Being bitten by Amelie wasn’t like being bitten by any of the others she’d survived before. It was surprisingly easy somehow, as if Amelie’s bite injected some kind of Valium along with it. She felt peaceful, which was very strange; she ought to have felt horrified, or angry, or anything at all except stupidly relaxed.

It went on for a long moment, and then Amelie let her go with a soft sigh, and the peace that had been echoing through Claire’s head evaporated like ice in the desert sun and panic kicked in again, hard and very real. She was weak and drained, and her head was spinning, and when she tried to get up she couldn’t. All she could do was edge slowly back, scooting with her hands until she’d put a respectable distance between her and the queen dressed in blood who lay on the couch.

Amelie sat up. Blood drops ran down her arms like red fringe, and she looked down at herself with a frown, then stood as a hol- low sound came from the door below. It wasn’t down, not yet, but they’d clawed through the wood and reached the metal behind it.

“Wipe my blood from your hands,” she told Claire. “They will smell it on you, and that would be a dangerous thing. When they come for me, go down the stairs. Get Shane and leave. Promise me you will do this.”

“What’s going to happen to you?”

“They will hurt me,” Amelie said flatly. “I will fight them, but they will take me. Don’t interfere. You can’t save me. I thank you for the gift of your blood, Claire, and I will honor it. But you must honor me as well now.”

It came to Claire in a blinding flash that there was one possi- bility that Amelie hadn’t thought about— a dangerous one. Poten- tially fatal.

But maybe, just maybe, one that could work.

“If you get out of here, can you hide?” Claire asked her. “Is there someplace you can go?”

“Morley has promised me safety in the town of Blacke, if I can reach the borders of Morganville,” Amelie said. “From there, per- haps we can find a way to strike at Fallon. But it’s of no use to speculate. I will never leave this attic except in their hands.”


This, Claire thought, was going to require two things: preci- sion timing and a whole lot of luck. The house was on her side, though; she could feel it anxiously waiting for any chance to help. And Shane would be armed and dangerous and looking for her, very soon.

She heard the shriek of metal warping and being ripped apart, and waited another few seconds, staring at Amelie. She couldn’t hear these creatures, because they moved like ghosts, but in her pe-ripheral vision she saw one of them on the stairs. As it reached the top, she saw the blur of the second one close behind it.

“Sorry,” Claire said. “I’m not giving up on you just yet.”

She rushed forward, and before Amelie could stop her, she wrapped the Founder of Morganville in a hug.

It was weird and nauseating. The blood from Amelie’s dress squelched wetly between them, smearing Claire, and beneath the garment the vampire felt like a cold marble statue, stiffly unyielding. It lasted only a second, and then Amelie’s shock cracked, and she shoved Claire backward. “What are you doing?” she demanded, but there wasn’t time to explain, because the hellhounds were coming.

Claire threw herself sideways, across the couch, knocked over the lamp, and jumped the low railing to land awkwardly on the steps below. She lost her footing and fell, tumbling down the rest of the way, and caught herself just before she would have rolled into a nasty jagged metal mess that used to be the hidden panel’s door.

Claire shoved it out of the way, panting with fear and adrena- line, and saw one of the monsters leap down behind her on the stairs. It sniffed the air, and those yellow eyes widened, fixed straight on her, and took on an unholy shimmer as it opened its mouth to snarl.

Then it let out a howl that froze her bones, and Claire didn’t wait to see if it was going to give chase.

She just left Amelie behind, and ran.


She was halfway to the stairs when the creature burst out of the door, still giving that eerie, wailing howl, and Claire plunged the rest of the way at a dead run. She couldn’t let it catch her. It was following the scent of Amelie’s blood on her, and it would treat her like a vampire— it would rip her to shreds, assuming that she would heal.

But she wouldn’t, of course. If it caught her, it was all over. Her calculated risk would have failed. She’d thought that if Amelie had only one of these things to deal with, she might be able to fight her way free. That was Claire’s theory, anyway. She hoped she hadn’t just sacrificed herself for nothing.

“Shane!” Claire yelled as she reached the stairs and began rac- ing down them. She didn’t feel the scrapes and bruises and muscle strains she was sure she’d earned with that first tumble down the hidden room’s steps. She’d pay for it later, but for now her panic was overriding all the normal responses. Nothing was broken, at least; she could still put her weight equally on both legs. That was all that mattered.

