Nice girls dont bite the.., p.39
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       Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.39

          part  #4 of  Jane Jameson Series  by  Molly Harper / Fantasy / Romance & Love
Page 39
Author: Molly Harper

“So, when are you doing this?” Zeb asked.

“Now,” Ray said. “I don’t want to put this off. I might lose my nerve. ”

“We kind of have a thing to get to,” I said, jerking my head in the direction of River Oaks.

Dick patted my arm, trying to reassure me but failing miserably. “Actually, I can turn him now, drop him off at home to wait out the change, and then be at River Oaks by the time you’re cleaned up and have your face back in order. ”

Over my shoulder, I saw Zeb and Gabriel waving their arms frantically and shaking their heads. I turned on them. “What do you mean?”

19

Never underestimate your childe’s resourcefulness. They may have skill sets that surprise you.

—Siring for the Stupid:

A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Newborn Vampires

“It’s not that bad,” Gabriel assured me, putting his arm around my waist and leading me to the back of the house. We’d carefully driven around the dozen or so cars parked in front to keep our guests from seeing me (1) in the presence of my groom and (2) looking as if I’d been run through a woodchipper. Gabriel wouldn’t let me look in the rearview mirrors in the car, and every time I looked as if I might catch a reflection in the window, Zeb threw his hands over my eyes from the backseat. I didn’t take this as a good sign.

My worst fears were confirmed as Gabriel led me through the kitchen to find my family sitting around the kitchen table.

“What did you do?” Mama and Jenny chorused.

“I’m fine, by the way,” I grumbled.

“Oh, my gosh, Jane, have you been wrestling bears?” Mama cried, rushing toward me.

“Yes, Mama, I took a little time out from my wedding prep to wrestle a few bears. I figured a mani-pedi would be passe,” I said as she inspected what I suspected was a split lip and a black eye sustained when I was dropped on my face. Apparently, the horse tranquilizers slowed down our blood flow and, therefore, our ability to heal.

“Really?” Jamie asked, grinning mischievously.

Jenny took a minute to consider my snark. “Yeah, she’s just fine. ”

“We’re running about three hours late. Jolene and Andrea have come up with every possible stall story imaginable, and Iris has kept the open bar freely flowing. What should we tell the guests now?” Daddy asked.

“We could tell them she was adjusting her veil and fell out of a second-story window, but she’ll be ready in just a few minutes,” Zeb suggested.

“Hey!” I frowned at him.

“People who know her would believe it,” Mama said.

“Hey!”

“We can convince them that Gabriel tried to ditch you at the altar, but you managed to run him down,” Jolene said brightly as she hustled into the kitchen. She tsked at the damage to my dress and kissed my cheek.

“Statements like that are what got you into that dress. ”

“I’m glad you’re OK,” Jolene said, rolling her eyes.

“Revenge is what got us into these dresses. ” Andrea snorted. “Where’s Dick?”

“He’ll be here soon,” I said. “Zeb and Gabriel can fill you in. ”

Zeb gave me a squeeze before I was pulled up the back stairs by Mama and Jenny. “We’ll give them an explanation that doesn’t end up embarrassing you. ”

“Thank you,” I said, looking over my shoulder at Gabriel. “Love you!”

“Love you!” he called as I reached the second landing.

In my room, Jenny pulled the dress carefully over my head and handed it to Jolene, who was already threading a needle with gray thread. Mama whipped a startling range of wet wipes from her purse, from stain-fighting to makeup-removing. “We can fix this. ”

I turned toward the vanity mirror and shrieked. My black eye and split lip were slowly returning to normal, but there was a splotch of dried blood at the corner of my mouth and a wide smear of mascara across my cheek. My hair looked as if I’d been attacked by a badger.

Mama had already started plucking pins from my hair. Jenny was dabbing at the blood, scrubbing at the mascara with a makeup-removing wipe. Within minutes, she had a fresh coat of powder and lipstick on my face and had reapplied my eye makeup.

“Jen, remember all those times I asked God why I was cursed with an evil sorority princess for a sister?”

“Vividly,” she retorted dryly.

“I take it back. ”

Three hours late, slightly disheveled, with a discreetly mended rip up the front of my wedding dress, I was led to the garden by my father and into the hands of my future husband. Andrea, Jolene, and Jenny had been released from their lemon-colored clothing prisons and were now tastefully dressed in dove-gray gowns with empire waists and pretty beaded sashes. They were so relieved they didn’t even take the time to be angry with me over the ruse.

Miraculously, Dick was waiting at the altar with the rest of the wedding party, having managed to slip into his vintage tuxedo T-shirt just in time. He explained later that he’d gotten some of Ray’s blood on his dress clothes, but I knew he just liked to amuse me. Jamie was there, holding Fitz’s leash. Zeb was at Gabriel’s elbow, grinning brilliantly. I winked at him as I carefully walked down the aisle.

