Chapter Six


The next day started with breakfast, provided by Myrnin again. He set it on the table while she was still lying on the bed, blinking at the lights. Claire said, "You drugged me."

"Well, only a little," he said. He was wearing a violent-looking Hawaiian shirt, all pinks and yellows and neon greens, a pair of checked pants that had probably been ugly when checks were in style, and flip-flops. "Did you sleep?"

"Don't drug me again."

"It wouldn't be appropriate in any case. You won't be able to sleep, you know. Not until we're finished."

"Don't remind me." She got up, stretched, and wished she had fresh clothes. These were wrinkled, and starting to smell funky. Not that Myrnin would notice, probably. "What's for breakfast?"

"Doughnuts," he said cheerfully. "I like doughnuts. And coffee."

Claire was doubtful about the coffee, but he'd provided some cream and sugar, and the chocolate-covered doughnut helped wash the taste away anyway. She drank it all, with plenty of sugary bites to help; she was pretty sure she'd need all the caffeine she could get.

Breakfast didn't last nearly long enough.

She couldn't have said what made her aware that something had changed; she'd developed a kind of sixth sense for these things, being around Myrnin for a while. Maybe it was just that he'd fallen silent for what seemed like too long. She looked up and saw him standing in the doorway of the room, watching her with big, liquidly dark eyes that seemed . . . wistful? She wasn't quite sure. He could have moods about the oddest things.

He smiled, just a little, and it seemed very sad. "You reminded me of someone just then."


"It wouldn't make you feel better to know that."

She could guess anyway. "Ada," she said. "You had that thinking-about-Ada look."

"I don't know what you mean."

"You look like you miss her," Claire said. "You do, don't you?"

His smile faded, as if he didn't have the strength to hold it anymore. "Ada was my friend and colleague for a very long time," he said. "And there was . . . a great deal of respect between us. Yes, I miss her. I've missed her every moment that she's been gone, strange as that may seem to you."

He pushed away from the doorframe, as if he was about to leave. She couldn't stand to see him walk off with that lost expression, so Claire asked, "How did you meet her?"

That brought him, and the smile, back. It seemed less wistful this time. "I heard of her first. She was brilliant, you know. Brilliant and charming and well before her time. She understood the concept of computing machines from the very beginning, but not only that--she was a student of a great many things, including people. That was how we met. She spotted me in a crowd one night in London, and the next thing I knew she was demanding to know what I was. She could tell, you see. It fascinated her. No surprise, because her father and his friends were the original Gothic crowd, you know." Claire must have looked blank, because he sighed. "Really, child. Lord Byron? Percy Shelley? Mary Shelley? John Polidori?"

"Um . . . Frankenstein?"

"That would be Mary's work, yes. Dr. Polidori became famous for a similarly dark work of fiction . . . about a vampire. So Ada was much more perceptive than one would have thought. And terribly persistent. Before long, we were . . ." He stopped himself, looked sharply at her, and said, "Close friends."

"I'm not five."

"Very well, then; call it what you like. We became intimate, and we'll leave this discussion there, I think." He cleared his throat, looked away, and said, "Thank you."

She was gathering up her grease-stained doughnut bag, and stopped to stare at him. "What for?"

"For making me think of that," he said softly. "I do miss her. I really do." He seemed a little surprised about it, then shook out of it with visible effort. "Enough. Let me show you what I've accomplished while you were out getting yourself in so much trouble."

"I didn't--"

"Claire." He gave her a long, reproachful look, and put his finger to his lips. "Silence while I am speaking. We don't have time for you to quibble."

He did have a point, sort of. She nodded, and he led her over to the nearest lab table, which held undefined lumps of things under a gray canvas. Myrnin whipped the canvas off like a magician unveiling a trick, complete with, "Ta-da!"

It looked worse than it had when she'd last been here. It looked like a completely insane, random collection of parts, cobbled together without any sense of reason. Wires went everywhere, looping into snarls, and he'd used so many colors of wire that the whole thing had a strange rainbow look to it that made even less sense. There really wasn't much to say, except, "What is it?"

"Oh, Claire, it's my latest attempt to bring up the barriers around the town; what do you think it is? Look, I added vacuum pumps here, and here, and a new gear assembly, and--"

"Myrnin, stop. Just . . . stop." She closed her eyes for a second, thinking, I'm going to die, and finally forced herself to look at him again. "Let's start from the beginning. Where's the input?"

