Thanks to the eradication of the draug, the vampires of Morganville have been freed of their usual constraints. With the vampires indulging their every whim, the town's human population is determined to hold onto their lives by taking up arms. But college student Claire Danvers isn't taking sides, considering she has ties to both humans and vampires.
To make matters worse, a television show comes to Morganville looking for ghosts, just as vampire and human politics collide. Now, Claire and her friends have to figure out how to keep the peace without ending up on the nightly news . . . or worse.
Release date: November 6, 2012
Print pages: 432
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Claire Danvers was in a rare bad mood, and nearly getting arrested didn’t improve it. First, her university classes hadn’t gone well at all, and then she’d had a humiliating argument with her “adviser” (she usually thought of him that way, in quotes, because he didn’t “advise” her to do anything but take boring core subjects and not challenge herself), and then she’d gotten a completely unfair B on a physics paper she knew had been letter perfect. She would have grudgingly accepted a B on something unimportant, like history, but no, it had to be in her major. And of course Professor Carlyle wasn’t in his office to talk about it.
So she wasn’t fully paying attention when she stepped off the curb. Traffic in Morganville, Texas, wasn’t exactly fast and furious, and here by Texas Prairie University, people were fully used to stopping for oblivious students.
Still, the screech of brakes surprised her and sent her stumbling back to the safety of the sidewalk, and it was only after a couple of fast breaths that she realized she’d nearly been run over by a police cruiser.
And a policeman was getting out of the car, looking grim.
As he stalked over to her she realized he was probably a vampire—he was too pale to be a human, and he had on sunglasses even here in the shade of the building. Glancing at the cruiser to confirm, she saw the extreme tinting job on the windows. Definitely vampire police. The official slogan of the police was to protect and serve, but her boyfriend called the vampire patrol the to protect and serve up for dinner patrol.
It was unusual to see one so close to the university, though. Normally, vampire cops worked at night, and closer to the center of town, where Founder’s Square was located, along with the central vamp population. Only the regular residents would see them there, and not the transient—though pretty oblivious—students.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and swallowed a rusty taste in her mouth that seemed composed of shock and entirely useless anger. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“Obviously,” he said. Like most vamps, he had an accent, but she’d long ago given up trying to identify it; if they lived long enough, vampires tended to pick up dozens of accents, and many of them were antique anyway. His facial features seemed . . . maybe Chinese? “Identification.”
Claire swallowed her protest and reached in her backpack for her wallet. She pulled out her student ID card and Texas driver’s license and handed them over. He glanced at them and shoved the
“Not those,” he said. “Your town identification.”
“My . . . what?”
“You should have received it in the mail.”
“Well, I haven’t!”
He took off his sunglasses. Behind them, his eyes were very dark, but there were hints of red. He stared at her for a moment, then nodded.
“All right. When you get your card, carry it at all times. And next time, watch your step. You get yourself hit by a car, I’ll consider you roadkill.”
With that, he put the sunglasses back on, turned, and got back in his car. Before Claire could think about any way to respond, he’d put the cruiser in gear and whipped around the corner.
It did not improve her mood.
Before she could even think about going home, Claire had a mandatory stop to make, at her part-time job. She dreaded it today, because she knew she was in no shape to deal with the incredibly inconsistent moods of Myrnin, her vampire mad-scientist boss. He might be laser focused and super-rational; he might be talking to crockery and quoting Alice in Wonderland (that had been the scene during her last visit). But whatever he was doing, he’d have work for her, and probably too much of it.
But at least he was never, ever boring.
