Afterlife Page 6

“I need to talk to you.” Lucas’s voice sounded ragged with strain. “Please, Mom, can the two of us just .. . talk for a while? I have a lot to tell you. A lot of stuff I need to make sense of.”

Concern made Kate stop trying to convert him and start listening. “Lucas, are you okay? You look pale, and you’ve obviously been in a fight — ”

“I’m — ” His throat choked off the word fine.

“We have to talk. That’s it. I need you to come through for me on this.” His eyes met hers. “I really need you to do that.”

Kate’s expression softened. The mother had won out over the fighter. “Okay.”

She took another step toward him and held out her arms. Lucas paused only a moment before embracing her tightly. I saw him grimace as he took in the scent of her blood — but he didn’t break.

He’s done it, I thought with delight. Lucas can control the blood hunger.

Then Kate’s arms tensed, and her eyes went wide. I realized that, for the first time, she saw that the blood staining his T — shirt was his own — and she saw the wound at his neck. The wound obviously caused by a vampire’s bite.

If I had noticed how cold Lucas felt to the touch, then his mother could, too.

Kate jerked away from him, leaving Lucas to stumble back in confusion. Her hand went to her stake. “What did Bianca do to you?”

Lucas took a step toward her, eyes pleading. “It wasn’t Bianca. Mom, just listen.”

“Ask the others to leave,” I said. Maybe Kate had a chance to accept her son as whatever he had become, but I didn’t want to take my chances on the rest of the Black Cross hunters. “Let Lucas explain.”

“You’ve been killed.” Kate’s voice was almost a sob. “You’re a vampire.”

There was a ripple of gasps and whispered curses from the other hunters. Dana hid her face against Raquel’s arm for a moment. I glanced behind us at Balthazar, who remained behind the wheel with the car’s motor idling.

Lucas kept his eyes locked with his mother. “Yes. I am. It’s not like they told us, Mom; I’m different but I’m still me. At least, I think I’m still me. This is … weird and scary, and I need to find out if there’s any way for me to be the person I was before. Please help me do that.”

Kate straightened. She never looked away from him, her gaze as cool and hard as iron. “You’re the shell of what my son used to be. I loved him more than a monster like you can ever know —”

“Mom, no,” Lucas whispered.

She acted like she hadn’t heard. “And you can taunt me with his voice and his face only as long as I let you.” Though her voice trembled, Kate pulled out her stake, her grip sure. “All I can do for Lucas now is give him a decent burial. And that means ending you.”

“Lucas!” I grabbed his arm to pull him toward the car, but he twisted away from me, as if unable to believe that his mother could do this to him.

Then she swung at him so fast that he stumbled as he dodged the blow.

Most of the other hunters began running toward us. Ranulf burst from Vic’s doorway, ax in hand, courageously jumping into the fray despite the likelihood that he’d be staked and beheaded. None of that scared me as much as what was happening to Lucas.

Wham! Kate’s fist hit his jaw, and his expression went blank.

Wham! Lucas blocked one of her blows, and he narrowed his eyes, baring his teeth in rage.

Wham! This time he hit her. His fangs extended. I knew then that the threat had pushed him over the edge. The blood madness gripped Lucas now. He was ftghting to kill.

I pulled at the clasp of my coral bracelet, the one Lucas had given me for my birthday — and my tether to corporeal existence. When it fell onto Vic’s lawn, I felt myself become lighter, insubstantial.

One of the hunters came at me, swinging a stake. I simply turned to vapor, so that his hand passed right through me — a weird sensation, sort of like a stomach cramp. The hunter screamed, which would have been hilarious any other time.

Zooming upward above the fray, I tried to take in the scene. Ranulf single — handedly held off the three hunters closest to Vic’s house. Vic had run out onto the lawn, not to fight but apparently to yell at Raquel, which at least was keeping her out of the battle. Dana, too — she had remained by Raquel’s side, maybe to defend her, maybe because she couldn’t attack her best friend even if he’d become a vampire. Lucas and his mother stood in the heart of it, locked in combat. He answered every punch she landed and clawed at her every chance he got, while throwing off the two hunters trying to come to her aid. If he got the upper hand, I knew he would kill Kate. And if he did that, if he drank his own mother’s blood, there was no way Lucas would ever be able to forgive himself.

At first it looked like Balthazar was just going to sit in the car and watch, which infuriated me. Then the motor revved, and with the screech of burning rubber, Balthazar drove the car straight onto Vic’s lawn, making the hunters scatter. He didn’t hit anybody, but not for lack of trying.

I wanted to protect the people I could. Quickly I pulled myself together into a physical form on the ground, right by Raquel, Dana, and Vic. Though I remained half transparent, they were able to see me.

“What the hell?” Dana yelled, throwing her arms around Raquel like I was going to hurt her. “Get out of here,” I said. “Dana, take Raquel and try to get the others to follow you. Please!”

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