Prom Nights from Hell (Chapter One)
The music is pounding in time to my heartbeat. I can feel the bass in my chest-badoom, badoom. It's hard to see across the room of writhing bodies, especially with the fog from the dry ice, and the flickering light show coming down from the club's industrial ceiling overhead.
But I know he's here. I can feel him.
Which is why I'm grateful for the bodies grinding against one another all around me. They're keeping me hidden from his view-and from his senses. Otherwise he'd have smelled me coming by now. They can detect the scent of fear from yards away.
Not that I'm scared. Because I'm not.
Well. Maybe a little.
But I have my Excalibur Vixen crossbow 285 FPS with me, with a twenty-inch-long Easton XX75 (the tip, formerly gold, now replaced with hand-carved ash) already cocked and ready to be released at the merest pressure from my finger.
He'll never know what hit him.
And, hopefully, neither will she.
The important thing is to get a clean shot-which won't be easy in this crowd-and to make it count. I'll probably only get one chance to shoot. Either I'll hit the target… or he'll hit me.
"Always aim for the chest," Mom used to say. "It's the largest part of the body, and the spot you're least likely to miss. Of course, you're more likely to kill than wound if you aim for the chest rather than the thigh or arm… but what do you want to wound for, anyway? The point is to take 'em down."
Which is what I'm here to do tonight. Take 'im down.
Lila will hate me, of course, if she figures out what really happened… and that it was me who did it.
But what does she expect? She can't think that I'm just going to sit idly by and watch her throw her life away.
"I met this guy," she'd gushed at lunch today, while we were standing in line for the salad bar. "Oh my God, Mary, you wouldn't believe how cute he is. His name's Sebastian. He's got the bluest eyes you've ever seen."
The thing about Lila that a lot of people don't get is that beneath that-let's face it-slutty exterior beats the heart of a truly loyal friend. Unlike the rest of the girls at Saint Eligius, Lila's never pulled an attitude with me about the fact that my dad's not a CEO or plastic surgeon.
And yeah, okay, I have to tune out about three-fourths of what she says because most of it is stuff that I have no interest in-like how much she paid for her Prada tote at the end-of-season clearance sale at Saks, and what kind of tramp stamp she's thinking about getting next time she's in Canc��n.
But this caught my attention.
"Lila," I said. "What about Ted?"
Because Ted's all Lila has talked about for the past year, ever since he finally got up the guts to ask her out. Well, I mean, all she's talked about besides the Prada sales and back tattoos.
"Oh, that's over," Lila said, reaching for the lettuce tongs. "Sebastian's taking me clubbing tonight-at Swig. He says he can get us in-he's on the VIP list."
It wasn't the fact that this guy, whoever he was, claimed to be on the VIP list of the newest and most exclusive club in downtown Manhattan that caused the hairs on the back of my neck to rise. Don't get me wrong-Lila's beautiful. If anyone is going to be approached by a random stranger who happens to be on the most sought-after VIP list in town, it would be Lila.
It was the thing about Ted that got to me. Because Lila adores Ted. They're the quintessentially perfect high school couple. She's gorgeous, he's a star athlete… it's a match made in teen heaven.
Which is why what she was telling me did not compute.
"Lila, how can you say it's over between you and Ted?" I demanded. "You two have been going out forever"-or at least since I arrived at Saint Eligius Prep in September, where Lila was the first (and, to date, pretty much the only) girl in any of my classes to actually speak to me-"and it's the prom this weekend."
"I know," Lila said, with a happy sigh. "Sebastian's taking me."
That's when I knew. I mean, really knew.
"Lila," I said. "Look at me."
Lila looked down at me-I'm small. But, as Mom used to say, I'm fast-and I saw it at once. What I should have seen from the beginning, that ever-so-slightly glazed expression-the dull eyes… the soft lips-that I've come to know so well over the years.
I couldn't believe it. He'd gotten to my best friend. My only friend.
Well. What was I supposed to do? Sit back and let him take her?
Not this time.
You'd think seeing a girl with a crossbow on the dance floor of Manhattan's hottest new club would maybe generate a comment or two. But it is Manhattan, after all. Besides, everyone is having too good a time to notice me. Even-
Oh God. It's him. I can't believe I'm finally seeing him in the flesh…
Well, his son, anyway.
He's more handsome than I ever imagined. Golden-haired and blue-eyed, with movie star-perfect lips and shoulders a mile wide. He's tall, too-although most guys are tall-compared with me.
Still, if he is anything like his father, well, then, I get it. I finally get it.
I guess. I still don't-
Oh God. He's sensed my gaze. He's turning this way-
It's now or never. I raise my bow:
Good-bye, Sebastian Drake. Good-bye forever.
But just as I have the bright white triangle of his shirt front in my scope, something unbelievable happens: A bright bloom of cherry red appears exactly where I've been aiming.
Except I haven't pulled the trigger.
And his kind doesn't bleed.
"What's that, Sebastian?" Lila shimmies up to him to ask.
"Dammit! Somebody"-and I see Sebastian raise his stunned cerulean gaze from the scarlet stain on his shirt to Lila's face-"shot me."
It's true. Someone has shot him.
Only it wasn't me.
And that's not all that doesn't make sense. He's bleeding.
Except that's not possible.
Not knowing what else to do, I duck behind a nearby pillar, pressing the Vixen to my chest. I need to regroup, figure out my next move. Because none of this can really be happening. I couldn't have been wrong about him. I did the research. It all makes sense… the fact that he's here in Manhattan… the fact that he went after my best friend, of all people… Lila's dazed expression… everything.
Everything except what just happened.
And I had just stood there, staring. I had had a perfect shot, and I'd blown it.
Or had I? If he's bleeding, then that must mean he's human. Doesn't it?
Except if he's human, and he's just been shot in the chest, why is he still standing?
The worst of it is… he saw me. I'm almost sure I felt that reptilian gaze pass over me. What will he do now? Will he come after me? If he does, it's all my own fault. Mom told me never to do this. She always said a hunter never goes out alone. Why didn't I listen? What was I thinking?
That's the problem, of course. I hadn't been thinking at all. I'd let my emotions get the better of me. I couldn't let what happened to Mom happen to Lila.
And now I'm going to pay for it.
Just like Mom.
Crouching in agony, I try not to imagine what Dad's going to do when the New York City police ring our doorbell at four in the morning and ask him to come to the morgue to ID his only daughter's body. My throat will be gouged open, and who knows what other atrocities will be done to my broken body. All because I didn't stay home tonight to work on my paper for Mrs. Gregory's fourth-period U.S. History class (topic: the temperance movement in antebellum Civil War America, two thousand words, double-spaced, due Monday), like I was supposed to.
The music changes. I hear Lila squeal, "Where are you going?"
Oh God. He's coming.