I’m so purr-fectly happy to welcome our good friend, the extremely talented and lovely Mary Janice Davidson, back to the blog!
MJ’s here to talk about the new Queen Betsy book, UNDEAD AND UNSURE, out this Tuesday, August 6! She’s also been kind enough to provide us with an EXCLUSIVE sneak peek at UU! This is the only place, kitties, you will be able to read this excerpt!
So, without any further ado….MJ!
Folks, Rocco and Giselle are the only cats I like, and one of them is fictional. (And also dead.)
It’s nothing against cats as a species. I’m a dog person from a long line of dog persons (dog people). (I’m also the proud descendant of a long line of substance-abusing white trash. It’s weird that I take pride in that, right?) I like a pet who does stuff, like care if you live or die. Cats, as Andrew Vachss wrote (brilliant, brilliant writer, better on his worst day than me on my best), are the lap dancers of the animal world: the minute you’re done paying off, they’re outta there.
All this to talk about the new Betsy the Vampire Queen book, UNDEAD AND UNSURE, and dogs. Specifically the vampire king’s dogs. He has two of them now, because thanks to the events in the last book, UNDEAD AND UNSTABLE, Eric Sinclair can now bear sunlight for the first time in decades. To celebrate, Betsy gets him two black lab puppies at tremendous expense: the expense of the damage they did to Sinclair’s car on the way back from the puppy farm (you didn’t think Betsy would take her own car, did you?), Sinclair’s dignity (the term “Who loves Daddy the very very most?” has been heard, and he wasn’t talking to a human infant), and Betsy’s sanity (dogs are drawn to her, and love to lick her shoes). Fur and Burr are new additions to the Undead family, and that’s just a taste. Jessica’s pregnancy, now in the seventeenth or third or ninth trimester (no one, including Jess, can seem to keep track and no one seems to care, either) is coming to an end. One way or the other.
Also included: your yearly allotment of snarky heroines, blood, vanity, al fresco sex (Sinclair really likes having sex outdoors in broad daylight), baby talk, and good triumphing over evil. Kind of.
* * *
I was hip-deep in velvet clogs and last year’s pumps, and heard what was becoming a near-daily sound: someone on Summit Avenue had stomped on their brakes right outside our house. There’s something about the shriek of brakes and the creak of fingers tightening on the steering wheel that kicks adrenaline from ‘ho-hum, should I have breakfast and lunch at Burger King?’ to ‘I’m going to be killed any second and I should do something right now!’.
Even before I died that was a stressful sound, and as a vampire that hadn’t changed. These days that sound meant one thing: Eric Sinclair, the king of the vampires, was playing in traffic again. I galloped down the Gone with the Wind staircase and was out the front door in time to see the vampire king standing on Summit, cuddling Fur and Burr to his (broad) chest and waving a cheerful goodbye to a rattled driver who was not lingering. “I am certain that will buff right out!” he called, and the car lurched as the driver stomped the gas pedal. “It was lovely talking to you!”
“Ah, man.” I fought the urge to slap myself on the forehead. “Again with this?”
Eric Sinclair spun toward me, Fur and Burr’s long silky ears flaring out as he did. Identical bundles of fluff and teeth, Fur and Burr were black lab sisters, with the soft short coat and large liquid brown eyes of the breed. They also drooled prodigiously. Fur wore a red collar with matching leash; Burr had the green one, also with matching leash. Unless it was the other way around. Who could tell? Who wanted to?
“Ah, my own, a glorious sunny day rivaled only by your beauty.”
“It’s cloudy,” I pointed out as he came up the driveway. “And what was the other thing? Hmm it’s on the tip of my tongue, why’d I come sprinting out of—oh, right! Stop playing in traffic! Stop! Playing! In—”
“Traffic?” he guessed.
“I can’t believe I’ve had to say that even one time to a grown man. A very grown man in your case—certainly old enough to know better.”
“I am warmed by your loving concern. As much as I am warmed by the sun as it—“
“Lurks behind a cloudbank.” I tried not to smile. My husband was a pile of contradictions which I found as sexy as I did interesting/annoying/infuriating. Tall, dark, and—there was no other word—foreboding, with big hands capable of killing, hands that had killed—but he’d never hurt an innocent. Immaculately dressed, but walking around in a cloud of dog hair. Old enough to qualify for Social Security, but forever in the taut toned sleekly muscular body of a young man in his physical prime. An unstoppable satyr in the bedroom and veteran of more threesomes than Charlie Sheen, but faithful to me. Glittering black eyes capable of forcing anyone’s will to his, but when he looked at me it was with sweet sappy luurrrrv. I suppose a staid predictable mate would be boring. Sinclair was never boring.
Yes indeed, he was my husband and my king, together we (sorta) ruled the vampire nation (such as it was...no borders and no border patrols or citizenship tests or patriotic bumper stickers or taxes) and were feared and loathed by many, and bugged by many more, and there King Puppy Love was in all his insane puppy-cuddling glory.
And it was still damn near impossible not to gape up at him and grin and grin, because his unalloyed joy at his new freedom was contagious.