"You mean the point at which energy enters the system?"


"Here." He touched something in the middle of the device, which made even less sense. It looked like a funnel made of bright, shiny brass. In fact, it looked almost like a horn.

"And then where does the . . . ah, energy go?"

"Isn't it obvious? No? I weep for the state of public schools." He traced two wires, one that split off into a tangle of tubes, and one that went into what looked like a clock, only there were no numbers on the dial. "It draws power during the daytime hours, but it's at its most powerful at night, under the influence of the moon, which is why I've made certain parts of it from elements that resonate with the lunar cycle. I tried to balance the effects of the different elements, day and night, to achieve a perfect oscillation. It's obvious."

If you were insane.

Claire sighed. "We need to start over," she said. "Just start from scratch and build it again. One thing at a time, and you explain to me what it does, okay?"

"There's no need to start over. I've been perfectly--"

"Myrnin," Claire interrupted. "No time to quibble, remember? It's going to take all day to tear this thing apart, but I need to understand what you're doing. Really."

He considered it, looking at her for the longest time, and then grudgingly nodded. "Very well," he said. "Let's begin."

Autopsying Myrnin's mad-scientist machine was weirder than anything Claire had ever done in Morganville, and that was definitely a new record. Some of the parts were slippery, and felt almost . . . alive. Some were ice-cold. Some were hot--so hot she burned her fingers on them. Asking why didn't seem to do any good; Myrnin didn't have explanations that she could follow, since they drifted out of science and off into alchemy. But she methodically broke down the machine, labeled each part with a number, and made a diagram as she did of where each thing fit.

For a device that was supposed to establish a kind of detection field around the town limits, and then a second stage that would physically disable vehicles that weren't already cleared for exit, and then a third stage that selectively wiped memories, it was . . .

Incomprehensible, really. She could see pieces of what Myrnin was doing; the detection-field part was simple enough. She could even follow the purely mechanical part of how the machine broadcast a shutoff of a vehicle's electrical system--which led into the more complicated problem of how to rewire people's brains. But it was all just so . . . weird.

It took hours, but all of a sudden as she was drawing the plug-in for a vacuum pump that felt as if it was radiating cold, although she didn't know how, Claire saw . . . something. It was like a flash of intuition, one of those moments that came to her sometimes when she thought about higher-order physics problems. Not calculation, exactly, not logic. Instinct.

She saw what he was doing, and for that one second, it was beautiful.

Crazy, but in a beautiful kind of way. Like everything Myrnin did, it twisted the basic rules of physics, bent them and reshaped them until they became . . . something else. He's a genius, she thought. She'd always known that, but this . . . this was something else. Something beyond all his usual tinkering and weirdness. "It's going to work," she said. Her voice sounded odd. She carefully set the vacuum pump in its place on the meticulously labeled canvas sheet.

Myrnin, who was sitting in his armchair with his feet comfortably on a hassock, looked up. He was reading a book through tiny little square spectacles that might have once belonged to Benjamin Franklin. "Well, of course it's going to work," he said. "What did you expect? I do know what I'm doing."

This from a man wearing clothing from the OMG No store, and his battered vampire-bunny slippers. He'd crossed his feet at the ankles on top of a footstool, and both the bunnies' red mouths were flapping open to reveal their sharp, pointy teeth.

Claire grinned, suddenly full of enthusiasm for what she was doing. "I didn't expect anything else," she said. "When's lunch?"

"You humans, always eating. I'll make you soup. You can eat it while you keep working." Myrnin set aside his book and walked into the back of the lab.

"Don't use the same beaker you used for poisons!" Claire yelled after him. He waved a pale hand. "I mean it! "

She looked back down at the machine. The flash of intuition was gone, but the excitement remained, and she started in on the screws holding the next part.

She was exhausted, and she had no idea what time it was. Time didn't exist in Myrnin's lab; the lamps were always burning. There were no windows, no clocks, no sense of how long she'd been standing here over this table, tinkering. Days, it felt like. The only time she'd been able to sit down was when she had to go to the bathroom; even Myrnin admitted he didn't think Amelie had meant for her to be denied restroom privileges.

He kept bringing her cups of things. Soup, when she was hungry. Coffee. Sodas. Once, memorably, a glass of orange juice that tasted like sunshine--at least, as far as she was able to remember sunshine.

