***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2013 by Roxanne Longstreet Conrad
Morganville, Texas, isn’t like any other dusty small town. It’s got secrets. It’s a company town . . . and the company is vampires. If you stay, you work for them, signing special agreements for Protection and paying a tax in earnings or blood for the privilege of not being, y’know, eaten.
It’s worked for a couple of centuries under the iron-in-velvet touch of the Founder, Amelie . . . but the past few years have been turmoil, trouble, and rebellion. Claire Danvers left to get away from it all, embarking on a special study program at MIT. But even if you can take the girl out of Morganville, you can’t take Morganville out of the girl—and she ran headlong into a menacing new enemy who knew way too much about vampires. The Daylight Foundation.
Now Claire’s returning home with her housemates (Eve, Michael, and Shane) and her allies (her bipolar mad scientist boss, Myrnin; Amelie’s ex-second-in-command, Oliver; Claire’s new vampire friend, Jesse) and Dr. Anderson, a captive scientist who was once a Morganville native, now turned traitor.
But home sure isn’t the way they left it. . . .
Claire stared at the creaking billboard that marked the town limits of Morganville, Texas, and thought, I ought to be crying. Her best friend, Eve, already was, in helpless, furious sobs. Claire held on to her and did all the sympathetic things right— murmured that it would be okay, patted her on the back, hugged her.
But although she said all the right things, she felt . . . empty. Dry as the sand that blew through the desert outside the police cruiser’s windows. They were sitting in the backseat, behind steel mesh, and the doors wouldn’t open from the inside. The cruiser was made like a taxi, but it most definitely wasn’t one since it took you only where you didn’t want to go. Namely, to jail.
And across from where their cruiser was parked, four limp vampire bodies were being loaded into two of the town’s ambulances—
Strapped tightly to gurneys, in case the wood still buried in their
hearts to keep them temporarily dead didn’t work. Claire identified
the slack faces as they were rolled by: Oliver, once town Founder Amelie’s second-in-command, now disgraced and in exile. Jesse, the vamp who Claire knew the least well, a beautiful woman who looked ridiculously young and fragile now, robbed (temporarily, hopefully) of her vampire life. Then Myrnin, Claire’s bipolar vampire boss and friend, his dark hair an untamed mess around his still, white face.
Finally, and most horribly, Michael Glass, Claire’s friend and the love of Eve’s life. His skin had turned the color of pure white marble, and his blue eyes were open and dull. He looked deadest of them all.
“It’s fine,” Claire whispered, making sure to keep Eve’s face turned away as Michael’s body was rolled past. “Vampires can shake this off. It’s no problem for them as long as the arrows come out soon; they’re not leaving them in the sun or anything. Just breathe, okay? Breathe.” It wasn’t so much what she was saying as the fact that her voice was steady and calm, a lifeline in a tossing ocean of chaos.
Eve took a deep breath, and her sobbing slowed and hitched to a stop. She sat back as the ambulance doors slammed shut and one after the other the big vehicles pulled away onto the two-lane blacktop heading toward downtown Morganville—if Morganville had anything that could be described as a downtown. She wiped her eyes on the back of her hand, smearing what little eye makeup she had left. The glitter of her ruby wedding ring caught the light, and for a moment Claire’s wall of numbness shuddered and threatened to collapse to reveal the pain and fear she’d hidden behind it. “Did you see Michael?” Eve asked. She caught her breath on another sob, and her reddened eyes held Claire’s. “Did he look okay?”
Claire couldn’t say that, because the sight of his icy skin and blank eyes had thoroughly unnerved her. “He’ll be fine. You know he’s tougher than this,” she said. Which was a totally true thing, and beyond any argument.
“I know—God, why did this happen? What do they want from us?”
Eve said it as a rhetorical wail, but it was the question that churned in Claire’s mind over and over. Why? They’d been heading back to Morganville to warn Amelie about several things, not the least of which was the deadly growth of an anti-vampire organization called the Daylight Foundation—and the fact that one of Amelie’s most trusted agents, Dr. Irene Anderson (once of Morganville), had joined the other side.
But they’d been met by the local police instead of Amelie’s people, and things had gone downhill from there. The cops had first separated out the humans—Claire, Eve, and Claire’s boyfriend, Shane, plus the prisoner, Dr. Anderson. Then, without any warning, they’d taken down their vampire friends, who had just been wheeled into the ambulances and driven off to fates unknown.
