Evernight Page 30

As soon as Balthazar had left us, I muttered, “That was completely unnecessary.”

“He was leaning over you. Looming.”

“I was showing him the stars!” I hugged myself, trying to stay warm. “Did you think he was about to kiss me?”

“No.”

“Liar,” I retorted.

Lucas groaned. “Okay, I was trying to keep him away from you. I couldn’t just watch that guy put the moves on you and not do something about it.” Then he took off his school blazer and offered it to me. It wasn’t as elegant a gesture as it had been from Balthazar—but then, from Balthazar it had been simple good manners, the kind of behavior that was part of being a gentleman. Lucas, I thought, was desperate to do anything to show that he could take care of me, at least a little.

I took the jacket from him and slipped into it. The lining was still warm from his body. “Thank you.”

“Shame to cover up the dress.” He looked me up and down, a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth.

“Don’t flirt with me.” Part of me wanted to hear Lucas flirting all night, but I knew that we had to have this conversation, now. “Talk to me.”

“Okay. We’ll talk.”

After that, of course, neither of us knew exactly what to say. Mostly to stall for time, I kept walking, Lucas by my side. We heard a rustling in the leaves far away, but then we heard giggling. Apparently other couples were sneaking out into the woods tonight. From the sound of things, they were having more fun than we were.

I finally realized I’d have to speak first. “You shouldn’t have said that about my parents.”

“I was out of line.” Lucas sighed. “They care about you. Anybody can see that.”

“Then why were you being so weird about them?”

He considered that, clearly unsure how to answer. “We haven’t talked much about my mom.”

I blinked. “No. I guess we haven’t.”

“She’s kind of intense.” Lucas stared at his feet as we walked across a thick, soft carpet of brown pine needles. Nearby an apple tree was surrounded by fallen fruit that nobody had picked, each apple now brown and soft. Their sweet scent gentled the air. “She tries to run my whole life for me, and she comes pretty close.”

“I have a lot of trouble imagining anybody bossing you around.”

“That’s because you haven’t met Mom.”

“She’ll change as you get older,” I suggested. “I know my parents used to be a lot more protective than they are.”

“She’s not like your parents.” Lucas laughed, and the sound was strange for some reason I couldn’t define. “Mom sees the world in black and white. You have to be strong to make it, she says. As far as she’s concerned, the world only has two kinds of people in it: predators and prey.”

“That sounds—hard core.”

“Hard core is a good term for her. She has very definite ideas about who I should be and what I should do. I might not agree with her all the time, but, you know—she’s still my mom. What she says has an effect on me.” He sighed heavily. “That’s probably not much of an explanation, but it has a lot to do with how I behaved in Riverton.”

The more I thought about what Lucas was saying, the more I realized how much it explained. Lucas had assumed that my parents were trying to run my life because his mother always tried to run his. “I get it. I really do.”

“It’s cold.” Lucas took my hand. My heart fluttered faster. “Come on. Let’s get back to the school.”

We walked together toward Evernight, stepping out of the woods onto the grounds, where we could see the brilliant lights in the great hall and the silhouettes of dancing couples. I imagined the way this night might have gone if Lucas and I had never argued and he’d been my date to the Autumn Ball. It was almost too perfect to think about. “I don’t want to go inside yet.”

“It’s cold.”

“Your jacket is keeping me warm.”

“Yeah, but it isn’t keeping me warm.” He grinned at me. Lucas always seemed older than me, except when he smiled.

“Wait just a little,” I pleaded, tugging him toward the gazebo where we’d met. “We’ll keep each other warm.”

“Well, when you put it that way—”

We sat down in the gazebo, stars above clouded by the thick ivy, and Lucas put his arms around me. I lay my head against his shoulder. Just like that, all the doubt and confusion I’d felt for the past few weeks was gone. I’d been happy during the ball itself, but only because I’d forgotten myself in the whirl. This was different. I knew where I was—who I was—and I was completely at peace. Although I remembered all the reasons I’d doubted Lucas, when we were as close as this, I could trust him completely. I wasn’t afraid of anything in the world. It was safe to let go. Closing my eyes, I nuzzled my face into the curve of his neck. Lucas shivered, and I didn’t think it was because of the cold.

“You know I’m only looking out for you, right?” he whispered. I could feel his lips brushing against my forehead. “I want to keep you safe.”

“I don’t need you to protect me from danger, Lucas.” I slipped my arms around his waist and hugged him tightly. “I need you to protect me from being lonely. Don’t fight for me. Be with me. That’s what I need.”

He laughed, a strange, sad sound. “You need somebody to look out for you. Make sure everything’s okay. I want to be that guy.”

I lifted my face to his. We were so close that my eyelashes brushed his chin, and I could feel the warmth of body heat in the small space between our mouths. It took all my courage to say, “Lucas, all I need is you.”

Lucas touched my cheek, then brushed his lips against mine. That first touch stole my breath, but I already knew that I wasn’t afraid any longer. I was with Lucas, and nothing could ever hurt me.

I kissed him, and my dreams had told me the truth—I did know how to kiss Lucas. How to touch him. The knowledge had been inside me all the time, waiting for the spark that would make it catch fire and come alive. Lucas crushed me so hard against his chest that I could hardly breathe. We kissed deep and slow, hard and soft, a thousand different ways. All of it was right.

His blazer fell from my shoulders, exposing my arms and back to the cool night air. His hands slid upward to cover me, and I could feel his palms upon my shoulder blades and his fingertips on my spine. The feel of his skin against mine was so good—better than I’d guessed it could be—and my head fell backward as I sighed in delight. Lucas kissed my mouth, my cheek, my ear, my throat.

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