As the police cruiser pulled up to one of the parking spaces in the cracked, deserted lot, she thought that was about to change.

“Right,” Hannah said, and turned around in the front seat to look at them. The three of them had been crammed together in the backseat this time, which actually was comforting; Claire loved the warmth and solidity of Shane sitting in the middle, even if it pushed her uncomfortably into the hard plastic of the door.

“Rules, people. We’ve got them, and you’ll obey them. First rule is, you do exactly what my officers tell you, without hesitation or question. If they tell you to get down on the floor, you eat dirt. If they tell you to stop, you become a statue. Are we understood?”

“What the hell happened to you?” Shane asked her. “Because I’m pretty sure you used to be cool, Captain Obvious.”

“So did you,” Hannah shot back. “So be cool now, or end up back in handcuffs. Fallon said you’d get to see Michael, and I’m going to make that happen, but you be cool. ”

No one had a comeback for that. Eve looked tense, her dark eyes huge, as if she was afraid to do anything to screw up the chance to see the man she loved— but also, Claire thought, as if she was ready to gnaw through steel bars to get to him, if neces- sary. At moments like these, Eve looked exactly like what she was: strong and determined.

Fallon would almost certainly see that as a threat, that kind of devotion.

“Watch her back,” Claire whispered to Shane, and got a nod as Hannah exited the police cruiser and opened Eve’s door.

“I’m watching yours first,” Shane whispered back, then scooted over toward the exit. Claire followed, blinking at the harsh desert daylight again; the tint on the cruiser’s windows wasn’t vampire-dark, but it had lulled her into a false sense of being in a kinder, gentler place until the dry, dusty reality hit her full on.

The mall was on two floors, and it was built of bricks the color of dried mud. No windows. It was shaped like a rectangle— no fancy architectural touches here. The rusted steel letters still clung to the side of the building, or at least most of them did: bitter creek mall. Only a few letters had fallen away, or been ripped off, so the sign actually read biter eek mal. Which seemed weirdly appropriate somehow.


Two uniformed police officers stood at parade rest outside the double doors that led into the mall, and Claire recognized one of them. He’d arrested Shane once— though that wasn’t exactly a small club of people.

Hannah gave them both brisk nods, and like the most intimi- dating doormen ever, the cops opened the entrance and stood aside to let them go in.

It smelled abandoned.

That was the first thing Claire noticed— the musty reek of old carpet, dust, mold— the aroma of a place that humans had long ago rejected. A faint undertone of rot, too.

And quiet. So very, very quiet. The sound of their footsteps echoed around an open atrium floored with cracked, dirty ceramic tiles in a brightly colored style that must have been hot back in the dark ages when the place was built, but just looked dated and clumsy now. A dry three- tiered fountain sat lifeless in the corner.

The light coming in was dim at best; the skylights, Claire found as she looked up, were filthy, and the plastic had aged to a dull, opaque yellow. It gave all of them a sickly pallor.

“Cozy,” Shane said. “Going for the homeless heroin addict market with this place, are you?”

“We worked with what we had,” Hannah said. She sounded just a touch defensive. “We’re getting it cleaned and made more livable, but they don’t seem to care all that much about the decor.”

They being the vampires, Claire realized, because despite the hush, they were most definitely not alone. Silent figures loomed in the shadows like abandoned mannequins. Even when the figures moved, it was more like ghosts walking— silent and eerie. So many vampires. But none of them came out into the open tiled square of the atrium.

Eve took in a sudden sharp breath. “Jesus!” she gasped, and Claire knew she’d spotted them, too. There was something deeply unsettling about the way they were being watched. Like prey.

Like enemies.

“Stay where you are,” Hannah said, as Eve took a step out toward them. “They know the rules; they stay out of the atrium unless we specifically call their names.”

“Or what?” Shane asked tightly. He didn’t like this any more than Claire did. “What kind of punishments have you been dish- ing out?”

Hannah didn’t answer that— didn’t want to, Claire thought.

But she had her hand on what Claire had originally thought was some kind of radio on her belt— a black box with buttons along the top and a flickering green light.

Maybe it wasn’t a radio after all.

“Michael Glass,” Hannah said. She didn’t raise her voice, but then, in a mall full of vampires, she really didn’t need to do that.

“We’re here for Michael Glass. Michael, step forward, please.”

