Well its that time of week again people, Teaser time. Well my teaser this week comes from a series I love with all my heart, it is full of action and will have you at the edge of your seat but still has time for love and romance and great friendship. Black Dawn by Rachel Caine is an amazing read and I would recommend it to everyone.
It would have been better if he’d screamed.
Michael Glass didn’t scream. Instead, he made a terrible keening noise in the back of his throat, arched his back, and began to flail violently inside his zipped-up sleeping bag. Fabric shredded under vampire strength, and insulation bulged out of the tears as he fought his way free, but even once it was off him he just kept . . . flailing.
Across the room, Claire Danvers bolted straight up to her feet, tripped over her own sleeping bag, and managed to catch herself against a wall just before she would have hit the floor face-first. Her heart was slamming too fast against her ribs, and she had the sour, helpless taste of panic in her mouth.
They’re here, was the only coherent thought in her head. She had to be ready to fight, to run, to react, but all she could think of was how utterly scared she was just now. And how helpless.
There were things out there in the world, things that vampires feared, and now those things were here. She was only seconds out of a very light, fitful sleep, but she knew that the nightmares had followed her effortlessly right into the real world. The draug. They weren’t vampires; they were something else, something that moved through water, formed out of it, dragged vampires down to a slow and awful death.
A week ago, she’d have laughed something like that off as a bad joke, but then she’d seen them come for Morganville, Texas. Come with the rains that never fell in this desert-locked, sunbaked town where the vampires had, finally, made their last stand.
Today she woke up with the blind and panicked knowledge that no matter how bad the world was with vampires in it, a world that held the draug was vastly worse. They’d come to Morganville, infiltrated stealthily, built their numbers until they were ready to fight . . . until they could sing their infinitely awful song that somehow, impossibly, was also beautiful, and irresistible. To humans as well as to vamps.
The strongest of Morganville’s vampires had gone up against it, and scored a few hits . . . but not without cost. Amelie, the ice-queen ruler of the town, had been bitten; without her, it was all going to get worse, fast.
Michael was still thrashing and making that terrible sound, and it came to her gradually that instead of cowering here while her brain caught up, she should go to him. Help him.
And then the lights brightened from dim to dazzling in the big, carpeted room, and she saw her boyfriend, Shane Collins, standing in the doorway, looking first at her, then over at Michael, who was still desperately struggling against . . . nothing.
Against his nightmare.
Claire pulled in a deep breath, shut her eyes for a second, then made the OK sign to Shane; he nodded back and went to their friend’s side. Michael was tangled up in the shredded remains of his sleeping bag, still flailing and, as far as Claire could tell, still dead asleep. Shane crouched down and, after a brief hesitation, reached out and put his hand on Michael’s shoulder.
Michael came awake instantly—vampire speed. In one blurred second he was sitting up, one hand wrapped around Shane’s wrist, eyes open and blazing red, fangs down and catching the light on razor-sharp points and edges.
Shane didn’t move, though he might have rocked back on his heels just a little. That was better than Claire could have done; she’d have fallen backward at the very least, and Michael would probably have broken her wrist—not intentionally, but sorry didn’t matter much when it came to shattered bones.
“Easy,” Shane said in a low, calm voice. “Easy, man, you’re safe. You’re safe now. It’s over. Nobody’s going to hurt you here.”
Michael froze. The red died down to embers in his eyes, and when he blinked it was gone, replaced by cool blue. He looked pale, but that was normal for him now. Claire saw his throat work as he swallowed, and then he shakily pulled in a breath and let go of Shane’s wrist. “God,” he whispered, and shook his head. “Sorry, man.”
“No drama,” Shane said. “Bad one, right?”
Michael didn’t respond to that immediately. He was staring off in the middle distance. She didn’t need to wonder what his nightmare had been about. . . . It would have been about being trapped in the Morganville Civic Pool, anchored to the bottom under that murky, poisoned water . . . being fed upon by the draug. Drained slowly, and alive, by creatures that found vampires as delicious as candy. Creatures that were, right now, invading and taking everything they could. Including every juicy vampire snack, straight to the bottom of whatever pool of filthy water they were hiding in.
There were, Claire realized, still tiny red marks all over Michael’s skin, like pinpricks . . . fading, but not quite gone. He was healing slower than usual—or he’d been hurt far more seriously than it had seemed. “Yeah,” he finally said. “I was dreaming I was still in the pool, and . . .”
He didn’t go on, but he didn’t need to; Claire had been there, seen it. Shane had not only seen but felt it—he’d dived in, unbelievably, to save lives. Vampire lives, but lives all the same. The draug had attacked him, too, and his skin had the reddish tint of broken capillaries to prove it.
Claire had a vivid, flashback-quality vision of the pool . . . that insanely creepy underwater garden of trapped vampires, tied down, stunned and helpless as the draug sucked away their strength and life. It had been one of the worst, most horrifying things she’d ever seen, and it had also outraged her on a very deep, primal level. Nobody deserved that. Nobody.
