It seemed like an eternity until the bus finally pulled into Dullsville's bus stop. I even hoped against hope that Alexander would magically be waiting for me, but instead I was greeted by Mom, Dad, Billy Boy, and his nerd-mate Henry.

"You're leaving already?" my dad asked after we arrived back home and I dropped my suitcase off in my room. "We want to hear more about your trip."

I didn't have time for my parents' well-meaning questions. "How did you like Aunt Libby? What did you think of her performance in Dracula? Did you like eating tofu sandwiches?"

I wanted to go to the place where I did my best thinking.

"I have to see Alexander!" I said, shutting the front door behind me. I raced to the Mansion and found the iron gate ajar. Out of breath, I hurried up the long, winding driveway and noticed something peculiar--the front door was also ajar.

Maybe he'd seen me from the manor house attic window and followed me back to Dullsville.

"Alexander?" I called as I walked inside.

The entranceway, living room, and dining room were as I'd last seen them, covered and empty of paintings.

"Alexander?" I called, walking up the grand staircase. My heart beat wildly with each step.

I whisked through the second floor and up Alexander's attic steps. I reached his bedroom. I could barely breathe. I gently knocked on his door. "Alexander, it's me, Raven."

No one responded.

I turned the knob and opened the door. This room also looked like I'd last seen it, bare except for a few remaining items. But on his unmade bed lay a backpack. He had come back.

I picked up the rustic black bag and hugged it. I knew it would be rude to look through the backpack, especially if Alexander suddenly walked into the room. But I couldn't help it.

I set it back on the bed and began to unzip it when I heard a noise coming from the backyard.

I looked outside his attic window and saw a candle flickering in the gazebo. A bat was hovering above the roof.

I took off, bolting out of his room, down the attic stairs, around the second floor, and down the never-ending staircase.

I flew out the front door and raced around to the backyard. "Alexander!" I called, and ran into the darkened gazebo, barely able to make out his features in the shadows.

Then the candlelight flickered. I saw his eyes first. One green and one blue, before he stepped fully into the moonlight.

I tried to run, but it was too late. Jagger's gaze had already begun to make me dizzy.

Chapter 10 The Covenant

I awoke on my back, on cold wet grass, with raindrops kissing my face, as if in a Sleeping Beauty slumber. The silvery sky held a bright, shining moon. A spidery tree loomed over me, its skinny, naked branches reaching toward me with witch-like fingers.

I sat up, my head aching. Then I saw it. A tombstone. Then another. Not one, but hundreds. I saw the baroness's monument. I was in Dullsville's cemetery.

As I rose, I felt light-headed. I caught my balance on a graveyard marker. I used to seek comfort among the tombstones, but because I was unsure of how I got here, I was anxious to leave before I ended up in an unmarked grave.

Jagger, wearing black cargo pants with red seams and a white T- shirt emblazoned with the words THE PUNISHER, was standing before me.

"How did you get here? Did you follow my bus?" I asked, confused.

"It will all be over in just a few minutes." "What--my life? Forget it. I'm getting outta here!"

"Not so fast." Jagger grabbed my hand and began leading me toward the middle of the cemetery. I tried to pull away from him, but his grip was too strong and my strength had been depleted from whatever means he used to get me there.

I'd snuck into Dullsville's cemetery many times, and invariably Old Jim, the caretaker, and Luke, his Great Dane, would chase me out. They seemed to be nowhere, now when my life depended on them.

"I thought you were looking for Alexander," I said, but Jagger ignored me and continued pulling me toward the monuments and tombs. We stopped at a closed coffin laid upon a cement bench. I could hear strange music, a mixture of wailing violins and an underlying harpsichord, coming from one of the tombs. On the coffin, a candelabra flickered among the raindrops, wax dripping down its pewter spine. A medieval goblet sat next to it.

It looked like a scene from a gothic wedding.

"What's this?" I asked, my mental fog beginning to wear off.

"A covenant ceremony."

"But where are the guests? I didn't bring a gift," I said, giddy from my daze.

"The bride doesn't have to."

"Bride? But I didn't even register yet!"

Jagger didn't smile. Instead he relit a candle.

A few feet away, I spotted a shovel lying next to an empty grave, glistening in the moonlight. I backed up slowly, inching my way to the shovel until the caretaker's tool lay at my feet. My heart was beating so loudly, I was afraid Jagger would hear it. I took a deep breath. As he centered the candelabra on the coffin, I bent over and reached for the handle. But as soon as I grabbed it, Jagger's boot pinned it to the earth. He stood over me as I tried in vain to pry it from the ground. In the struggle, the shiny new shovel shook, and a few bits of clinging dirt fell off the metal head. I saw myself in the shovel's curve, upside down like a spoon's reflection. However, I didn't see a reflection for Jagger right behind me. I looked back up at him. He smiled a wicked smile. I hastily wiped the shovel with my sleeve and shifted to one side, peering into the shiny metal surface. All I could see were the stars above him, but his boot remained on the handle behind me.

I gasped.

"Something missing?" he teased.

I rose quickly and stepped back. "You--" I began, breathless.

I tried to run, but Jagger lunged forward and grabbed my arm. He flashed his fangs at me and licked his lips.

My reality spun out of control. I was standing face-to-face with a real vampire. One who wasn't Alexander. Jagger was the kind I'd read about and seen in movies--the kind who meant to snatch me away from my family and friends and take my blood as his own. I faced pledging my life to a stranger for all eternity. The radical dreams I'd wished for as just a curious goth were about to come true.

But this wasn't my dream. I'd dreamed of eternal love, belonging, and fitting in. Not danger, deceit, and evil. Dullsville hadn't been so dull after Alexander had moved into town. After meeting him, I'd realized all I'd ever wanted was to become one of the living--experiencing movies, metal concerts, and love--and not one of the undead. I wanted to sleep in Alexander's arms, not alone in a coffin. I wanted to turn into a gothic beauty, not a creepy bat. And most important, if I had to make the choice to transform, I would only do it for Alexander. "My parents are expecting me home. They'll be sending out the SWAT team any minute now."

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