Undead and unworthy, p.1

Undead and Unworthy, page 1

 part  #7 of  Undead Series

 

Undead and Unworthy


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Undead and Unworthy
Chapter 1

 

  Bored, I crossed the carpet in five steps, climbed up on Sinclair's desk, and kissed him. My left knee dislodged the phone, which hit the floor with a muffled thump and instantly started making that annoying eee-eee-eee sound. My right skidded on a fax Sinclair had gotten from some bank.

  Surprised, but always up for a nooner (or whatever vampires called sex at 7:30 at night), my husband kissed me back with enthusiasm. Meanwhile, due to the aforementioned knee-skidding, I slammed into him so hard, his chair hit the wall with enough force to put a crack in the wallpaper. More work for the handyman.

  He yanked, and my (cashmere! argh) sweater tore down the middle. He shoved, and my skirt (Ann Taylor) went up. He pulled, and my panties (Target) went who knew where? And I was pretty busy tugging and pulling at his suit (try as I might, I could not get the king of the vampires to not wear a suit), so the cloth was flying.

  He did that sweep-the-top-of-the-desk thing you see in movies and plopped me on my back. He reached down, and I said, "Not the shoes!" so he left them alone (although I noticed the eye roll and made a mental note to bitch about it later).

  He tugged, pulled, and entered. It hurt a little, because normally I needed more than sixteen seconds of foreplay, but it was also pretty fucking great (literally!).

  I wrapped my legs around his waist, so I could admire my sequined leopard-print pumps (don't even ask me what they cost). Then I grinned up at him, I couldn't help it, and he smiled back, his dark eyes narrow with lust. It was so awesome to be a newlywed. And I was almost done with my thank-you notes!

  I let my head fall back, enjoying the feel of him, the smell of him, his hands on my waist, his dick filling me up, his mouth on my neck, kissing, licking, then biting.

  Then my dead stepmother said, "This is all your fault, Betsy, and I'm not going anywhere until you fix it. "

  To which I replied, "Aaaaah! Aaaaah! AAAAAAH-HHHHHH! "

  Sinclair jerked like I'd turned into sunshine and spoke for the first time since I swept into his office. "Elizabeth, what's wrong? Am I hurting you?"

  "Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!"

  From my vantage point, my dead stepmother was upside down, which somehow made it all the more terrible, because, contrary to popular belief, you can't turn a frown upside down.

  "You can fuss all you want, but you've got responsibilities, and don't think I don't know it. " She shook her head at me, and in death, as in life, her overly coiffed pineapple-blond hair didn't move. She was wearing a fuchsia skirt, a low-cut sky blue blouse, black nylons, and fuchsia pumps. Also, too much makeup. It practically hurt to look at her. "So you better get to work. "

  "Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!"

  Sinclair pulled out and started frantically feeling me. "Where are you hurt?"

  "The Ant! The Ant!"

  "You - what?"

  Before I could elaborate (and where to begin?), I heard thundering footsteps, and then Marc slammed into the closed office door. His scent was unmistakable - antiseptic and dried blood.

  I heard him back off and grab for the doorknob, and then he was standing in the doorway. "Betsy, are you - oh my God!" He went red so fast I was afraid he was going to have a stroke. "I'm sorry, jeez, I thought that was a bad 'aaaaahhhh,' not a sex 'aaaaahhh. ' "

  More footsteps, and then my best friend, Jessica, was saying, "What's wrong? Is she okay?" She was so skinny and short, I couldn't see her behind Marc.

  "The Ant is here!" I yowled, as Sinclair assembled the rags of his suit, picked me up off the desk, and shoved me behind him. I don't know why he bothered; Marc was gay and a doctor, and so couldn't care less if I was mostly naked. And Jessica had seen me naked about a million times. "Here, right now!"

  "Your stepmother's in this room?" I still couldn't see her, but Jessica's tone managed to convey the sheer horror I felt at the prospect of being haunted by the Ant.

  "Where else would I be?" the Ant, the late Antonia Taylor, said reasonably. She was tapping her Paylessclad foot and nibbling her lower lip. "What I'd like to know is, where's your father?"

