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THREE

Over the next three days, Claire didn't go home for long. She was obsessive when she got into a problem, and she knew it, but this was so cool. She went to the store and bought cartloads of cheap plastic toys, which she spent hours tossing through the portal to an increasingly bored Eve, then Michael, then Shane. They had their own supply of toys, too, and pitched them through in the opposite direction.

All she got out of it, for two and a half days, was dust--so much of it that Shane told her she was on permanent vacuum duty at home, if she ever came home again. She knew that he was grumpy, both because it was boring pitching toys back and forth, but also because she'd barely seen him for days, except to come home, shovel in food, and fall into bed. She was grumpy about it, too, but there was something inside of her that was locked on target about this stupid problem, and she couldn't walk away from it. Not until something worked, or she broke.

She didn't break.

On the third day, Shane was still on catching duty. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor, leaning against the back of the sofa and wearing one of those white cotton breathing masks. He'd bought it in self-defense, he'd told her; he didn't want to be breathing in plastic toy dust and coughing up a lung.

She didn't blame him, but it did make a funny picture, at least until she'd realized the same thing on her end and gotten a mask out of Myrnin's jumbled stash of supplies. And goggles. Shane now envied her the goggles.

"Hang on," she said, after her last attempt at pitching a neon plastic ball through had turned it to dust on the other end. "I have an idea."

"So do I," Shane said. "Movies, hot dogs, and not doing this anymore. Like it?"

"Love it," she said, and meant it. "But let me do this one thing, okay?"

He sighed and let his head fall back against the sofa. "Sure, whatever."

She really was a terrible girlfriend, Claire thought, and raced across the lab, careful of all of Myrnin's various scattered trip hazards that she couldn't seem to convince him were dangerous. She arrived at the worktable, where her circuitry (with Myrnin's incomprehensible additions) quietly hummed away.

She shut the power off and checked the connections again. All of the voltage was steady; there was no reason why the other end would be unstable, unless . . .

Unless it was something Myrnin had done.

Claire began tracing the piping, which led to a spring, which led to a complicated series of gears and levers, which led to a bubbling ice-green liquid in a sealed chamber. . . .

Only it wasn't bubbling. It wasn't doing anything, even when she turned the power on. She distinctly remembered him explaining that it was supposed to bubble. She had no idea why that was important, but she supposed that maybe the bubbling created some kind of pressure, which . . . did what?

Exasperated, she thumped the thing with her finger.

It started to bubble. She blinked, watched the whole thing for a while, decided that it wasn't going to blow up or boil over, and went back to where Shane was pretending to snore on the other side of the portal.

"Heads up, slacker!" she said, and pitched another neon ball at him, hard.

Shane's reactions were really, really good, and he got his eyes open and hands up at the same time . . .

. . . and the ball smacked firmly into his grip.

Shane stared down at it for a second, then stripped off his mask as he turned it over in his fingers.

"Is it okay?" Claire asked breathlessly. "Is it--"

"Feels fine," he said. "Damn. Unbelievable." He pitched it back to her, and she caught it. It felt exactly the same--not even a little warm or a little cool. She threw it back, and he responded, and before long they were laughing and whooping and feeling incredibly giddy. She raised the ball over her head and jumped around in a circle, just like Eve would have, and made herself dizzy.

She whirled around to an unsteady stop, and Shane caught her.

Because he was here, in the lab with her, instead of on the other side of the portal. Her brain sent a message of Oh, he feels so good, just about a half second before the logical part kicked in.

Claire shoved him backward, appalled and scared. "What the hell are you doing?"

"What?" Shane asked. "What did I do?"

"You . . . you came through?"

"The ball was fine."

"The ball doesn't have internal organs! Squishy parts! How could you be so crazy?" She was literally shaking now, deeply terrified that he was about to burst into a dust cloud, melt, die in her arms. How could he be so insane?

Shane looked a little off balance, as if he hadn't really expected this kind of reception, but he looked back at the portal, the piles of dust, and said, "Oh. Yeah, I see your point. But I'm fine, Claire. It worked."

"How do you know you're fine? Shane, you could die!" She rushed at him, threw her arms around him, and now she could feel his heart beating fast. He hugged her, held her while she tried to get her panic under control, and gently kissed the top of her head.

