Either way, not an outcome she wanted.

It seemed to take forever, but she moved very slowly, pushing her fingertip forward a quarter inch at a time, waiting for the light to slow down, until her fingertip brushed the bottom of the circuit board. She traced the line of the motion detector’s wire to the proc essor, and spent another few seconds staring at the rest of the configuration to be certain she hadn’t missed anything. It looked like there was only one connection going to the explosive.

“I’m going to try something,” she told Myrnin. “It could go wrong.”

“More wrong than it already has?” he asked. “Do what you must. I won’t know if it explodes.”

That was a grim thought, but she took a breath, held it, and slowly, slowly inched her finger toward the wire. Then she edged it underneath, and gave it a quick, sharp tug to sever the connection.

The blinking light went off.

Claire sighed and pulled back. Just a heartbeat after she did, the stun activated, a sharp blue hissing spark that zapped between the contacts underneath the collar and into Myrnin’s skin, and he fell, convulsing. She smelled burned flesh and leaned forward toward him, but Jesse stopped her with both hands on her shoul- ders.

“No,” she said sharply. “Wait. Just wait.”

It took a few seconds, but the charge stopped, and Myrnin re- laxed, eyes open and blank for a moment before he blinked, reached up, and fumbled the compartment shut. “Well,” he said, “I think that’s enough experimentation for today. By the way, Oliver’s stopped screaming.”

Jesse let go of Claire, after a reassuring squeeze not quite strong enough to hurt. “Fallon must have decided Oliver didn’t know anything,” she said. “That might be good news.”


“It so rarely is,” Myrnin said. “I’ve told you, we need to destroy the human guards. Rip them to pieces. I can take down at least a few now that they can no longer explode me like a piñata, and I as- sume you—”

“No,” Jesse said, and reached a hand down to him. He took it and got to his feet. “They can still take you down. Besides, you don’t want to die in a bathrobe, do you? So undignified.”

“Has dignity ever been my outstanding characteristic, do you think?” he asked, as he flipped his still damp, curling hair out of his face. “I’m talking about freeing the rest of us. I can act. You can act, to a point. We must do something. Claire’s proven that given enough time we might be able to deactivate these collars—”

“I didn’t prove that,” she protested. “I just proved I could pull one wire— and even that shocked you senseless. What if I’d move too fast and set off the explosive?”

“You’d need another bath,” he said. “And I fear this bathrobe would never be the same.”


He held up a hand and turned toward the door. So did Jesse.

Claire heard a quiet knock a few seconds later, and it opened to show the pale, silent face of a vampire woman, who nodded and stepped away.

“We’re summoned,” Myrnin said. “Claire, I should put you back down that pipe. Do you think you can make your own way out to—”

“I’m not going,” she said.

“You can’t stay. ”

“I’m not going until I find out what he’s doing with Eve!”

“Claire, you can’t—”

She locked eyes with him and said it again, quietly, fiercely.

“I’m. Not. Going. Eve’s in danger. If Fallon’s willing to hurt Oliver like that, what do you think he’ll do to Michael? To her?”

They were going to argue with her— she could see it— but then an odd stillness came over them, and Jesse broke out of it to say, “There’s no time. We have to take her with us.”

They took her downstairs, walking between them down the wide, curling staircase to the atrium. On the ground floor, ringing that open center of tile, was a solid wall of vampires, standing shoulder to shoulder. They surrounded the open space where she’d first entered this place with her friends. On the surface, it looked like some kind of vampire town hall meeting.

Oliver was lying crumpled on the tile a few feet from Fallon.

He looked dead, until he moved just a little, trying to rise. He couldn’t manage it.

Myrnin’s hand pulled her to a stop and held her there, hidden by the crowd. “Silence,” he warned her, and bent down to stare di- rectly into her eyes. “On your life, silence. ”

A petite little vampire lady glanced over at them and fixed a hungry gaze on Claire’s neck, but then moved aside as Jesse pushed in to guard her. She stood with Myrnin and Jesse on either side, totally surrounded by unbreathing bodies.

And she felt that every single one of them wanted to take a bite out of her . . . but not a single one of them dared to try.

The outer door opened, and two cops half dragged Eve in.

