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FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES ONLY. In Morganville, Texas, a town where evil terrorizes the streets under the cover of darkness, Claire Danvers, who has had enough of her current dorm situation, moves off campus and discovers that the town is run by vampires.
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Rachel Caine lives in Fort Worth, TX.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Erica was right about the quack shack being the logical first stop; Claire got her ankle wrapped, an ice pack, and some frowns over the forming bruises. Nothing broken, but she was going to be black-and-blue for days. The doctor asked some pro forma questions about boyfriends and stuff, but since she could truthfully say that no, her boyfriend hadn't beaten her up, he just shrugged and told her to watch her step.
He wrote her an excuse note, too, and gave her some painkillers and told her to go home.
No way was she going back to the dorm. Truth was, she didn't have much in the room—some books, a few photos of home, some posters... She hadn't even had a chance to call it home, and for whatever reason, she'd never really felt safe there. It had always felt like... a warehouse. A warehouse for kids who were, one way or another, going to leave.
She limped over to the Quad, which was a big empty concrete space with some rickety old benches and picnic tables, cornered on all sides by squat, unappealing buildings that mostly just looked like boxes with windows. Architecture-student projects, probably. She heard a rumor that one of them had fallen down a few years back, but then, she'd also heard rumors about a janitor getting beheaded in the chem lab and haunting the building, and zombies roaming the grounds after dark, so she wasn't putting too much stock in it.
It was midafternoon already, and not a lot of students were hanging around the Quad, with its lack of shade—great design, considering that the weather was still hovering up in the high nineties in September. Claire picked up a campus paper from the stand, carefully took a seat on the blazing-hot bench, and opened it to the "Housing" section. Dorm rooms were out of the question; Howard Hall and Lansdale Hall were the only two that took in girls under twenty. She wasn't old enough to qualify for the coed dorms. Stupid rules were probably written when girls wore hoopskirts, she thought, and skipped the dorm listings until she got to off campus. Not that she was really allowed to be living off campus; Mom and Dad would have a total freak-out over it, no question. But... if it was between Monica and parental freakage, she'd take the latter. After all, the important thing was to get herself someplace where she felt safe, where she could study.
She dug in her backpack, found her cell phone, and checked for coverage. It was kind of lame in Morganville, truthfully, out in the middle of the prairie, in the middle of Texas, which was about as middle of nowhere as it was possible to get unless you wanted to go to Mongolia or something. Two bars. Not great, but it'd do.
Claire started dialing numbers. The first person told her that they'd already found somebody, and hung up before she could even say, "Thanks." The second one sounded like a weird old guy. The third one was a weird old lady. The fourth one... well, the fourth one was just plain weird.
The fifth listing down read,
three roomates seeking fourth,
huge old house, privacy assured, reasonable rent and utilities.
Which... okay, she wasn't sure that she could afford "reasonable"—she was more looking for "dirt cheap"—but at least it sounded less weird than the others. Three roommates. That meant three more people who'd maybe take up for her if Monica and company came sniffing around... or at least take up for the house. Hmmmmm.
She called, and got an answering machine with a mellow-sounding, young-sounding male voice.
"Hello, you've reached the Glass House. If you're looking for Michael, he sleeps days. If you're looking for Shane, good luck with that, cause we never know where the hell he is"—distant laughter from at least two people—"and if you're looking for Eve, you'll probably get her on her cell phone or at the shop. But hey. Leave a message. And if you're looking to audition for the room, come on by. It's 716 West Lot Street." A totally different voice, a female one lightened up by giggles like bubbles in soda, said, "Yeah, just look for the mansion." And then a third voice, male again. "Gone with the Wind meets The Munsters." More laughter, and a beep.
Claire blinked, coughed, and finally said, "Um... hi. My name is Claire? Claire Danvers? And I was, um, calling about the, um, room thing. Sorry." And hung up in a panic. Those three people sounded... normal. But they sounded pretty close, too. And in her experience, groups of friends like that just didn't open up to include underage, undersized geeks like her. They hadn't sounded mean; they just sounded—self-confident. Something she wasn't.
She checked the rest of the listings, and felt her heart actually sink a little. Maybe an inch and a half, with a slight sideways twist. God, I'm dead. She couldn't sleep out here on a bench like some homeless loser, and she couldn't go back to the dorm; she had to do something.
Fine, she thought, and snapped her phone shut, then open again to dial a cab.
Seven sixteen Lot Street. Gone with the Wind meets The Munsters. Right.
Maybe they'd at least feel sorry enough for her to put her up for one lousy night.
