Amelie opened her eyes. “I can hear you, you know.”

“Yes, I’m well aware,” he said, and however much he liked Amelie— which, Claire thought, was a lot— he also couldn’t resist taking a little bit of pleasure in her discomfort. “Stay quiet. You’re dead.”

“We could always bury this stake in your chest, you wretch.”

“I wouldn’t look half so lovely wearing it.”

Morley shook his head impatiently. “Can we please just get on with it? Mrs. Grant and our humans will take Amelie into town and convince Fallon that they will trade her for some righteous re- venge upon the vampires he has penned up in that mall. He’ll be- lieve it; the story is more than convincing, considering the havoc Amelie’s blood- father wreaked upon this town. In the wake of last night’s vampire attacks, who better to swell the ranks of the true believers than the residents of a town already savaged by the mon- sters?” He looked very pleased with himself. Disgustingly so.

“I’m so glad you think so, Morley,” Mrs. Grant said. “Because we had a discussion, and we decided to alter the plan a little bit. As an actor, you understand that we need to really sell the concept.”

She nodded, and from the shadows behind the bookcases, two men stepped out, both armed with crossbows.

Morley snarled and snapped to the side, and the bolt meant for his heart missed him. Oliver was slower— probably the result of all the terrible things heaped on him for the past few months— and the silver- tipped arrow sliced right into his chest and dropped him where he stood.

But Morley wasn’t going down without a fight. He rounded on Mrs. Grant, roaring in fury, and she calmly brought up the small crossbow she’d held under the table. As he raced toward her, she sighted and fired.

Morley slumped against the table, eyes and mouth wide, and fi- nally collapsed.


I was right, Claire thought with a jolt of real fear. They are Daylighters. But Amelie wasn’t reacting, even though she could have; the fact that she’d been able to talk proved that well enough.

Which meant that it was Amelie’s plan, and had been from the beginning. She just hadn’t told Oliver and Morley how far it would go.

Shane, Eve, and Michael hadn’t moved to protest, probably all for different reasons: Shane because he wasn’t inclined to protest vampires getting shot ever, Eve because she was conflicted about Oliver and had never liked Morley, and Michael because . . . well, probably because he’d figured it out the way Claire had.

Mrs. Grant looked at the four of them. “Don’t just stand there, get them on the tables,” she said. She hadn’t liked shooting Morley, Claire could see that. “They’re old, but that wasn’t a bug bite. We need to get the coated stakes into them quickly.”

That was a more clinical process than Claire was strictly com- fortable with; she helped pull the arrows out, but pushing the stakes in was a lot more quease- inducing, and she let Michael and Shane handle that part. Not that they seemed to take much plea- sure in it, either.

Eve just turned her back entirely. “Are we sure this is a good plan?” she asked anxiously. “Because I’m starting to worry. It seems scary.”

“That’s because it is,” Mrs. Grant said. She walked over to the four of them as Michael and Shane rejoined them. “I’ll have to keep an eye on my two gentlemen here to be sure they don’t do something silly like remove the stakes, but I expect this will appeal to Morley’s acting instincts, and Oliver can surely see the advantages. Now, as to the four of you: I’ll need you to put on a show as well.”

“Wh- what kind of show?” Eve asked. She sounded even more doubtful.

“Nothing too difficult, I promise,” Mrs. Grant said. “You sim- ply have to be our prisoners.” She nodded, and more of her Blacke townsfolk moved up, armed not with crossbows this time but with zip ties. “Sorry about this, but we’ll cut you loose when the time comes. Fallon seems to want you all back— especially you, Michael.

He seems to think you’re his new poster child for conversion.”

“He’s not wrong,” Michael said. “Feels pretty good, having a heartbeat again. I was resigned to being a vampire, but I’m not go- ing to lie . . . it was a gift I’m not turning down.”

“Me neither,” Eve said. “You don’t have to put us in cuffs. Re- ally. We’ll go along.”

“Okay,” Mrs. Grant said. “I’m going to trust the two of you.

Don’t let me down.”

But, Claire noticed, that didn’t seem to include her, or Shane, because the next thing she knew, her wrists were being pulled together and zip ties efficiently applied. She exchanged a glance with Shane, but he shrugged. “Got to admit, Fallon wouldn’t buy either one of us as having a change of heart, especially when he realizes I’m not on Team Hellhound anymore. Makes sense. We haven’t exactly made ourselves potential allies of his, have we?”