  "Yeah, that's all this scene is missing," I fumed. "If only my dead dad were here, too. " Chapter 2

 

  After Marc decided a Valium drip probably wouldn't work on a vampire, he brought me a stiff drink instead. Could he even tap a vein? I was over a year dead, after all. Would an IV take? Someday I was going to have to sit down and figure all this shit out. Someday when I wasn't plagued by ghosts, serial killers, wedding planning, rogue werewolves, mysterious vampires bursting in on me, and diaper changing.

  It was sweet of Marc to bring me a gin and tonic (which I loathed, but he didn't know that), but I was so rattled I drank it off in one gulp, and it could have been paint thinner, for all I knew.

  "Is she still here?" he whispered.

  "Of course I'm still here," my dead stepmother snapped. "I told you, I'm not going anywhere. "

  "I'm the only one who can hear you," I shrilled, "so just shut up!"

  "Bring her another drink," Sinclair muttered. We were still in his office, but Jessica had kindly brought robes to cover our shredded clothes. "Bring her three. "

  "I don't need booze, I need to get rid of you know what. "

  "Very funny," the Ant grumped.

  She and my father had been killed in a gruesome, stupid car accident a couple of months ago. Where she had been since her death, and why she had shown up now, I didn't know. There were so many things about being the vampire queen I didn't know! And I didn't want to know.

  But I was going to have to find out, because the ghosts never, ever went away, until I solved their little problems for them.

  And where was my dead dad, anyway? I sighed. Nonconfrontational in life as well as in death.

  "What do you want?"

  "I told you. To fix this. "

  "Fix what?"

  "You know. "

  "This is so weird," Marc murmured to Jessica, forgetting, as usual, about superior vamp hearing. "She's having a conversation with the chair. "

  "She is not. Quiet so I can hear. "

  "I don't know," I said to the chair - uh, the Ant. "I really, really don't. Please tell me. "

  "Stop playing games. "

  "I'm not!" I almost screamed. Then I felt Sinclair's soothing hands on my shoulders and sagged into him. Like our honeymoon hadn't been stressful enough, what with all the dead kids and Jessica and her boyfriend crashing it and all. This was a hundred times worse.

  "If you could just - " I began, when the office door crashed open, nearly smashing into Marc, who yelped and jumped aside.

  A bloody, stinking horror was framed in the doorway, then darted right at me like a goblin in a fairy tale. Since I was a tad keyed up from the Ant popping in, my reflexes were in excellent shape. I slugged the thing - it was a man, a big, bearish, shambling man - so hard I knocked him halfway across the office. He hit the carpet so hard, buttons popped off his shirt, which looked about ready for the ragbag anyway.

  He was on his feet in a flash and looked wildly from Sinclair to me and back again. And he was - there was something familiar about him. Something I couldn't put my finger on.

  Sinclair and I started toward him in unison, and he backed up, pivoted, and dived out the second story window.

  "What the blue hell - ?" I began.

  The office door crashed open, and I felt like clutching my heart. I couldn't stand many more of these shocks to my system.

  Garrett, the Fiend formerly known as George, stood in the doorway, panting. Since he was seventy-some years old and didn't need to breathe, I knew at once something was seriously wrong.

  What fresh hell was this?

  "T
hey're awake," he gasped. "And they want to kill you. "

  "Who?" Sinclair, Jessica, Marc, and I asked in unison. It could be anyone. The guys who delivered pizza from Green Mill. Other vampires. The Ant's book club. Werewolves. Zombies. And, of course, the uninvited guest who'd jumped out the window. So many enemies, so little -

  "The other Fiends. I've been feeding them my blood, and they're pissed. "

  "You've what, and they're what?" I asked, horrified.

  Garrett couldn't look at me - never a good sign. "They - they sort of 'woke up,' and now they want to kill you. "

  "It's this lifestyle you lead," the Ant said smugly. "These things are bound to happen. "

  "Oh, shut up!" I barked. I actually had to clutch my head; which problem to tackle first? "You couldn't have crashed into the office tomorrow? Or yesterday?"

  "You'd better sit down and tell us everything," Sinclair said, reminding me he was the vampire king. "The queen has just been attacked. . . and now you come bearing tales of murder. " Bam. Decision made. We'd deal with what Garrett had done first.

