Nice Girls Don't Live Forever (Jane Jameson #3) by Molly Harper
The worst thing you can do in a relationship, vampire or otherwise, is actually telling your partner that you don’t trust him. Even if it’s true.
—Love Bites: A Female Vampire’s Guide to Less
My life didn’t begin until I died.
Pre-vampire Jane worked Saturdays and holidays and any other days that no one else on the library staff wanted to work. I had never done anything for myself. I’d never traveled. And now, I was my own boss. I’d had the opportunity to kiss foreign soil. Actually, it was the tile in Heathrow Airport’s Sunproof Lounge on the very first stop of our trip—London. I think my worship of solid ground embarrassed my sire/boyfriend, Gabriel Nightengale. And the pickpockets were able to peg me as a tourist right away. But I was really, really happy to be off that plane.
I have claustrophobia issues.
I’d never had a healthy adult relationship as a live girl. Then again, I’d just abandoned my 150-year-old boy-friend in a hotel room in Brussels, so maybe this one didn’t count, either.
I’m pretty sure it was Brussels. We’d made quite a few stops since London.
My ’round-the-world romantic getaway with Gabriel turned sour early on, right after we checked into our first hotel in London. There was a note waiting for Gabriel at the front desk, fancy linen paper addressed in spidery black ink. Whatever it said, it put him in a very foul mood. The minute we’d settled into the exceedingly posh room, he put his flowy black coat back on, said he had to make some phone calls, and disappeared for most of the night. My newly purchased trunkload of lacy underthings took this very personally. When he returned, he gave me a cursory kiss good night and collapsed into sleep. I managed to say, “What the hell?” in about fourteen languages.
You know how after you’ve hung around a person for a while, you can tell when they’re trying to have a good time? Well, this phenomenon was just frightening in Gabriel. He was like a Carlson Wagonlit agent on crack, manically planning all-night excursions to museums, the opera, beer gardens, fancy intimidating parties with his fancy intimidating friends—anything that would keep us out of the hotel room from dusk till dawn. Gabriel’s credit-card company put a fraud watch on his accounts as we switched hotels on a whim, two or three times per city. Each time we checked in, a creamy linen envelope was waiting for him at the front desk. And each time, his eyes got just a little more Manson-ish. Charles or Marilyn, take your pick.
His cell phone rang incessantly, and every time it did, he either let it go to voicemail or whispered, “Business,” and took the call outside. I tried to ignore the warning signs. I tried to give Gabriel the benefit of the doubt, but a girl can only bury her head so deep in the sand. He had told me months before that he was having issues he couldn’t tell me about. There were frequent business trips during which I couldn’t reach him by phone. And I’d found out that on several occasions, he’d lied about where he’d been. He’d assured me that it wasn’t another woman, despite the fact that the name “Jeanine” had popped up on his cell phone several times. Never had I wished so much that my stupid, inconsistent mind-reading powers worked on my sire.
Even though I still had (raging, screaming) doubts, I had chosen to believe him. And now, I was starting to feel like one of those women at whom people yell, “How stupid can you be?” when they inevitably appear on Dr. Phil .
I suppose one should expect a certain amount of drama in a relationship that started with one party dying in a muddy ditch off a dark country road. I don’t like talking about the night I was turned. All young vampires eventually get drunk with their buddies and share war stories about how they became undead. I do not partake in such revelries. Why?
The short version is this: I was (unfairly, unceremoniously) fired from the library and replaced by my supervisor’s barely literate firebug stepdaughter. But instead of getting a severance check, I got just enough of a gift certificate to get rip-snorting drunk at Shenanigans. I met Gabriel, flirtation ensued. I sobered enough to drive, but as a result of unfortunate circumstances, my ancient car, Big Bertha, died halfway home. I was spotted walking down the road by the town drunk, Bud McElray, who mistook me for a deer and shot me. I was left in the ditch to die, only to be found and turned by Gabriel.
