And even better: Why on earth had they put her in a room with me?
I felt bad for mentioning her parents and found myself volunteering, “You’re lucky. My dad wouldn’t have cared. And my mom is dead.”
It took her a moment to roll with my topic change. “I-I’m sorry.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, the response feeling rote. I should’ve felt relieved. I could definitely write off my concerns about what Mei would do if she were to find out about me and Carden. This girl didn’t know up from down. “But it’s not me you should worry about.”
Mei-Ling wasn’t a runaway. She wasn’t a gang girl or a meth addict. She was a fifteen-year-old musical prodigy from Long Island.
She wouldn’t survive a day.
I knew it meant that Carden and I would probably be safe from her prying eyes. But instead of feeling relief, it needled me. This poor kid.
Bastards. The vampires had abducted her against her will, which meant they wanted her here for a reason. A really big reason, if they were willing to risk kidnapping. What were they going to do to her?
I went over and sat next to her on the bed. “Look, I’ll help you out. But you need to be strong.”
She stiffened. “I am strong.”
“No, I mean really strong.” Amanda had told me much the same when I’d arrived. The girls on this island, if they scented fear, like wolves killing the weakest member of the pack, they’d turn on you. And worse. “Because if you’re not, they’ll kill you.”
I stared at my class list.
The dining hall’s mealtime hum swirled around me—the clanking of cutlery and chattering of teens as they snarfed down a dinner of bread, potato soup, and mystery fish. We ate a lot of mystery fish. The only thing separating this cafeteria from that of any other boarding school or college was the side shooter of vampire blood.
It was only the first day of classes and already it was shaping up to be a banner semester. A Guidon was dead, and everyone thought I had something to do with it. I shared an inexplicable bond with a vampire. I had a mysterious roommate whose very presence here was wrong. And now this.
I reread the schedule, as if maybe it’d changed in the past twenty-four hours. All in all, there were some cool things, taught by some cool teachers (creepy Alrik Dagursson notwithstanding).
It was all good, or as all good as it could be. Except for the last item on the list. That was what made my stomach do a flip-flop.
Intro to Medieval Musicianship
Expeditionary Skills Training
Independent Study in Fitness
Yasuo leaned over my shoulder. “Is that seven a.m.?”
I flinched away, feeling grumpy. “What else?”
Yasuo shrugged. “Trainees have classes after dark.”
I peered hard at him over the sheet. The guys who were brought here as vampire Trainees kept much of their instruction pretty secret. Yas didn’t talk about it a lot, but I got the sense that few survived the transition into full-fledged vampire.
I’d seen what could happen to Trainees who didn’t. They turned into mindless flesh-hungry Draug, lurking in the shadows off campus, waiting for people stupid enough to break the rules and stray from school grounds, or for those of us punished and dropped far from school grounds—whichever came first.
Not that being an Acari was such a cakewalk. Training to become a Watcher was intense, and first-year Acari were subjected to humiliation, torture, and, oh yeah, death.
So I totally wouldn’t have put it past them to schedule late-night classes.
Emma leaned around Yas to give me an encouraging smile. “Beats seven p.m., I guess.”
I didn’t smile back, though. Em was my bestie on the island, but she was currently sitting closer to Yasuo than she should’ve been. I was sure their knees were touching under the table. I didn’t care how crushed out they were on each other—playing kneesies and footsies was not the brightest thing. Vampires didn’t seem to hang with any relationships beyond the ones that revolved around them.
Yasuo grabbed a corner of the paper and tilted it his way. “Did you make him mad or something?”
“Who, Ronan?” I asked, knowing the answer was very complicated. I did, in fact, make Ronan mad all the time. But I got the sense it was because he cared about me.
If I angered him, chances were it was because I’d done something reckless. I’d pulled a few idiot maneuvers in my time on the island—rule breaking, back talking—and though some of it had been necessary, some of it had been just plain stupid.
But Amanda’s death had sobered me. That, and my bond with Carden—I was in such a panic over our bond being discovered, I vowed to keep a low profile this term.
Really, I would.
“Ronan’s gonna kick your ass,” Yasuo said. “An early-morning independent? Dude will have you swimming to Iceland or something.”
