Balthazar Page 35

“What couldn’t I explain? You look like any other guy—well, any other massively hot guy—”

“I look like I’m a couple years older than you. I can pass for a few years older than that. I can’t go any further. Could you explain me when I still look nineteen and you look thirty? Forty?”

Skye blinked; obviously she’d never considered matters in that light before. Maybe it was rash of him to be thinking so far ahead—but he could imagine loving Skye that long. Even longer. She tried to rally. “I’ll tell them I’m a cougar.”

“And you won’t ever want to get married? You won’t ever want to have children?”

“Do you seriously think that’s the only way a woman can ever be happy? You really are from the seventeenth century, aren’t you?”

“You can’t know now what you’ll want someday,” Balthazar insisted. “What you can know, what you have to know, is that being with me long term has a price. A price you shouldn’t have to pay.”

They stared at each other for a long moment. The tranquility of their afternoon had been shattered, and he wondered whether Skye would choose to separate herself from him now rather than continue a relationship that ultimately had to end.

Then she said, “I don’t think you’ve thought this through.”

“Skye, I’ve had centuries to think about what it would mean for a mortal to get involved with a vampire.”

“You’re not listening to me.” She tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear; her pale blue eyes met his steadily. “Balthazar, Redgrave and his tribe want to enslave me for my blood. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of them are coming here. Hasn’t it occurred to you that maybe—maybe the only way to stop them—is to change my blood forever?”

He didn’t understand. Or did he? But no. She couldn’t mean that. “What are you saying?”

“It’s possible the only way to change my blood so that Redgrave can’t use it is to change me.” Skye’s voice shook slightly, but she continued on, resolute. “To turn me into a vampire, like you.”

“Absolutely not.” Balthazar could see the logic of the idea, but it was distant, far behind all the many emotions that told him to refuse her. “You don’t know what it means to be a vampire, Skye. You don’t know what it means to die.”

“Do you think I want to die? I don’t. But you’re not the only one who can look into the future and see hard choices.” Breathing out sharply, Skye looked away from him for a moment; when she turned back, there was a fierceness in her gaze that took his breath away. “Well, we agree on one thing. We need to seize the moment.”

Then she kissed him, more hungrily than ever before, and within seconds he had pulled her down onto the bed, willing the world to go away for them both.

The rest of the weekend was one long blur of her lips against his. They didn’t argue about their different ideas about the future, at least not explicitly. Instead they focused on how best to keep Skye alive and in Darby Glen, for her parents’ sake and for her own.

This involved some serious tactical thinking. Balthazar had already emailed Lucas and Bianca to talk about who could help protect her, or how best to dissuade the vampires from searching for her. Apparently Bianca’s parents were spreading a counter-rumor that Skye was only an illusion Redgrave had planted in Lorenzo’s mind, and the stories about her were all another of his well-known, elaborate tricks. This was now being whispered through all the gathering places that served similar purposes to the fallen Evernight Academy—small, secluded schools, retreats, and centers where the undead came together, including a rehab center in Arizona. This was a good first step, but it could only help so much, Balthazar thought. The vampires who went to these places were, by definition, the more civilized among them, the ones who wanted to live among humans without causing undue harm. What they had to worry about were the wild ones. The ones who never came near Evernight Academy, who cared less about appearing human and more about taking prey wherever they could find it.

And even the civilized vampires might miss the old days of the wars, the days when they had a prince … but that was something to worry about later. Skye’s dilemma was all he could concentrate on now.

Lucas had come up with the idea of notifying Black Cross about the coming vampire incursion in Darby Glen. As much as Balthazar disliked the idea of relying on a band of vampire hunters for any reason, he had to admit—the surest way of scattering a pack of vampires was to set an even larger pack of hunters on them. Lucas was going to attempt to reach out soon, which meant Black Cross would be on the scene, in force, before long.

Balthazar wasn’t sure how long he could remain out in the open once Black Cross arrived. They never allied with vampires, ever; to them, all vampires were merely animals. But he’d face that when the time came. Whatever it took to remain with the woman he loved, he would do.

They never parted once until Monday. That morning, at dawn, he ran with Skye toward his car, the better to get her home to change for school.

As she bounced onto the passenger seat, she said, “I don’t know how I’m going to keep a straight face during homeroom.”

“You’d better. I don’t want to be arrested for indecency.”

“After this weekend, you could be arrested many times over.” Skye beamed at him.

“I don’t want to take advantage of you,” he blurted.

She gave him a look. “It’s a little late for that. Besides, I’m legal, consent-wise. You knew that, right? The ‘arrested’ thing was just a joke.”

Balthazar, who had grown up in an era when women Skye’s age were usually married and giving birth to their second or third child, had other things on his mind than some arcane legal limit. What mattered went deeper than that. “Skye, I don’t want you to look back and feel like you … didn’t have any choice. Like you were only with me because of the intense situation you’re in.”

Skye leaned over and kissed him, long and slow, mouth open. When their lips parted, she whispered, “I want to be with you, too. I know that, absolutely.”

