Undead sublet, p.4
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       Undead Sublet, p.4

         Part #2. 5 of Half Moon Hollow series by Molly Harper  
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Page 4

 

  He grabbed his mug of what I assumed was blood and stalked toward the basement door, glaring over his shoulder.

  I grinned to myself. “I think I won that one. ”

  —

  With the (disturbingly attractive) interloper holed up in his basement, I made a huge pot of coffee and retreated to my room. I threw my blinds up so the minute the sun rose, my room would be bathed in light, and crouched on my bed.

  I had a vampire roommate. This was just the cherry on the crap sundae of my life.

  Was this even legal? Could Lindy rent the house to me when it was already occupied? Vampire property rights were still a little vague. After the Great Coming Out, the Council wrangled with the human governments over financial issues. Vampires became the answer to a dwindling economy, an untapped taxable workforce capable of launching untold cottage industries—blood banks, all-night shopping centers, fang-friendly dental clinics.

  But there were problems. Recently turned vampires weren’t eager to take back the credit-card balances they’d left behind when they’d “died. ” Other vampires hadn’t paid taxes in centuries and deeply resented the idea that they’d have to file 1040s. This reluctance led to some resentment from the humans, which led to some “less than friendly” policies toward the undead when it came to mortgages, leases, and probate laws. After all, vampires weren’t technically alive, so how could they have property rights?

  Even after the Undead Civil Rights Act, there were still loopholes of which humans took full advantage. Landlords suddenly aware of why some tenants only came out at night kicked vampires out of their apartments over the slightest infractions. Home loans to vampires came with outrageous interest rates. And when they divorced, they were lucky to get away with the clothes on their backs. I couldn’t imagine a judge in semirural Kentucky giving Sam a fair shake against sweet little Lindy.

  Was this rental scheme some sort of revenge against Sam? They’d been married for three years before Sam had been turned. Clearly, Lindy had skinned him in the divorce. She’d taken all of the good furniture, whatever had been hanging on the walls. There wasn’t anything in the kitchen cupboards but lint and the groceries I’d brought. I was surprised she let Sam stay in the house.

  I didn’t have the luxury of sympathizing with Sam. Maybe it was selfish, but I wasn’t in a very stable position myself. I’d cleared out my checking account to put down the rent on this place. I had a healthy savings account, but it was earmarked for my new apartment. And I didn’t know whether I had a job to return to after my “sabbatical. ” My contract with Coda was performance-based. I got a share in the business, but the owners didn’t have to keep using me in the kitchen if I was unable to fulfill their expectations. If I didn’t have a regular paycheck, I would need every penny when I got back to the city.

  I didn’t have the available cash to travel somewhere else. I couldn’t go home. I lived right around the corner from Coda. The temptation to go back to check on my kitchen would be too great. I could stay with Chef Gamling and George, I supposed. But it would prick my pride. It was bad enough that Chef felt he had to nurse me back to health like some emotionally stunted kitten. Plus, Chef’s house didn’t even have a guest room. The second bedroom had been converted into Chef’s painting studio. I would be reduced to a couch surfer. A big pathetic couch-surfing loser who talked to vegetables.

  Still, I wouldn’t stay in a house with a strange man, much less a man who saw me as his favorite food group.

  I didn’t want to leave the house. Hell, if I had the money for a vacation home in the sticks, I would buy the place. I liked the weird nooks and crannies in the design. I liked the quiet and the way the light came through the kitchen windows in the morning. I could sleep there, and I couldn’t seem to sleep anywhere. I wasn’t going to give that up. I needed the Lassiter place to get better. If Sam was going to get in the way of that, he would have to go.

  Blinded by the Brine

  3

  My new landlord did not appreciate my predawn call.

  “Is there a problem with the house?” Lindy asked, all guilelessness and concern.

  I huffed out an irritated sigh. She was honestly going to make me say it. She was going to plead ignorance, just in case I was calling about a leak in the roof or a plumbing problem.

  “Yes, you didn’t make it clear in the rental ad that the house came with a fully furnished vampire lair in the basement,” I snapped.

  “Oh, that. ”

  “Yes, that. Your vampire ex-husband is sleeping in the basement. That would be pertinent information to give a prospective tenant, I think, before renting out the house. ”

  “Look, this really isn’t my problem, Tess. ”

  “You rented me a house that someone was already living in!”

  She yawned. “Technically, no one is living there. ”

  “Don’t you argue semantics with me. You either get your vampire ex out of here, or you refund my money. ”

  “You’ll find I don’t have to do either. You signed the paperwork. The house is livable. Besides, I don’t have your money anymore. ”

  It was all downhill from there. Lindy said the house was my problem now and told me I had to deal with it. I told her to do a lot of things, most of which were not anatomically possible. She called the cops and reported me for harassment.

  It turned out that there was very little that local law enforcement could do to help me resolve my dispute with Lindy. Until the divorce was final, Lindy was technically entitled to rent out the space as she chose, according to Half-Moon Hollow Police Sergeant Russell Lane, although he said it in a tone that gave me the distinct impression that he was guessing. The good news was that as far as the police were concerned, I hadn’t violated my rental agreement. I hadn’t actually threatened Lindy, just annoyed her. So she couldn’t force me to leave just because she was upset with me.

