I didn't have any trouble recognizing her voice this time. I decided it was like honey--slick and too darn sweet. Everyone at the table jumped, including me. She was wearing a sweater like mine, except that over her heart was embroidered the silver silhouette of three goddess-like women, one of them holding what looked like a pair of scissors. She had on a very short pleated black skirt, black tights that had silver sparkles in them, and knee-high black boots. Two girls were standing behind her, dressed in much the same way. One was black, with impossibly long hair (must be a really good weave), and the other was yet another blonde (who, on closer inspection of her brows, was probably, I decided, as much a natural blonde as I am).
"Hello, Aphrodite," I said when everyone else seemed too shocked to speak.
"Hope I'm not interrupting anything," she said insincerely. "You're not. We were just discussing the trash that needs to be taken out tonight," Erin said with a big, fake smile.
"Well, you would certainly know about that," she said with a sneer, and then purposefully turned her back on Erin, who was curling her fists and looking as if she might leap over the table at Aphrodite. "Zoey, I should have said something to you earlier, but I guess it just slipped my mind. I want to issue an invitation for you to join the Dark Daughters in our own private Full Moon Ritual tomorrow night. I know it's unusual for someone who hasn't been here long to take part in a ritual so soon, but your Mark has clearly shown that you're, well, different than the average fledgling." She looked down her perfect nose at Stevie Rae. "I've already mentioned it to Neferet, and she agrees that it would be good for you to join us. I'll give you the details later, when you're not so busy with...uh...trash." She gave the rest of the table her tight- lipped, sarcastic smile, flipped her long hair, and she and her entourage flitted off.
"Hag bitches from hell," Shaunee and Erin said together.
"I keep thinking that hubris is eventually going to bring Aphrodite down," Damien said.
"Hubris," Stevie Rae explained, "having godlike arrogance."
"I actually know that one," I said, still staring after Aphrodite and her mob. "We just finished reading Medea in English class. It's what brought Jason down."
"I'd love to knock the hubris right out of her bobble head," Erin said.
"I'll hold her for you, Twin," Shaunee said.
"No! Y'all know we've talked about this before. The penalty for fighting is bad. Really bad. It's not worth it."
I watched Erin and Shaunee pale at the same time and wanted to ask what could be so bad, but Stevie Rae went on talking, this time to me.
"Just be careful, Zoey. The Dark Daughters, and especially Aphrodite, can seem almost okay at times, and that's when they're most dangerous."
I shook my head. "Oh, nu uh. I'm not going to their full moon thing."
"I think you have to," Damien said softly.
"Neferet okayed it." Stevie Rae said as Erin and Shaunee nodded in agreement. "That means she'll expect you to go. You can't tell your mentor no."
"Especially when your mentor is Neferet, High Priestess of Nyx," Damien said.
"Can't I just say that I'm not ready for...for...whatever it is they want me to do, and ask Neferet if I can be--I dunno, what would you call it--excused from their full moon thingy this time?"
"Well, you could, but then Neferet would tell the Dark Daughters and they'd think that you're scared of them."
I thought about the major crap that had already passed between Aphrodite and me in such a short time. "Uh, Stevie Rae, I might already be scared of them."
"Don't ever let them know." Stevie Rae looked down at her plate, trying to hide her embarrassment. "That's worse than standing up to them."
"Honey," Damien said, patting Stevie Rae's hand, "stop beating yourself up about that."
Stevie Rae gave Damien a sweet, thank-you smile. Then she said to me, "Just go. Be strong and go. They won't do anything too awful at the ritual. It's here on campus; they wouldn't dare."
"Yeah, they do all their bad bullshit away from here, where it's harder for the vamps to catch them," Shaunee said. "Around here they pretend to be all sickeningly sweet so no one knows what they're really like."
"No one except us," Erin said, sweeping out her hand so that she included not just our little group, but everyone else in the room, too.
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