She thought about it for a few seconds, and then said, very qui- etly, “Yes.” She resisted the urge to apologize for it, and he nodded.

“Good,” he said. “Clearly, that’s good.” He was watching some- one, she realized, and after searching for a second Claire spotted Lady Gray— Jesse— talking with Amelie; two queens, chatting together like friends, although there was just a little stiffness between them if you knew what to look for. Jesse had on a black leather dress, probably just to be sure that she thoroughly con- trasted; her red hair was loose around her shoulders, like a coat of fire.

Claire sipped her punch again. “She looks pretty today.”

“Doesn’t she?” he said, and sighed. “Terrifyingly so.”

Up on the raised stage, Michael finished tuning his guitar and pulled the mike close to say, “So, welcome to the afterparty,”

which made quite a few people laugh. “This is a song I wrote for my wife. Feel free to get out there and dance.”

He started playing, and it was an aching, amazing song that poured out of him, and Claire was so intent on the music, the pas- sion of it, that she was surprised when Myrnin took the cup out of her hands, put it aside, and pulled her out onto the dance floor. He twirled her around in a rush, and then settled into an easy, effortless glide.

Myrnin could dance. Who could have predicted that?

Claire caught her breath on a laugh, and fell into the rhythm.

“I’ll miss you,” she said. She didn’t know where it came from, but this close to him, it needed to be said.


“No, you won’t,” Myrnin said, and smiled at her. “Since I shall expect you at your table in the laboratory at ten a.m. sharp next Monday. Oh, and I’m to tell you that you will need to repeat some credit hours at the university. Apparently, some problem with your transcripts.”


He shrugged. “Oh, don’t pretend you don’t love class, Claire.

We both know better.”

Shane tapped Myrnin on the shoulder, and just for a second the two of them stared at each other . . . and then Myrnin grace- fully, flamboyantly, bowed himself out. “Let me just say this once,”

Shane said, as he slipped into place to whirl Claire away on the dance floor. “No more flirting with the crazy.”

She kissed him, and even though they stopped dancing, even though the world spun around them on its axis, even though things would never be exactly right, and vampires would fall short of their promises, and humans would be mean and spiteful and murderous . . . even with real life looming all around them, for that moment . . .

Everything was perfect.

“Mrs. Collins,” Shane whispered in her ear. “Let’s blow this party and go home while we can have it to ourselves.” He was right. Jenna was here, and Miranda was alongside her, looking sweet and pretty in a pink dress and getting invitations to dance from high school boys. She’d never looked so happy. Or so alive.

Michael was onstage playing, while Oliver whirled Eve around the dance floor in an impressive show of grace.

Her heart pounded hard against her chest, and the beautiful white wedding dress felt too tight to hold her. Too tight to hold all the emotions that rioted inside her “Yes,” she said. “Let’s go home.”

EPILOGUE “Founder.”Amelie looked up as Oliver slid yet another dreary file folder in front of her on her desk. She frowned at it peevishly. “And what’s this one?”

“For your signature,” he said, and settled with insolent ease into a chair on the other side. He’d gone back to his customary black, which— she was sure he was aware— looked quite intimi- dating on him. “Reports on the ongoing prosecutions. Rhys Fallon is pleading not guilty, along with Anderson and some of the other key members of the Daylight Foundation. I assume you will sign the orders to terminate them once the verdict is in.” He was watching her carefully, probing for weakness. As al- ways.

She handed the folder back. “No. My original decision still stands.”

“You really must disabuse yourself of the notion that mercy will heal all wounds. Some diseases need surgery.”

“Fallon thought he had such a surgical cure,” she said. “I am not so foolish. If they’re found guilty, they will serve prison sentences, Oliver, and I shall hear no more of it. Chief Moses and I are in perfect agreement on this matter.”

“Chief Moses is just as much of a sentimental fool as you are.”

“Careful,” Amelie said in a low, even tone that nevertheless was edged in ice. “I have ceded control of most things to the humans, but within our ranks I still rule. You know that.”

“I do,” he said. “But you’d be terribly disappointed in me if I didn’t test you from time to time.”

He was, unfortunately, right. All rulers needed gadflies to keep them alert, keep them questioning. And for better or worse, for eternity, he was hers.

And she could not deny that it suited them both, very well.

“Anything else? The night is growing short.”

“The university is reporting a few incidents,” he said. “It would appear not all vampires are behaving themselves quite as well as you require. I assume you’d like me to look into it.”

“Send Jason Rosser,” she said. “Since you’re grooming the psy- chotic little beast to act as your second- in- command, best give him the responsibility for keeping others in line. He will hope- fully learn some restraint himself in the process, with your over- sight. No deaths involved, I assume?”

“No,” he said. “I suppose the three vampires you locked up for murder did get the message across effectively.”

“Then I suppose we are . . .”

“At peace?” Oliver stood up and offered her his hand. She took it, and he escorted her to the door of her office, which he held open as he saw her out. “There are still humans who hate the sight of us, and you’ve given them power and trust. Myrnin is still running about unattended in that lab of his, concocting God knows what new nightmare. There is an emissary from the new Pope coming to review our status, which may be unpleasant. A blogger in Kansas wrote an incoherent piece about vampires hiding in Texas. A number of vampires have requested Fallon’s cure, despite the slender odds of survival. And I believe that Monica Morrell is demanding your presence as a judge at a dog show. Peace, dear Founder, might be a bridge too far.”

“Ah,” she said, and gave him a cool, calm smile as they walked the hallway toward Founder’s Square and the night. “Then I sup- pose we must settle for controlled chaos.”

“As ever, Amelie,” he said.

“One might think you far too familiar,” she said.

As they stepped out into the moonlight, he bent and raised her hand to his lips. “I am not familiar enough, dear Founder. Yet.”

“Good,” she said, and controlled a shiver. “Very good.”

It was, when all was said and done, now a human town, with human values.

But in the dark . . . Morganville was still hers.


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