Nice girls dont bite the.., p.19
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       Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.19

         Part #4 of Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper  
Page 19

  Author: Molly Harper

  “Call her, make an appointment, make your life easier,” Andrea said, sliding the card to me.

  “Yeah, ‘cause that always works. ” I snorted. “This still feels weird, planning a wedding while Gabriel is so sick. ”

  “Consider it a hopeful gesture,” Andrea said, rubbing my back. “Think of how happy Gabriel will be when he wakes up and sees how much progress you’ve made toward marrying him. ”

  “Really?”

  “Ask Dick how thrilled he was when I neglected to ask his opinions on flower arrangements. He commissioned a T-shirt in my honor: ‘My Girlfriend Kicks Your Girlfriend’s Ass. ’ ” When I squinted at her, confounded, she said, “In Dick’s way, that’s the highest compliment you can pay a woman. ”

  “I will never understand your relationship. ”

  Andrea grinned at me. “Right back atcha, sweetie. ”

  I did make the appointment with Iris. And by the time Gabriel woke up two days later, sore and grumpy and not entirely sure what had happened to him, Iris had already sent me fabric samples for the dreaded linens, aisle runner, and napkins. And there wasn’t a speck of sea-foam green in sight. From her e-mails, Iris seemed competent, no-nonsense, and completely unsentimental about this wedding stuff.

  Iris was quickly becoming my favorite person. Ever.

  Gabriel wasn’t entirely pleased with me for going to Ophelia, but I think it was more a matter of male pride than anything else. I came home to find him propped up on a stack of pillows, sipping blood through a crazy straw (because it amused Zeb) and wearing Star Wars pajamas (because it amused Dick). He was pale and drawn and still had purplish bruises under his eyes, but he was awake. And he was smiling at me.

  “I love you, I love you, I love you,” I babbled, kissing him over and over until Zeb pleaded that we were grossing him out. Gabriel smiled blithely up at me as I hovered over him and then flinched as I grabbed a pillow and whacked him over the head with it. “And don’t you ever do anything like that again! I am the one who ends up in the stupid life-threatening situations. You are the levelheaded, responsible one in this relationship. Got it? This is how this whole thing works. We have to stick to our designated roles, or there is chaos!”

  Dick snickered. “It’s true. If Zeb suddenly starts being all dashing and sexy, what am I going to do?”

  Zeb took offense to this. “Hey, I can be dashing and sexy! Jolene says I’m like the human Wolfman. ”

  “Jolene lies,” Gabriel told him, his voice slightly hoarse from disuse.

  Dick agreed. “A lot. ”

  “I’m going to play Madden with Jamie. He respects me, at least,” Zeb grumbled.

  “No, I don’t!” Jamie called from downstairs.

  “So, Dick says I’ve missed quite a bit while I was out. He says you paid Ophelia a visit?” he said, threading his fingers through mine. I pulled myself onto my knees and glared at our big-mouthed friend.

  “It’s called heading a problem off at the pass,” I said.

  “Is that a euphemism for emasculating one’s betrothed while he’s unconscious and unable to defend himself?” Gabriel asked dryly.

  “No, it’s a euphemism for accessing resources that we don’t have by alerting the Council to our problem, rather than playing junior detectives ourselves. They’ve already installed a camera outside my shop door that is so scary and official-looking that the locals stopped painting my front window. Plus, this particular choice of directions doesn’t involve Ophelia suspecting me of hurting others for personal gain. ”

  “Unless Ophelia finds out that you’re Gabriel’s beneficiary on his life-insurance policy,” Dick said, snickering.

  “I am?”

  Gabriel seemed insulted that I didn’t think he would provide for me in the event of his staking. “Of course you are!”

  “How do we even get life insurance?” I asked. “We’re dead. ”

  “Well, not according to the paperwork I filed with State Farm,” Gabriel said.

  “But somehow, my reporting to Ophelia skirts an ethical line. ”

  “OK, so it was a smart thing to do,” Gabriel admitted. “When did you arrive at this ‘resources’ conclusion?”

  “When I realized that I’d given Dick five thousand dollars and asked him to drive halfway across the state to a college crime lab for tests that may or may not have detected the poison in your system in a way that may or may not have helped us treat you,” I said, glad that I couldn’t blush.

  “Clearly, your judgment goes out the window when I’m unconscious,” he said, managing to hide his smirk as he slipped an errant tendril of hair behind my left ear. “And how is Jamie doing?”

  “Fine. He seems to be spending a lot of time in the shower,” I noted quietly, my voice so low that even Jamie’s superhearing couldn’t pick it up.

  Dick chuckled, followed by Zeb and Gabriel.

  “What?”

  “Remember that summer I turned thirteen and my mom complained that she couldn’t ever get me out of the bathroom?” Zeb asked.

  “Yeah, but that’s because you were—” I slapped my hand over my mouth. “Oh!”

  “Welcome to the world of parenting,” Zeb said. “It’s one big, horrifying miracle. ”

  “Augh!” I grumbled.

  I tried to defuse my embarrassment by talking about Iris and the progress she was making with the wedding. Although I was loath to admit it, Andrea was right. Gabriel was thrilled that I’d made the effort to call a wedding planner. He was so heartened by my apparent interest in wedding planning that he immediately perked up, called Iris, and arranged a meeting the next evening to be followed by an appointment at a wedding-dress shop in Murphy.

