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     Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.4

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

I managed to focus long enough to register the rest of the panel lining up in an intimidating semicircle around me. There was cool blond Sophie, whose unlined, luminescent face was as unsettling as it was beautiful; the improbably named Waco Marchand, whom one might recognize from the Confederate memorial statue in downtown Half-Moon Hollow; and finally, gaunt and grumpy Peter Crown, who had never liked me … or anyone, as far as I could tell.

I stayed quiet, with my hands in my lap. Dick had taken his place at my right, his hand on my shoulder.

“No protests of innocence?” Ophelia asked, frowning at the battered, bloodied teen in my lap. I shook my head. “Very well. Explain yourself. ”

I sniffed. “This is Jamie Lanier. He’s a local kid. He was doing his dairy deliveries, and … he came around the truck, and he didn’t see—The car didn’t even slow down …”

Seeing that I wasn’t going to be able to provide much more, Dick intervened, explaining about the reckless driver and the extent of Jamie’s injuries.

Ophelia’s crystalline gaze did not waver from my face. “And what led to your turning him? Did we get a little hungry in sight of the poor bleeding accident victim?”

“He asked me to turn him,” I told her, my voice a little firmer than it should have been, given the circumstances. “He didn’t want to die. ”

Ophelia looked to Dick, asking for confirmation. He nodded.

“Dick helped me. He showed me how,” I said. “I gave him as much blood as I could before—before he faded out. ”

The Council members turned to one another and started their silent conversation with lip twitches and various eye gestures. Peter Crown sneered at me, but that was actually friendlier than his usual expression.

I cleared my throat. “So, how much trouble am I in?”

Ophelia gave an uninterested shrug. “No, for once, you seem to have behaved appropriately. ”

I stared at her, dumbfounded. “Sorry, what?”

Sophie, whom I tried to steer clear of after she’d picked her way through my brain using her special truth-seeking psychic talents, smiled warmly at me. Of course, she smiled that way right before she used said special talents, so I leaned back a little on the couch. “Really, Jane, you should relax. You performed admirably. I would imagine even the human community would appreciate your efforts. We will, of course, contact the human authorities and inform them of young Mr. Lanier’s passing. ”

I nodded.

While Waco, who’d always taken a gentlemanly grandfather stance with me, patted my head affectionately, Peter glared at me. I sat stone-still, unsure how to respond. Where were the not-so-subtle threats? The menu of horrific potential consequences? Ophelia’s barbed insults about my spazzery and/or wardrobe?

“This is the part where you say thank you,” Ophelia said, lifting an eyebrow.

“Thank you,” I parroted back to her.

“We’ll work on enthusiasm and sincerity some other time,” she said with a smirk.

“Give her a break, Ophelia,” Waco muttered. “Under the circumstances, she’s holding up very well. I’ve heard that your first turn as a sire wasn’t quite so neat and tidy. ”

The great thing about people as composed as Ophelia is that when you finally crack them, the brief flash of anger across their features is blinding in its pissiness. Ophelia stood and smoothed her hands over her skirt. “Well, I’m sure you’d like to get home and start ‘feathering the nest,’ so to speak. You only have three days to prepare for your new arrival. ”

I nearly dropped Jamie from my lap. “I’m sorry, what?”

Ophelia’s lip quirk deepened to a full-on smirk. “Your new childe, he’ll be living with you. It’s your responsibility to help him make the transition into the vampire world. Didn’t Gabriel explain the sire-childe dynamic to you when you rose?”

“Yeah, but I pretty much told him where to stuff it and lived how I pleased. ”

“And look where that got you,” Peter retorted.

“In other words, congratulations,” Sophie chirped. “It’s a boy!”

“Are you being sarcastic or sincere right now?” I demanded. “Because honestly, I can’t tell. ”

Sophie gave me a sharp little nod. “A little of both. ”

“Awesome,” I grumbled, much to Peter’s delight.

Sophie handed me a black gift bag packed with sample bottles of synthetic blood, Blood-B-Gone stain-removing wipes, a GPS-enhanced alarm clock that tracked the sun’s movements, SPF-500 sunblock, iron supplements with what looked like a baby vampire on the label, and a copy of Siring for the Stupid: A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Newborn Vampires. Well, that capped it. No successful endeavor in my life, undead or otherwise, had started with a gift basket.

“Seriously, who do you get to publish this stuff for you?” I demanded, holding up the copy of Siring for the Stupid. I looked to Dick, who seemed as perplexed as I was by the events unfolding in the break room. “Is this normal?”

Dick frowned, watching Ophelia warily. “It’s not abnormal. But, usually, if the Council doesn’t feel comfortable with a newly turned vampire’s restraint, the representatives take on the job of fostering themselves. ”

“Well, this was an unusual case,” Ophelia admitted. “Jamie’s seventeen. He’s a minor. He can’t live alone unless he’s emancipated, which the state won’t allow under current vampire rights regulations. And we certainly can’t let him return home to his parents. Jamie needs someone who is accustomed to working with children. Jane has that experience from her former profession. ”

“Jamie aged out of my library program once he stopped reading those Captain Underpants books,” I told her. Ophelia shot me one of her patented “why are you still speaking?” looks. I sighed. “For how long?”

