The care and feeding of.., p.8
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       The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires, p.8

         Part #1 of Half Moon Hollow series by Molly Harper  
Page 8

 

  “Do you feel strong enough to take a shower?” I asked. “There are still some, uh, red spots on your face. And your back. Plus, you kind of have a bedraggled-zombie thing going. ”

  Cal frowned, surveying his wrinkled clothes and rubbing a hand over his equally furrowed face.

  “If you think you’ll have trouble standing that long, we could get you one of those shower chairs,” I offered.

  “You mean the kind that senior citizens fall off of, never to get back up?”

  “Um, yes. ”

  “I’m willing to risk standing,” he said blandly.

  We had a full bath on the ground floor, which was good, because despite the bottled blood, Cal seemed too pale and shaky to take another flight of stairs. After covering the windows with foil, I made sure he had fresh towels and waited outside the bathroom door while the water warmed up. I heard the shower curtain sling across the rod.

  A few moments passed, and I heard him call, “I don’t suppose you have soap that doesn’t smell like fruit or flowers or some combination thereof?”

  “Sorry, this is a girlie household. You’re lucky there’s not a Disney princess on the label,” I said, glad that there was a door between us to keep him from seeing my snickering. There was a faint grumbling noise while the shower started up.

  Gigi appeared at the end of the hall, her team bag slung over her shoulder. She was chewing her lip, eyeing the bathroom door like there was an army of evil winged monkeys ready to burst through it.

  Gigi had Wizard of Oz issues.

  “All packed?” I asked.

  “Yeah. Sammi Jo said I could stay at her place for a few days. But I’m not sure about this, Iris. I mean, as cute as he is—in a haggard Lord of the Rings sort of way—you barely know this guy. ”

  “Do you mean Gollum or Éomer?” I asked. “Because that’s a pretty wide spectrum of haggard. ”

  “Don’t try to distract me,” she accused, pointing her finger at me. “And he defies all hot Tolkien stereotypes. He’s all rough-hewn intensity with a pretty mouth—”

  “You came up with that description awfully quick,” I noted. “And what sort of teenager says ‘rough-hewn’?”

  “You shouldn’t leave those romance novels lying around,” she shot back. “I’m a teenage girl. We mentally tag and categorize attractive male specimens within ten seconds of eye contact. And stop with the distractions. I mean, he’s a vampire. You’ve always told me to be super-cautious around them, and now you’ve invited one to stay? I don’t know if it’s a great idea to leave you alone with him. ”

  “So you would rather stay, just in case, so he can kill us both?”

  She glared at me. “Iris! I’m serious!”

  “So am I!” I exclaimed. “Look, I’m sure I’ll be fine. But I think it would be a good idea for you to be elsewhere for a while, just until I have some idea how this is going to pan out. ”

  “All right, but I want you to write down this guy’s information and e-mail it to me, so I can offer the police some explanation for why my sister needs to be put on a milk carton. ”

  “Nice,” I muttered, smacking her arm.

  “Child abuse!” she cried. Suddenly, she frowned and turned on me. “Is this all a very convincing act put on to get me out of the house so you can spend the weekend humping like deranged howler monkeys?”

  My jaw dropped. “No!”

  “Well, it would be clever of you. ”

  “I’m not quite that devious,” I said dryly.

  She kissed my cheek. “I’m going. I’ll call you when I get to Sammi Jo’s. ”

  “Hey, Geeg?” I called as she moved away. She turned. “Why would the howler monkeys have to be deranged?”

  She grinned. “If you have to ask …”

  “Get out!” I huffed.

  “Call me every day,” she said as she opened the front door. “So I know you’re alive. Love you!”

  “Love you, too!” I called. The door closed, and I sighed, leaning my head back against the wall.

  “We should never have taught her how to talk,” I mused. “I could have picked up sign language pretty easily …”

  I closed my eyes and thought of the Twix bars I had stashed behind the encyclopedias upstairs. It was better than thinking about the fact that Cal was naked on the other side of the door. Cal happened to have a very nice body … and it had been about three months since Napoleon had “invaded. ”

  A thud from inside the bathroom wrenched me out of my historically inappropriate musings.

  “Hey!” I yelled. “Are you OK in there?”

  There was no answer.

  I jiggled the doorknob. It was unlocked, but I wasn’t eager to open it unless I had to. “Cal!” No answer. I sighed. “I really don’t want to do this. ”

  After a few more beats of silence, I called, “If you don’t answer, I’m coming in. Try to cover up!” I muttered, “Think of the money. Think of the money. Think of the money. ”

  I slowly opened the door, billows of steam rolling toward me as I stepped through. Cal was sprawled on the floor, half in and half out of the shower stall. Suds laced over his dark hair like little tufts of icing. His eyes were closed, long lashes resting on his cheeks. With his lower half undressed, I could see everything I’d missed in his kitchen. Long legs. Flat stomach. Trail of dark hair that extended all the way to his perfectly proportionate—

  “Oh, my gosh!” I cried, putting my hand over my eyes. “I’m sorry!”

  But he was unconscious again and didn’t seem to care that I was ogling him.

  Despite his griping about girlie soaps, the steam and the heat seemed to intensify his natural woodsy scent, diffusing it throughout the room. I felt it seeping into my skin, marking me, as I knelt over him.

