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Prom Nights from Hell (Chapter Five)

I shudder. I can't help it. Even though she's not exactly my type, it's not pleasant to think of Lila as some vampire's midnight snack.

"Aren't you worried," I ask, hoping to change the subject a little, "that Lila's just going to tell Drake not to show up at the prom since we'll be there waiting?"

I say we and not you because there is no way I'm letting Mary go after this guy alone. Which I know Veronica would think is sexist, too.

But Veronica's never seen Mary smile.

"Are you kidding me?" Mary asks. She doesn't seem to notice the we. "I'm counting on her telling him. That way he'll show up for sure."

I stare at her. "Why would he do that?"

"Because killing the exterminator's daughter will totally raise his crypt cred."

Now I'm blinking at her. "Crypt cred?"

"You know," she says, tossing her ponytail. "It's like street cred. Only among the undead."

"Oh." Strangely, this does make sense. As much as anything else I've heard this evening. "They call your dad the, um, 'exterminator'?" I'm having a hard time picturing Mary's dad wielding a crossbow the way she did.

"No," she says, the smile vanishing. "My mom. At least… she used to be. Not just vampires, either, but evil entities of all kinds-demons, werewolves, poltergeists, ghosts, warlocks, genies, satyrs, loki, shedus, vetelas, titans, leprechauns-"

"Leprechauns?" I echo in disbelief.

But Mary simply shrugs. "If it was evil, Mom killed it. She just had a gift for it… A gift," Mary adds softly, "I really hope I've inherited."

I just sit there for a minute. I have to admit I'm a little stunned by everything that's gone down over the past couple of hours. Crossbows and vampires and exterminators? And what in the world is a vetela? I'm not even sure I want to know. No. Wait. I know I don't want to know. There's a humming noise inside my head that won't stop.

The weird thing is, I kind of like it.

"So," Mary says, lifting her gaze to meet mine. "Do you believe me now?"

"I believe you," I say. What I can't believe, actually, is that I do. Believe her, I mean.

"Good," she says. "It would probably be better if you didn't tell anybody. Now, if you don't mind, I need to start getting things ready-"

"Great. Tell me what you need me to do."

Her face clouds with trouble. "Adam," she says. And there's something about the way her lips form my name that makes me feel a little crazy… like I want to throw my arms around her and race around the room at the same time. "I appreciate the offer. I really do. But it's too dangerous. If I kill Drake-"

"When you kill him," I correct her.

" –  chances are, his father is going to show up," she goes on, "looking for revenge. Maybe not tonight. And maybe not tomorrow. But soon. And when he does… it isn't going to be pretty. It's going to be awful. A nightmare. It's going to be-"

"Apocalyptic," I finish for her, a slight shiver going down my spine as I speak the word.

"Yes. Yes, exactly."

"Don't worry," I say, ignoring the shiver. "I'm all set for that."

"Adam." She shakes her head. "You don't understand. I can't-well, I can't guarantee I'll be able to protect you. And I certainly can't let you risk your life like that. It's different for me, because-well, because of my mom. But you-"

I stop her. "Just tell me what time I'm picking you up."

She stares at me. "What?"

"Sorry," I say. "But you're not going to the prom by yourself. End of story."

And I must have looked really scary or something as I said it, because even though she opens her mouth to argue, she closes it again when she gets a look at my face, and only says, "Um. Okay."

Still, she has to add, "It's your funeral," just to have the last word.

Which is fine with me. She can have the last word.

Because I know now that I've found her: my future partner in the inevitable struggle to survive in post-apocalyptic America.

Mary

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 flickering light show coming down from the ballroom's ceiling.

But I know he's here. I can feel him.

And then I see him, moving across the dance floor toward me. He's holding two glasses of bloodred liquid, one in either hand. When he gets close enough, he hands me one of the glasses, then says, "Don't worry, it's not spiked. I checked."

I don't reply. I just sip the punch, grateful for the liquid-even if it is a little too sweet-because my throat is so dry.

The thing is, I know I'm making a mistake. Letting Adam do this, I mean.

