Read Morganville Vampires [01] Glass Houses Online

Authors: Rachel Caine

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Morganville Vampires [01] Glass Houses

BOOK: Morganville Vampires [01] Glass Houses
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Praise for Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series

“You’ll never watch the Weather Channel the same way again.”

—Jim Butcher

“The Weather Warden series is fun reading…more engaging than most TV.”


Booklist

“A kick-butt heroine who will appeal strongly to fans of Tanya Huff, Kelley Armstrong, and Charlaine Harris.”


Romantic Times

“Hugely entertaining.”

—SF Crowsnest

“A fast-paced thrill ride [that] brings new meaning to stormy weather.”


Locus

“An appealing heroine with a wry sense of humor that enlivens even the darkest encounters.”

—SF Site

“I dare you to put this book down.”


University City Review
(Philadelphia)

“Rachel Caine takes the Weather Wardens to places the Weather Channel never imagined!”

—Mary Jo Putney

GLASS HOUSES

THE MORGANVILLE VAMPIRES, BOOK ONE

R
ACHEL
C
AINE

NAL Jam

Published by New American Library, a division of

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Copyright © Roxanne Longstreet Conrad, 2006

All rights reserved

ISBN: 1-101-12850-X

NAL JAM and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

To Liz, who asked.

To my dad, Robert V. Longstreet, who dared to dream—and to be a dreamer—when it wasn’t cool.

To my mom, Hazel Longstreet, who took on the tough job of being practical in a family of impractical people, and did it brilliantly and with love. I love you both. Miss you, Dad.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Every teacher and student at Socorro High School in El Paso, Texas, and every student and professor at Texas Tech University.

None of you are in this book, but heck, if you can’t acknowledge your alma maters…!

You gave me the tools and the passion. Thank you.

1

O
n the day Claire became a member of the Glass House, somebody stole her laundry.

When she reached into the crappy, beat-up washing machine, she found nothing but the wet slick sides of the drum, and—like a bad joke—the worst pair of underwear she owned, plus one sock. She was in a hurry, of course—there were only a couple of machines on this top floor of Howard Hall, the least valued and most run-down rooms in the least valued, most run-down dorm. Two washing machines, two dryers, and you were lucky if one of them was working on any given day and didn’t eat your quarters. Forget about the dollar-bill slot. She’d never seen it work, not in the last six weeks since she’d arrived at school.

“No,” she said out loud, and balanced herself on the edge of the washer to look down into the dark, partly rusted interior. It smelled like mold and cheap detergent. Getting a closer look didn’t help.

One crappy pair of underwear, fraying at the seams. One sock.

She was missing every piece of clothing that she’d worn in the last two weeks. Every piece that she actually
wanted
to wear.

“No!” She yelled it into the washer, where it echoed back at her, and slumped back down, then kicked the washer violently in the dent made by all the other disappointed students before her. She couldn’t breathe. She had some other clothes—a few—but they were
last-choice
clothes, oh-my-God-wouldn’t-be-caught-dead clothes. Pants that were too short and made her look like a hick, shirts that were too big and too stupid, and made her look like her mom had picked them out. And she had.

Claire had about three hundred dollars left to last her for, well, months, after the latest round of calling out for pizza and buying yet
another
book for Professor Clueless Euliss, who didn’t seem to have figured out yet what subject he was teaching.

She supposed she could find some clothes, if she looked around, that wouldn’t totally blow her entire budget. After all, downtown Morganville, Texas, was the thrift shop capital of the world. Assuming she could find
anything
she could stand to wear.

Mom said this would happen,
she thought.
I just have to think. Keep my cool.

Claire threw herself into an orange plastic chair, dumped her backpack on the scratched linoleum, and put her head in her hands. Her face felt hot, and she was shaking, and she knew, just
knew,
that she was going to cry. Cry like the baby they all said she was, too young to be here, too young to be away from Mommy.

It sucked to be smart, because this was where it got you.

She gulped deep, damp breaths and sat back, willing herself not to bawl (because they’d hear), and wondered if she could call Mom and Dad for an extension on her allowance, or use the credit card that was “just for emergencies.”

Then she saw the note. Not so much “note” as graffiti, but it was addressed to her, on the painted cinder-block wall above the machines.

DEAR DORK,
it read,
WE FOUND TRASH IN THE MACHINES AND THREW IT DOWN THE CHUTE
.
IF YOU WANT IT, DIVE FOR IT.

“Shit,” she breathed, and had to blink back tears again, for an entirely different reason. Blind, stupid rage.
Monica.
Well, Monica and the Monickettes, anyway. Why was it the hot mean girls always ran in packs, like hyenas? And why, with all the shimmery hair and long tanned legs and more of Daddy’s money than Daddy’s accountants, did they have to focus on
her
?

No, she knew the answer to that.

