Evernight Page 67

She nodded, and I saw for the first time that her smile and Lucas’s looked a lot alike. “A pro who’s already back on the clock, I’m afraid. We’ve got work to do.”

I wondered what she meant by that. “On the clock?”

Kate caught herself. “I don’t mean you. Bianca. You’ve done enough, and I’m always in your debt. Always. Helping Lucas in that slime pit—maybe saving his life—” She smiled at me as we walked to the back door of the meetinghouse. “I’m not going to repay that by sending you into danger. You’ll stay here. Stay safe. We’ll take care of everything else.”

“By ‘we’ you mean—”

“Black Cross.”

With that, Kate turned the key in the lock and tugged the door open. We stepped into darkness, and I felt a queasy shiver of unease, but my eyes adjusted quickly, allowing me to glimpse the scene inside. Almost a dozen people were gathered together in a long, narrow rectangular room with a wooden floor so old the boards had shrunk enough to separate. A few old benches still lined the walls, the wood so soft and old it peeled. Weapons were laid out upon each bench, as if for an inventory: knives, stakes, and even hatchets. The people inside were a motley crew, each as different from the other as they could be: tall and short; fat, skinny, and muscular; dressed in a dozen different kinds of everyday clothes. A tall black girl who looked no older than Lucas wore an oversized hoodie, and she stood next to an old man with short silvery hair who wore a baggy gray cardigan and reading glasses that dangled from a brown cord. The only thing they all had in common was the way each sighed in relief when they recognized Lucas.

Lucas took my hand in his as he said, “Hey, guys.”

“You made it.” This was the girl in the hoodie, who turned out to have a big smile with one crooked tooth that somehow made her look a little bit sweet. “Not quite finals time, though, unless they’re having them in March now.”

“I get it, Dana. I didn’t make it a whole year, which means you win the bet.” Lucas shrugged. “The vampires got my wallet, though, so I’m afraid you’ll have to be content with a moral victory.”

“Looks like you brought the most important thing.” Dana held one of her hands out to me. I wasn’t willing to let go of Lucas, but I shook with my left hand. “I’m Dana. Me and Lucas go way back. You must be Bianca.”

“How did you hear about me?”

“Like he could talk about anything else all Christmas.” Dana laughed. I glanced sideways at Lucas, whose bashful smile made me feel proud and—even in the midst of strangers—sure of myself.

“Oh, is this your young lady?” The gray-haired man beamed at us. “I’m Mr. Watanabe. I’ve known Lucas since he was—”

“Long enough to embarrass him,” interrupted someone else, a tall man with dark hair and a mustache. He unnerved me in some way I found hard to pinpoint, and the twin scars on his right cheek made him look scary even when he smiled. Kate put one arm around him as he stood before us. “I’m Eduardo, Lucas’s stepfather.”

“Right. Hi. Pleasure to meet you.” Lucas had never mentioned a stepfather. Apparently Lucas wasn’t eager to admit him as part of the family.

Lucas’s smile was thin. “I had to get Bianca out. I know I broke protocol by telling her about Black Cross, but I trust her.”

“I hope Lucas’s right about you, Bianca.” His eyes narrowed, focusing hard on me before darting over to Lucas. Clearly he meant that I better hope Lucas was right. Giving away secrets wasn’t something this group took lightly—especially not Eduardo and Kate, who seemed to be the leaders. “We don’t have much time for explanations, not if we’re about to move.”

The others all started talking to Lucas about his narrow escape. I knew I ought to talk to them, too, to help Lucas with the cover story if for no other reason. Yet I remained distracted. My entire life was changing every second, pulling me away so quickly from the world I’d known that I felt a kind of psychological whiplash. And there was even more to it than that. I felt a sort of buzzing so low I couldn’t quite find the sound, like a subtle vibration in the earth. Despite the fact that I hadn’t eaten in almost a day, my stomach churned. Something was wrong with this place, deeply wrong.

Then I glanced at the wall and saw a shape on the wall where the plaster was brighter than everywhere else, where something had hung for years and blocked the light. It was the shape of a cross.

Too late I realized that this wasn’t just an abandoned meetinghouse. Back in earlier centuries, a lot of meeting houses had served another function as well. During the week, they were halls for debate or community functions or sometimes even trials. Then, on Sundays, the meetinghouses became churches.

A church—ugh. Vampires don’t burst into flames upon touching a cross, the way horror movies like to suggest, but that doesn’t make churches a fun place to be. I felt slightly dizzy and turned my head away from the shape of the cross.

“Bianca?” Lucas’s fingers brushed my cheek. “Are you okay?”

“I can’t stay here. Is there someplace else I can go?”

“It’s not safe for you to be out right now.” To my surprise, it was Dana who spoke. “Forget those Evernight bastards. We’ve got bad news in town, and she’s enough to worry about.”

I should’ve asked who that “bad news” was, or pretended that I had a safe place to go, or something. But the buzzing in my brain was getting stronger—consecrated earth telling me to leave. My reaction was only a pale shadow of what my parents experienced in churches, but it was enough to confuse me and make me weak. “Can’t I go back to the hotel? We didn’t check out.”

“A hotel? Oh, my.” Mr. Watanabe looked flustered. “These days, they grow up fast.”

“We need to get Bianca to safety.” Kate’s sharp voice turned even a simple suggestion into a command. “We have to concentrate, and I suspect Lucas can’t do that with her here.”

“I’m fine.” To Lucas, clearly, Kate’s comment sounded like criticism. “Bianca helps me think straight. I’m better when I’m with her.”

Mr. Watanabe beamed at him. I would have, too, if I hadn’t wanted to leave the church so badly. “It’s okay,” I swore. “You can find me later. I should go back to the hotel.”

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