“She lost a bet,” Jane said, grinning evilly at her companion. “Every time she hears my full name, she has to say that. Do not try to out-trivia me, Andrea. You have no one to blame but yourself. Which reminds me, I need to have that plaque updated.”
“I could have sworn Nicholas Nickleby’s sister was named Sarah,” Andrea muttered.
“Her name was Kate,” I said, just as Jane did.
“Oh, hell, there’s two of you,” Andrea groaned, marching behind the counter. “I’m making myself a bloodychino.”
“Bloodychino?” I asked, turning toward Jane, who was giving me a speculative look.
“Hmm? Oh, yes, Andrea has figured out how to make coffee drinks more palatable for vampires.”
I lifted my brows. Andrea was fair-skinned, but she didn’t strike me as the vampire type. She was so put-together and polished. It was as if someone had vampirized a Kennedy, which was a terrifying thought. Was everyone who worked in this shop a vampire?
Upon closer inspection, Jane had that quiet, sturdy sort of beauty, with flyaway hair over bright hazel eyes and a wide, mischievous smile. She also had ink smeared across her cheek and a pencil holding up a rather haphazard bun. And she looked absolutely content about it. She was staring at me, and when I made eye contact, she seemed to give herself a little shake.
“Sorry. I don’t think I caught your name.”
“Nola Leary,” I said. “I’m new in town. I heard this was the place to go for a good book.”
Jane seemed to study me, scanning me from head to toe. Whatever she found seemed to bother her, given the way she kept squinting and working her jaw, as if to pop her ears. “Well, good obscure books, anyway.”
Given Jane’s scanning, I decided to hold off on any pointed questions about my grandfather. I ordered a coffee, bought a werewolf romance set in Alaska, and made myself comfortable. I sat at the bar and chatted with Andrea while customers filtered in. A book club met in the little circle of chairs near the back. Jane served coffee and sinfully good chocolate biscuits while they had a spirited discussion of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series.
I spent a good deal of time just looking around the shop. What had it looked like when my grandfather was alive? How had he run the store? Did this work make him happy? For the first time since I’d learned his name, I wished so much that Gilbert Wainwright was still alive. I wished that Nana Fee hadn’t been so stubborn about contacting him. I wished that she’d chosen a slightly more convenient baby daddy to bequeath our family legacy to.
Every time I looked at Jane, she was studying me, a little line of concentration marring her smooth white forehead. After about two hours of this studying/staring cycle, I decided I’d pushed the limits of normal customer loitering and hopped off my bar stool. Jane caught up to me before I reached the door, smiling brightly at the book club as she pulled me toward the shop’s office.
I resisted, I pulled, but, well, she had all that vampire strength on her side. The office was small but tidy, with pale-yellow walls and a low shelf that ran the length of the room. Instead of books, the shelf displayed framed photos, running the gamut from old black-and-white shots to color photos of Jane with the man from the wedding photo. Jane wasn’t hurting me, but her grip was awfully firm as she sat me down in her desk chair. I tried to push to my feet, but she shoved me back down, then pulled a bottle of synthetic blood out of the little fridge behind her mahogany desk. She stared me down while we waited for the bottle to finish heating in the mini-microwave.
Although her habit of mental poking was somewhat annoying, it was rather nice sitting there with Jane. She had no biological functions, therefore no ailments. Other than a constant, niggling thirst that manifested as a dry, buzzing sensation in the throat, I didn’t feel anything from her. I seriously doubted she had any “I fell off my boyfriend” injuries I would have to diagnose.
“OK, why don’t you just go ahead and tell me what it is you’re trying to do. It will save us both some time and Tasering,” she said casually.
She sat in her chair, her expression wary. “I’ll tolerate a lot, lady, but I won’t put up with people who try to pull one over on me. It’s been done one too many times. Now, why are you so interested in Mr. Wainwright and his former shop? I can’t get much from you; all I see is rolling green hills and old pictures of Mr. Wainwright. And an old lady with an Irish accent in a purple bathrobe. And then I just get a bunch of static, which is really annoying, by the way. It’s like having nonstop radio feedback in my head.”
I stared at her. So that explained the mental poking. Some vampires had special talents beyond their strength and speed, such as mind-reading, finding lost objects, or just being very good at board games. She said she hadn’t seen much, but how could I know that? What should I tell her? I’d hoped to fly under the radar here in the Hollow, but having Jane’s input could help me track down the Elements. But could I trust her? These items were valuable, if for no other reason than that they were incredibly old. What if she started looking for them on her own and cut me out? Mr. Wainwright had trusted her, but I didn’t know her. And what was with the radio feedback noise? Was that because of Penny’s misfired binding spell?
“OK, whatever you’re thinking about, please stop,” she said, wincing. “We just went from radio static to that ear-splitting tone the Emergency Broadcast System uses.”
During this internal rant, I’d forgotten about my mental Jell-O shield. I stared at her for a long moment, picturing the Jell-O solidifying around my head. The moment I felt it snap into place, Jane’s tense face relaxed.
“OK, that’s better. Whatever you did, just keep that in place, would you? You might as well tell me about whatever you’re looking for. I’d like to help.” Leaning her elbows on her desk, she asked, “Now, how do you know Mr. Wainwright?”
“He’s a distant relation.”