She’d made Monica look stupid in front of her friends, and some hot upperclassmen. Not that it had been all that hard; she’d just been walking by, heard Monica saying that World War II had been “that dumbass Chinese war thing.”

And by simple reflex, she’d said, “It wasn’t.” The whole lot of them, slouched all over the couches in the dorm lobby, looked at her with as much blank surprise as if the Coke machine had just spoken up. Monica, her friends, three of the cool older frat boys.

“World War II,” Claire had plunged on, panicked and not quite sure how to get out of what she’d gotten herself into. “I just meant—well, it wasn’t the Korean War. That was later. World War II was with the Germans and the Japanese. You know, Pearl Harbor?”

And the guys had looked at Monica and laughed, and Monica had flushed—not much, but enough to ruin the cool perfection of her makeup. “Remind me not to buy any history papers off of you,” the cutest of the guys had said. “What kind of dumbass doesn’t know that?” Though Claire had been sure none of them had, really. “Chinese. Riiiiight.”

Claire had seen the fury in Monica’s eyes, quickly covered over with smiles and laughter and flirting. Claire had ceased to exist again, for the guys.

For the girls, she was brand-new, and unwelcome as hell. She’d been dealing with it all her life. Smart and small and average-looking wasn’t exactly winning the life lottery; you had to fight for it, whatever
it
was. Somebody was always laughing at, or hitting, or ignoring you, or a combination of the first two. She’d thought when she was a kid that getting laughed at was the worst thing, and then—after the first couple of school-yard showdowns—getting hit jumped up to number one. But for most of her (brief, two-year) high school experience, being ignored was worse by far. She’d gotten there a year earlier than everybody else, and left a year ahead of them. Nobody liked that.

Nobody but teachers, anyway.

The problem was that Claire really
loved
school. Loved books, and reading, and learning things—okay, not calculus, but pretty much everything else. Physics. What normal girl loved
physics
? Abnormal ones. Ones who were not ever going to be hot.

And face it, being hot? That was what life was all about. As Monica had proved, when the world had wobbled off its axis for a few seconds to notice Claire, and then wobbled right back to revolve around the pretty ones.

It wasn’t fair. She’d dived in and worked her ass off through high school. Graduated with a perfect 4.0, scored high enough on the tests to qualify for admission to the great schools, the legendary schools, the ones where being a brainiac mutant girl-freak wasn’t necessarily a downside. (Except that, of course, at those schools, there were probably
hot tall leggy
brainiac mutant girl-freaks.)

Didn’t matter. Mom and Dad had taken one look at the stack of enthusiastic thumbs-up replies from universities like MIT and Caltech and Yale, and clamped down hard. No way was their sixteen-year-old daughter (nearly seventeen, she kept insisting, although it wasn’t really true) going to run off three thousand miles to go to school. At least not at first. (Claire had tried, unsuccessfully, to get across the concept that if anything would kill her budding academic career worse than being a transfer student at one of those places, it was being a transfer student from
Texas Prairie University
. Otherwise known as TPEwwwwwww.)

So here she was, stuck on the crappy top floor of a crappy dorm in a crappy school where eighty percent of the students transferred after the first two years—or dropped out—and the Monickettes were stealing her wet laundry and dumping it down the trash chute, all because Monica couldn’t be bothered to know anything about one of the world wars big enough to rate a Roman numeral.

But it isn’t fair!
something in her howled.
I had a plan! An actual plan!
Monica slept late, and Claire had gotten up early just to do laundry while all the party crowd was comatose and the studious crowd was off to classes. She’d thought she could leave it for a couple of minutes to grab her shower—another scary experience—and she’d never even thought about anybody doing something so incredibly
low
.

As she bit back her sobs, she noticed—again—how quiet it was up here. Creepy and deserted, with half the girls deep asleep and the other half gone. Even when it was crowded and buzzing, the dorm was creepy, though. Old, decrepit, full of shadows and corners and places mean girls could lurk. In fact, that summed up the whole town. Morganville was small and old and dusty, full of creepy little oddities. Like the fact that the streetlights worked only half the time, and they were too far apart when they did. Like the way the people in the local campus stores seemed
too
happy. Desperately happy. Like the fact that the whole town, despite the dust, was
clean
—no trash, no graffiti, nobody begging for spare change in alleyways.

Weird.

She could almost hear her mother saying,
Honey, it’s just that you’re in a strange place. It’ll get better. You’ll just have to try harder.

Mom always said things like that, and Claire had always done her best to hide how hard it was to follow that advice.

Well. Nothing to do but try to get her stuff back.

Claire gulped a couple more times, wiped her eyes, and hauled the arm-twisting weight of her backpack up and over her shoulder. She stared for a few seconds at the wet pair of panties and one sock clutched in her right hand, then hastily unzipped the front pocket of the backpack and stuffed them in. Man, that would kill whatever cool she had left, if she walked around carrying those.

