Midnight Alley


Chapter One

Parents had some kind of sin radar, Claire thought. They always called when you were in the middle of something you just knew they'd consider wrong. Or at least risky.

Claire Danvers slid off of her boyfriend Shane's lap with a regretful sigh, licked her damp, tingling lips, and went to answer the ringing phone in the kitchen. Michael was just getting up from the table to grab it, but Claire waved him off. She just knew it would be her mother.

She was right.

"Claire! Oh my goodness, I've been worried sick, honey. We've been trying to call you on your cell for days, and -- "

Crap. Claire rubbed her forehead in frustration. "Mom, I wrote you guys an email, remember? My cell got lost, I'm still working on getting another one." Best not to mention how it had gotten lost. Best not to mention anything about how dangerous her life had gotten since she'd moved to Morganville, Texas.

"Oh," Mom said, and then, more slowly, "oh. Well, your father forgot to tell me about that. You know, he's the one who checks the email. I don't like computers."

"Yes, Mom, I know." Mom really wasn't that bad, but she was notoriously nervous with computers, and for good reason; they had a tendency to short out around her.

Mom was still talking. "Is everything going all right? How are classes? Interesting?"

Claire opened the refrigerator door and retrieved a red can of Coke, which she popped open and chugged to give herself time to think what, if anything to tell her parents. Mom, there was a little trouble. See, my boyfriend's dad came to town with some bikers and killed people, and nearly killed us too. Oh, and the vampires are angry about it. And so to save my friends, I had to sign a contract, so now I'm basically the slave of the most bad-ass vampire in town.

Yeah, that wouldn't go over well.

Besides, even if she said it, Mom wouldn't understand it. Mom had been to Morganville, but she hadn't really seen. People didn't. And if they did, they either never left town, or had their memories wiped on the way out.

And if by some chance they started to remember, bad things could happen to them. Terminally bad things.

So instead, Claire said, "Classes are great, Mom. I aced all my exams last week."

"Of course you did. Don't you always?"

Yeah, but last week I had to take my exams while worrying if somebody was going to stick a knife in my back. It could have had an effect on my GPA. Stupid to be proud of that ... "Everything's fine here. I'll let you know when I get the new cell phone, okay?" Claire hesitated, then asked, "How are you? How's Dad?"

"Oh, we're fine, honey. We miss you is all. But your father's still not happy about you living in that place, off campus, with those older kids -- "

Of all the things for Mom to remember, she had to remember that. And of course Claire couldn't tell her why she was living off campus with eighteen-year-olds, especially when two of them were boys. Mom hadn't gotten around to mentioning the boys yet, but it was just a matter of time.

"Mom, I told you how mean the girls were to me in the dorm. It's better here, really. They're my friends. And really, they're great."

Mom didn't sound too convinced. "You're being careful, though. About those boys."

Well, that hadn't taken long. "Yes, I'm being careful about the boys." She was even being careful about Shane, though that was mostly because Shane never forgot that Claire was not-quite-seventeen, and he was not-quite-nineteen. Not a huge age difference, but legally? Huger than huge, if her parents got upset about it. Which they definitely would. "Everybody here says hello, by the way. Ah, Michael's waving."

Michael Glass, the second boy in the house, had settled down at the kitchen table and was reading a newspaper, looked up and gave her a wide-eyed no-you-don't shake of his head. He'd had a bad enough time of it with her parents the last time, and now ... well, things were even worse, if that was possible. At least when he'd met them, Michael had been half-normal: fully human by night, an incorporeal ghost by day, and trapped in the house twenty-four/seven.

For Morganville, that was half-normal.

In order to help get Shane out of trouble, Michael had made a terrible choice -- he'd gained his freedom from the house, and gotten physical form all the