You don’t become a vampire just by being bitten. Vampirism isn’t a germ or a curse or karmic justice for overtanners. To make a childe, a vampire will feed on a human until he or she reaches the point of death, then feed the initiate as much undead blood as he or she can take. The process takes a lot out of the sire, which is why a vampire will only turn a handful of “children” in his or her lifetime.
Gabriel being my sire and my boyfriend caused some complications in our relationship. It was his job to lead me through the transition to vampirism, but since I rarely listened to him, that didn’t work out so well. And confrontations between the two of us tended to get sort of violent … and naked. So, instead of indulging in accusations of infidelity and undead Johnny Depp hotel theatrics, I bit my tongue. Hell, I bit a hole through my tongue. Fortunately, I had vampire healing, so it grew right back. But then we checked into the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Munich, and a linen envelope was waiting.
The look on Gabriel’s face made a bellboy cry.
Our itinerary became even more packed. I was frequently left alone with Gabriel’s strange Euro-vampire friends as he held urgent “business meetings.” I occasionally woke up at dusk and couldn’t figure out where Gabriel was. Of course, we switched locations so often, a few times I woke up and couldn’t figure out where I was. But that didn’t make me feel any better when Gabriel crept into the room with lame excuses about running out for a newspaper or a fresh bottle of blood. Even my “white lie acceptance” level has limits.
When Gabriel was in the shower one night, I happened to peek into the wastebasket, where he’d left the torn remnants of his latest note. I saw words like “bloodmate” and “love you.”
I swear, it wasn’t my fault that the basket tipped over and those little bits of paper somehow managed to reassemble themselves perfectly into their original order. OK, fine, I abused my jigsaw-puzzle skills. But if Gabriel didn’t want me reading the note, he probably should have burned it. My vision tinged red as I made out phrases like “Remember what we are to each other,” “Remember what we have,” “The woman you’re with can’t satisfy you like I do.”
Satisfy you like I do ? In the present tense? Gabriel had recently been satisfied by this woman? I fell on my knees, stunned by an explosion of pain in my chest. If my heart beat, I would have sworn I’d blown an aorta. He’d promised. He’d sworn that he was faithful to me. And, like an idiot, I’d believed him.
The phone rang. With numbed fingers, I knocked the phone off its cradle and heard the voice of my best friend, Zeb. I launched into a paranoid diatribe on cheating boyfriends. I ignored all attempts on his part to make me think like a normal person or believe that all of this could be a very complicated coincidence.
“Whose side are you on?” I hissed, listening for the sound of Gabriel’s shower running. I swiped the little bits of paper back into the wastebasket.
“Um, logic and reason?” Zeb suggested. “And as much as I enjoy paying ten dollars a minute to listen to you rant hysterically, I called to let you know there was a burglary at the shop last night.”
After my masterful string of profanity, Zeb explained that two nights before, someone had thrown a brick through the front window and ransacked the stock. Oddly enough, some of the more valuable items—figurines and crystals and ceremonial objects—had been ignored in favor of tearing through boxes of books. Books were thrown aside, their spines cracked and damaged, Zeb’s descriptions of which were enough to make me produce distressed sounds in several different languages.
Zeb said in a soothing voice, “Fortunately, they didn’t know how valuable some of the books were, because they didn’t take anything.”
“What kind of underachieving burglars don’t take anything?” I asked, grasping at any excuse not to think about the nauseating ripple of pain shredding through my body. I could do this. I could get through this. I just had to focus on what Zeb was saying.
“I don’t know. Mr. Wainwright was out on the town with your aunt Jettie, so he was no help. It’s my theory that one of the adult-video store’s old clients just got confused and was searching for his recommended daily allowance of visual stimuli,” Zeb said as I pulled my suitcase out of the closet. “Dick thinks it was someone looking for something specific, who couldn’t understand your weird shelving system.”
