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Betrayed (House of Night, Book 2): A House of Night Novel, Page 2

P. C. Cast

  “Sylvia Redbird, it is always a pleasure to see you.”

  “Neferet, it makes my heart glad to see you, too, and I thank you for honoring your oath to look after my granddaughter.”

  “It is an oath that is not a burden to fulfill. Zoey is such a special girl.” Now Neferet’s smile included me in its warmth. Then she turned to Stevie Rae and her mother. “And this is Zoey’s roommate, Stevie Rae Johnson, and her mother. I hear that the two of them are practically inseparable, and that even Zoey’s cat has taken to Stevie Rae.”

  “Yeah, it’s true. She actually sat on my lap while we watched TV last night,” Stevie Rae said laughingly. “And Nala doesn’t like anyone except Zoey.”

  “Cat? I don’t remember anyone giving permission for Zoey to get a cat,” John said, making me want to retch. Like anyone except Grandma had bothered to talk to me for an entire month!

  “You misunderstand, Mr. Heffer, at the House of Night cats roam free. They choose their owners, not the other way around. Zoey didn’t need permission when Nala chose her,” Neferet said smoothly.

  John made a snorting noise, which I was relieved to see everyone ignored. Jeesh, he’s such an ass.

  “May I offer you some refreshment?” Neferet waved graciously at the table.

  “Oh, golly! That reminds me of the cookies I left in the car. Stevie Rae and I were just on our way out there. It was really nice to meet y’all.” With a quick hug for me and a wave for everyone else, Stevie Rae and her mom escaped, leaving me there, even though I wished I were anywhere else.

  I stayed close to Grandma, lacing my fingers through hers as we walked over to the refreshment table, thinking how much easier this would be if it was just she who had come to visit me. I snuck a look at my mom. A permanent frown seemed to have been painted on her face. She was looking around at the other kids, and hardly even glanced in my direction. Why come at all? I wanted to scream at her. Why seem like you might actually care—might actually miss me—and then show so obviously that you don’t?

  “Wine, Sylvia? Mr. and Mrs. Heffer?” Neferet offered.

  “Thank you, red please,” Grandma said.

  John’s tight lips registered his displeasure. “No. We don’t drink.”

  With a superhuman effort I didn’t roll my eyes. Since when didn’t he drink? I would bet the last fifty dollars in my savings account that there was a six-pack of beer in the fridge at home right now. And my mom used to drink red wine like Grandma. I even saw her throw Grandma a narrow-eyed, envious look as she sipped the rich wine Neferet had poured for her. But no they didn’t drink. At least not in public. Hypocrites.

  “So, you were saying that the addition to Zoey’s Mark happened because she did something special?” Grandma squeezed my hand. “She told me that she’d been made leader of the Dark Daughters, but she didn’t tell me how exactly that happened.”

  I felt myself tense up again. I really didn’t want to deal with the scene it would cause if my mom and John found out that what had actually happened was that the ex-leader of the Dark Daughters had cast a circle on Halloween night (known at the House of Night as Samhain, the night the veil between our world and the world of spirits is thinnest), conjured some very scary vampyre spirits, and then lost control of them when my human ex-boyfriend, Heath, stumbled up looking for me. And I so didn’t want anyone to ever mention what only a couple of people knew—that Heath was looking for me because I’d tasted his blood and he was fast becoming fixated on me, something humans do pretty easily when they get involved with vamps—even vamp fledglings, for that matter. So the then leader of the Dark Daughters, Aphrodite, totally lost control of the ghosts and they were going to eat Heath. Literally. Worse—they were also acting like they wanted to take a chomp out of the rest of us, too, including totally hot Erik Night, the vamp kid who I can happily report is definitely not my ex-boyfriend, but who I’ve sorta been dating this past month so he’s my almost-boyfriend. Anyway, I had to do something, so with some help from Stevie Rae, Damien, and the Twins, I cast my own circle, tapping into the power of the five elements: wind, fire, water, earth, and spirit. Using my affinity for the elements, I managed to banish the ghosts back to wherever it is they live (or unlive?). When they were gone I had these new tattoos, a delicate collection of lacelike sapphire swirls that framed my face—totally unheard of for a mere fledgling to have—and matching Marks interspersed with cool runelike-looking symbols on my shoulders, something no fledgling or vamp has ever had. Then Aphrodite was exposed as the rotten-assed leader she was, causing Neferet to fire her and put me in her place. Consequently, I’m also in training to be a High Priestess of Nyx, the vampyre Goddess, who is Night personified.

