We were almost finished setting up the room when someone flipped on the nightly news on the big-screen TV we did have to leave in the main room. The five of us shared quick looks—what they were calling "the bomb hoax by Nature's Jihad" was the lead story. Even though I knew my call couldn't be traced, and I'd watched Damien "accidentally" drop and then totally step on and smash his disposable phone, I only breathed marginally easier when Chera Kimiko repeated that so far the police had no leads about the identity of the terrorist group.
In a related Arkansas River story Fox News reported that this evening Samuel Johnson, captain of a river transport barge, had a heart attack while piloting the barge. It was a "lucky coincidence" for him that river traffic had been halted and that police and paramedics were so close by. His life had been saved, and there had been no damage done to any other barges or bridges.
"That was it!" Damien said. "He had a heart attack and ran the barge into the bridge."
I nodded numbly. "And that proves that Aphrodite's vision was true."
"Not that that's good news," Stevie Rae said.
"I think it is," I said. "As long as Aphrodite lets us know about her visions, at least we can take them seriously."
Damien shook his head. "There has to be a reason Neferet believes Nyx has withdrawn her gift from Aphrodite. It's too bad we can't tell her about this, then maybe she'd explain what's going on, or maybe even change her mind about Aphrodite."
"No, I gave my word I wouldn't say anything."
"If Aphrodite was really changing from hag to nonhag, she'd go to Neferet herself," Shaunee said.
"Maybe you should talk to her about that," Erin said. Stevie Rae made a rude noise.
I rolled my eyes at Stevie Rae, but she didn't notice because Drew had grinned his way up to us and she was too busy blushing to pay attention to me.
"How's it look, Zoey?" he asked without taking his eyes from Stevie Rae.
Like you've got a thing for my roommate, is what I wanted to say, but I thought he was kinda cute and Stevie Rae's blush clearly said she thought so, too, so I decided against mortifying her. "Looks good," I said.
"Doesn't look too bad from here, either," Shaunee said, giving Drew a look up and down.
"Ditto, Twin," Erin said, waggling her eyebrows at Drew.
The boy didn't notice either of the Twins. Seems all he noticed was Stevie Rae.
"I'm starving," he said.
"Me, too," Stevie Rae said.
"So, how about getting something to eat?" Drew asked her.
"Okay," Stevie Rae said quickly, and then she seemed to remember we were all standing there watching her, and her face got even pinker. "Gosh, it is dinnertime. We better all go get something." With a nervous little gesture, she ran her fingers through her short curls and called across the room to Damien, who was thoroughly engrossed in a conversation with Jack. (From what I had overheard they were both into the same kind of books and were debating which of the Harry Potters was really the best. Clearly, they were dorkishly alike.) "Damien, we're gonna go eat. Are you and Jack hungry?"
Jack and Damien exchanged a look, and then Damien called back, "Yeah, we're coming."
"Okeydokey," Stevie Rae said, still grinning at Drew. "I guess we're all hungry."
Shaunee sighed, and started for the door. "Just please. The young love hormones in this room are enough to give me a headache."
"I feel like I'm stuck in a Lifetime movie. Wait for me, Twin," Erin said.
"Why are the Twins so cynical about love?" I asked Damien as he and Jack crossed the room to join us.
"They're not. They're just mad that the last few guys they've gone out with have bored them," Damien said.
As a group, we went outside into the magic of a snowy November evening. The flakes had changed and were smaller, but they were still coming down steadily, making the House of Night look even more mysterious and castle-like than usual.
"Yeah, the Twins are hard on guys. It's like they double-time them," Stevie Rae said. I noticed she was walking really close to Drew and that occasionally their arms brushed together.
I heard a bunch of muttered agreement noises from the guys who had been helping us drag furniture around the rec room. And I imagined it would be intimidating for any guy (vamp or human) to try to date one of the Twins.
"Do you remember when Thor asked Erin out?" said one of Drew's friends, whose name I think was Keith.
"Yeah, she called him a lemur. You know, like the Disney movie," Stevie Rae said, laughing.
"And Walter went out with Shaunee a total of two right in the middle of Starbucks, she called him a Damien said.
I gave him a totally clueless look.
"Z, we're up to Pentium 5 processors now."
"Erin still calls him Slowest McSlowenstein whenever she sees him," Stevie Rae said.
"Clearly it's going to take a couple of really special guys to date the Twins," I said.
"I think there's someone for everyone," Jack said suddenly. We all turned to him and he blushed. Before any of the kids could snicker at him I spoke up, "I agree with Jack." But figuring out which someone is the one for you is the hard part, I added silently to myself.