"You're right; it was dumb," he said. "Stop. Relax. You did it, okay? You made it work. Just . . . breathe."

"Not until you go see the doctor," she said. "Dumb-ass." She was still scared, still shaking, but she tried to get the old Claire back, the one who could face down snarling vampires. But this was different.

What if she'd just killed him? Broken something inside him that couldn't grow back?

Myrnin came in from the back room, carrying a load of books, which he dropped with a loud bang on the floor to glare at the two of them. "Excuse me," he said, "but when did my lab become appropriate for snogging?"

"What's snogging?" Shane asked.

"Ridiculous displays of inappropriate affection in front of me. Roughly translated. And what are you doing here?" Myrnin was genuinely offended, Claire realized. Not good.

"It's my fault," Claire said in a rush, and stepped away from Shane, although she kept holding his hand. "I . . . He was helping me with the experiments."

"In what, biology?" Myrnin crossed his arms. "Are we running a secret laboratory or not? Because if you're going to have your friends drop in anytime they please--"

"Back off, man; she said she was sorry," Shane said. He was watching Myrnin with that cold look in his eyes, the one that was a real danger sign. "It wasn't her fault, anyway. It was mine."

"Was it?" Myrnin said softly. "And how is it that you do not understand that here, in this place, this girl belongs to me, not to you?"

Claire turned cold all over, then hot. She felt her cheeks flare red, and she hardly recognized her voice as she yelled, "I don't belong to you, Myrnin! I work for you! I'm not your . . . your slave!" She was so furious that she wasn't even shaking anymore. "I fixed your portals. And we're leaving."

"You'll leave when I--Wait, what did you say?"

Claire ignored him and picked up her backpack. She led the way up the stairs. Three steps up, she glanced back. Shane still hadn't moved. He was still watching Myrnin. Still between her and Myrnin.

"Wait," Myrnin said in an entirely different tone now. "Claire, wait. Are you saying you successfully transported an object?"

"No, she's saying she successfully transported me," Shane snapped. "And we're leaving now."

"No, no, no, wait--you can't. I must run tests; I need to have a blood sample." Myrnin rooted frantically in a drawer, came up with an ancient blood-drawing kit, and came toward Shane.

Shane looked over his shoulder at Claire. "I'm seriously going to kill this guy if he tries to stick me with that thing."

"Myrnin!" Claire snapped. "No. Not now. I'm taking him to the hospital to get him checked out. I'll make sure you get your sample. Now leave us alone."

Myrnin stopped, and he actually looked wounded. Oh stop it, Claire thought, still furious. I didn't kick your puppy.

She was almost at the top of the steps, and Shane was right behind her, when she heard Myrnin say, in a quiet voice that was like the old Myrnin, the one she actually liked, "I'm sorry, Claire. I never meant--I'm sorry. Sometimes I don't know . . . I don't know what I am thinking. I wish . . . I wish things could be like they were before."

"Me, too," Claire muttered.

She knew they wouldn't be, though.

Getting Shane seen by a doctor was trickier than she'd thought. Claire couldn't exactly explain to the emergency room what might be wrong with him, so after a complete fail at the ER, she went in search of the only doctor she knew personally--Dr. Mills--who'd treated her before, and knew about Myrnin. He'd actually helped create the antidote to the vampires' illness, so he was pretty trustworthy.

She still didn't explain about the portals, but he didn't push. He was a nice guy, middle-aged, a little tired, like most doctors usually seemed to be, but he just nodded and said, "Let me take a look at him. Shane?"

"I'm not dropping my pants," Shane said. "I just thought I'd say that up front."

Dr. Mills laughed. "Just the basics, all right? But if Claire's concerned, I'm concerned. Let's make sure you're healthy."

They walked off toward his office, leaving Claire in the waiting area with piles of ancient magazines that still wondered whether Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston would stay together. Not that she read that stuff anyway. Much.

She was still mad at Myrnin, but now she realized that it was mostly because she'd been so tired and stressed out. He hadn't been any worse than normal, really. And how much did that suck? It doesn't matter, she told herself. I did something amazing, and nobody got hurt. She knew they'd both been lucky, though. It still turned her cold to think what could have happened, all because she hadn't thought to tell Shane not to come through the portal, no matter how safe it seemed.

