Undead Sublet

       part  #2. 5 of  Half Moon Hollow Series  by  Molly Harper / Fantasy / Romance & Love
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“What? Why?” Jolene’s surprised expression morphed into wary resignation. “What did you do?”

I cringed, thinking of the various traps I’d left around the house for Sam. Suddenly, Jane burst out laughing and clapped her hand over her mouth.

My own jaw dropped. Could Jane read my mind?

Jane winked at me and nodded.

I would worry about that later.

I dug my keys out of my bag. “Someone may have sprayed down the basement steps with high-viscosity cooking spray, making them superslick. ”

Jolene sighed as Jane struggled to cover her snickers with her hand. “Tess. ”

I held my hands, defenseless. “No, I said someone. ”

“Don’t you think you’ve taken this prank thang a little too far?” she asked. “I mean, some of these tricks are sort of stupid and juvenile, not to mention sort of mean. ”

I dashed toward the door. “This was really the least stupid or juvenile idea I had. You should have seen what I had planned with a can of Sterno and a jar of pineapple jelly. ”

Jolene slapped her palm over her face as I opened the door. Over the tinkle of the little cowbell above the door frame, I heard Jane say, “I really like her. ”



After driving across town in record time, I dashed into the house just as Sam opened the microwave. The house was still standing, which was a good sign. Sam was in the kitchen, apparently uninjured, also a good sign. What was not good was that he was making his dinner, tossing a warmed bag back and forth between his hands to settle the red cells.

“Look, I’ve had a bad night at work, and I really don’t want to deal with you right now. ” He sighed, his shoulders sagging underneath his faded John Deere T-shirt.

Stalled midwarning, I raised an eyebrow. Work? Since when did Sam work? And where? Was that where he was all those nights when the construction noises didn’t start until the wee hours? I thought he was slow-playing me, depriving me of sleep with the anticipation of torture. Had he been out on a job? This new perspective changed the way I’d looked at a lot of the stunts I’d chalked up to Sam’s mean temper. Maybe he was leaving the chores around the house half-finished because he didn’t have the time he needed, not because he wanted to the leave the house unlivable. Then again, that didn’t explain the Saran Wrap. Or the stove.

“Sam, you really don’t want to do that,” I cautioned as he reached toward the cabinet where we kept the coffee mugs. In my haste, I bumped into a saucepan I’d set on the stove. The handle came away in my hands, and the metal bowl clattered to the floor. I gasped in horror as the pieces of my dismantled darling came clattering to a standstill. I shot him a murderous look. He smirked at me, his dark eyes twinkling. I jerked open the drawer where I kept my pots and pans. Everything I touched came apart in my hands. Somehow Sam had managed to remove the rivets from my pans.

I whirled on him. “You no-good, undead douche!”

“You know, with those dulcet tones, it really is surprising that some lucky man hasn’t snatched you right up,” he said, smirking.

Snarling, I whipped the pan handle at him. He used his unnatural speed to duck out of the way, which was fortunate, because I threw it so hard that it broke through the plaster behind his head.

“You!” I growled. “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you have any decency? You wanna hide my stuff? Fine. Use sleep deprivation to drive me into a psychotic episode? All righty, then. But when you mess around with my pans, that’s going just one step too freaking far!”

“Really, this is what pushed you over the edge?” he asked blandly as he poured his warmed blood into a mug. “I messed around with your cookware?”

“You don’t touch a chef’s pans!” I shouted as he took a long drink, wincing as the blood rolled down his throat. I smiled sweetly, pulling a carefully wrapped dropper bottle from my pocket and placing it on the counter in front of me.

“What the?” he asked, clearing his throat and pulling at the collar of his plaid work shirt. By now, he was feeling that tickle of discomfort near the back of his tongue, that feeling that something was definitely not right with his evening meal.

“Ever hear of something called the ghost chili?” I asked, rolling the plastic-wrapped extract bottle between my thumb and forefinger. “In the pepper family, it’s basically the crazy cousin who just got out of prison, around a million units on the Scoville heat scale. ” He gave me a confused frown, and if I wasn’t mistaken, there was just the hint of sweat popping out on his upper lip. I didn’t know vampires could sweat. “That’s about four hundred times hotter than the average jalapeño pepper. ”

“What did you do?” he demanded, rubbing at his throat. With the rush of spicy blood to his cheeks, I could see what he had looked like as a human, ruddy and virile, like something out of a “Hunky Farmhand of the Month” calendar.

I cleared my own throat, forcing myself to focus. This was war, damn it. Dirty, nasty, nonsexy war.

“Well, I called my friend Sakar, who works in my favorite spice shop, and asked him where I could find something special. ” I grinned nastily. “For my roommate. He just happened to know a store about forty miles from here that carries extract of ghost chili. ”

“You put it in my blood bag?” He grunted, coughing and spluttering as the capsaicin set flame to his tongue. He reached into the fridge, tore open another bag, and dumped the still-cold contents into his mouth.

I snickered. “Not just that bag. ”

“Augh!” he cried, dropping the doctored bag and running for the faucet. He stuck the sprayer into his mouth and turned it on full blast. When that failed to quell the heat raging through his mouth, he ran for the shower.

“Did I mention that water only makes the oil spread around?” I called. I dropped the bottle into the trash. Thinking better of it, I fished the bottle out, emptied it, and buried it in the backyard so he couldn’t use it against me later.

