Fangs for the Memories
Not all relationships between vampires and humans end badly. A very, very small percentage of them end happily.
—Surviving the Undead Breakup: A Human’s Guide to Healing
If I moved even one inch, I was going to be crushed by a stack of werewolf mating guides. It would be a weird and yet entirely appropriate-to-my-lifestyle way for me to die.
Visiting Specialty Books was like living in an episode of Extreme Hoarders: Bibliophiles. My librarian-turned-vampire friend, Jane Jameson, had done her best to organize her boss’s collection of obscure occult books, but the store was still impossible to navigate for anyone who wasn’t Jane or Mr. Wainwright. Unfortunately, Mr. Wainwright died yesterday, so if anything happened to Jane, we’d have to burn the shop down.
I mean, sure, there’d be other repercussions of Jane dying—heartbreak, a lack of smartass literary references, relative calm—but, mostly, burning down the shop would be a pain. And . . . arson. I was too pretty for jail. This was why I never spoke at funerals. Because these were the types of morbid, inappropriate thoughts that filled my head when I was confronted with death.
So there I stood, in the mess of Specialty Books, trying to provide wordless support as Jane sorted copies of The Guide for the Newly Undead, Life on Loch Ness, and Mating Customs and Love Rituals of the Were. She was oddly calm for someone who’d found her boss’s body under an avalanche of hardcovers just a few hours earlier. But it seemed that Mr. Wainwright’s spirit was still hanging around the shop, just in case something interesting happened. And judging by the steady stream of chatter Jane was keeping up, he was in a pretty good mood.
Vampires, ghosts, werewolves. I’m sure it should’ve worried me that I’d accepted the existence of these creatures so easily. I’d become enmeshed in the supernatural world almost immediately after vampires came out to live in the open. I’d made my living as a blood surrogate for years, providing live feedings for vampires who didn’t want bottled blood but couldn’t risk biting a random stranger. The World Council for the Equal Treatment of the Undead, the governing body for vampires worldwide, had pretty strict rules about that sort of thing. It wasn’t a job that required qualifications beyond good people skills and my exceedingly rare, tasty AB-negative blood.
It was scary at first. Sure, my new customers were referred by trusted clients, but that didn’t guarantee they’d be gentle or kind. I’d had to cut a few weirdos from my roster, but now I had a steady stream of regulars. I’d fallen into this job when my life went pear-shaped after I left college. Not graduated. Left. My family might have cut me from the Christmas card list, but I’d found a supportive community among the vampires. I built a solid base of regulars, and it turned out that a lot of them were moving to Half-Moon Hollow, Kentucky, so I had followed. I still kept a sales position at a local gift shop so I could have contact with living people, but honestly, most of my real friends were undead, and Jane was becoming the closest among them.
Jane Jameson was a relatively new vampire. She was pretty in that quirky, casual way, with slightly mussy brown curls and puckish hazel eyes. A children’s librarian fired from her position at the Half-Moon Hollow Public Library, Jane was a big fan of jeans, cardigans, and T-shirts with book-centric logos. She dressed as if she didn’t give a damn what people thought of her . . . because she honestly didn’t give a damn.
I’d been her first live feeding, something her sire had insisted on. It was awkward and weird, and based on the experience, she’d decided to stick with bottled blood. But since she’d made so few contacts among her new peers, she was open to a friendship with me based on our mutual exasperation with vampire males. Of course, the first night we went out together, she ended up being charged with the murder of another vampire. But she decided to keep hanging out with me anyway and added me to her growing circle of supernatural super-friends.
And now we were cleaning out the shop because Jane organized when she was upset. Besides, it was sort of traumatizing for her to see the books in disarray, reminding her of how she’d found them piled on top of Mr. Wainwright’s body after his heart attack. I sighed, standing and rolling my shoulders against the ache gathering between the blades. It was times like this when having vampire strength wouldn’t have been so bad.
“Hey, Red. As much as I’m sure those books are enjoying you leaning up against them, do you mind getting out of the way so I can move this?”
I turned to find the one drawback to spending time with Jane standing behind me holding several ratty boxes of sword-and-bustier fantasy paperbacks. I still had trouble understanding why Jane was friends with Dick Cheney—the vampire, not the vice president. It wasn’t that I didn’t see his charm. It wasn’t even that Dick wasn’t attractive. He was dangerously so, in that scruffy, roguish way every girl’s mother warns her about before giving her a dime to keep squeezed between her knees.
Dick was tall and well built with shaggy dirty-blond hair and deep-set sea-green eyes. He had dimples that winked from the corners of his mouth when he smirked, which he did almost ninety percent of his waking hours. He walked with the sort of swagger you expected with a Stetson and chaps, though his wardrobe was composed almost entirely of inappropriate T-shirts and ass-hugging jeans. God help me, the jeans.
To complete the “pre–Civil War–born scoundrel” package, Dick made his income in a way that was . . . less than reputable. Like Rhett Butler—if instead of sneaking whiskey and silk across blockades, Rhett had sold counterfeit Uzbekistani-made iPods out of the back of his wagon. Let’s just say Dick would never be invited to join the Half-Moon Hollow Chamber of Commerce.
He was clever and funny and seemed to have figured out the secret to being completely content while living a no-frills existence on the edge of the criminal underworld. Dick made no secret of the fact that he found me attractive, in a relentless, shameless manner that grated on my nerves half the time and made me blush the other half. But while it was a little bit of an ego boost, I’d had enough of rakish, handsome, and clever to last a lifetime. So I turned him down flat every time.
Without a hint of a smile, I told him, “Not your best work.”
Dick shrugged as he passed by, hauling the boxes toward the back exit. If Jane had been oddly calm about Mr. Wainwright’s passing, Dick had taken it particularly hard for someone he didn’t know very well. He’d been melancholy all evening, and his flirting hadn’t been up to its usual standard.