  So take that, dead stepmother. Chapter 3

 

  Like I wasn't dreading the coming winter already. These days I was always cold, even on the hottest day in July; November was going to suck rocks. What I wanted to do was adjust to married life, set up house (well, the house had been set up for more than a year, thanks to Jessica and her big bucks, but I was still finding places for our wedding gifts), finish writing thank-you notes (yawn), and settle down to the job of raising BabyJon, my half brother and legal ward. (You remember, the whole my dad and the Ant being dead thing. )

  Yep, yep. Everything was normal. I was a newlywed and would-be parent. Nothing wrong or weird here. Nope.

  " - felt responsible," Garrett was yakking, which in itself was hard to get used to. He'd gone from slobbering Fiend to monosyllabic boyfriend (Antonia-the-werewolf's stud. . . more on that later) to verbose old vampire. The fact that he looked about twenty-three didn't fool anybody. "So I began visiting them. It didn't seem right that I was back to myself while they were - were - well. You know. "

  Fine time for his newfound vocabulary to fail him! But we knew. The old king - the one I'd killed to take the crown - liked to torture newly risen vampires by refusing to let them feed. After a few months of this treatment, they went crazy. Worse than crazy - feral. Forgot everything they ever knew, or could know, about being human. Think dangerous, rabid wolves, wearing L. L. Bean.

  Sinclair and his major domo, Tina, had asked me again and again to stake the Fiends through the heart.

  But I couldn't. It'd be like stomping puppies. Bloodthirsty, feral, dangerous puppies, yes, but still - puppies. Had I made the puppies? No. Was any of it the puppies' fault? Nope. Was I going to kill - worse yet, order to kill, wouldn't even have to get my hands dirty - innocent puppies, no matter how many buckets of blood they drank a day?

  No.

  And now the puppies were going to eat out my soft human heart. You'd think I'd have learned the essential Rule of the Undead by now: cuddly undead are still undead.

  "How come nobody tried feeding them their own blood before?" Marc asked. "Why the buckets of animal blood?"

  "They're too dangerous to be allowed to hunt. They'll kill anyone they can find. "

  "Yeesh. "

  "I don't think we have time for a recap," Garrett said, nervously cocking his head to one side. "Recap," that was very good; man, he was sharp! Picking up slang like no tomorrow. To think, six months ago he couldn't even purl, much less knit.

  "But Garrett fed them his blood. 'Live' blood - so to speak. So, how come nobody tried that before?"

  "Nobody," Sinclair said, the corners of his mouth drawing down, "cares to get near them. No offense, Garrett. "

  "None taken, my king," he said stiffly, not looking at my husband.

  And there it was. The Fiends were the untouchables, the unwashed. In a society built of nonhumans, of monsters, these guys were considered a level below that. A good trick, if you sat down and thought it over.

  I smacked my forehead with the palm of my hand. "I knew I recognized that guy! He's one of the Fiends? Jesus, he's really out?"

  "Did somebody break a window?" Tina asked, walking into the office with what appeared to be a ream of paperwork waiting for Sinclair's signature. Privately, my husband was the king of the vampires; publicly, he owned several companies, tracts of land, and office buildings and was ridiculously wealthy. Half mine now, under Minnesota law. I think. Or - wait. Were we a community property state or - I guess I'd blocked out most of my mom and dad's divorce -

  "Garrett brought the Fiends back to life like some kind of moody 1920s Frankenstein, and now they're on their way here to kill Betsy," Marc said in one breath, looking pleased at his ability to spit out several words without passing out. Of all the nights for him not to be on call at the ER! There'd be no shaking him off our heels tonight. Normally, we tried to keep the respirating roommates out of vampire biz, for their own safety if nothing else.

  "They're what? Who's here to what?" Tina's jaw sagged; papers fluttered. She was a doll of a woman with waist-length blond hair and enormous pansy eyes. She looked delicious in knee-length shirtdresses and nonprescription glasses she didn't need. She was wearing both, in navy and tortoiseshell. "Why are you all standing around? Why - "

  "Also, the Ant has started haunting me. "

  "I was wondering when you'd remember I existed," the wretched woman snapped.

  "Did you remember to pick up tampons?" Jessica asked, and now the men looked appalled. That was a good question, actually. I sure didn't need them anymore, ergo Tina didn't. Jessica's cycle had been all over the place since the cancer. Did Antonia - any female werewolf, for that matter - need them? The ghost definitely didn't.

  And what did it say about my life that I was living (again) with two women named Antonia? Most people went their entire lives without running into an Antonia. When one of them died, I figured I was home freaking free! Really, it was all -

  "Majesty, will you focus!"