  My stomach sank at the words “dress” and “shop,” and I searched my memory banks for my list of plausible reasons I could not go shopping. I hadn’t had to use them against Mama in so long that they’d receded from the tip of my tongue. “Wait, how did she manage to arrange that so quickly?”

  “She said she has her ways,” Gabriel said. “Also, she’s been warned about what Andrea called your ‘unhealthy aversion to trying on clothes,’ so she will accompany you to the shop to provide hard liquor and moral support. ”

  “I think I love her a little bit,” I admitted.

  “Hell, if she can sneak booze into a bridal store, I may love her a little bit,” Dick said.

  “You know, it strikes me as sort of useless to be planning a wedding when we haven’t decided when the wedding will be,” Gabriel said, toying with the engagement ring on my finger.

  “Actually, I had an idea about the date, but I didn’t want to do anything until you woke up,” I said. “What do you think of July eighth?”

  “As dates go, I believe it’s a perfectly respectable one. ”

  “It’s Aunt Jettie’s birthday. I think it would be nice to get married on her birthday. ”

  “Aw, that’s sweet,” Dick said. “She’ll love that. ”

  “And it will be so close to July Fourth weekend that most of the relatives on Mama’s side will still be hungover, so maybe they won’t be able to make it. ”

  “That’s less sweet,” Gabriel conceded. “But I think it’s a good, strong wedding date. ”

  “And now that the wedding date is settled, you know what that means,” Dick said, gleefully rubbing his hands together in a way that made me distinctly nervous.

  Gabriel’s voice was just as uneasy. “We can order those embossed matchbooks I love so much?”

  “I can start planning the bachelor party,” Dick said, giving his best impersonation of an evil supervillain laugh. Or maybe it wasn’t an impersonation.

  “This is not going to end well for me, is it?” Gabriel asked me.

  I sighed. “Remind me to exchange some cash for pesos in late June. I don’t think they’ll accept American money when I have to bail you out of jail in Tijuana. ”

  Gabriel chuckled. “Still, July eighth. I’m very excited. It only gives us a few months to plan, you know. ”

  “If we don’t get it done by July eighth, it doesn’t need to be done,” I assured him.

  “Be sure to explain that to your mama. ” Dick snorted.

  I laughed and smoothed the hair back from Gabriel’s forehead as he eased back onto the pillows, exhausted. My hand froze over his temple as the temperature just over my shoulder dropped by ten degrees. I could feel frosty breath on my cheek as my grandma Ruthie’s voice slithered into my ear.

  “Keep making plans, little girl. This wedding will never happen,” she hissed.

  I immediately glanced over to Dick and Gabriel, who didn’t show any sign of having heard the voice. I rolled my eyes. It would appear that my dear departed grandmother was choosing not to reveal herself to them, targeting me for her “loving” messages. Grandma Ruthie’s spectral presence around the house seemed to have diminished since her outburst with Aunt Jettie. There were little flare-ups here and there. My car keys would disappear. The windows would rattle. Random trash would appear on the counter, but I think that was Jamie. Jettie said that Ruthie was probably rebuilding her strength for another big blow-up.

  But every once in a while, while I was lying in bed, I would hear her voice whispering over my ear. She knew exactly what to say to keep me from drifting off to sleep—that Gabriel was going to wise up and leave me standing at the altar, explaining to my family why I would spend the rest of my unnatural life pathetic and alone. Or variations thereof.

  “Why would anyone want to marry you?” She had a sneer in her voice. “I never understood what you thought was so special about you. You’re not all that pretty. You have the figure of a linebacker. You don’t have any real talents. The only thing you’ve ever been good at is reading. A first-grader can do that. ”

  “Shut up, old woman,” I grumbled, refusing to let my lip so much as tremble.

  Gabriel leaned toward Dick and quietly asked, “Is this a new endearment that became popular while I was unconscious?”

  10

  If you are still in contact with your sire while raising your own childe, set clear boundaries with your sire in regard to treatment of your childe, or you will be constantly fending off presents and bottled specialty blood from the same person who called you “spoiled. ”

  —Siring for the Stupid:

  A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Newborn Vampires

  Iris Scanlon was everything I’d hoped for. She was a cross between gypsy and pixie, a tiny, compact body topped with a wild, curling mop of sable hair. She wore a knee-length black skirt and a pretty ice-blue eyelet blouse, paired with no-nonsense black pumps. She was constantly scribbling notes in a small pad tucked into her leather folio embossed with the signature Beeline logo of a determined little cartoon bee.

  Gabriel was wearing nonpajamas for the first time in almost a week and sitting on the couch, firing questions at her. I had no idea he cared so much about cummerbund colors and DJ playlists.

  Personally, I wanted to gauge exactly how much weirdness she could take, so I asked Iris about the weirdest request she’d ever handled for a client.

  She sipped her iced tea and suppressed a smile. “I’m going to have to say being called at dawn to arrange for an animal-wrangler-slash-cleaning-crew-slash-contractor to restore a vampire’s living room. Said vampire didn’t know that tigers make terrible house pets, until the tiger destroyed his couch and tried to chew through a wall. As a human, he loved cats. He figured he was bigger, stronger, and scarier now, so he needed a house pet that was bigger, stronger, and scarier … Apparently, he’d never seen a single episode of When Animals Attack. But the good news is, now I know how a tranq gun works. ”
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