Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors

       part  #4 of  Jane Jameson Series  by  Molly Harper / Fantasy / Romance & Love
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Author: Molly Harper By the second night, we were all going a little nuts. To help pass the time, Jolene dropped by with the twins, Joe and Janelyn. They’d become quite the fixtures at River Oaks since Gabriel and I had been appointed the only trustworthy babysitters Jolene and Zeb knew. (Andrea and Dick served as alternates. ) Mama Ginger was bumped after she got baby Janelyn’s ears pierced without discussing it with her parents. And then there was an unfortunate episode involving Jolene’s pack, which a tight-lipped Zeb would only refer to as the “Greased Pig Incident. ”

Our apparent willingness to supervise their offspring, combined with the fact that they lived on the edge of River Oaks’s acreage, meant that they were frequent visitors. It was nice to have kids running around the old house, considering that the opportunity for the pittering and pattering would be scarce over the next few centuries. There weren’t many routes around the whole “vampires can’t have babies” rules. Plus, it was always entertaining to watch Gabriel with my godchildren. He was always all stiff and formal with them, until we left the room and we heard suspicious raspberry noises and baby talk. Of course, when we returned, we usually found him reading them the stock report as if it was the Brothers Grimm.

It was fascinating to watch the new parents at work. Jolene and Zeb maneuvered like a well-oiled machine. If Joe needed a bottle, Zeb already had it mixed and uncapped before Jolene could reach for it. If Janelyn needed to be burped, Jolene had the cloth over Zeb’s shoulder before he could get the baby into position. The synchronized diaper changes had a graceful, if stinky, ballet quality to them.

Some nights, I felt as if they were in some sort of military maneuver, them against the babies. You will not drive us crazy. You will not beat us. We will have sex again someday.

Jolene had relaxed a lot. The little things that used to wind her up didn’t bother her anymore. I think that once a woman has pushed two watermelon-sized objects out of her body, sans drugs, the prospect of her in-laws not liking her doesn’t matter so much anymore.

We were settled, as so many people were when they reached their thirties. It had just taken Dick and Gabriel a while to get around to it. We spent weekends at my house, watching movies, the babies asleep upstairs in the old nursery. You’d think a bunch of supernatural creatures would find this boring as hell, but after two years filled with blood, heartache, hostage crises, and death, a quiet movie night seems downright decadent.

Sometimes I marveled at how grownup we’d all become, and then Dick would recite a sixteen-stanza penis-based epic poem, and I’d take it back.

While the kids played on the living-room floor, Jolene compared this endless stream of empty time to waiting for a baby to be born. Everyone was excited and on edge, but the details were uncertain and out of our hands.

“Have you and Gabriel discussed what’s going to happen when Jamie rises?” Jolene asked, tossing her hair.

Once again, I wondered why I surrounded myself with women who were much prettier than I was. Surely, there was some sort of self-defeating psychology at work here. Jolene was gorgeous in an exotic way that had almost intimidated me out of getting to know her when she first started dating Zeb. She had a perfectly oval face, with high cheekbones and wild curls that were a dozen different shades of auburn. My only consolation was that when she parted those lush pink lips, she sounded like Lulu from Hee Haw.

To be honest, not many guys cared about that.

“Mostly, we’ve been staring at each other, wondering what the hell we’ve gotten ourselves into this time,” I admitted.

“Well, you’re basically becomin’ parents. And let me tell you, that’s a relationship changer. ”

“But you had two kids at once. Your perspective is kind of skewed. I mean, how much trouble could one teenager cause?” Jolene stared at me for a beat before I yowled, “I’m so screwed. Damn it, Jolene!”

“I thought you wanted my opinion!”

“Well, not if you’re going to bring reality into it!” I glared at her as I reached for the ringing phone, knowing that it was my mama before I picked up the receiver.

“Oh, honey, did you hear what happened to poor little Jamie Lanier?” Mama asked without saying hello first. She’d returned to her “no greetings” method of phone communication since Andrea ratted me out about turning down Gabriel’s first proposal. “He was minding his own business, delivering his dairy, and he was attacked by a vampire. Carol Ann Reilly said they pulled him from the truck, drained him dry, and turned him. ”

I huffed out a breath. “That’s not what happened!”

“What?”

I cleared my throat. “I mean, that’s not how it happens, Mama. Vampires don’t attack random strangers and turn them. ”

“Oh, honey, I know, and I told Carol Ann that with bottled blood and willing donors, y’all don’t really have to attack people and drag them from their vehicles like in the movies. Really, I wish that woman would go to a couple of FFOTU meetings with me, she’s so close-minded. ”

I bit my lip. But with Jolene’s wolfy hearing, she laughed freely.

“Your vampire Council sent someone over to tell poor Rosie and Jeff what had happened. And the worst part is that the Council won’t even tell them where he is! Their own son, dead, and they’re ‘not allowed’ to see him. ”

I felt a lump grow heavy in my throat. Please, please, please, don’t let Mama notice that I’ve stopped talking, I prayed. That’s always a tip-off that I’m not telling her something.