She was so tired. She could hardly hold on to her tools anymore, and her hands were clumsy and aching. Her back was on fire. Her legs trembled with the effort to stay standing. She couldn't work sitting down, as high as the table was, and when she tried to stop and sit for a moment, Myrnin was always there.

This time, as she inched toward the stool, he suddenly made a furious sound and knocked it away, and halfway across the lab, where it hit and rolled with a shocking clatter. "No!" he barked. "Stay awake. Do you think I like this?"

"I can't do it!" she cried, and felt tears stinging her eyes. "Myrnin, I'm so tired! I need to sit down; please let me sit down! Amelie won't know!"

"She will," came a voice from the shadows, by one of the storage room doors. Claire blinked and focused, and there was Oliver, leaning against the wall. "You will always have observers, Claire. You chose this punishment, and now you have to survive it. Personally, I think that's unlikely; I believe you'll collapse long before you finish the work, and we both know that Amelie can't afford to be seen as merciful to you. If you fail, all the better. I never agreed with this compassion nonsense." He sounded dismissive, and still angry that she wasn't in a cage in the middle of Founder's Square, waiting for a bonfire. She felt a surge of hate so hot it shocked her. If she'd had a stake, she'd have used it on him, and never mind the consequences.

She went back to work. She didn't know how, but she did, focusing so fiercely that every part was etched in her mind, every gleaming metal surface.

It could have been minutes later, or hours, but she became aware that Oliver was gone, and that Myrnin was, too. He'd moved all the chairs, and the distance of a few feet seemed too far away to try to walk. She wasn't sure she'd be able to make it, even if she dared.

Myrnin was pacing on the other side of the lab, head down, arms folded. He looked agitated. Her weariness painted strange lines around him, jagged patterns of color that seemed to flow like oily rainbows.

He was muttering something. She had to concentrate to hear him.

"I never meant it," he was saying. "Never meant it to happen. Can't stand it, seeing her suffer. Must do something, do something . . . What do I do? What can I do . . . ?"

Claire thought he was talking about her, but just then, he stopped and pulled a small golden locket out of his pocket. He opened it and stared down at the picture. His face looked drawn and tortured, and she'd seen him like this before, her weary brain insisted. Back in the bad old days, before he'd gotten well, he'd had episodes like this.

It wasn't about her at all.

It was about Ada.

"So sorry," Myrnin whispered to the picture in the locket. "I never meant it to happen. I never meant to hurt you. But you were so sick. And it was so easy."

Claire tried to move, and her legs threatened to collapse. She reached for the edge of the table for balance, and knocked over a glass beaker, which rolled off and smashed on the stone floor.

Myrnin whirled, and his fangs came out.

This is what happened to Ada, she thought, and felt a terrible sense of inevitability to it all. She got sick and weak, and he couldn't help himself. Just like he can't help himself now.

As Myrnin stepped toward her, though, she saw realization come back into his eyes, driving out the alien energy she'd seen there. He looked appalled. And frightened. "Claire?"

"I'm working," she whispered. "I'm just so . . . I don't think I can do this. I really don't."

He hesitated, then came to stand beside her. Myrnin's cool hand closed around her wrist, drawing her attention back to him. "Focus," he told her quietly. "You can do this. We're close. Very close."

They weren't. They couldn't be. She'd thought she understood, but she was so tired, and everything was jumbled and confused and her eyes hurt and her back hurt and she couldn't feel her feet at all. . . .

"Here," Myrnin said, his voice still gentle and low. "Amelie said you had to work. No one said you had to work alone." He picked up the next part and slotted it in, took the screwdriver from Claire's numbed fingers, and fastened it with a couple of deft, fast movements. "I'll be your hands."

She wanted to cry, because it was sweet, but it wouldn't do any good. She couldn't think anymore. Even all her meticulous labeling and drawing just looked like so many puzzle pieces jumbled up in a box. She'd understood how it all fit together, how amazing and beautiful it would be when it was finished, but . . . but now it was just noise in her head.

She felt her vision start to go gray, and her heart was pounding loud and fast.

Myrnin caught her around the waist. Claire hadn't even realized she was about to fall. "Focus," he told her. "You can finish this. You're close." He sounded a little desperate. "Don't do this, Claire. Don't make me see you like this. It's too easy for me to . . . forget who I should be."

She swallowed hard and tried--tried really hard--to stand on her own. "How long has it been?"