She’d made the walk so often that she did it on autopilot, hardly even noticing the streets and houses and the alley down which she had to pass; she checked her phone and read texts as she jogged down the long marble steps that led into the darkness of his lab, or lair, whichever mood he was in today. The lights were on, which was nice. As she put her phone away, she saw that Myrnin was bent over a microscope—an ancient thing that she’d tried to put away a dozen times in favor of a newer electronic model, but he kept unearthing the thing. He stepped away from the eyepiece to scribble numbers frantically on a chalkboard. The board was covered in numbers, and to Claire’s eyes they looked completely random—not just in terms of their numerical values, but in the way they’d been written, at all angles and in all areas of the available space. Some were even upside down. It wasn’t a formula or an analysis. It was complete gibberish.
So. It was going to be one of those days. Lovely.
“Hey,” Claire said with fatalistic resignation as she dumped her backpack on the floor and opened up a drawer to retrieve her lab coat. It was a good thing she looked first; Myrnin had dumped an assortment of scalpels in on top of the fabric. Any one of them could have sliced her to the bone. “What are you doing?”
“Did you know that certain types of coral qualify as immortal? The definition of scientific immortality is that if the mortality rate of a species doesn’t increase after it reaches maturity, there is no such thing as aging . . . black coral, for instance. Or the Great Basin bristlecone pine. I’m trying to determine if there is any resemblance between the development of those cellular colonies with the replacement of human cells that takes place in a conversion to vampirism. . . .” He was talking a mile a minute, with a fever pitch that Claire always dreaded. It meant he was in need of medication, which he wouldn’t take; she’d need to be stealthy about adding it to his blood supply, again, to bring him down a little into the rational zone. “Did you bring me a hamburger?”
“Did I— No, Myrnin, I didn’t bring you a hamburger.” Bizarre. He’d never asked for that before.
“What good are you, then?” He finally looked up from the microscope, made another note or two on the board, and stepped back to consider the chaos of chalk marks. “Oh dear. That’s not very—is this where I started? Claire?” He pointed at a number somewhere near the top right corner.
“I wasn’t here,” Claire said, and buttoned up her lab coat. “Do you want me to keep working on the machine?”
“The what? Oh, yes, that thing. Do, please.” He crossed his arms and stared at the board, frowning now. It was not a personal-grooming highlight day for him, either. His long, dark hair was in tangles and needed a wash; she was sure the oversized somewhat-white shirt he was wearing had been used as a rag to wipe up chemical spills at sometime in its long life. He’d had the presence of mind to put on some kind of pants, though she wasn’t sure the baggy walking shorts were what she’d have chosen. At least the flip-flops kind of matched. “How was school?”
“Bad,” she said.
“Good,” he said absently, “very good . . . Ah, I think this is where I started. . . . Fibonacci sequence—I see what I did. . . .” He began drawing a spiral through the numbers, starting somewhere at the center. Of course, he’d be noting down results in a spiral. Why not?
Claire felt a headache coming on. The place was dirty again, grit on the floor that was a combination of sand blown in from the desert winds, and whatever Myrnin had been working with that he’d spilled liberally all over the place. She only hoped it wasn’t too toxic. She’d have to schedule a day to get him out of here so she could get reorganized, sweep up the debris, stack the books back in some kind of order, shelve the lab equipment. . . . No, that wouldn’t be a day. More like a week.
She gave up thinking about it, then went to the lab table on the right side of the room, which was covered by a dusty sheet. She pulled the cover off, coughed at the billows of grit that flew up, and looked at the machine she was building. It was definitely her own creation, this thing: it lacked most of the eccentric design elements that Myrnin would have put into it, though he’d sneaked in a few flywheels and glowing liquids along the way. It was oblong, practical, bell-shaped, and had oscillation controls along the sides. She thought it looked a bit like an old-fashioned science fiction ray gun, but it had a very different use . . . if it had ever worked.
Claire hooked up the device to the plug-in analyzing programs, and began to run simulations. It was a project Myrnin had proposed months ago, and it had taken her this long to get even close to a solution. . . . The vampires had an ability, so far mysterious and decidedly unscientific, to influence the minds and emotions of others—humans, mostly, but sometimes other vampires. Every vampire had a different set of strengths and weaknesses, but most shared some kind of emotional-control mechanism; it helped them calm their prey, or convince them to surrender their blood voluntarily.
