Nice girls dont bite the.., p.18
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       Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.18

         Part #4 of Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper  
Page 18

  Author: Molly Harper

  “I get it, I get it,” I said, chuckling at the bright blinking neon hints she was dropping about the similarities between our situations. “Incredibly transparent message received. And still, you managed to rise in the Council ranks, even though they were pissed at you. ”

  She snorted. “I was given a thousand-year ban on turning another vampire. The Council’s theory was that I probably wouldn’t live that long, so I would be kept from causing any more damage. No matter how high up I am in the vampire hierarchy, I will always have that hanging over my head. ”

  “Well, that explains Waco’s comment about your first turn as a sire not turning out so well. ”

  “Yes, Waco does enjoy his little jokes,” she deadpanned. “Now, what buffoonery were you referring to earlier?”

  “I see personal share time is over. ”

  “Indeed. ”

  I took a deep breath and explained about the arrow, the poison, and Gabriel’s current state of coma. I was rather proud that I managed not to tear up or get all quivery-voiced as I spoke, even when I described the torrents of blood Gabriel had thrown up while we tried to force-feed him.

  “And you suspect foul play? You don’t think it’s possible that a hunter stumbled onto your property and accidentally shot Gabriel?” she asked.

  “As in, ‘Oops, I accidentally let a dangerous wooden arrow fall into a solution that could poison a vampire and then wandered onto the property of one of the few out vampires in town, only to lose control of said arrow and fire it three inches to the left of the heart of that vampire’s fiance’?”

  “Yes, it is an unlikely sequence of coincidences,” she admitted. Behind her, Georgie had moved on to standing on the very tips of her toes while balancing on the back of a kitchen chair. I was torn between telling Ophelia and marveling at Georgie’s equilibrium.

  “Besides, Jamie says it isn’t bow season. ”

  Ophelia smirked at me fondly. “I take it that you’re acclimating well to life as a sire?”

  “I wouldn’t say ‘well,’ but I am acclimating. ”

  “And the dynamic between Gabriel and your young charge? What was Jamie doing while Gabriel was bleeding and vomiting?” she asked.

  “Being a teenager,” I responded, controlling the urge to roll my eyes. “He was pretty grossed out and upset about the stains on his jeans. ”

  “Too ‘grossed out’ to have been involved in the poisoning?” she asked, her brows knit in an expression of irritated confusion.

  “Gabriel asked the same thing. But I don’t think Jamie has this in him. Besides, he was playing video games in the house while we were outside. ”

  “Do you have any other suspects?” she asked.

  “I honestly don’t know. Jamie’s parents were so angry with me over Jamie’s becoming a vampire. His dad’s a hunter. Do you think it’s possible he was angry enough to take a shot at us?”

  She nodded. “We’ll look into it. And we’ll have trusted vampires do the occasional security sweep by River Oaks. ”

  “How occasional?” I asked.

  “Are you questioning the generosity of your Council?” she asked, one eyebrow raised. I shook my head, all innocent eyes and guile. “It was good that you brought this to our attention, Jane, rather than waiting until the situation escalated out of your control. It showed an unusual amount of common sense on your part. ”

  “Thanks, I think. ”

  “It wasn’t necessarily a compliment. ”

  “I’m aware of that. ”

  9

  Although vampires are seen as lonely, brooding creatures, all of us, whether young or old, need socialization. Vampires who spend too much time alone lose their humanity, and with that their ability to safely attract and feed from their human prey.

  —Siring for the Stupid:

  A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Newborn Vampires

  My first day back at the shop didn’t go as I’d hoped. I pulled into the space in front of the shop to find Andrea scrubbing furiously at the window.

  “Uh, sweetie, I think we’ve talked about the fact that our customers don’t really care about the cleanliness of the front window. They sort of like the idea that no one can see them from the outside,” I called as I climbed out of Big Bertha.

  Andrea ignored me, continuing to swipe at the soapy glass. Her sleeves were rolled up, reddish bubbles slipping down her arms. There were words slashed across the glass, half-disintegrated by Andrea’s efforts. I could make out the top half of an M, a U … R … D … E … R … I … N … G … B … I … T … C …

  “Aw, hell. ” I sighed. Andrea kept her eyes down and focused on her task. Scanning the window, I saw the slightest traces of older paint in different areas of the glass. “This isn’t the first time, is it, Andrea?”

  She heaved a heavy breath out of her nose. “No. Every night since the Laniers were informed, the same message. ‘Murdering Bitch. ’ “

  “Well, that’s just hurtful. And inaccurate. ”

  “Sometimes it’s in different colors,” she offered. “I have a feeling that the Laniers have been telling their tale to whoever will listen. Because the handwriting has looked different on a few nights. I didn’t want to tell you, because I didn’t want to worry you. But it’s been pretty strange around here lately. Stranger than usual. The Tuesday Night Book Club has suspended its meetings indefinitely, because the humans don’t trust the vampires enough to attend for the time being. The Chamber of Commerce called to reiterate that they don’t want you to be a member. Several of your old friends from the library called to cancel holds they had on books on order. Between hate mail and people calling to tell us that they’ll never shop here again after what you did to ‘that poor Lanier boy’ and the people coming in and begging us to turn them, too, the only store traffic we’ve had lately has been of the crazy variety. We haven’t had an in-store sale in days. ”

  “What about online?”