"Forty-nine hours since you started," Oliver said from the shadows. "Myrnin, I don't believe Amelie meant for you to actually hold her upright." Myrnin let go and stepped back, guilty relief flaring on his face. He nodded and moved away, out of reach.

Oliver watched him with a dispassionate kind of calm. "I admit, you've done better than I would have expected. You can still choose to have one of your friends take your punishment for you. I won't protest the change."

That steadied her; the thought of Eve or Shane or Michael having to suffer for her--or worse, her mom or dad--made her find the last little dregs of strength she still had. Forty-nine hours? The longest she'd ever stayed up before was thirty, and that had felt like dying.

She was still on her feet, still working, still thinking. That was some kind of victory, right?

Myrnin hovered near her, not trusting her balance, but she hardly noticed. Claire focused down on the machine, on the few parts remaining. She had to figure this out. She had to.

It was as she slotted one of the last pieces in place that she saw what was missing. "Wiring," she said slowly. Her voice sounded thick and strange. "From here to here." She pointed at the contact points. "Should carry the current into the output."

Myrnin bent over, frowning, and squinted at the place she'd pointed. He grabbed an enormous magnifying glass and looked closer. "I think you're right," he said. "Hold on, Claire. We're almost there."

She nodded and grabbed the edges of the table. Her body felt like it weighed five hundred pounds. Her legs were numb. She didn't dare try to shift at all, or she knew she'd fall.

Myrnin was back in seconds with a ball of black insulated wire and a soldering gun. He nearly burned his hair with it, since he was bending so close, but he got it right.

Claire grabbed the last two parts--a clockwork mechanism that fastened on top, and a wiring assembly that connected it to the vacuum tubes--and slotted them into place. Myrnin finished fastening them.

And that was all of it. The machine stretched out in an endless, dizzying series of loops and whirls and weird mechanisms, sprouting wires like tree roots. It didn't look real to her. Neither did Myrnin, as he turned to her with a barely concealed red glow in his eyes.

"I think it's done," she said. "May I please sit down?"

"Yes," Oliver said. "I think you'd better."

She fainted.

She came awake to the sound of a cell phone. She knew that song. It was the ringtone she'd assigned to Shane.

She tried to reach for her cell, but her hand felt like a balloon, and a million pounds heavier than it should. She was lying down in Myrnin's cot again, blankets pulled up neatly to her chin, and as she fumbled for the cell the door opened, and Myrnin zipped in and grabbed the phone. He put a cool hand on her forehead and said, "Sleep. You're fevered."

"Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you for taking care of me."

He looked at her for a long moment and smiled. "It's nice to not be on my own, at least for now," he said. "I'm sorry about earlier. I was . . . not myself. You understand."

She did; she'd seen it often enough. She even understood what had pushed him close to the edge--he'd been forced to stand by and watch her grow weak and exhausted and afraid, and the predator in him had woken up. Just as it had with Ada, once upon a time.

She'd fared a little better than Ada, but she wondered now whether that was because Myrnin had stopped himself . . . or whether Oliver's presence had warned him off. Either way, it had been a near miss. "Are you feeling sick?" she asked. She hadn't meant it to be quite that blunt, but she was too tired to be diplomatic. "I mean, like you were before?"

"I can control myself. I just get in moods. You know that."

"You'd tell me if you were in trouble."

He smiled, and it didn't look right somehow. "Of course I would," he said. "Rest now."

She wanted to talk to Shane, but she wasn't sure she could keep her eyes open long enough. Myrnin didn't wait for her to answer.

She was plummeting deep into sleep again as she heard the door close and lock.

The next time she woke up, she felt better. Fragile and hollow, but clear, and oh, God, she needed the restroom. Luckily, Myrnin had one very small toilet closet in the room; she got out of bed to head for it and groaned, because her legs felt like they'd been dipped in fire. The muscles were still trembling. She walked very carefully, bracing herself when she could, and while she used the toilet she took stock of how she felt otherwise.

Weak, sure. But it was so good to feel completely awake again.

Oh, and she also felt completely filthy. She needed a shower, a change of clothes, and about another week in bed, she decided. But since none of that was going to happen right at the moment, she splashed water on her face, finger-combed her hair, and went out to try the door.

It was unlocked.

