Afterlife Page 54

“Your mother loves you forever,” Dad said fiercely. “just like me. But her experiences with the wraiths have been worse than most. After the Great Fire of London, and the mass destruction of the ghosts there, the few wraiths that remained were — insane doesn’t even come close. Celia lingered for days with her injuries, and would ‘ ve died if I hadn’t — well. While she was trapped between life and death, she had some terrifying experiences. You’ll never know how hard it was for her to agree to the brief encounter with the wraith that created you. This stuff frightens her pretty badly to this day.”

“Mom would be . .. scared of me?”

“We’ll get her through it,” he promised. Already Dad looked better than I’d seen him since before I died. Younger, if that was possible. There was a light in his eyes, and no shadow behind his smile. “I don’t want to leave her mourning for much [onger. It would be — I’m not going to do that to her. I just want to think about how best we can break it to her.”

“Okay.” That sounded fair. As badly as I wanted to see Mom again, to double the happiness I felt at this moment, I trusted Dad’s judgment. He’d loved my mother for about four hundred years now; he knew her better than anyone else ever could. “Wait — you said the Great Fire of London. It destroyed all the ghosts?”

He seized my arms. “Bianca, don’t you know? If a wraith is trapped within a structure, and that structure burns, the wraith is destroyed. You 145 have to be careful. Fire could hurt you.”

Dad might have been lecturing my three — year — old self about why it was a bad idea to touch the stove while it was on. “Don’t worry. I don’t intend to let myself get trapped.”

The ice wall closest to us shattered, and Dad and I jumped back. Standing on the other side, sprinkled with flakes of ice, were Vic and Patrice. Vic, who held the ax, looked like he’d never had more fun in his life; Patri — ce gingerly brushed dripping curls of hair away from her eyes. “How’s it going, Mr. Olivier?” Vic said cheerfully.

Patrice held out her expensive compact, which was completely caked with ice. “Any ideas what I should do with this thing? I’m not putting it back in my makeup bag.”

Dad stared at them, then at me, like he was just putting something together. “Wait — your friends, they all . .. know about you? Spend time with you?”

“Yeah. It took me a little while to figure out how to make it work, but we got it.”

“Lucas … Balthazar . ..” Dad’s forehead furrowed.

“Yes, they’ve always known,” I said. “And don’t get mad at them for not telling you. That was my decision, too.”

“Oh, man, awkward.” Vic tucked the ax behind his back, like that was the reason things might be difficult. “Should we go?”

“I’m not taking this with me,” Patrice said, holding the ice — coated compact out from her with two fingers, like it smelled bad. “Give it to me.” Dad saw her hesitate and sighed. “We’ll return the mirror later.”

Patrice looked doubtful, but she handed over the compact. “Well, that’s done. Glad to help. See you later, okay?”

“Okay,” I said. Vic just nodded at us and sheepishly followed Patrice out. As they went, I saw her staring down disapprovingly at her nails; apparently, in her rush to help me, she’d wrecked her new manicure. For Patrice, that was a sign of real dedication.

My father and I were alone again. Wordlessly, we stepped out of the winding blocks of ice into a snug corner of the library, where a small sofa sat between two of the tallest bookshelves. It was a good place to sit and talk, though at the moment we weren ‘t talking. There was so much to say 146 that I couldn’t think of where to begin; I started with the place where tonight’s confrontation had begun. “What were you doing with that box?”

“Trying to catch a wraith.” His eyes tracked over to the far wall of the library — the place where the trap had been set. Dad’s hands closed around mine, like he was unwilling to let me go even for a second. “It had settled in here without — ”

“Without being caught. Because the trap was broken.” I realized for the first time that my father might already have the answers I’d been searching for. “Dad, what’s going on? Why is Mrs. Bethany setting these traps for the wraiths?”

“To stop them, of course. They’re not all like you. Most of them are like that thing we just captured.”

“No, most of them are more like me — ourselves, mostly, the people that we were before. You just don’t see those. They don’t haunt places the same way.”

He opened his mouth as if to argue, before realizing that I really did know more about this. “If we’d understood that . ..”

Although Dad had trailed off, I could follow his train of thought. “You would have told me about my turning into a wraith, wouldn’t you? But because you thought it meant being some scary, horrible thing — something that could never be your daughter again.”

“I couldn’t stand to say the words. And we thought it would scare you.” Dad looked very tired. “We just tried to make vampirism as attractive as possible. There didn’t seem to be any reason for you to question it, or turn away.”

Not until I feJJ in Jove with a human, I thought. That was the real source of their anger toward Lucas, I realized; it didn’t have much to do with anything Lucas had done or not done. He had given me an alternative — made me question everything I’d taken for granted. I wondered if Dad realized it, too.

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