Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors

       part  #4 of  Jane Jameson Series  by  Molly Harper / Fantasy / Romance & Love
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Author: Molly Harper

“Admit it, that’s part of the attraction. ”

“Yes. Yes, it is. ” He sighed. “But you will be the one to tell your mother, right? I asked your father for his blessing. But I think you should be the one to deliver the news to your mother. ”

I snorted. Mama’s reaction to our premarital cohabiting included screaming and yelling and threatening us with grounding. Considering that the worst that his own mother had ever done to him was call for her smelling salts, Gabriel was permanently scarred. He had flashbacks for weeks.

“So, I’m thinking … Vegas Strip next Friday? We could gamble a little, get married, bail Dick out of jail, and be home by Monday,” I suggested.

“We are not going to get married in some dingy chapel by an Elvis impersonator. ”

“We could get a Streisand impersonator if it would make you more comfortable. ”

“Jane. ” He chuckled, exasperated. “Is that really how you want to get married? Skulking off like we’re ashamed of ourselves? Was that what little Jane dreamed and hoped for?”

“Little Jane thought she would marry Mark-Paul Gosselaar from Saved by the Bell in an English castle. Little Jane was an idiot. ”

“If you want the English castle, you shall have it … minus this Mark-Paul person,” he said. “And if you really want the Vegas Strip, you shall have that. I want you to have the sort of wedding that will make you happy. ”

I countered, “What about the kind of wedding that makes you happy?”

“I want to show up in a tux and be told where to stand. That would make me very happy. ”

I groaned.

“What about wedding planning scares you?”

“All of it. Picking out flowers. The dress. The bridesmaids’ dresses … no, wait, I’m looking forward to that. Vengeance will be mine. But making all the choices … and then having those choices subtly criticized by every woman in my family. And the fact that each of those choices will probably ‘ruin the wedding’ for someone. ”

“Ruin the wedding?”

“When my sister wanted to get married at the country club, Grandma Ruthie said the wedding would be ruined for her if Jenny got married anywhere but the Baptist church. Several cousins threatened to boycott if Jenny didn’t allow children to attend. Our great-uncle said he wouldn’t come to the reception unless she served Pabst Blue Ribbon. People just seem to lose their minds when it comes to weddings. You can’t make everybody happy. ”

“So we won’t try,” Gabriel said. “We’ll do what makes us happy. It’s our wedding, after all. ”

I chuckled, pressing my lips to his throat, the curve of his jaw, as I rolled over him and slipped my fingers around his belt buckle, sliding it open. “Oh, you’re so naive. It’s cute, really. ”

We stayed in that happy (naked) secret-engagement bubble until I had to open the shop the next evening. Things had been progressing very nicely at Specialty Books since I’d reopened earlier that year. While we initially depended on special efforts such as the “Bump in the Night” Book Club and meetings of the local chapter of the Friends and Family of the Undead to keep in the black, online sales and increasingly healthy in-store traffic made opening the electric bills and supplier invoices a lot less painful every month.

There were times when I felt like a failure for never leaving the Hollow. I mean, I lived just a few miles from the house where I’d grown up. But there were good reasons for me to stay when I was human—my family, Aunt Jettie, the Half-Moon Hollow Public Library, where I’d devoted most of my adult years to helping kids find books to love. And if I’d left, I might never have met Gabriel. I would probably still be human. And clearly, this was the life I’d been intended for. Big-city life, babies, and aging just weren’t my style.

Still, Half-Moon Hollow is a strange place for a vampire to spend her days. The small-town stereotype in which everybody knows everybody, or is at least related to them by marriage, holds true in a lot of places, such as the Hollow. Newspapers and telephones are kept around for convenience, but the real flow of information runs through the kitchens, beauty parlors, and grocery aisles. A visit to town on Saturday morning means the difference between community ignorance and knowing who’s in jail, who’s knocked up, and whose marriage is teetering on the brink of disaster.

As one of the few “out” vampires living in the Hollow, I was still occasionally the subject of gossip. My neighbors seemed torn between fearing me and remembering me as the goofy band geek who’d babysat their children. You could see it in their eyes sometimes, the initial rush of familiarity and affection, just before they remembered that I was no longer that girl, no longer human. The light in their eyes quickly extinguished, and the outstretched arms that had meant to hug me were extended into a timid handshake—if I was lucky.

But I’d made enough friends in the supernatural community to make up for it. Friends like Andrea and Dick, who’d already arrived at the shop by the time I opened the door. But, considering the noises I heard from the storeroom, I decided to give them a few minutes.

Seriously, I once walked into the office without knocking … I was scarred for life. And I’m going to live forever.

I sorted through that day’s mail, shelved some newly arrived selections, and replenished the sweeteners in the coffee bar. I fired up the cappuccino machine and found that we were out of two-percent, which meant that my mochaccino had a little less -ccino. I improvised with a little Faux Type O and prayed that Andrea wouldn’t hear me messing with her “baby. ”

“Jane!”

No such luck.

Andrea came rushing into the room, straightening her mussed Titian hair. I cringed. The last time she’d found me turning on the cappuccino maker, she’d thrown a Mayan quartz skull at my head—which, if you think about it, is sort of in poor taste.