The lab looked--well, exactly the same, except that there were more people there than usual. Myrnin, of course. Oliver had hung around, or come back; he was standing off to the side, arms folded, frowning with that "convince me" look on his long, sharp face. She recognized another vampire, too, although she didn't know his name; he sometimes stopped in to visit Myrnin, and Myrnin had never introduced him.

On the other side of the worktable stood Amelie, immaculately dressed in a sky-blue suit and high heels. Her hair was up in the braided crown again.

Claire felt even grubbier.

They all stopped what they were doing as she came out of the door, and for a few seconds, no one spoke. Then Myrnin smiled widely and stepped aside, and she saw that the machine they'd built was glowing with a soft, blue light.

Her eyes widened. "It's working?"

"It is indeed working," Myrnin said. "Very good work, Claire. I've connected it to the interface. Look!" He turned a computer screen around toward her, and her artsy, steampunky interface showed in rust browns and golds. Claire came forward to look closer. All the readouts she'd built in were measuring within normal levels.

She reached out and touched the STATUS button. A crisp computerized voice said, "Morganville barriers are activated and within normal parameters."

"But--wait. I didn't program it yet," Claire said. "The hardware is one thing, but you have to program it."

"Oh, I did that," Myrnin said, still smiling. "Technically, you accomplished the goal Amelie set you. I saw no reason to torment you further with some simple instructions."

"But . . . it needs to be tuned to a specific vampire brain, and you told me that--"

"It has been," he said. "It's been tuned to mine. Just as a template, mind you. I'll improve the programming as we go forward."

Myrnin's brain. Myrnin's brilliant, fiery, half-insane brain. Claire blinked and looked at Amelie, who was doing her best chilly ice-princess impression. "Myrnin is the logical choice," Amelie said. "He has the greatest natural talent of any vampire in Morganville for influencing humans, although he rarely elects to use it. He won't be directing the machine's actions, only providing a type of baseline reading on which it will base its own calculations and decisions."

Claire wasn't sure how to feel about any of this. Myrnin wasn't a programmer, and basing anything on Myrnin's brain seemed hinky to her. Still, the computer seemed pretty definite. Everything was working. The barriers were up. All the readouts were normal.

She was . . . finished?

It should have felt like a victory, but it felt instead like she'd missed something. Like something wasn't right, but she didn't know what it could be.

It was the voice, the computer voice.

It reminded her of . . . Ada. And that was extra creepy. It occurred to her that maybe Myrnin had done that deliberately to bring her back to him just a little bit.

It might have seemed romantic, if Ada hadn't done her level best to destroy them.

Amelie loosened up enough to smile at her, which was nearly a first. She looked a lot younger when she smiled, and even prettier. "You did very well," she said. "I know that I asked much of you, and I know that you may not forgive me for offering such a difficult choice, but I had the town to consider, and there were pressures you cannot imagine that forced us to take these drastic steps. I had every confidence you would succeed."

Claire felt awkward and a little flushed. She still resented being forced into this; she really hated the casual way Amelie had threatened her friends and family. And she didn't, at this moment, much care about being nice, so she said, "Don't ever do that again. Don't ever threaten the people I love."

The other vampires--even Myrnin--looked uncomfortable, shocked, or outright angry (Oliver). Not Amelie, though. Her eyebrows rose. "The people you love are constantly at risk, as are all people everywhere. Even mine. You should come to terms with that fact, Claire. I am only one thing that threatens their safety. As they occasionally threaten mine. It is the way of all life."

Claire balled up her fists, but she wasn't like Shane. She couldn't lash out. She just had to breathe through the surges of anger that made red flashes across her eyes until it stopped.

Amelie must have known she wasn't going to get thanked; she nodded to the others, turned, and left. She hadn't been alone, Claire realized. Her two usual bodyguards were with her, standing just off in the shadows, and they followed her up the steps and out of the lab.

That left Myrnin, Oliver, and the other vampire, who now bowed stiffly toward her. "Frederick von Hesse," the vampire said, in what had to be a German accent. "So nice to formally make your acquaintance. This is impressive work. Tell me, how did you come to understand so much of the hermetic arts?"

"I don't," Claire said flatly. "A lot of it doesn't make any sense at all."

Oliver laughed--actually laughed. "I like this new Claire," he said. "You should work her this hard all the time, Myrnin. She's interesting when she's forthright."

Claire, possessed by the spirit of Eve, shot him the finger. Which made him laugh again, shake his head, and walk up the steps.