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The cabbie—she figured he was just about the only cabdriver in Morganville, which apart from the campus at TPU on the edge of town had only about ten thousand people in it—took an hour to show up. Claire hadn't been in a car in six weeks, since her parents had driven her into town. She hadn't been much beyond a block of the campus, either, and then just to buy used books for class.
"You meeting someone?" the cabbie asked. She was staring out the window at the storefronts: used-clothing shops, used-book shops, computer stores, stores that sold nothing but wooden Greek letters. All catering to the college.
"No," she said. "Why?"
The cabbie shrugged. "Usually you kids are meeting up with friends. If you're looking for a good time—"
She shivered. "I'm not. I'm—yes, I'm meeting some people. If you could hurry, please...?"
He grunted and took a right turn, and the cab went from Collegetown to Creepytown in one block flat. She couldn't define how it happened exactly—the buildings were pretty much the same, but they looked dim and old, and the few people moving on the streets had their heads down and were walking fast. Even when people were walking in twos or threes, they weren't chatting. When the cab passed, people looked up, then down again, as if they'd been looking for another kind of car.
A little girl was walking with her hand in her mother's, and as the cab stopped for a light, the girl waved, just a little. Claire waved back.
The girl's mother looked up, alarmed, and hustled her kid away into the black mouth of a store that sold used electronics. Wow, Claire thought. Do I look that scary? Maybe she did. Or maybe Morganville was just ultracareful of its kids.
Funny, now that she thought about it, there was something missing in this town. Signs. She'd seen them all her life stapled to telephone poles... advertisements for lost dogs, missing kids or adults.
Nothing here. Nothing.
"Lot Street," the cabbie announced, and squealed to a stop. "Ten fifty."
For a five-minute ride? Claire thought, amazed, but she paid up. She thought about shooting him the finger as he drove away, but he looked kind of dangerous, and besides, she really wasn't the kind of girl who did that sort of thing. Usually. It was a bad day, though.
She hoisted her backpack again, hit a bruise on her shoulder, and nearly dropped the weight on her foot. Tears stung at her eyes. All of a sudden she felt tired and shaky again, scared... At least on campus she'd kind of been on relatively familiar ground, but out here in town it was like being a stranger, all over again.
Morganville was brown. Burned brown by the sun, beaten down by wind and weather. Hot summer was starting to give way to hot autumn, and the leaves on the trees—what trees there were—looked gray-edged and dry, and they rattled like paper in the wind. West Lot Street was near what passed for the downtown district in town, probably an old residential neighborhood. Nothing special about the homes that she could see... ranch houses, most of them with peeling, faded paint.
She counted house numbers, and realized she was standing in front of 716. She turned and looked behind her, and gasped, because whoever the guy had been on the phone, he'd been dead-on right in his description. Seven sixteen looked like a movie set, something straight out of the Civil War. Big graying columns. A wide front porch. Two stories of windows.
The place was huge. Well, not huge—but bigger than Claire had imagined. Like, big enough to be a frat house, and probably perfectly suited to it. She could just imagine Greek letters over the door.
It looked deserted, but to be fair every house on the block looked deserted. Late afternoon, nobody home from work yet. A few cars glittered in the white-hot sunshine, finish softened by a layer of dirt. No cars in front of 716, though.
This was such a bad idea, she thought, and there were those tears again, bubbling up along with panic. What was she going to do? Walk up to the door and beg to be a roommate? How lame-ass was that? They'd think she was pathetic at best, a head case at worst. No, it had been a dumb idea to even blow the money on cab fare.
It was hot, and she was tired and she hurt and she had homework due, and no place to sleep, and all of a sudden, it was just too much.
Claire dropped her backpack, buried her bruised face in both hands, and just started sobbing like a baby. Crybaby freak, she imagined Monica saying, but that just made her sob harder, and all of a sudden the idea of going home, going home to Mom and Dad and the room she knew they'd kept open for her, seemed better, better than anything out here in the scary, crazy world...
"Hey," a girl's voice said, and someone touched her on the elbow. "Hey, are you okay?"
Claire yelped and jumped, landed hard on her strained ankle, and nearly toppled over. The girl who'd scared her reached out and grabbed her arm to steady her, looking genuinely scared herself. "I'm sorry! God, I'm such a klutz. Look, are you okay?"
The girl wasn't Monica, or Jen, or Gina, or anybody else she'd seen around the campus at TPU; this girl was way Goth. Not in a bad way—she didn't have the sulky I'm-so-not-cool-I'm-cool attitude of most of the Goths Claire had known in school—but the dyed-black, shag-cut hair, the pale makeup, the heavy eyeliner and mascara, the red-and-black-striped tights and clunky black shoes and black pleated miniskirt... very definitely a fan of the dark side.
