Balthazar Page 14

No, then their interest in him was far more insidious.

“Following me?” Balthazar said. “I thought you’d given that up.”

“You’re a bit of a bore.” Constantia’s voice held a curl of laughter; her eyes, as always, half mocked him, half devoured. “I keep waiting for you to start being fun, Balthazar. The first century or so, it was worth the wait. These days, not so much. Being near you is like trying to make wet tinder catch flame.”

“Starting a fire requires a spark we don’t have.”

Her thin-lipped smile could be unspeakably cruel. “The first century and a half we knew each other—you didn’t seem to think so.”

Balthazar bit back a surge of anger. Constantia’s selfish, thoughtless desires had led her to beg Redgrave for a toy. And he’d made her one—Balthazar himself. He’d been killed for her. His life, his mortality, perhaps his very soul: They’d all been destroyed to make her a young vampire plaything.

He tried to stay focused. “If you’re not here to kill me, then why are you here, Constantia?”

“I’m here to explain how much easier it would be if you’d give up this—stubborn independence of yours and rejoin us.”

“You can’t seriously believe that will ever happen.”

“You still don’t see what the girl is.”

This was his chance to find out what they wanted, though he would have to be cagey about it. Asking her outright would only make her laugh in his face. “How do you know Redgrave isn’t selling you more of his lies?”

“Lorenzo tasted her blood. Then he let us drink from him.”

She said no more; she didn’t have to. Between vampires, blood drinking was a way of communicating that went infinitely deeper than words—the taste of another vampire’s blood let you experience his life, his emotions, even his pleasure. Balthazar had learned that by drinking Constantia’s blood and tasting her desire for him, which had flowed into him until he had no choice but to desire her in turn. By sharing his blood, Lorenzo had made certain that every vampire knew Skye was worth pursuing. And Balthazar was still no closer to figuring out why.

She continued, “You’re being given a chance, Balthazar. Redgrave doesn’t give many second chances. Think long and hard before you waste it.” Constantia began strolling away, her feet crunching in the snow, maddeningly confident. As she went, she called back over her shoulder, “By the way, ‘ever’ is a very long time.”

Chapter Ten

ON GOOD DAYS AT CAFÉ KEATS, LOCAL BANDS would get up and jam for hours. On bad days, people who thought they were talented got up and proved themselves wrong. Skye and Madison didn’t agree on which kind of day this was.

“How old is she? Like, eighty?” Madison rolled her eyes as she licked a bit of the whipped cream from the top of her drink.

“Probably. What does it matter?” Skye stole another glance at the white-haired woman sitting at the red piano, gently picking out a slow, melancholy version of “You Really Got a Hold on Me.” It was an old song, but one she liked. “I mean, I hope I’m getting out and having fun when I’m her age. And she can really play. So why not?”

“I prefer music from this century,” Madison insisted. After another sip of whipped cream, she said, “Listen, about tonight—the game—I only realized at the end of the day how that’s kind of awkward for you. What with Craig and everything.”

“I’ll be okay.” She kind of had to be, now that Balthazar was going there to guard her. Skye sensed it would be easier to sit through one of Craig’s games with Balthazar as a distraction.

“We’ll sit far away from that girlfriend of his. I can’t stand her. She’s just—vacant, you know? Like, the lights are on but nobody’s home.”

That was clearly an invitation to bitch about Britnee, but Skye didn’t feel like it. Shrugging, she said, “I didn’t really think about them as much today. Maybe I’m getting over him a little. I don’t know.”

Madison’s face brightened with mischief. “I know. You were too busy thinking about our sexy new sub.” Skye felt her face going warm, and she must have blushed, because Madison cackled with laughter. “You were! Somebody’s hot for teacher.”

“I’m not hot for—” That was a lie. But telling the truth was out of the question. “Okay, he’s good-looking. I noticed. And so did you.”

“True, true.” Madison draped her legs over the side of the chintz armchair she was sitting in; they’d gotten the good table with the cozy chairs in the far corner by the poetry board. “Mr. More seems young. Like, really young. I bet he hasn’t been out of college for long.”

A few centuries or so, actually. “Looks that way.”

“So that means he’s only about four or five years older than us.” Deep in thought, Madison licked the edge of her spoon. “If you ask me, that’s close enough to date.”

“But he’s a teacher.” Plus he’s a vampire, which I bet you would never be able to handle. “That’s against the rules.”

“I never heard of that rule.”

“Why would you hear about it? Who else are we going to date? Coach Haladki? Mr. Bollinger?” Skye made a face at the thought.

“Mr. Bollinger would be more interested in Mr. More than in us. We might have to fight him off if we want a piece.” Madison gave Skye a hopeful look. “Do you think Mr. More’s the kind of guy who breaks the rules?”

Laughing, Skye wadded up her paper napkin and tossed it at Madison. “Stop it.”

“I’m serious.”

“You’re not fooling anybody. And I’m going to write a poem.”

