Afterlife Page 45

“Did you assume your sainted little sister Wouldn’t do that?” I demanded. “Or was it just more fun to let us figure it out for ourselves?” Balthazar’s mood shifted so fast it startled me. He got right in my face, his expression twisted in anger darker than I’d ever seen from him before. “First, nothing about this is fun. Not for you, not for Lucas, and not for me.”

“Then why didn’t you — ”

“Shut. Up.” Balthazar said. Lucas rose from his knees at that, maybe ready to get into the argument and defend me, but Balthazar never glanced toward him. Our eyes remained locked. “Second, I didn’t warn you guys because it doesn’t happen often. The sire has to really want to mess with somebody like that, and besides, doing that — it weakens a vampire for days. Maybe weeks. That’s why nobody does it. If she’s taking over Lucas’s dreams every night. Charity would have to be . .. beyond obsessed.”

“In other words, Charity,” I retorted.

Lucas wasn’t part of the argument, but what we were saying had its own effect on him. “Charity’s really in my head,” he murmured. “She’s the one making me so crazy.”

Balthazar grimaced. “Yeah, she is. It’s sick and twisted — and yes, I understand by now that Charity’s sick. Even when I miss her, even when I think I can fix her — ” His voice broke, but he kept going. “I always know she’s broken.”

“Balthazar — ” I said, more softly. trying to give him an out.

“God, you cannot be quiet and let anyone else talk, can you?” He got closer to me — closer than he’d been at any moment other than the times we’d kissed. “Third, and last, I want you to get one thing straight. Whatever mistakes I made after you died, I’m not the one who turned Lucas.

Charity did. And I didn’t force you to let Lucas rise from the dead. So stop blaming me for it.”

With that, Balthazar turned, grabbed his bathrobe and cigarettes, and went for the door. I wanted to protest but knew it would just drive him 122 over the edge. But Lucas said, “Hey. Balthazar.” He paused with his hand on the knob. “What?”

“You shouldn’t have yelled.” Lucas winced and then said, “But You’re not wrong.”

Balthazar simply stalked out, slamming the door behind him. Down the hall, I could hear a couple of people muttering about the noise. Lucas, hearing it, too, said, “Hope nobody recognized your name when he was shouting.”

“I can’t believe you took his side.”

“I’m on your side. No matter what.” Lucas put his hands on my shoulders, which were solid enough to bear the touch. “But you’ve been giving him attitude at the slightest excuse ever since — ever since we died, I guess. That is never going to stop sounding weird.”

“He shouldn’t have taken you along that night!”

“I shouldn’t have gone with him. But it was my choice, my call. Besides — ” Lucas clearly didn’t like admitting this, but he went ahead. “Losing you hit him almost as hard as it did me. If I wasn’t responsible for my actions that day. neither was he.”

I drifted slightly farther from Lucas, allowing myself to float to the windowsill, where I could tuck my knees against my chest. Hugging myself like a child, I realized, a kind of comfort I hadn’t outgrown. At the moment, I felt like there were way too many things I should ‘ ve outgrown, but hadn’t.

“I know how badly you want someone to blame,” Lucas said. “Someone who’s here, now, so you can give him hell. But Balthazar’s our friend, Bianca. He’s done a lot for us.”

Slowly I nodded. “I feel stupid.”

“You’re not stupid.” After a moment he said, “You thought about destroying me before I rose as a vampire. Balthazar talked you out of it.”

“Yeah. But I let him talk me out of it.” The heaviness of that unspoken question was too much to bear, now; I had to know. “Did I do the wrong thing? Lucas, I love you so much. I couldn’t let you go. But I realize . . . I realize it’s what you probably wanted.”

“It’s done. I know you made your choices out of love. That’s enough,” Lucas said. Although I still felt horrible — both for even having considered destroying him, and for not carrying through — I knew he forgave me. I wished it truly could be enough.

“I wish I could cry.”

He caressed my hand, as though he could massage away my sadness. “How’s your leg?”

“Not great.” I flexed it and winced. “If I fade out, it will help, though.,.

“We’re never doing this again,” Lucas said. His face was stark. “If Charity’s able to hurt you in my dreams, then you can’t come into them.”

I remembered the first dream we had shared, back when Lucas had still been alive. We’d held each other in a bookstore where we’ d hung out, while the night sky miraculously stretched out overhead. It had been so beautiful and romantic; at the time, I had thought it was the only consolation we would have for my being dead. Now that, too, was lost.

My face must have fallen, because Lucas kissed my forehead, my cheek, and then my mouth, the lightest and most tender of touches. “It’s okay.” He didn’t look as depressed as I felt. Given the burdens on him, I would ‘ve thought the realization that Charity was torturing him in his dreams would be all it took to send him over the edge. Instead, he seemed steadier. “I mean, think about it. Balthazar’s heard of this, the invading of the dreams. Apparently lots of vampires have. That means they might know some way to handle it. A block or — or something like that.”

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