Fire. The old, dry wood of the meetinghouse ignited in an instant. Dark, oily smoke filled the air, scratching my lungs and making me choke. Around me, my new friends cried out in shock before grabbing weapons, preparing to fight for their lives.

This is because of me.

Arrow after arrow sliced through the air, stoking the flames higher. Through the haze of ash, I desperately sought Lucas’s eyes. I knew he would protect me no matter what, but he was in danger, too. If something happened to Lucas while he was trying to rescue me, I could never forgive myself.

Coughing from the soot-thick air, I grabbed Lucas’s hand and ran with him toward the door. But they were ready for us.

Silhouetted against the flames, a dark, forbidding line of figures stood just beyond the edge of the meetinghouse. None of them brandished weapons; they didn’t have to in order to make their threat clear. They had come for me. They had come to punish Lucas for breaking their rules. They had come to kill.

This is all happening because of me. If Lucas dies, it will be my fault.

There was nowhere to go, no place to run. We couldn’t remain here, not with the blaze around us roaring, already so hot that it stung my skin. Soon the ceiling would collapse and crush us all.

Outside, the vampires waited.

Chapter One

IT WAS THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, WHICH MEANT it was my last chance to escape.

I didn’t have a backpack full of survival gear, a wallet thick with cash that I could use to buy myself a plane ticket somewhere, or a friend waiting for me down the road in a getaway car. Basically, I didn’t have what most sane people would call “a plan.”

But it didn’t matter. There was no way I was going to remain at Evernight Academy.

The muted morning light was still new in the sky as I wriggled into my jeans and grabbed a warm black sweater—this early in the morning, and this high in the hills, even September felt cold. I knotted my long red hair into a makeshift bun and stepped into my hiking boots. It felt important to be very quiet, even though I didn’t have to worry about my parents waking up. They weren’t morning people, to say the least. They’d sleep like the dead until the alarm clock woke them, and that wouldn’t be for another couple of hours.

That would give me a good head start.

Outside my bedroom window, the stone gargoyle glared at me, fangs framing his open grimace. I grabbed my denim jacket and stuck my tongue out at him. “Maybe you like hanging out at the Fortress of the Damned,” I muttered. “You’re welcome to it.”

Before I left, I made my bed. Usually it took a lot of nagging to get me to do that, but I wanted to. I knew I was going to freak my parents out badly enough today, so straightening the covers felt like I was making it up to them a little. Probably they wouldn’t see it that way, but I went ahead. As I plumped up the pillows, I had a sudden strange flash of something I’d dreamed the night before, as vivid and immediate as though I were still dreaming:

A flower the color of blood.

Evernight, Claudia Gray