Undead and undermined, p.7
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       Undead and Undermined, p.7
 

         Part #10 of Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson
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  I swayed in my shoes. Words. They really failed me. You sneaky cow! Did you lose a bet? Nope, nope. How long have been a slobbering sociopath? Nuh-uh, not quite right.

  "Will you cut the shit already?" That was better, but still not great. "What's wrong with you, you loon?"

  "It's just that some things, you don't need to know and you shouldn't know. Just because you can check on the future doesn't mean you should. You need to stay as far away as you can from that book. "

  "Oh, barf. You're majoring in Sneaky, which is just so lame! You pretend to rush over to help me, on the way to Goodwill no less . . . " For some reason I couldn't let that one go. It really bugged me. "Because that's your thing, you do these showy goody-goody things like teaching Sunday school and giving clothes to the poor while at the same time you're smacking me to time travel, admiring your weird wings in hell, not telling your mother to butt out of your life, sneaking around my house, stealing books bound in skin, not saying anything, not giving it back, and pretending it's because I'm the bad guy? You know what, Laura?"

  "Don't say it," Laura cautioned.

  "Majesty-"

  "My queen-" Sinclair looked distinctly constipated. I could tell he wanted to clap his hand over my mouth, but didn't quite dare. "Please-"

  "You are-"

  "You better not," the Antichrist warned.

  "You are your mother's daughter!"

  From down the hall: "Oh no she dih-unt!"

  The room shot to the side. This was amazing and scary-then I realized Laura had clocked me on the chin with her tiny fist of evil. Before Sinclair or Tina or anyone could do anything, I saw a sight that had become waaaay too familiar in the last few days/centuries: a portal into hell had opened right there in our library, courtesy of the Antichrist striking her flesh-and-blood in anger.

  It led to hell; the doorway was made of Hellfire, and yes, I'm aware of how high that description hits on the Lame-O-Meter. But it was the best I could do-the doorway-sized entrance glowed with a sort of dark fire. Tina and Sinclair had both ducked behind their raised forearms and I remembered that Hellfire was lethal to vampires.

  Except me. Along with the crown and the studly husband, I got eternal immunity from holy water, crosses, Hellfire, and laugh lines. And blisters and corns.

  "I'm leaving," my sister told me, "before we say things we regret. "

  "How's that even possible?" I wondered. "You'd really have to put some time in to figure out how you could say things that are more regretful. " Then, "No you don't!"

  I reached out and blindly grabbed. Laura yelped as I jerked her head back-I had a double fistful of Suave-scented golden tresses. She responded by kicking out, hard.

  Snarling and scratching and pulling, we fell into hell. CHAPTER NINETEEN

 

  It's hard to describe what happened next-it was fast, and it was dirty and weird. Not dear-Penthouse-forum-you-won't-believe-what-happened-to-me-last-Groundhog-Day dirty and weird, either. The bad dirty and weird.

  We fell. We fell for a long time, or maybe just half a second, we were pulling a Gandalf and we fell somewhere while Hellfire whipped past us and even through us (don't ask me; no clue). We fell, and I could hear whooshing and shouting and sounds I didn't in the least understand, sounds I had never heard in my life, sounds I never wanted to hear again.

  My head hurt from Laura's flurry of punches, my toes hurt from kicking her shins. I wished the Antichrist were a guy so I could rack him in the balls. I wished I were still holed up in our bedroom with Sinclair. I wished I were wearing my Jimmy Choo snake-embossed pumps . . . the toes came to a wicked point. I wished I hadn't had that extra smoothie . . . it was possible I was going to be the first vampire queen to barf strawberry smoothie all over a portal to/through hell. Urrgg . . . make that a strawberry-banana smoothie . . .

  "Get . . . off!" my sister shrieked, and managed to wrench herself free. This would be a shameful, shameful thing except we were in hell, her territory. And I was scared.

  Not of her-okay, a little of her. I'd seen a side of Laura today I'd never dreamed existed. Which made me a moron, since I'd seen her kill people.

  But I was too new to being a vampire . . . I was afraid if I really fought back I'd hurt her in a way someone who was half fallen angel couldn't get back from. She might be the badass Antichrist, but she had a human body, which came with a skull and a neck, and both were breakable. So I let her twist free.

  Which was dumb, in retrospect. I fell again (still?). Except this time, I didn't have a guide cursing me as we plummeted.

