Nice girls dont bite the.., p.37
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       Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.37

         Part #4 of Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper  
Page 37
Author: Molly Harper

The door opened, and Ray walked through. He’d shed the overalls and was wearing a pair of camo cutoffs and a T-shirt advertising the benefits of spring break in Daytona Beach. He had a pair of sparkly boxing gloves in his hands, which seemed … unlikely.

“Damn, I thought you’d still be asleep,” he said, frowning. “Y’all must break down horse tranqs a lot faster than we do. ”

“Sorry to disappoint you. Why is my face sore?” I asked, stretching out my jaw and wincing at the pain.

“Well, I had you in the bag, and I was in a hurry to get you out of the house before your family noticed. And my shoulder slipped while I was carrying you down the stairs, and …”

“You dropped me down the stairs?” I cried.

“Well, you’re heavier than you look!” he exclaimed.

“How is that supposed to make me feel better?” I grumbled. “How did people not notice that?”

“I told them you were soiled linens,” he said. I balked, and he quickly added, “Look, I’m really sorry about this. ” He adjusted my bungee cords, being careful to stay outside of my lunging distance.

“How did you even track Gabriel down?” I asked. “How did you know he killed Bud?”

He pulled a camp chair near the bed. “As soon as I got out of jail, I went out to Bud’s deer stand. I’d read the newspaper story about him dying, saw the coroner’s report. I don’t care what the coroner says, there’s no way that kind of damage could occur from a tree just falling over on somebody. Bud and I picked that tree out ourselves when we built the deer stand. There was no rot, no weak spots. There was no way it was going to just fall over. There was obviously some sort of supernatural force at work. So, I wondered, who could be strong enough to push over a tree? At first, I thought it might be Bigfoot. But plenty of people have tried to hunt that bastard down, and it involves a lot of tracking equipment that just wasn’t in my budget. It was smarter to work with monsters I could locate and eliminate them as suspects. ”

“I think that offends me on a couple of levels. ”

He ignored me. “So I went to the Cellar. I knew that it was a place where vampires hung out, so I spent a couple of nights there, kept my ears open. And before you knew it, I heard this story about some asshole vamp who pushed a tree on top of a drunk hunter. ” He smiled, the expression a bitter mockery of mirth. “I guess for y’all, that’s right up there with flowers and chocolates, huh?”

“You don’t understand—”

“I don’t have to understand!” he yelled, standing so quickly that the chair toppled back. “Your boyfriend killed my brother for you, so you’re going to watch him die. As he crumbles into dust, he’s going to look in your eyes and know that all his vampire eternal-life bullshit has just evaporated into nothing. That you’re going to live on forever without him and probably start banging some other vamp within a few months …” He looked down as he saw how horrified I was. “I’m sorry for my language, ma’am. ”

“Well, I’m sorry we blew up your bus,” I said. “Though I’m pretty sure you set that up yourself. ”

“Don’t worry about it. I abandoned that place as soon as your guys followed me from the dude strip bar. I started living here at Bud’s hunting shack. ”

“You hoped that we would see the body, accidentally blow it up, and assume that you were dead?” I asked.

“Yes, ma’am. I took the body from the hospital morgue. You’d be amazed what people will let you do when you’re wearing scrubs. ”

“And now I’m thankful I have no further need of the health care system. ” I sighed. “You know, you’re holding me hostage, you might as well call me Jane. All of the other arch-villains do. ”

“Jane, then. ”

“And for the record, I won’t be ‘banging’ some other vampire anytime soon,” I told him. “I have a feeling that if you force me to watch Gabriel die, I would probably spend the next few months hunting you down and staging your death via deer stand. ”

“I won’t hold it against you,” he promised.

“I don’t get it. I don’t get how you can be so resigned to lifelong grudges. You seem like a reasonably intelligent person. What makes you think it’s OK to do this?”

“Because if I don’t, I’m just like everybody else. You have no idea what it’s like growing up the way I did. A McElray, a charity case, a loser. My mama and daddy both went to jail before I even started school. No one expected anything good of me. Hell, the only time anybody ever treated me like I was something special was when I was playing football. But Bud was always there. When people whispered when we walked by at the grocery store, he kept his hand on my shoulder. Every single game I played, he was in the stands. And yeah, I realize that he wasn’t perfect. He was a drunk and a gambler, and he hadn’t held a steady job in no one knew how long. But if I let what your boyfriend did stand, then that means I gave up on him, just like everybody else did. ”

“Look, I know you think you’re doing the right thing by Bud, but you have to understand—”

“No more talking,” he growled suddenly. He pulled another syringe out of his pocket and jabbed it into my neck. I yelped as he forced the drugs into my vein, sending a burning sensation blazing under my skin.

“Asshole,” I muttered as I slid under the surface of unconsciousness.

My eyes fluttered open. Gabriel was standing over me, untying my hands, his expression grim.

“Hey there, sweetie. I’m glad to see you,” I slurred. “No, wait, you’re not supposed to see me in my dress … s’bad luck. ”

“I dare you to try to find worse luck than ours, Jane. ”

“Good point,” I muttered. I looked around the dingy little room. “Where’s Ray?”

