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Betsy 4 - Undead and Unreturnable, Page 2

MaryJanice Davidson

  "I'm here to see the baby, Antonia. You know, my brother? Congratulations, by the way."

  She was still hanging in the doorway, keeping me standing on the front step. "It's not a good time, Betsy."

  "It never is. Really, for either of us. You look terrible," I said cheerfully.

  She glared. "I'm busy now, so you'll have to come back."

  "Look, Antonia, how do you want to do this? I can keep calling and keep coming by and you can keep blowing me off, and I can bitch to my father who will eventually get tired of being in the middle and make you let me see the baby, or you can let me in tonight and get it over with."

  She swung the door open wide. "Fine, come in."

  "Thank you so much. You're too kind. So have you gained a ton of weight lately?" I asked, shrugging out of my coat. Then I remembered that I was constantly cold and wouldn't be staying long and put it back on. "Not that you don't look, you know, good."

  "I have to check on Jon," she said, scowling at the monitor. "The doctor says it's colic. Your father left me with him."

  "Yeah, that's kind of his thing."

  "We named him after your father," she added proudly, if inanely.

  "But Dad's name is John. With an H. The baby's name is Jon, which, as I'm sure you know, being his mother, is short for Jonathon, which is spelled totally differently." My lips were moving; could she understand me? Maybe it was time to get out the Crayolas.

  She glared. "Close enough. He's Jon Peter, just like your father."

  I gave up. "Which bedroom have you set up as a nursery?"

  She pointed to the south end of the hallway at the top of the stairs… the bedroom farthest from the master bedroom. Surprise. I mounted the stairs, and she was right behind me.

  "You'd better not bite him," she snarked, which I didn't dignify with an answer. The Ant felt (and said, loudly, all the time) it was really thoughtless of me to not stay dead, and felt my fellow vampires were a bad element. That last one was a tough case to argue against. "You just better not. In fact, maybe you shouldn't touch him at all."

  "I promise, I don't have a cold." I opened the door—I could hear the baby yowling through the wood—and walked into the nursery, which was overdone in Walt Disney Pooh. "Ick, at least do the original Pooh."

  "We're redoing it next week," she replied absently, staring into the crib. "All my Little Mermaid stuff showed up from eBay."

  Yikes, no wonder he was screaming. I looked down at him and saw nothing special: a typical red-faced newborn with a shock of black hair, little eyes squeezed into slits, mouth open in the sustained "EeeeeeYAH eeeeeeYAH eeeeeeYAH" of a pissed-off young baby.

  He was dressed in one of those little sack things, like Swee'Pea, a pale green that made the poor kid look positively yellow. His little limbs didn't have much fat on them; they were sticklike. His teeny fists were the size of walnuts.

  Poor kid. Stuck in this overly big house with a Walt Disney theme, the Ant as his mom, and green swaddling clothes. It was too much to ask of anybody, never mind someone who hadn't been on the planet for even a week. If I could have wept for him, I would have.

  "Here," the Ant said, and handed me a small bottle of Purell.

  I rolled my eyes. "I'm not contagious."

  "You're dead. Ish."

  I debated arguing but then just gave up and gave my hands a quick wash. Baby Jon wailed the entire time. I felt a little like wailing myself as I handed the bottle back.

  I didn't ask if I could pick him up; I just did it, carefully supporting his head. (I remembered that much from my baby-sitting days.) He finished up a final "EeeeeeYAH!" and then just laid there, gasping.

  "I don't want you to—" the Ant began and then cut herself off and stared at her son. "My God, that's the first time he's stopped crying in hours."

  "I guess he likes me."

  "Give him back."

  I handed Baby Jon over, and as soon as he was out of my arms he started howling again. The Ant hastily handed him back to me, and he quit.

  I grinned—I couldn't help it. A new vampire power! Newborns did my unholy bidding. Even better, the Ant was looking as green as Baby Jon's outfit.

  "Well," I said loudly, because I'd handed him back again and I had to be heard over the shrieking, "I'll be going now."



  Chapter 4

  I popped open the kitchen door and practically leaped into the middle of the floor. "I have returned!" I cried.