Doctors always seemed to take forever, and while Shane was getting checked out, Claire fidgeted and thought about the progress she'd made, and--what worried her more--the progress that Myrnin had made. Apparently. What was he thinking? It was impossible to know, but she was pretty sure he hadn't given up the idea of putting a brain--namely her brain--in a jar and hooking it up to a computer. It was the kind of totally cracked thing Myrnin would think was not only logical, but somehow helpful.

She really didn't want to end up in a jar, like Ada had before her. A ghost, slowly going mad because she couldn't touch, be touched, be human. Although in Ada's case, she'd been a vampire. But still, Ada hadn't exactly come through it with all her marbles. Oh, she'd seemed to do her job, running the systems; she'd kept the portals open and the boundaries closed, issued alerts when residents tried to flee, probably even done a lot more that Claire had never seen. But in the end, Ada had gotten less and less sane, and more and more determined to keep Myrnin all to herself, and never mind the rest of Morganville.

And Myrnin hadn't been able to admit that there was a problem.

That brought a bad flashback of Ada's proper Victorian school-mistress image standing in front of her, hands folded, smiling. Waiting for Claire to die.

Well, I didn't die, Claire thought, and controlled a shudder. Ada died. And I'm not ending up like Ada, some insane thing trying to stay alive at any cost. . . .

She flinched as someone touched her shoulder, but it was Shane. He grinned down at her. "Hospitals freak you out?"

"They ought to," she shot back. "You're always ending up in here."

"Not fair. You've had your turns, too."

She had, more than she liked. Claire scrambled to her feet, grabbed her stuff, and saw Dr. Mills standing a few feet away. He was smiling. That was a good sign, right?

"He's fine," the doctor said, in such a soothing voice Claire knew she was looking anxious. Or panicked. "Whatever he was accidentally exposed to, I can't find anything that's off. But if you start feeling odd, dizzy, experiencing any pain or discomfort, be sure to call me, Shane."

Shane, his back to the doctor, rolled his eyes, then turned and said a polite thank-you. "How much do I owe you, Doc?"

Dr. Mills raised his eyebrows. "I see you're wearing Amelie's pin."

Shane was, haphazardly stuck in the collar of his shirt; he'd bitched about it at first, but Claire had insisted they all wear the pins, all the time. Amelie had promised that they would identify them as a special kind of neutral, free from attack by any vampires--though she'd yet to test out the theory.

Apparently, they were also gold cards, because Dr. Mills continued. "There's no charge for services for friends of Morganville."

Shane frowned, and it looked like he might argue, but Claire pulled on his arm, and he let himself be led away to the elevators. "Never turn down free," she said.

"I don't like it," Shane said, before the doors even closed. "I don't like being some charity case."

"Yeah, well, trust me: you couldn't afford his bill anyway." She turned toward him as the elevator beeped its descent to the ground floor, and stepped closer. "You're okay. You're really okay."

"Told you I was." He bent down, and she turned her face up, but they had time for only a quick, sweet kiss before the doors opened and they had to dodge out of the way of a gurney with a patient on it. Shane took her hand, and they walked out of the hospital lobby and into the late-afternoon sun.

On the way out she caught a glimpse of a face in shadows, pale and sharp and hard. An older man with a vivid scar marring his face.

Claire stopped walking, and Shane continued on for a step before looking back at her. "What?" he asked, and turned to see where she was staring.

Nothing was there now, but Claire was sure of what she'd seen, even in that brief flash.

Shane's father, Frank Collins, had been watching them. That was unsettling, creepy. She hadn't seen Frank in a while--not since he'd saved her life. She'd heard that he'd been around, but seeing him was an entirely different thing.

Frank Collins was the world's most reluctant vampire, and besides that, she was sure that he was the person Shane least wanted to see.

"Nothing," she said, and focused her attention back on Shane with a smile that she hoped was happy. "I'm so glad you're okay."

"So, how do we celebrate my okayness? It's my day off. Let's go crazy. Glow-in-the-dark bowling?"

"No."

"I'll let you use the kiddie ball."

"Shut up. I do not need the kiddie ball."