Shane was at the bottom of the stairs, standing there with the heavy duffel bag of weapons, staring up at her. He wasn’t moving.

He looked . . . odd.

“Shane!” she called again, and looked back over her shoulder.

She saw the monster coming into view, all yellow eyes and gleam- ing claws and that ridiculous sundress. “Shane, I need a weapon!”

She didn’t even care what it was, not yet. There wasn’t time to be scientific just now.

But Shane wasn’t moving. No. Now he was, to drop the duffel with a crash to the wood floor.

Something was happening to him. His eyes . . .

He was changing.

No. She’d forgotten in the crush of events, forgotten what the effect could be if he came face- to- face with a vampire . . .

. . . or someone who smelled like one.

He closed his eyes and when they opened, they gleamed acid yellow, with pupils that shrank into vertical slits.

Claws burst bloodily out of his fingertips, like some nightmare version of a superhero, but what he was becoming was something else, something far worse, and the howl that came out of his throat was nothing but rage and animal fury.

Claire screamed back, a full- throated cry of heartbreak and rage and fury and fear, and did the only thing she could— she rushed down, trying to get past him before he was fully changed.

They’d gotten Shane. What was even worse was that he was close, he was fast, and she had only the tiniest chance of evading him.

The only thing in her favor was that the change had just started on him, and he was still confused and in pain.

She had no choice but to try to get by him.

“Please,” she whispered. There were tears of sheer terror in her eyes, and heartache, because even now she couldn’t help but feel horror at what was happening to him, at the pain he was feeling.

“Please, Shane, it’s me. It’s Claire.”

He was changing fast, and there was nothing of Shane left in his eyes, just pure instinct and rage. His clothing hampered his shift, but that wasn’t going to last long; his claws were even now ripping at the tough cloth of his jeans to shred them.

Claire took in a deep breath, grabbed the railing with both hands, and vaulted over it, the way she’d seen Shane do a million times. She landed on the bounce of Michael’s armchair and launched half a dozen feet into the air, to come to an awkward, stumbling landing still on her feet in front of the darkened TV.

Shane howled behind her, and when she looked back she saw he was almost completely hellhound now, muscles bunching and shifting and driving him to all fours. His body didn’t look human anymore.

She saw all that in a rush because then he was on her, leaping the distance to slam into her chest.

She somehow got her hands between them, pressing against skin— no, not skin anymore, fur, stiff and harsh against her fingers— and Shane’s mouth— muzzle— was opening and the teeth, the teeth were sharp and endless, and she knew she was about to die.

And she closed her eyes so she wouldn’t see it coming.

He made a sound that resonated inside her— a high- pitched whine of pain and anguish. She felt the raw heat of his breath on her neck and forced herself to open her eyes again and stare right into his.

“It’s me,” she whispered. “Shane. It’s me.”

He snarled, but it turned into a whine again, and then his body tensed and she thought, This is it, it’s the end. She’d risked her life, and this time, finally, she’d lost it on the gamble. She wasn’t afraid exactly— shock had already taken over to protect her from that.

But she was sad. Sad that it was going to be Shane, of all people.

Sad that this would be another thing he’d have to live with after all the losses he’d suffered in his life.

She felt his body move, and it took her a second to realize that he wasn’t lunging down toward her, but away.

Away, to collide with the second hellhound leaping for her from the stairs.

They tangled up in a snarling, slashing heap on the floor beside the couch.

She didn’t wait to see who won; against all his instincts, all the programming that was running through his veins, Shane had given her a chance, and that was all she could ask. She had to keep moving, no matter what, and draw them away from Amelie if she could.

The house really was on her side, because as she darted through the kitchen door, a spray of water jetted out from the sink as if a pipe had ruptured, and hit her squarely in the face and chest, drenching her and rinsing away most of Amelie’s blood. She paused for a second to scrub frantically at her skin, and then as the water cut off, she grabbed for one of Shane’s beloved extinguisher grenades. She armed it just as the kitchen door smashed open, and Shane and the other hound broke through. She tossed it straight at them as she opened the back door, and it hit the ground right in front of Shane’s feet, then exploded into a choking cloud of white powder that shimmered and billowed in the air.

It made a great distraction, and she took full advantage of it to run, fast, out of the backyard and onto the street.

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