  "Yeah, so have I," Jessica said. She was still in her caramel-colored coat, a man's coat that came almost to her ankles, and had her knitting bag in one hand and her gloves in the other. Nobody else looked up. Maybe I'd better rethink the dramatic entrance; too many people were used to it. "Thanks for canceling on me, you evil whore."

  "Oh, come on, like you really cared that I went over there and bugged the shit out of the Ant. And I have to cancel on you tomorrow, too, because I'm"—I paused for dramatic impact—"baby-sitting my baby brother."

  Jessica gaped. "You're doing what to the baby?"

  Tina and Sinclair actually looked up. "We didn't catch that one, dear," Sinclair told me.

  "You all caught it. You heard exactly what I said." I pulled my cold hands out of my pockets and blew on them, which did zero good. "Yeah, that's right. I'm babysitting. The baby likes me, and even though the Ant doesn't, she's desperate to get out of the house. So I'm going back tomorrow night."

  "Back… into your stepmother's home."

  "To be alone with her baby," Tina clarified.

  "Your stepmother's baby," Sinclair added.

  "I know! It's a Christmas miracle!"

  "Well, I'll come with," Jessica decided. "Keep you company. And I'd like to see—John, is it?"

  "Jon. Yeah. It'll be fun! Weird. But fun. We can zap some popcorn and 'forget' it in the back of her closet." I tossed my keys on the counter and crossed the room. "What are you guys working on?"

  Eric Sinclair leaned back so I could take a look. He was the king of the vampires, my lover, my fiancé, my nemesis, and my roommate. It had been, to put it mildly, an interesting year.

  As usual, I was so distracted by Sinclair's essential deliciousness, I almost forgot to look at the book they were so engrossed in. He was just so… well, yummy.

  Yummy and great-looking and tall and broad-shouldered and so so fine. Should-be-against-the-law fine. Big hands. Big smile. Big teeth. Big everything. Oofta. After months of fighting my attraction to him, I didn't have to anymore, and baby, I was gorging. We both were. It was nice not to be looking at him out of the corner of my eye all the time. We were getting married. We were in love. We were supposed to be drooling all over each other.

  I brushed some of his dark hair off his forehead, tried not to stare longingly into his black eyes, let my hand wander down to his lapel, and finally tore my gaze back to the table. In half a second, my good mood evaporated like the Ant's taste at a sample sale.

  "What the hell is that doing here?"

  "Darling, your grip—" He put his hand on my wrist and gently disengaged me, because I'd twisted the cloth of his lapel in my fist and, knowing him, he was less worried about the damage to his windpipe than ruining the line of his clothing.

  "Don't get upset," Tina began.

  "Ahhh! Ahhh!" I ahhh'd, pointing.

  "The UPS man brought it," she continued.

  Jessica and I stared at her.

  "No, really," she said.

  "The UPS guy brought that?" Jessica squeaked, also pointing at the Book of the Dead.

  "And a box from your mother," Tina added helpfully.

  "Christ, I'd hate to see what's in the other box!"

  "I thought we—" Jessica glanced at Sinclair, who was as smooth-faced as ever, though his black eyes were gleaming in a way that made the hair on my arms want to leave. "I thought it was gone for good."

  "Shit, shit, shit," I muttered. It was open—open!—and I slammed it closed. "Shit! Don't look at it. Shit! Why were you looking a
t it?"

  "Oh, well, the best-laid plans and all of that." Sinclair smiled, but he didn't look especially happy. "Better luck next time, and by that I mean, don't you dare try it again."

  Long story short: I'd read the Book of the Dead around Halloween and had gone nuts for a while. Really nuts. Biting and hurting my friends nuts. Even now, three months later, I was still so desperately ashamed of how I'd acted, I could hardly think about it. I had punished myself by wearing Kmart sneakers for a month, but even that didn't seem to strike the right note of penitence.

  The up side was, now I could rise from my deep, dark slumber in the late afternoon, instead of being conked from dawn to dusk. But it wasn't enough of a trade-off for me, and I'd thrown the Book into the Mississippi River, and good riddance.

