that she knows we’re friends. It might help, later on.”

Balthazar guided us to a small house on the outskirts of town—if you could even call it part of the town any longer. The old house looked like it would hardly be big enough for two rooms, and the chimney in the center of its ramshackle roof was missing several bricks at the top. Lucas turned off the headlights a couple of minutes before he stopped the truck about a hundred yards away. He walked around to the truck bed and grabbed two stakes, one of which he held out to me. Balthazar said nothing. Though it felt incredibly strange to hold such a thing in my hand, I took it. Lucas’s warnings about Charity’s gang had gotten to me.

This far out of town, the silence was almost complete. The wind had picked up, blowing small flecks of snow and stinging ice against our faces. Clouds hid the moon and stars, and the night was so dark that I thought I wouldn’t even have been able to see the little house if its roof hadn’t been gleaming white with snow.

“No tracks,” Lucas whispered, his voice so low that it almost didn’t carry over the wind and our crunching steps in the ice. “Either she hasn’t been here later today, or she got here right after I saw her—”

“—and she hasn’t left.” Balthazar studied the dark windows, but I doubted even his vampiric vision would allow him to see anything.

“We’ll find out.”

At the front steps we paused. Balthazar took them alone and put one hand on the doorknob. For a long few seconds, he remained completely still, and I realized I was holding my breath.

Then he pushed through and stood inside for only a moment before saying, “She isn’t here.”

“Dead end.” Lucas kicked at the snow, his jaw clenched.

“I didn’t say that,” Balthazar replied. “Look.” He bent to the side, doing something I couldn’t glimpse, and then a candle flickered into light.

When Lucas and I walked inside, we saw that somebody had been staying in the house recently—somebody with a very bizarre sense of homemaking. A once-beautiful lace coverlet, stained with dirt and blood, lay atop a mattress on the floor. A perfect, scrollwork brass head-board leaned against the wall above it; spiders had spun cobwebs between the curls of brass. The candle Balthazar had lit sat in a holder atop a small table that was covered in wax of a dozen different colors; incredible amounts had dripped all over the surface, run down the legs, and puddled on the floor. One oval of purple wax surrounded a woman’s shoe, a delicate, rhinestone-encrusted pencil heel with long straps that had been caught in the wax when it dried. Empty gin bottles lay on the floor and were stacked in the corners, and the fireplace was filled not with wood but with broken bits of glass, piled so high that it had to have been put there on purpose. The pile glinted in the candlelight, the colors of the glass—brown, clear, blue, green—blazing with their own unearthly form of flame.

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