Claire twisted in the seat to look into the car behind them. The cops hadn’t had an easy time getting Shane into the other cruiser; they’d ended up handcuffing him and threatening a Tasering. He sat stiffly in the backseat, staring holes into the distance as if it were in for a beating. Next to him, Dr. Anderson slumped against the window as though she didn’t care whose prisoner she was anymore.
Claire knew why they’d separated her from Shane, and she knew that Eve needed her right now, but she wanted desperately to be with him and to ask all the questions burning in her mind. Why would Hannah Moses do this? After all, Police Chief Moses was their ally, their good and trusted friend. But she’d shown no hesitation, no remorse. The only way to interpret what had just happened was that Hannah had freely and willingly joined the Daylight Foundation.
Nothing was making any sense, and Claire needed it to make sense so badly. Humans have taken control of Morganville, Hannah had told her, as their friends—their mutual friends—lay still on the ground. Vampires are being quarantined for their own protection.
It couldn’t be true. It just . . . couldn’t. And yet it so obviously was.
“Where are they taking him?” Eve was staring after the flashing lights of the departing ambulances. “She said something about quarantine. What does that mean? Do you think they’re taking them to the hospital? Do they think they have some kind of disease?”
“I don’t know,” Claire said. She felt helpless, and she knew if she let herself feel anything, she’d be just as angry as Shane looked sitting in that other cruiser. He seemed ready to chew through the steel mesh. But if she got angry, she would also have to let in everything else, all the other emotions that bubbled and threatened inside her. And if she did that, she would collapse, like Eve was doing.
Better not to feel anything right now. Better to stay strong.
The driver’s-side door opened, and Hannah Moses got behind the wheel of the police car. She settled in and buckled her safety belt in one smooth motion. A deputy got in on the other side— new, Claire thought. Someone she didn’t know.
But she did recognize the pin he wore on the collar of his uniform—a rising sun, in gold.
Symbol of the Daylight Foundation.
Eve lunged forward and grabbed the mesh, threading her fingertips into it as Hannah started the engine of the cruiser. “What the hell are you doing, Hannah?” she demanded, and rattled the mesh, hard. “Where are you taking Michael?”
“He’s safe,” Hannah said. “Nothing will happen to him. Trust me, Eve.”
“Yeah, you know what? Bite me. I don’t trust you. You just stabbed us all in the back, you horrible bi—”
Claire grabbed Eve and dragged her away, changing the word to a protesting yelp. “Stop,” she whispered fiercely in her best friend’s ear. “You’re not going to accomplish anything by making her angry at us. Just wait. Be quiet and wait.”
“Easy for you to say,” Eve hissed. “Shane’s coming with us at least. Michael—we don’t even know where they’re taking him!”
She had a point. Claire really hated to admit it, but there was absolutely nothing they could accomplish locked in a police cruiser. And antagonizing the lady who held the keys to their handcuffs probably wasn’t the best strategy.
“We’re not giving up,” she told Eve. “We’re just . . . biding our time.”
“And what do you think they’re going to do to him while we’re biding, exactly?” Eve asked, yanking at the mesh again. “Yo, Hannah! How does it feel to stab your friends in the back? Hope you didn’t get blood all over your neatly pressed uniform!”
The deputy turned around and gave her a cold, hard stare. “Sit quietly,” he said. “If you don’t, I’ll shock you until you do.”
“With what, your breath? Ever heard of flossing, Deputy Dimwit?”
“Eve,” Hannah said. It was a warning, a flat and naked one, and it was reinforced by the deputy—whose breath, in all fairness, did kind of reek—taking out a Taser.
Although Eve was still simmering with rage, she let go and sat back, folding her arms over her chest. Then she kicked his seat. Didn’t do any good, because the seat was reinforced with a steel plate, but she probably felt better for doing it.
“Hey,” Claire said, and reached her hand out toward Eve. Eve hesitated, then took it and gripped hard. “It’ll be okay. He’ll be okay.”
Eve didn’t say anything. She was probably thinking, You don’t know that, and she would have been right. Claire didn’t know that. She felt cold and helpless and vulnerable, and she didn’t know how any of this could really be okay . . . but for now, in the moments between opportunities, all she could do was pretend.