Afterlife Page 3

Enough of this.

I pushed myself toward them, blood on my fingertips, and flung out my hand as I cried, “Stop!” Droplets of silvery blood spattered through the air as all three of the guys shrank back.

At my side, Balthazar whispered, “Don’t get into this.”

Ignoring him, I stepped directly in front of Lucas. He had backed against the wall, glancing around wildly as though he could think of nothing but escape — or, perhaps, in search of living prey. Death had sharpened his features, making him both more beautiful and infinitely frightening. The only features that remained ilie same were his eyes.

So I focused only on his eyes. “Lucas, it’s me. It’s Bianca.”

He said nothing, just stared at me, utterly motionless. I realized he wasn’t breathing — most vampires did just as force of habit, but it seemed that death had claimed him entirely. No way was I going to let that happen.

“Lucas,” I repeated. “I know you can hear me. The guy I love is still in there. Come back to me.” Once again, I longed for the release of tears.

“Death couldn’t keep me from you. And it can’t keep you from me, not if you don’t let it.”

Lucas didn’t speak, but some of the tension left his body, relaxing his hands and his shoulders. He still looked edgy, almost crazed, but some semblance of control had returned to him.

What could I do? Was there anything I could say that would get through to him? Someiliing he would remember .. .

When Lucas had first learned that I was born to two vampires, he had to overcome his revulsion of the undead in order to hold true to his love for me. If he could remember what it had meant for him to accept me for what I was, maybe he could begin to face what he, too, had become.

Haltingly, I spoke his words as they came back to me: “Even though you’re a vampire — it doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t change how I feel about you.”

Lucas blinked, and for the first time since he had risen from the dead, his eyes seemed to fully focus. I realized that his fangs had retracted, leaving only the unearthly pallor and beauty of the vampire. In every other way, he looked human. He looked like himself.

He whispered, “Bianca?”

“It’s me. Oh, Lucas, it’s me.”

Lucas clutched me to him in an impossibly tight embrace, and I wrapped my arms around his shoulders. I felt hot tears against my shoulder; I wished I could cry, too. Our legs gave out at the same time, and we sank to the floor together.

I glanced over my shoulder to tell Balthazar and Ranulf to leave us, but they were already halfway out the door.

Once we were alone, I ran my hands through Lucas’s hair, stroked his back, and kissed his cheek. “You made it back,” I said. “We’re together. We’ll be okay.”

“I never thought I’d see you again. I thought you were dead.”

“I am. We both are.”

“Then how — how is this real?”

“I’ve become a wraith. Only, wraiths like me who were born to it, born to two vampires — we have powers the others don’t. I can have a body if I want, at least for a while. If I’d realized before … if I could have told you… this would never have had to happen.”

“Don’t say it.” His voice was strangled.

We rested our foreheads against each other, and the contact should have been comforting, but we were both so cold.

“My body feels heavy. Wrong. Dead.” Lucas’s hands tightened on my shoulders. “And yet there’s this hunger making me wild. Driving me insane. You’re back in my arms — I’d lost you forever, and here you are — but the only thing I can think about, the only thing I want — ” He couldn’t finish; he didn’t have to. I knew all he wanted was blood.

“It will get better.” My parents had always told me so, and weren’t most of the vampires of Evernight proof of that?

Lucas didn’t seem to believe me, but he said, dutifully, “Gotta hang on.”

“Right.”

For a few moments, we simply held each other. The faded film-star faces on the tattered movie posters around us seemed to be watching us, an audience of dark, soulless eyes. When I leaned against Lucas’s shoulder, I tried to breathe in the familiar scent of his skin, but that was gone. Either his scent had been lost when he died, or I no longer had a sense of smell like I had before, or both. So many things had been taken from us.

But not each other, I reminded myself. We have to remember that.

First I had to get him out of this place, where he had been murdered. We needed to go someplace better, more familiar. Vic’s house, I decided. We’d hidden out there for the past month or so this summer, while Vic’s family vacationed in Italy. Our little makeshift apartment in the wine cellar Wouldn’t be that much more comforting — it was where I had died just the day before — but maybe we could remain there until we figured out what to do.

“Come on.” I took one of his hands in mine. The coral bracelet he’d given me for my last birthday jangled at my wrist. “They’re waiting for us outside.”

“Who’s waiting for us?” Lucas couldn’t seem to focus; it was like he was listening to a cell phone at the same time he was trying to listen to me. Not in a rude way; he just couldn’t help it, which was worse.

“Balthazar — and Vic and Ranulf, too. They came back from Italy after you e-mailed them. Remember?”

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