"Totally!" Stevie Rae said with her usual perky optimism. "Absolutely," Damien said, winking at me. I grinned back at him.
"Hey!" Shaunee stepped out from behind a tree. "What are you guys talking about?"
"Your nonexistent love life!" Damien called cheerfully.
"Really?" she said.
"Really," Damien said.
"How about you talk about how cold and wet you are instead?" Shaunee said.
Damien frowned. "Huh? I'm not."
Erin popped out from around the other side of the tree, snowball in hand.
"You will be!" she yelled, throwing it and hitting Damien smack in the middle of his chest.
Of course the snowball war was on. Kids squealed and ran for cover while they scooped up handfuls of new snow and took aim at Shaunee and Erin. I started to back away.
"I told you snow was great!" Stevie Rae said.
"Well, let's just hope for a blizzard then," Damien yelled, taking aim at Erin. "Lots of wind and snow. Totally the best for snowball fights!" He let fly, but Erin was too quick and jumped for cover just in time to miss being plastered right in the head.
"Where are you going, Z?" Stevie Rae called from behind an ornamental shrub. I noticed Drew was right beside her, firing cover shots at Shaunee.
"To the media center—have to work on the words for the ritual tomorrow, so I'll grab something to eat back at the dorm when I get done." I kept backing away more and more quickly. "Hate to miss all the fun, but ..." and I retreated inside the closest door, slamming it behind me just in time for it to catch the plop plop plop of three snowballs against its ancient wood.
I hadn't just been making an excuse to get out of the snowball war. I actually had been planning to ditch dinner and spend a few hours in the media center. Tomorrow I'd have to cast a circle and lead a ritual that might be as ancient as the moon itself.
I didn't know what the hell I was doing.
Okay, sure. I'd cast one circle with my friends a month ago as a little experiment to see if I really had an affinity for the elements, or if I'd been delusional. Until I felt the power of wind, fire, water, earth, and spirit rush through me and my friends witnessed it, too, I would have bet on the side of delusional. Not that I'm totally cynical or anything, but please. Just please (as the Twins would say). Being able to tap into the power of the five elements was pretty bizarre. I mean, my life wasn't an X-Men movie (although I'd definitely like to spend some quality time with Wolverine).
The media center was predictably empty; it was, after all, Saturday night. Only total dorks spent Saturday night in the media center. Yes, I knew all too well what that made me. I'd already decided where to start my research. I pulled up the card catalogue on the computer and searched for old spell and ritual books, ignoring any that had recent publication dates. I was particularly drawn to one titled Mystical Rites of the Crystal Moon by Fiona. I vaguely recognized her name as one of the Vamp Poet Laureates from the early 1800s (there was a cool picture of her in our dorm). I scribbled down the Dewey Decimal Number for the book and found it up on an obscure shelf, dusty and lonely. I thought it was an excellent sign that it was one of those old leather- bound tomes. I wanted foundation and tradition so that under my leadership the Dark Daughters would know something more than Aphrodite's way too modern (and ho-ish) influence.
I opened my notebook and got out my favorite pen, which made me think about what Loren had said about preferring to write his poetry by hand rather than on a computer ... and made me think about Loren touching my face ... and my back ... and the connection that had sizzled between us. I smiled and felt my cheeks get warm, and then realized I was sitting there grinning and blushing like a retard about a guy who was too old for me, and a vampyre. Both things made me really nervous (as well they should). I mean, he was totally gorgeous, but he was twenty-something. A real adult who knew all the vampyre secrets about bloodlust and, well, lust in general. Which, unfortunately, only made him more delicious, especially after my brief but very nasty bloodsucking make-out scene with Heath.
I tapped my pen against the blank notebook page. Okay, I'd been kissing and messing around a little with Erik some during the past month. Yes, I liked it. No, it hadn't gone very far. One reason was that despite recent evidence to the contrary, I didn't usually act like a slut. Another reason was that I was still way too aware that I'd accidentally watched Aphrodite, Erik's very ex¬girlfriend, on her knees in front of him trying to give him a blowjob, and I didn't want there to be any confusion on Erik's part that I was definitely not a stank slut like Aphrodite the Ho. (I ignored the memory of my rubbing the bulge in Heath's pants.) So, I was definitely attracted to Erik, who everyone thought was my official boyfriend, even though we hadn't done much about that attraction.
My mind shifted to Loren. Outside in the moonlight with my skin bared to him Loren had made me feel like a woman—not an inexperienced, nervous girl, which is how I tended to feel around Erik. But when I'd seen the desire in Loren's eyes I'd felt beautiful and powerful and very, very sexy. And, yes, I had to admit to myself that I liked that feeling.