“It was real bad.” Shane nodded in agreement with Michael. “And I wasn’t in there nearly as long. You hang in there, Mikey.” He reached out again and squeezed Michael’s shoulder briefly, then rose to a standing position. “You feel the need to scream like a girl, let it out, dude. No judging.”
Michael groaned and rubbed his hand over his face. “Screw you, Shane. Why do I keep you around, anyway?”
“Hey, you need somebody to keep you humble, rock star. Always have.”
Claire smiled then, because Michael was starting to sound like his old self again. Shane could always do that, to any of them—a flip remark, a casual insult, and it was all okay again. Normal life.
Even when nothing at all was normal. Nothing.
Now that her panic was receding, she wondered what time it was—the room gave no real hint of whether it was day or night. They had evacuated to the Elders’ Council building, which—like most vampire buildings—didn’t much favor windows. What it did have was plenty of sleeping bags, a few roll-away beds, and lots of empty space; the vampires, apparently, were all about disaster planning, which didn’t surprise her at all, really. They’d had thousands of years in which to learn how to anticipate trouble and what to have together to meet (or avoid) it.
Right now, she, Michael, and Shane were the only ones sleeping in the room, which could have held at least thirty without feeling crowded.
There was no sign of their fourth housemate, Michael’s girlfriend, Eve. Her sleeping bag, which had been near Michael’s, was kicked off to the side.
“Shane,” Claire said, her fear getting another kick start. “Eve’s missing.”
“Yeah, I know. She’s up,” he said, “organizing coffee, believe it or not. You can take the barista out of the shop, but . . .”
That was, again, a tremendous feeling of relief. Shane made a profession of taking care of himself (and everybody else). Michael was a vampire, with all the fun advantages that came along with that in terms of self-defense. Claire was small, and not exactly a bodybuilder, but she defended herself pretty well . . . at least in being smart, careful, and having all the friends she could manage on her side.
Eve was . . . well, Eve liked to live on the edge, but she wasn’t exactly Buffy reincarnated. And in some ways her hard edges made her the most fragile of all of them. So Claire tended to worry at times like these. A lot.
“Coffee?” Michael asked, still rubbing his head. His hair should have looked crazy, but he was one of those people who had a natural immunity to bed-head; his blond hair just fell exactly the way it should, in careless surfer-style curls. Claire averted her eyes when he threw the sleeping bag back and reached for his shirt, because although he was always good to look at, he was seriously spoken for, and besides, Shane was standing right there.
It came back to her in a dizzy rush, how he’d stopped her on the way into this place, in the faint dawn light. “I want you to promise me one thing. Promise me you’ll marry me. Not now. Someday.”
And she had promised, even if it was just their private little secret. She felt that shivery, fragile, butterfly-flutter feeling in her chest again. It was a fierce ball of light, a tangle of joy and terror and excitement and most of all, love.
Shane looked back at her with an intense, warm focus that made her suddenly feel like the only person in the world. She watched him walk toward her with a diffuse glow of pleasure. Michael was hot, no denying that, but Shane just . . . melted her. It was everything about him—his strength, his intensity, the off-center smile, the hunger in his eyes. There was something rare and fragile at the center of all that armor, and she felt lucky and privileged that he allowed her to see it.
“You doing all right?” Shane asked her, and she looked up at him. His dark gaze had turned serious, and it saw . . . too much. She couldn’t hide how scared she was, not from him, but he was the last one to think it was a sign of weakness. He smiled a little and rested his forehead against hers for a second. “Yeah. You’re doing just fine, tough girl.”
She shoved the fear back, took a deep breath, and nodded. “Damn right.” She ran her fingers through her tangled shoulder-length auburn hair—unlike Michael’s, hers had suffered from a night on the hard pillows—and looked down at her T-shirt and jeans. At least they didn’t wrinkle much . . . or if they did, it didn’t much matter. They were clean, even if they weren’t her own. It turned out there was a storehouse of clothing in the Elders’ Council building basement, neatly packed in boxes, labeled with sizes. Some of it dated back to the Victorian age . . . hoop skirts and corsets and hats, folded carefully away in scented paper and cedar chests.
Claire wasn’t sure she really wanted to know where all that clothing had come from, but she had her sinking suspicions. Sure, the older clothes looked like things the vampires themselves might have saved, but there were a lot of newer, more current styles that didn’t seem to fit that explanation. Claire couldn’t see Amelie, for instance, wearing a Train concert shirt, so she was trying hard not to think about whether or not they’d been scavenged from . . . other sources. Victim-y sources.
“Did you have nightmares, too?” she asked Shane. His arm tightened around her, just for a moment.
“Nothing I can’t handle. I’m kind of an expert at this whole bad dreams thing, anyway,” he said. And oh God, he really was. Claire knew only a little of how many bad things he’d seen, but even that was enough to spark a lifetime’s worth of therapy. “Still, yesterday was dire, and that’s not a word I bust out, generally. Maybe it’ll look better this morning.”
“Is it morning?” Claire peered at her watch.
“That depends on your definition..It’s after noon, so I guess technically not really. We slept for about five hours, I suppose. Or you did. Eve bounced about an hour ago, and I got up because . . .” He shook his head. “Hell. This place creeps me out. I can’t sleep too well here.”