“Well,” said a low, satisfied voice from the open door opposite the stairs, “look who it is. The Dumpster diver.”

Claire stopped, one hand on the rusted iron railing. Something was telling her to run, but something always told her that: fight-or-flight—she’d read the textbooks. And she was tired of flighting. She turned around slowly, as Monica Morrell stepped out of the dorm room—not hers, so she’d busted Erica’s lock again. Monica’s running buddies Jennifer and Gina filed out and took up flanking positions. Soldiers in flip-flops and low-rise jeans and French manicures.

Monica struck a pose. It was something she was good at, Claire had to admit. Nearly six feet tall, Monica had flowing, shiny black hair, and big blue eyes accented with just the right amount of liner and mascara. Perfect skin. One of those model-shaped faces, all cheekbones and pouty lips. And if she had a model’s body, it was a Victoria’s Secret model, all curves, not angles.

She was rich, she was pretty, and as far as Claire could tell, it didn’t make her a bit happy. What did, though—what made those big blue eyes glow right now—was the idea of tormenting Claire just a little more.

“Shouldn’t you be in first period at the junior high by now?” Monica asked. “Or at least
getting
your first period?”

“Maybe she’s looking for the clothes she left lying around,” Gina piled on, and laughed. Jennifer laughed with her. Claire swore their eyes, their pretty jewel-colored eyes, just glowed with the joy of making her feel like shit. “Litterbug!”

“Clothes?” Monica folded her arms and pretended to think. “You mean, like those rags we threw away? The ones she left cluttering up the washer?”

“Yeah, those.”

“I wouldn’t wear those to sweat in.”

“I wouldn’t wear them to scrub out the boys’ toilet,” Jennifer blurted.

Monica, annoyed, turned and shoved her. “Yeah, you know all about the boys’ toilet, don’t you? Didn’t you do Steve Gillespie in ninth grade in there?” She made sucking sounds, and they all laughed again, though Jennifer looked uncomfortable. Claire felt her cheeks flare red, even though it wasn’t—for a change—a dis against her. “Jeez, Jen, Steve Gillespie? Keep your mouth shut if you can’t think of something that won’t embarrass yourself.”

Jennifer—of course—turned her anger on a safer target. Claire. She lunged forward and shoved Claire back a step, toward the stairs. “Go get your stupid clothes already! I’m sick of looking at you, with your pasty skin—”

“Yeah, Junior High, ever heard of sunshine?” Gina rolled her eyes.

“Watch it,” Monica snapped, which was odd, because all three of them had the best tans money could buy.

Claire scrambled to steady herself. The heavy backpack pulled her off-balance, and she grabbed on to the banister. Jen lunged at her again and slammed the heel of her hand painfully hard into Claire’s collarbone. “Don’t!” Claire yelped, and batted Jen’s hand away. Hard.

There was a second of breathless silence, and then Monica said, very quietly, “Did you just hit my friend, you stupid little bitch? Where do you think you get off, doing things like that around here?”

And she stepped forward and slapped Claire across the face, hard enough to draw blood, hard enough to make flares and comets streak across Claire’s vision, hard enough to make everything turn red and boiling hot.

Claire let go of the banister and slapped Monica right back, full across her pouty mouth, and for just a tight, white-hot second she actually felt
good
about it, but then Monica hissed like a scorched cat, and Claire had time to think,
Oh crap, I really shouldn’t have done that.

She never saw the punch coming. Didn’t even really feel the impact, except as a blank sensation and confusion, but then the weight of her backpack on her shoulder was pulling her to one side and she staggered.

She almost caught herself, and then Gina, grinning spitefully, reached over and shoved her backward, down the stairs, and there was nothing but air behind her.

She hit the edge of every stair, all the way to the bottom. Her backpack broke open and spilled books as she tumbled, and at the top of the stairs Monica and the Monickettes laughed and hooted and high-fived, but she saw it only in disconnected little jerks of motion, freeze-frames.

It seemed to take forever before she skidded to a stop at the bottom, and then her head hit the wall with a nasty, meaty sound, and everything went black.

She later remembered only one more thing, in the darkness: Monica’s voice, a low and vicious whisper. “Tonight. You’ll get what’s coming to you, you freak. I’m going to make sure.”

It seemed like seconds, but when she woke up again there was somebody kneeling next to her, and it wasn’t Monica or her nail-polish mafia; it was Erica, who had the room at the top of the stairs, four doors down from Claire’s. Erica looked pale and strained and scared, and Claire tried to smile, because that was what you did when somebody was scared. She didn’t hurt until she moved, and then her head started to throb. There was a red-hot ache near the top, and when she reached up to touch it she felt a hard raised knot. No blood, though. It hurt worse when she probed the spot, but not in an oh-my-God-skull-fracture kind of way, or at least that was what she hoped.

BOOK: Morganville Vampires [01] Glass Houses
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