I stomped on my happiness. One of us had to be the responsible adult, dammit, and the cosmic joke of it all was: that meant me. Setting an example. Or something.
“When I asked the devil to fix it so you could run around in sunshine, I had no idea the downside was you’d drop fifty I.Q. points.” I was going for scolding, and not pulling it off. “Is it asking too much to want you to retain some self-respect? Because you’re capable of at least that. If memory serves.”
Fur and Burr answered for him with puppy yaps. The little black dogs had begun squirming like hairy worms when I’d come out. They adored him, they lived to be near him, they cried on the infrequent occasions he left them, but they loved getting their fur and slobber all over me almost as much. Sinclair thought they were perfect in all ways, but I could only take their incontinent cuteness in small doses. I was a cat person whose cat was dead. So I had pretty much the same relationship with Giselle as I’d had when she was alive: we ignored each other while going about our lives. Which had suited us both fine, so don’t even start with the judging.
“Where’s my badass vampire king?” I complained. Unlike most rhetorical questions, this one was answerable. Temporarily replaced by the farmer’s son was correct. Sinclair had grown up on a farm and been around swarms of dogs his whole childhood and adolescence (though he was a teenager before the word teenager was invented). After he became a vampire, he decided it would be cruel to try to keep a dog or dogs when he could never take them for a walk during the day, and when at any moment he could be killed again. Kind of a grim tale, right? Yeah, well, I accidentally changed that. I also accidentally changed the timeline and accidentally killed Lena Olin. Because that’s me in a nutshell: accident-prone.
Not only had I made a (literal) deal with the devil for Sinclair’s soul (sorta), I’d picked up the puppies and brought them home for him, a hey, great to have you back in the sunshine! gift. Again, in my defense, I had no idea it would leave him clinically insane.
“You were once a badass but now you’re the undead Dog Whisperer,” I teased. “Where’s the cold ruthless vampire I loved and loathed?”
“Right here! Isn’t um badass vampire king wight here l’il woogums yes he is! Yes he is!”
Dear God. “Well, we had a good run, but it’s time for our divorce now. I’ll have my people call your people. Which will be easy since my people are your people.”
“Oh no, not ever,” he replied, confident in my love and horniness. He grinned and I smiled back—just could not help it. He only talked the baby talk to Fur and Burr when I could hear him; he knew it set my teeth on edge. Right?
Please God, that’s why he’s doing it, that’s the only reason he’s doing it, to get a rise out of me. The alternative is unthinkable!
“Come walk with me,” he coaxed over the puppies’ whimpering. They were trying as hard as they could to get down so they could put muddy paws on my dark purple leggings. Purple leggings which matched my slightly less purple sweatshirt, and pale green flats on my feet...what had I been thinking? I looked like an upside-down eggplant.
“Pass.” I stepped close to pet them, which only increased the wiggling and yelping. “Bad enough to have these two always wanting to climb all over me; I don’t need the neighborhood dogs chasing me home again.” One of the perks of being Elizabeth, The One (gah, I know, sue me; I didn’t make up that dumb dumb dumb title), is that I’ll be pretty cute forever. One of the not-perks was that dogs were drawn to me.
“How can my true love say nay,” he sang, “on such a beautiful d—bbllech!” He’d been cut off as Fur had licked his face and accidentally Frenched him. Heh. That alone had been worth running out of the house for. “No, no, you dreadful hound,” he scolded in the same tone people used for “I love you and everything you do is wonderful”. Yeah, that’d show those two who was boss. “Just for that, whee!”
“Please stop doing the Mary Tyler Moore twirl.” (Authors note: Sinclair did this for the first time in Undead and Underwater and it was just as off-putting.)
I’d always assumed that when I met the right vampire, we’d settle down and live with a houseful of weirdos and I’d be the embarrassing one. Oh, life, must you always teach me lessons?
The four of us went into the house, where Sinclair shrugged out of his black wool coat and de-leashed the dogs, tossing both coat and leashes into the mudroom just off the kitchen. If I needed further proof that things were different, the sight of him tossing a $600+ Ralph Lauren cashmere overcoat onto a dirty counter, then closing the door on the whole mess (ta-dah! all gone!) would have done it.
The mudroom was aptly named. It always looked like someone had thrown a mud grenade, then slammed the door. Ker-BLOOSH! Mud all over. Mud in places you can’t get mud out of. Mud in places mud was never meant to be. The puppies, knowing the routine, dashed past the door to their corner and started frisking around their food dishes.
“This is not funny.”
“I know!” I cried. “You’ve lost your mind, the devil’s dead, the Anti-Christ is pissed, and I have to go grocery shopping again because Jessica’s belly is devouring the planet.”
His piercing gaze met mine for a moment and I felt hot and cold at once. Cold because although Sinclair would set himself on fire before hurting me, he was pretty much the baddest vampire on the planet; you didn’t break his gaze without giving something up. Hot because he was pretty much the baddest vampire on the planet and you didn’t break his gaze without giving something up. Yum. Yum squared.
His lips parted. I felt myself leaning toward him...now that I thought about it, we hadn’t had sex in almost seventy-two hours. The horror! Unimaginable.
