This is an excerpt from the first chapter of NICE GIRLS DON'T BITE THEIR NEIGHBORS. The fourth book in the Jane Jameson vampire series, the title will be released in March 2012. Click here to pre-order from Amazon.
All preview materials are subject to change before publication and are not to be reproduced without permission of Pocket Books.
Three months after moving into my ancestral home, Gabriel Nightengale’s last box was finally unpacked. The catch was that we could never break-up, because I had run out of friends who were willing to help us move.
“I have good news,” he said, striding into the library, where I was sprawled on the velvet chaise lounge we’d moved into the room only a few days ago. I was reading Persuasion again, but this time, I was reading Gabriel’s very old, very delicate copy printed in London at the turn of the century. It was practically a religious experience.
This was a vastly different library from just a year ago, when it was stuffed with my well-worn paperback versions of Jane Austen and Roald Dahl novels… and my creepily extensive collection of unicorn figurines. This was a grown-up library.
I’d cleared out quite a bit of space for Gabriel’s books and furniture. It wasn’t that difficult a choice, considering that most of his books were valuable antiques, whereas most of mine were purchased at secondhand paperback shops.
I’d also packed most of my unicorn collection away in the cellar, threatening Gabriel with permanent sunburn if he so much as breathed a word about it to Dick.
As Gabriel moved toward me, my pitifully hideous, but lovable, dog, Fitz, raised his head from my knee. Gently nudging Fitz aside, Gabriel pressed kisses along the line of my throat and announced, “My VHS tapes now have a permanent home in your entertainment center, alphabetized and divided by genre.”
At this announcement, Fitz trotted out of the room in search of some pair of Gabriel’s shoes that he hadn’t managed to chew yet. I peered up at him over the top of the book, cringing. “So now would be a really bad time to tell you that I don’t have a VHS player anymore, right? This is a strictly digital household.”
Gabriel groaned and flopped down next to me. “I’m going to have to buy Casablanca again.”
“You didn’t notice the lack of a VCR in the TV cabinet?” I asked.
He shook his head. “You know I don’t understand half of the gadgets you have around here.”
That was true. The previous week I caught him trying to “reboot” my wireless network by kicking the router across the room. That was a long conversation. I shook my head. “How did I end up in the relationship in which I am the tech person?”
He leaned in and kissed me. “When you taught me how to work my voicemail, I knew I could never let you go.”
I giggled as Gabriel crossed the room and selected an older volume from the crowded shelves. I watched him move, unabashedly lovestruck. My human relationships had been few and far between, but they’d been polite, civilized- boring. I craved Gabriel with a bone-deep lust I’d once reserved exclusively for Godiva truffles. I was fixated, not just in the physical sense – though that was an obvious, and occasionally distracting, bonus – but with what he thought, how he saw the world, how he saw me. It was addictive to see myself reflected in his liquid silver eyes as strong, beautiful, intelligent, interesting, completely exasperating. We each provided a vital service for the other. He made me stronger, and I kept him from taking himself too seriously.
Gabriel settled in next to me, absorbed in a vintage copy of Jane Eyre. We sat like that for some time, quietly reveling in not having anything to do, anywhere to be. Crisis-free moments like this had been rare in our relationship.
“Jane Eyre?” I asked. “Not your usual selection.”
He nodded. “You’ve only mentioned a dozen or so times that Edward Rochester is second only to Mr. Darcy on your ‘Fictional Character Free Pass List.’ I want to know what I’m up against.”
I smirked, snuggling into his side. “You stand a fair chance. As long as you don’t have a crazy wife hidden away somewhere…” I stared at him for a beat.
“I don’t,” he said, shaking his head at me and opening his book.
It may have seemed like an unfair shot, but Gabriel and I had suffered serious relationship issues related to his “careful editing” of his past. Case in point, the fire in my cellar caused by Gabriel’s psycho-childe, Jeanine, who had stalked me, nearly killed me with aerosol silver and eventually arranged for our friend, Andrea, to be forcibly turned into a vampire. I try to resist pointing out that of all this could have been avoided, if Gabriel had told me about Jeanine, instead of playing the tortured, ‘I can’t tell you because you’ll hate me, so I’ll protect you by keeping you in the dark” card.