“It creeps you out more than what’s happening out there?”
“Valid point,” he said. Because the world out there—Morganville, anyway—was no longer the semi-safe place it had been just a few days ago. Sure, there had been vampires in charge of the town. Sure, they’d been predatory and kind of evil—a cross between old-school royalty and the Mafia—but at least they’d lived by rules. It hadn’t been so much about ethics and morals as about practicality. . . . If they wanted to have a thriving blood supply, they couldn’t just randomly kill people all the time.
Though the hunting licenses were alarming.
But now . . . now the vampires were in the food chain. They’d always been careful about human threats, but that wasn’t the issue, not anymore. The real vampire enemy had finally shown its incredibly disturbing face: the draug. All that Claire knew about them was that they lived in water and they could call vampires (and humans) with their singing, right to their deaths. For humans, it was fairly quick . . . but not for vampires. Vampires trapped at the bottom of that cold pool could live and live and live until the draug had drained every bit of energy from them.
Live, and know it was happening. Eaten alive.
The draug were the one thing vampires feared, really and truly. Humans they treated with casual contempt, but their response to the draug had been immediate mass evacuation, except for the few who’d chosen to stay and try to save the vampires already being consumed.
They’d all tried—vampires and humans, working together. Even the rebellious human townies, who hated vamps, had taken a drive-by run at the draug. It had been a heart-stopping military operation of a battle, the most intense experience of Claire’s life, and she still couldn’t quite believe she’d survived it . . . or that anyone had.
Even with all that effort, they’d saved only three vampires from the mildewed, abandoned pool—Michael, the elegant (and probably deadly) Naomi, and the very definitely deadly Oliver. Then things had gone from terrible to awful, and they’d had to leave everyone else.
Except Amelie. They’d saved Amelie, the Founder of Morganville . . . sort of. And Claire was trying not to think about that, either.
“Hey,” Shane said, and nudged her. “Coffee, remember? Eve’ll be all sad emo Goth face if you don’t drink some.”
Again, Shane was the practical one, and Claire had to smile because he was completely right. No one needed sad, emo Goth Eve today. Especially Eve. “I could kill for a cup of coffee. If there’s, you know, cream. And sugar.”
“Yes and yes.”
“Don’t push it.”
Michael had, by this time, gotten up and joined them. He still looked pale—paler than usual—and there was something a little wild in his eyes, as if he was afraid that he was still in the pool. Drowning.
Claire took his hand. As always, it felt a little cooler than room temperature, but not cold . . . living flesh, but running on a much lower setting. Almost as tall as Shane, he looked down at her and smiled the rock-star smile that made all the girls melt in their shoes. She, however, was immune. Almost. She only melted a little, secretly. “What?” he asked her, and she shook her head.
“Nothing,” she said. “You’re not alone, Michael. We won’t let that happen again. I promise.”
The smile disappeared, and he studied her with a strange kind of intensity, almost as if he was seeing her for the first time. Or seeing something new in her. “I know,” he said. “Hey, remember when I almost didn’t let you into the house that first day you came?”
She’d shown up on his doorstep desperate, bruised, scared, and way too young to be facing Morganville. He’d been right to have his doubts. “Yep.”
“Well, I was dead wrong,” he said. “Maybe I never said that out loud before, but I mean it, Claire. All that’s happened since . . . we wouldn’t have made it. Not me, not Shane, not Eve. Not without you.”
“It’s not me,” Claire said, startled. “It’s not! It’s us, that’s all. We’re just better together. We . . . take care of each other.”
He nodded again, but didn’t have a chance to reply because Shane reached in, took Claire’s hand from Michael’s, and said—not seriously, thank God—“Stop vamping up my girl, man. She needs coffee.”
“Don’t we all,” Michael said, and smacked Shane on the shoulder hard enough to make him stagger. “Vamping up your girl? Dude. That’s low.”
“Digging for China,” Shane agreed, straight-faced. “Come on.”
Claire could follow the smell of brewing caffeine all the way to Eve, like a trail of dropped coffee beans. It gave the sterile, funereal, windowless Elders’ Council building a weirdly homey feel, despite the chilly marble walls and the thick, muffling carpets.
The hallway opened into a wider circular area—the hub in the wheel—that held a huge round table in the center, which was normally adorned by an equally large fresh floral arrangement . . . adding to the funeral home vibe. But that had been pushed to the side, and a giant, shiny coffee dispenser had been put in its place, along with neat little bowls of sugar, spoons, napkins, cups, and saucers. Even cream and milk pitchers.
It was surreal to Claire, as if she’d stepped out of a nightmare and into a fancy hotel without any transition. And there, emerging from another door that must have led to some sort of kitchen, came Eve, with a tray in her hands, which she slid onto the other side of the big table.
Claire stared, because although it was Eve, it didn’t really look like her. No Goth makeup. Her hair was down, loose around her face and falling in soft black waves; even without her rice-powder coverage, her skin was creamy pale, but it looked movie-star beautiful. Natural-look Eve was stunning, even wearing borrowed clothes . . . though she’d found a retro fifties black pouf-skirted dress that really suited her perfectly.
