Evernight Page 37

“No.”

“She was proposed to, once. Her family was quite clear on that point in their various memoirs. A man of means offered his hand in marriage to Jane Austen, but she refused him. Did she have to get married, Miss Olivier?”

“Well, no, but she was a writer. Her books would’ve made—”

“Less money than you might think.” Mrs. Bethany was pleased I’d walked into her trap. Only now did I see that the folklore section of our reading had been to teach the vampires how twenty-first-century society thought about the supernatural, and that the classics were ways of studying how attitudes were different between their histories and now. “The Austen family was not especially wealthy. Whereas the Lucases—were they poor?”

“No,” Courtney piped up. Since she was no longer bothering to put me down, I figured she was doing it to get Balthazar to look at her. Since the ball, she’d renewed her efforts to win him over, but as far as I could tell, he was still unmoved. Courtney continued, “The father is Sir William Lucas, the only member of the gentry in town. They’re wealthy enough that Charlotte doesn’t have to marry anybody, not if she doesn’t really want to.”

“Do you think she really wants to marry Mr. Collins?” I retorted. “He’s a pompous idiot.”

Courtney shrugged. “She wants to be married, and he’s a means to an end.”

Mrs. Bethany nodded approvingly. “So, Charlotte is merely using Mr. Collins. She believes she is acting from necessity; he believes that he is acting from love, or at least the proper regard for a potential wife. Mr. Collins is honest. Charlotte is not.” I thought about the lies I’d told Lucas, gripping the edges of my notebook so hard that the crisp paper edges seemed to slice into my fingertips. Mrs. Bethany must’ve known what I was feeling, because she continued, “Doesn’t the deceived man deserve our pity instead of our scorn?”

I wished I could sink into the floor.

Then Balthazar gave me an encouraging smile, the way he used to, and I knew that even if we weren’t hanging out any longer, at least we were still friends. In fact, none of the Evernight types were looking down their noses at me like they used to. Even if I wasn’t really a vampire yet, I’d proved something to them. Maybe I was “in the club.”

In some ways, it felt like I’d gotten away with something—that I’d pulled off a trick of some kind—closed my eyes and said abracadabra and turned the whole world upside down. When I was holding hands with Lucas, laughing after class at one of his jokes, I could believe that everything was going to be better from now on.

That wasn’t true, though. It couldn’t be true as long as I was deceiving Lucas.

Before, I’d never thought of keeping my family’s secret from Lucas as lying; I’d been taught to keep that secret since I was a tiny child, drinking blood from the butcher shop out of my bottle. Now I knew how close I’d come to hurting him, and my secret didn’t seem innocent any longer.

Lucas and I kissed constantly—all the time, before breakfast in the morning, as we went to our different dorm areas at night, and basically pretty much any other time we could be alone together for an instant. However, I always stopped us before we got carried away. Sometimes I wanted more, and I could tell Lucas did too from the way he watched me, paying attention to how I moved or the way my fingers wrapped around his wrist. He never pushed me, though. When I lay alone at night, my fantasies became even wilder and more desperate. Now I knew what Lucas’s mouth felt like on mine, and I could imagine his touch against my bare skin with a clarity that startled me.

But when I had those fantasies now, the same image always bubbled up: my teeth sinking into Lucas’s throat.

There were times I thought I would do anything to taste Lucas’s blood again. That was when I was the most frightened.

“What do you think?” I modeled the old-fashioned velvet hat for Lucas, thinking that he would laugh; surely the deep purple of the fabric looked bizarre next to my red hair.

Instead he smiled at me in a way that made me feel warm all over. “You’re beautiful.”

We were in a secondhand clothing shop in Riverton, enjoying our second weekend in town together much more than the first. My parents had taken chaperone duty at the theater again, so we’d decided to skip our chance to see The Maltese Falcon. Instead we ran in and out of the shops that were still open, looking at posters and books, and dealing with some eye rolling from the clerks behind the counter, who were clearly sick of teenagers from “that school” running amuck. Too bad for them, because we were having a great time.

I took a white fur stole from a shelf and draped it around my shoulders. “What do you think?”

“Fur is dead.” Lucas said it sort of wryly, but maybe he didn’t think people should wear fur at all. I personally felt like vintage things ought to be okay; the animals had died decades and decades ago, so it wasn’t like you were doing any more harm. All the same, I hastily took the stole off.

Lucas, meanwhile, tried on a gray tweed overcoat he’d dug out of an overstuffed rack in the back. Like the rest of the shop, it smelled sort of musty, but in a good way, and the coat looked amazing on him. “That’s sort of Sherlock Holmesy,” I said. “If Sherlock Holmes were sexy.”

He laughed. “Some girls go for the intellectual type, you know.”

“Aren’t you lucky I’m not one of them?”

Fortunately, he liked it when I teased him. He grabbed me, arms around my arms so that I couldn’t even hug him back, and kissed me soundly on the forehead. “You’re impossible,” he murmured. “But you’re worth it.”

The way he held me, my face was buried in the curve of his neck; all I could see were the faint pink lines on his throat, the scars of my own bite. “I’m glad you think so.”

“I know so.”

I wasn’t going to argue with him. There was no reason my one terrible mistake couldn’t remain just that—one mistake, never to be repeated.

Lucas’s finger brushed along my cheek, a gentle touch like the soft tip of a paintbrush. Klimt’s Kiss flickered in my mind, gold and gauzy, and for a moment it was as though Lucas and I really had been drawn into the painting with all its beauty and its need. Hidden behind the racks as we were, lost in a maze of old, cracked leather and wrinkled satin and rhinestone buckles dulled with time, Lucas and I could’ve kissed for hours without being found. I imagined it for a moment—Lucas placing a black fur coat on the floor, laying me atop it, lowering himself over me—

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