I stared after him. Something was going on with Dick, a strange tension that everybody seemed to understand except me. Was it possible that Dick was finally over his crush on me? I wasn’t sure if that made me relieved or a little sad.
“When are you going to let him off the hook and go out with him?” Jane asked, carefully stacking a copy of Most Potente Magick on top of other guides to Wicca. The more dangerous magic books, the ones that told readers how to do things like rip people’s toenails off with the power of their minds, Jane was keeping in a locked room in her house. Frankly, we found it a little scary that those books had been floating around the shop unsupervised for years.
“I thought you were the mind-reader,” I shot back.
“Yes, but I don’t go poking around in people’s heads without their permission. It’s rude,” she said, suddenly turning her head to look over her left shoulder. “Mr. Wainwright also thinks you should ‘take pity on the poor fellow because he’s obviously smitten with you.’ ”
“If I find out that Mr. Wainwright’s ghost isn’t really there and this is all an elaborate practical-joke-slash-coping-mechanism, I will be really upset with you,” I told her, shaking my head.
It was at times like this that I wished everybody—not just vampires and the endless supply of weirdos with their own cable shows—could see ghosts. It seemed unfair that regular humans couldn’t join the Friendship Beyond the Grave Club simply because our perception wasn’t broad enough.
Jane shrugged. “I get that. The only reason I’m so comfortable with it is because Aunt Jettie’s been following me around since I got turned. You get used to ‘invisible friends.’ ”
“Well, I’m sorry I can’t see you, Mr. Wainwright. I’m going to miss the other voice of human reason around here.”
Jane smiled fondly at the chatty blank space. “He says he plans on sticking around for a while. And he’ll find a way to make his presence known.”
“You know, from anyone else, that would come across as a threat,” I told the invisible shopkeeper, feeling more than a little silly. “But I find it comforting.”
Jane’s voice brightened. “So, mistress of subject changes, when are you going to take pity on poor Dick?”
“We’ve talked about my romantic history, Jane. You know why I’m not rushing into anything.”
Jane turned her head toward Mr. Wainwright’s “space” and whispered, “I’ll tell you later.”
I threw up my hands and gave Jane my “really?” face.
“Sorry, that’s probably distracting,” Jane admitted. “And dating someone you’ve known for months is not rushing into anything.”
“It is when you barely know them and what you do know isn’t great,” I said, tossing a roll of masking tape at her. And of course, with her vampire reflexes, she caught it before it hit her in the face. I rolled my eyes and scooped up a stack of flattened cardboard boxes. “I’m going out to the trash alley, where it’s normal.”
“Sometimes I don’t think she listens to the things that come out of her mouth,” Jane said, obviously speaking to Mr. Wainwright.
“I heard that!” I called over my shoulder.
I carried the boxes out to the alley, where I found Dick silently staring at a brick wall.
I only wished this were the weirdest part of my night so far.
He turned, an expression of anguish twisting his features. I frowned. I hadn’t realized he and Mr. Wainwright had been close. As far as I knew, Jane had met Mr. Wainwright before Dick even came into the picture.
“No.” He shook his head. “You’re not supposed to bury your children. It’s unnatural and wrong.”
The words coming out of his mouth made no sense. And in my confusion, my eloquence produced “Uhhh . . .”
“Let me guess, ‘everything about my life is unnatural and wrong,’ right?” He snorted derisively, like he was trying to beat me to a joke.
“I wouldn’t say that. Dick, what’s going on?”
He dragged his hands through his hair. “I don’t know. I just, I just—” Dick grunted, a frustrated, desperate sound. There was a blur of motion, and then he was in front of me, pinning me against the rough brick wall. I froze, because that’s what you do when you’re confronted with a predator who’s hovering over you with his mouth uncomfortably close to your jugular—no matter how clever his T-shirts. I’d never seen Dick like this, unhinged and unsmiling.
I held my breath, staring at his open mouth as the tip of his nose brushed down my cheek. He was breathing heavily, despite the fact that he didn’t have to breathe at all. He lunged, and it was all I could do not to flinch. But instead of the pain I’d expected, I felt his lips, smooth and cool, against my own.
My eyes popped wide open. Dick threaded his fingers through my hair and cupped my cheeks in his hands, angling my face so he could get better access to my mouth.
Holy hell. I was kissing Dick Cheney.
And Dick Cheney was a pretty incredibly freaking good kisser.
Dick’s hands skimmed my jaw, slid down my shoulders to my ribs, and settled around my hips, pulling me even closer. He bit down gently on my bottom lip with his blunt teeth, making me gasp. He groaned into my open mouth, sliding his tongue between my lips and letting it dance with mine.
I twisted my fingers in his hair so I could arch against him, because I didn’t seem to be touching him enough. We had too much space and far too many layers of clothing between us.
I’d had lovers in the last few years: nice, stable guys who treated me with respect and were about as exciting as a lukewarm bath or cold oatmeal. This was hot and dirty . . . and sort of uncomfortable with the brick scratching at my back. I could feel the excitement building in my chest, the thrill of something illicit and ill-advised. I hadn’t felt this way since college. I hadn’t felt this way since Mathias.
I would not make this mistake again. I’d worked so hard to put this sort of flawed decision making behind me. My hands went cold and a shudder ran down my spine. I couldn’t believe I’d fallen into this trap again. Grief did indeed make people do strange, stupid things. I would not be a funeral sex statistic.
But I was still kissing him.
I pulled back, pressing my lips together, and put a hand to his chest. To his credit, the moment I pushed away, Dick took a step back. “What?”
“I can’t.” I shook my head. “I’m sorry. I just can’t do this.”
I turned, running back into the shop as Dick yelled, “Andrea!”