She had a red scarf tied jauntily around her neck to hide the bites and bruises that Michael—starving and crazy from being dragged out of the pool—had inflicted on her.
She, and this setup, all looked a little too perfect. Shane and Michael exchanged a look, and Claire knew they were communicating the same thought.
Eve gave them a bright smile and said, “Good morning, campers! Coffee?”
“Hey,” Michael said, in such a soft and tentative voice that Claire felt her stomach clench. “You should be resting.” He reached for her, and Eve flinched. Flinched. Like he’d tried to hit her. His hand dropped to his side, and Claire couldn’t look at his face. “Eve—”
She spoke in a rush, running right over the moment. “We have hot coffee, all the good stuff—sorry I couldn’t get mocha up and running, but this place has a serious espresso deficiency . . . oh, and the croissants are hot out of the oven, have one.”
“You baked?” Shane’s eyebrows threatened to levitate right off his face.
“They were in one of those pop-open rolls, moron. Even I can bake those.” Eve’s smile wasn’t so much bright, Claire thought, as it was totally breakable. “I don’t think anybody ever used the kitchen in here, but at least it was stocked up. There’s even fresh butter and milk. Wonder who thought of that?”
“Eve,” Michael said again, and finally she looked directly at him. She didn’t say anything at all, only picked up a cup, filled it with hot, dark coffee, and handed it to him. He took it as he stared at her, then sipped—not as if he really wanted it, but as if it was something he was doing to please her. “Eve, can we just—”
“No, we can’t,” she said. “Not right now.” And then she turned and walked back to the kitchen, stiff-armed the door, and let it swing shut behind her.
The three of them stood there, only the sound of the door creaking on its hinges breaking the silence, until Shane cleared his throat, reached for a cup, and poured. “So,” he said. “Aside from the five-hundred-pound gorilla in the room that we’re going to not talk about, does anyone around here have half a plan on how we’re going to live through the day?”
“Don’t ask me,” Michael said. “I just got up.” The words sounded normal, but not the tone. It was as odd as Eve’s had been, and just as strained. He put his coffee back down on the table, hesitated, then took a croissant and walked away, back toward the room where they’d been. Shane started to follow, but Claire grabbed his arm.
“Don’t,” she said. “Nothing we can do about this, is there? Let him alone to think.”
“It wasn’t his fault.”
“I know. So does she. But she got hurt, and he did it, and that’s going to take time, all right?” She held Shane’s gaze this time, and he was the first one to look away. He’d hurt her before—more emotionally than anything else. And he hadn’t been in his right head-place, either. But sometimes explanations just didn’t matter as much as time. It was a hard lesson to learn, for both of them; it was going to be even harder for Michael and Eve.
God, sometimes growing up sucked.
“Okay, so it’s down to us, then. We still need a plan,” he said. He drank coffee, and she fixed hers up and gulped down a hot, bitter, wonderful mouthful. Next was the croissant, still steaming inside from the oven, and it was heaven in bread form, melting in her mouth. “No, strike that. We need SEAL Team Six, but I’ll settle for a half-ass plan right now.”
She swallowed. “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
He did exactly what any boy—no, man—his age would do: he showed her a mouthful of mashed croissant, which was gross, then drank more coffee and showed her again. Gone.
“That is disgusting, and I will never kiss you again.”
“Yes, you will,” he said, and proved it by pressing his lips to hers. She wanted to squirm away, just to prove the point, but God, she loved kissing him, loved that his mouth was so warm and sweet and bitter with coffee . . . loved being so close to him now, teetering on the edge of the end of . . . everything. “See?”
“It wasn’t bad,” she said, and kissed him again. “But you really need to work on your technique.”
“Liar. My technique is awesome. Want me to prove it?” Before she could protest, his lips touched hers, and he was right about the proof. She slipped her hands under the loose hem of his shirt, fingers gliding lightly over the tensing muscles of his stomach, up to the hard, flat planes of his chest. His skin was like warm velvet, but underneath, he was iron, and it took her breath away.
Or so she thought, but when he skinned her Train T-shirt up and fitted his strong hands around her waist, pulling her to him even closer, she gasped against his mouth, moaned a little, and just . . . melted.
The hot, golden moment was sliced cleanly by a cold voice saying, “I can bear a great many things, but this is not one of them. Not now.”
Claire jumped back from Shane, guilty as a shoplifter. It was, unmistakably, Oliver’s voice, and it was coming from behind her. She hated round rooms. Too many ways people could come at you, especially sneaky, cranky vampires. She turned and faced him as he stalked toward them—no, toward the coffee, since he brushed them aside and filled a cup. She’d never seen him drinking it, but of course, he would; he owned the local coffee shop, Common Grounds. Or at least he had when there was still a Morganville that was alive and kicking.
Common Grounds, like everything else in town, was closed.