"The way you bowl, I think you might." He grabbed her in an exaggerated formal dance pose and whirled her around, backpack and all, which didn't make her any more graceful. "Ballroom dancing?"

"Are you insane?"

"Hey, girls who tango are hot."

"You think I'm not hot because I don't tango?"

He dropped the act. Shane was a smart boy. "I think you are too hot for ballroom or bowling. So you tell me. What do you want to do? And don't say study."

Well, she hadn't been going to. Although she'd considered it. "How about the movies?"

"How about borrowing Eve's car and going to the drive-in movie?"

"Morganville still has a drive-in theater? What is this, 1960?"

"I know, goofy, but it's kind of cool. Somebody bought it a few years ago and fixed it up. It's the hot place to take a hot date. Well, hotter than the bowling alley, because . . . privacy."

It sounded weird, but Claire thought that in fairness, it did seem more romantic than the bowling alley, and less old-folks than ballroom dancing. "What's showing?"

Shane gave her a sidelong look. "Why? You planning on watching the movie?"

She laughed. He tickled her. She shrieked and ran on ahead, but he caught her and tackled her down to the grass of the park on the corner, and for a couple of seconds she kept laughing and struggling, but then he kissed her, and the sensation of his warm, soft lips moving on hers took all the fight right out of her. It felt wonderful, lying here on the grass, with the sun shining on them, and for a few minutes she was floating in a soft, warm cloud of delight, as if nothing in the world could ever ruin this feeling.

Until a police siren let out a sharp burst of noise, and Shane yelped and rolled off of her and up to his feet, ready for . . . what? Fighting? He knew better. Besides, as Claire struggled up to her elbows, she saw that the police car that had pulled up to the curb was--once again--Chief Hannah Moses. She was laughing, her teeth very white against her dark skin.

"Relax, Shane; I just didn't want you scaring the little old ladies," Hannah said. "I'm not hauling you in. Unless you've got something to confess."

"Hey, Chief. Didn't know kissing was against the code."

"There's probably something about public displays of affection, but I'm not so much bothered by that." She pointed at the western horizon, where the sun was brushing the edge. "Time to be getting home."

Shane looked where she pointed, and nodded, suddenly sobered. "Thanks. Lost track of time."

"Well, I can see how." She waved and pulled away, off to deliver helpful encouragement to other wandering potential victims. It was different from the way Monica's brother, Richard Morrell, used to do things, and before him the old police chief, but Claire kind of liked it. It seemed . . . more caring.

Shane held out his hand and pulled her to her feet, and helped her dust the grass off, which was mainly just an excuse to be handsy. Which she didn't mind at all. "Did you see my ninja move? That was fast, right?"

"You are not a ninja, Shane."

"I've watched all the movies. I just haven't gotten the certificate from the correspondence course yet."

She smiled; she couldn't help it. Her lips were still tingling, and she wanted him to kiss her again, but Hannah was right--sundown was a bad time to make out in public. "I've thought about the drive-in."

"And?"

She fell in beside him as they walked toward home. "I don't care what's playing after all."

His eyebrows rose. "Sweet."

Michael wasn't home when they got there, but Eve was, buzzing around upstairs. Claire could immediately tell, because either it was Eve in those shoes, or the hoof beats of a small pony. Not that Eve was large; she just . . . clomped. It was the big, heavy boots.

"It's chili-dog night," Shane said. "How many?"

"Two," Claire said.

"Really? That's a lot for you."

"I'm celebrating the fact that you didn't fry out your brain being stupid."

He crossed his eyes and let his tongue loll, which was disgusting and funny, and smacked the side of his head to put everything back right again. "Jury's still out on that one. Two chili dogs, coming up."

"Hey!" Claire called after him, as she leaned her backpack against the wall. "No onions!"

"Your loss!"

"I meant for you! Not if you want to get kissed tonight!"

"Damn, girl. Harsh."

She grinned and ran up the stairs, intending to use the bathroom--but Eve was breathlessly rushing toward it. "Wait, wait, wait!" she squeaked. "I have to finish my makeup! Please?"

