Kiss of Death
Chapter Sixteen

 Rachel Caine

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"I'm saying ... ," he began with a sigh. "I'm saying we're out of Morganville. And Oliver is all that's stopping us from heading anywhere in the world, other than there." She really didn't want to believe that Oliver was gone. She wanted to believe that Oliver was, like Amelie, someone who took his word seriously, who, once having granted his protection, wouldn't just walk away because the going got tough. But she really, really couldn't be sure. She never was, with Oliver. She had absolutely no doubts about Morley; he was all vampire, all the time. He'd smile at you one minute and rip out your throat the next, and wouldn't see any contradiction in that at all. He was right, though. Oliver was all that stood between them and a life out in the world; a life free of Morganville. Except for the people they'd leave behind. She glanced back at Eve, surrounded by the kids in a circle of light, and at Michael, watching her from the shadows with so much longing and pain in his face. And it hit her. "Michael," she blurted. "Whatever Oliver might do to us, he can't leave Michael behind to die. He can't. Amelie would kill him." No doubt about that. Amelie had deeply loved Sam, Michael's grandfather, and when she'd turned Michael into a vampire, she'd considered him family--her family. If Oliver planned to throw them to the infected wolves, he was going to have to figure out how to do it and somehow save Michael, without letting Michael know what had happened to the rest of them. Michael must have heard her say his name, because he looked over at her. Shane crooked a finger at him. Michael nodded and walked over. He was much more observant than Claire was, because before he ever reached them, Michael looked around and said, "Where are they?"
"Thought maybe you knew," Shane said. "They being your fellow fanged ones. Isn't there some kind of flock instinct?"
"Bite me, blood bank. No, they didn't tell me anything." Michael frowned. "Stay here. I'm going to check the rest of the building. Be right back." He was gone in a whisper of air, hardly making any sound at all, and Claire shivered and leaned against Shane's solid, very human warmth. His arms went around her, and he touched his lips lightly to the back of her neck. "How can you smell this good after the kind of crappy day we've had?"
"I sweat perfume. Like all girls." He laughed and squeezed her. He smelled good, too--more male, somehow, a little grungy and edgy and sweaty, and although she loved soap and water and shampoo, sometimes this was better--wilder. Michael was back in--true to his word--just a few minutes, and he didn't look at all happy. "I found Patience," he said. "She and Jacob are guarding the doors from the outside. Oliver went out to do a patrol."
"And everybody else?" Claire asked. "Morley took everybody else to go after the enemy. He said he wasn't going to wait for them to come to us. At least, that's what he said he was doing. For all Patience knows, Morley may be trying to find another truck or bus and get his people out of town."
"Did Oliver know about this?" Michael shook his head. "He's got no idea, although he might now, if he spotted them outside. Don't know how he'd stop them on his own, though." Claire didn't, either, but it was Oliver. He'd figure out something, and it probably wouldn't be pretty. "How long until dawn?"
"A couple of hours," Michael said. He looked over at Eve, who had finished up the story and was hugging kids who were on their way to their beds. "Mrs. Grant said they always come during the night. That means they'll be coming soon, if Morley's people didn't screw up their whole day. And we'd better be ready." When there had been a bunch of vampires running around on their side, Claire hadn't felt too worried, but now she was. And looking at Michael, at Shane, she knew they were, too. "So let's hat up, guys," Shane said. "Nobody gets fanged tonight. New rule." He and Michael did a fast high-low five, and went for the weapons. Claire got Eve and updated her; then they joined the boys to get their vampire-repelling act together. Mrs. Grant had been dozing in an armchair, shotgun across her lap, but she woke up as soon as the four of them started raiding the weapons pile on the table. Claire was impressed; for an old lady, she woke up fast, and the first thing she did was look for trouble. When she didn't find any immediately, she looked at the four of them and said, "Are they coming?"
"Probably," Michael said, and picked up a couple of wooden stakes, leaving the silver-coated ones for the humans to handle. He also grabbed up a crossbow and some extra bolts. "We're going to help with patrols. Looks like we're a little light on guards."
"But Morley--" Mrs. Grant's mouth slammed shut, into a grim line. She didn't need to be clued in, obviously. "Of course. I never doubted he'd stab us in the back."
"I'm not saying he has," Michael said. "I'm just saying he's not here. So we need to be sure that if things go wrong ..." Mrs. Grant rose from her chair, winced, and rubbed at a sore spot on her back. She looked tired, but very focused. "I'll get my men up," she said. "Should have known we couldn't do a whole night without some kind of alert. I just hoped for a miracle."
"How long have you been doing this?" Claire asked. "Fighting them off?"
"It wasn't all at once," the older woman said. "At first we thought the people we couldn't find were just sick--regular human sick. And they were clever at first, good at hiding out, picking off people who weren't paying attention. Like wolves, going after strays. By the time we knew, they came in force and took out most everybody who could have gotten things organized against them. All told, I guess we've been living out of this library for almost three weeks now." She almost smiled, but it was just a bitter twist of her lips, really. "It seems longer. I can hardly remember what it was like before. Blacke used to be a real quiet town; nothing ever happened. Now ..."