“Yeah, alphabetical order is revolutionary.” I snorted. “So, how much damage are we talking about here?”
“Not much. Other than the window being broken and the books being tossed around, nothing. Which, to me, says the thieves were over thirty. No angry teenager could pass up the chance to mess up newly painted walls and a shiny new espresso machine.”
“Look, I’m coming home on the next flight,” I said, randomly tossing clothes into my bag.
“What? No, Jane, there’s no reason to do that. Dick and Andrea can take care of everything. Andrea’s almost as anal-retentive as you are. She’s doing a great job.”
“I’m coming home, Zeb,” I repeated.
“Jane, don’t turn this into a— You’re hanging up on me now, aren’t you? Dang it, Jane!” he cried as I snapped the phone back into the cradle.
Gabriel emerged from the bathroom, his hips swathed in a huge white towel. His deep gray eyes tracked warily from my packed bag to the phone. “Who were you talking to?”
My head snapped up, and it took everything in me not to throw the nightstand across the room at him. I wanted to scream, to strike at him until he hurt as much as I did. But I couldn’t. I had become numb. Empty. I took a few deep breaths, unlocked my jaw, and concentrated on keeping my tone even, unaffected.
“There’s been a break-in at the shop. I need to go home and take care of it,” I said, clicking the suitcase shut. “If you could send the rest of my stuff home, I’d appreciate it.”
I looked up, hoping to see some response from Gabriel, something to show that he wanted me to stay. But he seemed relieved. He blew out a breath and slid into a pair of black jeans. “Well, if you have to go, you have to go. It’s probably better this way.”
And then he helped me pack.
It was like being slapped with indifference. He honestly did not care whether I was there or not. I could have just announced that I was going to take a flying leap off the roof, and he would have just nodded obligingly.
“Well, OK, then,” I muttered, throwing my jacket on. “I’ll see you when you get home. After you’ve finished your business.”
“I’ll see you soon,” he promised as gave me a sterile peck on the forehead. It was a dismissive and fatherly sort of kiss. “This is really for the best. I think we can both agree that this trip hasn’t quite worked out as we’d hoped. I’ll call you.”
As the door literally hit me in the butt on my way out, I was struck by the realization that Gabriel had just used classic brush-off platitudes on me. Did he just break up with me and not even have the decency to tell me? Now well and truly pissed, I carted my luggage to the front desk.
You know those French movies, where a weary lover climbs into a taxi wearing an oversized shawl and Jackie O sunglasses as Paris slowly fades away? And as she’s driven to the airport, they might show a single glistening tear sliding down her cheek? Yes, the image is dramatic and glamorous, but living it just plain sucks.
If one is undead and hell-bent on travel, I must suggest Virgin Airlines’ Vamp Air. Trust Richard Branson to find a niche market involving carefully shaded windows and a selection of blood constantly warmed to exactly 98.6 degrees. Plus, few parents are willing to bring crying babies onto a plane full of vampires, so it’s blissfully quiet. I dragged my sunscreened, jet-lagged carcass through the Nashville International baggage claim at four A.M. to find Zeb waiting for me, holding a sign that said, “Undead Tourism Bureau.”
I propped my sunglasses on top of my head and smirked. “What were you going to do if someone else fit the bill?”
“What’d you bring me? What’d you bring me?” he asked, hopping up and down.
“Tiny liquor bottles from the minibar,” I said, holding up my suitcase proudly and thumping it into his chest.
“Sadly, that’s the same thing my uncle Ron gave me for Christmas.” He snorted, taking my little carry-on bag onto his shoulder.
“I wrapped them in hotel towels from four different countries,” I added.
He grinned. “Excellent.”
I actually had gotten him and Jolene fancy 500-thread-count sheets and some very expensive snacks from Harrods. The hotel towels were for me.
We reached Zeb’s car, threw my luggage into the backseat, and took our places up front. Zeb started the car and paid the exorbitant parking fee. “So, tell me everything. Where did you go? What did you see?”