Oliver had always taken pains to present himself as human . . . maybe because he, of all the vampires, seemed the farthest from it. He was cold, unfeeling, acerbic, and sarcastic, and that was on a good day. It clashed with his friendly-aging-hippie vibe of tie-dyed shirts and jeans that he wore at the coffee shop, but he’d dispensed with all that now. He’d donned clothing that suited him, in a sinister and scary way . . . black pants, a black coat that must have been about a hundred years old, and a white shirt with a ruby pin where a tie would normally have gone. Except for a top hat, he could have stepped out of the turn of the last century. These, Claire felt, were his own clothes. No hand-me-downs for Oliver.
“I guess it’s pretty useless to say good morning,” Shane said.
“Especially as it’s neither morning nor good, yes,” Oliver replied, just shy of a snap. “Don’t try to banter with me, Collins. I am far from in the mood.” Claire could make out the red mottling on his pale skin, like Michael’s a souvenir of his time spent in that drowning pool. She wondered how he’d slept, if he’d slept. “As to plans, yes, I have one, and yes, it is under way.”
“Mind if we ask—?”
“Yes, of course I mind,” Oliver said, and this time it was a snap. There was a gleam of red in his eyes. He looked tired, Claire thought, and there was a flicker of something almost human in him. “If you wish to be of use, go find Theo Goldman and bring him to me. Now.”
“Theo?” Claire was startled, because she’d heard that Theo had gone missing, like many other vampires in Morganville . . . and she’d assumed he’d been in the pool. A casualty, when Amelie had resorted to throwing silver into it to kill the draug and their trapped victims with them. “Is he here?”
“If he was here, I wouldn’t ask you to find him, would I?”
Shane was doing that thing now, his posture getting stiff with challenge; he didn’t like it when Oliver treated her—or any of them—like idiots. But especially her. The last thing any of them needed today was to fight each other. They were working together—more or less—and that was how it had to be to survive this. So Claire put a hand on Shane’s arm to hold him back and said, in a very reasonable tone, “Do you have any idea where to look for him?”
Oliver’s hand trembled, just slightly, but enough to make the cup rattle lightly on the saucer. He, like Michael, still felt weak. That should have made Claire feel reassured, because he was usually so intimidating, but instead it made her feel extra vulnerable. “No,” he said. “I do not. But I require his presence, so you will find him.” He let a second pass and then added, without looking at either of them, “For the sake of the Founder.”
For Amelie. And there was a very slight change in his tone when he said it, something that almost seemed . . . softer.
“She’s worse,” Claire said. Oliver turned and walked away without responding, so she looked at Shane. “She’s getting worse, right?”
“Probably. Who knows with him?” But Shane had the same thought she did; she knew it. If Amelie died, they were at Oliver’s mercy. Not a good thing at all. He was a general, and when he fought wars, he liked them bloody—on both sides. “Maybe we should have left town when we had the chance. Just picked up and run for it.”
“And left Michael behind? And Eve? She wouldn’t have left him. You know that.”
He didn’t answer. She knew that Shane wasn’t someone who ran away, but he couldn’t help thinking about it—Morganville’s version of living a rich fantasy life. After a moment, he shrugged and said, “Too late now anyway. Where do you think we should start, if we’re supposed to track down Goldman?”
“No use looking at the hospital. It’s closed,” Claire said. “They moved all the patients out in ambulances and buses. And there are way too many places he could be. It’s not that big a town, but big enough to hide one vampire. He sent his family away, you know.” Theo, unlike most vamps Claire knew, actually had a family, and cared about them; it was very like him to be sure they were clear of the trouble, then stay behind himself.
“Can’t go close to the hospital anyway,” Shane said. “The whole area’s a no-go zone; the singing starts when you come anywhere close.”
The singing of the draug was not just eerie; it was deeply dangerous. It got hold of you, made you forget . . . and made you vulnerable to them. Claire nodded. “We’d better stay away from any water, too.”
“Toilets? Please say you don’t mean toilets, because this is rapidly turning into no fun at all. I mean, I like peeing on a wall as much as the next drunken redneck, but—”
“Chemical toilets,” she said. “Amelie had them brought over from some construction company. And please tell me you don’t pee on walls.”
“Moi?” He put his hand over his heart and did his best wounded-innocent look. “You must be thinking of some other uncouth jackass. Which makes me jealous, by the way.”
She would have played along with that, but the idea of the tap water made her suddenly realize that she was drinking the coffee in the cup in her hand, and she resisted a sudden violent urge to gag. “Uh, the coffee . . . ?”
“Made with the finest bottled water,” Eve said. She was back, and she’d brought cookies this time. “And these are sliced off a roll, so don’t think I’ve gone all Martha Stewart, Shane. The vamps stocked up on bottled water some time ago. I’m guessing it’s their version of survivalist training, if they’ve been worried about the draug for so long. All those plastic containers may be bad for the environment, but they’re really good for us right now. So . . . you’re looking for Theo?”
“So says Oliver,” Shane said, and stuffed a whole cookie in his mouth.