  Wake up.

  I didn't have anyone.

  Wake up, Betsy!

  I just kept falling, alone.

  Wake up!

  Forever. Or maybe it was only for half a second. Falling through hell, and me without a watch. CHAPTER TWENTY

 

  At the precise moment the whooshing eerie warblings of hell cut out, the familiar sounds of big-city traffic cut in. And it wasn't gradual, like clicking the volume with the remote until it got as loud as you like, while at the same time too loud as far as your mother's concerned.

  No, it was whoosh/crash/bang. I realized I was on my hands and knees in . . . a city street? Yes. A city street. A busy city street. Okay, great. Not falling, and not in hell anymore. Things could be worse. Things had been worse.

  I shakily stood and was relieved to hear another familiar sound: the shriek of stomped-on brakes.

  Wait, brakes? Stomped-on brakes?

  Hey, I can fly! A new superpower; this vampire thing was getting cooler all the time. Check me out!

  And I could fly fast. I shot by all sorts of shiny surfaces-man, I looked cool! Like Supergirl, except with a better rack.

  "Look at meeeee, the vampire queeeen, so pretty, so rare, with the wind in her hair-"

  (Ow. ) CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

 

  And that's how I ended up in the Cook County Morgue. In friggin' Chicago. Who knew there was a portal from my St. Paul house to hell to The Magnificent Mile in Chicago? Not that it seemed so magnificent when the fish truck creamed me and knocked me through a (meditate on the irony) Payless Shoes store window.

  Of course they thought I was dead and stuffed me into a smelly body bag. You know how when you get new inflatable toys for summer swimming and they have that peculiar plastic-ey smell? Yup, like that. Except a dark color so blood and other fluids wouldn't show up. Oh, and the zipper. Let's not forget the great big zipper.

  Screeeeech, kee-RASH! Thump, thud. Broken glass everywhere. Pulseless (yet sexy) corpse buried under dozens of buy-one-get-the-second-half-off anklet boots in many unflattering dark colors. It was like being buried under a mountain of Splenda when you wanted real sugar. Or being trapped in a cave with nothing but diet pop when you wanted the real deal.

  Sing it with me: "Weeeeee're off to see the coroner, the wonderful, wonderful coroner. We hear he is a whiz with a knife, if ever a whiz there was! If ever a knife could cut up my type, could cut up my type and make me feel right, we-" Never mind. That sucked. And when did I start making up songs in my head?

  I had to put the whammy on the poor guy who had been paid by the county to cut me open and weigh my internal organs. Don't judge: I normally tried to feed only on the jerky, or my husband. But these were dire times. I had to get back to St. Paul. I had to find Laura. I had to find some underpants.

  I didn't know where my old clothes were, and didn't care. They were probably all bloody and ruined, anyway, bagged and tagged and sitting in another cold room. It's not like I'd been carrying ID; anything that identified me was still in St. Paul. Anyway, who'd connect an unsatisfied dead morgue customer in Chicago to weird goings-on in St. Paul?

  That said, I wasn't going to be naked for another minute. I was able to scrounge, with the help of my newest fan, the dazed and bitten Dr. Graham, clean scrub pants in poop brown, a "Stereotypes Are a Real Time-saver" T-shirt a size too smal
l, but not in a sexy way, and bare feet.

  Bare feet! In November! No problem; it was either that or paper slippers. Or Dr. Graham's shower slippers, little rubber boats of fungus. I nearly screamed when he tried to hand them to me. We were both having a shitty day.

  "I'd say something like 'this is hell,'" I told the goofily smiling Dr. Graham, "except I've been to hell and this is worse. " At my gesture, he handed over his cell phone. "Thanks. Uh, some privacy, please?"

  Graham wandered off, holding his neck. I stabbed a phone number that was practically tattooed on my heart, the private cell number of my beloved . . .

  "Elizabeth? Hello?"

  . . . a number only two people on the entire planet knew, we each had the other's soul and we each had the other's private cell number . . .

  "Elizabeth? Are you hurt?"

  . . . because that's how special I was to him. That's how special his cell number was to me. Also his Bergdorf discount. It was comforting to know that in a world gone wild, and a hell gone worse-

  "Elizabeth!"

  "Ow, don't scream. Shrill is not a good sound for you. "

  "Ohthankwhoeveryou'reallright," he gasped. It was kind of funny . . . Sinclair wanted to thank God, except if he said the actual word, he'd probably get blisters in his mouth.