“Went to some parties, met strange and snotty people. Saw some great museums and restaurants, but being in France and not being able to eat chocolate is downright masochistic. Oh, we saw Carmen performed in Vienna. Did you know the whole first song is about cigarette smoke?”
“I didn’t know that,” Zeb admitted. “But I’m surprised you didn’t know that.”
“Oh, ha-ha. So, where’s your lovely wife?” I asked as we pulled onto the interstate. “What’s she doing letting you take off for Nashville after midnight? Doesn’t she know you get lost?”
Zeb grimaced. Things between Jolene and Zeb had been tense lately. They were still trying to build a home on the land I’d given them as a wedding present. The house was slow to finish because Jolene’s family was pressuring them to move back onto the McClaine family compound. Werewolves are notoriously territorial, and Jolene was the first McClaine to live “off-site” since they’d settled in the Hollow two hundred years before. The family owns multiple businesses in the Hollow, including several construction firms. And what they don’t own they could influence with scary male werewolf dominance. So, to say that it was difficult for Zeb and Jolene to get contractors to show up—risking pissing off Jolene’s kin—much less finish their work, was an understatement.
To top it off, the brand-newish trailer they’d been offered as an incentive to live on McClaine land had mysteriously evaporated when Zeb and Jolene announced they were building their own home, leaving the newly-weds with the camper recently vacated by Jolene’s stoner cousin, Larry. And one could live in the close quarters of a cannabis-saturated camper for only so long before one’s marriage began feeling like the last half of The Shining .
I would say that Zeb was a saint to put up with such interference from his in-laws, but his family’s no prize herd, either. Let’s just say that one of the Lavelle family’s favorite Christmas activities is to gather around the TV and watch their highlight reel from the “Rowdy Rural Towns” episode of COPS .
Zeb’s mother, Ginger Lavelle, had a number of reasons to shun me lately, the least of which was that I refused to let her ruin Zeb’s honeymoon. To bastardize Harry Potter, I was Zeb’s “Secret Keeper” for his honeymoon destination. Zeb told his family that he and Jolene were going to the mountain retreats of Gatlinburg, when he, in fact, took his blushing bride to Biloxi, for a week of Gulf shrimp, putt-putt, and blessed silence. Their hotel information was sealed in an envelope and given to me with the instructions that it was to be opened only if someone was dead or incapacitated … well, more incapacitated than usual.
While contrite over her wacky antiwedding antics, Mama Ginger could remain chastised for only so long. Incensed that she could not locate her son after calling every hotel in Gatlinburg, Mama Ginger called me to demand that I give her the location and phone number right now, because she was having chest pains and was being taken to the hospital. Used to this ploy, I refused. She switched tactics and said that she needed the number because Zeb’s father, Floyd, had dropped an automatic cigarette lighter into his lap while driving and was being treated for several third-degree burns in sensitive areas.
While that scenario was far more plausible, I still withheld the number, which prompted Mama Ginger to announce that she would never speak to me again. I was not properly devastated by this announcement, which just made Mama Ginger angrier. Mama Ginger had long held out hope that Zeb and I would one day wed, but now that she knew about my “unfortunate condition,” she was slightly ashamed to have wanted a vampire as an in-law. She was still less than civil to Jolene. But she now preferred her daughter-in-law to me, because at least Jolene wasn’t a vampire. Of course, Zeb hadn’t yet broken the news about his new bride being a werewolf, but that was neither here nor there.
I’d promised myself that I was going to back off and stop interfering in Jolene and Zeb’s relationship, but it was so much healthier than talking about my own relationship. So, I think I earned a pass just this once. “Tell me you haven’t been watching The Howling again,” I groaned. “You know it’s just a movie.”
