Somehow he made it look like being merciful was his own idea.

“After you, Miss Danvers.”


The drive to Blacke wasn’t comfortable, but it was less crowded in the backseat, since Oliver had settled himself in and put the limp, still form of Ayesha in his lap. He sat very straight, eyes closed against the rushing wind.

“Eve,” Michael finally said, “why do you have a bandage on your neck? Did someone bite—”

“Can we talk about it later?” she asked.

“What happened to you?”

Eve didn’t seem willing to say, but Claire was still simmering over it, and she thought Michael needed to know. “They started her— what did Fallon call it?— aversion therapy. Which involved a vampire.”

“It’s fine, it’s nothing.” Eve took Michael’s hand in hers. “Look, I don’t even feel sick anymore. It’s just a bite. I’ll live.”

He put the back of her hand to his cheek. He didn’t say anything, but his gaze sought out Claire’s in the rearview mirror, and she knew he would have some questions later. She didn’t blame him. She knew Eve wouldn’t feel like talking about it, and he’d need to know.


Night had fallen, and the air coming in was cold enough to chill Claire to the bone. Michael had rustled up a discarded jacket from the trunk of the car, but by common agreement they’d given it to Eve, who was freezing and shivering in her light hospital clothes. Not that Michael had on much more.

“Mike,” Shane said, and pointed. “Pull in up there.” Up there turned out to be a light shimmering in the distance, off the small farm- to- market road they were following— a single square house out in the middle of nowhere with a porch light glowing yellow, se- curity lights on a barn out back, and the homey glow of lamps be- hind curtains.

“We’re not going to do anything to those people,” Claire said.

“We’re not.”

“Of course we’re not,” Shane said. “Trust me, okay?” He bailed out when Michael stopped the car, and then— inexplicably— took off his jeans. “Keep the lights off. I’ll be right back.”

They all watched him jog away in his Joe Boxers. Claire felt a little dizzy, actually.

“I don’t like this,” Eve said. “What the hell is he doing? What if they just, you know, shoot on sight?”

“He said to trust him,” Claire said. “I do.”

And she was right to do it, because after about ten minutes, he came back with a whole plastic bag full of clothes. “Here,” he said, and began digging out baggy sweatpants, hoodies, jackets, and shirts. “Sorry, ladies, they’re all men’s sizes, but I’m sure you’ll still look awesome.”

“How?” Michael asked. He grabbed a pair of the sweats and ducked out of the car to pull them on, then added a zip- up hoodie.

The logo on the faded cotton was— ironically— that of Texas Prairie University. Morganville’s school. Claire’s alma mater, sort of. “How the hell did you get these?”

“Well, I said I was pledging a frat at TPU with a car full of other guys, and we got driven out here and left naked by the side of the road, and the old bastard cackled and thought it was funny as hell. Then he gave me clothes.” Shane put on a hoodie from the bag— another TPU legacy— and snagged his blue jeans from the floor. “Here, put on another layer.” He handed Eve more clothes, and she bundled up gratefully. Claire was doing the same, taking both a T- shirt and a hoodie to add to what she was wearing, and for the first time, she felt something like warm again. “Oliver?”

Shane held out something to the vampire, and got a dismissive stare in return. “No? Sticking with the toga look? Well, I always said you were an ice- cold killer.”

That almost woke a smile from Oliver. Almost.

Once they’d donned all the donated layers, they headed out again. “You know, we probably should have jacked that cop car,”

Eve said. “At least it had more windshield.”

“Except for where Oliver punched through it, and we couldn’t see to drive?”

“Oh, right. Except for that.”

They passed a deserted, falling- down old diner that had served its last crappy sandwich at least twenty years back, and right on cue, Claire’s stomach rumbled. Loudly.

“Are you hungry?” Michael asked. “Because I’m starving.” He laughed then, as pure and free a sound as Claire had ever heard from him when he wasn’t singing. He sounded . . . whole. “You know, as a vampire I was never really hungry for solid food, even though I could eat it. I didn’t know how much I missed that. I could really kill for a burger right now. And fries. With salt.”

“Stop it, man, you’re killing me,” Shane groaned. “Maybe they’ve got an all- night diner in Blacke.”

Mention of the town— of their destination— brought them back to reality with a crash. This wasn’t some larky road trip. It was a mission.

