Oliver stepped out and raised his voice. “Enough of this, Mor- ley. You’ve had your gawk. There is serious work ahead.”

“Is there?”

Claire heard the lazy voice drifting down from far above. From the clock tower. She tilted her head back and spotted the shadow then, standing just under the glare of the light on the dials of the clock. Morley himself. He walked to the roof’s edge and stepped off, as if the four- story drop were nothing— and it might have been, for vampires. He hardly even flexed his knees on landing, and as he rose, Claire saw he’d managed to find clothes that suited him in Blacke— a dramatic full- length leather duster in faded brown, a long red scarf that trailed in the wind, a flat- brimmed hat. His eyes gleamed crimson in the darkness.

“Do tell me all about your crisis, Oliver. You built yourself a kingdom of cats and now the rats have gotten the upper hand— is that right? They’ve put all you sleek little mousers in a cage and fed you on scraps. Soon they’ll put you down and celebrate and then it will be the kingdom of the rats. Rats and cats, cheese and please may I have a bite.” Morley paused, leaned an elbow on the hood of the car, and gave Oliver a long scan from head to toe. “I knew you were old, dear boy, but really, the Romans?”

“It’s been a long day. I’m not in the mood for your idiocy.”

“And yet you’re in the mood for my assistance. Interesting.

Well, then, come along. Mrs. Grant is waiting.”

Morley didn’t wait for any of them to agree; he simply set off down the street. The snap of his coat in the wind was the only sound he made as he walked down the deserted road and took the sidewalk to the right.

They all exchanged a look. Oliver shook his head in disgust, reached in, and picked up the limp body of Ayesha. He held her as easily as a pillow. “Well?” he barked. “Morley may be a theatrical posturer, but he’s a decent grasp of tactics. And I might point out that we’re standing targets here for his followers. They have a kill shot on each of us.”

Eve blinked. “Um . . . how do you know that?”


“Tactics,” Oliver said, and walked away down the road in the direction Morley had gone.

Claire shrugged when Shane raised his eyebrows at her.

“Right,” he said. “Guess we’re going, then.”

Michael looked up at the silent, dark windows around them and yelled, “You can keep the car!”

Then he linked his arm with Eve’s and led the way in Oliver’s wake.

“Oh, no, not the old library,” Shane said, in a pretty good approx- imation of Oliver’s voice and phrasing. “How very tiresome of him to take us there.”

Claire elbowed him. “You must be feeling better.”

“Seems like it, doesn’t it?”

That, she thought with a sudden rush of disquiet, was not an answer. It was an evasion. “Are you feeling better?”

“If by better you mean much more aware than I ought to be of the fact that there are freaking vampires all over the place, then yes, much better. But I’m dealing with it.”

“If you can’t, will you let me know?”

“Sure thing. I’ll let out a howl.”

“Not funny.”

“Well, in my defense, it wasn’t really meant to be. I mean, I might literally howl.”

“Shane.” She pulled him to a stop, and when their eyes met, he dropped some of his smart- ass shield. “We’re going to get through this. I promise you that.”

He leaned forward and kissed her on the lips— warm, sweet, gentle, all the things she loved about him. All the things she knew were inside him, buried sometimes by the tough- guy attitude and smack talk. “I think you can get through anything,” he said.

“Hey, I’m happy sticking with you. As long as you don’t cover yourself in Queen Vampire blood again— I may be a freak, but there are limits.”

“Be serious.”

“I’m trying. It’s not what I do best.”

He was making her laugh, and that wasn’t what she wanted right now. Not what she needed. “Shane, when we get out of this— and we wil get out of it— I want you to know that I’m . . .

I’m ready.”

He raised his eyebrows, and jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Of course. “That’s good, because I’m a guy, Claire. I’m pretty much always—”

She put a hand over his mouth. “You asked me to marry you.

Were you serious?”

She took her hand away. He didn’t say anything. His lips formed what would have been the start of a word, maybe a sen- tence, but he didn’t actually speak.

She’d scared the words right out of him.

“Uh . . . that came out of nowhere,” he said.

“Is that a no? Were you just saying it before because you thought you had to say it?”