Claire blinked. The outfit, even for Eve, was a little much . . . a skintight black minidress with all kinds of lacing and buckles, fishnet hose, and big plaid boots with two-inch-thick soles that came up to her knees. "Sure," she said. "Uh--where are you going?" "Cory--you know, the girl from the UC coffee bar, the one who isn't a butthead?--she's going to this rave thing, and I promised her I'd go with, just so she doesn't feel so weird. She's not much of a partyer. It'll be an early night, but I promised her I'd be ready by seven--"

"She's picking you up?"

"Yeah. Why? You need the car?"

"If you're not using it."

"Knock yourself out--just please let me have the bathroom!"

Claire sighed. "Go ahead. And thanks. Oh, and be careful?"

"Please. I am the queen of careful. Also, princess of punk fabulousness."

She was probably right about that last part, anyway. Claire continued on down the hall to her room, closed and locked the door, and opened up her dresser to go through her choices for underwear. She wanted something pretty. Something . . . special.

In the back of the drawer, neatly folded, was a bra-and-panties set that Eve had bought her for her birthday--way too revealing, Claire had thought, since it was mostly net and little pink roses. But . . . cute. Very cute. Eve had handed it to her and whispered, "Don't open it in front of the guys. Trust me. You'll blush." And she had saved it to open in private, and stuck it in the back of a drawer, although she'd been delighted. It was like a sexy little secret she hadn't known if she'd ever actually be brave enough to share.

Now she took a deep breath, stripped off her jeans and top and plain underwear, and put on the new bra and panties. They fit--not that she expected anything else from Eve, who had an eye for that kind of thing. She was afraid to look, but Claire made herself walk over to the mirror on the back of the door.

After the blinding shock of OMG, she tried to be objective and not cover herself up with a blanket. She looked . . . naked. Well, almost. But . . . the longer she looked at it, the better she liked it. It made her tingle, just a little. What really made her tingle was the idea of what Shane would say when he saw her like this.

Because she intended for him to see it.

The jeans and T-shirt didn't seem good enough anymore. Claire went to her closet and pulled out and rejected things that just weren't right until she found a top she'd almost forgotten about--an impulse buy in Dallas, like the pink wig up on the shelf that she wore when she was in a silly mood. This was a soft, silky button-down shirt in dark red, and it fit really well--too well for her to feel comfortable wearing it to school, or to the lab, or anywhere else, for that matter.

But for this, it was perfect.

She dressed, added a touch of lipstick, and headed back. Eve was still in the bathroom, of course. Claire banged on it on the way by and yelled, "Vampire attack!"

"Tell them to bite me later!" Eve yelled back. Claire grinned and skipped down the steps, and arrived just as Shane came out of the kitchen, carrying two plates loaded with chili dogs.

He didn't quite drop them. He put them on the table and said, staring at her, "New shirt?"

She smiled. "Bought it in Dallas. Do you like it?"

"Oh, come on. What's not to like? Especially with the easy-open buttons."

"You did not say that out loud."

"Huh. I thought I did, actually."

Claire slipped into her chair. He'd gotten her a cold Coke, too, which was perfect. So were the chili dogs. He'd even left off the onions. "Delicious," she mumbled around a mouthful, and then thought that probably spoiled her fancy new look.

Her fancy new look, though, was nothing compared to Eve's outfit, and just as the doorbell rang, Eve came clattering down the stairs in her buckles and laces and fishnets and boots, and Shane's eyebrows climbed high. He chewed chili dog, swallowed, and said, "Is there some holiday I'm missing? Girls' Dress-up Day?"

"Yes, Shane, and it's a secret you will never share," Eve said. "You just benefit. So shut up."

"You look like a Goth factory exploded all over you!" he called as she ran down the hall.

"Love you, too, jackass!"

The door slammed. Shane grinned and took a huge bite of his second hot dog. "She's so sensitive," he mumbled.

"That's because you're not."

"What?"

Claire sighed. "Never mind. I should know better than to think guys would ever figure that out."

"Okay, this is not a conversation I ever intend to have. Did you get the car?"

"Eve said it's fine."

Shane wolfed down the rest of his food in record time, before she'd even tried to start her second hot dog. She shook her head, took her plate into the kitchen, and put it in the refrigerator for later . . . although she was pretty sure Shane would sneak back and eat it, too, if she didn't get to it first.

He was practically bouncing up and down to leave when she came back with the car keys, which she pitched to him underhanded; he fielded them without a pause as he headed for the door.