Writing poems at the poetry board was a tradition at Café Keats. Most people tried to do something cute or funny; the occasional obscene drawing was quickly wiped by a barista. Every once in a while, one of the poems would actually be good, and that would get to stay up for a few weeks or even months. Skye, no writer, just wanted a few seconds where she wouldn’t have to listen to jokes about Craig or Balthazar.

Though she did want to think about Balthazar—

He’s my teacher now. Does that matter? The rules about the other teachers don’t exactly apply to him. I mean, we were in English class together six weeks ago.

Skye understood that Balthazar wouldn’t consider getting involved with any of the other students. But did she have a chance with him? There had been moments when she’d felt his eyes on her, known he was drawn to her … but only moments.

Briefly the memory of Bianca glimmered in her mind, aquamarine and ethereal, but it faded just as quickly.

No, whatever happened between Skye and Balthazar in the future wouldn’t be about Bianca. It would be only about them.

Also, he’s a vampire. Undead. Blood-drinking. Fang- … um, fang-having. What would that even mean for us, if we got together?

She wasn’t at all sure about that. But she’d spent the last two and a half years surrounded by vampires, however unknowingly; for the most part, they acted like people. Arrogant, sometimes ruthless people, but still. Skye knew that if she’d learned Balthazar was a vampire when she’d first met him, she might never have wanted to get to know him better; now, however, this was just one more aspect of the supernatural strangeness surrounding her, one more quality he had that was as tantalizing as it was dangerous.

As she stepped up to the board, Skye disregarded the colorful chalk in its bucket and instead went to the poetry magnets, which were more her speed. Her fingers plucked the words from their jumble along one side, sliding them into place:

I remember

Soft rose fantasies

At Evernight she’d been Craig’s girlfriend, faithful even in her imagination. Every time Balthazar had walked by her in the hallway, she’d drunk in the sight of him, then tried to go back to whatever she was thinking about before.

But at night in her dorm room, while Clementine snored in the next bunk, sometimes Skye’s fantasies had demanded their due. She’d lie there all twisted up in her sheets, trying to think of the boyfriend she knew she ought to be thinking of, but instead remembering Balthazar: framed by the stone arches of Evernight’s hallways; wearing fencing whites that outlined his muscular frame, mask tucked under one arm; ready with a gentle smile for everyone even though there was always something distant and melancholy in his eyes … something that made her want to take that melancholy away…

Skye felt a guilty flush of longing at the memory—But why guilty? she asked herself. You’re free now. And so is he.

Except for the part where he’s a vampire and everything.

With a sigh, Skye composed another line:

Us—caught between never and forever.

She decided she liked that, but before she could keep going, a man’s hand pointed into her poem and slid out the word remember. He pushed it up so that it formed the phrase remember me?

Skye looked over at him, and in the first moment, she didn’t remember him. It seemed impossible that she could have forgotten a man like this. He wasn’t especially tall or short, but everything else about him was remarkable—the perfection of his profile, his gleaming dark blond hair, the warm hue of his skin, his piercing hazel eyes that almost seemed gold. More like the idealized sculpture of a man than any real human being. The crisp white collar of his shirt looked sharp enough to cut. He couldn’t be a student at her school, because he was old enough to be one of the teachers—like Balthazar—

I’ve seen him with Balthazar.

Oh, my God.

Redgrave smiled. “Don’t worry. You haven’t hurt my feelings by failing to know my face.” His accent was odd, not exactly British, not exactly American, hints of something else, too. Hard to place. “You saw me only in the dark, and only with human eyes. My question was sincere.” He tapped his finger on the board, just beneath remember me.

“I’ll scream,” Skye whispered. It wasn’t much of a threat, but it was all she had.

“That would be very silly of you. I’m not hurting you. I’m not even threatening you. I’m just a newcomer in town with an interest in poetry.” Redgrave glanced over the board’s current offerings and sighed. “Not that much of this is recognizable as poetry. I must bring Lorenzo here if I ever wish to punish him.”

Skye wanted to run away, to bolt out of the coffeehouse as fast as she could, but surely that was what Redgrave meant for her to do. If she ran out, his vampire “tribe” would all be out there waiting for her. “What are you doing here?”

“Getting a coffee, strangely enough. And hoping to have a chat with you, now that your bodyguard isn’t on hand.” Redgrave’s smile would, on any other man, have been stunningly beautiful. On him it was menacing. “Balthazar assumes that I won’t attack you here, and he’s absolutely right. I have absolutely no intention of spending so much as one day in the county jail or whatever picayune human lockup I’d be consigned to. So if we’re going to talk, this is the place.”

“We don’t need to talk.” Even getting those words out was hard; Skye’s entire body had gone cold and clumsy, and she could hardly think anything besides the words This man tried to murder me yesterday.

“Nonsense, my dear. I see that you are not without resources. That you understand the nature of the supernatural. So I thought we might be able to speak like rational creatures, and perhaps strike a bargain.”

“A bargain?” She made a sound that wasn’t quite a laugh. “Okay, get out of town now and leave me alone, and I won’t kick you in the balls.”

Redgrave really did laugh at that. “You’ve got spirit. You see, I can work with you.”

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