Afterlife Page 43

After hours, I drifted downward into Lucas’s and Balthazar’s room, where they were clearly in the last stages of getting ready for bed. I didn’t announce myself — I knew Lucas would sense my presence — but wished I had when Balthazar promptly stripped off his uniform.

His whole uniform.

“Uh, Balthazar?” Lucas said.

“Yeah?” Balthazar threw his boxers in the laundry hamper. I was trying hard not to look, but what sliver of a view I’d gotten was exactly the kind of thing that made me want to look more.

“You get that we’re not exactly alone, right?”

Balthazar froze for a second, then quickly grabbed a pillow and held it in front of himself. “When I said that about following me into the shower, I was joking. Bianca!”

I traced a shaky word in lines of frost across their window: Sorry!

Lucas scowled. “When were you two joking about her showering with you?”

Balthazar, trying to get his bathrobe on without dropping the pillow, scowled right back. “I’m going to the communal bathrooms for privacy. Which is pathetic, but that’s what we’re stuck with.” He grabbed his pajamas and hurried out.

Into Lucas’s ear, I whispered, “I wasn’t talking about showering with Balthazar.”

“I know,” he said, flopping back onto the bed. “I trust you. I just like giving him hell sometimes. It’s fun.”


He nodded, taking a deep breath, as if already trying to calm himself toward sleep. “Yeah. Let’s try it.”

Within half an hour, Lucas was sound asleep, and Balthazar was apparently taking the world’s longest shower. I waited for the rapid movements of Lucas’s eyelids and thick lashes before gathering myself together and taking the long. deep dive into what I hoped would be the world of his dreams.

That world took substance around me. However, my triumph faded as I realized where we were: in the shabby, abandoned movie theater where 118 Lucas had been killed. He stood several steps ahead of me in the lobby. One hand clutched a stake, and the other covered his nose and mouth. I didn’t understand why until I smelled smoke and realized that was the reason for the haze around us.

From the movie screen came a warm flickering that I knew wasn’t a movie — it was a fire.

Yeah, it’s another nightmare, I realized. Now to see if I can wake him up.

Before I could speak, Lucas said, “Charity.”

“Hello, baby.” Charity emerged from the shadows. She didn’t say baby like it meant honey or sweetheart, more like she was talking about an actual infant. The firelight danced in her pale curls. Her long, lacy dress was clean for once — only in dreams. “How is my dear baby tonight?”

“Let me go,” he said. His voice broke on the words.

“Cuuldu ‘l ifl wauted lu.” Site wiled liiuwpltautly. “Aud I duu ‘l wautlu.”

“Lucas,” I said. “It’s okay. Don’t look at her. She’s just a dream. Look at me.”

But he didn’t look at me. I stepped between him and Charity, hoping to break the dream spell that kept him from fully recognizing me, but it did no good. He only looked through me, as ifl weren’t even there.

“Are you searching for Bianca?” Charity’s concern would have sounded genuine to anyone who didn’t actually know her. “She might be trapped in the fire. You must save her!”

Lucas ran from her, straight toward the flames. As I whirled to go after him, Charity said, “He’s mine now, Bianca. You’ll never have him again.”

How was it possible for Charity to see me when Lucas hadn’1 been aware of my presence, when she was only part of his nightmare?

Her eyes locked with mine. Her smile changed character until it was less defiant, more conspiratorial. Almost as if we were in on a joke together. How could that happen in Lucas’s dream?

It couldn’t.

I realized she Wasn’t part of his nightmare. She was the cause. This wasn’t a dream of Charity; this was the real thing. Here. In Lucas’s mind. She must have seen the realization on my face, because her grin widened, showing her fangs. “I told you. Lucas is mine.”

Chapter Twelve

“HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS?” I SHOUTED OVER the crackling of the fire. “How are you in Lucas’s head?”

“I created Lucas.” Charity twirled her finger through one of her pale blond curls as though she were flirting. Having died at fourteen, she looked too young to be so evil, baby softness in her cheeks. “I sired him. That means his mind and all the rest of him belong to me now, and forever.”

Nobody had ever mentioned this to me before. It would never have applied in my case; as the child of t\vo vampires, I would never have required a “sire” to turn me. Although I’d always known the relationship carried with it a powerful bond, I’d never realized it extended so far.

“Don’t make him dream about this.” I hated to beg her, but I didn’t know what else to do. “He has enough to deal with.”

Charity cocked her head to one side as she came closer to me, creepy and threatening even in the realm of imagination. “I didn’t create this nightmare. Lucas did. Or was it you? You’re the one he keeps trying to save.”

From deep within the burning theater, I heard my own scream.

“Over and over, they threaten you,” Charity said. “Over and over, they kill you. Some vampires dream about their murders; others about their remorse. But not Lucas. The phantoms of his mind, the thousands of nightmares he endures, they’re all about one thing — losing you time and again.”

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