Undead sublet, p.5
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       Undead Sublet, p.5

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


  The flinty tone of Sam’s voice, the command, set my nerves on edge. Chef Gamling was the only one allowed to use that tone with me. I took a deep breath, forcing myself to exhale slowly.

  “I am not a drug addict,” I said through clenched teeth. “I’m a workaholic. You probably figured out from all of the kitchen equipment that I’m a chef. I had a bit of a setback at my restaurant, and my boss put me on leave. If I go back before I’m supposed to, my manager-slash-ex will probably fire me. I’ll be humiliated, again, and probably won’t be able to find work. My point is, I’m not leaving. Can’t you just go stay with one of your vampire friends for a while?”

  Sam scowled. “I haven’t been a vampire long enough to have a ‘crash pad’ in the undead community. And my wife got all my living friends in the divorce. ”

  “Well, I’m sorry that your being antisocial has worked against you. But I am not going to share a house with you. And that’s not because you’re a vampire. It’s because you’re a strange male vampire, who could be a tutu-wearing serial killer for all I know. ”

  His dark brows drew together as he shook off that visual. “I guess one of us is just going to have to leave. ”

  “Yeah, I guess one of us is,” I shot back. “In case you missed it, ‘one of us’ translates to the one not freeloading. ’”


  “I’m paying my way here. You have no job that I’m aware of. You have no decent aboveground furniture. You’re riding out the time left on a divorce settlement before Lindy puts this place on the market. ”

  I should not have said that. Even before the words came out of my mouth, I knew I shouldn’t have called him out on his broken marriage. Why didn’t I just go drop-kick a baby polar bear and then poke its mama with a stick?

  He muttered something along the lines of “She’s that sure I won’t get the money, is she?”

  Given the sharp expression in Sam’s dark eyes, I had no choice but to backtrack. “Look, I’m really sorry about your marital issues, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m staying. I’ve paid to stay the month, so I’m not going anywhere. ”

  “You may be paying your way, but that doesn’t make this your home,” he hissed, gripping the counter with those strong white hands. “You can pack up and leave anytime. And trust me, I’m going to do everything I can to try to make that time come sooner than you expect. ”

  “Are you threatening me?” I asked, a sly grin spreading across my face as I looked up at him. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t think of the last time a man challenged me like this. For the first time in a long time, I felt a frisson of… something there were no clean words for. “I bet you I can make you run screaming from this house like something out of The Amityville Horror. ”

  “You sound awfully confident for a mortal without superpowers. ” He growled, leaning ever so slightly closer. His nostrils flared as if he was taking in my scent. “You won’t make me move an inch. ”

  I showed off my own teeth in a sharp, wicked smile. “You will run screaming into broad daylight like a little, tiny girl. ”

  “First one to fold leaves for good?” he asked, licking his lips.

  “Agreed. ”

  Sam offered his hand to shake on the deal. “Bring it on, cupcake. ”

  I smirked, grasping his cool hand tightly. The slight wince he gave showed he didn’t expect me to have much of a grip. “Sweetie, you’re already standing in the middle of it, and you’re too dumb to see it. ”

  One Epiphany, Hold the Pimento Cheese


  The next twenty-four hours were tense, the long, silent wait for the first shot in a battle.

  Sam’s first efforts at “pranking” me were the stuff of summer camps and middle school sleepovers. While I was asleep, he sneaked into the bathroom and Saran Wrapped the toilet. He also switched all of the staples in the kitchen. There was salt in the sugar canister, baking soda in the can of baking powder, that sort of thing. It might have confused someone who hadn’t taken professional baking courses.

  After visiting an establishment called Bubba’s Beer and Bait, I responded by drilling a little hole in the basement door and gently coaxing two containers of live crickets through a funnel and onto the basement steps. I corked the hole and wedged a towel into the crack under the door so they couldn’t escape. The best part was that Sam would never find all of them. They would crawl under his bed and into corners, and he would drive himself nuts trying to find the source of their annoying little cheeps.

  I was careful to lock myself in my room by sundown that night, just so I could listen to his irritated yelps as he woke up to hundreds of chirping bunkmates. The combination was downright musical.

  I was having fun. For the first time in a long time, I felt challenged by a man, and not just in a “You can’t tell me what to do!” rebelling-against-Daddy sort of way. Sam was playing with me, sometimes in a mean-spirited, irritating fashion, but he was devoting a lot of time and effort to keeping me entertained. And that made me like him just the tiniest bit.

  But then the sawing started. Nights at the house went from blissfully quiet to my own personal construction zone. Sawing, hammering, drilling, and some sound I could only identify as a cat getting stuck in a dishwasher. I never knew when it was going to start. And some nights, I would sit up until the wee hours of the morning, waiting for it, only to be treated to a quick fifteen minutes of audio torture before dawn.

  I would wake up every morning, unlock my bedroom, and find some project half-completed that made my life more difficult. The tub was left stripped and half-caulked, meaning that I couldn’t bathe without doing permanent damage to the surrounding drywall. The hardwood floors in the hallway were refinished, meaning that if I wanted to leave my room, I had to choose between climbing out the windows or walking across the fresh sealant and ruining his work. He knew I liked the house too much to want to hurt it. Damn him.