  "That's okay," I said. "I'll thank Him for you. I pray for you every night anyway. Well, almost every night. Okay, every week. What is this, a witch hunt? Once a month for sure. "

  "WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?"

  "Oh, you can just take that tone and jam it right up into your teal blue silk boxers from ManSilks, pal! You have no idea of the hell I've been through. Literally. It's wrong that I know that. No one should know that!"

  "I am going to lock you in a room and fuck you for hours," the king of the vampires growled, "and then I will kill you. Where are you?"

  That sounded pretty good. The first part.

  "Elizabeth!"

  "I'm in a Roadrunner cartoon, Sinclair. And I'm the coyote. " The events of the last few hours/centuries got on top of me at that moment and I burst into tears. "Come get me, Sinclair, okay? Sinclair? Okay?" I was crying harder and couldn't hear him, but could hear how pathetic I sounded, so I hung up.

  I slid down the wall; Dr. Graham had kindly escorted me to a different part of the basement and I had privacy for my meltdown. So I sobbed and stretched out my legs and kicked my bare feet and slapped the wall and wiped my eyes with the cell-I couldn't make tears, but old habits, you know?-and it beeped in my hand.

  "Who is it?" I wept. "Dr. Graham isn't here. And I shouldn't be. "

  "My own, my queen, you forgot to tell me where you are. "

  I cried harder. "Sorry. I'm having a terrible night. "

  "Don't cry, Elizabeth, it tears my heart. "

  "And I don't have any shoes!"

  "And yet you must find the strength to go on," the king of the vampires soothed.

  "Are you making fun of me?"

  "Never. And I would instantly destroy the soulless cur who would dare. "

  "Yeah, that would be good. Destroying soulless curs. " I perked up a little. "Okay. I love you. "

  "I love you to, my own, but-"

  "Here comes Dr. Graham. I better-"

  "Elizabeth!"

  "Don't yell, I'm having a bad night!"

  "Where. The hell. Are you. My love?"

  "Oh. Yeah, that would be helpful, wouldn't it? Chicago. Cook County Morgue. "

  A long sigh on the other end, which was cute since Sinclair didn't have to breathe. He sometimes forgot when he was aggravated.

  "We are coming, my own. I will see you in less than six hours. "

  "Six hours? It's dark now; what's the holdup? What about Jessica's private pl-?"

  "If anyone gets between thee and me, I want you to kill them, Elizabeth. Even . . . "

  "Even what?"

  "Even if they are friends. "

  "Yeah, I'm gonna take a pass on that. "

  "Or were friends. You are far from me, darling, and many of our people have not yet accepted you as queen. The city of Chicago should not know the vampire queen is there, alone. Stay low if you can. Find a sheep if you can, and hole up with him or her and get your strength back. "

  "Sinclair!" I was truly shocked. People weren't sheep. What I had done to Dr. Graham was bad enough; I wasn't going to haul some pour soul off the street, make them take me to their home, then feed on them like a blond wood tick'til the cavalry came while I emptied their fridge of all things liquid. Guh-ross!

  He sighed again. "If you cannot or will not take such measures, protect yourself however you can. And, Elizabeth . . . "

  "Yeah?" I'd gone from comforted to scared and lonely.

  "Don't pray for me. Pray for you. And tell . . . tell Him"-his voice was getting choked, difficult to hear-". . . to . . . to keep you safe. "

  "I will," I said, touched. "I love you. "

  "Yes," he said, and clicked off, the arrogant ass. CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

 

  Hours later, the good Dr. Graham's phone beeped again. Tina this time, with curt directions. Not even so much as a "thank goodness you're safe, Your Majesty. " I swear, she could have out-Pattoned Patton.

  I promised obedience, then thanked Dr. Graham and gave him back his phone. When I asked if he was going to get into trouble, he laughed even as he erased everything on his phone. I hadn't told him to do that, and Tina hadn't told me to tell him to do that . . . that was interesting. He was either good at precautions or a coward. Or both.

  "Bodies go missing here all the time. Actual dead ones, not bodies like yours, not ones that get up and walk around. " He was staring at my tits. He'd had a bad night, so I didn't smack him. Stupid too-small T-shirt.