And how the hell did Heath fit into all of this? I felt different about Heath than I did about Erik or Loren. Heath and I had history. We'd known each other since we were kids, and we'd been dating, on and off, for the past couple years. I'd always been attracted to Heath, and we'd done some serious making-out, but he'd never turned me on before like he did when he cut his neck and I'd drunk his blood.
I shivered and automatically licked my lips. Just thinking about it made me feel hot and horrified at the same time. I definitely wanted to see him again. But was that because I still cared about him, or was it just because of the intense bloodlust I felt for him?
I had no idea.
True, I'd liked Heath for years. He was kinda dopey sometimes, but usually in a sweet way. He treated me right, and I liked to hang out with him—at least those things had been true before he'd started boozing it up and getting high. Then his dopiness had turned into stupidity, and I hadn't really trusted him anymore. But he said he'd quit all that, so did that mean he was back to the guy I used to like so much? And if so, what the hell was I supposed to do about (1) Erik, (2) Loren, (3) the fact that drinking Heath's blood was totally against the House of Night rules, and (4) I was definitely going to drink more of his blood.
My sigh sounded suspiciously like a sob. I really needed someone to talk to.
Neferet? No way. I wasn't about to tell an adult vamp about Loren. I knew I should admit that I'd been drinking Heath's blood (again—sigh) and had probably intensified the Imprint between us. But I couldn't. At least not yet. I know it was selfish, but I didn't want to be in trouble with her while I was still trying to settle into the Dark Daughters' leadership.
Stevie Rae? She was my best friend, and I wanted to tell her, but if I was going to really talk to her then that meant I'd have to admit to drinking Heath's blood. Twice. And how much I wanted to drink it again. How could that not freak her out? It freaked me out. I couldn't stand to think about my best friend looking at me like I was a monster. Plus, I didn't think she'd understand—not really.
I couldn't tell Grandma. She would definitely not like the fact that Loren was twenty-something. And I couldn't imagine talking to her about the lust part of bloodlust.
Ironically, I realized who the one person was who would not be freaked about the blood, and would definitely understand about the lust and such— Aphrodite. And, oddly enough, part of me wanted to talk to her, especially after discovering her visions were still true. I had a feeling about Aphrodite that was telling me there was a lot more to what was going on with her than the fact that she could definitely be a hateful bitch. She'd pissed off Neferet— that much was obvious. But Neferet had told Aphrodite, in cold, hateful words, that Nyx had withdrawn her favor from her, and she'd made it clear to me (and practically the entire school) that Aphrodite's visions were false. But I had proof that they weren't. It gave me a scared, skin-crawly feeling, but I was beginning to wonder how much I could actually trust Neferet.
Forcing my thoughts back to the media center and the research I had to do, I opened the old ritual book, and a slip of paper fluttered out of it. I picked up the paper, thinking some kid had left her notes in it, and froze. My name was printed at the top in elegant handwriting I definitely recognized.
Night can't cloak your scarlet dream.
Accept Desire's call.-
The words of the poem sent a shiver through me. What the hell? How had anyone, let alone Loren who was supposed to be on the East Coast, known I'd look in that book!
My hand was shaking, so I put the paper down and slowly reread the poem. If I pushed aside the fact that it was incredibly romantic that the Vamp Poet Laureate was writing me poetry and read the poem without being totally blown away by how sexy it was I realized something as disturbing as the haiku being here in the first place. Night can't cloak your scarlet dream. Was I going absolutely crazy, or does that line sound like Loren knows I've been drinking blood? And suddenly the poem felt wrong .. . dangerous ... like a warning that wasn't actually a warning, and I started to wonder about the poet. What if Loren hadn't written it? What if it was Aphrodite? I had overheard her talking to her parents. She was supposed to be getting me kicked out as the Dark Daughters' leader. Could this tie into her plan? (Jeesh, "her plan." I was starting to sound like a bad comic book.)
Okay, Aphrodite had seen me with Loren, but how could she know about the haiku? Also, how would Aphrodite know that I'd be back in the media center looking at this particular old book? That sounded more like some weird piece of psychic info an adult vamp would have—although I didn't have a clue how. I mean, I hadn't even known I'd choose the book until a few minutes ago.
Nala jumped up on the computer desk, scaring the bejeezus out of me. She complained and rubbed against me.
"Okay, okay. I'll get to work." But as I searched through the old book for traditional rituals and spells my mind kept circling around and around the poem and the uneasy feeling that seemed to have permanently lodged itself beneath my breastbone.
When is Erik coming back?
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