“Trust me, I work for Mr. Scary Guy in Charge, and you do not want to disappoint the man, even if you’re just pulling espresso shots. Especially not now. Besides, having Theo here would be a nice antidote to all this”—Eve gestured at the marble, carpet, dim lighting—“gloom. Theo’s cheerful, at least.”
He was, mostly. Although Claire thought that like all vampires she’d ever met—except Michael, and his grandfather Sam—Theo was essentially concerned about his own survival first. Once you accepted that was how vamps saw the world, it was a whole lot easier to understand what they would do, and why. Morganville, for instance. It was pragmatic, having this isolated town, which they controlled for their own safety. They were cruel sometimes, but they saw it as self-defense. . . . Let the humans get the upper hand, and the vampires feared they’d be killed, sooner or later. Claire didn’t agree with it, but she understood it.
Theo was . . . less pragmatic about that than most. Thankfully. And Eve was right. He would have a calming effect here, if he wasn’t floating somewhere in a pool of water being eaten alive.
“Want to come with?” Shane asked, licking melted chocolate from his lips. Which was a little bit mesmerizing, actually. Claire had a dizzying impulse to help him with that, but she shook it off. Time and place, Claire, time and place . . .
“She can’t come with us,” Claire said, as Eve opened her mouth to agree. “Come on, Eve, you lost about two pints of blood last night. You’re not strong enough yet and you know it. You need rest.”
Eve’s mouth closed without making a comment, but she gave Claire a steady, cool look, as if she’d let her down by even mentioning what had happened. Although it was pretty clear that Eve, and Michael, were thinking a lot about it.
“Right,” Shane said in the silence. “That was awkward. Eve, you stay and . . . bake or something.”
“The hell I will,” she snapped back, way too tense. “If you don’t want me with you, maybe I’ll just grab a couple of Amelie’s boys and take them shopping for more weapons. We need to arm up, and we need to do it fast. That okay with you, or should I change into my pearls and an apron and die like a good girl?”
Shane held up his hands in surrender and took a step back. “I—have nothing to say.” Smart boy, Claire thought. “But if you go out, you take more than a couple of vampires with you, Eve. I mean it. Take Michael.”
“Well, you know what they say: less is more,” Eve said. She didn’t even comment on the Michael issue, but there was a stubborn, wounded look to her, and she didn’t meet Shane’s eyes.
“Right now, more is more, and much more is much better. You can’t dick around with these . . . things. You know that, right?”
“Oh, I know,” Eve said. Her dark eyes were filled with shadows, windows in a haunted house. “I was just thinking that it would be a good idea to start making weapons stockpiles around town. If we start a running fight, we need to be able to get to weapons when we need them.”
That was . . . a very good idea, Claire realized, and she nodded without speaking. Shane even looked respectfully impressed, which was an odd look for him; he wasn’t impressed by much. “Get silver,” he said. “If you can, knock over a jewelry store and get all the silver chains. We can break them up into pieces. Makes a good grenade.” Silver hurt, or killed, both vampires and draug. Shane sounded practical about it, but then, he’d spent his high school years being dragged around with his vampire-hating father. He probably knew more about killing vampires than anyone else in town . . . except the vampires themselves, of course. “It’s about the only thing that does work on these bastards. Talk to Myrnin about making more shotgun shells, too.”
Myrnin being Claire’s vampire boss—if a relationship that crazy could be called employer-employee, anyway. She was Igor to his Frankenstein. He had an underground lab and everything, which she’d managed to make a whole lot less creepy during her tenure with him . . . but not less chaotic. Myrnin was walking chaos, and a lot of the time that was fun.
Sometimes, not so much.
Eve rolled her eyes, now almost back to the old, carefree girl Claire knew. “Yeah, Collins, I wouldn’t have thought of Myrnin ever. Of course I’ll talk to him. He’s the only one who had his crap together before we went out the first time.”
“Present company excepted, supposedly.”
“Better,” Shane said, and surprised her by suddenly enfolding her in a fierce hug. “Stay safe, all right?”
“Safe.” Eve agreed, and then held him at arm’s length, studying him with thoughtful intensity. “Huh. You don’t hug, you know. Unless you get hugged first.”
“Nope. Never ever.”
Shane shrugged. “Guess everybody changes once in a while.”
All of a sudden Claire was struck by how different they all were now. Eve had grown steadier, more thoughtful. Shane had taken his aggression in hand and was starting to understand it, channel it. Even open up a little more than he had.
Michael . . . Michael’s changes were more unsettling, less easy to appreciate, but he’d definitely changed. He was struggling not to change even more—not to drift further away from his lost human life.
As for Claire herself, she couldn’t say. She couldn’t tell, really. . . . She supposed she had more confidence, more courage, more insight, but it was hard to imagine herself from the outside like that. She just . . . was. More or less, she was still Claire.
Eve waved good-bye, hugged Claire hard—that was a typical Eve gesture—and headed toward the room where they’d left their stuff. Michael was in there. Claire hoped they could work out their . . . problems didn’t seem a strong enough word, and issues sounded too mundane. There wasn’t really a word for what was going on between her best friends, other than complicated.