"Shotgun!" Claire yelled.

He laughed and opened the door, and took a giant step back, because, of all people, Amelie was standing there. She didn't come inside, although she could have; as Claire joined Shane, she looked at each of them in turn with her cool gray eyes reflecting the hallway light in a strange kind of way. Amelie was wearing her hair down these days, which was still odd to Claire, who'd become so accustomed to that white-gold hair being fastened up in a crown. The long hair made her look much younger. She'd changed how she dressed, too--instead of the formal, stiff suit jackets and skirts, she'd put on dark pants and a black, silky shirt. She was wearing a gold pendant in the shape of a lily, with a red stone in the center. It looked beautiful, and expensive, and old.

"Uh . . . hi, Amelie. Come in?" Claire moved back to give her room. Amelie smiled slightly and nodded as she walked past them. She smelled like refrigerated roses. She walked ahead of them down the hall, paused in the living room, and turned back to face Claire.

Shane was still at the door. "Where are the spear carriers?"

"Pardon?" Amelie raised pale eyebrows.

"You know, your guys. The guards."

"They're outside. They shall stay there, unless they're needed. I trust they won't be, Mr. Collins."

Shane locked the door and came back to stand beside Claire. He folded his arms and waited.

Amelie seated herself on the couch and crossed her legs, still staring at Claire and Shane. Suddenly, Claire felt as if she'd been called to the principal's office. What had she done wrong?

Amelie said, "Forgive the intrusion. I would have called, but I was in the area, and I had a moment to stop by." Claire noticed she didn't ask them if they had a moment . . . but then, she wouldn't. "Please sit."

"No, thanks," Shane said. "We were on our way out." "Ah. Well, I will be brief." She focused on him. "Your father has come to me and asked to be included in the register of vampires in Morganville. I have allowed it. I feel that I owe it to him, despite the crimes he has committed against us; after all, it was my own father who sentenced him to this life, and I know he did not want it." She was focused entirely on Shane, who had gone stiff and very still.

His eyes went flat and blank for a second, and then he straightened and took a deep breath. "I don't care what he does," he said. "Include him all you want. But he's not my father. My father died."

Claire and Shane had watched it happen. Frank Collins, fearless vampire killer, had been dragged in and attacked by Amelie's evil old vamp daddy, Bishop. He'd been drained. And he'd been brought back.

It had been beyond horrible having to see it, especially for Shane. But worse than that was knowing his dad was a vampire. And knowing that he was still walking around.

Which was why Claire hadn't mentioned her sighting of him earlier.

"I thought you might feel so," Amelie said. Her tone was cool, very neutral, and Claire shivered a little, as if she'd caught a chill. "I felt it worth the attempt to give you a chance to reconnect. Frank Collins has entered a training program we have established for new vampires to break them of bad habits and reinforce the rules of Morganville that they must live by; he will finish this program within the week. Once he does, he will have the same status as any other vampire who has signed the Morganville accords. He may not be harmed without my permission. Should anyone attempt it, I will take it personally." She continued to stare at Shane. "Anyone. I trust you do understand what I'm saying to you."

Shane just shook his head, face closed and hard. Claire wanted to take his hand, but his arms were still folded defensively across his chest. He wasn't meeting Amelie's eyes.

"Shane," the Founder of Morganville said, using his name for the first time. "I am sorry. I know this will be . . . difficult for you, considering the history between you and your father, and what has happened to him. But according to the laws of Morganville, he will also be allowed to become a Protector, if he wishes to do so. He has said that he will gladly accept the responsibility of acting as your Protector, should you choose--"

"No way in hell. Get out," Shane interrupted her. He didn't say it loudly, but there was a frightening, out-of-control look in his eyes. "Just get out. I'm not talking about this."

Amelie didn't move. She stared at him. He'd met her eyes now, and after a long, tense moment, she spread her hands in a graceful gesture, unfolded her long legs, and stood. "I have taken enough of your time," she said. "I am sorry to have upset you. Your father may well come to see you, so please remember what I've said: no matter how you feel, you cannot strike at him without consequences. Even a friend of Morganville has limits." Her icy gray eyes shifted, and Claire froze in place. "Claire, I rely on you to remind him if he should forget this."