What she was working on was a way to cancel that ability. To give humans—and even other vampires—a way to defend themselves against the manipulation.
Claire had gone from building a machine that could pinpoint and map emotions to one that could build feedback loops, heightening what was already there. It was a necessary step to get to the control stage—you had to be able to replicate the ability to negate it. If you thought of emotion as a wavelength, you could either amplify or cancel it with the flick of a switch.
“Myrnin?” She didn’t look up from the analysis running on the laptop computer screen. “Did you mess with my project?”
“A little,” he said. “Isn’t it better?”
It was. She had no idea what he’d done to it, but adjusting the controls showed precise calibrations that she couldn’t have done herself. “Did you maybe write down how you did it?”
“Probably,” Myrnin said cheerfully. “But I don’t think it will help. It’s just hearing the cycles and tuning to them. I don’t think you’re capable, with your limited human senses. If you’d become a vampire, you’d have so much more potential, you know.”
She didn’t answer that. She’d found it was really best not to engage in that particular debate with him, and besides, in the next second he’d forgotten all about it, focused on his enthusiasm for black coral.
On paper, the device they’d developed—well, she’d developed, and Myrnin had tweaked—seemed to work. Now she’d have to figure out how to test it, make sure it exactly replicated the way the vampire ability worked . . . and then make sure she could cancel that ability, reliably.
It might even have other applications. If you could make an attacking vampire afraid, make him back off, you could end a fight without violence. That alone made the work worthwhile.
And what happens when someone uses it the other way? she wondered. What happens if an attacker gets hold of it, then uses it to make you more afraid, as a victim? She didn’t have an answer for that. It was one of the things that made her feel, sometimes, that this was a bad idea— and that she ought to simply destroy the thing before it caused more trouble.
But maybe not quite yet.
Claire unhooked the machine—she didn’t have any kind of cool name for it yet, or even a project designation—and tested the weight of it. Heavy. She’d built it from solid components, and it generated considerable waste heat, but it was a prototype; it’d improve, if it was worthwhile.
She tried aiming it at the wall. It was a little awkward, but if she added a grip up front, that would help stabilize it—
Myrnin’s voice came from right behind her, way too close. She whirled, and her finger accidentally hit the switch on top as she fumbled her hold on the machine, and suddenly there was a live trial in action . . . on him.
She saw it work.
Myrnin’s eyes widened, turned very dark, and then began to shimmer with liquid hints of red. He took a step back from her. A large one. “Oh,” he said. “Don’t do that. Please don’t do that.”
She shut it off, fast, because she wasn’t sure what exactly had just happened. Something, for sure, but as live trials went, it was . . . inconclusive. “Sorry, sorry,” she said, and put the device down with a clunk on the marble top of the lab table. “I didn’t mean to do that. Um . . . what did you feel?”
“More of what I already felt,” he said, which was uninformative. He took another step backward, and the red didn’t seem to be fading from his eyes. “I was going to ask you if you’d send over some type AB from the blood bank; I seem to be running low. And also, I wanted to ask if you’d seen my bag of gummi worms.”
“You’re hungry,” Claire guessed. He nodded cautiously. “And it . . . made it stronger?”
“In a way,” he said. Not helpful. “Never mind the delivery from the blood bank. I believe I shall . . . take a walk. Good night, Claire.”
He was being awfully polite, she thought; with him, that was usually a cover for severe internal issues. Before she could try to figure out exactly what was going on in his head, though, he’d headed at vampire-speed for the stairs and was gone.
She shook her head and looked at the switched-off device in irritation. “Well, that was helpful,” she told it, and then rolled her eyes. “And now I’m talking to equipment, like him. Great.”
Claire threw a sheet over the machine, made notes in the logbook, turned off the lab’s lights, and headed home.