  "I could probably make you forget everything that happened," I suggested. "Then you wouldn't be scared or horny or both. You'd just be . . . however you are when you haven't been attacked by a ruthless naked denizen of the undead. "

  "Don't you dare. " He held up his hands and backed away. "You keep your vampire hypnosis to yourself. I earned those memories; you can't have them. "

  "Okay, okay, simmer. Sorry again. You better go, my ride's here. "

  "Yeah, and I have to go drink a whole bunch of vodka . . . for a long, long time . . . nice to meet you, I guess . . . " Graham wandered away, and I went out to the loading area Tina had told me about (thank goodness for the Internet).

  Unloading area, actually-I was standing (blurgh!) where they dropped off the dead bodies. The ones that were better at staying dead than I was. I don't know how Tina managed it, either, but the unloading area was empty. It was like a big creepy warehouse, very well lit (the fortune they must spend on gigantic fluorescent bulbs!) and clean. It was just me, and all the lights, and my ride.

  And what a ride! CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

 

  "Whoa. " I had seen many strange things in the last three years, including my own tombstone ("Our Sweetheart, Only Resting" . . . barf), but nothing came close to this.

  The largest and most luxurious RV I had ever seen was majestically rolling into the (un)loading area. It was cream with brown trim, and the windows all looked shiny clean and six feet high. Then the doors underneath-where, if it were a Greyhound bus, all the luggage would be stored-the doors underneath smoothly rolled up revealing . . . a red two-seater Ferrari. Sinclair's Ferrari!

  "What the-"

  The front door to the RV burst open and I half expected a dozen clowns to pour out. But Tina was framed in the doorway. She'd changed into white leggings (show-off bitch . . . if I'd tried white leggings my thighs would look like Christmas hams) and a sky blue turtleneck. She looked like a ski bunny. Who could kill you and eat you and hide the body where no one would ever, ever find it. "My queen! I'm so relieved you're safe!"

  Then, in an unprecedented act, she was shoved aside and skinned her nose on the pavement as Sinclair galloped joyfully tow
ard me. He hugged me so hard he knocked me off my feet. I knew Tina, being solicitously helped off the pavement by Marc, would forgive her king's unchivalrous action-she looked positively delighted to have scraped knees and palms and nose, which rapidly healed even as I stared.

  "I'm happy to nnngggg-" I've mentioned I didn't need much oxygen, right? And it was a good thing, too. Sinclair was busily smooshing my poor lungs into undead airless lumps in the center of my chest. "Ooooommmmgggggrrrrggglll . . . ack!"

  "My love, my love, I am so grateful you are safe. " Sinclair said all this into my neck and I felt a sharp pain as he bit me.

  That was rare-my husband was normally the epitome of control and only showed his teeth in the bedroom. Or to random rapists. (It was wrong that I liked being rapist bait and then my hubby and I both fed on said bait, right?) That uncontrolled bite told me everything I needed to know about his worry, and his love.

  "Aw, come on," I said.

  "Never scare me like that again. Never never never. "

  "You're too lame and uptight to be a widower, though no worrieth. " Oh, dammit. The smell of my own blood, the heat of our excitement, had made my fangs pop, too. Stupid vampire lisp.

  Sinclair laughed into my neck, a deep, joy-filled bellow. Then he was dragging me past Marc and Tina-

  "Hey, guys, thanks for-"

  "Whoops, there they go, off to compete yet again in the Sexual Olympics. " Marc shook his head. "New record. "

  -and up the steps of the super RV, past Nick, who was waving at us from the wheel-

  "-riding to my rescue-"

  -past the gorgeous furniture and accessories, this thing was a mansion on eight wheels! Or twelve . . . How many did RVs have?

  "-and picking me up!" I hollered before we were in the bedroom and Sinclair kicked the door closed. Which was fine with me. If you were wondering. CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

 

  You'd think we hadn't had fast nasty sex earlier that day. Or the morning before-I had no idea what time it was, which day of the week it was, how long I'd been back from hell, how long it had been since I got run over on The Magnificent (ha!) Mile, what hideous terrible thing we had to avert, who was alive in this timeline, who was dead, and who we had to save, nor did I care.

  My husband demonstrated his pleasure in our reunion by shredding my borrowed shirt, ripping my borrowed scrubs off, yanking his own shirt off, nearly strangling himself by removing his tie (who wears a tie on a rescue mission?), and though he managed to get his belt unbuckled and his fly down, he couldn't quite manage to rid himself of his slacks before he fell on me.

 
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