  She shrugged. “Same, with the exception of an influx of orders for werewolf relationship guides out of Alaska, which is weird. We’re not so infamous that Mr. Wainwright’s old customers in Cornwall don’t want their Field Guides to Pixies and Fairy Folk. That will sustain us, but if we can’t lure back the locals, we’re going to feel it in a few months. ”

  “As in?”

  “As in, that raise I was hoping to ask you for—I won’t even bring it up,” she said, frowning. I slapped my hand over my face. “It will work out,” Andrea assured me. “Once Jamie’s allowed back out in society and the truth comes out. The scandal will die down. Somebody will wander into the Piggly Wiggly drunk and topless, and everybody will forget all about you and your whole scarlet woman persona. ”

  “Scarlet woman?”

  “Seducer of young men, ruiner of lives, danger to the morals of American youth. ”

  “I got it, thanks. ”

  Andrea hosed off her handiwork, and I dragged the soap bucket into the shop. She followed, rolling down her sleeves as I sorted through the disturbingly large stack of pink “While You Were Out” slips.

  “I sorted them into piles: ‘Please turn me/my chronically ill parent/my dying cat into a vampire’ and ‘You’re an evil whore, rot in hell,’ ” Andrea said helpfully.

  “The ‘rot in hell’ people actually left their call-back numbers?”

  “Well, I did ask politely. I think it caught them off guard,” she said, wiping down the coffee-bar counter. “How’s Gabriel? Dick said he was staying at your place tonight to keep an eye on him and Jamie. ”

  “Still sleeping. But his color is getting better. He actually has a skin tone found in the spectrum of human shades. Dick thinks he might wake up in the next day or so. ”

  “Sounds promising. ”

  “Yep. OK, enough of this brooding crap. ” I grunted, throwing the “rot in hell” stack into the wastebasket. “You are going to mix one of your evil high-octane coffee potions for me. We’re going to call Ophelia and tell her about the hate mail and window graffiti. We’re going to set up a video camera to train on the front door to get proof that the Laniers and their friends are defacing the shop, then hand the tapes over to the human and vampire authorities. ”

  Andrea made a wincing face.

  “What?”

  “We’re going to pull a sting operation on the grieving parents?” she asked.

  “The grieving parents who are defacing my shop and maybe playing toxic William Tell games with my fiance? Yes. ”

  She winced again.

  “What?” I demanded.

  “It’s just that, archery shenanigans aside, if they’re just painting the shop window, I kind of understand why they’re doing it. They’re angry and confused, and the only target they see to lash out at is you. ”

  When Andrea saw the incensed look on my face, she changed conversational lanes abruptly.

  “Which is obviously an inappropriate way to channel their grief, and the sooner we guide them toward professional help, the better. ”

  She ducked when I slung a copy of The Guide to the Newly Undead at her.

  “And you need to find more appropriate ways to channel your anger! Aren’t you supposed to be planning a wedding right now?”

  “Really?” I gaped at her. “My fiance has been poisoned into a coma, and you think picking out monogrammed napkins and color-coordinated Jordan almonds is going to make me feel better?”

  She scoffed. “Well, no, Jordan almonds are so 1980s … I can tell from your expression you’re not going to have much of a sense of humor about this wedding thing, are you?”

  I groaned. “I don’t even know where to start. I should just admit defeat now and turn the whole thing over to Mama. ”

  “So, you’re OK with the ribbons on the invitation matching the aisle runner, the bridesmaids’ dresses, the table linens at the reception, and your garter, all of which your mother chose because she thought sea-foam green would complement Gabriel’s eyes?”

  I shuddered and thunked my head down on the counter. “I should have done a better job of selling elopement. ”

  “What you need is Iris Scanlon,” she said, digging through her purse for her wallet.

  “Is Iris Scanlon an Internet-ordained minister who doesn’t ask questions?” I asked, sidestepping when Andrea chucked the Guide at my head.

  As it turned out, much to my disappointment, Iris Scanlon ran Beeline, a new daytime concierge service for vampires. She was a combination event planner, notary public, and contractor. While many changes had been made to society overall to accommodate vampires, there were still some things that had to be handled during the day. Government buildings, for one, were still only open during daylight hours. And it was rare to find contractors and service people willing to come out to a vampire’s house at night.

  Because vampire marriage was still a new phenomenon, the wedding industry was still very much daylight-oriented. One of Iris’s specialties was assisting in planning vampire weddings. It said so right on the business card Andrea fished from her purse. Iris was exactly what I needed—an indifferent, but committed, outside third party to handle the little details that would drive me nuts but that I couldn’t trust to Jolene, Andrea, or Mama without their personal tastes influencing their decisions.

  “She does great work,” Andrea assured me. “She just started up, so I wasn’t able to use her for our wedding. But she helped out with Hadley Wexler’s wedding last month and she’s planning Sophie’s commitment ceremony to her longtime girlfriend. ”

  “Sophie from the Council?” I said, raising my eyebrows. “I didn’t see that one coming. ”
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