Arriving home—on Lot Street—didn’t do much for her mood, either, because as she stomped past the rusty, leaning mailbox on the outside of the picket fence, she saw that the door was open and mail was sticking out. It threatened to blow away in the ever-present desert wind. Perfect. She had three housemates, and all of them had somehow failed to pick up the mail. And that was not her job. At least today.
She glared up at the big, faded Victorian house, and wondered when Shane was going to get around to painting it as he’d promised he would. Never, most likely. Just like the mail.
Claire readjusted her heavy backpack on one shoulder, an automatic, thoughtless shift of weight, snatched the wadded-up paper out of the box, and flipped through the thick handfuls. Water bill (apparently, saving the town from water-dwelling draug monsters hadn’t given them any utility credits), electric bill (high, again), flyers from the new pizza delivery place (whose pizza tasted like dog food on tomato sauce), and . . . four envelopes, embossed with the Founder’s official seal.
She headed for the house. And then the day took one step further to the dark side, because pinned to the front door with a cheap pot-metal dagger was a hand-drawn note with four tombstones on it. Each headstone had one of their names. And below, it said, Vampire lovers get what they deserve.
Charming. It would have scared her except that it wasn’t the first she’d seen over the past few weeks; there had been four other notes, one slipped under the door, two pinned on it (like this one), and one slipped into the mailbox. That, and a steady and growing number of rude storekeepers, deliberate insults from people on the street, and doors slammed in her face.
It was no longer popular being the friend of the only mixed-marriage vampire/human couple in Morganville.
Claire ripped the note off, shook her head over the cheap dagger, which would snap in a fight, and unlocked the front door. She hip-bumped it open, closed it, and locked it again—automatic caution, in Morganville. “Hey!” she yelled without looking up. “Who was supposed to get the mail?”
“Eve!” Shane yelled from down the hall, in the direction of the living room, at the same time that Eve shouted, “Michael!” from upstairs. Michael said nothing, probably because he wasn’t home yet.
“We really need to talk about schedules! Again!” Claire called back. She briefly considered showing them the flyer, but then she balled it up and threw it, and the dagger, in the trash, along with the assorted junk mail offering discount crap and high-interest credit cards.
It’s just talk, she told herself. It wasn’t, but she thought that eventually, everyone—human and vampire—would just get their collective panties unbunched about Michael and Eve’s getting married. It was nobody’s business but their own, after all.
She focused instead on the four identical envelopes.
They were made of fancy, heavy paper that smelled musty and old, as if it had been stored somewhere for a hundred years and someone was just getting around to opening the box. The seal on the back of each was wax, deep crimson, and embossed with the Founder’s symbol. Each of their names was written on the outside in flowing, elegant script, so even and perfect, it looked like computer printing until she looked closely and found the human imperfections.
Her instincts were tingling danger, but she tried to think positively. C’mon, this could be a good thing, she told herself. Maybe it’s just a thank-you card from Amelie for saving Morganville. Again. We deserve that.
Sounded good, but Amelie, the Founder of Morganville, was a very old vampire, and vamps weren’t in the business of thanking people. Amelie had grown up royalty, and having people do crazy, dangerous (and possibly fatal) things on her slightest whim was just . . . normal. It probably didn’t even call for a smile, much less a note of gratitude. And, to be honest, Claire’s once almost-friendly status with the Founder had gotten a bit . . . strained.
Morganville, Texas, was just about the last gathering place for vampires in the world; it was the spot that they’d chosen to make their last stand, to forget their old grudges, to band tightly together against common threats and enemies. When Claire had first arrived, the vampires had been battling illness; then they’d been after one another. And four months ago, they’d been fighting the draug, water creatures that preyed on vampires like delicious, tasty snacks . . . and the vampires had finally won.
That left them the undisputed champions of the world’s food chain. In saving Morganville, Claire hadn’t really stopped to consider what might happen when the vamps no longer had something to fear. Now she knew.