“Waiting for me outside. He said it would hurt me more if I had the chance to say … Did he hurt you?”

I shook my head and immediately regretted it. My head hurt, a lot. “Not intentionally. He’s pretty polite for a kidnapper. Hates your ass, though. He thinks my dress is pretty. ”

“It’s gorgeous, sweetheart,” he assured me, pushing my mussed hair back from my face.

“Take me home. ”

“Right now,” he promised.

“How did you even find me?”

He frowned. “Ray left me a very helpful note on your vanity. It said you were dead unless I met him at these GPS coordinates within an hour. ”

“You walked right into a trap? Isn’t that my job?”

“It wasn’t exactly a trap,” he said as I sat up. It felt like swimming to the surface of a dark pool, my brain clearing the last few inches of murkiness and finally coming into focus. “And he did leave a sizable lock of your hair behind as an incentive. ”

“How sizable?” I asked, feeling the back of my head and finding a golf-ball-sized spot shorn to the scalp. “Damn it, Ray!”

Gabriel pulled me to my feet and steadied my elbows when I bobbled. I felt a low, heavy tug on my skirt and heard a rip. I moaned. My hem caught on a nail in the floor.

“Oh, come on!” I cried.

I turned, trying to dislodge my skirt, and gasped as the material split even wider, leaving a gap that nearly reached my cleavage. I looked up, horrified at what I’d done to the replacement dress. I doubted that I could talk Jolene’s aunts into making a second one.

“We can—”

I grabbed his face between my palms and kissed him deeply. “No. No postponements. No delays. I think we both knew this was how our wedding was going to turn out, one way or the other. I just really want to marry you. ”

He chuckled and kissed me. “I love you. And when you step outside, I want you to go to Dick just as fast as you can move. Zeb slowed him down a bit, but he should be here any minute. He’s going to get you home. I’ll meet you there as soon as I can. ”

I eyed him speculatively. “Do you really think I’m going to buy that and just toddle off home to wait on you like some Scarlett O’Hara wannabe?”

“Well, the dress is appropriate. ”

“Don’t try to distract me with your intentional historical inaccuracies,” I insisted. “Now, tell me what’s going on. ”

“Ray wants to kill me. ”

“All right, so what’s the plan?”

“I don’t have one,” he confessed. “This is a person who wants me dead. He wants you to watch as he kills me. And he’s not going to stop until that happens. He’s going to keep coming after you. I can’t let that happen—”

“So your plan is to let Ray kill you?”

“Unless I manage to kill him in hand-to-hand combat, yes. And given his impressive array of improvised weaponry, I think he has an above-average chance. ”

I scoffed. “This is the dumbest plan I’ve ever heard. Zeb could come up with a better plan than this. ”

“Jane, I’m only trying to prepare you—”

“No! I do not accept this. No!” I yelled. I shoved past him, my ruined dress trailing behind me as I kicked open the hunting-shack door. Ray was waiting outside, his pencil gun strapped to his leg. When he saw Gabriel and me emerge, he cocked the shotgun he was holding and aimed it at my throat as I stomped toward him.

“Ray, what the hell are you doing?” I demanded.

“Jane, I know you’re upset, but if you step any closer, I’ll blow your head off. ”

“You’re going to need more than that shotgun, Ray,” I growled.

“It’s loaded with silver shot,” Gabriel murmured.

“Well, I guess that means we can’t be friends anymore,” I said. “Look, I know you’re upset about Bud—”

“Upset? Nightengale killed my brother!” Ray yelled, turning on Gabriel. “Don’t even try to deny it. ”

“You’re right,” Gabriel said, gently nudging me out of the way. “I won’t try to deny it. I killed him. But do you know what your brother did?”

“It doesn’t matter! It’s a matter of honor. ”

Gabriel cleared his throat, pushing me aside even farther with a bump of his hips. “I’ll try to put this in terms you understand. He killed my woman. ”

Ray looked to me, as if to confirm it. I nodded my head.

“Liar. You’re a damned liar!” he shouted, his gun barrel bobbing precariously close to Gabriel’s face. “Bud was a lot of things, but he wouldn’t hurt a woman. He wasn’t the type. ”

“No, but he was the type to get rip-roaring drunk and then do something stupid, right?” Gabriel countered. “He shot her. He was drunk. He thought she was a deer. And he shot her. And then he just drove away and left her for dead. He just left her, like an animal, to die alone in the dark. ”

“You’re lyin’!” he roared. “He wouldn’t do that … well, he might. Aw, who the hell cares! The point is, you killed my brother. And now I’m gonna kill you!”

“Oh, come on, Ray!” I cried.

Ray was advancing on Gabriel. I stepped in the way, placing a restraining hand on his chest. The other hand was busy pushing Gabriel back.

“Jane, get out of the way. ”

“Gabriel, cut it out. He’s too stupid to kill!” I yelled.

“Hey!” Ray said, his tone hurt as he scrambled against my grip.

“Ray, I’m trying to help you out here,” I hissed, shoving both of them back a few steps. “Look, I’m not defending what Gabriel did to Bud. In fact, when I found out about it, I beat the absolute tar out of him. ”
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