  "Huh? Why?"

  Sinclair actually laughed out loud while Tina stomped a tiny foot. "Angry vampires are on their way here to kill you. "

  "It's hard to get worked up," I said truthfully as my husband bit back another laugh, "when the Ant is breathing over my shoulder. So to speak. And it's not exactly the first time unwelcome guests have been on the way. " I turned to Jessica. "Remember homecoming 1996?"

  She shuddered. "I never thought you'd get the Dewar's out of the curtains. "

  "But I guess we'll just have to - "

  Bam! Ka-Bam! BAM! BAM! BAM!

  "What the - ?" Jessica wondered.

  "That would be hordes of the ravenous undead, kicking in the front door," Tina said, dropping the rest of the paperwork and whipping off her glasses. I waited for her to do a Wonder Woman twirl (Wonder Vamp!), but she just looked alert and ready to flee.

  Sinclair sighed, looking greatly put upon. But men who have interrupted sex tend to get that look. "Shall we flee, or fight?"

  Tina glanced at Jessica, who glared. "Ah. Flee, I think. At least until we know more about this particular threat. "

  "Don't run off on my account," Jessica warned. But of course, that's exactly why we were choosing flight over fight. We couldn't risk Marc and Jessica's lives until we knew more about what was going on. "I mean it, you guys. "

  Sinclair ignored her. "Very well. Let's take the tunnel. "

  Tunnel? We were taking a tunnel? We had the king, the queen, Tina, a former Fiend - the odds were okay, I thought. But Tina had an excellent point - we had a couple of humans to watch out for, too.

  Tina led the way to one of the many doors leading to the basement, and I had to jog to keep up. "What? We have a tunnel?"

  "Betsy, come on!" Marc said, grabbing an elbow and giving such a yank I nearly fell down the stairs.

  "Not without me, you'
re not," the Ant said triumphantly, and marched (Marched? Couldn't she float?) behind me just as the door closed, leaving all of us in pure darkness. Chapter 4

 

  Well. Not pure. I could see fine, as could Garrett, Tina, and Sinclair. But from the moans and whimpers coming from farther down the stairs, the humans were having more trouble.

  "Stop that sniveling, Marc Spangler, or I'll detesticle you," Jessica snapped. When she was scared, she got pissed. Man, you should have seen her the day she got a false positive on an EPT. We were buying new dishes for days.

  "I can't see a fucking thing," he snarled back. There was an abrupt silence, a - I know how this sounds, but I could hear it - a flailing, and then a rattle of thumps, followed by moans of pain.

  "Getting eaten alive by the Fiends can't be worse than this," Marc groaned from the floor. Ouch. He must have fallen at least ten steps. Onto cement.

  "Be careful," Tina said.

  "Thanks. At least someone cares. "

  "You could have broken your ankle on the way down and slowed our escape. "

  "I hate vampires," he replied. "So much. "

  I eased past Jessica on the stairs, went to Marc, and picked him up. "This is so romantic," he cooed, modestly kicking his unbroken foot.

  "Shut up, or I'll use you for Fiend chum. "

  "Why," Jessica demanded, "have we decamped to the basement?"

  "And why haven't we turned any lights on?" I asked.

  "Tina, take Jessica's hand. Elizabeth, keep carrying Marc. " Sinclair groaned softly in the dark, as if he couldn't believe he'd said such a thing. "Everyone else, follow me. "

  It took a long time. The basement was as long as the house, which was a mansion on

  Summit Avenue

  . And we had to wander around various tables and chairs, in and out of mysterious rooms - I could count on one hand how often I'd been down here since we moved a couple of years ago. I had never liked it, not even - especially even - when Garrett was living down there, knitting afghans and learning to crochet.

  The journey wasn't improved by the occasional yelps, as Jessica stubbed a toe or cracked an elbow. Marc just snuggled deeper into my arms (ridiculous - he had thirty pounds of muscle on me) and waited patiently for me to make him safe.

  Story of my life, since I'd died. Chapter 5

 

  We could hear faint crashings from upstairs; the Fiends, making a mess because they couldn't find us. Chewing on my drapes; defecating on my carpet, ripping up my graphic novels in their bloodthirsty rage. But surely they could follow their noses?

 
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