Stargazer Page 17

Lucas edged past Dana on the narrow stairs. Although she was smiling as she set to work, she never looked at me; instead she was focused on her task, hurriedly stuffing bandages and gauze into a small plastic box. “You doing okay, Bianca?”

“I guess,” I said. “How often do you do this? Go out on hunts like these?”

“You say ‘go out’ like we had some big mothership we all return to when our work is done. We mostly travel from place to place. Go where we’re needed. Some people have their own homes they go back to from time to time, but a lot of us don’t. I don’t.” After a short pause, she added, “Lucas doesn’t either. I guess he didn’t tell you that.”

“He hasn’t really had a chance.”

“I keep forgetting that you haven’t hardly gotten to talk to each other since that whole scene went down last spring. That has to be rough.”

“I guess it is.”

“He’s a good guy.” She closed the plastic box and looked at me, serious for once. “Lucas doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. I’ve known him since we were about twelve, and you’re the only girl he’s ever acted like this about. Just in case you were wondering.”

“Thanks.” Though that was pretty amazing to hear, I was thinking about larger concerns than my love life. Instead, I kept remembering the vampire, with her broken nails and uncertain smile. Black Cross might not be an immediate threat to me, but she remained in danger. She had been so lost and alone, another person made to feel small by Mrs. Bethany.

Was that the way I might end up someday? I shivered. Never. I’ll always have my parents and my friends—and maybe even Lucas.

That didn’t change the fact that the girl I’d met earlier was in desperate danger from Lucas’s family and friends. The injustice of it sickened me. But what could Lucas do about it? What could I do about it?

The answer came to me almost immediately, terrifying but inevitable. It took me a second to get out the words: “I’m coming with you.”

Dana stared at me. “On a vampire hunt? That’s crazy.”

“You have no idea”—I sighed—“but I’m going.”

Chapter Seven

“THIS IS NO PLACE FOR AMATEURS,” SAID EDUARDO. The twin scars on his cheek looked deeper—a trick of the dim lights of the camping lanterns on the walls.

I thought fast. “I’ve been going to school surrounded by vampires for more than a year now.” It was the truth, if not the whole truth. My voice shook, but I hoped desperately that Eduardo would chalk that up to emotion, not fright. The man was an unrepentant killer of vampires; it was hard to look him in the face. “I need to know what I’m really up against.”

I’d never seen Eduardo smile before. It wasn’t an attractive expression. “Supposedly they behave themselves at Evernight Academy. You’re only a kid. You should stick to the ones who pretend to be kids, too.”

“I was fighting vampires when I was a lot younger than Bianca is,” Lucas retorted. “I think she can handle it.” He slung his arm around my shoulders, and at last my fear started to wane. Lucas’s support seemed to end the argument; at any rate, Eduardo didn’t protest any longer, and if anybody else had objections, they kept them to themselves.

Lucas glanced over at me, questioning why I was dead set on joining them, but we both knew we’d have to talk about it later.

The hunt didn’t feel like a hunt at first. It was like any other road trip: People murmuring quietly as they pulled on their jackets, looking at one another with tired eyes and clambering into the beat-up van and Kate’s turquoise pickup truck.

I remembered the very first road trip I’d ever taken, when my parents drove me to the beach one summer. They hated the water—both the rivers we had to cross to get there and the ocean that lapped at the shore—but they took me because I wanted to go so badly. They sat under a beach umbrella the whole time. Even though they’d drunk blood before we left, they didn’t want to spend so much time in the sun. While I made sand castles, swam, and played with other kids, they watched and waved. It was a sacrifice they had made for me.

When I remembered things like that, I knew that the people of Black Cross were wrong about vampires. If they had seen my parents then, they’d know the truth.

Instead, tonight, they were going to try to kill a vampire girl. Though they didn’t know it, I intended to stop them if I could.

I got in the back of the truck along with Dana, Eduardo, a couple of other guys, and Lucas, whose mussed hair hung in his eyes. As Kate backed us out of the parking garage, I whispered in Lucas’s ear, “What do we do?”

“We start where we spotted her last, and we track her from there.”

The town was all but silent now. Even the hardest-partying college students had gone to bed, or at least taken the festivities back to their dorm rooms. Although the neighborhood had been quiet before, while Lucas and I made our escape, it was now perfectly still, and all the houses were dark.

Once the vehicles were parked near where I’d seen the fair-haired vampire last, everyone started to fan out on foot. Lucas and I stuck together, of course. Kate shot us a look as she went, but she didn’t fight it.

Lucas said nothing until we were definitely alone, walking along a side road a few blocks away. “Okay, I’m guessing our plan is to find the vampire and warn her before anybody else gets hold of her. Am I right?”

I felt a wave of tenderness toward him so strong that, for a second, I forgot where we were, the danger that faced us, and the task we had to complete. Instead, I took his hand gently in mine, and he turned to me—first in surprise but then with a small, knowing smile. I felt that deep electric kick, the force driving me toward him. He covered my lips with his hand. “We can’t get distracted. We’ve got a job to do.”

“A job.” My lips brushed against his fingers as I spoke, and he blinked slowly, relishing the touch. “Let’s do it.”

Determinedly, Lucas turned from me and led us on our way. “She started going north at first,” he said.

“How do you know that?”

“I see what the others don’t see.” He hesitated. “My night vision is better than it used to be.”

There was no need for him to say why. I knew that it was because I’d twice bitten Lucas and drunk his blood. The first bite had had no effect, but the second had given him a few vampire powers. While the rest of Black Cross were off wandering around at random, Lucas was able to pull back the branch from a bush and show me the broken twigs—the ones that would have been broken off by somebody running past. He could find a single footprint in the muddy earth, catch a glimpse of a single curling golden hair that had fallen in the underbrush.

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