Carpe Corpus


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