Claire grabbed coffee to go, wolfed down a couple of cookies—pre-mixed or not, they were hot, melty, and delicious—and followed Shane down another hallway. It might be, she thought, the one Oliver had used, but this place was confusing. If there were signs, they were visible only to vampires. But Shane took a right down an identical hallway, then a left, and then they were in another round room, this one with a massive barred door at one spoke of the wheel. The door also had guards . . . lots of them. Amelie’s personal detail, Claire thought, as she recognized some of them. They didn’t look as spotlessly turned out as she was used to seeing. The dark tailored suits were gone, and so were the sunglasses. Instead, they wore clothing from the same archival stores that she and her friends had scavenged . . . and she supposed that what they’d chosen at least indicated what period in history they were most comfortable with.
The two guards at the door, for instance. The taller, thinner one with the light hazel eyes and close-cut blond hair . . . he was wearing a chunky black leather jacket with spikes and buckles, and skinny jeans. Very eighties. His friend with the sharply drawn cheekbones and narrow eyes had on the tightest polyester pants Claire had ever seen, and a square-cut jacket to match, with a tight buttoned shirt in a loud earth-toned pattern.
“It’s like disco inferno up in here,” Shane muttered, and she smothered a laugh. Not that it mattered; vampires could hear that, and if they wanted to take offense, they would. But the seventies addict just smiled a little, showing the tips of his fangs, and the eighties dude couldn’t be bothered with that much response. There were more guards standing around the walls, still as statues. Most had chosen clothing that wasn’t so . . . retro, but one was wearing what looked like a gangster suit from the Prohibition era. Claire half expected him to be toting a violin case with a machine gun in it, just like in the movies.
“No one goes into the armory,” Disco Inferno said. He was apparently the spokesman for the door. “Go back, please.”
“Order from Oliver,” Claire said. “We’re to find Theo Goldman.”
“Yesterday,” Shane put in helpfully. “And we’d like to not die. So. Armory it is.”
“No one goes into the armory,” the vampire repeated, sounding bored now and staring over the top of Shane’s head, which was quite a trick even for a tall guy. “Not without authorization.”
“Which they have,” said a voice from behind the two of them. Claire turned quickly—she tended to do that now, when vampires talked behind her—and found that Amelie’s pretty blond vampire “sister”—not by family but by vampire blood, although she didn’t exactly get all of that relationship detail—Naomi was standing three feet behind them, having arrived in eerie silence. She smiled and bowed her head, just a little. She was still very formal, used to the manners beaten into her hundreds of years ago, but she at least was trying; it wasn’t a full curtsy or anything, not that such would have been practical with the khaki cargo pants and work shirt she was wearing. “I myself have spoken with Oliver. I am to accompany these two and help them locate Dr. Goldman.”
That held some weight. Disco Inferno and his eighties counterpart—Billy Idol?—did some heavy lifting on what looked like solid steel bars, plus a complicated lock, and finally swung the doors open for them. Naomi passed the two of them and looked over her shoulder with that same charming, though slightly awkward smile. “I hope that you do not mind me accompanying you,” she said. She had a bit of an accent, antique and French, and Claire could see that it had an effect on men in general, even Shane, who was more than a little anti-vampire in any form.
“Nah,” he said, “I’m good. Claire?”
“Fine,” she said. She liked Naomi. She liked that the ancient vampire was trying so hard to be . . . modern. And she liked that Naomi wasn’t, after all, attracted to Michael, as they’d all thought at first. “Uh, Naomi, do you know how to actually . . . fight?”
“But of course,” she said, and led the way inside. They entered a big square room, which was—and this, Claire thought, was no real surprise—stacked floor to ceiling with racks of boxes. Vampire paranoia really did have no limits. Naomi stopped at the first one and opened the hinged top of it. There were shotguns inside. She removed one, broke it open, and snapped it shut again with a practiced flick of her wrist as she smiled. “All vampires can fight,” she said. “I am less familiar with modern weapons, but blades do not work so well on the draug, as we found to our horror long ago.”
“What else did you use, the last time you fought them?” Claire asked. Naomi was opening another box. This one contained swords, and she shook her head sadly and let the lid fall shut.
“Courage,” she said. “Desperation. And a good deal of luck. Silver is the best charm we have, but it burns us as well. We’ve found nothing else that will hurt them but fire, which is dangerous enough for us too. . . . Ah.” She flipped back the lid on yet another box and lifted out something that looked big, clumsy, and complicated, with tanks and a hose. Definitely a Myrnin invention, judging by the brass ornamentation on it, but beneath that it looked sleek and industrial. “As you see.”
“What is it?” Claire asked, frowning. It looked a little like one of those rocket jet packs that the science fiction movies loved so much.
“That,” Shane said, taking it from Naomi’s delicate hands, “is freaking awesome.”
“Yeah, but what is it exactly?” Claire asked.
“Flamethrower,” he said, and huffed with effort as he lifted it to his shoulders like a giant backpack. It had quick-release buckles that he did up around his chest and over his shoulders. “So this will work on the draug?”