“You should know something,” Claire said, and swallowed hard when they all turned to look at her. Even Oliver. “I heard Fallon give an order to release some of the vampires tonight from the mall. The hungriest and meanest ones.”

“Of course,” Oliver said. “Fallon does so need his righteous justifications. Once he whips the people of Morganville into a frenzy of fear, he’ll be free to do whatever he likes with us, and no one will stand in his way. He can burn us all on pyres in Founder’s Square if he likes. And he might find that a just punishment.”

“As somebody you once sentenced to that kind of execution, maybe the shoe fits,” Shane said.

“Shane!” Claire said.

He shrugged. “Sorry, but there are plenty of regular people who’ve been hurt in Morganville. Who’ve lost family. That flap- ping sound? It’s the chickens coming home to roost.”

“He’s right,” Oliver said, which was a little unexpected— even to Shane, as evidenced by the startled look he threw back toward Claire. “The problem with ruling by fear is that eventually, when the fear fades, fury replaces it. That’s a lesson I should have learned in my breathing years, perhaps.”

“Damn straight,” Shane said, but his outrage had lost its force.

“So . . . is there anything we can do to stop Fallon tonight? If it’s not too late already?”

“No,” Oliver said. He had turned his head, and was staring out at the desert whipping by beyond the window. “But it’s possible, just possible, that Fallon’s plan might backfire. Most of us older vampires have vast experience in managing our hunger; the poison he put in our blood supplies made us restless and peckish, to be sure, but not uncontrollably so. It’s the younger fledglings who have . . . difficulty. He might have lost enough touch with his vampire roots to think he can drive us so easily into marauding.”

“I thought you were all just waiting for the chance,” Shane said.

“Did you?” Oliver shrugged. “I’m not saying a hunt isn’t some- thing we crave, but to a man, we hate to be manipulated. And this is our town, as much as any human’s. Our home, and our neigh- bors and perhaps even our friends. You fall into the trap of think- ing as Fallon does, that there are only heroes and villains, monsters and victims, and nothing between. We all stand in that space, crossing the line to one side, then the other. Even you.”

That was unusually chatty for Oliver, and strangely lyrical, too. They all sat in silence for a while, until Michael cleared his throat and said, “I’m making the turn up ahead. Should take us straight to Blacke.”

“Hope that diner’s open,” Shane said. “Because now you made me think about French fries.”

Claire’s stomach rumbled again, right on cue, but she was watching Oliver. Watching the calm strength with which he cra- dled Ayesha, still locked in her coma. He hadn’t asked for blood for her, or more for himself, though she could see from the color of his skin and the shine in his eyes that he needed it.

He was teaching them all something about vampires, simply by being who he was. Maybe bad things, maybe good. But that had been his point.

That nothing, absolutely nothing, was all that straightforward.

Blacke kept its town purposefully dark; it didn’t want casual trav- elers looking for gas stations, or all- night diners. In fact, if Claire hadn’t known that the town had a population of at least five hundred, she’d have been fooled into thinking it was a ghost town.

Only a few cars in sight; and the lights were off inside businesses locked up tight for the evening. It was a tiny little one- stoplight place anyway.

The hulking courthouse was just as Claire remembered it, though the damage to the iron fence had been fixed and the statue of Mr. Blacke, the town’s most eminent (or at least richest dead) citizen, had been restored, except it still leaned a little bit. They’d knocked him down with the school bus, hadn’t they? It seemed like such a long time ago. She swore that Morganville years were worse than dog years. The people of Blacke had boarded up the court- house windows, though, and a faded red condemned sign creaked in the night wind. The only light in the place came from the glow from the clock tower, permanently frozen at three a.m. Claire checked her watch to be sure, but her instincts were right; the time was just past midnight.

The witching hour.

“We’re being watched,” Oliver said as Michael eased the car to a halt. “Although I expect it is thoroughly unnecessary to say it.

Even a breather ought to be able to feel it.”

“Is that some bigoted term you guys use for us?” Shane asked.

“In the same way you use bloodsucker, le ch, parasite? Yes. Although considerably more flattering.”

“He’s right,” Eve said, and Claire saw her shoulders bunch to- gether as she shivered, even though she was warmly wrapped up now. “They’re watching us.”

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