Whoever said childbirth is the most difficult thing a parent can go through has never dealt with a moody teenage vampire. —Siring for the Stupid:
A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Newborn Vampires T
hree months after he moved 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 longue 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 original edition. 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 a difficult 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
“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’d 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 a 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—although that was an obvious, and occasionally distracting, bonus—but also 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, and interesting, though slightly 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.
?” 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.
That 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 ended 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 them to various charities. I didn’t want one penny from her crazy behind darkening my doorway.
“Just checking,” I said, 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 Austenian Bath when Gabriel muttered, “This is strange.”
I looked up to see him 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 the 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 that 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 light 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’d 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 had 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’d promised not to ask me again until I was ready. And when he’d said that, I’d suddenly felt ready. And then I’d 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,” he said.
“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 ...