The Bonding Ritual (Girls Wearing Black: Book Four) (10 page)

BOOK: The Bonding Ritual (Girls Wearing Black: Book Four)
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“It’s all coming apart!” Mark yelled. “Our enemies sense weakness in the clan. They are all attacking at once, and Renata was a part of it! She betrayed the clan! She was working with the Network!”

“The Network? You mean the humans?”

“Yes, the Network!” Mark shouted. “They infiltrated Thorndike. A massive conspiracy. The Network came to Thorndike to kill you, Sergio. Bernadette got one of them to talk. We were going to tell you about it, I swear. I told Bernadette you were the only one we knew we could trust. But Bernadette wanted to learn the whole story first. We never figured all of it out! Renata, the humans--”

“The humans are trying to kill me?” Sergio said, suppressing a smile. The notion that a group of humans thought they could kill him was laughable.

“It began the night of the Date Auction,” Mark said. “Bernadette got a phone call from Melissa, who was at a mansion in Bethesda. You know this new girl at Thorndike? Nicky Bloom?”

Sergio felt his whole body go on alert at the mention of Nicky’s name.

“Yes. I know who she is,” he said.

“Well, that night, Melissa was at Nicky Bloom’s house.”

Sergio stepped closer to Mark. “Go on,” he said.

“I don’t know what happened at the Bloom house,” Mark said. “All I know is that Melissa called Bernadette and said there was a conspiracy afoot and the Bloom family was guilty.”

“Interesting,” said Sergio. “You know, I haven’t seen Melissa in weeks.”

“That’s because Renata killed her!” Mark shouted. “When Bernadette arrived at the Bloom house that night, she found Melissa’s body in a van and Renata’s slaves were cleaning out the place!”

“You said this was the night of the Date Auction?”

“Yes.”

“And then Nicky was kidnapped,” said Sergio, his mind racing with possibilities.

“Yes, Renata chose the Bloom girl for the Rose Ransom,” said Mark. “It can’t be a coincidence!”

“No, it most certainly can’t.”

“That’s why Bernadette started investigating,” said Mark. “She interrogated Nicky’s friends. One of them—here, this one!”

Mark reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of glossy paper. He flattened it out in his hands. It looked like a page torn out of a picturebook.

“It’s this girl,” he said, pointing to a picture on the bottom of the page. “Jill Wentworth.”

Sergio grabbed the paper. They were looking at a page from the Thorndike school yearbook. A grid of student pictures, with a table of names on the side. Mark had circled Jill Wentworth’s picture in black marker.

“Bernadette went to Jill Wentworth’s house and made her talk,” he said. “And boy did she ever have a lot to say! Sergio, you won’t believe—we were going to tell you—I knew we should have told you right away! I knew this was bigger than Bernadette could do on her own!”

“I am here now,” Sergio said. “Start at the beginning and tell me everything.”

For twenty minutes, Sergio listened while Mark spoke of a conspiracy by the Network to infiltrate Thorndike and win the Coronation contest. It was an amazing story, and with every word, Sergio found himself growing more and more fascinated with Nicky Bloom.

“She lives in a giant vampire trap,” Mark said. “The humans put Nicky here to lure you into her house so they could kill you. This Jill Wentworth—she is skilled at computers. Bernadette commanded her to hack into Renata’s phone so we could learn the truth. For months we thought that’s what Jill was trying to do. But on the night she claimed to have finally broken through, Bernadette…”

Mark trailed off, squeezing tears back in his eyes.

“They killed her,” Sergio said, a feeling of disappointment coming over him. He had always liked Bernadette. She had spunk. She was one of his favorites.

“Bernadette went to the Wentworth house and never came back!” Mark cried. “I knew it the moment she died! The feeling was instant, like I had been ripped in half.”

Mark turned away, about to lose control again. Sergio found himself taking pity on the poor fellow. To feel so connected to another and then have that taken away—never before had Sergio understood the significance of it all. To be bonded to another, to share your life with another, and have it end…

Somehow, tonight, he felt like he was finally starting to get it.