“No! I mean, not no to the original question, obviously, no to that last—” He took a deep breath. “Let me start over. Claire . . .

look, you just startled me, that’s all.” He took her hands, both hands, and twined their fingers together. Then he leaned forward and rested his forehead against hers. “Of course I mean it. I always meant it. I will always mean it. I just thought . . . I thought you wanted to wait.”

“I did,” she said. “But if these past years in Morganville have taught me anything, it’s that sometimes you have to just . . . jump.

It’s not safe. It’s never safe. But sometimes you have to live dangerously.”

He laughed a little. “You’re talking my language now.”

“You said I wanted to wait. You didn’t?”

“We should probably go back to that earlier thing about me being a guy, right?”

“I got that part.” She kissed him, just a tingling brush of lips, their foreheads still touching. “You waited anyway.”

“Well, yeah. Because you’re worth waiting for.” He said it as if it was simple and self- evident, but it made her shiver. It was such a strong, sexy thing to say, and she knew he meant it. He would always mean it. “If you want to get married now, tonight, then let’s find whoever passes for a justice of the peace in Blacke.”

“Wouldn’t that be a story to tell the kids,” she said, and then she held her breath, because she’d said it without really thinking, and she was waiting for him to get weird about it, to pull back, to say something like whoa, girl, hit the brakes.

But instead he just smiled and said, “I’m pretty sure we’ll have lots of stories to tell the kids. Almost none of them are going to be appropriate.”



“So. Justice of the peace?”

“No,” she said. “How about we do it in Morganville, once this is over? Do it right. For real.”

“You mean, gown and tuxedo? Because I was getting used to the idea of saying I do in sweatpants I borrowed from some tooth-less old country coot. It’s different.”

“It’s different in an utterly bad way.”

“Would that be the eighties definition of bad, as in great, or . . .”

“Shouldn’t we catch up?” she asked. Because the others had disappeared inside the darkened library building ahead, and she had that feeling again, of people watching from the shadows.

Vamps, most likely. She supposed they were listening, too.

“In a second,” he said, and pulled her close, body to body, fit- ting in all the right places to start a breathtaking fire inside her.

“You know they’re watching us, right?”

She nodded.

“Let’s give them something to watch.”

And then he kissed her, all passion and intensity and heat and dark chocolate sweetness melting on her tongue, but not just sweet because there was spice in it, too, bursts of searing pepper, and he made her hungry, so incredibly hungry to feel his skin on hers that it almost drove her crazy.


“Good effort at making me want to rip your clothes off,” she said when he let her breathe again.

“Didn’t work?”

“Oh, it worked. I’m just better without an audience.”

He kissed her gently on the nose. “I’ll hold you to that later.”

When they opened the door of the library, they found themselves catapulted back into the past. The windows had been blacked out to hide the lights, but apart from the fact that the electricity was on, the Blacke Public Library hadn’t changed very much. The same battered wooden tables, the same sturdy chairs, the same scarred linoleum floors and doubtful carpet. It was neater, though. And it wasn’t full of Blacke citizens standing around with weapons.

Instead, people were standing around in groups of two and three, whispering, and not displaying visible armament. They were mostly watching Morley, who had leaped up onto one of the study tables and was pacing around, hands behind his back, with the duster swirling around him. Claire half expected him to have jingling spurs. He certainly had the cowboy boots, and they looked old enough to have survived the Civil War and been on the march ever since.

Shane must have been thinking the same thing, because he said to Morley, “Nice outfit. Whose smelly old corpse did you steal it off of?”

It was hard to read Morley’s expression, since he wore his hair long and wild and it concealed his face pretty well. “I could ask the same about your ill- fitting rags, boy. Though I doubt you killed anyone. Perhaps mugged. I doubt you have the stomach for it.”

“Oh,” Shane said, with a grin that was at least half wolf, “you might be surprised.”

“Do tell,” Morley invited. “By all means. Oliver, where do you pick up these . . . feral children?”

“You remember Shane,” Oliver said. He’d stripped off his blanket toga, and Claire quickly turned her back as she saw the white flash of skin. With no hesitation at all, he was stripping and putting on clothes that had been laid out for him. She heard cloth rustling and zippers fastening, and finally risked a look over her shoulder. Yes, he was dressed, in a pair of jeans that actually fit him and a plain dark shirt that he somehow made look edgy. “And Claire. And, of course, Michael and Eve.”

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