Isle Of Night Page 43

My second star was still lodged in her thigh, and firelight twinkled off the steel. Her pants stuck to her leg, soaked with blood. But she just kept coming at me.

I wasn\ done yet I just needed to find a way.

My back hit the wall. I was cornered. Lilac was armed and she was stronger.

But this was a mind game, and I was smarter. She\d obviously had some serious issues with this foster sister of hers, and I\d mine that for all it was worth. ’’Daddy and Mummy never loved you, anyway.’’

She froze.

Bingo. I kept at it. ’’That\s why your mom took her in. She was looking for a girl to replace you. Looking for a new daughter on the streets. Because you weren\ good enough.’’

Her lips peeled into a snarl. She lunged, but the switchblade slipped from her blood-slicked hand. Perplexed, she looked at her open palm. She finally saw the stars and plucked them free. She looked up. Torchlight danced on her face. She looked woozy, drunk.

Lilac was bleeding out.

She staggered. Stumbled toward me. Her feet thudded awkwardly, like she couldn\ get her balance. ’’Can\ be better than me,’’ she said, her tongue slurred and thick, ’’when she\s dead.’’

’’But now here I am. Another girl from the gutter. Better than you.’’

She was just a few paces from me when she fell, crumpling into a heap.

There was a moment of silence, and then I heard the distant gong. Watcher Priti\s voice echoed through the cave. ’’Acari Drew is the winner.’’

I dropped to my knees. People surrounded me.

Yasuo and Emma appeared at the forefront. They each had peculiar expressions on their faces relief, concern, and something else, too. Uneasiness, maybe, at the sight of watching their best friend go to some seriously messed-up depths to brutally murder a classmate.

Emma said something, but the audience was chattering loudly and her words sounded jumbled and a little distorted, like I\d suffered a bad clout on my ear. I probably had.

I looked away, realizing Lilac\s body was already gone.

I trembled badly now, the adrenaline that\d flooded my veins leaving me shaking. Every injury, every bruise and break flared to life. My back was throbbing, pulsing agony.

I huddled on the ground, trying to figure out how I felt about things. I wasn\ as elated as I thought I should\ve been, and imagined I was probably in shock.

I hunted for Ronan, but he was nowhere in sight. It made me feel a little bit alone.

But then I felt arms wrap around me. They were cool and comforting on my battered body. I glanced up, my neck stiff. It was Master Alcántara.

Up close, he was magnificent. Strong and steady, pure power emanating from him. Though his body was hard, it felt of flesh, not wood. He took my breath away.

I inhaled deeply. Distantly, I searched for some identifying scent. Maybe it was that I\d just thought of Ronan, whose fresh, seashore smell always struck me so viscerally. But Alcántara smelled like nothing flat and dry, like a page from one of their library books.

He smoothed the wet hair from my brow, looking pleased and oddly self-satisfied. ’’My compliments, Acari Drew. That was a most thrilling exhibition.’’

And that\s when it really struck me. I\d won. I\d go off-island. I\d go on a mission with him. We\d be alone. I\d have my chance at escape. ’’Thank you,’’ I managed.

’’Yes, congratulations, Acari Drew.’’ It was Ronan, staring down at me, his face a studied blank. ’’I knew you could do it.’’

He nodded, and I watched as he turned and walked away. Sadness seized me by the throat. The only paradise is paradise lost.

Why did it seem like those would be his last words to me? It was impossible to swallow around the ache. I tried to breathe, but the pain was sharp.

I would go on a mission with Alcántara and I\d escape. Which meant I wouldn\ see Ronan again. I knew this. I\d wanted this. So why did my heart feel like a sliver of glass lodged in my chest?

I looked back at the vampire holding me.

’’Cariño,’’ he whispered. ’’I, too, knew you could do it.’’

His face broke into a smile. And not just any smile, but a smile worthy of sonnets. His mouth was just a little bit crooked, his expression wickedness and humor and hunger, all alight in eyes that were black like coals burning with an inner heat.

It was a smile just for me. I knew I\d never be the same.

’’And now answer me, querida. Are you ready?’’ He stroked a slow finger down my cheek. ’’For it has begun.’’

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