“Yes,” Naomi said. “But be very careful. The draug are not only hiding in water, they are liquid—and when you touch liquid with fire it becomes steam. They can survive in the steam, for a short time. If you breathe it in, they will kill you very quickly from within. Even the touch of them on skin in any form is dangerous, to humans or vampires.”
Shane’s enthusiasm for the flamethrower dimmed, but he didn’t take it off. That, Claire thought, was because there was something incredibly macho about walking around with flammable weapons that she would never quite understand. If she’d tried it, it would have just made her totally aware of how non-flame-retardant she was. “Right,” Shane said. “Keep it at a distance.”
“And watch where you aim it, please,” Naomi responded coolly. “I believe I speak also for young Claire in that. Fire is no great friend to humans in battle, either.”
Claire rejected the crossbows that she found in the next container—silver-tipped, but they wouldn’t do nearly enough damage. They’d just punch right through the draug, which had a body consistency somewhere between Jell-O and mud, except for the master draug, Magnus. He was plenty strong. Strong enough to snap necks, say—something Claire was horribly familiar with and tried hard not to think about. At all.
“What about fire arrows?” Claire asked. “Would they work?”
“Not very well. The draug’s nature will douse small fires. Only something on the order of what Shane is carrying will truly damage them. Even, say, bottles of gasoline and fire—”
“We call those Molotov cocktails,” Shane said helpfully. Mr. Mayhem.
Naomi gave him a blank look and continued, “—would not do much to slow them down. It would be as if you threw the bottle into water; most likely the flame would simply extinguish. Perhaps there might be some effect, but I doubt this is a time when you would prefer to experiment. There’s going to be little time to refine your techniques and tools in the heat of battle.”
“Well, I liked Myrnin’s shotgun shells,” Claire offered. “Has he made—?”
“More? Yeah. Found it,” Shane called, leaning over another open crate. He fished out a handful of shells and held them up.
“Are you sure those aren’t just regular . . .”
Shane silently flipped one to her. On the casing was drawn, in black marker, the alchemical symbol for silver. Definitely Myrnin, because only he would think to write a warning that nobody but the two of them could possibly read. “How do you know what this means?”
Shane looked faintly injured. “I make it my business to know everything about silver. And I saw your notes. I study up on everything when it comes to your boss, anyway.” There was a flicker of jealousy about that, but she didn’t have time, or energy, to consider it very much. Not even whether or not she liked it.
“There must be hundreds of shells in there,” Claire said wonderingly, as she leaned over the crate. Her hair, growing longer now, brushed over her face, and she impatiently pushed it back. It needed a wash, and that made her yearn for a shower, but cold-bottled-water rinses were all she could look forward to for a while. “I thought he used everything he had during the battle last night.”
“He’s worked straight through,” Naomi said. “Shut away in a room down the hall. He summoned guards to bring these here only an hour ago. I understand he has commandeered others to make these cartridges as well.”
When Myrnin worked that feverishly, it meant one of two things: he was desperately afraid, or he was in a severely manic phase. Or both. Neither was good. When he was afraid, Myrnin was very unpredictable. When he was manic, he was inevitably going to crash, hard, and there was no time for that now.
As if she’d read her thoughts, Naomi said, “He does need looking after, but it can wait until we find Theo.”
“Amelie’s that bad?” Shane asked.
“Yes. She is that bad, I’m afraid. If I still had a heart, it would ache for her, my brave and foolish sister. She should never have come after us. The law is the law. Those caught by draug are already dead. Rescuing us put all others at risk.”
Claire stopped loading shotgun shells into her messenger bag to stare. “She saved you. And Michael. And Oliver.”
“It doesn’t matter who she saved. The point is that she allowed herself, our queen, to be put at risk for others, and that is foolish, and emotional. The time of Elizabeth in armor is long over. Queens have ever ruled far from the battles.”
“News flash, lady. There are no queens anymore,” Shane said. He loaded shells in a shotgun and snapped it shut, then searched for a place to strap it on that didn’t interfere with the flamethrower. “No queens, no kings, no emperors. Not in America. Only CEOs. Same thing, but not so many crowns.”
“Vampires will always have rulers,” Naomi said. “It is the order of things.” She said it like the sky was blue, a plain and obvious fact. Shane shrugged and gave Claire a look; she shrugged back. Vamp politics were so not their business. “Come. We must find the doctor.”
Shane shook his head. “He’s the only one you have?”
“No,” Naomi said, “but he is the best, and the only one we have who has moved somewhat beyond medieval techniques of bleeding and cupping.” She handed Claire a shotgun and gave her a doubtful look. “You can shoot?”
Claire nodded as she loaded the cartridges. “Shane taught me.” Not that it was easy for someone her size; a shotgun packed a hard kick to the shoulder, and she’d always come away from practice bruised and aching. Naomi was even more frail, but Claire was willing to bet that it would be nothing for her.
Shane settled his flamethrower more comfortably on his shoulders. “Ladies? After you.”
“Rude,” Claire said.
“I was being polite!”
“Not when you have a flamethrower.”
Well I got the impression last week that you all missed my long teasers lol. well there back this week with a full chapter of the book. I hope you enjoy.