  One morning, I found that he’d removed all of the knobs from the house. All of the knobs. The faucets, the doorknobs, the drawer pulls for the bathroom vanity, the stove and oven knobs, and the volume knob for the TV. Yes, I was shocked that Sam’s TV had a volume knob. Let’s just say that Lindy didn’t leave him HDTV-ready.

  I launched a reciprocal offensive. I roasted a turkey and placed an oscillating fan so that it blew the delicious Thanksgiving fragrance toward the basement door. I baked fragrant cinnamon rolls and lasagnas redolent with garlic and herbs. This gastronomical warfare worked on two fronts, physical and emotional. One, human food smelled spoiled and rancid to vampires. They lacked the enzymes to process solids, so exposure to most “regular” food resulted in projectile vomiting. And two, Sam would be reminded of all of the things he missed about eating as a human and—in my mind—would wind up weeping in a little pile of soggy vampire on the kitchen floor.

  It seemed to be having some effect on him. Every few days, I would find a cheap discount-store saucepan in the kitchen sink, burned black and coated with some unidentifiable oily substance. Was he trying to retaliate?

  I supposed I went too far when I made my special peanut-butter-cup brownies and left them under a glass dome on the counter. I even left a little card next to the display that read, “Enjoy!” The next day, I woke up to find that he’d shut off the gas connection to the stove, rendering it unusable. Clearly, he didn’t expect me to know how to fix that.


  While the pranks kept my mind active and distracted from the potential disasters looming when I returned to Chicago, the sleep deprivation from the constant power-tooling was taking a physical toll. I was getting even less rest than when I was living at home. I took naps in the afternoons, just to keep alert during Sam’s active hours.

  My routine was changing—again—and I was feeling it. What little progress I’d made health-wise took a distinct slide in the opposite direction. Chef was pleased to see that I was keeping the we
ight I’d gained from forced helpings of dumplings and milkshakes, but he tsked over the reemergence of dark circles under my eyes. I’d looked forward to jogging on some of the green-canopied country roads that surrounded the house, but I didn’t have the energy. I became snappish and grumpy, even with Chef, earning me a ten-pound bag of potatoes to peel.

  After I’d reconnected the stove’s innards, I went back to bed and tried to think calm, happy thoughts. I needed to sleep if I was going to come up with an appropriate and painful rebuttal to this abuse of my domain. Striking at my stove was a new low for Sam. How would he like it if I went into his basement and melted down all of his precious tools?


  “Oh, come on, Tess, where are you going to get a smelter?” I said to myself, sighing and rubbing at the persistent ache in my middle. Perplexed, I sat up in my sad, lumpy bed and realized I was hungry. Not just a little peckish. I was seriously, feeling-my-belly-button-rub-against-my-spine starving. I hadn’t been this hungry in years, certainly not this early in the morning. I was usually just hungry enough to need a snack by the end of a dinner shift, meaning a lot of midnight carbs. I usually skipped breakfast in favor of running five miles to make up for the late-night eating.

  I thought back to the last time I’d actually made breakfast for myself and couldn’t remember what I’d eaten. And now that I was hungry, what did I want? Waffles? Frittata? Crepes?

  Those things were all well and good, but what I really wanted was Lucky Charms. I hadn’t had sugary cereals since culinary school, when I’d regularly carried those mini-single-serving boxes around for snacking between classes. My pastry instructor found a box of Sugar Smacks sticking out of my purse in class one day and embarrassed me so thoroughly for my “toddler palate” that I’d lost my taste for them. But now I wanted a bowl of marshmallowy, sugar-coated goodness—badly. But what I had was fancy cheeses, eggs, and brioche.

  So, instead of Lucky Charms, I had a spinach and feta omelet.

  This just wouldn’t do.


  On my safari into the Shop ’n Save, I grabbed my Lucky Charms, and some Cap’n Crunch for good measure. I bought Oreos, Pop-Tarts, and the makings of Fluffernutter sandwiches—things I’d loved as a kid but had abandoned for the sake of refining my palate. After recovering from the shock of how little I’d spent at the register, I tucked the grocery bags underneath the front seat of my car and cast a longing glance down the quaint little street. It was one of those old-fashioned Main Street arrangements, skinny two-story buildings all bunched up against one another—a hardware store, an antiques store, one of those old-fashioned ice cream parlors, and a sandwich shop called the Three Little Pigs. The cars lining the parking lots were older but well maintained, and the people milling around did it pretty slowly. This was not the place for the Hollow’s young and hip to do their errands.

  Did the Hollow have a young and hip crowd?

  I didn’t want to go home just yet. So I walked. I window-shopped at the antiques store and browsed the selections at the ice cream parlor for later reference.

  I walked past the Three Little Pigs, a snug little brick building with a ridiculously charming cartoon sign. Catching sight of a patron chowing down on a triple-decker ham sandwich through the front window, I seemed to be moving over the threshold before I could stop myself. I was just in time for a late lunch, and I was hoping that whatever I ordered incorporated cheese fries in some way. I hadn’t had cheese fries in years.

  The interior was done in dark panels and black-and-white hunting photos, presumably of the owner’s family. The menu was scrawled on a chalkboard in bright colors. The smell was incredible, so many layers of scent—fresh bread, frying bacon, melting cheese. I had to catch myself to keep from drooling all over the floor. This might be even better than Lucky Charms.
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