  None of that would go over well with ultra-religious, ultra-judgmental Mom and John.

  “Well, there was a small accident. Zoey’s quick thinking and bravery made sure no one got hurt, and at the same time she connected with a special affinity she has been given to draw energy from the five elements.” Neferet’s smile was proud and I felt a wash of happiness at her approval. “The tattooing is simply an outward sign of the favor she’s found with the Goddess.”

  “What you’re saying is blasphemy.” John spoke in a tight, strained voice that managed to sound condescending and angry at the same time. “You are putting her immortal soul in danger.”

  Neferet turned her moss-colored eyes on him. She didn’t look angry. Actually, she looked amused.

  “You must be one of the Elders of the People of Faith.”

  His birdlike chest swelled up. “Well, yes, yes I am.”

  “Then let us come to an understanding quickly, Mr. Heffer. I would not think of coming into your home, or into your church, and belittling your beliefs, though I disagree profoundly with them. Now, I do not expect you to worship as I do. In truth, I would never even think to attempt to sway you to my beliefs, even though I have a deep and abiding commitment to my Goddess. So all I insist upon is that you show me the same courtesy I have already awarded you. When you are in my ‘home,’ you respect my beliefs.”

  John’s eyes had become mean little slits and I could see his jaw clenching and unclenching.

  “Your way of life is sinful and wrong,” he said fiercely.

  “Thus says a man who admits to worshipping a God who vilifies pleasure, relegates women to roles that are little more than servants and broodmares, though they are the backbone of your church, and seeks to control his worshippers through guilt and fear.” Neferet laughed softly, but the sound was humorless and the unspoken warning in it made the hair on my forearms prickle. “Have a care for how you judge others; perhaps you should look to cleaning your own house, first.”

  His face reddening, John sucked in a breath and opened his mouth for what I knew would be an ugly lecture on how right his beliefs are and how wrong everyone else’s are, but before he could respond Neferet cut him off. She hadn’t raised her voice, but it was suddenly filled with the power of a High Priestess and I shivered in fear, even though her wrath was not directed at me.

  “You have two choices. You may visit the House of Night as its invited guest, which means you will respect our ways and keep your displeasure and judgment to yourself. Or you may leave and not return. Ever. Decide now.” The last two words washed against my skin and I had to force myself not to cringe. I noticed that my mom was staring with wide, glassy eyes at Neferet, her face pale as milk. John’s face had gone the opposite color. His eyes were narrow and his cheeks were flushed a very unattractive red.

  “Linda,” he said through his teeth. “Let’s go.” Then he looked at me with such disgust and hatred that I literally took a step back. I mean, I knew he didn’t like me, but until that moment I hadn’t realized how much. “This place is what you deserve. Your mother and I won’t be back. You’re on your own now.” He spun around and started for the door. My mom hesitated, and for a second I thought she might actually say something nice—like she was sorry about him—or that she missed me—or that I shouldn’t worry
, she’d be back no matter what he said.

  “Zoey, I can’t believe what you’ve gotten yourself into now.” She shook her head and, as usual, followed John’s lead and left the room.

  “Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry.” Grandma was there, instantly hugging me and whispering reassurance. “I’ll be back, my little bird. I promise. And I’m so proud of you!” She held me by my shoulders and smiled through her tears. “Our Cherokee ancestors are proud of you, too. I can feel it. You have been touched by the Goddess, and you have the loyalty of good friends,” she glanced up at Neferet and added, “and wise teachers. Someday you might even learn to forgive your mother. Until then remember that you are the daughter of my heart, u-we-tsi a-ge-hu-tsa.” She kissed me. “I must leave, too. I drove your little car here, and I will leave it for you, so I must ride back with them.” She handed me the keys to my vintage Bug. “But remember always that I love you, Zoeybird.”