  “Cal?” I murmured, shaking his shoulders gently. “Wake up, Cal. I’m not sure what to do for an unconscious vampire. ”

  As my fingertips grazed his cheek, his eyes snapped open. He popped up into a crouch, or at least, he tried to, but his limbs were too weak to let him maintain the position. He stumbled, falling against me, knocking me to the floor. His lips drew back over his fangs as a rumbling growl echoed through his chest. The vibrations spread from his sternum to mine, sending a strange electric shiver zipping over my skin. I might have leaned closer, if not for the whole “bared razor-sharp fangs” thing. He closed the distance for me, brushing the tip of his nose down my neck to my collarbone, purring in anticipation.

  Shrinking back, I realized that until this moment, I’d been dealing with the civilized version of Cal. This was Cal stripped of all those pesky human trappings. This is how our kitchen encounter might have ended, with him poised above me, ready to strike, to drain the life out of me. Or throw up on me … which he did … twice.

  I screamed, not in fear but in disgust, as Cal tossed up two bottles’ worth of blood down the front of my shirt. He moaned piteously and collapsed on top of me, pinning me to the floor and squishing the breath from my lungs.

  “Crushed by nauseated vampire” was going to be such an embarrassing cause of death.

  I grunted, sliding my hands under his shoulders and thrusting my arms up with all my strength. I barely budged him, and when my arms gave out, he slumped down over my chest, making it even more difficult to breathe. And I’d just sent the one other person with the key to the house away for several days. I would die on my bathroom floor, covered in vampire vomit, crushed by a dead guy who didn’t like me very much.

  “I’ve got to find a new job,” I grumbled.

  4

  Vampires are notoriously difficult to move once they are at rest for the day. So do not try to move them. Not even a little bit.

  —The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires

  It took me an hour, a slightly sprained shoulder, and the defiance of several laws of physics, but I finally unwedged myself from under my undead guest.

  I stumbled to my feet, sprawling across the floor as the blood flowed back into my tingling arms and legs. During my time on the floor, I learned a few things about Cal. One, he was as heavy as a sack of wet concrete. Two, even when he was all disheveled, he still smelled pretty good. Third, his hands had a bad habit of resting on the nearest breast, even when he was unconscious.

  Dead or undead, men were all pretty much the same.

  Finally free of my undead burden, I took greedy, gulping breaths. A dull ache in my side had me wincing with every movement. I wondered if he’d given my ribs compression fractures. I slowly sat up, propping myself by the sink so I could get a much-needed drink of water. I wiped the sweat from my face with a wet washcloth and carefully removed the fouled, sticky-stiff T-shirt. Fortunately, it was Gigi’s T-shirt, a rather obnoxious “Coed Naked Volleyball” specimen that had nearly gotten Gigi suspended from school. Straight into the trash it went.

  After calling Gigi’s cell phone to make sure she got to Sammi Jo’s house safely, I got a fresh shirt from the laundry room.

  On my way back to my unconscious client, I passed my parents’ ground-floor master bedroom. When we’d moved into the house, neither one of us could bear to open the door and face the room where my parents had slept. We couldn’t face Mom’s slouchy weekend gardening clothes or Dad’s perennial bottle of Aqua Velva.

  But a few months before, I’d managed to channel some “Paul trauma” energy into some postmidnight-insomnia cleaning. I’d tossed everything except photos and jewelry into boxes and sent them to the basement or to Goodwill. The room stood empty, except for the stripped bed and a nightstand. I stepped inside, blinking against the dust motes swirling on the currents of sunshine. The air was a bit stale and musty, but it would do until I could get Cal downstairs safely. I foiled the windows and made up the bed with fresh sheets. I somehow managed to get Cal rolled onto an old twin sheet from my childhood, and I dragged him down the hallway.

  “Where’s Mr. Wolfe when you need him?” I muttered, lifting him carefully onto the bed. “He hauled the bodies, cleaned up the mess, orchestrated embarrassing backyard prison shower scenarios … and I’m talking to myself … about Pulp Fiction, which is not a good sign. ”

  I barely managed to haul Cal onto the bed, but he settled back down and was sleeping fitfully. I filled a bowl with warm water and snagged an old washcloth on my way back to my parents’ room. In repose on the old bed, the sheet thrown haphazardly across his waist, Cal reminded me of some tragic marble statue, pale and frozen and oddly beautiful. I placed the bowl near his head and wondered what the rules were for sponge-bathing the undead.

  I juggled the cloth between my hands nervously, unsure of where to apply it first. Although I’d known him for a short—though eventful—period of time, I definitely liked Cal better in this inanimate, unsnarky state. The man was just unsettling; there was no other way to put it. I couldn’t seem to get my conversational bearings around him. And clearly, he had a negative impact on my decision-making skills, because I’d agreed to cohabitate with someone who was cranky, condescending, and prone to bouts of staggering insensitivity. If I’d wanted that, I’d get a cat.

  Shuddering at the very thought, I bathed Cal’s face, carefully wiping the skin around his mouth, the little divot between his lip and his nose. The bloody mess had trickled down his neck and his chest clear to his waistline, so I moved the cloth down his body in smooth, sure strokes. My fingertips tingled slightly from the friction of the warm, wet cloth over cold, hard muscle. The sensation spread up my arm, through my chest, and low and hot into my belly. Biting my lip, I adjusted my hand to put the cloth between my skin and his.

  “Hold it together, woman,” I muttered. “Or you’re going to have to register on a special-offender list. ”
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