“Okay,” he said, a smile spreading across his face.

As Balthazar put the car in reverse, he thought he saw a flicker of movement at the corner of his eye and turned sharply to look at it—but it was nothing. Maybe the reflection of a bird on one of the Findleys’ windows, or the swing of a curtain. Redgrave was nowhere near, and it felt for a moment as if they had time for everything in the world.

Homeroom was indeed tough to get through, but he managed to get the class talking among themselves about The Crucible, which meant he was at least relieved of the burden of having to say one thing while his brain was thinking another. Particularly given what his brain was thinking.

Balthazar knew he was doing a bad job of not looking at Skye; it seemed impossible not to watch her, to see her long dark hair and remember how it had felt against his skin, or to fix his gaze on her lips and remember kissing her. Fortunately the class was too preoccupied in trying to derail the conversation from school topics to notice, he thought.

“My, you’re in a good mood today,” Tonia said to him in the teachers’ lounge. “I’ll let you out of dance duty early again if it makes you this happy each time.”

“You let him?” Nola said, stirring a cupful of creamer into her coffee.

“I left about twenty minutes early, that’s all,” Balthazar insisted. The coffee in the lounge was crap—the coffeemaker purchased by the school board was of no brand he knew, or wanted to know. And yet today the brew seemed to taste great. “Besides, why can’t I just be in a good mood?”

Rick put one finger to his cheek, pretending to consider it. “Because it’s mid-February, and the sky is the color of the stuff that clogs up drains, and we’re in the dead center of a semester that seems like it’s never going to end?”

“And yet I’m feeling fine.” Balthazar shrugged. “Can’t help it.”

“Freak,” Nola said good-naturedly as she headed out into the halls.

“Hey, since when does honors history do The Crucible?” Rick said. “That’s my turf, buddy.”

Balthazar took the joke as it was intended. “You could always do Rent instead.”

Rick sighed. “I wish. When it comes to doing any play that’s even the slightest bit ‘risky,’ this school board has its head up its—well, let’s just say, the same location where I think they got this coffeemaker.”

Balthazar had to laugh, and for the first time he realized he’d miss being here … well, a little bit.

As he headed into study hall at the end of the day, he was already weighing the merits of spending the hour texting Skye with various plans for their evening versus brainstorming a way of living in Darby Glen without having any public presence Black Cross would be able to detect. That would have been easier if he hadn’t spent the past month and change as a schoolteacher; going underground, usually simple enough to do, would be complicated now. But he’d manage somehow, if that was what Skye needed—

“Hey, you.” Rick met him at the entrance to the library, cutting off that train of thought. “I’ll take this shift, okay?”

“What do you want me to chaperone this time?”

“You catch on fast. Actually, though, Zaslow wants to see you.”

Balthazar frowned. “What about?”

“Didn’t say. She’s got on her grumpy face, though, so brace yourself.” Rick waved good-bye before he retreated to the safety of the library.

While Balthazar walked toward the principal’s office, he wondered if leaving the dance early, even with permission from the other chaperones, was definitely against the rules. He wasn’t too worried about it in any case; it was difficult to get too anxious about your boss’s opinion when you were undead.

Nothing about it bothered him much until he walked into Principal Zaslow’s office and saw Skye sitting in one of the chairs, tears in her eyes.

Even before Zaslow said a word, Balthazar thought, Damn it. They found out.

“Mr. More, I’m afraid a student has come forward with some troubling allegations,” Zaslow said. She folded her blue-framed glasses on the desk in front of her. “Miss Tierney, you may go. I’ve already spoken to your parents; they’re on their way home.”

Oh, great, now her parents show up. “Is everything all right?” Balthazar said, keeping his voice steady but looking appropriately concerned.

“Good-bye, Miss Tierney,” Zaslow said, firmly dismissing her. Skye walked out without looking back at Balthazar once—exactly the right way to play it, he thought—and he didn’t stare after her.

Already Balthazar’s mind was racing. He had spent so much time worrying about the supernatural obstacles they were up against that he’d never seriously considered the more literal roadblocks they could face. If Skye’s parents chose this inconvenient time to become present in her life again, remaining near her would be even harder. If people were now watching him around Skye, or if he was fired before he had backup on the scene at school, it would make it that much more difficult to protect her—just as things had become much, much more dangerous.

“Now that we’re alone, Mr. More,” Zaslow said, “let’s cut to the chase. Are you sleeping with Skye Tierney?”

“Of course not,” he lied. He would have to lie. I’m not really a substitute teacher; I’m a vampire was not a great defense.

“Another student reported seeing you together leaving your house in the wee hours of the morning.”

Madison, he thought, remembering that flicker at the window. “That student is mistaken. I admit—I, ah, did have some company this weekend. Female company, I mean. And I must not have been as discreet as I needed to be.” Balthazar tried to look merely sheepish, rather than horrified. “Come to think of it, she’s around the same height, same coloring—I can see how someone might be confused if they saw us together from a distance.”

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