Claire nodded, suddenly unable to speak at all. She glanced at Shane, who wasn't moving, and hurried down the hall to the door to open it for Amelie. When she did, she found Amelie's two big vampire guards, in their black suits and ties, standing on the porch, facing out toward the road.

Amelie walked past her and down the steps without another word. The guards fell in behind her, helped her into the big black limousine that idled at the curb, and as it glided off into the dark, Claire stood there watching it go.

What just happened? Things had changed so fast, and so violently, that she felt shaky.

It occurred to her that standing here with the door wide-open was a victim-type thing to do in Morganville, so she quickly closed and locked it, took a deep breath, and went back to Shane. He was sitting down on the couch at one end, staring straight at the not-currently-on TV. He was playing with the remote control, but he didn't press the power button.

"Shane . . ."

"I don't care," he said. "I don't care that Frank's still alive, because he's not my dad. He hasn't been my dad for years, not since Alyssa--not since she died. He's even less my dad now than he ever was, and he never was up for father of the year anyway. I don't want to know him. I don't want to have anything to do with him."

"I know," Claire said, and sat down next to him. "I'm sorry. But he did save my life once, and I have to think maybe he can . . . change."

Shane snorted. "He already changed--into a bloodsucking freak. What bugs me is that he has one minute of regret, and he gets to wipe out years of being a drunken asshole, beating the crap out of me, nearly getting us all killed more than once. . . . No. I'm glad he saved you. But that doesn't even start to make us even. I don't want anything to do with him."

There didn't seem to be anything she could possibly say. He was really upset--she could see it; she could feel it. "Are you okay?" What a stupid question, she thought, as soon as she said it. Of course he wasn't okay. He wouldn't be slouched like a boneless sack on the couch, staring at a dead TV with even deader eyes, if he was okay.

"If he comes here . . ." Shane swallowed. "If he comes here, you have to promise me you'll stop me from doing something stupid. Because I will, Claire."

"No, you won't," Claire said, and finally took his hand. "Shane, you won't. You're not like that. I know it's all complicated and crazy and it hurts, but you can't let him do that to you. I'll make sure Michael and Eve know that if he shows up, we just tell him to leave. He'll never get in the door."

She felt cold again--icy, in fact--and felt a hum all along her nerves. What was that? Not a draft. Definitely not a draft. It felt like . . . anger. Cold, hard anger, like the kind that was inside Shane right now--but she was feeling it from the outside.

The house.

She'd gotten used to its not doing this kind of thing anymore; the Glass House had always seemed to have a kind of presence to them, something that reflected their feelings, their fears . . . but it had died with the portal system. So she thought.

You fixed the portal system, remember? Apparently, that put the house itself back on the grid, too, which was why it was reacting to Shane's mood. She was never sure what the house understood, but she was absolutely sure it was on their side. Maybe that even meant it would make sure Frank Collins never came here again.

She reached for a blanket and pulled it over her shoulders, still shivering. If the house was showing her any reflection of Shane's anger, he was deeply upset, even though he was struggling not to show it.

Shane finally pressed the power button on the TV and dropped his left arm over her shoulders. She felt the chill ease a little. "Thanks," he said. "If you hadn't been here when she said all that, I probably would have done something pretty dumb. Or said something even dumber."

"No, you wouldn't. You're a survivor."

He kissed her on the forehead. "Takes one to know one."

"So, no drive-in?"

"It's a zombie movie."

"Well, there are good points about zombie movies. There're usually smart girls in them, for some reason. And the smart girls hardly ever get killed." Claire kissed him back, on the cheek. "Besides, I know how much you like zombie movies. Especially with chain saws and everything."

Shane flipped channels for a few seconds, then shut the TV off, got up, and held out his hand. "Chain saws," he repeated. "You're right. It's probably just what I need." He didn't let go of her hand after he'd helped her to her feet; instead, he put it on his chest, over his heart. She felt the strong, steady beat beneath. "You look great. You probably already know that."

She kissed him, and they stood together, rocking slightly from side to side, until Shane broke the kiss and smiled down at her. "Save it for the drive-in," he said, and touched her lips with one finger. "I'll drive fast."

"You'd better."
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