  “I love you, too, Grandma,” I said, and kissed her back, hugging her hard and taking deep breaths of her scent like I could hold her in my lungs and exhale her slowly over the next month as I missed her.

  “Bye, sweetheart. Call me when you get a chance.” She kissed me again and then left.

  I watched her leave, and didn’t realize I was crying until I felt the tears drip from my face onto my neck. I’d actually forgotten Neferet was still standing beside me, so I jumped a little in surprise when she handed me a tissue.

  “I am sorry for that, Zoey,” she said quietly.

  “I’m not.” I blew my nose and wiped my face before I looked at her. “Thanks for standing up to him.”

  “I did not mean to send your mother away, too.”

  “You didn’t. She chose to follow him. Just like she’s been doing for over three years now.” I felt the hotness of tears threaten the back of my throat and spoke quickly, willing them away. “She used to be different. It’s stupid, I know, but I keep expecting her to turn back into what she was before. It never happens, though. It’s like he’s killed my mom and put a stranger in her body.”

  Neferet put her arm around me. “I like what your grandma said—that maybe someday you can find the ability to forgive your mother.”

  I stared at the door the three of them had just disappeared through. “That someday is far away.”

  Neferet squeezed my shoulder sympathetically.

  I looked up at her, so glad she was there with me, and I wished—for about the zillionth time—that she was my mom. Then I remembered what she had told me almost a month ago, that her mom had died when she was a little girl, and her dad had abused her, physically and mentally, until she had been saved by being Marked.

  “Did you ever forgive your father?” I asked tentatively.

  Neferet looked down at me and blinked several times, as if she were slowly coming back from a memory that had taken her far, far away. “No. No I didn’t ever forgive him, but when I think of him now it is as if I’m remembering someone else’s life. The things he did to me he did to a human child, not a High Priestess and vampyre. And to a High Priestess and vampyre he, like most humans, is completely inconsequential.”

  Her words sounded strong and sure, but as I looked into the depths of her beautiful green eyes I saw a flicker of something old and painful and definitely not forgotten, and wondered how honest she was being with herself . . .


  I was incredibly relieved when Neferet said there was no reason for me to stay in the reception hall. After the scene with my family I felt like everyone was staring at me. I was, after all, the girl with the freaky Marks and the nightmare family. I took the shortest way out of the reception hall—the sidewalk that led outside through the pretty little courtyard that the windows of the dining hall looked out onto.

  It was a little after midnight, which was—yes—a totally weird time for a parent open house, but the school begins classes at 8:00 P.M., and finishes up at 3:00 A.M. On the surface it seemed to make more sense to have parent visitation begin at 8:00, or maybe even an hour or so before school started, but Neferet had explained to me that the point was that parents accept their child’s Change, and understand that days and nights would forever be different for them. On my own I decided that another plus of making the time inconvenient is that it gave a lot of parents the excuse they needed not to come, without outright telling their kid, Hey—I don’t want anything to do with you now that you’re turning into a bloodsucking monster.

  Too bad my parents hadn’t taken that out.

  I sighed and slowed down, taking my time following one of the winding paths through the courtyard. It was a cool, clear November night. The moon was almost full, and its bright silver light was a pretty contrast to the antique gaslights that illuminated the courtyard with their soft yellow glows. I could hear the fountain that sat in the middle of the garden, and I automatically changed direction so that I was heading toward it. Maybe the soothing tinkle of the water would help my stress level . . . and help me forget.

  When I rounded the curve that led to the fountain I was walking slowly, and daydreaming a little about my new almost-boyfriend, the totally delicious Erik. He was away from the school for the yearly Shakespeare monologue competition. Naturally, he’d finished first at our school, and had advanced easily to the Houses of Night international competition. It was Thursday, and he’d only been gone since Monday, but I missed him like crazy and couldn’t wait till Sunday when he was supposed to get back. Erik was the hottest guy at our school. Hell, Erik Night might be the hottest guy at any school. He was tall, dark, and handsome—like an old-time movie star (without the latent homosexual tendencies). He was also incredibly talented. Someday soon he was going to join the rank of other vamp movie stars like Matthew McConaughey, James Franco, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Hugh Jackman (who is totally gorgeous for an old guy). Plus, Erik was truly a nice guy—which only added to his hotness.

