Nice girls dont bite the.., p.38
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       Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.38

         Part #4 of Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper  
Page 38

  Author: Molly Harper

  Ray arched an eyebrow and bent sideways so he could smirk at Gabriel. “You let your woman beat on you?”

  Gabriel rolled his eyes. “Have you met my fiancee?”

  I cleared my throat pointedly, and their attention refocused on me. “It took me a long time to get over my part in Bud’s death. I felt responsible. Please don’t make me responsible for your death, too. Because he will kill you. No matter what you throw at him. No matter what you do. If you put me in danger, he’s going to kill you. I get the feeling that you would do the same. Don’t put more blood on my hands. Please. You don’t have the stomach for this. ”

  “How would you know?”

  “Because the kind of man who would want to protect a girl’s wedding dress isn’t going to murder someone in cold blood. You could have killed me at the house and left a little pile of ash for Gabriel to find. Hell, even when you shot him with an arrow, you missed your mark. You’ve had chance after chance to kill us, Ray. Your heart, it’s not in this. I’m sorry you lost someone you loved. Gabriel did what he did because Bud hurt me, because he thought he was protecting the people Bud could hurt. And really, you tried to run me down, hit a kid, and I had to turn him into a vampire. We’re practically even. ”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “The old sedan that hit Jamie Lanier in front of my shop. You were behind the wheel. ”

  Ray looked insulted. “Never happened. ”

  “I have a hard time believing that. ”

  “I don’t give a shit what you believe,” he retorted. “Nightengale killed the only family I have left. It’s a blood debt, and it has to be paid. ”

  I sighed. “Well, if that’s true, then you might as well kill me, too. Because I’ll just have to come after you. And on and on until everyone we love is just collateral damage to this grudge. Let it end with us, please. ”

  “Why?”

  “Because I can’t handle another fight to the death. We seem to have them once a year lately, and it’s not a tradition I want to continue. ”

  “I can’t just drop it now. I’ve tried to kill you … a bunch of times. ”

  “Contrary to what the movies would have you believe, it’s actually pretty hard to do,” I told him, somewhat sympathetically.

  “Yeah, well, I can’t take that back. I can’t just forget about it. What kind of brother would that make me? I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I just walked away. And it’s not like vampires are known for their all-forgiving ways. Damn it, Nightengale, I kidnapped your woman. On her wedding day. Hell, even if you let me live, she’ll probably kill me for that alone. ”

  As Gabriel argued with him over my lack of desire for the usual avenues of womanly vengeance, Zeb and Dick burst into the clearing.

  “Jane, would you like to know what you’re getting for Christmas this year?” Dick asked as Zeb huffed and puffed beside him. “We’re going to put one of those LoJack chips under your skin, like they do for dogs. It will cut down on our search time. ”

  “I would find that insulting, but clearly, it’s deserved,” I grumbled. “Where are Andrea and Jolene?”

  “At your place, restraining your mother,” Zeb said. “We convinced them that it was the most logical use of their strength and not at all a sexist thing. ”

  “That’s Ray McElray?” Dick asked, incredulously.

  “You know him?” I asked.

  “Oh, sure, I see him down at the Cellar all the time. Calls himself Scooter,” he said. “Heck of a pool player, but he sucks at darts. ”

  “So, you’ve spent a lot of time with this guy recently?”

  He shrugged. “Sure. I’ve mostly gone legit, since Andrea, but I still like going out for a beer and visiting Norm once in a while. ”

  “Let me ask you something, Dick. In the course of these manly bonding activities, did you ever drink a little bit?”

  “Sure,” Dick said.

  “Ever drink enough to tell tales about your friends?” I asked, as realization dawned on his face. “Maybe talk about this sickeningly happy couple you know who won’t stop talking about the fact that the first time they had sex resulted from an argument they had about the guy pushing a tree on top of a drunk redneck?”

  Dick’s face went pale and almost cheesy green. “I will never drink again,” he promised. “Janie, I swear, I didn’t know. I wouldn’t do anything to screw up my friendship with you two. You and Andrea and Spazzy McGee over there are my family. And I haven’t had that in a very long time. ”

  “I know,” I said, squeezing his hand. “Now we just have to convince Gabriel. ”

  Dick cleared his throat and stepped between Gabriel and Ray as they argued over how best to settle their debt. “How about dueling pistols?” he suggested.

  I stared at him. “What?”

  “You’re right, Jane,” Zeb conceded. “Not quite fair, what with Gabe being able to survive gunshots and all. Knife fight? Nah, still not sporting. ”

  “How is this helping?” I demanded. “You are the worst best man ever!”

  “Defusing the situation,” Dick muttered, before he said louder, “You’re right, Jane, a duel to the death wouldn’t be fair, no matter what weapon they used. Gabriel would have the clear advantage. He’s faster, stronger. Even with your pencil gun, Ray—which is awesome, by the way—you wouldn’t stand a chance. So, we let you beat on each other for a couple of hours. Gabriel feels like he’s suffered for what he’s done. Ray defends his family honor. Everybody walks away in time for Gabriel and Jane to get hitched. Hell, the boys will probably be bonded for life by the time the fight’s over. Fisticuffs have a way of doing that. ”

  “Why are we friends?” I asked him, only to have him give me that maddening grin.

  “I’m in,” Ray said. “Your friend’s right, it’s the most honorable way to go about it. ”

  Gabriel lifted a brow. “Really?”