They didn’t exactly feel grateful.
Oh, on the surface, Morganville was all good, or at least getting better. . . . The vamps had been fast on the trigger to start repairing the town, cleaning up after the demise of the draug, and getting all of their human population settled again in their homes, businesses, and schools. The official PR line had been that a dangerous chemical spill had forced evacuations, and that seemed to have satisfied everybody (along with generous cash payments, and automatic good grades to all of the students at Texas Prairie University who’d had their semesters cut short). Claire also suspected that the vampires had applied some psychic persuasion, where necessary— there were a few of them capable of doing that. On the surface, it looked like Morganville was not only recovering, but thriving.
But it didn’t feel right. On the few occasions that she’d seen Amelie, the Founder hadn’t seemed right, either. Her body language, her smile, the way she looked at people . . . all were different. And darker.
“Hey,” her housemate Eve Rosser—no, it was Eve Glass now, after the wedding—said. “You going to open those or what?” She walked up beside Claire, set a glass down on the kitchen counter, and poured herself a tall glass of milk. Her ruby wedding ring winked at Claire as if inviting her to share a secret joke. “Because the last time I saw something looking that official, it was inviting me to a party. And you know how much I love those.”
“You almost got killed at that party,” Claire said absently. She passed over Eve’s envelope and picked up her own.
“I almost get killed at most parties. Hence, you can tell that’s how much I love them,” Eve said, and ripped open the paper in a wide, tearing swath. Claire—who was by nature more of a neat gently-slice-the-thing-open kind of person—winced. “Huh. Another envelope inside the envelope. They do love to waste paper. Haven’t they ever heard of tree-hugging?”
As Eve extracted the second layer, Claire had a chance to do the usual wardrobe scan of her best friend . . . and wasn’t disappointed. Eve had suddenly taken a liking to aqua blue, and she’d added streaks of it in her black hair, which was worn today in cute, shiny ponytails on the sides of her head. Her Goth white face was brightened by aqua eye shadow and—where did she find this stuff?—matching lipstick, and she had on a tight black shirt with embossed crosses. The short, poufy skirt continued the blue theme. Then black tights with blue hearts. Then, combat boots.
So, a typical Wednesday, really.
Eve pulled the inner envelope free, opened the flap, and extracted a folded sheet of thick paper. Something fell out to bounce on the counter, and Claire caught it.
It was a card. A plastic card, like a credit card, but this one had the Founder’s symbol screened on the back, and it had Eve’s picture in the upper right corner—taken when she’d been without the full Goth war paint, which Eve would despise. It had Eve’s name, address, phone number . . . and a box at the bottom that read Blood Type: O Neg. Across from it was a box saying Protector: Glass, Michael.
“What the . . . ?” Oh, Claire thought, even before she’d finished the question. This must have been what the vampire cop was asking her for. The identification card.
Eve plucked the card from her fingers, stared at it with a completely blank expression, and then turned her attention to the letter that had come with it. “ ‘Dear Mrs. Michael Glass,’ ” she read. “Seriously? Mrs. Michael? Like I don’t even have a name of my own? And what the hell is this about his being my Protector? I never agreed to that!”
“And?” Claire reached for the letter, but Eve hip-checked her and continued reading.
“ ‘I have enclosed your new Morganville Resident Identification Card, which all human residents are now required to carry at all times so that, in the unlikely case of any emergency, we may quickly contact your loved ones and Protector, and provide necessary medical information.’ ” Eve looked up and met Claire’s eyes squarely. “I call bullshit. Human residents. With blood type listed? It’s like a shopping list for vamps.”
Claire nodded. “What else?”
