Evernight Page 14

“Hardly.” Lucas set the binoculars down. He was dressed to blend into the shadows—black trousers and a long-sleeved T-shirt that outlined his muscular arms and chest. He was wirier than Balthazar but more cut, too. There was something almost aggressively masculine about him. “Just wondering what the hell those guys do when they’re not bullying, preening, or sucking up. Seems like they wouldn’t have much time left over for anything else.” He cast me an appraising glance. “You seem to like them well enough.”

“What?”

He shrugged. “You’re always hanging out with that crowd.”

“I’m not! Patrice is my roommate, so I have to spend time with her, and her friends come by all the time, but I can’t really avoid them. I mean, a couple of them are okay, but most of them scare me to death.”

“None of them are okay. You can trust me on that.”

I thought I could’ve made an argument on Balthazar’s behalf, but I didn’t want to talk about Balthazar right now. I also realized that Lucas had put me on the defensive, and he didn’t have the right to do that. “Wait, that’s why you’ve been so cold to me? Why you act like we don’t know each other?”

“If that crew had gotten their claws into you—a sweet girl like you—I didn’t want to have to watch. Not if I couldn’t do anything about it.” The depth of feeling in his voice startled me. We were still a few feet away from each other, but it seemed as though I’d never been closer to anyone. “When I saw you run out of there, I realized you still had a chance.”

“Trust me, I’m not part of that group,” I said. “I think they only asked me to the party to laugh at me. I only went because I—well, I have to know somebody here. You were the only friend I had, and I thought I’d lost you.”

Lucas linked his hands around some of the gazebo’s scrollwork, and I did the same, so that we were side by side. We were both entwined with the scrollwork now, like the ivy. “I hurt your feelings, didn’t I?”

In a small voice, I admitted, “You kind of did. I mean—I know we only talked once—”

“But it meant something to you.” Our eyes met for only an instant. “It meant something to me, too. I just didn’t realize—Well, I thought it was only me.”

Lucas hadn’t realized I liked him back? I was never, ever going to understand men. “I came up to talk to you on the first day of classes.”

“Yeah, and just before that, you were walking and talking with Patrice Deveraux, who is about as in as they get here. Her kind and my kind—let’s face it, we don’t mix.” His face looked unpleasant for a moment. “You told me you hardly ever spoke to strangers, so I figured you guys must be pretty friendly.”

“She’s my roommate. I kind of have to be able to talk to her to get through the day.”

“Okay, I got it wrong. Sorry.”

There was more to it than that, I sensed. But Lucas seemed to genuinely regret having jumped to conclusions, which was enough for me. My protector had always been watching out for me, even if I hadn’t known. Realizing that gave me a warm feeling, as if a long coat had been thrown over my shoulders to keep me cozy and dry.

The silence between us stretched out, but it wasn’t awkward. Sometimes there are people you can be quiet with, and you never feel the need to fill the gap with meaningless chit-chat. I’d only become that close to a couple of people in my hometown, and I’d always thought it took years. Lucas and I were already there.

I remembered Courtney’s daring and decided I could be at least half as bold as she was. Though I’d never been good at making conversation, I’d give it a try. “Do you not get along with your roommate?”

“Vic?” Lucas smiled a little. “He’s pretty good, as roommates go. Oblivious, mostly. Goofy. But he’s an okay guy.”

The word goofy made me think I knew who this was. “Vic is the guy who wears Hawaiian shirts under his blazer sometimes, right?”

“That’s the one.”

“We haven’t talked, but he seems like fun.”

“He is. Maybe we can all hang out sometime.”

My heart pounding, I ventured, “That would be nice, but…I’d rather spend time with you.” Our eyes met, and I felt like I’d crossed some line. Was that a bad thing or a good one?

“We could—but—” Why was Lucas hesitating? “Bianca, I hope we’re friends. I like you. But it’s not a smart idea for you to spend a lot of time with me. You’ve seen that I’m not exactly the most popular guy on campus. I’m not here to make pals.”

“Are you here to make enemies? The way you and Erich fight, sometimes it seems like it.”

“Would you rather I was friendly with Erich?”

Erich was a class-A jerk, and we both knew it. “No, of course not. You’re just kind of, well, confrontational. I mean, do you really hate all these guys so much? I don’t like them, but you—it’s like you can’t even stand the sight of them.”

“I trust my instincts.”

I couldn’t really argue with that. “They’re people you don’t want on your bad side, not if you can help it.”

“Bianca, if you and I—if we—”

If we what? I could think of so many answers to that question, and I liked most of them. Our eyes met, locking so that it seemed impossible to look away. Lucas’s intensity was almost overpowering even when it wasn’t focused on me, and when it was—like now, as he studied every feature of my face, weighed all his words to me before he spoke them aloud—he could take my breath away.

Finally Lucas finished, “I couldn’t stand it if they took it out on you. And eventually they would.”

He was protecting me? That would have been endearing, if it hadn’t been crazy. “You know, I don’t think I have any social cred for you to damage.”

“Don’t be so sure.”

“Don’t be so stubborn.”

We were quiet together for a while. Moonlight filtered down between the leaves of ivy, and Lucas was close enough that I could recognize his scent—something that reminded me of cedar and pine, like the woods that surrounded us, as if he were somehow a part of this dark place.

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