She’d recovered a bit, because she was fighting— not effectively, but it took them some muscle to subdue her enough to move her to the center of the tiled atrium beside the dry fountain, where Fallon stood. They weren’t alone— apparently even Fallon wasn’t that sure of his prison. A full dozen armed Daylighters stood ranged around them, looking as tense and vigilant as Secret Service agents in a shooting gallery.

Eve stopped flailing and settled for glaring. She knew what kind of danger she was in, but she also kept studying the ranks of vampires, looking for Michael.

Who didn’t seem to be present.

“Oliver has assured me that he had nothing to do with Ame- lie’s disappearance, but someone here knows. Someone here helped.” Fallon’s voice, calm and confident, rang off the tiles and distant spaces. “And I can promise you that in the coming days, each one of you will be questioned, at length, about your involve- ment, so you may look forward to your turn, unless you want to confess it now. Anyone?”

Dead— pun intended— silence. Claire glanced around, but nobody moved. Not even a twitch.

“Then let me assure you that the offer I made you last night still holds today. Whatever you have done in your past, whatever atrocities, from this moment on, I can make you whole. I can make you clean. You can be forgiven and your crimes forgotten. You all know me; you know what I was. I made a new start in my life, and each of you can as well— all you need do is take a step. Just one single step.”

Oliver was still lying on the floor, too weak to get up, but when he spoke, it sounded as if he somehow towered a dozen feet over Fallon and his people. “You’ll get no volunteers here,” he said. “Be off with you, and take the girl away. She’s meat for the dogs if she stays here, and you know it. You’ve not forgotten what it feels like to starve, Fallon, and you’re not so saintly as you pretend.”

“Neither are you, for all you pretend to be a leader.”

“I’m no leader,” Oliver said, with a short, bitter bark of a laugh.

“And you’re no kind of holy man.”

“I’ve never claimed that.”

“You claim to offer salvation.”

“Your salvation is your own affair. What I offer is a chance at redemption, pure and simple, and you’ll never get such an offer again. You know that to be true.” Fallon seemed to be almost pleading. “I know you think your cause is true, Oliver. Has there ever been a time you didn’t? But even you must remember that the faith we share holds that vampires are damned . Cut off from heaven, doomed to walk the earth and drain the living of their hope and their eternal rewards because of their own sin of pride.

You are not immortal. You are lost. And I am showing you the way home.” He meant every word; Claire could see that. There were even tears shimmering in his eyes. He really did believe he was their savior.

“You’re showing me to the grave,” Oliver said. “A cold home- coming, indeed. The answer is no. You’ll get no volunteers here.”

“Not even Michael Glass? Not even when that would reunite him with his lovely girl, who’s been so brave in pleading for his release?”

“Wife,” Eve said. Her voice sounded husky and wrong somehow— dazed, drugged, and deeply afraid. But she was still standing. Still fighting. “I’m his wife.”

“You’re his bait,” Oliver said, and rolled painfully to his feet.

Guards tensed, and Fallon hovered his thumb over the control on the box he held. “Michael won’t be biting, Fallon, so take her out of here before something unfortunate happens.”

“To her?”

“To you,” Oliver said, and there was a deep, dark purr in his voice that made Claire’s skin crawl with a strange mix of dread and anticipation. “No more games, you pathetic shell of a man. You haven’t been saved— you’ve been hollowed out, emptied, made into a shadow of what you were. You’re walking dead, and you know it.

Go shamble toward the grave alone. You’ll find no followers among Amelie’s people.”

Amelie’s people, as Claire well knew, had never been unani- mous about anything, but in this, at least, they kept their differ- ences to themselves. It was just an unmoving, silent block of eerily posed statues, all eyes aimed at Fallon, Eve, and the guards.

Fallon looked defeated, Claire thought . . . but then he said, “Michael, I know you’re here. Oliver’s restrained you somehow, but I know you’re listening to me. Watching. I know you can see Eve, hear her heartbeat, feel her anguish. She loves you, and even I can feel it. Don’t pretend to be indifferent.”

More silence. Fallon didn’t seem surprised; he only paused for effect, Claire thought, before he dropped his bombshell. “She says she is your wife, but she isn’t, you know. There can be no marriage between the living and the dead, neither in the eyes of God nor the eyes of the state. Morganville’s mayor has passed a new law today, one that invalidates any marriages between vampires and humans.

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