"My name's Eve," the girl said, and smiled. It was a sweet, funny kind of smile, something that invited Claire to share in a private joke. "Yeah, my parents really named me that, go figure. It's like they knew how I'd turn out." Her smile faded, and she took a good look at Claire's face. "Wow. Jeez, nice black eye. Who hit you?"
"Nobody." Claire said it instantly, without even thinking why, although she knew in her bones that Goth Eve was in no way bestest friends with preppy Monica. "I had an accident."
"Yeah," Eve agreed softly. "I used to have those kinds of accidents, falling into fists and stuff. Like I said, I'm a klutz. You okay? You need a doctor or something? I can drive you if you want."
She gestured to the street next to them, and Claire realized that while she'd been sobbing her eyes out, an ancient beater of a black Cadillac—complete with tail fins—had been docked at the curb. There was a cheery-looking skull dangling from the rearview mirror, and Claire had no doubt that the back bumper would be plastered with stickers for emo bands nobody had ever heard of.
She liked Eve already. "No," she said, and swiped at her eyes angrily with the back of her hand. "I, uh—look, I'm sorry. It's been a really awful day. I was coming to ask about the room, but—"
"Right, the room!" Eve snapped her fingers, as if she'd forgotten all about it, and jumped up and down two or three times in excitement. "Great! I'm just home for break—I work over at Common Grounds, you know, the coffee shop?—and Michael won't be up for a while yet, but you can come in and see the house if you want. I don't know if Shane's around, but—"
"I don't know if I should—"
"You should. You totally should." Eve rolled her eyes. "You wouldn't believe the losers we see trying to get in the door. I mean, seriously. Freaks. You're the first normal one I've seen so far. Michael would kick my ass if I let you get away without at least trying a sales pitch."
Claire blinked. Somehow, she'd been thinking that she'd be the one begging for them to consider her... and normal? Eve thought she was normal?
"Sure," she heard herself say. "Yeah. I'd like that."
Eve grabbed her backpack and slung it over her own shoulder, on top of her black silver-studded purse in the shape of a coffin. "Follow me." And she bounced away, up the walk to the gracious Southern Gothic front porch to unlock the door.
Up close, the house looked old, but not really run-down as such; weathered, Claire decided. Could have used some paint here and there, and the cast-iron chairs needed a coat, too. The front door was actually double-sized, with a big stained-glass panel at the top.
"Yo!" Eve yelled, and dumped Claire's backpack on a table in the hallway, her purse next to it, her keys in an antique-looking ashtray with a cast-iron monkey on the handle. "Roomies! We've got a live one!"
It occurred to Claire, as the door boomed shut behind her, that there were a couple of ways to interpret that, and one of them—the Texas Chainsaw Massacre way—wasn't good. She stopped moving, frozen, and just looked around.
Nothing overtly creepy about the inside of the house, at least. Lots of wood, clean and simple. Chips of paint knocked off of corners, like it had seen a lot of life. It smelled like lemon polish and—chili?
"Yo!" Eve yelled again, and clumped on down the hall. It opened up to a bigger room; from what Claire could see, there were big leather couches and bookshelves, like a real home. Maybe this was what off-campus housing looked like. If so, it was a big step up from dorm life. "Shane, I smell the chili. I know you're here! Get your headphones out of your ears!"
She couldn't quite imagine Texas Chainsaw Massacre taking place in a room like that, either. That was a plus. Or, for that matter, serial-killing roommates doing something as homey as making chili. Good chili, from the way it smelled. With... garlic?
She took a couple of hesitant steps down the hallway. Eve's footsteps were clunking off into another room, maybe the kitchen. The house seemed very quiet. Nothing jumped out to scare her, so Claire proceeded, one careful foot after another, all the way into the big central room.
And a guy lying sprawled on the couch—the way only guys could sprawl—yawned and sat up rubbing his head. When Claire opened her mouth—whether to say hello or to yell for help, she didn't know—he surprised her ...
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Book Description Paw Prints 2007-12-15, 2007. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1435222369
Book Description Paw Prints, 2007. Library Binding. Condition: Brand New. reprint edition. 247 pages. 7.00x4.25x0.75 inches. In Stock. Seller Inventory # z-1435222369
Book Description Paw Prints 2007-12-15, 2007. Library Binding. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P111435222369
Book Description Paw Prints 2007-12-15, 2007. Library Binding. Condition: New. Ships with Tracking Number! INTERNATIONAL WORLDWIDE Shipping available. Buy with confidence, excellent customer service!. Seller Inventory # 1435222369n