Trust me, that card never works. I end up with more undead friends and a serious cleaning bill for smoke damage. And then, as the vampire who technically defeated her in a Taser-versus-lunatic-soaked-in-lamp-oil battle, there was the hassle of receiving the proceeds from Jeanine’s estate through the Council, then donating it to various charities. I didn’t want one penny from her crazy behind darkening my doorway.
“Just checking,” I replied, smiling sweetly, and earning an undignified, but amused, snort from Gabriel. I returned my attention to poor, persevering Anne Elliot. Once again, I wondered how she managed to go so many chapters without bitch-slapping every single person she came into contact with. I actually wrote a paper about it in college. My professor deducted points for using the phrase “bitch-slap” in the title.
It was totally worth it.
I was just settling into the salons of 18th-century Bath, when Gabriel muttered, “This is strange.”
I looked up to see Gabriel pulling a long blue-gray thread from between the nearly translucent pages. My jaw dropped and I was kneeling on the chaise in a flash. “Is the binding coming loose? No, don’t pull it! I can take it to my book doctor tomorrow night.”
“Stop hyperventilating, sweetheart. I think it’s a bookmark,” he said, pulling on the thread until he’d stretched it into my hand. “Here.”
I wound thread around my finger. “What passage was it marking?”
He scanned the page and lifted an eyebrow. “It’s an Edward and Jane scene. I know how you love those. Edward’s saying, ‘I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you—especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame.”
I was so caught up in watching his lips as they formed the words, I barely noticed the sudden tension on the fiber wound around my finger. I realized now that Gabriel had slipped a ring onto the thread and was sliding it toward me. I watched as the respectable diamond twinkled in the lights of the oil lamp.
“I’m not Edward,” Gabriel promised. “I’m not afraid the thread will break and leave me bleeding. Our thread’s already been tested. And it will hold up. I’m asking you to make the link permanent. Please, marry me.”
I smiled as the ring slid into my hand. I can’t say this was a surprise. After the passing of the Federal Undead Marriage Act a few months before, Gabriel had officially proposed with this very tasteful solitaire. And I said no. We’d agreed to move in together because I’d told Gabriel that I wasn’t ready to be engaged yet. I was still adjusting to being a vampire. I was still recovering from Zeb and Jolene’s wedding from hell. And oh, yeah, Gabriel’s childe had just tried to murder me in my own home. I needed a breather.
Gabriel proposed again, a few weeks later, and I wasn’t ready. And then again, on my birthday, and I still wasn’t ready. Then he promised not to ask me again until I was ready. And when he said that, I suddenly felt ready. And then I felt like an idiot, because by then, he’d stopped proposing.
This was no ballpark Jumbotron, no ring hidden in a soufflé. It was the right way for Gabriel to ask me to marry him. And this was the right time.
I nodded, mute, and the tension seemed to drain out of Gabriel. He grinned, slid his hands in my hair and pulled me close. “I struggled with the right passage, you know,” he said, sliding the ring over my knuckle and kissing the web of skin between my fingers. “I tried all of Austen’s works but the proposals are all so formal. I thought you would appreciate Edward’s passion. And it still involves a Jane, after all. The ring is a copy of my mother’s. I took the stone from her engagement ring and had a jeweler place it in a titanium setting.”
“Titanium?” I asked.
“Dick knew a guy."
“Of course he did.”
“You’re a bit rough and tumble with jewelry, and I knew it would have to be able to stand up to…”
His eyebrow lifted. “I never know with you.”
I laughed, throwing my arms around him and knocking him back on the seat and straddling his hips. Hovering over him, I nuzzled his neck, kissing and nipping before my fangs extended. I scraped them along his jugular, making him shudder and snake his hands around my waist, pulling me closer. I threaded my fingers through his coal black hair and tugged his head back. His own fangs snicked out as he grinned up at me. He cupped my cheeks in his palms and gave me my first “betrothed” kiss.
I have to say that if I’d known that was what I had to look forward to as a married woman, I probably should have agreed to the engagement a lot sooner.
He chuckled, pressing his thumb over my right fang, letting it pierce the skin. I nibbled at it as he twisted under me, a sweet little trickle of my sire’s blood lending to an equally wet and pleasant sensation elsewhere. Pushing the scoop neck of my blouse away, he trailed his lips over the edge of my bra and snapped the left strap with his razor-sharp fangs.
