Evernight Page 3

He shut up.

With a sigh, I let my head flop back upon the ground. I dug the heels of my hands into my eyes, pressing down so that I saw red. The taste of blood was thick in my mouth, and my heart was still thumping so hard that my rib cage seemed to shake. I could have peed myself, which would have been just about the only way to make this scenario more humiliating than it already was. Instead, I kept taking deep breaths, one after the other, until I felt like I was strong enough to sit up.

When I did, the guy was still there next to me. I managed to ask, “Why did you tackle me?”

“I thought we needed to take cover. To hide from whoever was chasing you, but that turned out to be, uh”—he looked embarrassed—“nobody.”

He ducked his head, and I got a good look at him for the first time. There hadn’t exactly been time for me to notice anything about him before; when your first impression of somebody is “psycho killer,” you don’t take time to analyze the details. Now, though, I could see that he wasn’t a grown man like I’d assumed. Although he was tall and broad shouldered, he was young, maybe about my age. He had straight, golden-brown hair that fell across his forehead, mussed from the chase. His jaw was strong and angular, and he had a solid, muscular body and amazingly dark green eyes.

But the most remarkable thing of all was what he was wearing beneath his long black coat: battered black boots, black wool trousers, and a dark red V-necked sweater emblazoned with a crest—two ravens embroidered on either side of a silver sword. The crest of Evernight.

“You’re a student,” I said, “here at the school.”

“About to be, anyway.” He spoke quietly, as if he were worried about scaring me again. “You?”

I nodded as I shook my tangled hair loose and started to pin it up again. “This is my first year. My parents got jobs as teachers here, so—I’m stuck.”

That seemed to strike him as odd, because he frowned at me, and his green eyes were suddenly searching and unsure. In an instant, though, he had recovered and held out his hand. “Lucas Ross.”

“Oh. Hey.” It felt weird, introducing myself to somebody I’d thought was trying to kill me five minutes before. His hand was broad and cool, and he gripped mine firmly. “I’m Bianca Olivier.”

“Your pulse is racing,” Lucas murmured. He studied my face intently, and I felt nervous again—but in a much better way. “Okay, if you weren’t running from an attacker, why were you running like that? Because that didn’t look like a morning jog to me.”

I would’ve lied if I could have thought of any plausible excuse, but I couldn’t. “I got up early to—well, to try and run away.”

“Your parents treat you bad? Hurt you?”

“No! Nothing like that.” I felt so offended, but I realized that of course that was what Lucas would have to assume. Why else would a totally sane person be running through the woods before the sun was completely up like she was escaping with her life? We’d only just met, so maybe he still counted me as totally sane. I decided not to mention the nightmare flashbacks, because that would probably tip the balance toward crazy. “But I don’t want to go to school here. I liked our hometown, and, besides, Evernight Academy is—it’s so—”

“Spooky as hell.”

“Yeah.”

“Where were you going to go? Do you have a job lined up, something like that?”

My cheeks were flushed, and not just from the exertion of the run. “Um, no. I wasn’t really running away. Just making a statement. Sort of. I thought if I did this, my parents would finally get how much I don’t want to be here, and maybe we could leave.”

Lucas blinked for a second, then started to grin. His smile changed all the weird pent-up energy inside me, transforming it from fear into curiosity, even excitement. “Like me with my slingshot.”

“What?”

“Back when I was five, I thought my mom was being mean to me, so I decided to run away. Carried my slingshot with me because I was a big strong man, you see. Could take care of myself. I believe I also took a flashlight and a package of Oreos.”

Despite my embarrassment, I couldn’t help smiling. “I think you packed better than I did.”

“I swaggered out of the house where we were staying and took myself all the way to…the far corner of the backyard. There I made my stand. Stayed out there all day, until it started to rain. I hadn’t thought about taking an umbrella.”

“The best laid plans.” I sighed.

“I know. It’s tragic. I came back in, all wet and my stomach aching from eating about twenty Oreos, and my mom—who is a smart lady even if she drives me nuts—well, she acted like nothing had happened.” Lucas shrugged. “Which is what your parents are going to do, too. You know that, right?”

“I do now.” My throat tightened with disappointment. I’d known the truth all along, really. I’d simply had to do something, more to act out my own frustration than to send a message to my parents.

Then Lucas asked a question that astonished me: “Do you want out of here for real?”

“Like—run away? Really run away?”

Lucas nodded, and he looked serious.

He wasn’t, though; he couldn’t be. No doubt he had asked me that to snap me back to reality. I admitted, “No, I don’t. I’ll go back. Get ready for school like a good girl.”

There was that grin again. “Nobody said anything about being a good girl.”

The way he said that made me feel warm and soft inside. “It’s just—Evernight Academy—I don’t think I’ll ever belong there.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that. Might be a good thing, not belonging there.” He looked at me, serious and intent, like he thought he had another idea about where I might belong. Either this guy really liked me, or I was inventing things in my head because I wanted him to like me. I was much too inexperienced to guess which.

Hurriedly, I pushed myself to my feet. As Lucas stood also, I asked, “So what were you doing? When you saw me?”

“Like I said, I thought you were in trouble. There are some rough characters up in these parts. Not everybody has self-control.” He brushed a few pine needles from his sweater. “I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions. My instincts got the best of me. Sorry about that.”

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