  So I will admit to being preoccupied with visions of Erik as Tristan and me as Isolde (only our passionate love story would have a happy ending), and didn’t notice that there were other people in the courtyard until a raised male voice shocked me with how mean and disgusted it sounded.

  “You are one disappointment after another, Aphrodite!”

  I froze. Aphrodite?

  “It was bad enough that your getting Marked meant that you couldn’t go to Chatham Hall, especially after everything I did to be sure you were accepted,” said a woman in a brittle, cold voice.

  “Mother, I know. I said I was sorry.”

  Okay, I should leave. I should turn around and walk quickly and quietly out of the courtyard. Aphrodite was probably my least favorite person at school. Actually, Aphrodite was probably my least favorite person anywhere, but purposefully listening in on what was clearly an ugly scene with her parents was just wrong wrong wrong.

  So I tiptoed a few feet off the path where I could hide more easily behind a big ornamental bush and have a decent view of what was going on. Aphrodite was sitting on the stone bench closest to the fountain. Her parents were standing in front of her. Well, her mom was standing. Her dad was pacing.

  Man, her parents were really pretty people. Her dad was tall and handsome. The kind of guy who kept in shape, kept all of his hair, and had really good teeth. He was dressed in a dark suit that looked like it cost a zillion dollars. He also looked weirdly familiar, and I was sure I’d seen him on TV or something. Her mom was totally gorgeous. I mean, Aphrodite was blond and perfect-looking, and her mom was an older, richly dressed, well-groomed version of her. Her sweater was obviously cashmere, and her pearls were long and real. Every time she gestured with her hands the gihugic pear-shaped diamond on her ring finger flashed a light as cold and beautiful as her voice.

  “Have you forgotten that your father is the mayor of Tulsa?” Aphrodite’s mom snapped viciously.

  “No, no, of course not, Mother.”

  Her mom didn’t seem to hear her. “Spinning a decent slant on the fact that you’re here instead o
f on the East Coast preparing for Harvard was difficult enough, but we consoled ourselves with the fact that vampyres can attain money and power and success, and we expected you to excel in this”—she paused and grimaced distastefully—“rather unusual venue. And now we hear that you’re no longer leader of the Dark Daughters and have been ejected from High Priestess training, which makes you no different than any of the other riffraff at this wretched school.” Aphrodite’s mother hesitated, as if she needed to calm herself before continuing. When she spoke again I had to strain to hear her hissing whisper. “Your behavior is unacceptable.”

  “As usual, you disappoint us,” her father repeated.

  “You already said that, Dad,” Aphrodite said, sounding like her usual smart-ass self.

  Like a striking snake, her mom slapped Aphrodite across her face, so hard that the crack of skin against skin made me jump and wince. I expected Aphrodite to leap off the bench and go after her mom’s throat (please—we don’t call her a hag from hell for nothing), but she didn’t. She just pressed her own palm against her cheek and bowed her head.

  “Do not cry. I’ve told you before, tears mean weakness. At least do this one thing right and don’t cry,” her mom snapped.

  Slowly Aphrodite raised her head and took her hand from her cheek. “I didn’t mean to disappoint you, Mother. I’m really sorry.”

  “Saying you’re sorry doesn’t fix anything,” her mom said. “What we want to know is what you’re going to do about getting your position back.”

  In the shadows I held my breath.

  “I—I can’t do anything about it,” Aphrodite said, sounding hopeless and suddenly very young. “I messed up. Neferet caught me. She took the Dark Daughters away from me and gave them to someone else. I think she’s even considering transferring me to a different House of Night completely.”

  “We already know that!” Her mom raised her voice, clipping her words so that they seemed to be made of ice. “We talked with Neferet before we saw you. She was going to transfer you to another school, but we interceded. You will remain at this school. We also tried to reason with her about giving you your position back after perhaps some period of restriction or detention.”