“Tina!” he bawled, and I jerked back. That wasn’t the name I’d expected him to shriek.
We heard feet pounding down stairs, we heard someone galloping down the hall to the kitchen, and then—whoosh! Tina was sliding to a stop in front of us. She loved fuzzy socks, but bemoaned their lack of traction...most days, anyway. Also, her socks were yellow with black stripes, making it look like she had bee feet.
“Majesties.” She wasn’t panting, because she had no breath to be out of, but she’d wasted no time coming on the run. “How may I serve?”
Sinclair, meanwhile, had twisted the lid off the puppies’ canister o’treats. “This is unacceptable.”
He held the canister upside down and shook it. “It is not to be borne!”
Tina blinked slowly, like an owl. She loved my husband, she had loved him decades before I was born and I confidently expected her to love him for centuries more. But her love didn’t threaten mine. She had been a friend of the Sinclair clan for generations; she was the vampire who had turned my husband from a grieving brother and son to a coldly infuriated predator. She was devoted, had killed and (at least twice that I knew of) almost died for him, and her love for him was utterly maternal.
Which, given how she looked, was as hilarious as it was touching. Tina had been a prime hottie in her day and still was, in mine. Her dark blonde hair was pulled back into a thick braid which brought attention to her pale face, making her dark eyes and bristly lashes even more striking. Pansy eyes, my mom called them. She was regularly carded when she tried to a) drink, and b) see an NC-17 movie. This was partly because she was a vampire and partly because she liked dressing the part of a lecherous senator’s fantasy: plaid skirts, usually in a green or red tartan, crisp white blouses, little to no jewelry, no makeup. In life, she must have driven the other southern belles out of their teeny tiny minds, and trust me, their minds were having enough trouble grasping the fact that Daddy’s slaves had nutty ideas about how it sucked to be owned. (Yeah. She was that old. Her full name was Christina Caresse Chavelle. Ha!)
All this to say, she was a creature of contradictions, just like my insane husband, and also like my insane husband, she loved and protected us. That didn’t mean we didn’t drive her bugshit sometimes. Like now, for instance. Sinclair was shaking an empty canister and I could tell she wanted to roll her eyes but wouldn’t indulge. Thus the slow blinking.
After a few seconds while Sinclair practically tapped his foot waiting for her answer, she said, “I must apologize, my king.”
“How could you let this happen?”
“I foolishly let the budget, the management of our offshore accounts, an audit on Scratch, a conference call with Michael Wyndham and Dr. Bimm to lay groundwork for possible alliances, and the monthly newsletter take precedence.”
I wanted to sigh with admiration. Only Tina could have gotten away with it: a perfectly serious response, with terrific undertones of because it’s not my friggin’ job, nimrod, now how about you go play with your dogs and let me get back to the grown up stuff?
“It’s nothing to freak out about. We’re not out.” I figured I’d toss Tina a save, not that she needed one. “There’s a whole pack of those Gaines Burger things in—“
“Store bought?” the king of the vampires nearly shrieked. I had the feeling he would have said “Abstinence?” in the same horrified tone. “Factory churned dreck with peanut shells and corncobs as filler? Never! Never while I live!”
“Technically you’re not ali—quit that.“ Tired of waiting for her snack, Fur had abandoned her bowl and jumped up on my legs. She had sharp claws to go with her sharp baby teeth—those puppies had mouths full of sewing needles. “Stop it!”
“My darling, my own,” Sinclair crooned as he set the canister down and came to me. He put his lovely strong hands on my shoulders and pulled me in for what I hoped would be some heavy kitchen smoochin’. Maybe we’d shoo everyone out and nail each other on the butcher block. Hmm, no, we made our smoothies there; the others would throw a fit. The puppy counter? I’d throw a fit. It was no coincidence that the kitchen was one of the few rooms in this monstrosity we hadn’t christened. “I need you at my side.”
“Back atcha, big guy.”
“Let us bake love.”
“Oooh, I’ve been waiting all day for—what?”
“Bake love.” Was he...? He was! Eric Sinclair was reaching past me and grabbing an apron, which he dropped over his head and then tied behind his back. “That is how you show love to your pets,” he went on as if this was a serious topic of conversation and not further evidence of clinical insanity. “You bake love. I shall begin with a batch of Apple Crunch Pupcakes.”
“Please lose the apron,” I begged while Tina sloooowly backed out of the room. “I can psychologically block most of this if you just lose the apron. I can blitz the whole day just please lose the apron!” Oh God, God, why wouldn’t he lose the apron?
“It will not stand! We may have run out of homemade dog biscuits but my precious darlings will never be forced to choke down—“
“Forced? So you’ve never once noticed how they eat? Because they are not forced. Ever.”
“—repulsive store-brand dog treats loaded with by-product meal and chicken heads. Now where...” He stood still for a moment, thinking. “...where is my mixing bowl?”
I fled the horror.
Thanks for that sneak peek, MJ! Folks, be sure to get your copy of UNDEAD AND UNSURE August 6!
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Next week…the interview you’ve all been waiting for!
I interview MIDNIGHT LOUIE!!!!!!!!!!
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