Leaving her with von Hesse and Myrnin. Von Hesse had a little in common with Oliver in that he, too, looked like an aging hippie, but it was mostly the fact that his hair was shoulder length, blond, and frizzy. He looked older than most vampires, with a lined face and droopy blue eyes, but he had a nice, if tentative, smile. "I apologize," he said. "I did not mean to offend you." Claire sighed. "You didn't." For some reason, it was hard for her to stay mad at von Hesse. Oliver, no problem, but this vampire seemed a little . . . nervous? Fragile, maybe. "I'm Claire."

"Yes, yes, of course you are. You've done an amazing thing, Claire. Truly amazing." He stood back from the table, admiring the glowing machine. "I never thought it would be possible without the interface of an organic--"

"Please don't start with the brains again," Claire said. "I'm tired. I'm going home, okay?"

Myrnin, who hadn't said much, suddenly reached out and wrapped his arms around her. She stiffened, shocked, and for a panicked second wondered whether he'd suddenly decided to snack on her neck . . . but it was just a hug. His body felt cold against hers, and way too close, but then he let go and stepped back. "You've done very well. I'm extremely proud of you," he said. There was a touch of color high in his pale cheeks. "Do go home now. And shower. You reek like the dead."

Which, coming from a vampire, was pretty rich.

"Can I take the portal?" Claire asked. Myrnin moved the concealing bookcase and unlocked the door in the wall, swung it open, and bowed so low he practically scraped the floor. He also dug her cell phone out of the pocket of his baggy shorts and handed it over. Claire stepped up and concentrated until the living room of the Glass House was in focus. Nobody was up yet, it seemed. It was still dark outside the windows.

Before she stepped through, she looked at Myrnin and said, "Thanks for taking care of me."

He smiled faintly, but in a pained sort of way. "I didn't," he said. "I put you at risk, all because I do what Amelie says. And I'm sorry for that. But she was right. It had to be done. And it had to be done quickly. I couldn't have done it alone, Claire."

"Good-bye," said von Hesse, waving. Claire awkwardly waved back, and stepped through the portal.


She took in a deep breath and looked behind her to see what seemed like a solid wall. She might have dreamed all of it, except that she was still shaky and felt oddly empty.

The house smelled so good. Chili--that was normal--and somebody must have done laundry down in the basement, because she could smell the fabric softener. Too much, as usual. That was Shane's trademark.

She wanted to go straight up to him, but the stairs seemed like too much. Way too much. She could hardly stand up, much less climb.

She compromised by walking to the couch, moving the game controllers, and collapsing on the sagging cushions. There was a blanket draped over one end in an untidy mess, and she wrapped herself up in it and immediately felt better. Safer.

She wiggled around under the blanket, found the cell phone she'd stuck in her pocket, and speed-dialed Shane.

"'Lo?" He coughed and tried again. His voice was husky and low. "Hello?" He must have looked at the screen, because all of a sudden he sounded wide-awake--and alarmed. "Claire? Where are you?"

"Downstairs on the couch," she said, and yawned. "Can't come up. Too tired."

"Stay there." He hung up, and she heard the thump of footsteps overhead. In just about a minute, Shane was coming down the steps at nearly a run. His jeans were on, but that was all--no shirt, and it made her warm all over to see him that way. He skidded to a stop next to the couch, staring down at her, then crouched to put their eyes on a level. "Hey," he said. "You okay?"

"Sure. Just tired." As proof, she yawned again. "How long have I been gone?" "Forever," Shane said, and there was something wrong with his voice; it sounded strange and choked. "Don't do it again, okay? Scared the shit out of me. Out of all of us." He smoothed hair back from her face, and she reached up to do it to him, too. His hair really was getting emo length, mainly from laziness and his never wanting to go get it cut.

"You didn't do anything crazy, right?" It was hard to keep her eyes open, but touching him felt so good. So amazingly good.

"Michael had to pound me a couple of times to convince me not to go stage a rescue." Shane shrugged. "He hits like a girl, for a vampire."

"He was trying not to hurt you, dummy."

"Yeah, I know. Scoot over."

She did, and opened up the blanket. He slid in next to her, turned on his side, and kissed her before she could protest about needing a shower and toothpaste and all that stuff.

He wrapped her in his arms, so close, and she felt his breath stirring her hair. "You're safe now," he said. "You're safe."

She drifted off again in seconds into a deep, warm, dreamless sleep, feeling good for the first time in what seemed like years.