When I came back into the house, a very wet, very red Sam was practically vibrating with rage. His fangs were down, and he looked every inch the dangerous vampire. I suddenly wondered about the wisdom of this weird little war. And it occurred to me that I should have had those worries before I pranked someone with superstrength.

“So, no yelling?” I asked, faking bravery as he glowered down at me. “No calling me names or making empty threats?”

“No. ” He scooped his hands under the lines of my jaw and dragged me to him. I squeaked as his mouth clashed with mine, pulling my tongue into his mouth to dance with his. I braced myself against his bare chest, fingertips digging into the cool flesh. His lips dragged across mine, and his tongue rippled over every ridge and bump of my mouth. He bit harshly down on my bottom lip, drawing just the tiniest bit of blood to the surface. I could feel my nipples blossoming into little points through my shirt as he pulled blood from the wound. It was like some warm thread was running directly from my thighs to the flow of blood, and every time he pulled on it, that thread drew across my nerves with a luxurious tension.

I was panting as if I’d run a marathon by the time he pulled away.

“What the hell was that?” I demanded.

He leered, halfway between self-satisfied smirk and impish grin. “I just wanted to share. ”

And that’s when the tingling started.

“Oh, motherf—” I gasped as the chili oil that now coated my lips and tongue began to burn. I clapped a hand over my aching, searing lips. “You!”

Sam laughed while I ran for the fridge. I felt as if I’d swallowed about a hundred yellow jackets and they were all stinging the absolute shit out of my tongue.

I reached into the fridge for the only solution I knew of: dairy and popsicles. I ripped the lid off a container of plain Greek yogurt and started licking the contents while I unwrapped a Fudgsicle. I alternated between the two, cursing at him the whole time.

Because cursing sounds superintimidating when it’s muffled by a Fudgsicle.

“Give up, you crazy woman,” he growled out. “And could you please, please watch the cursing? This isn’t a truck stop. ”

“No!” I pulled the Fudgsicle out long enough to shout. “You apologize for dismantling my kitchen!”

“It’s not your kitchen!” he spat back. “You apologize for giving me doctored blood. No wonder you got fired. You’re like some sort of evil comic-book villain. You—you’re the Joker!”

“Oh, all I did was respond in kind. Look, I felt a little sorry for you earlier tonight, because of your bad luck and your tragic marriage. Clearly, empathizing with the enemy was a mistake. Now, either you fix my pans, or I will find brand-new places to put that chili extract, jackass. ” I growled, backing out of the room and stalking toward my bedroom.

He called after me, “I’d say this one was a draw, wouldn’t you, sweetheart?”

Here in Lunch Lady Land…

6

Jolene was not impressed with my vampire-provoking shenanigans.

“Have I not explained how dangerous it can be to spend time with vampires when they’re in a good mood?” She sighed, frowning at me in that way that only mothers could master.

Jolene’s powers of emotional concentration would have been more impressive had she not been staring me down while turning her van into a dry cleaner’s parking lot. I was trying to treat the still-tingling nerves of my lips and tongue with a strawberry milkshake from the Dairy Freeze. I was starting to suspect that it was more than just physiological, because nothing was working. It wasn’t even unpleasant anymore, just a lasting, warm tingle over my skin. This couldn’t be normal. “I thought you were goin’ home to prevent your pranks from ‘goin’ off’ on Sam. ”

“I tried to stop it,” I said lamely, clutching the door frame for all it was worth, so I wouldn’t smack my face into the window. “And then he took apart my pans and said mean things to me, and I sort of stopped myself from stopping it. ”

“So he slipped down the basement steps?” she said, cringing as she pulled to a screeching stop.

“I forgot about that,” I said. “It would explain the loud thump I heard before bed. ”

Jolene gave me a withering look.

“What?” I grumped, crossing my arms.

“Have you thought about the fact that under the fangs and the bluster, there’s a person with feelings?”

“I don’t really care how he feels, Jolene,” I protested. “I’m sorry for what he’s going through. But he’s not the only one out there in pain. I—what is it we’re doing here, again? I thought we were going to Jane’s shop. ”

“I need to make a quick stop first. I work part-time for a vampire concierge service here in town. My boss, Iris, asked me to pick up some of her clients’ dry cleaning. Vampires are hell on clothes, let me tell you. I’ll just be a minute. Do you want to come in?”

I glanced around the busy corner of Main Street, right off the memorial square of downtown Half-Moon Hollow. There was a classic white gazebo in the center, flanked by golden ginkgo trees and statues of Civil War soldiers. There was a huge plastic banner stretched across the street, advertising “Burley Days! Food, Frolic, and Family Fun!” starting in two weeks.

“No, I’ll just wander around, if that’s OK. I’ll meet you back here in a bit. ”

She glanced down the street at the small-town oasis drawing me in and grinned broadly. I was stunned for just a moment by the sheer brilliant expanse of that smile. There was a fierce quality to Jolene, something not quite human rippling under that beauty. I started to wonder whether the reason she was so comfortable with the supernatural was that she was something supernatural.

Not that I’d let something like that get between us. Other than Chef and George, Jolene was the only real friend I’d made in years. I was determined not to care about it. If she felt like it, she would tell me in her own time.
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