  Sinclair had been coldly furious, and Tina hadn't been especially happy with me, either. Historical document, priceless beyond rubies, invaluable soothsaying tool, blah-blah. He hadn't shut me out of his bed, but the entire time we were having sex that night, he never stopped with the lecturing. And in his head (I can read his mind, though he doesn't know that—yet), he was pissed. It had been a new kind of awful. But at the time, I thought it was a small price to pay to be rid of it.

  And now it was back.

  "Shit," I said again, because for the life of me, I couldn't think of anything else.

  "Well," Jessica said, staring at the Book, "I have some good news."

  "This is a really good fake?"

  "No. I've just finished my last crochet class. Now I can teach George another stitch."

  "Oh." I managed to tear my gaze from the Book. "Well, that is good news. That's—really good."

  "How was your grave?" Tina asked politely.

  "Don't change the subject."

  "But it's so tempting."

  "What are we going to do with that?"

  "Jessica already changed the subject. And I thought we'd put it back in the library."

  "Where it belongs, and should never have been taken from in the first place," Sinclair added silkily.

  "Hey, my house, my library, my book."

  "Hardly," he snitted.

  "Besides, it's our house," Jessica said, which was kind, because she paid the mortgage. Sinclair paid a pittance in rent, and I didn't pay anything. We'd used the proceeds from the sale of my old, termite-ridden place to put a partial down payment on the mansion.

  "It's dangerous," I said, which was futile because I knew when I was beat.

  "It's a tool. Like any tool, it depends on how you use it." Sinclair started to get up. "I'll remove it to the library."

  "Nuh-uh." I put my hand on his shoulder and pushed. It was like trying to budge a boulder. "C'mon, siddown already. I'll put it in the library. I promise not to pitch it into the river on the way."

  After a long moment, he sat. I awkwardly scooped up the Book (it was about two feet long, a foot wide, and six inches thick) and shuddered; it was warm. The vampire bible, bound in human skin, written in blood, and full of prophecies that were never wrong. Trouble was, if you read the thing too long, it drove you nuts. Not "I'm having a bad day and feel bitchy" nuts, or PMS nuts. "I think I'll commit felony assault on my friends and rape my boyfriend" nuts.

  "I'm going to the basement," Jessica said after the long silence. "I'm going to show George the new stitch."

  "Wait," I grunted, hefting the Book.

  "C'mon, I want to show him now, so he can practice."

  "I said wait, dork. You're not supposed to be alone with him, remember?"

  "He's never hurt me. He's never even looked in my direction. Not since you keep him full of your icky queen blood."

  "Nevertheless," Sinclair said, free of the Book and now picking up the Wall Street Journal, "you are not to be alone with him, Jessica. Ever."

  She scowled, but she was scowling at the paper, which was now in front of Sinclair's face. I almost laughed. Dismissed. He did it to me all the time.

  "Let me dump this thing in the libe," I said, staggering toward the door—it was hard to carry something and not gag at the same time—"and I'll be right with you. Anything's better than this."

  "That's a bold statement," Tina observed, stirring her coffee. "Especially since you've recently been to your stepmother's."

  "Har," I said, and made my way toward the library.

  Chapter 5

  "Well!" I said brightly, descending the stairs. "That was about the most disgusting thing ever."

  "And you drink blood every week."

  "Ugh, don't remind me. George? Honey, you up?"

  We went to the other end of the basement (the place was huge; it ran the length of the mansion and, among other things, we'd had decapitated bodies down there as well as a body butter party) and found George in his room, busily crocheting another endless yarn link. Sky blue, this time.

  He looked up alertly when we walked into his room and then went back to his crocheting. The scary thing about George was how normal he was starting to look.

  He was tall and lean, with a swimmer's build, shoulder-length golden brown hair, and dark brown eyes. When he'd been more feral, it was tough to see the man under all the mud. Now that he was on a steady diet of my blood, it was hard to see the feral vampire under the man.

  He was too thin, but he had the best butt I'd ever seen, never mind that my heart belonged to Sinclair (and his butt). His eyes were the color of wet mud, and occasionally a flash of his intelligence gleamed out at me. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.

