Stargazer Page 50

“Charity.” Though he had sought her for so long, Balthazar seemed unable to go to her and unsure of what to say. “Are you all right?” She shrugged. Her dark eyes alighted upon Lucas. “Strange company you’re keeping.”

“I’m off duty,” Lucas called, a smirk on his face. I didn’t think joking was very appropriate and swatted his arm. He glared at me but shut up.

“The girl I understand,” Charity said. “She’s so much like poor Jane.”

Balthazar’s face went pale. “Don’t say that name.” Who was Jane?

“You’ve been following me.” She took one step backward and let the arm holding the flashlight drop; the illumination now only shone on her feet and the deepening snow on the ground. “I want you to stop it.”

“I’ll stop if you’ll come home.”

“Home? Where is home? We lived here once, but that was a long time ago.” Charity brushed strands of hair from her face, the kind of confused gesture people make when they’re struggling against tears.

“Don’t even think about asking me to come back to Evernight. You know how I feel about that woman.”

Lucas and I shared a look.

Balthazar stepped off the front steps, and Charity skittered back a couple of steps in the snow. If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve thought she was afraid of him. He said, “We could find somewhere else. Something else you and I could do. All that matters is that we’re together.

Charity, I miss you.”

She stared down at the icy ground. “I don’t miss you.” It hit Balthazar so hard that he flinched. I put one hand on his shoulder; it was the only comfort I could offer. Lucas watched me but said nothing.

“You remind me of too much,” Charity said. “You remind me of what it felt like to be alive. To think of sunlight as something you could enjoy instead of something you could bear. To breathe and have it change you, refresh you, awaken you—instead of just churning on and on, some old useless habit that taunts you with what you used to be. To sigh and feel relief. To cry and let your sadness pass, instead of having it all bottled up inside you, forever and ever, getting more and more jum-bled until you don’t know who you are any longer.”

“I know who I am,” Balthazar said.

She shook her head. “No, Balthazar. You don’t.”

“At least promise me you’ll leave the tribe.” His voice broke with the strain of surrender, and my heart ached for him. “As long as you’re hanging around with them, you’re not safe from Black Cross.” Charity glared at Lucas. “While you’re hanging around with Black Cross, you’re not safe from my tribe. So try taking some advice before you give it, Balthazar. And get out of here now.”

“Charity, we can’t leave it like this.”

Fear hit me so hard I nearly reeled. “She said now.” Both of them glanced back at me. Lucas said, “What?” I knew before I knew, sensed it as deeply as I’d sensed anything.

“They’re here. Watching us. I think we’d better go.” Charity smiled at me. “You’re much too smart to be hanging around with a vampire hunter. You’ll probably get out alive.” Lucas turned toward the small grove of trees a couple hundred yards away, and his eyes narrowed. “Get to the truck.”

“Not yet.” Balthazar’s eyes widened in dismay as Charity began walking off in the direction of the grove. “Give me one more chance to get through to her.”

“Truck,” Lucas repeated. I could see how badly he wanted to fight, but he remained focused on protecting me. “Now.” Instinct told me to run. But other instincts—my vampire instincts—

told me that running prey was somehow more inviting. I forced myself to walk slowly toward the truck, and I grabbed Balthazar’s arm so that I could pull him along. Lucas kept his stake at the ready as he edged toward the driver’s side door.

My belly sank as I glimpsed, behind Charity, the footprints of at least half a dozen people. I knew that somewhere nearby they were watching us. I imagined that I could feel their eyes upon me, and, as the wind rus-tled through the ice-stiff trees, I thought I could hear faraway laughter.

Balthazar started walking faster. “We’ll be all right,” he said.

“I’m not so sure,” I said, but then we were in the truck. The two doors slammed shut on either side of me, and Balthazar and Lucas shoved down the locks at the same moment. “Let’s hurry, okay?” Lucas turned the key and spun us out of there. As we turned, the headlights washed over Charity, who stood in the field, watching us go.

The lights caught her eyes so that they reflected, just like a cat’s.

“She thinks I’ve turned against her.” Balthazar’s big hands were braced against the truck’s dashboard.

“You’ll get to talk to Charity again,” I said. “You know you will.

Once you do, she’ll understand.”

“Charity will understand why I’m hanging out with a hunter from Black Cross? Then she understands more than I do.”

“It’s going to be okay,” I promised him again. Lucas glanced sideways at us, then stared resolutely at the road.

The snow now was falling faster and thicker. By the time we had reached the center of Albion, drifts had begun to form around the tires of parked cars. “Maybe you guys shouldn’t drive back tonight,” Lucas said.

“Call the ’rents. Tell them you can’t travel on the roads like this.”

“We’ve got another hour or so at this rate. That’s enough time for us to get back.” Balthazar turned up the collar of his coat as if he could already feel the chill.

I knew that if I asked Balthazar to remain, he would, and I wanted to stay longer so that Lucas and I could have a few minutes alone together.

If we managed to convince my parents that we shouldn’t drive until the roads were cleared in the morning, then we’d have hours and hours—

while poor Balthazar waited nearby. That would be awkward for me and worse for Balthazar, who looked miserable enough already. He needed to go back to Evernight Academy soon.

“We’ll go now,” I said to Lucas. “It’s better this way.” Lucas stared at me, his expression shifting from disappointment into something harder to read. “Maybe it is.”

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