“I’ve met all of Mr. Wainwright’s relations,” Jane said stiffly. “He was the last living person in his family line. Now, try again.”
“He visited Ireland about fifty years ago. He didn’t know about his daughter, my mother. He wouldn’t have known about me.”
I felt another little mental nudge. Apparently, Jane was double-checking my story. I gave her an exasperated frown. She started when she realized I could feel it and returned a sheepish grin. “Force of habit.” She scanned a row of framed photos on a shelf behind her desk, before selecting one. “Mr. Wainwright was in Ireland researching a family of were-deer. Was your grandma named Bridget?”
I shook my head and explained that although he’d been seeking were-creatures, Mr. Wainwright had been just as happy to discover my grandmother, a hereditary witch who healed the leg he’d shattered in a motorcycle accident near the family farm.
Mr. Wainwright saw enough to know that Nana Fee wasn’t just a particularly skilled nurse. While she cared for him, she explained about the McGavock family’s magical talent for healing and how we’d used it for generations. According to the journal, they talked about magical theory and books and films until the wee hours of the morning. And at some point, I’m assuming they did things that I’d rather not picture my grandmother doing, because nine months later, long after Mr. Wainwright had packed up and moved to seek a herd of were-deer rumored to be living near the shore, my mother was born.
I pulled Nana Fee’s photos from my purse and slid them across her desk. Jane’s eyes widened slightly, then she looked me over. She picked up one of the snugglier shots, her eyebrows raised. “Mr. Wainwright, you dog.”
“My mother was the result of their . . .”
“Let’s say ‘union,’ for both of our sakes,” Jane suggested, holding up her hands in a defensive pose.
“All right, then. Nana Fee never contacted him to let him know about the baby. They weren’t in love. She didn’t want to hold him back from whomever he might meet that he would love.”
“What about her?”
I shook my head. “Nana Fee never revealed her lover’s name until just before she died, not even when my great-grandfather and great-uncles pressed and threatened and outright begged. She moved into the empty herder’s cottage on the edge of the farm proper and went about making a life for her new baby. No simple feat for an unmarried twenty-year-old. But Nana was gifted, and frankly, I think the villagers were too afraid of losing her services as a healer to shun her completely. Likewise, her family loved her too much to send her away. She never married. She had her daughter, and she was happy with her choice.”
Jane stared at me for a long while. “I want to believe you. The idea of Mr. Wainwright having a child and a grandchild makes me very happy. And I don’t think you have any bad intentions here. But you need to understand that we’ve been burned before by someone claiming a connection to Mr. Wainwright. Do you mind if I ask what brings you here now, after all these years?”
I gave an equal measure of considerate staring. “That’s a really long story, and I’d like to wait until your shop is cleared out.”
Nodding, Jane blew out a breath and sank back into her chair. “Well, hell, I wish Mr. Wainwright had stayed around now.”
I frowned. “I wish that he’d lived, too. I would have liked to meet him.”
“Yeah, that’s what I meant,” she muttered.
Never overestimate any supernatural creature’s sense of humor.
—A Guide to Traversing the Supernatural Realm
Andrea was staring at me. Hard.
I wouldn’t say that my new vampire friends “detained” me, but it was made quite clear that any attempts to leave would not be met with friendly handshakes and an exchange of e-mail addresses. With the customers cleared out, I was sitting at the coffee bar, trying to suss out exactly how much I should tell them. Since they’d kept me from dinner, Jane was nice enough to provide me with something called “lemon bars,” an odd cross between a biscuit and a custard pie. And Andrea was staring at me. It wasn’t an angry stare. She seemed to be looking for coded messages in my eyelashes. I started to blink in odd patterns while I chewed on lemon bars, just to see what happened.
Nothing, just more staring.
“Should we wait for Dick?” Jane asked, pulling the “Closed” sign over the front door of the shop.
Andrea gave me a quick, furtive look. “Um, Dick has a business meeting. I’m not able to reach him.”
“Why do the words ‘business meeting’ seem to be in unspoken subtext quotation marks?” I asked.
“My husband,” Andrea told me, in a tone that brooked no further discussion. “You’ll meet him later.”
“All right, then.”
Jane moved behind the bar as if she were going to make more coffee, until Andrea hopped over the counter with vampire speed and chased her away from the large, shiny cappuccino maker. Jane pouted a bit and plopped into the seat beside me. Andrea gave me a sweeping hand gesture and said, “Floor’s all yours.”
I straightened in my chair, clearing my throat. “ ‘Once upon a time’ is the best way to start, yes? Well, once upon a time, there was a happy little family in the wilds of Ireland, practicing what they called magic. For years and years, they kept the locals happy by caring for the sick, taking care of ailing livestock, and keeping the crops fertile. Even through the Inquisition and the witchcraft trials, the villagers kept peace with the family, because they needed them to prosper, and vice versa. You would think the lack of pitchfork-toting townsfolk would keep the family safe, but of course, in stories like these, there are always problems.
“It boiled down to a difference of opinion on magical policy. The family had always operated under the tenet of ‘do not harm.’ But a small branch of the family grew tired of being ‘servants’ to the locals. They argued that the family should take a firmer stance, domination instead of appeasement. They seemed to think that we should be leading the people around us, instead of working with them—through force, if necessary.”