(Book 12 in the Morganville Vampires series)
A novel by Rachel Caine
This book is dedicated to my friend and writing mentor Patricia Anthony. Without her steady guidance, fantastic advice, and brilliant example, I would never have reached the place I am today. Thank you for pushing me, Pat. I hope you keep doing it for years and years to come.
It’s also dedicated to the Bexter, and Ronan. Welcome to the world, little man! Congrats, Mom!
To my friends at the Tucson Marriott University Park, especially Kat, Sandy, and Echoe, who made the last part of my writing task so much easier with their enthusiastic support and cheering-on.
To the semi-official support group of the Smart Chicks, especially Kelley and Melissa. It’s so nice to be part of such an amazing group of women, never mind amazing writers. Rock on, Smart Chicks.
To Joe Bonamassa, because, always.
And to Cat, who puts up with the endless long days and deadlines and crises, and does it so gracefully. Love you, sweetie. I promise someday there will be a day without word count. But not today.
In previous books up through Bite Club, we’ve seen events in Morganville through the eyes of Claire Danvers; since then, we’ve been visiting other points of view, especially in Last Breath, the book immediately prior to this one.
We’ll continue to see events this way in Black Dawn … so be sure to note who is narrating the scene for you at the beginning of each chapter. Because everyone has secrets …
… And some of them will be deadly.
Morganville, Texas, isn’t like other towns. Oh, it’s small, dusty, and ordinary in most ways, but the thing is, there are these … vampires. They own the town. They run it. And until now they’ve been the unquestioned ruling class.
But now this dry, landlocked town has been flooded by unnatural rains, and the rains have brought something else … the predators who’ve hunted the vampires almost to extinction.
They hide in the water. They feed on vampires by preference, humans by necessity, and even in a desert town, there’s no place safe now that they’ve arrived. Not for the vampires or for those few humans still standing beside them.
So hold on tight. Because Morganville’s changed.
And it’s a very dark new day.
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 the weight was off him he just kept … flailing.
Across the room, Claire Danvers bolted straight to her feet, tripped over her own sleeping bag, and managed to catch herself against a wall just before she 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 rarely 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 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 Claire 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 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.