  “Don’t I have the right to a house without undead occupants?” I’d asked Sergeant Lane.

  He shrugged. “You are free to take her to small-claims court. ”

  Considering that the case would likely be called months after I returned to Chicago, I decided against that. I also passed on Lane’s suggestion that I could move into a motel in town if I was so uncomfortable with Sam’s presence in the house. I saw a few of those establishments on my first drive through town. Unless I was an out-of-state fisherman or an adulterer, I didn’t think I would be comfortable at the Lucky Clover Motel.

  Given the choice between sticky sheets and bedbugs versus a vampire, I would take my chances with the vampire.

  My day did not get better. Despite my extreme fatigue, I couldn’t get any rest. I tossed and turned, but I was too keyed up from my visit from the fuzz. There was this weird gnawing sensation under my breastbone that kept me from relaxing.

  How had I become so uncomfortable in my own skin? I used to be such a physical person. When I was in school, everything seemed easy. When I was hungry, I ate. If my body felt too soft, I exercised. And the sex. Everything you’ve heard about the stove being a hotbed for sexual tension is completely true.

  But when you reach a certain level of success in the kitchen, everything becomes so competitive—who gets the best reviews, who gets their photos taken with celebrity diners, who gets guest spots on the Food Network. Because of my schedule, I rarely spent time with nonculinary “civilians. ” I couldn’t date other chefs, because they became insecure if they felt they were the “beta” in the relationship. Even Phillip, whose image and income depended on my success, seemed uncomfortable with the idea of a girlfriend who was “high-profile. ” He wanted to conduct the front of house like a maestro with his orchestra, not answer diners’ questions about his girlfriend. No wonder he’d gone back to the dental hygienist. No one wanted to discuss flossing in detail.

  So for months, there had been no sleep and no sex. Clearly, I was lucky I hadn’t taken out bystanders in my vegetable-based breakdown.

  I stretched. I popped a few antacids. I opened my laptop, checked my e-mail, and was shocked to find a dozen or so messages from restaurant owners around Chicago. Most of them were the standard “get well soon” messages one would expect from a colleague, even a competitor. But others seemed to be fishing for information. Was I leaving Coda? Was I really having health problems, or had the gossip mill blown that out of proportion? What were my immediate plans when I got back into town? There were a few subtle hints—that if my sudden decline was simply an excuse to get away from newly engaged Phillip, that several establishments would be more than willing to hire me.

  The fact that I didn’t immediately delete the e-mail was a bit shocking. For years, I’d devoted every waking hour to Coda. Could I really leave the restaurant? I would have to move. It would be too awkward, living so close to the restaurant. If I was going to do this, I wanted a fresh start. I would need a new apartment—maybe I’d even indulge in something with a view of the Chicago skyline that didn’t involve the guy across the street practicing nude yoga in front of an open window.

  Before I’d left, the owners at Coda had made it clear that if I wanted to sell out, they would be happy to reclaim stakes in their business from a potentially crazy woman. They’d only offered the small share I held to appease me. If I sold out, I might have enough to put the down payment on a modest townhouse in a semisafe neighborhood.

  I would check the apartments across the street for nude yoga enthusiasts before I moved in.

  —

  That night, I sat at the kitchen counter with some jasmine tea and waited, feeling like a teenager on her first job interview.

  I tried to focus on the positive steps I’d taken that day—unpacking, finding a store that sold Amish breads and sweets, buying a very large lock for my bedroom door at the hardware store. Lindy would just have to deal with the fact that her master bedroom now had a brand-new mental-hospital-quality deadbolt.

  But I was about to have a potentially unpleasant conversation with my new vampire roommate, and I just couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that it was going to end badly—or bloodily—for me.

  The sun dropped behind the horizon, leaving the kitchen purpled and shadowed. Just as I flipped the light switch, I could hear footsteps lumbering up the basement stairs. I took a deep breath, willing myself to be calm, cool, civil.

  At the very least, I would not threaten him with Asian cookware.

  Sam stepped through the basement door, just as tall and broody as I remembered. Pulling a faded blue T-shirt over some pale but nicely defined abs, he started at the sight of a human sitting at his counter. He frowned, shifting the donor bag of blood between his hands. “Oh, you’re still here. ”

  “All of the awkwardness of a one-night stand without any of the fun,” I said, trying desperately to look anywhere but at the half-buttoned jeans. It didn’t work. It was as if there were some sort of vision magnet embedded in the little metal rivets. Don’t look, Tess. Don’t loo—

  Damn it. I looked. And he caught me.

  Sam smirked, a devilish little dimple winking out at me as he crossed to the microwave and heated a mugful of synthetic blood. With his jeans still undone. At this point, I was pretty sure he was refusing to button them, just to mess with me. So I stared at the wall and forged ahead.

  “Remember that impasse we discussed? Well, I had a conversation with your ex this morning… and the police. And it would appear that Lindy doesn’t have to repay my money, but she can’t force me out, either. So I’m here to stay. ”

  “Why don’t you just go back home? There’s nothing for you here. ”

  “Because I’m supposed to be ‘recuperating. ’ If I go back to Chicago, I will end up somewhere I don’t need to be. ”

  He turned his head sharply, glaring at me. “Hold on, are you a drug addict?”
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