Eve turned her attention back to the paper. “ ‘Failure to carry and provide this card upon request will result in fines of—’ Oh, screw this!” Eve wadded up the paper, dropped it on the floor, and stomped on it with her boots, which were certainly made for stomping. “I am not carrying around a Drink Me card, and they can’t ask for my papers. What is this, Naziland?” She picked up the card and tried to bend it in half, but it was too flexible. “Where did you put the scissors . . . ?”
Claire rescued the card and looked at it again. She turned it over, held it under the strongest light available—the window— and frowned. “Better not,” she said. “I think this is chipped.”
“Chipped? Can I eat it?”
“Microchipped. It’s got some kind of tech in it, anyway. I’d have to take a look to see what kind, but it’s pretty safe to say they’d know if you went all paper dolls with it.”
“Oh great, so it’s not just a Drink Me card; it’s a tracking device, like those ear things they put on lions on Animal Planet? Yeah, there’s no way that can go wrong—like, say, vampires being issued receivers so they can just shop online for who they want to target tonight.”
Eve was right about that, Claire thought. She really didn’t feel good about this. On the surface, it was just an ID card, perfectly normal—she already carried a student ID and a driver’s license— but it felt like something else. Something more sinister.
Eve stopped rummaging in drawers and just stared at her. “Hey. We each got one. Four envelopes.”
“I thought they were only for human residents,” Claire said. “So what’s in Michael’s?” Because Michael Glass was definitely not human these days. He’d been bitten well before Claire had met him, but the full-on vampire thing had been slow-building; she saw it more and more now, but deep down she thought he was still the same strong, sweet, no-nonsense guy she’d met when she’d first arrived on the Glass House doorstep. He was definitely still strong. It was the sweetness that was in some danger of fading away, over time.
Before Claire could warn Eve that maybe it wasn’t the greatest idea, Eve shredded open Michael’s envelope, too, yanked out the inner one, and pulled out his letter. Another card fell out. This one was gold. Shiny, shiny gold. It didn’t have any info on it at all. Just a gold card, with the Founder’s symbol embossed on it.
Eve went for the letter. “ ‘Dear Michael,’ ” she said. “Oh, sure, he gets Michael, not Mr. Glass. . . . ‘Dear Michael, I have enclosed your card of privilege, as has been discussed in our community meetings.’ ” She stopped again, reread that silently, and looked down at the card she was holding in her fingers. “Card of privilege? He doesn’t get the same treatment we do.”
“Community meetings,” Claire said. “Which we weren’t invited to, right? And what kind of privileges, exactly?”
“You’d better believe it’s a whole lot better than a free mocha at Common Grounds,” Eve said grimly. She kept reading, silently, then handed the paper stiff-armed to Claire, not saying another word.
Claire took it, feeling a bit ill now. It read:
Dear Michael, I have enclosed your card of privilege, as has been discussed in our community meetings. Please keep this card close, and you are welcome
to use it at any time at the blood bank, Bloodmobile, or Common Grounds for up to ten pints monthly.
Wow, it really was good for free drinks. But that wasn’t all.
This card also entitles you to one legal hunt per year without advance declaration of intent. Additional hunts must be preapproved through the Elders’ Council. Failure to seek preapproval will result in fines of up to five thousand dollars per occurrence, payable to the family’s Protector, if applicable, or to the City of Morganville, if there is no Protector on file.
Best wishes from the Founder, Amelie
For a moment, Claire couldn’t quite understand what she was reading. Her eyes kept going over it, and over it, and finally it all snapped into clear, razor-sharp focus, and she pulled in a deep, shaking breath. The paper creased as her grip tensed up.
“Yeah,” Eve said. Claire met her gaze wordlessly. “It’s telling him he gets a free pass to kill one person a year, just on a whim. Or more if he plans it out. You know, like a special treat. Privilege.” There was nothing in her tone, or her face, or her eyes. Just . . . blank. Locked down.
Eve took the paper from Claire’s unresisting hand, folded it, and put it back in the envelope with the gold card. “What—what are you going to say to him?” Claire couldn’t
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