“They’re so torn up over it,” Mama continued. “I went by to visit them, of course, to take them a casserole and tell them about Friends and Family of the Undead. And you wouldn’t believe the throng of people over there. It was like a funeral without the body. Anyway, I was thinking maybe you might go over there to visit them, Jane, and show them that this isn’t the end of the world. They’ve always thought so much of you, honey. I think it would help them a lot. ”

I felt that same hot, oily rush of guilt that I always felt when I was about to lie or omit very important details to my mother. How was I going to face her, tell her what I’d done? After her initial shock over my turning, she’d always written off the bloodier aspects of vampirism as something I had to do. Would she still think that? Would she fall back to her old ways and think I’d just lost control of my bloodlust and made Jamie into a snack? I cleared my throat, willing that huge breath-hindering lump away.

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea right now, Mama. Technically, they’re in mourning. And they probably won’t want to see any vampires until they see their son. ”

“I don’t think you’re giving them enough credit, Jane—”

“Mama, trust me on this one. ”

“Fine. ” With a sigh and an FFOTU platitude about family and acceptance, Mama moved on to breezier topics. My sister Jenny wanted to know if I wanted to join the scrapbooking class she was teaching down at her new paper-craft shop. And this time, she meant it in a friendly, nonmocking way. My grandma Ruthie and her ghoul-beau Wilbur were preparing for a weekend away in Hot Springs, which was a scenario I didn’t want to imagine, ever. My father had finished a draft of a book on historically notable vampires of Half-Moon Hollow, which he’d written with Gabriel’s and Dick’s help.

After a few attempts to extract myself from the conversation, I finally convinced Mama that Fitz was choking on a baby toy and I had to rescue him with the doggie Heimlich. I hung up the phone and buried my face in my hands.

“If you keep doin’ that, you’re gonna get wrinkles,” Jolene said. I smirked at her. “Oh, I forgot, you’re never gonna get wrinkles. Bitch. But you could get some serious scratches from that rock. Wow! This is the first time I’ve had a good look at it. ” She yanked my hand closer for inspection. “Very nice work, Miss Jameson. So, why isn’t your mama here right now, drillin’ you about wedding details?”

“Um …” I realized that it was the first time I’d spoken to my mother since getting engaged, and I hadn’t even thought about telling her. I hadn’t thought about anything beyond my immediate future. Suddenly, my engagement news didn’t seem so earth-shattering.

More than anything, I wished that Gabriel had taken me up on my elopement offer, because we’d be married by now. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t want to think about wedding plans for a long time to come. Of course, if we’d taken that impromptu trip to Vegas, that crazy driver would have hit Jamie without vampires nearby to help him. We would have come back from our honeymoon to attend his funeral.

As I mulled that over, Dick and Gabriel loped into the kitchen, with Zeb and Andrea at their heels, all with a strangely uniform “We need to talk” expression on their faces. I arched an eyebrow, but that was mainly because of the way Dick was dangling Joe by his ankles, while the baby giggled hysterically. Jolene sighed, retrieved her inverted offspring, and smacked the back of Dick’s head.

“This is why you’re an alternate,” she told him.

Gabriel cleared his throat. “Jane, I know that you’re still a bit in shock from Jamie’s turning, but we were hoping you might be ready to talk about a few things. ”

His formal tone brought a ghost of a smile to my lips. “Such as?”

Gabriel and Dick exchanged uneasy glances, making me cry, “Stop doing that! I swear, I liked it better when you two were conspiring against each other, not me. Out with it!”

“Jane, you were nearly hit by a car today. Maybe it was an accident, but I think we can agree that there’s a ninety-percent chance that it was intentional,” Gabriel said.

“Ninety percent?”

“I did the math,” Andrea assured me. “The number of occasions in which you have been injured due to accident or miscalculated practical jokes, versus intentional injury. ”

“The point is, we’re not going to wait around for trouble to find you this time,” Gabriel said. “This time, you’re going to let me use every resource at my disposal to seek this person out and stop him. ”

“Agreed,” I said, nodding.

He arched an eyebrow. “You’re not going to protest?”

“No, I think you have a really good grasp on the problem. I’m not going to do anything that pushes us apart or drags the problem out. If you need to stay with me at the shop while I’m working, we’ll set up office space for you there. Hell, I’ll get you your own fax line. If you think we need to close the shop for a while, we can do that. Let me know what I can do to make this situation easier for you. ”

Frowning, he sighed. “Now is not the time for sarcasm, Jane. ”

“I’m not being sarcastic!”

“Then I have no idea how to respond. ”

“You kiss me and tell me everything is going to be OK. ”

He kissed me. “Everything’s going to be OK. ”

“OK. ”

“I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit,” Zeb griped.

“Stretch, you have any idea who might have been behind the wheel of that car?” Dick asked. “You said it swerved toward you after it struck Jamie. Do you think it’s possible that you were the target and Jamie was just collateral damage?”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s actually been buzzing at the back of my brain since Jamie took his last breath. And after the last couple of years, I actually have a system for narrowing down a list of suspects when something like this happens. But honestly, I don’t think I have any enemies left at this point. I mean, I haven’t done anything to anyone lately. And I don’t think I have anything that anyone else would want. That’s generally what gets me in trouble. First, there was Missy, the insane real estate agent who wanted to take my house and turn it into a tacky vampire condo development. Then Esther Barnes, the psychic who tried to scramble Zeb’s brain and prevent his wedding to Jolene. And of course, Jeanine. But those were all cases of my actually doing something to piss someone off. ”
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