  “Really?” I echoed. “We went from blood debt to fist-fight?”

  Ray nodded. “I know I probably don’t have a chance in hell of beating you. And I can’t guarantee that I won’t try to stake you. But I think hitting you in that pretty face over and over will make me feel better. ”

  Gabriel shrugged. “All right, then. ”

  “Boys are so stupid. ” I sighed.

  Gabriel pushed to his feet. I took his hands in mine. His mouth was pressed into a thin line.

  “I really can’t talk you out of this?” I asked. “I mean, we were supposed to be married, oh, about an hour ago. ”

  “I think this is the only thing that will resolve the situation. ”

  “Well, I’ll be over here,” I muttered, leaning gingerly against a nearby tree. “Trying to solve the enigma of the male ego and how it can be cured. ”

  “No biting,” Dick said, standing between the two of them like Mills Lane on Celebrity Deathmatch. “No unfair use of claws or fangs. No gouging. No hidden wooden objects. You fight until somebody says uncle. ”

  Face, meet my palm.

  Ray and Gabriel circled each other, cracking their necks in that weird, masculine chicken fashion that’s meant either to stretch the vertebrae or to intimidate your opponent into thinking you’ll throw a kiss on him without warning. They tried to be impressive, to show each other up with acrobatics and fancy combinations. Ray had obviously spent a little time at the prison gym and had built up some impressive upper-body strength. But it was still no match for Gabriel’s speed and agility.

  At one point, Gabriel knocked him back onto the ground, where Ray smacked his head on a rock. Gabriel made to help him up, and Ray used the gap in concentration to stab at Gabriel’s chest with a broken tree branch. I shrieked in warning.

  For the record, when someone is fighting, screaming his name and distracting him is not a good idea.

  The branch missed its mark, sinking a few inches below Gabriel’s collarbone. He yowled and dug it out and whacked Ray across the face. And then Ray kicked Gabriel off of him. Finally, they broke down to just punching each other in the face back and forth. I got bored and started trying to fix the rip in my dress.

  Gabriel tossed Ray into a nearby tree trunk. “Hey!” I exclaimed. “Keep it sporting, he’s only human. ”

  Gabriel protested, “He kicked me in the—”

  “That was an accident!” Ray wheezed, bending over and panting to catch his breath. “You shoved me, and my foot slipped. ”

  “Seriously, guys, can we wrap this up? I’d like to get married tonight,” I demanded. “Ray, do you feel like your family honor has been avenged?”

  “Hold on a minute,” Ray said, blowing out one last hard breath. He pivoted and kicked out at Gabriel, nailing him in the crotch. Gabriel grunted and fell to his knees.

  “That’s going to interfere with the honeymoon plans,” Zeb said, shaking his head. I glared at him. He threw up his hands in defense. “Well, it is!”

  “That time was on purpose,” Ray told Gabriel as he helped him to his feet. “I feel better now. ”

  “I’m so glad. ” Gabriel groaned, propping his hands on his knees to stay upright.

  “And I’ve decided that we’re even,” Ray said. Gabriel’s expression of hope was dashed when Ray added, “If you turn me. ”

  “Beg your pardon?”

  “I want to be a vampire,” Ray said. “I thought about it before. But after seeing what y’all can do, how you move, how fast you are, I want in. I don’t have any family left, no reason to stay human. I want to be what you are. I figure you owe me this. ”

  “Wow, this sounds like a great way for the Council to get really pissed at us,” I said.

  Dick said, “Actually, as long as Ray is entering into it voluntarily and behaves himself after he’s turned, the Council shouldn’t have a problem with it. ”

  “Look at it this way, it’s a life for a life,” Ray implored. “You took my brother’s life. You’re giving me one in return. ”

  “Your brother took Jane’s life,” Gabriel countered.

  “Which you returned when you turned her,” Ray said. “Do the same for me. Balance everything out. ”

  “I’ve already got a teenager running around my house. I don’t think I can handle a redneck renegade, too,” I said.

  “I’ll do it,” Dick piped up. We all turned to him in surprise. “Ray finding you, that was my fault. I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut. Gabe, you know I would never do anything to put you and Jane in danger. ” Gabriel quirked a disbelieving eyebrow at him. “OK, fine, you know I would never do anything to put Jane in danger. But let me do this. Let me make up for my mistake. I can’t handle you being pissed at me for another hundred years. You’ve got your hands full with Jamie, and I think I would be a better fit for Ray’s sire, anyway. ”

  “He has a point,” I said. “If anyone could be more devious than Ray, it’s Dick. ”

  “Is this really the only way you’ll consider us even?” Gabriel asked.

  Ray considered it for a moment. “Yes. It’s kind of poetic. I like it. And Bud would probably think it was funny as hell. ”

  “Dick, are you sure about this?” I asked. “This is a long-term commitment. I don’t want you to feel obligated because of me. ”

  “It’s the least I can do,” Dick said. “And I’ll keep my promise. I’ll stop drinking … as much. No more bars. No more shady dealings with shady people. ”

  “Dick, we wouldn’t want you to do that. Shady dealings with shady people, that’s who you are. We don’t want to change that. Just maybe avoid talking about our sex life with random drunks at the Cellar. That would be a step in the right direction. And maybe conduct your ‘side businesses’ at a coffee shop or some other location where there are sober people. The Council likes using the Cracker Barrel. ”
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