“It’s quite a story, Mark.”

“Renata has to be involved,” Mark said. “I mean, they killed Bernadette! Humans couldn’t have done that without a vampire’s help, right?”

Sergio nodded his head, thinking. At first, the notion of a group of high school kids trying to take out a member of the clan sounded ridiculous. But now that he knew Nicky Bloom was involved, he wondered.

He thought about how impressive she was. He thought about her mind, how he couldn’t control it.

How he didn’t even want to try.

“You say the Wentworth girl, Jill, that’s her name right?” Sergio said.

“Yes.”

“She was the one who was spying on Renata?”

Sergio looked again at the yearbook picture. Jill Wentworth. He would have to get to know this girl.

“That’s what Bernadette had her doing,” Mark said. “Bernadette said Jill was brilliant with computers, that she had already hacked into many of the clan’s most secure computer systems, including the Thorndike Admissions database. That’s how Nicky got the open space in the senior class.”

“And then Jill claimed she hacked into Renata’s phone,” Sergio said.

“That’s correct. That’s why Bernadette went to see her. That’s how they lured my love into their trap and killed her.”

“But you think Renata was involved in Bernadette’s death?”

“She has to be! There must be some double-cross. A group of humans couldn’t kill Bernadette. It just isn’t possible!”

Sergio thought about when he found Nicky. She was a prisoner. So was her friend, the Jenson boy. He thought about his conversation with Falkon before they fought. There was no way Nicky was aligned with Falkon. No way she was aligned with Renata either.

Then he saw himself lying on his back
in Falkon’s lab, looking up at Nicky Bloom, who could have killed him then and there if she truly wanted to.

“We should not underestimate these people,” Sergio said. “Come on. We will examine the remains of Renata’s house. Perhaps we will find some answers in this mess.”

Sergio grabbed a charred beam of wood and threw it aside. Then another, and another. Mark began to help. Together, they began clearing a path through the rubble.

Soft, blackened wood, gnarled, half-melted copper wire loosely wound on bended rebar, charred cement, fallen brick, broken glass, silverware, pots and pans, burned appliances, skeletal remains of furniture, a brick wall standing solid, a dozen chimneys of all shapes and sizes, some made of stone, others of iron. For hours they dug through it all. Sergio was close to giving up when they found her.

A severed head, buried in the rubble, its body a few yards away. Both head and body were cooked down to the bone. Sergio held up the skull and examined it in the moonlight.

“No,” Mark whispered. “It can’t be.”

“Fangs out,” Sergio said, touching his fingertip to one of the canines that was extended and exposed. “I’m sure that’s how she would have wanted to die.”

A length of spinal cord hung from the skull. Sergio ran his fingers along the bottom.

“Cut smooth,” he said. “Renata was not killed by someone in the clan. A vampire would have made the kill with hands and teeth. This head was chopped off with a tool.”

“A tool?”

“It had to be a sizable blade,” Sergio said, feeling the sharp line on the end of the broken spinal column.

They found the knife a few minutes later. It was buried in a tangle of melted wire. Certainly big enough to do the job, but not so large that one would expect it to have made such a clean cut.

“My friend, these humans are the real deal,” Sergio said. “Whoever killed Renata Sullivan was freakishly strong.”

Mark leaned back against a pile of brick.

“What does this mean?” he said. “What are we going to do?”

The Network.
Until now, Sergio had never given the group of rebellious humans any mind. Delusional martyrs not worthy of anyone’s time—that’s what the Network was to the clan.

Now he had a whole new respect for them. Melissa was dead. Bernadette was dead. Renata was dead and her mansion was in ruins.

Nicky Bloom had infiltrated Thorndike and aimed to lure Sergio into a giant vampire trap.

“I need to ask you something,” Sergio said.

“Okay.”

“It’s about Bernadette. About you and Bernadette.”

“Sergio, I can prove we are innocent. We always had the clan’s best interests in mind.”

