Nice girls dont bite the.., p.23
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       Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.23

          part  #4 of  Jane Jameson Series  by  Molly Harper / Fantasy / Romance & Love
Page 23
Author: Molly Harper

“That’s … surprisingly clever,” Gabriel said.

“It would have worked out, too, except that when you claim scratch-off winnings of more than six hundred dollars, you have to present valid identification. He was smart enough to redeem his winning tickets at different stores around the area, but the lottery board noticed when one man claimed more than seventy thousand dollars in scratch-off winnings within a twenty-mile radius of where a reel of tickets had been reported stolen. Still, it’s far more respectable than Bud’s antics, which included peeing in a public fountain during a Memorial Day service. ”

Ophelia’s lips twisted into a disdainful moue. “And if I told you that Ray had recently been paroled? And hasn’t reported to his parole officer in two weeks?”

“So, wait, you think the arrow has something to do with Gabriel’s pushing the tree on top of Bud McElray?” I turned to Gabriel. “You mean, they really are after you, not me?”

“It’s possible,” he conceded.

“Oh, OK, then. ”

Gabriel scowled at me. “And by OK, I’m sure you mean, ‘Oh, my love, whatever will I do if you come to harm?’ ” he said dryly.

“No, it’s just that I’m so used to people coming after me, it’s kind of a refreshing change of pace. ”

Gabriel pinched his nose as if he was trying to ward off a headache.

“It’s my ability to find the silver lining in any situation that endears me to you,” I reminded him. I turned to Ophelia. “I don’t suppose you’ve taken Ray into custody for questioning and this whole thing could be wrapped up tidily in the next few days?”

Ophelia gave me a patronizing smirk. “Of course not. We haven’t been able to track him down, either. He has no family in the area, no property. It’s like he stepped out of the facility in Eddyville and disappeared. And considering that he’s being tracked by creatures with supernatural hunting instincts, that’s quite the accomplishment. ”

“It makes sense. Mama said Ray … went a little survivalist after the college-dropout thing. He lived in these little hunting shanties he’d built out in the woods behind his grandparents’ place, till the house was repossessed and he sort of became a permanent camper out at the state park. When he went to jail, his camper was towed to an impound lot, and Bud got his pickup truck. ”

“How could you possibly get that many details from gossip your mother mentioned in passing years ago?” Ophelia asked.

“Wacko survivalist lotto thieves tend to stand out in my memory. The human grapevine works just like the vampires’ gossip circuit,” I said. “It’s just a little more oriented around coffee and cake. ”

She cleared her throat. “Yes, we’ll be seeking Ray McElray for questioning. I think it should go without saying that you should stay on your guard. ”

“And yet you’re saying it anyway,” Gabriel muttered. I snorted, surprised that Gabriel was actually sassing the one person who seemed to intimidate him.

Clearly, I was a bad influence on him. Or maybe Jamie was a bad influence on him.

Ophelia pointedly ignored his insolence. “Don’t go wandering around your property willy-nilly. Use caution while you’re at your shop. We’ll continue to have Council representatives discreetly drop by there and here. And please, please, do not try to track Mr. McElray down yourselves. You’ve proven how well you handle these confrontations on your own. We don’t want a repeat of the Missy situation or the Jeanine debacle. ”

“I handled them fine,” I mumbled.

“What was that?” she asked.

I shook my head, smiling blithely.

“You know, I’ve had vampires doing random checks of the woods surrounding your property off and on for days, and they haven’t turned up so much as a suspicious scent. Frankly, they’re getting a little bored. You’re not very interesting to watch, you know. They’d heard all these wonderfully scandalous stories about you, and you’re hardly living up to the hype. ”

“I suppose I have you to thank for telling those scandalous stories,” I muttered. Ophelia had the good grace to cover her snicker with a cough.

“Have you given any more thought to who might have shot at you?” she asked.

I snorted. “No, it’s not like I’ve devoted every waking thought to it since the night it happened. I mean, what’s a debilitating poisoning between friends?”

Gabriel opened his mouth, but my wayward childe chose this moment to jog back from the kitchen, his torn T-shirt slung over his shoulder.

“You ready to be beaten on some more, old man?” he asked. Jamie’s skin still held the faintest flush of his predeath tan, and the muscles he’d gained from years of baseball rippled as he moved. He shot Gabriel one of his million-watt grins, the white of his teeth somehow making the green of his eyes stand out even further. He noticed the sweet-looking teenager standing to my left and ratcheted up the power of his smile.

For her part, Ophelia was staring openly at my childe, barely restraining the drool that threatened to drip down her chin. My motherly instincts found this to be somewhat offensive, considering that I was standing three feet away, but I bit my tongue and stored it away for future blackmail material.

“Does he always walk around without his shirt like that?” she asked, the last syllable cracking slightly. Behind her, Gabriel choked on a chortle.

