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Home > Carpe Corpus (The Morganville Vampires #6)

Carpe Corpus (The Morganville Vampires #6)
Author: Rachel Caine

Chapter One

"Happy birthday, honey!"

In the glow of the seventeen candles on Claire's birthday cake, her mother looked feverishly happy, wearing the kind of forced smile that was way too com mon around the Danvers house these days.

It was way too common all over Morganville, Texas. People smiled because they had to, or else.

Now it was Claire's turn to suck it up and fake it.

"Thanks, Mom," she said, and stretched her lips into something that didn't really feel like a smile at all. She rose from her chair at the kitchen table to blow out the candles. All seventeen of the flames guttered and went out at her first puff. I wish . . .

She didn't dare wish for anything, and that, more than anything else, made frustration and anger and grief roll over her in a hot, sticky wave. This wasn't the birthday she'd been planning for the past six months, since she'd arrived in Morganville. She'd been counting on a party at her home, with her friends. Michael would have played his guitar, and she could almost see that lost, wonderful smile he had when he was deep in the music. Eve, cheerfully and defiantly Goth, would have baked some outrageous and probably inedible cake in the shape of a bat, with licorice icing and black candles. And Shane . . .

Shane would have . . .

Claire couldn't think about Shane, because it made her breath lock up in her throat, made her eyes burn with tears. She missed him. No, that was wrong . . . missed him was too mild. She needed him. But Shane was locked up in a cage in the center of town, along with his father, the idiot vampire hunter.

She still couldn't quite get her head around the fact that Morganville - a normal, dusty Texas town in the middle of nowhere - was run by vampires. But she could believe that more easily than the idea that Frank Collins was somehow going to make it all better.

After all, she'd met the man.

Bishop - the new master vampire of Morganville - was planning something splashy in the way of executions for Frank and Shane, which apparently was the old-school standard for getting rid of humans with ideas of grandeur. Nobody had bothered to fill her in on the details, and she guessed she should be grateful for that. It would certainly be medievally awful.

The worst thing about that, for Claire, was that there seemed to be nothing she could do to stop it. Nothing. What was the use of being a main evil minion if you couldn't even enjoy it - or save your own friends?

Evil minion. Claire didn't like to think of herself that way, but Eve had flung it at her the last time they'd spoken.

And of course, as always, Eve was right.

A slice of birthday cake - vanilla, with vanilla frosting and little pastel sprinkles (and the exact opposite of what Eve would have baked) - landed in front of her, on her mom's second-best china. Mom had made the cake from scratch, even the frosting; she didn't believe in ready-made anything. It'd be delicious, but Claire already knew that she wouldn't care. Eve's fantasy cake would have tasted awful, left her teeth and tongue black, and Claire would have loved every bite.

Claire picked up her fork, blinked back her tears, and dug into her birthday treat. She mumbled, "Wonderful, Mom!" around a mouthful of cake that tasted like air and sadness.

Her dad seated himself at the table and accepted a slice, too. "Happy birthday, Claire. Got any plans for the rest of the day?"

She'd had plans. All kinds of plans. She'd imagined this party a million times, and in every single version, it had ended with her and Shane alone.

Well, she was alone. So was he.

They just weren't alone together.

Claire swallowed and kept her gaze down on the plate. She was about to say the honest truth: no. She didn't have any plans. But the thought of being stuck here all day with her parents, with their frightened eyes and joyless smiles, was too much for her. "Yeah," she said. "I'm . . . supposed to go to the lab. Myrnin wants me."

Myrnin was her boss - her vampire boss - and she hated him. She hadn't always hated him, but he'd betrayed her one time too many, and the last time had been a doozy: he'd turned her and Michael and Shane over to their worst enemy, just because it was easier for him than being loyal to them when things got tough.

She could practically hear Shane's voice, heavy on the irony: Well, he's a vampire. What did you expect?

Something better, she guessed. And maybe that made her an idiot, because, hey, vampire, and Myrnin had never been big on sanity anyway. She would have refused to work for him after that . . . only she couldn't refuse anything Bishop ordered her to do directly. Magic. Claire didn't believe in magic - that was, as far as she was concerned, just science that hadn't been fully investigated yet - but this felt uncomfortably close to meeting the standard definition.

She didn't like to think of that moment when she became - as Eve had so clearly put it - the pawn of evil, because she was afraid, down in the sickest depths of her nightmares, that she'd made the wrong choice. As she reached for her glass of Coke, her long-sleeved shirt slipped back on her forearm to reveal what Bishop had done to her - blue ink, like some tribal biker tattoo, only this ink moved. Watching it slowly revolve and writhe under her skin made her sick.

No such thing as magic. No such thing.

Claire tugged her sleeve back down to hide it - not from her parents; they couldn't see anything wrong with her arm at all. It was something only she could see, and the vampires. She thought that it had gotten a little lighter since the day that Bishop had forced it on her, but maybe that was just wishful thinking. If it fades out enough, maybe it'll stop working. Stop forcing her to obey him when he gave her orders.

She had no way of knowing whether it was getting weaker, one way or the other, unless she was willing to risk openly defying Bishop. That was slightly less healthy than swimming in a shark tank, smeared with fish oil and wearing a big Eat Me sign.

She'd ransacked Myrnin's library, looking for any hint of what Bishop had done to her, and how to get rid of it, but if the information was there, he'd hidden it away too well for her to find. For your own good, he'd probably have said, but she wouldn't believe him. Not anymore. Myrnin did only what was good for him, and no one else.

At least she could define what the tattoo had done to her - it had taken away her will to say no to Mr. Bishop. It's not magic, she told herself for the thousandth time today. It's not magic because there's no such thing as magic. Everything has an explanation. We just may not understand it yet, but this tattoo thing has rules and laws, and there's got to be a way to make it go away.

Claire again tugged down the sleeve over the tattoo, and her fingers skimmed over the gold bracelet she still wore. Amelie's bracelet, with the symbol on it of the former vampire ruler of Morganville. Before Mr. Bishop had arrived, it had been a mark of Protection . . . it meant she owed Amelie taxes, usually in the form of money, services, and donated blood, and in return Amelie - and the other vampires - would play nice. It was sort of like the Mafia, with fangs. And it hadn't always worked, but it had been a lot better than walking around Morganville as a free lunch.

Now, though, the bracelet wasn't such an asset. She hadn't seen or heard from Amelie in weeks, and all of Amelie's allies seemed to be MIA. The most prominent vampires in Morganville were in hiding, or maybe even dead . . . or else they were under Bishop's control, and they had no real will of their own. Seemed like that was happening more and more as time went along. Bishop had decided it was more trouble to kill the opposition than to convert them.

Just like he'd converted her, although she was pretty much the only human he'd bothered to put directly under his thumb. He didn't have a very high opinion of people, generally.

Claire finished her cake, and then dutifully opened the birthday presents her parents brought to the table. Dad's package - wrapped by Mom, from the neat hospital corners on it - contained a nice silver necklace with a delicate little heart on it. Mom's package revealed a dress - Claire never wore dresses - in a color and cut that Claire was sure would be drastically unflattering on her smallish frame.

But she kissed them both and thanked them, promised to try the dress on later, and modeled the necklace for her dad when her mom buzzed off to the kitchen to put away the rest of the cake. She put it on over the cross necklace Shane had given her.

"Here," Dad said, trying to be helpful. "I'll get that other one off."

"No!" She slapped a hand over Shane's necklace and backed away, eyes wide, and Dad looked hurt and baffled. "Sorry. I . . . I never take this one off. It . . . was a gift."

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