“Yes, yes, I believe you,” said Sergio. “My question is about your bond with Bernadette.”

Mark’s face darkened at the reminder of what he had lost.

“How did it begin?” Sergio asked.

“Excuse me?”

“I asked you how your bond began. What did you feel when it happened?”

Mark hesitated, then said, “It was the most intense feeling of my life.”

“Did it happen right away, or over time?”

“Sergio, why are you--”

“Just answer the question!”

Mark stepped back. A sheepish look on his face, he said, “I knew Bernadette before you made her immortal. Our parents were friends. We spent a summer together at Lake Tooley. We had a…”

Mark’s face was pale. His eyes were drenched in tears. “Sergio, is it hard for you?” he said. “You know, being unable to bond?”

“When the bond happened,” Sergio pressed. “Between you and Bernadette. How did it come about?”

“I attended a party in Bernadette’s honor after she was made immortal,” Mark said. “We kept in touch after the party. She had me over as a dinner guest many times. It became a ritual for us, and that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? The ritual.”

Yes
, Sergio thought. The ritual. Just thinking of the word made his blood flow faster. There was something so appealing to the idea of falling in love and formalizing it with a ritual.

“After her mansion was built
, Bernadette began holding these parties every Sunday,” Mark continued. “The same group of guests. There were ten of us. We always arrived at nine o’clock and had drinks. Then we played all these parlor games Bernadette was learning from the others in the clan.”

Sergio was on edge. It was as if Mark’s simple story, told with such sadness in his voice, was the most suspenseful, compelling tale Sergio had ever heard.

A bonding ritual. Bernadette invited Mark over every Sunday and turned their gatherings into a ritual. It sounded so delightful, so perfectly wonderful.

“Bernadette kept count of the par
ties on a calendar,” Mark said. “It happened on the twenty-third party. Twenty-three is a number of significance to her.”

“Bernadette won the twenty-third Coronation contest,” Sergio said.

“Yes,” said Mark. His face was soaked in tears now. His breathing was labored, like he might break into the hyperventilating sobs of a child at any moment. “It happened while we danced,” he moaned. “At every party, Bernadette played music at midnight and we danced.”

“It was part of the ritual,” Sergio said, barely able to contain his excitement.

“And on the twenty-third party, while we danced, it came over us both like a tidal wave.”

Mark broke down in a fit of hysterics. “Oh Serg
io, how can I go on without her?”

“So it was sudden when it happened,” Sergio said, ignoring Mark’s pain. “Sudden, but not immediate. Bernadette was an immortal for a long time before you bonded.”

“It took four months to build her mansion,” Mark said. “So yes, she was an immortal for four months and, well, and twenty-three Sundays. That’s how long between when she became immortal and when we bonded.”

“But she knew she wanted you long before then,” Sergio said. “She created the ritual to bring you both into the moment. She knew she wanted to bond with you so she had twenty-three parties because, yes, that’s how Bernadette is. She loved her friends. She was close to her friends and she wanted them to share the moment. But that isn’t a requirement. It’s just how she wanted the moment to come about. The requirement is the ritual.”

“Sergio, I’ll be happy to tell you all about how bonding works another time if you’d like,” Mark said. “I know it must be of interest to you. I can’t imagine what it’s like not being able to…well, right now, you have to understand how hard it is for me to--”

“The moment must be completely magical,” Sergio said. “That’s why you have the ritual. If the moment isn’t exactly right, the venom doesn’t flow. Or worse, it does flow, but not fully, and creates a perverse abomination of a vampire, one who can’t bond, or maybe, one who takes five-hundred years to figure out how.”

“Sergio, please. Enough about this. I want to avenge my love! Tell me what we’re going to do! Give me your blessing to go find Jill Wentworth and kill her!”

“The ritual leads you to the moment, and when you’re in the moment, you know it’s time, without a shadow of a doubt,” Sergio said. “Am I getting it right?”

BOOK: The Bonding Ritual (Girls Wearing Black: Book Four)
5.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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