“No,” she admitted. “Not really. But— you’re going to cut us loose?”

Mrs. Grant didn’t waste words. She just passed a small set of nail clippers to Eve, who winked and stuck them in the pocket of her hoodie.

“Got you covered, girlfriend,” said Eve. “And if I lose these and have to gnaw through the plastic to get you loose, I will. Virtual high five!” She raised her right shoulder. Claire raised hers. They bumped.

“That,” Shane said, “is the nerdiest thing I’ve ever seen the two of you do, and that’s saying something.”

“This from a man who has Blade action figures.”

“Hey, those are classic! And collectible.”

Mrs. Grant sighed. “Let’s get everyone loaded. Remember: Fal- lon may be in Morganville, but the Daylight Foundation has branches all over the world. They wil come for us if we don’t come for them first. We might not be able to take them out, but we can at least remove the man who turned a search for a cure into a cru- sade. Let’s ensure he doesn’t do any more damage.”

As battle speeches went, it wasn’t great, but obviously the folks from Blacke— mostly everyday folks, the kind of people you’d see in a bigger town at a Walmart or eating at the Dairy Queen— were already on board. Blacke wasn’t Morganville; by the time Morley and the rest of his vampire refugees from Amelie’s rule had arrived here, the town had already been ripped in half by an uncontrollable infection that had taken half the residents and reduced them to mindless, blood- craving monsters. Amelie’s father, Bishop, had done that, and then moved on, probably amused by all the may- hem he’d left behind him. That was why Blacke wouldn’t go with the Daylighters’ agenda; it meant subjecting their own families to a cure that was bound to kill most of them. In Morganville, the lines between humans and vampires were generally pretty well drawn.

In Blacke, there were no lines. Only heartaches.

In a fine display of symmetry, the townspeople piled into the same battered bus that Morley had commandeered from Morgan- ville; it still had most of the body damage, but it was at least running, and it was relatively light- proofed. Amelie, Oliver, and Morley were loaded in last, lying stretched across seats. Amelie maintained her calm illusion of death— maybe it was easier for her that way. But Morley complained bitterly, and Oliver seemed uncomfortable even though he didn’t do more than glare at those around him.

“Hey, man, don’t look at me,” Shane told him. “I’m back in handcuffs. Do you have any idea how many times this makes?”

“Do you have a stake in your heart?” Oliver said. His voice sounded strained and faint, as if he was using all his willpower to suppress a scream. “At least if it was wooden, I’d be unconscious.

This is hideous.”

“I’m sure you can cope just fine,” Mrs. Grant said. She didn’t seem sympathetic. “Is everyone in?” She looked around at the rows of people— men and women, a few teens, even some elderly citi- zens. They all looked hard, tough, and ready for action. “Let’s go, then.”

The driver looked as if he might have actually once driven a school bus, back in the dark ages; he was ancient, and Claire was a little afraid that he was so old he might nod off at the wheel. But his arthritic old hands seemed competent enough as he steered them away from the curb and picked up speed. They made the turn and went past the shuttered courthouse. The smug statue of Hiram Blacke stared after them.

There were vampires in Blacke standing in the shadows, or in the windows, watching them go. This time Claire didn’t feel so creeped out by that. It was more as if they were wishing them luck.

She really hoped it worked.

It was a long, bumpy ride, worse by far for the three staked vam- pires, but they bore it in relative silence— even Morley, after a while, when he realized nobody was going to respond to his out- bursts. Claire decided not to complain about the chafing of the bands around her wrists. Seemed like the least she could do was bear it with the same stoic silence as the others.

When the bus finally started to slow down and the brakes en- gaged, Claire looked up through the front window to see that they were approaching the Morganville billboard. It brought a flood of emotions— relief that the ride was nearly over, and the very real fear that what they were doing would go wrong. Badly. But she didn’t know what else they could do, except walk away . . . turn their backs on Morganville and just let it all happen without them.

But how would that make them any different from the other Mor- ganville residents who were willing to let horrible things happen to the vampires so long as it happened out of their particular view? The feeling came back again, sick and dark. I’m bringing trouble to Morganvil e. They’ve final y got their peace, what they always wanted, and I’m coming back to rip it apart.

I’m the vil ain.

All she knew was that she couldn’t run, not from this. She knew Shane wouldn’t do that, or Michael, or Eve. They’d grown up here. They had roots. And she had to confess it: she did, too.

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