"Maybe we can get it back to that quiet town it used to be," Claire said. Mrs. Grant gave her a long look. "Just you and your friends?"
"Hey," Shane said, snapping a shotgun closed with a flick of his wrist. "We're just trying to help."
"And stay alive," Eve added. "But trust me, this is not the worst situation we've ever been in." She sounded confident about that. Claire raised her eyebrows, and Eve considered it for a few more seconds. "Okay, maybe tied for worst. But definitely not the Guinness Record for awfulness." Mrs. Grant looked at each of them in turn, and then just walked away to rouse her own men. "Seriously," Shane said, "this kind of is the worst situation we've ever been in, right?"
"Speak for yourself," Michael said. "I got myself killed last year. Twice."
"Oh yeah. You're right--last year really sucked for you."
"Boys," Eve interrupted, when Michael started to make some smart-ass comeback. "Focus. Dangerous vampire attack imminent. What's the plan?" Michael kissed her lightly on the lips, and his eyes turned vampire-bright. "Don't lose."
"It's simple, yet effective. I like it." Shane extended his fist, and Michael bumped it. "I am never taking a trip with either of you ever again." Eve said. "Ever."
"Excellent," Shane said. "Then next trip, we hit the strip bar."
"I have a gun, Shane." Eve sighed. "What, you think I actually loaded yours?" Eve flipped him off, and Claire laughed. Even now, things just stayed normal, somehow.
An hour passed, and nothing happened. Eve got anxious about Jason's absence, but Claire was starting to feel a little confident that nothing would happen tonight at the library, as the minutes clicked by and the night around the library continued quiet, with nothing but the wind stirring outside in the streets. And then the walkie-talkie Mrs. Grant had given her squawked for attention, making her jump. Claire figured it would be Shane; he'd stationed himself on the other side of the building, apparently because she was so distracting (which really didn't disappoint her, when she thought about it). But it wasn't Shane. It was Eve. "I'm coming out," she said. She sounded breathless and worried. "You need to see this."
"I'm here," Claire said. "Be careful." In under a minute, Eve was beside her, holding out an open cell phone. Not hers--this one, for instance, didn't have all the usual glow-in-the-dark skulls on it. Eve wouldn't have a boring cell like this one. Oh yeah. It was the one Oliver had slipped into her pocket on the bus. The only one they had now, since the rest were probably still dumped in a drawer back in the Durram police station. There was a text message on the phone. Wounded, it said. Bring help. Garage. It was from Oliver. And that was it. Just the four words. Claire had gotten the occasional phone call from Oliver, but never a text. "Oliver texted me," Eve said. "I mean really. Oliver texted. That's weird, right? Who knew he could?"
"Mrs. Grant said the cell phones didn't work here."
"No, she said they went out. This one's working. Kinda, anyway."
"Michael!" Claire called, and he jumped down from the top of a bookshelf next to the window to land next to her, barely seeming to notice the impact. She didn't see him coming, either, which made her fumble the phone and almost drop it. "Hey! Scary-monster move! Don't like it!"
"I'll try to whistle next time," he said. "What?" She showed him. He did whistle, softly, and thought for a few seconds. "What if it's not him?" Claire said. "What if it's, I don't know, them? They got him, and they're using his phone to lure us in?"
"They didn't strike me as particularly clever with the planning, but you've got a good point. It could be a trap." He frowned. "But if Oliver is calling for help, it's about as bad as it gets."
"I know." Claire felt short of breath. "What do we do? He probably thinks Morley's here!"
"Well, Morley's not." Michael looked around at the library, at the cluster of kids sleeping on cots in the middle of the room. "I don't like leaving them, but we can't just ignore it. Not if there's a chance he's really in trouble. It's close to dawn, at least. That's good for them, bad for Oliver." They found Mrs. Grant, who listened to them, read the text message, and shrugged. Shrugged. "You want to go, go," she said. "We held out before any of you got here. We'll hang on long after you're gone, too. This is our town, and we're going to be the last ones standing around here. Count on it."
"Yes ma'am," Claire said softly. "But--the kids--" Mrs. Grant smiled bleakly. "What do you think we fight so hard for? The architecture? We'll fight to our last for our kids, every one of us. Don't you worry about that. You think your friend needs you, go on. Take the weapons--we've got plenty. This used to be a big hunting town." Mrs. Grant paused, eyeing Claire. "In fact, hold on. Got something for you." She rummaged in a closet and came up with something that was huge, bulky, and looked very complicated--but once Claire had it thrust into her hands, she realized it wasn't complicated at all. It was a bow. One of those with the wheels and pulleys--a compound bow? Mrs. Grant found a bag stuffed full of arrows, too. "I don't know how to shoot it," Claire protested. "Learn."
"If you don't want it, give it back."
"No," Claire said, and felt ashamed of herself. "I'm sorry. I'll figure it out." Mrs. Grant suddenly grinned and ruffled Claire's hair as one would a little kid's. "I know you will," she said. "You got spark, you know that? Spark and grit. I like that." Claire nodded, not quite sure what to say to that. She clutched the bow in one hand, the bag of arrows in the other, and looked at Michael. "So I guess we're--"
"Saving Oliver," Michael said, straight-faced. "Maybe you'd better try shooting that thing first."