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Feast of Fools (The Morganville Vampires #4)
Author: Rachel Caine

Chapter One

It was hard to imagine how Claire's day - even by Morganville standards - could get any worse ... and then the vampires holding her hostage wanted breakfast.

"Breakfast?" Claire repeated blankly. She took a look at the living room window, just to prove to herself that, yes, it was still dark outside. Getting darker all the time.

The three vampires all looked at her. It was bad enough having that kind of attention from the two she hadn't properly met yet - man and woman, eerily pretty - but when the cold, old Mr. Bishop's eyes focused her way, it made her want to curl up in a corner and hide.

She held his stare for a full five seconds, then looked down. She could almost feel him smiling.

"Breakfast," he said softly, "is something to be eaten in the mornings. Mornings for vampires are not controlled by sunrise. And I like eggs."

"Scrambled or over easy?" Claire asked, trying not to sound as nervous as she felt. Don't say over easy. I don't know how to make eggs over easy. I don't even know why I mentioned it. Don't say over easy. . . .

"Scrambled," he said, and Claire's breath rushed out in relief. Mr. Bishop was sitting in the comfortable chair in the living room that her housemate Michael normally occupied while he was playing his guitar. Unlike Michael, Mr. Bishop made it look like a throne. Part of it was that everybody else stayed standing -  Claire, with her boyfriend, Shane, hovering protectively by her side; Eve and Michael a little distance away, holding hands. Claire risked a glance at Michael. He looked . . . contained. Angry, sure, but under control, at least.

Claire was more scared about Shane. He had a pretty well-documented history of acting before thinking, at least when it came to the personal safety of those he cared about. She took his hand, and he sent her a quick, dark, unreadable glance.

No, she wasn't sure about him at all.

Mr. Bishop's voice pulled her attention back to him with a cold snap. "Have you told Amelie that I've arrived, girl?"

That had been Bishop's first command - to let his daughter know he'd come to town. His daughter? Amelie - the head vampire of Morganville - didn't seem human enough to have family, not even family as scary as Mr. Bishop. Ice and crystal, that was Amelie.

He was waiting for an answer, and Claire hastily got one together. "I called. I got her voice mail," Claire said. She tried not to sound defensive. Bishop's eyebrows drew together in a scowl.

"I suppose that means you left some sort of a message. " She nodded mutely. He drummed his fingers impatiently on the arm of the chair. "Very well. We'll eat while we wait. Eggs, scrambled, as I said. We shall also have bacon, coffee - "

"Biscuits," drawled the woman leaning on the arm of his chair. "I love biscuits. And honey." The vampire had a molasses-slow accent, something that wasn't quite Southern and wasn't quite not, either. Mr. Bishop gave her a tolerant look, the kind a human would give a favorite pet. She had the icy glitter in her eyes, and moved so smoothly and quietly that there was no way she was regular-flavored human. Not hiding it, either, the way some of the vampires of Morganville tried to do.

The woman kept smiling, dark eyes fixed on Shane. Claire didn't like the way she was looking at him. It looked - greedy.

"Biscuits," Mr. Bishop agreed, with a quirk of a smile. "And I'll indulge you further by agreeing to gravy, child." The smile vanished when he turned back to the four standing in front of him. "Go about your business, then. Now."

Shane grabbed Claire's hand and practically dragged her toward the kitchen. However fast he was moving, Michael was there first, pushing Eve through the door. "Hey!" Eve protested. "I'm walking here!"

"And the faster, the better," Michael said. His normally angelic face looked stark, all sharp edges, and he closed the kitchen door once they were safely inside. "Right. We don't have a lot of choices. Let's do exactly what he says and hope Amelie can sort all this out when she gets here."

"I thought you were all Big Bad Bloodsucker these days," Shane said. "It's your house. How come you can't just throw them out?" That was a reasonable question, and Shane managed to say it without making it seem like a challenge. Well, much of one. The kitchen felt cold, Claire noticed - as if the temperature of the whole house was steadily dropping. She shivered.

"It's complicated," Michael said. He yanked open cabinets and began assembling the makings of fresh coffee. "Yeah, it's our house" - emphasis, Claire noted, on the our - "but if I revoke Bishop's invitation, he will still kick our asses, I guarantee you."

Shane leaned his butt against the stove and crossed his arms. "I just thought you were supposed to be stronger than them on home ground - "

"Supposed to be. I'm not." Michael spooned coffee into the filter. "Don't be an ass**le right now - we don't have time for it."

"Dude, I wasn't trying to be." And Claire could tell he actually meant it this time. Michael seemed to hear it, too, and sent Shane an apologetic glance. "I'm trying to figure out how big a pile of crap we're in. Not blaming you, man." He hesitated a second, then continued. "How do you know? Whether or not you have a chance?"

"Any other vampire I meet, I know where I stand with them. Who's stronger, who's weaker, whether or not I could take them in a straight-up fight if it came to that." Michael poured water into the machine and switched it on to brew. "These guys, I know I haven't got a chance in hell. Not against one of them, much less all three, not even with the house itself backing me up. They're badass, man. Truly black hat. It's going to take Amelie or Oliver to handle this."

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