Zeb gave me a distinctly not-amused look, then sighed. “Marriage is a little harder than I thought it would be. Just normal stuff, you know. Things that get on each other’s nerves.” He began ticking off Jolene’s numerous faults on his fingers. “She chews her fingernails and her toenails. She cannot stop herself from answering the questions from Jeopardy out loud, even when she knows she’s wrong. She sheds. She puts ketchup on her egg rolls.”
“Blasphemy.” I shuddered. “And as much as it would be in my own personal interest to interfere with your marriage and reclaim your full attention, you do realize that you are married to arguably one of the most beautiful women on the planet. And you are a male kindergarten teacher who collects dolls.”
“Action figures,” he corrected.
“And she stuck with you, despite the fact that your mother tried to make wedding-party casting changes during the rehearsal and had you hypnotized by a five-dollar psychic so you’d dump Jolene at the altar.”
“Her family put out a bear trap for me!” he huffed.
“Well, that just means that your families cancel each other out.”
He snickered, his expression softening. “She’s pregnant.”
My jaw actually hit the middle of my chest. “Well, that explains the egg rolls and ketchup.”
My throat tightened at the thought of Zeb having a baby. This was so huge, the last step toward Zeb really growing up. I’ll admit I was a little jealous. I was being left behind again. Zeb was doing something I would never do. But, as I’d discovered last year when Zeb’s mom dumped an infant on my doorstep in an attempt to jump-start my biological clock, I am not cut out to nurture. And because I no longer have a pulse, I can’t have children—which works out nicely.
“But this is a good thing, right?” I shook his shoulder. “I’m going to be an honorary aunt.”
“It’s a great thing, except the idea of being responsible for a whole family sort of scares the crap out of me. We wanted to have kids right away, and given how fertile her family is, we knew there was no contraception on earth that would work. But that’s not really our problem. Her mother comes over every single day. Her aunts are always bringing over food, or they’re putting up curtains that they made, or they’re moving our dishes around in the cabinets without asking. And Jolene just lets them. And the men! If they don’t back off and let a contractor come out to finish the house, we’re going to be raising their grandchild in a pot-soaked RV. Is that what they want? I’m just frustrated and feel … impotent.”
“Well, obviously, that’s not the case. When is she due?”
“In about four months,” he said.
“What? You guys were pregnant before the wedding? And you didn’t tell me!”
Zeb rolled his eyes. “No. It’s a werewolf thing. The average wolf pregnancy is only about sixty days. Werewolves sort of split the difference with five months.”
“Wow. So, you have very little time to get ready for this baby—babies? How many kids is Jolene going to have? Is it going to be like a litter?”
Zeb looked horror-struck.
“Seriously, you hadn’t thought of that before?” I asked him as little beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. “There are four sets of twins just among Jolene’s first cousins.”
“I’m still processing everything!” Zeb shouted.
“Maybe I should drive,” I suggested.
“No, let’s talk about why you think Gabriel would suddenly start cheating on you. That will keep me awake.”
“Let’s not,” I told him. “I don’t want to rehash the whole thing. I just want to pretend it didn’t happen.”
“Because denial usually works so well for you.”
“I’m going to deny that I just heard that. Should we stop by the shop? I’d like to see the damages, know what I’m getting into,” I said.
“Your internal clock must be off, world traveler. The sun’s going to rise soon.” He nodded to the lightening blue-gray sky on the horizon. “We’ll have just enough time to get you home.”
As the sky turned toward lilac, I snuggled under a blanket and dozed the last hour or so before we reached the family manse, River Oaks. More English country cottage than sprawling Georgian plantation, River Oaks is at its heart just an old family farm home that happened to be built before the Civil War. Despite my having spent the last few weeks in buildings that were much older and far more elegant, my house had never seemed so beautiful.
I kissed Zeb’s cheeks, mumbled a good night, and dashed for the door with the blanket over my head. In my room, on sheets that were weeks old and slightly musty, I lay down and, for reasons I hadn’t quite processed yet, cried.