Lord of Misrule


Chapter One

It was all going wrong, and Morganville was burning--parts of it, anyway.

Claire stood at the windows of the Glass House and watched the flames paint the glass a dull, flickering orange. She could always see the stars out here in the Middle of Nowhere, Texas--but not tonight. Tonight, there was--

"You're thinking it's the end of the world," a cool, quiet voice said behind her.

Claire blinked out of her trance and turned to look. Amelie--the Founder, and the baddest vampire in town, to hear most of the others tell it--looked fragile and pale, even for a vampire. She'd changed out of the costume she'd worn to Bishop's masked ball--not a bad idea, since it had a stakesized hole in the chest, and she'd bled all over it. If Claire had needed proof that Amelie was tough, she'd certainly gotten it tonight. Surviving an assassination attempt definitely gave you points.

The vampire was wearing gray--a soft gray sweater, and pants. Claire had to stare, because Amelie just didn't do pants. Ever. It was beneath her, or something.

Come to think of it, Claire had never seen her in the color gray, either.

Talk about the end of the world.

"I remember when Chicago burned," Amelie said. "And London. And Rome. The world doesn't end, Claire. In the morning, the survivors start to build again. It's the way of things. The human way."

Claire didn't particularly want a pep talk. She wanted to curl up in her warm bed upstairs, pull pillows over her head, and feel Shane's arms around her None of that was going to happen. Her bed was currently occupied by Miranda, a freakedout teenage psychic with dependency issues, and as for Shane . . .

Shane was about to leave.

"Why?" she blurted. "Why are you sending him out there? You know what could happen--"

"I know a great deal about Shane Collins that you don't," Amelie interrupted. "He's not a child, and he has survived much in his young life. He'll survive this. And he wishes to make a difference."

She was sending Shane into the predawn darkness with a few chosen fighters, both vampire and human, to take possession of the Bloodmobile: the last reliably accessible blood storage in Morganville.

And it was the last thing Shane wanted to do. It was the last thing Claire wanted for him.

"Bishop isn't going to want the Bloodmobile for himself," Claire said. "He wants it destroyed. Morganville's full of walking blood banks, as far as he's concerned. But it'll hurt you if you lose it, so he'll come after it. Right?"

The severe, thin line of Amelie's mouth made it clear that she didn't like being secondguessed. It definitely couldn't be called a smile. "As long as Shane has the book, Bishop will not dare destroy the vehicle for fear of destroying his great treasure along with it."

Translation: Shane was bait. Because of the book. Claire hated that damn book. It had brought her nothing but trouble from the time she'd first heard about it. Amelie and Oliver, the two biggest vamps in town, had both been scrambling to find it, and it had dropped into Claire's hands instead. She wished she had the courage to grab it from Shane right now, run outside, and toss it in the nearest burning house to get rid of it once and for all, because as far as she could tell, it hadn't done anybody any good, ever--including Amelie.

Claire said, "He'll kill Shane to get it." Amelie shrugged. "I gamble that killing Shane is far more difficult than it would appear."

"Yeah, you are gambling. You're betting his life."

Amelie's ice gray eyes were steady on hers. "Be clear on this: I am, in fact, betting all our lives. So be grateful, child, and also be warned. I could concede this fight at any time. My father would allow me to walk away--only me, alone. Defeated. I stay out of duty to you and the others in this town who are loyal to me." Her eyes narrowed. "Don't make me reconsider that."

Claire hoped she didn't look as mutinous as she felt. She pasted on what was supposed to be an agreeable expression, and nodded. Amelie's eyes narrowed even more.

"Get prepared. We leave in ten minutes."

Shane wasn't the only one with a dirty job to do; they were all assigned things they didn't particularly like. Claire was going with Amelie to try to rescue another vampire--Myrnin. And while Claire liked Myrnin, and admired him in a lot of ways, she also wasn't too excited about facing