Afterlife Page 38

“Nope. Then again, you are pretty charming.”

“Charm’s not my strong suit.”

“I disagree.” Carefully, I said, “You know not to trust her, right?”

Lucas remained silent as he walked out onto the floor of the guys’ dorm where he lived. Finally, when we reached his room, he said, “She cut me slack, and she didn’t have to.”

“She hates Black Cross a lot, and I get that she feels sorry for you because of what happened with them, but … the traps, Lucas. She’s out to get ghosts like me. One of those traps nearly killed me.”

“Maybe she’s just scared of what she doesn ‘ t understand,” he protested as he stripped off his sweater and shirt, dumping them on the floor atop the wet towels no doubt left over from Balthazar’s shower. Guys never seemed to realize that doing laundry was an option. “Bianca, You’re still frightened of the wraiths, and you are one. So it’s not an unreasonable reaction.”

I had trouble imagining Mrs. Bethany being scared of much of anything. But Lucas Wasn’t totally wrong about her either; she’d come through for him when none of his friends could, not even me.

just the same, I couldn’t have any real faith in her. Not yet. “You won’t tell her about me, will you? That I’ve become a wraith, and that I’m here with you?”

Lucas got a weird look on his face. “Are you kidding? Of course not.” Relief washed through me. “So you don’t trust her.”

“I don’t know ifl tntst her or not. But when it comes to you, I’m not taking any more risks than we have to. Your secrets are my secrets, Bianca. Never doubt that.”

I brushed against his cheek, a soft breeze, and he closed his eyes and smiled.

He was so strong right now. So happy. I suggested, “You know, I realize we can’t actually … be together…” Lucas opened his eyes, his smile dimming.

Before he could apologize. I said, “But I could watch you shower.”

He laughed out loud.

The next ten minutes were awesome, in terms of the view. However, the whole time, I couldn’t totally concentrate — not even with gorgeous, wet, na**d Lucas to focus on. One thought had lodged itself in my mind, and I couldn’t shake it.

I kept thinking, It’s like eve1yone else in the world can help him a little bit — but not me. Never me.

Chapter Eleven

WATCHING LUCAS SHOWER DID THINGS TO MY brain.

I let him go to class, but seeing him again, with his muscled chest and legs, and water streaming through his dark gold hair and over his full lips — remembering everything we’ d had together during the short weeks we’d shared in Philadelphia — awakened my hunger to be with him again.

Desire was different for me now that I didn’t have a living body, but that didn’t mean I wanted Lucas any less.

And I wanted that closeness between us again. I knew that I helped tether Lucas to the world as much as he helped me; surely we didn’t have to be celibate forever, did we? We could find a way. As long as I had my bracelet on, I didn’t see why it would even have to be difficult.

Lucas hadn’t made any moves in that direction since our first terrible attempt. Given how traumatizing that whole time had been, I’d respected the fact that he needed some distance; I knew he loved me just as much. Maybe I’d taken it too far, though. Maybe I was the one who needed to make the first move.

As darkness fell, I slipped down the side of the guys’ tower and into Vic and Ranulf’s room. They were sharing a companionably silent dinner, Ranulf sipping blood from an Eagles mug, Vic wolfing down a Hot Pocket. When I appeared in their room, Vic grinned and waved. “Yo, Bianca! It’s good you dropped by. We were just gonna watch jackie Chan movies. The old ones, where he’s badass, not the American stuff where he’s funny.”

“His ass remains bad in all incarnations,” Ranulf interjected. “In the laudatory sense of the word bad and a rather nebulous sense of the word ass.”

“Ever and always badass,” Vic agreed. “just more badass in the Drunken Master days. You want to join us, Bianca? See for yourself?”

“Actually,” I began, “I was hoping you guys might ask Balthazar to join you. For a couple of hours or so.”

Vic nodded sagely. “A little necktie — on — the — doorknob time is called for, I see.” When Ranulf frowned, he added, “Bianca and Lucas want to be alone.”

“I see at once the symbolism of the doorknob and the necktie,” Ranulf :said.

“Wait — no,” Vic said. “That is not what that means. At least, I don’t think so — ”

This conversation was about to derail. “Could you maybe go ahead and ask him? It would mean a lot.” Vic grinned. “Consider it done.”

About ten minutes later, when I went up to Lucas’s room, I found him alone; Vic and Ranulf had already collected Balthazar. Lucas sat amid a pile of schoolbooks, like he was cramming for all his exams at once. “Wow,” I said as I took shape. “Did you get hit with a homework tsunami or something?”

“Studying helps,” Lucas said quietly. “When I study, I can focus on something outside my head for a little while.”

The books and papers and laptop in front of him looked different now; at once I was reminded of him in his Black Cross cell, surrounded by his hunter’s weapons. His newfound drive for his schoolwork was one more way for him to defend himself — this time, against the demons within.

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