“No,” I said pointedly. “Jamie knows better. In fact, after introducing himself politely, he will be going right upstairs and changing into something that covers his manscaping. ”

“I’m Jamie,” he said, reaching out to shake Ophelia’s hand. “Nice to meet you. And I don’t manscape. But Gabriel does. ”

Gabriel punched Jamie’s shoulder, and Jamie smacked him back. He gave Ophelia a good-natured wink, and I cringed a little. Jamie had no idea how ancient Ophelia was or her position of authority. In Jamie’s mind, Ophelia was fifteen, two years younger than he was, and not quite a dating candidate. He was giving her the polite sort of charm he’d probably bestow on a friend’s cute younger sister, friendly but nothing too promising. Ophelia seemed to be caught in some sort of force field. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t look away from Jamie’s goofy, sunny face.

I cleared my throat. “Jamie. Shirt?”

Jamie chuckled. “Right, sorry. ”

He took the stairs two at a time, with Ophelia’s eyes glued to his back. I waved my hand in front of her face, and she seemed to shake out of her stupor. Her eyes focused on my smirking face, and she fell right back into business mode.

“We’ll take care of this, Jane,” she said, leveling me with those ancient eyes. “This is what we do, protecting the safety and interests of our vampire constituents. You were wise to bring this to our attention. Now, continue that line of rational thinking, and let us handle it. It will save me so much paperwork. ”

I sighed. “I promise. ”

“You promise what?” she asked. “I need specifics. ”

“I promise not to put myself in a situation I have to be rescued from,” I grumbled as Jamie trotted back down the stairs wearing a wifebeater that showed off his arms. It was the dude equivalent of a low-cut halter top and booty shorts. My childe was a hussy.

“Good girl,” she said, patting my head. “Gabriel, it was lovely as always. Jane, stay out of trouble. Jamie, it was a pleasure. ” She smiled demurely at him and gave a little wave as she sauntered out of the foyer.

“She seems cool,” Jamie said, peering out the front window to watch Ophelia climb into her car. “How old is she?”

I found my right pointer finger raised and hovering two inches in front of Jamie’s nose. “Jamie, no. ”

“What?” Jamie demanded. “She seems like a nice girl. You said that if I date, it has to be another vampire. ”

“Not that vampire,” I insisted. “And she’s not a nice girl. Nice girls don’t threaten innocent librarians with dismemberment on a regular basis. ”

Jamie’s face was puzzled, but he was still eyeing the door as if he was considering chasing Ophelia down the driveway and asking for her cell-phone number. Honestly, where was his loyalty? Clearly, constantly belittling and threatening one’s sire was nothing compared with the overwhelming influence of male hormones.

“She’s four hundred years old!” I blurted out.

Jamie did a bit of a double take. “Really?”

“Yes. That doesn’t make her a cougar, that makes her a saber-toothed tiger. ”

Jamie grinned. “That’s kind of hot. ”

“You’re going to ask her out just to spite me, aren’t you?”

“Maybe. ”

“Why couldn’t you have been a girl?” I groaned.

12

There will be nights, just before dawn, when you will wonder, what has happened to my life? What happened to staying out all night and drinking the blood of the innocent? The answer is simple. You became a sire.

—Siring for the Stupid:

A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Newborn Vampires

Of course, I immediately started looking into Ray McElray’s whereabouts. I didn’t plan to confront him. I just wanted to find him, so I could point the Council in the right direction.

I meant no offense to the Council and its resources, but I had a lot more faith in my own research skills. Do not mess with a librarian with a history of cyber-stalking her vampire sire and various step-grandparents.

Unfortunately, those skills got me jack squat. The house where Bud and Ray grew up had burned to the ground right after I left for college. None of the neighbors remembered anything about the family after their grandma Velma died. The Half-Moon Hollow Library hired a new youth librarian who realized that the library’s passwords to state databases hadn’t changed since I was fired, so that cut off my access to birth and death records. I had to use Google like everybody else. It was demoralizing.

As I was entering my credit-card information into PeopleFinder. com, I welcomed the distraction of Zeb and Jolene dragging the twins through my front door. Well, technically, Jolene had a baby under each arm. Zeb was loaded down with the ridiculous amount of paraphernalia required to sustain two babies.

Jolene huffed a breath out as she dropped the combined weight of three people on my couch. “My cousin down at the DMV says Ray hasn’t come in to renew his driver’s license, which did expire while he was in prison. Also, you owe him a ham, the expensive kind, from Italy. ”

I took Janelyn from her and nuzzled her head of strawberry-blond hair. “I feel like I should be doing my own meat-based negotiations. Parma ham isn’t cheap. ”

“Well, to be fair, he is risking his job to help you track the guy who could be trying to kill your fiance,” Zeb pointed out as I jiggled Janelyn on my knee.

“Oh, fine, put it in perspective, why don’t you?” I sighed.

“What about tax records, voter registration, magazine subscriptions?” Jolene asked.

“He can’t pay taxes on wages he doesn’t earn. I don’t think he’s legally allowed to vote. And I don’t think I want to know what kind of magazines he likes,” I answered.

“I think you’re going about this in the wrong way,” Zeb said. “You’re looking in all the right places, all the places the Council’s going to check anyway. You need to get down and dirty. You need to check all the places the Council won’t think of. You know things about the people who live here, the weird Hollow underbelly, that some ancient pencil pusher wouldn’t even consider a possibility. You need to embrace the Dick factor. ”

Jolene opened her mouth to comment. I raised my hand and put a finger to her lips.
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