But… there's something about him. I don't know what it is. Something that sets him apart from all the rest of the dumb jocks in school. Maybe it's the way he saved me back at the club when I lost my nerve, his shooting at Sebastian Drake-progeny of the devil himself-with a ketchup-filled squirt gun.

Or maybe it's the way he was so nice about my dad, not cracking any jokes about him being like Doc from the Back to the Future movies and even calling him sir. Or the way he picked up my mom's photo like that and seemed so stunned when I told him the truth about her.

Or maybe it's just the way he looked when he showed up at quarter to eight this evening, so impossibly handsome in his tux-and even holding a red rose corsage for me… despite that less than twenty-four hours ago, he hadn't even known he was going to the prom (good thing tickets were available for sale at the door).

Oh well. Dad was ecstatic, for once acting like a normal parent, snapping photos-"For your mother to see, when she's better," he kept saying-and trying to slip twenty-dollar bills into Adam's hand, telling him to "treat Mary to an ice cream after the dance."

Which frankly made me decide I like Dad better when he never comes out of the lab.

Still. I knew I was making a mistake by not sending Adam packing right away. This is no job for amateurs.

This is… this is…

… beautiful. I mean, that's how the ballroom looks. I almost gasped when I entered it on Adam's arm. (He insisted. So we'd look like a "normal couple" if Drake was there already and watching.) The Saint Eligius Prep prom committee really outdid themselves this year.

Securing the four-story grand ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria was a feat all on its own, but transforming it into such a sparkling romantic wonderland? Miraculous.

I just hope all those rosettes and streamers are fireproof. I'd hate to see them go up in the flames that are bound to appear when Drake's corpse begins to self-conflagrate after I stab him in the chest.

"So," Adam says, as we stand on the edge of the dance floor, sipping our punch in a silence that's-to be frank-quickly gotten a little uncomfortable. "How's this going to go down, anyway? I don't see your crossbow anywhere."

"I'm just going with a stake," I say, showing him my leg through the slit up the side of my gown. I'd strapped a hand-carved piece of ash there, using Mom's old thigh holster. "Keeping it sweet and simple."

"Oh," Adam says, after choking on his punch a little. "Okay."

I realize he hasn't looked away from my inner thigh. I hastily lower my skirt.

And it occurs to me-for the first time-that Adam might be in this for reasons other than wanting to liberate his best friend's girlfriend from the spell of a bloodsucking fiend.

Except… can such a thing even be possible? I mean, he's Adam Blum. And I'm just the new girl. He likes me, sure, but he doesn't like me. He can't. I've probably only got about ten minutes left to live. Unless something radically alters what I'm pretty sure is about to go down.

Blushing, I keep my gaze on the gyrating couples in front of us. Mrs. Gregory from U.S. History is one of the chaperones. She's going around, trying to keep girls from grinding on their dates. She might as well try to keep the moon from rising.

"It'd probably be best if you kept Lila busy," I say, hoping he doesn't notice that my cheeks are now as scarlet as my gown, "while I'm doing the staking. We don't want her throwing herself in my path just to try to save him."

"That's what I dragged Ted here for," Adam says, nodding toward Teddy Hancock, who's sitting slumped at a nearby table, looking out at the dance floor in a bored manner. Like the rest of us, he's just waiting for Lila-and her date-to arrive.

"Still," I say. "I don't want you anywhere near me when… you know."

"I heard you the first nine million times you told me," Adam mutters. "I know you can take care of yourself, Mary. You've made that abundantly clear."

I can't help wincing a little. He's not having a good time. I can tell.

Well, so what? I didn't ask him to come! He invited himself! This isn't a date, anyway! It's a slaying! He knew that from the outset. He's the one changing the rules, not me. I mean, who am I kidding? I can't date. I have a legacy to fulfill. I'm the exterminator's daughter. I have to-

"Want to dance?" Adam startles me by asking.

"Oh," I say, with some surprise. "I'd love to. But I really should-"

"Great," he says and takes me into his arms, steering me onto the dance floor.

true

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