Per Mama’s wishes, I’d invited all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins. And to my unending shock, they all showed, with one expected exception. Jenny told me that Cousin Junie had boycotted the ceremony “on principle. ” I think the principle was that I was dead, and I was still getting married before her. But the rest of my relatives waved happily from my side of the aisle, meaning that Gabriel could anticipate Uncle Dave and Uncle Junior’s traditional wedding reception speech, entitled “If you hurt our girl, we will whip your ass. ” Only this time, they would be adding, “Vampire or not. ”

Daddy placed my hand in Gabriel’s, and he beamed at me. He looked so handsome in his old-fashioned coat, the slightest hint of a healing bruise on his cheekbone. I wish I could say that I remember every detail of the ceremony, but all I remember is looking into Gabriel’s eyes and smiling like a fool. It was a good thing we’d chosen simple vows, because I doubt I could have repeated anything beyond “I do. ”

Jolene’s uncle pronounced us man and wife, and we practically ran back down the aisle as our friends and family pelted us with white flower petals. Near the arbor, Aunt Jettie and Mr. Wainwright clapped and shouted louder than the living.

After the ceremony, we stayed up all night in true vampire style. Fortunately, the human guests had been occupied with the planned wedding dinner while I was “indisposed,” so we were able to get right to the fun stuff. The lanterns hung over the garden, their mellow light shining down on us as we laughed and drank. Gabriel and I didn’t eat the cake, but we cut it for the human guests. Finally, just as dawn’s pinkish fingers crept over the horizon, we were ready to go to rest for the day.

We weren’t planning to go away until the next night. I wanted my first night as a married woman to be spent under River Oaks’s roof. We waved from the house’s front porch as the human guests departed. Unused to being up so late, Jamie went upstairs half-conscious, sure that he was going to pass out before he could get to a light-tight space. Mama practically had to be carried to the car, while Jenny was good and toasted and tried to persuade Jolene and Zeb to find an after-hours club. Or maybe a Denny’s.

“And so, my lovely wife, you had a different wedding from most. ” Gabriel chuckled, taking me for one last spin about the porch.

“Yes, so few weddings begin with a duel and a vampiric blood-swapping agreement,” I said. “Did Ray make it through the procedure?”

“Dick says he’s resting comfortably at their home. ”

“I hope Andrea doesn’t get too angry with him,” I said. “She’s basically going to be putting up with two of Dick. ”

“I have a feeling she will understand. ”

We turned to find Aunt Jettie and Mr. Wainwright waiting for us by the front door. They looked nervous and torn, not at all how someone attending a long-awaited wedding should appear. I carefully climbed the steps, lifting my train to prevent face-plants on the porch.

“Is everything OK?” I asked. “You two seem a little off tonight. ”

“Jane, it’s time to go,” Aunt Jettie said softly.

“Well, we’re not leaving until tomorrow night, but we’ll be back in a week. ”

Mr. Wainwright’s cool, misty palm slid over my clasped hands. “No, dear, it’s time for us to go. ”

Gabriel slipped an arm around my waist as I shook my head. “Go where?”

“Baby, it’s time we moved on. ”

“But—but no!” I exclaimed.

Eloquent, I know.

Aunt Jettie smiled gently. “We’ve known for a little while that we wanted to see what’s on the other side. But I wouldn’t have missed your big day for anything, so we stayed. Now I’ve seen everything I’d ever want to see. You’re happy. You’re exactly what and where you need to be. And I don’t belong here anymore. I’m not afraid of what comes next. I’m eager to see what’s waiting for me. And Gilbert says that we’ll be able to stay together if we concentrate hard enough on each other. ”

“Is that why you’ve been so distant? Why you’ve spent so much time away from the house? You wanted us to get used to not having you around?”

They nodded.

“But I’ll miss you,” I whispered as she trailed her hand down my face.

“Honey, you’re a grown woman now. You don’t need some silly old woman hanging around. ”

“No, but I want this silly old woman around,” I protested. “Isn’t that better?”

She narrowed her eyes at me and shook her head. “Oh, you’re good. ”

“What if you get up there and the only thing waiting for you is Grandma Ruthie’s vengeful spirit, preparing to annoy the hell out of you for eternity?”

Jettie shuddered. “Then we would do everything we could to find a way back. ”

“I really can’t talk you out of this?” I asked.

They shook their heads sadly.

“You know what you’ve come to mean to me, right?” I asked Mr. Wainwright.

“Not nearly as much as you’ve come to mean to me. I love you very much, Jane. I wouldn’t be able to leave this plane without knowing that you were here to care for the people and things I love. ”

“Does that include me?” I heard Dick’s voice behind my shoulder as he joined us.

Mr. Wainwright’s hands came up to cup Dick’s cheeks. “Of course. I have few regrets, but one of them is not being able to spend more time with you. I hope you’re not disappointed in your grandson for wanting a little rest. ”

“Never,” Dick said. “I haven’t had a lot of achievements in my life, things that I know I did right. Watching you grow up, helping you along the way, I know that was something to be proud of. ”

“I love you two,” Andrea said. “I’ll keep an eye on Dick for you, Gilbert. ”

“Thank you, dear,” he said. “Jettie, love, are you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” she said. “Good-bye, sweetheart. ”

I watched as they moved across the lawn, the pinkish-blue light of dawn growing stronger. Instinctively, we moved toward the door, away from the growing sunlight. Aunt Jettie was moving farther away, fading.

“Aunt Jettie, wait!” I cried, running after her. I threw myself into her misty form. I felt her arms circle around my back as I sniffled into nothing. “I would have gone crazy by now without you. You helped me find out who and what I am. You let me know that it was OK to be myself. You gave me a place to go when everybody else in the family seemed determined to change me into something I wasn’t. No matter what I did or what I was, you loved me. I just want you to know that I love you, too. ”
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