Evernight Page 39

I grabbed Lucas’s hand. “Do you think that guy’s done something to her?”

“She could just be running late.” Lucas was trying to be reassuring, but he wasn’t doing a very good job.

Vic shrugged. “Hey, maybe he finally said the right thing and she’s making out with him right now.”

Raquel wouldn’t ever do that. She was too cautious and too distrustful to ever impulsively hook up with a guy she didn’t know. Guiltily, I wished that I’d asked her to hang out with Lucas and me instead of leaving her on her own.

My father walked into the town square, his forehead furrowed. I realized that he was even more concerned than I was. Dad said only, “Everyone, get on the bus and head back. We’ll find Raquel, so don’t worry.”

“I’ll stay and look for her, too.” I stepped toward my father and away from Lucas. “We’re friends. I can think of a few places she might have gone.”

“Okay.” Dad nodded. “Everybody else, get going.”

Lucas put one hand on my shoulder. This wasn’t the romantic farewell I’d planned earlier. He wasn’t selfishly disappointed, however. All I saw was concern for Raquel and for me. “I ought to stay behind, too, help you guys out.”

“They won’t let you. I’m sort of surprised they let me.”

“It’s dangerous,” he said quietly.

My heart went out to him—desperate to protect me, completely unaware how well I could protect myself. I said the only thing that I thought might reassure him. “My father will look out for me.” I went up on tiptoe to kiss Lucas’s cheek, then brushed my fingers across the brooch again. “Thank you. So much.”

Lucas didn’t like leaving me behind, but mentioning my dad had done the trick. He kissed me quickly. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As the bus pulled away, my father and I began hurrying toward the outskirts of town. Dad said, “Do you really know where she might’ve gone?”

“Not a clue,” I admitted. “But you need every searcher you can get. Besides, what if you need somebody to cross the river?” Vampires don’t like running water. It didn’t bother me at all—at least, not yet—but it drove my parents crazy to cross even a small stream or brook.

“My girl can take care of herself.” Dad’s pride caught me off guard, but in a good way. “You’re really growing up here, Bianca. Your time at Evernight—it’s changing you for the better.”

I rolled my eyes, tired of the father-knows-best routine already. “That’s what happens when you survive adversity.”

“News flash: that’s high school.”

“You act like you actually went to high school.”

“Trust me, adolescence was lousy in the eleventh century, too. Humanity changes all the time, but there are a few constants. People get stupid when they’re in love; people want what they can’t have; and the years between ages twelve and eighteen always, always suck.” Dad became serious again as we left the main road. “We don’t have anyone on the west side of the river. Stay close to the bank if you’re worried about losing your way.”

“I can’t get lost.” I pointed upward at the bright, starry sky, where all the constellations waited to guide me. “See you later.”

Although we hadn’t yet seen our first snowfall, winter had claimed the countryside. The earth beneath my feet was crisp with frost, and dead grasses and leafless shrubs scraped against my jeans legs as I made my way along the riverbank. Pale beech trunks stood out from the other trees like lightning bolts in a stormy sky. I ended up staying fairly close to the water, not because I was worried about getting lost but because Raquel might be—and if she’d wandered this way, she’d have wanted the river to give her some direction.

She wouldn’t have wandered off. If Raquel came this way, it isn’t as simple as her being lost.

My overactive imagination, always quick to supply worst-case scenarios, kept flashing terrible scenes in my mind: Raquel robbed by some townie who wanted to steal from one of the “rich kids” at that school. Raquel trying to run from the drunken construction workers I’d seen in the pizza place, transformed by my fear from protectors of women to predators. Raquel overcome by whatever sadness it was that haunted her, walking into the icy waters of the river and being sucked down by its powerful current.

A swift, rushing sound above me made me jump, but it was only a crow, flapping from branch to branch. I breathed out in relief—then realized that, further to the west, there was a spot of brightness in the bushes.

I hurried in that direction, running as quickly as I could. Once, I opened my mouth to call Raquel’s name, then shut it again without calling. If it was Raquel ahead, I’d find out soon enough. If it wasn’t, I might not want to draw attention.

As I got closer, my breathing now heavy from exertion, I heard Raquel’s voice. Whatever gladness I might’ve felt was destroyed by her frightened words: “Leave me alone!”

“Hey, what’s the problem?” I knew that voice—too confident, slyly mocking. “You keep acting like we’d never met before.”

It was Erich. He hadn’t come into town on the school trip. None of the “Evernight types” had. They seemed to consider it boring—or, more likely, they were simply eager for some time to hang out and be themselves without having to hide their true natures. At the moment, though, Erich looked like he was way too close to his true nature. Apparently he’d followed us into Riverton and waited to find somebody who walked off alone—and that was Raquel.

“I told you I didn’t want to talk to you,” Raquel insisted. She was terrified. Normally she came across as tough, but Erich’s stalking had scared her past that. “So stop following me.”

“You act like I’m a stranger.” He smiled. His teeth were white in the darkness, and I remembered films I’d seen of sharks. “We sit next to each other in biology, Raquel. What’s the problem? What’s the worst thing I could do?”

Now I knew what had happened. Erich had found Raquel on her own in town and started following her. Instead of waiting in the square with everyone else, where she would’ve had to put up with his presence or maybe even ended up sitting with him on the shuttle bus, she’d tried to slip away. In the process, she’d gone farther and farther from the center of Riverton, then out of town altogether. By then she would’ve known she’d made a mistake, but by then he had her out here alone. She’d walked almost two miles toward school, despite the coldness of the night, and I felt a flare of pride in Raquel’s courage and stubbornness.

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