“Until he’s ready to live on his own,” she said, giving Jamie a speculative glance. “Don’t worry, I’ll be stopping by frequently to check on his progress. As you know, your antics always keep me entertained, Jane. ”

“I knew it,” I ground out. Peter actually chuckled under his breath, which was the first time I’d heard him express anything like humor.

Bastard.

“What about Jamie’s parents?” I asked.

“The Council is sending a representative to the Laniers’ home to explain what happened. It would be best if they don’t know where he is right now. Do not contact them until the Council arranges a supervised meeting with their son. ”

“You’re not sending Peter, are you?” I asked. “Because the news might be better delivered by someone with, um, feelings?”

“Are you saying I’m insensitive?” Peter deadpanned.

“I was going to use the words ‘devoid of the milk of human kindness,’ but ‘insensitive’ will do. ”

Waco snorted but covered it with a cough. “I’ll be visiting the Laniers, Miss Jane. Don’t you worry, I’ll soften the blow. ”

I nodded. Maybe it would be easier to take such bad news when it came from a guy who looked like Colonel Sanders.

Probably not.

“What about the car?” I asked.

Ophelia shrugged. “What car?”

“The car that hit Jamie. Don’t you want to try to find out who caused all this?”

Ophelia gave an uninterested wave of the hand. “It was probably a drunk human, as you said, a hit-and-run driver. It would be a matter for the human police, if you care to report it. But as I recall, you and the local law-enforcement agencies don’t play well together. ”

I had to concede that. The last time I’d had contact with the Half-Moon Hollow PD, I’d asked one of the officers if it was uncomfortable to have his head jammed so far up one of his own orifices. Filing a missing-persons report on Andrea was considerably more difficult after that.

“Jane?” Gabriel came crashing through the store and into the break room.

“Ah, the lover’s dramatic entrance,” Ophelia drawled.

“What’s happened?” Gabriel exclaimed, obviously confused to see the adolescent draped across my legs. “Are you all right? Were you hurt?”

I started to sniffle at the idea of having to explain the situation again, and Ophelia rolled her eyes. She muttered instructions to Dick, and the rest of Council swept from the room.

“We’d better get them home, Gabe,” Dick told him as he lifted Jamie from my lap. “I’ll explain later. Jane’s holding it together so far, but she’s about this close to a tirade like we’ve never seen before. ”

I felt Gabriel shudder beside me, and despite myself, I felt my lips twitch as I elbowed him in the side. He slipped his arms under mine and led me out of the shop. Dick carefully laid Jamie in the back of Big Bertha and ran around to the driver’s side. I saw him instinctually reach for the handle of the driver’s-side door that was lying crumpled on the concrete. I giggled at the absurdity of the gesture. A wave of nausea and fatigue surged over me, and that giggle melted into an all-out hysterical, bent-over-my-own-knees guffaw.

Sensing the tirade unraveling, Gabriel ushered me into his own car. He tucked me into the passenger seat, and I tilted back against the seat, swiping at my eyes.

“I didn’t mean for this to happen,” I murmured as he turned the ignition. “I never mean for any of it to happen, but something always seems to sneak up and bite us in the ass, doesn’t it?”

He pulled me close and kissed my temple. “This time around, let’s just assume the best of each other and go with the flow,” he murmured. “It would save a lot of time … and Tasering. ”

With that, my fiance drove me home, my head cradled on his knee.

This was what happened when you dated a guy who saved you from a gunshot wound in a muddy ditch. There’s a certain amount of drama expected in your relationship.

Gabriel and I had the opposite of a meet-cute. We had a meet-casualty. The short version is that when I was (unfairly, unceremoniously) fired from the library, instead of getting a severance check, I got just enough of a gift certificate to get rip-snorting drunk at Shenanigans. I met Gabriel, sobered, and flirtation ensued. My car died halfway home. I was spotted walking home by the town drunk, Bud McElray, who mistook me for a deer and shot me. I was left in the ditch to die, only to be found and turned by Gabriel.

But when I tell the story in public, Gabriel had to turn me because of wounds I suffered rescuing blind orphans from a flaming, totaled van.

Gabriel eventually tracked Bud McElray down and exacted ironic revenge on my behalf, forcing Bud from a deer stand and then shoving a tree on top of him to make his death look like a tragic hunting accident. Bud’s death and the ensuing dirty, naked argument we had over it is one of the darker episodes in our relationship. Not many couples can say they consummated their love after crashing through a coffee table.

We put Jamie in the guest room, the same room where Andrea had lain while we waited for her to rise. I hoped this wasn’t becoming a habit. I didn’t want to start a B&B for vampires in chrysalis.

Having been beaten, bled, concussed, and repeatedly electrocuted, I was unconscious during most of Andrea’s transition. I didn’t realize how mind-numbingly boring it was. Other than avoiding contact with my family and stocking up on bottled blood and comfortable clothes for my new charge, there hadn’t been much to do other than paint my toenails. And Dick’s. That would teach him to fall asleep on the couch.

Zeb brought by a selection of comic books and video games from his personal stash to keep Jamie entertained post-rising. Andrea and Dick ran the shop, because it seemed wrong for me to be away from home at the moment. Gabriel and I paced a lot.
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