“Remember, I am your boss,” I said, raising my hands and my bloodyccino in a defensive position.

“What the hell is that?” Andrea demanded, pointing at my hands. Even in her angry, rumpled state, Andrea was one of the most poised and elegant women I knew. I often said she was what Grace Kelly would have looked like if Grace had reddish hair and a propensity for dating redneck scoundrels. And I was going to put her in the ugliest bridesmaid dress I could find.

“Look, I get it. I’m not as good at running the machine as you are. There’s no reason to be all snotty about it. Are you going after a raise or something?”

“Not the coffee, you ninny, the rock on your left hand! Did Gabriel finally break you down and convince you to say yes?”

“Did you just call me a ninny? What are you, seventy?”

She huffed, a tendril of her deep red hair fluttering in her face. “Don’t ignore the question. ”

“Yes, OK? I said yes. We’re getting married. ”

I prepared for squealing and a girlie-girlie bonding moment. Instead, she yelled, “Dick! I owe you five bucks!”

I heard a loud “whoop” from the back room as Andrea hugged me.

“You know, you should be a little more considerate of my standing wagers when you make major life decisions. ”

“You made a bet on whether I would agree to marry Gabriel?” I exclaimed, slapping her shoulder. “And you only bet five dollars?”

Dick walked in and grinned evilly at the sight of us hugging and talking practically nose-to-nose. “Dear Penthouse, I never believed something like this could happen to me, but when my super-hot wife asked me what I wanted more than anything else for my birthday …”

Andrea sighed and dropped her head to my shoulder in defeat.

“Hey, you married him. ”

“I have no one to blame but myself,” she muttered as Dick left to rummage around in the storeroom.

A mind-boggling mix of fierce loyalty and moral flexibility, Dick used to be the local go-to guy for under-the-table commerce. If you needed an iPod that would only work on European adapters, he was your guy. He lived this way for more than a century, before he fell hard for Andrea, the first woman actually to turn him down in all that time. Andrea didn’t find any of Dick’s roguish ways remotely charming, which apparently was what he was looking for all along. He managed to make the leap from dating to cohabiting by slowly but surely moving his vaguely obscene T-shirts and Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia into her swanky townhouse condo. It was by far the sneakiest thing I’d ever seen him do, and that’s saying something.

“Tell her about the other part of the bet. ” Dick snickered as he reemerged, carrying a bottle of champagne and three glasses.

“How do you always happen to have champagne handy for special occasions?” I asked.

“I hide it in your break-room fridge,” he said, popping the cork and pouring generous splashes into each of our glasses, mixing it with synthetic blood for a disturbing mimosa. “None of your employees eats, so it’s a safe spot. Now, my dearest wife, tell our Jane the other part of the bet. I’ll even help you start off. If Jane said yes to Gabriel before March Madness, you owed me five dollars and …”

Andrea sighed. “And … you get to decorate the den with your Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia. ”

I winced at the burn of champagne bubbles being channeled up my nose. Dick and Andrea had been battling over the renovations to Dick’s family home ever since Gabriel had given the deed back to Dick months before. Gabriel hadn’t left the house to rot while it was under his care for the last century or so, but he hadn’t exactly kept it move-in ready, either. Using every illicit contact at his disposal, Dick was gathering the manpower and materials to completely modernize the place—indoor plumbing, electrical wiring, lightproofing the bedroom, and adding a “shower big enough for eight” to the master bath.

I chose not to think about why they might need a shower that big.

Having just overseen the completion of his own home, my human best friend, Zeb, was helping Dick with some of the work. Andrea sat back and prayed that their version of rewiring wouldn’t burn the house down while they slept for the day. Other than occasionally suggesting a wall color or picking out tile, Andrea had left the renovations to Dick … until he showed her his decorating plans for the den, apparently.

“And this means it is no longer a den,” Dick said, nudging her. “It is now a …”

“Man cave,” she said, wrinkling up her face as if saying the words pained her.

I covered my giggles with another sip of the bubbly. Dick put his arm around my shoulders. “Here’s looking at you, Stretch. If Gabriel doesn’t make you deliriously happy, I’ll kick his ass. ”

“Be sure to include that in your toast at the wedding. ” I chuckled.

“Oh, my gosh! The wedding!” Andrea squealed. “When is it? Where will it be? What about your dress?”

I groaned. Andrea considered herself to be the authority on undead matrimony. She and Dick were the first vampire couple to marry legally in McClure County. There’d been an outdoor, nighttime ceremony, the first party Gabriel had hosted at his home in more than a hundred years—and the last one he hosted before officially handing the keys to my sister, Jenny. His gift served two purposes: soothing Jenny’s chronically tender feelings after being denied our ancestral home, River Oaks, and giving me a good reason to invite Gabriel to come live with me.

Andrea had worn a vintage confection she’d found online. I’d barely managed to talk Dick out of wearing his “tuxedo” T-shirt, for which I’d been rewarded by not having to wear another damned bridesmaid dress. And now, thanks to her acquired “expertise,” Andrea was going to give Mama a run for her money in terms of annoying me.

“Well, Gabriel shot down my Vegas plan, so I haven’t a clue,” I said.
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