Stargazer Page 56

“I’m sorry,” I said, more quietly. “I wouldn’t have followed you if I’d known.”

“Known what? What is it that you think you know?” Courtney grinned at me, though the grin was a terrible fake that made her look sadder than her tears. “All I know is that you’re supposed to be with Balthazar tonight, and you’re not.”

Crap. I should’ve known Courtney’s gossip radar could never go down for very long.

“What’s the matter, Bianca? Trouble in paradise?” She folded her arms and tossed her hair, once again the queen of the school, totally in command. “Did you guys have a fight? Another fight, that is?”

“If it’s none of my business that you’re here, then it’s none of your business that I’m here. So you leave me alone, and I’ll do the same for you.”

Although Courtney clearly wanted to rub in the supposed failure of my supposed relationship, she apparently wanted to hush me up even more. “You say one word about this—one word to anyone—I will know.”

“Your secret is safe with me.”

“I don’t have any secrets!”

We could still hear the laughter from the party. I stared at Courtney, hard, and her face fell. She turned to go—and then froze. When I heard the voices, I froze, too. No, no, no, not now!

“We don’t know that Bianca’s in trouble,” Lucas said.

Balthazar walked next to him, their paces in stride. “She’s not on the square where we arranged to meet. That doesn’t spell trouble to you?”

“Bianca has a way of not being where she’s supposed to be. If you knew her better, you might realize that,” Lucas said. Then he stopped in his tracks. I knew that he had seen Courtney and me, which meant that Courtney had seen him. Lucas. The Black Cross hunter.

“Ohmigod,” she breathed. “You’ve been—Lucas Ross—this is—”

“Courtney, listen to me.” Balthazar hurried toward us, hands outstretched. It was the most attention he’d ever paid her, but she shrank back as if repulsed. “I can explain.”

“You can explain that you’re hanging out with a Black Cross hunter?

That ought to be good.”

Lucas’s jaw was clenched. “I’m not hunting tonight.”

“Oh, wow, that’s a huge relief. Not out to kill me or my friends tonight. Gosh, let’s be BFFs until tomorrow when you change your mind.” Courtney clutched her trench coat more tightly around herself. “I get you, Lucas. You’re a rabid psycho killer, so, that’s your motive. I get you, too, Bianca. Still in love with your psycho ex. That’s pathetic, and honestly pretty much what I should’ve expected from a loser like you. But Balthazar? What are you doing? What could you possibly be thinking?”

“I can explain if you’ll listen.” Balthazar looked unnerved now—

even frightened. I’d never seen him frightened before, not even at the Autumn Ball. He knew, as I knew, that Courtney would almost certainly report us to Mrs. Bethany.

Courtney didn’t listen. She stomped down the block without another word.

Lucas gestured after her. “What—are you going to just let her go?”

“What do you want us to do?” I protested. “Stake her?” Courtney, who apparently couldn’t tell I was being sarcastic, started to run. Balthazar took off after her, and Lucas and I followed. I knew that Balthazar and I were trying to catch Courtney to reassure her and explain, but Lucas—I wasn’t sure about Lucas.

I hated that I wasn’t sure.

“Courtney, wait!” I called.

She only ran faster. Balthazar was quicker, though, and he managed to grab her shoulder and spin her around. Courtney shrieked, but Balthazar pleaded, “We’re not going to hurt you.”

“Not hurt me? What does the guy from Black Cross say about that?” Lucas sighed heavily. “You’re safe.”

Courtney cocked her head, like he’d spoken in some language she didn’t understand. “Whatever this bizarro arrangement is, this is totally screwed up.”

“Sometimes I agree with you,” Balthazar said. “The point is, it’s no danger to you or to any other vampire, and we’d appreciate it if you would keep it a secret.” Poor Balthazar—he’d try to be calm and reasonable with a rampaging bull.

“If you’re in with Black Cross, I can’t keep that secret.” Courtney backed away from us. She bumped against a parked minivan, then slid around it, her hands pressed flat against the metal like a blind person finding her way. “That’s dangerous. You should know better, Balthazar.

You’re the one Mrs. Bethany will blame.”

Then Courtney cried out and clutched at her chest—with the point of a stake sticking between her fingers.

I gasped. For one terrible second, I thought Lucas had thrown the stake at her, but no—the blow had come from behind. Courtney staggered two steps forward, then fell face down into the street with the stake protruding from her back. Behind her stood Charity.

Balthazar stared at his sister, not in horror but in wonder. Charity wore jeans that had faded to gray and showed the black tights she wore through half a dozen rips and holes. Her dingy sweater had frayed at the neck. She smiled at him sadly. “The girl would have hurt you,” she said, nudging Courtney’s inert body with her silver-slippered toe. “Couldn’t let her do that, could I?”

“Charity. You shouldn’t have—but you wanted to help, and for that—thank you.” Balthazar reached out one hand, but Charity skipped back a few steps.

“She asked good questions, though.” Charity’s dark eyes darted toward Lucas. “Why are you spending so much time with Black Cross?

Especially while they’re hunting me?”

I turned toward Lucas. “You said they weren’t hunting her any longer! You promised!”

“We aren’t! At least as far as I know, we aren’t!” Lucas protested. I was starting to wonder if “as far as I know” wasn’t just a dodge, whether Lucas simply chose not to know anything that would inconvenience him.

Every bit of the fear and upset I’d felt in the past several minutes was swirling around inside me, desperate for someplace to go, and now it was all being drawn toward Lucas.

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