When I’d first arrived on the island, I hadn’t known how to swim. It was Ronan who’d browbeat me into learning. He might’ve been the Tracer who brought me in, but his instruction and support was one of the main reasons I was still alive—I’d bet on it.
Our relationship was complicated, to say the least.
Yasuo did something under the table that made Emma giggle, and I glared. They needed to be more careful. I lost Amanda—I wouldn’t lose her, too.
Emma saw my expression. Blanching, she scooted over, putting a little more space between her and Yas. He gave her a wink to make her feel better. It was a slow, owlish, and very affectionate little gesture.
I felt a stab of envy. Not that I resented my friends’ relationship. And I wasn’t jealous that Emma was with Yas in particular—I’d asked and answered that question myself when I’d first arrived on the island. He was cute and nice and one of my closest buddies, but that was where our relationship stopped.
No, it was more than that. I wished I could find a nice, normal guy to crush on—the place was crawling with new Trainees—but apparently it was only the bad boys, the dangerous, and the mysterious who gave me a quiver in my belly.
I frowned, spinning my empty cup around and around on the table. A red film covered the sides, tiny red ropes of vampire blood clinging to the glass. I craved the drink—couldn’t imagine life without it—and I’d downed it first thing.
Only now, the desire I felt for my cold shooters of blood seemed like child’s play compared to the aching need I knew for Carden.
I put my glass down, slamming it harder than I’d meant to.
Carden consumed my thoughts. Just the memory of his mouth—picturing the curve of it in my mind, remembering the feel of his breath hot on my cheek—gave me The Quiver.
I blamed the bond. My biggest problem at the moment was Carden.
In the beginning, it’d been Ronan. Only Ronan.
I’d known loss in my life, but Ronan was still around. So why did a dull ache clench my chest at the thought of him?
I stared again at his name on the bottom of my course list. Independent Studies in Fitness. TTh 7:00 Tracer Ronan.
Today was M. Tomorrow T. I’d see him then. I hadn’t seen him much since returning from my mission off the island. In fact, I hadn’t really spent much time with him since I won the Directorate Challenge at the end of the first term.
But somehow I didn’t need to see him much to know he was out there somewhere, on my side. Or so I suspected.
Between sharing swim lessons and secrets, against all odds, Ronan and I had forged a sort of friendship. We’d grown as close as two people could when one had suckered the other onto a plane bound for a deadly vampire training ground. At the time, I didn’t know which had felt like more of a betrayal: that he’d brought me to this godforsaken place, or that he’d used his persuasive powers to do it.
But still, there was something about him that tugged at me. A recognition that he had a living, feeling heart in his chest—a heart that saw something good in me in return. It was nice to feel there were people around who perceived some decency inside me. Sometimes it was the only thing to remind me that I still had some humanity left.
Ronan and I had grown as close as a student and a teacher dared get. Not that he was so old and, well, teacherly. He couldn’t have been so much older than me. Early twenties, max, with that head of tousled, black, just-surfed-in-the-sea hair and a pair of haunting forest green eyes.
But those eyes weren’t what currently unnerved me. The problem was, Ronan really saw me. He really looked and always saw into the true me. Which meant, if anyone could sense this bond with Carden, it’d be Ronan.
Which was why TTh 7:00 Tracer Ronan was freaking me out.
It was impossible to think of Ronan without a tinge of panic. Of regret. The thing of it was, I got the sense that Ronan gave a damn. That he cared about me, and I’d never had a lot of people in my life care about me. If I were to be honest, I cared right back. I cared about him and I cared what he thought about me. That alone made me vulnerable to him. And that made him dangerous.
And, okay, I admit. Those killer green eyes were pretty dangerous, too.
“But I don’t get it. Seven o’clock until when?” Emma asked, calling me back from my thoughts. “Why didn’t they list an end time?”
I flopped back into my chair. “Because it never ends.”
“Check it out.” Yasuo fake-punched me on the arm. “Blondie made a joke.”
We laughed, and I savored the feel of it. This whole friend thing was new to me, and their acceptance was powerful. Enough so that I felt it as a physical sensation, like a warm balm.
I was still riding that high when my eyes caught on my new roomie.
I flagged her over, and my friends gave me appropriately shocked looks. “Yo, Miss Congeniality,” Yasuo mumbled to me. “Who put a nickel in you?”