Format Read: ebook
Series: Morganville Vampires #11
Release date: November 1st 2011
Formats Available: paperback, ebook, kindle
Number of pages: 335
With her boss preoccupied researching the Founder Houses in Morganville, student Claire Danvers is left to her own devices when she learns that three vampires have vanished without a trace. She soon discovers that the last person seen with one of the missing vampires is someone new to town-a mysterious individual named Magnus. After an uneasy encounter with Morganville’s latest resident, Claire is certain Magnus isn’t merely human. But is he a vampire-or something else entirely?
Books in this Series:
Shane’s lips felt like velvet against the nape of her neck, and Claire shivered in delight as his breath warmed the skin there. She leaned back against him with a sigh. Her boyfriend’s body felt solid and safe, and his arms went around her, wrapping her in comfort. He was taller than she was, so he had to bend to rest his chin on her shoulder and whisper, “You sure about this?”
Claire nodded. “You got the overdue notice, didn’t you? It’s this, or they come and collect. You don’t want that.”
“Well, you don’t have to be here,” he pointed out—not for the first time today. “Don’t you have classes?”
“Not today,” she said. “I had an oh-my-God a.m. lab, but now I’m all done.”
“Okay, then, you don’t have to do this because you’re tax-exempt.”
By tax-exempt, he meant that she didn’t have to pay . . . in blood. Taxes in Morganville were collected three ways: the polite way, via the collection center downtown, or the not-so-polite way when the Bloodmobile showed up like a sleek black shark at your front door, with Men in Black–style “technicians” to ensure you did your civic duty.
The third way was by force, in the dark, when you ventured out un-Protected and got bitten.
Vampires. A total pain in the neck . . . literally.
Shane was entirely right: Claire had a written, legal document that said she was free from the responsibility of donations. The popular wisdom—and it wasn’t wrong—was that she’d already given enough blood to Morganville.
Of course, so had Shane . . . but he hadn’t always been on the vampires’ side, at the time.
“I know I don’t have to do it,” she said. “I want to. I’ll go with.”
“In case you’re worried, I’m not girly-scared or anything.”
“Hey!” She smacked at his arm. “I’m a girl. What exactly are you saying, that I’m not brave or something?”
“Eeek,” Shane said. “Nothing. Right, Amazon princess, I got the point.”
Claire turned in his arms and kissed him, a sweet burst of heat as their lips met. The lovely joy of that released a burst of bubbles inside her, bubbles full of happiness. God, she loved this. Loved him. It had been a rough year, and he’d . . . stumbled, was the best way she could think of it. Shane had dark streaks, and he’d struggled with them. Was still struggling.
But he’d worked so hard to make it up, not just to her, but to everyone he felt he’d let down. Michael, his (vampire) best friend. Eve, his other (nonvampire) best friend, and hers, too. Even Claire’s parents had gotten genuine attention; he’d gone with her to see them, twice, with exit permission from the vampires, and he’d been earnest and steady even under her father’s stern cross-examination.
He wanted to be different. She knew that.
When the kiss finally ended, Shane had a drugged, vague look in his eyes, and he seemed to have trouble letting go of her. “You know,” he said, moving her hair back from her cheek with one big, warm hand, “we could just blow this off and go home instead of letting them suck our blood. Try it tomorrow.”
“Bloodmobile,” she reminded him. “People holding you down. You really want that?”
He shuddered. “Hell no. Okay, right, after you.” They were standing on the sidewalk of Morganville’s blood bank, with its big cheerful blood-drop character sign and scrupulously clean public entrance. Claire pecked him lightly on the cheek, escaped before he could pull her close again, and pushed the door open.
Inside, the place looked like they’d given it a makeover—more cheerfully lit than the last time she’d been in, and the new furniture looked comfortable and homey. They’d even installed a fish tank full of brightly colored tropicals flitting around living coral. Nice. Clearly, the vampires were trying to put their best efforts to reassure the human community, for a change.
The lady sitting behind the counter looked up and smiled. She was human, and sort of motherly, and she pulled Claire’s records and raised her thin, graying eyebrows. “Oh,” she said. “You know, you’re entirely paid up for the year. There’s no need—”
“It’s voluntary,” Claire said. “Is that okay?”
“Voluntary?” The woman repeated the word as if it was something from a foreign language. “Well, I suppose . . .” She shook her head, clearly thinking Claire was mental, and turned her smile on Shane. “And you, honey?”
“Collins,” he said. “Shane Collins.”
She pulled out his card, and up went the eyebrows, again. “You are definitely not paid up, Mr. Collins. In fact, you’re sixty days behind. Again.”
“I’ve been busy.” He didn’t crack a smile. Neither did she.
She stamped his card, wrote something on it, and returned it to the file, then handed them both slips of paper. “Through the door,” she said. “Do you want to be in the room together, or separately?”
“Together,” they both chorused, and looked at each other. Claire couldn’t help a bit of a smirk, and Shane rolled his eyes. “She’s kind of a coward,” he said. “Faints at the sight of blood.”
“Oh, please,” Claire sighed. “That does describe one of us, though.”
The receptionist, for all her motherly looks, clearly wasn’t sympathetic. “Fine,” she said briskly. “Second door on the right, there are two chairs in there. I’ll get an attendant for you.”
“Yeah, about that . . . could you get us a human?” Shane asked. “It creeps me out when a guy’s draining my blood and I hear his stomach rumble.”
Claire punched him in the arm this time, an unmistakable shut up, and gave the receptionist a sunny smile as she dragged him toward the door she’d indicated. “Really,” she said to him, “would it be that hard just to not say anything?”
“Kinda,” he shrugged, and held the door open for her. “Ladies first.”
“I’m really starting to think you are a scaredy-cat.”
“No, I’m just flawlessly polite.” He gave her a sideways glance, and said, with a curious seriousness, “I’d go first in any fight, for you.”
Shane had always been someone who best expressed love by being protective, but now it was deliberate, a way for him to make up for how far he’d let his anger and aggression get the best of him. Even at his worst he hadn’t hurt her, but he’d come close, frighteningly close, and that lingered between them like a shadow.
“Shane,” she said, and paused to look him full in the face. “If it comes to that, I’d fight beside you. Not behind you.”
He smiled a little, and nodded as they started moving again. “I’d still jump on the first bullet. Hope you’re okay with that.”
She shouldn’t have been, really, but the thought, and the emotion behind it, gave her another little flush of warmth as she walked down the carpeted hallway and into the second room on the right. Like the rest of the human side of the collection center, the space felt warm and comfortable; the reclining chairs were leather, or some vinyl approximation. The speakers overhead were playing something acoustic and soft, and Claire relaxed in the chair as Shane wriggled around in his.
He went very still as the door opened, and their attendant stepped inside.
“No way,” Claire said. First, their attendant was a vampire. Second, it was Oliver. Oh, he was wearing a white lab coat and carrying a clipboard and looked vaguely official, but it was Oliver. “What exactly is the second-in-command of vampire affairs doing drawing blood?”