It was as if somehow the shadows parted around her, but Claire knew that wasn’t the case; Amelie had simply moved forward with- out seeming to move at all, and suddenly she was standing at the edge of the tiles, her pointed- toe pumps lined up very precisely with the boundary. The Founder of Morganville was dressed in impeccable white, impossibly clean and pure in the dirty, yellowed glow. Her pale silvery eyes seemed almost colorless, and from ex- perience Claire knew that meant Amelie was at her most danger- ous.

“What do you want with Michael?” she asked. Her hands were folded in front of her, a calm, resting position, and her body lan- guage was watchful.

“Eve wants to see him, to be sure he’s all right.”

That made Amelie smile, just a little. It was a shivery kind of expression, and she lowered her chin just enough to make it seem terrifying. “Yes, I’m sure all of you are simply brimming with con- cern for our well- being.”

“He’s my husband!” Eve said sharply. “Look, I just had to fight to get this far. Don’t be a jerkface, Amelie.”

That broke Amelie’s concentration, and she looked a little puz- zled as she worked out the word. “Jerkface?” she said slowly, as if testing the syllables. “Ah. You think I am the one at fault? You have quite a lot to learn, Eve. But if you wish to see Michael, I will send him out— as soon as Chief Moses assures me that he will remain unharmed and will be returned in the same state.”

“Returned to you? What about to me?”

“It’s clear you don’t understand the slightest thing about what is happening in Morganville,” Amelie said. “So I will forgive you for not comprehending how much danger you put Michael in by separating him from my protection.” She nodded slightly, and on the other side of the atrium, Oliver stepped up. He was holding Michael by the arm. Michael broke free, and for just a heartbeat Claire saw him clearly in the dim light: a shock of golden hair wild around his face, clear blue eyes fixed on Eve. Of all of them, he looked the least like a vampire, except for the pallor of his skin. He looked like a Renaissance angel come to life, if angels wore jeans and witty T- shirts.

He was wearing something black around his throat, and for a second Claire thought it was one of Eve’s chokers, the dog- collar type, though that would be a strange thing for him to put on. She could barely see it, and then he was a blur, heading at vamp speed across the tiles.

Hannah pressed a button on the box on her belt, and Michael stopped. No, not just stopped— he broke stride, stumbled, and fell to his knees, shaking. “Slowly,” Hannah said. “Don’t make me take it up to the next level, Michael. Move slowly.”

“Yes,” Amelie said from the shadows. “Pray do as she says, Mi- chael.”

Eve, after a white- hot glare at Hannah, threw herself out into the open space and down next to Michael. “What did you do to him?” she demanded. “He’s hurt! Michael, baby, are you okay? Mi- chael!”

“He’s fine,” Hannah said, and took her finger off the button.

“No permanent damage, I promise. But I have to make sure every- body obeys the rules. It’s the only way this works.”

The vampires hadn’t moved, but there was a new feeling in the air, Claire thought. A kind of tension that was reinforced by what sounded almost like a low whisper of sound.

A growl.

“I’m fine,” Michael said. He sounded shaky, but he wrapped his arms around Eve and held on tight. “God, there you are. All in one piece. I was so worried.”

“Me? I’m not the one who got an arrow to the chest, bucko.”

“I didn’t know what happened to you.” He raised his hands to cup her face, and brushed her black hair back. It was growing longer again, and she hadn’t braided it, so it fell in a sleek cur- tain. “I was so scared they’d— they’d done something to you.

Not hurt?”

“Just my feelings,” Eve said. “Seeing as how our old friend there stuck a knife between our collective shoulder blades.” She followed her statement up with a rude gesture, to which Hannah didn’t bother to react. “Honey—” She reached out toward the col- lar around his neck. He captured her hands in his and held on when she tried to pull away. “Honey, what is that thing around your neck?”

“Shock collar,” Shane said. “Isn’t it, Hannah? Like you’d put on a dog. You’ve got them on all of them.”

“We have to maintain order,” Hannah replied. “It’s the least violent way we could come up with to do it. They need to stay in- side this building for their own protection, and we need to have order for the safety of my officers.”

Amelie had the same collar on, Claire realized. So did Oliver, standing with his graying hair loose and wild around his shoul- ders.

And where was Myrnin? Her heart skipped a beat and then sped up. She didn’t see him anywhere. Surely he’d be here if he was able to, which meant that he wasn’t able to make an appearance.

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