Your underwear budget triples when you’re dating the undead.
"You haven’t said, ‘yes,’ by the way,” he murmured, snapping the other bra strap with his teeth.
I gasped and his thumb fell away from my mouth. “I’m sorry! Yes, yes, yes!”
“Should I find it disturbing that it took jewelry to make you cry ‘yes, yes, yes’ in my presence for the first time?” he asked, nuzzling my throat.
“Nice.” I snickered.
“So who do you want to call first?” he asked. “Your mother? Jenny? Zeb and Jolene? Oh, or I can call Dick, act like I’m sobbing and tell him you said no. Make him think that he has to take me out for an evening of drinking and not talking about our feelings.”
“That’s your idea of a hilarious joke?” I asked, arching my eyebrow.
He smirked, pulling my blouse over my head. My ruined bra fell to pieces and dropped to the floor. “I find Dick’s squirming in the face of emotional vulnerability to be the height of hilarity.”
“This is why Dick wins all of your prank wars,” I told him, as he pulled me back on the lounge, my weight settled on his chest.
“So do you want to call your mother first, or Zeb?”
I shook my head, cradling my face into his neck. “No.”
“Neither. First, because I’d like to wait until I can tell Aunt Jettie,” I sighed, thinking fondly of my ghostly great- aunt and her equally deceased beau, Gilbert Wainwright. “And I don’t know when she’ll be back from whatever astral jaunt she and Mr. Wainwright are taking. And second, because I want to lie here with you and enjoy being engaged without being squealed at or hug-strangled or told that I don’t want to get married in the spring because it’s impossible to get the right mix of seasonal tulips. I just want to…” I sighed and rubbed my bare chest against his shirt in a distinctly non-virginal bride manner. “Bask.”
“You never do what I expect you to,” he said, kissing the ring on my finger.
“Admit it, that’s part of the attraction.”
“Yes. Yes, it is,” he sighed. “But you will be the one to tell your mother, right? I asked your father for his blessing. But I think you should be the one to deliver the news to your mother.”
I snorted. Mama’s reaction to our pre-marital cohabitating included screaming and yelling and threatening us with grounding. Considering that the worst that his own mother had ever done to him was call for her smelling salts, Gabriel was permanently scarred. He had flashbacks for weeks.
“So, I’m thinking… Vegas Strip next Friday? We could gamble a little, get married, bail Dick out of the jail, and be home by Monday,” I suggested.
“We are not going to get married in some rundown chapel by an Elvis impersonator.”
“We could get a Streisand impersonator if it would make you more comfortable.”
“Jane,” he chuckled, exasperated. “Is that really how you want to get married? Sneaking off like we’re ashamed of ourselves? Was that what little Jane dreamed and hoped for?”
“Little Jane thought she would marry Mark-Paul Gosselar from Saved By The Bell in an English castle. Little Jane was an idiot.”
“If you want the English castle, you shall have it… minus this Mark-Paul person,” he said. “And if you really want the Vegas strip, you shall have that. I want you to have the sort of wedding that will make you happy.”
I countered, “What about the kind of wedding that makes you happy?”
“I want to show up in a tux and be told where to stand. That would make me very happy.”
“What about wedding planning scares you?”
“All of it. Picking out flowers. The dress. The bridesmaids dresses… no, wait, I’m looking forward to that. Vengeance will be mine. But making all the choices… and then having those choices subtly criticized by every woman in my family. And the fact that each of those choices will probably ‘ruin the wedding’ for someone.”
“Ruin the wedding?”
“When my sister wanted to get married at the country club, Grandma Ruthie said the wedding would be ruined for her if Jenny got married anywhere but the Baptist church. Several cousins threatened to boycott if Jenny didn’t allow children to attend. Our great-uncle said he wouldn’t come to the reception unless she served Pabst Blue Ribbon. People just seem to lose their minds when it comes to weddings. You can’t make everybody happy.”
“So we won’t try,” Gabriel said. “We’ll do what makes us happy. It’s our wedding, after all.”
I chuckled, pressing my lips to his throat, the curve of his jaw, as I rolled over him and slipped my fingers around his belt buckle, sliding it open. “Oh, you’re so naïve. It’s cute, really.”