  He seemed only to like me, which was fair, because I was the only one who hadn't wanted to stake him and his fellow Fiends. The others were at a mansion in Minnetonka, being cared for by another vampire. Unlike George, the other Fiends had no desire to do anything but crawl around on all fours and drink blood out of buckets.

  I wasn't really sure what to do about the Fiends, thus my great and all-encompassing "live and let die" policy. The asshat who used to run the vampires was a big experiment fan—you know, like the Nazis. And one of his favorite things to do was starve newly risen vampires.

  Thus, the Fiends: feral, inhuman, and not so great with the vocalizing. Or the walking. Or the—anyway. They were monsters, but it wasn't their fault… the real monster had gotten to them first.

  All I could do was try to look out for them… and keep George amused. Unlike the others, George liked to drink my blood every couple days or so. Unlike the others, George was walking.

  It was very strange.

  "Check it out, baby," Jessica said, bringing out a crochet hook of her own and showing it to him. Then she glanced at me. "Uh, he's eaten this week, right?"

  "Unfortunately, yes." I glared at my wrist, which had already healed over. I only liked sharing blood with Sinclair; the rest of it sort of squicked me out. And I only did it with Sinclair during, um, intimate moments.

  Sad to say, my blood (queen blood, sigh) was the only thing making George better. Three months ago, he was covered with mud, naked, howling at the moon, and eating the occasional rapist. Yarn work in my basement and consenting to red Jockeys was a big damn improvement.

  "Like this," Jessica was saying, showing him what looked, to me, like an incredibly complicated stitch. But then, I'd tossed out my counted cross-stitch patterns at age sixteen after declaring them way too hard. Crocheting and knitting… yurrgh.

  My mom tried to teach me to knit once, and it went like this: "Okay, I'll do it really slowly so you can follow." Then the needles flashed and she'd knitted half a scarf. That's about when I gave up on all crafts.

  "And then…" Jess was murmuring, "through the loop… like this."

  He hummed and took the yarn from her.

  "What's next on the wedding agenda?"

  "Um…" I shut my eyes and thought. My Sidekick was upstairs, but I knew most of the wedding details by heart. "Flowers. I'm still pushing for purple irises and yellow alstromeria lilies, and Sinclair is still pretending we're not getting married."

  "What's the new date?" />
  "September 15."

  Jessica frowned. "That's a Thursday."

  I stared at her. "How do you know that?"

  "Because it's the date my parents died, so I try to get out to the cemetery then. And I remember, last September was a Wednesday."

  "Oh." We did not discuss Jessica's mother and father. Ever. "Well, what difference does it make? Like Sinclair cares? Like the other vampires do? Oh, what, we've all got to get up early for work the next morning?"

  "How many times have you changed the date? Four?"

  "Possibly," I said grudgingly. It had been, respectively, February 14 (I know, I know, and to give me credit, I did scrap the idea eventually), April 10, July 4, and now September 15.

  "I don't understand why you don't just get it done, hon. You've wanted this how long? And Sinclair is agreeable and everything? I mean, what the hell?"

  "There just hasn't been time to get all the details taken care of. I have been solving murders and dodging bloody coups," I bitched. "That's why I keep moving the date. There aren't enough hours in the day. Night."

  Jessica didn't say anything. Thank God.

  "Look!" I pointed. George was crocheting the new stitch she'd just showed him. "Wow, he's catching on."

  "Next: the knit stitch."

  "Can't you ever rest on your laurels? Let the guy make a blanket or something."

  "And after that," she said confidentially, "we're going to start with reading and math."

  "Oh, boy."

  "He already knows how. He must. It's just a matter of reminding him."

  "Yeah, that's what it's a matter of."

  She ignored that. "So what else? Flowers? And then what? You've got the gown picked out."

  "Yup. Picked it up last week. The nice thing about being dead is one fitting pretty much did the trick."

  "Well, there you go. What else?"

  "The tasting menu."

  "How are you going to pull that off?"

  "It's wine for them, juice and stuff for the rest of us." I heard myself say that and wondered: Who did I think "us" was?

  "Oh. Good work. And?"

  "The cake. Not for us." There was that word again! "But there will be some regular guys there. You, Marc, my folks."