âFor you or her?â
Nalla took off at a dead run, but across the way, her father was on her, striding tight on those little heels. Even though he looked like a looming monster with his scarred face, skull-trimmed hair and slave tattoos, Nalla giggled in delight, glancing back and smiling up at her daddy as she ran, ran, ran around the table and dodged in and out of the
who were clearing.
âI need Nikes for the both of us.â Bella smiled. âListen, I wanted to ask you. I heard a rumor youâre going to be chairing the Twelfth Month Festival Ballââ
Bella frowned. âWait, I thoughtÂ .Â .Â . did I get this wrong?â
âNo, itâs okay.â Great. âWhat were you going to say?â
âI just wanted to tell you that Iâd like to help in any way I can. I was surprised to hear that you took it on, butI get why you would. We needÂ .Â .Â . I donât know, I think itâs time for the race to reestablish the traditions that worked. There was a lot that didnât, but the festivals are importantââ
An unhappy wail lit off in the now-empty room as Nalla lurched and was caught by her father just in time.
âCrap, I gotta go,â Bella said. âSheâs having growing pains. Itâs been a long couple of days, Iâll tell you. Just remember Iâm here for you, okay?â
Bella hightailed off for her family, reaching out for Nalla, who in turn put out one arm for her
. The other stayed with DadÂ .Â .Â . so that the three of them were united.
Yes, Marissa, thought. Growing pains were a hard time, at least from what she had heard. For some reason, vampire young struggled with spurts of intense growth, as opposed to the long, slow, steady route to adult height that humans enjoyed.
Just one more fun part to the species.
Like their festivals.
Marissa rubbed her temples as she went back over to Butch. âGod, my head is pounding.â
âIs it?â he said. âLetâs get you into bed.â
âGood idea. I think I need some sleep.â
âYeah. Yeah, you look tired.â
Annnnnnd that was pretty much the end of her night: Ten minutes later she was in bed, eyes closing, images of the last few hours flashing like strobe lights through her head.
While Butch headed back out to sit in the Pitâs living room.
T he following evening, Paradise took the bus to school.
So to speak.
There were actually two âbuses,â each holding about thirty people, and any similarities between the ubiquitous yellow mini-human transporters ended with the shared name. The vehicles the Brotherhood used to pick up the training center candidates were like something out of
White House Down
, all black inside and out, with thick, darkened windows that had to be bulletproof, tires like snowplows, and grilles that reminded her of a T. rex.
Like everyone else, she had dematerialized to a tract of vacant land out to the west of Caldwellâs suburbs. Her father had wanted to go with her, but it had seemed important to start as she meant to go on. This was her independent decision; she needed to do what everyone else didâand she was pretty certain no one else would bring a chaperone.
Especially not a chaperone who happened to be the Kingâs First Adviser.
To see nearly sixty people she didnât recognize had been a surprise. Then again, the application had made it clear that anyone was allowed to join the program, so there were a lot of civilians. Actually, it looked as if it was all civilians and the male/female ratio was, like, ten to one.
But at least her sex was allowed.
Refocusing, Paradise shifted in her seat and made sure her elbow didnât disturb the male who was sitting next to her. Other than exchanging namesâhis was Axeâthey hadnât said anything, and his brooding silence fit his image