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"So now what?" Jonas asked. "We could spend hours making the haters list longer, but-"
"I'm not gonna be much help if we're gonna keep on with listing names," Betsy pointed out. "And I want to. I think Madison here got a raw deal, and no matter how unpleasant and awful Fred is, she doesn't deserve this kind of hassle."
"Thank you," she said dryly. "That was your husband, right? He was outside with you earlier tonight. The tall dark-haired man?"
"Mmm-hmm." Betsy fluttered her eyelashes. "Isn't he dreeeeeeamy?"
"I guess. He's a vampire, too?"
"And since you're the queen, that makes him the king?"
"Gosh." Jonas faux sighed. "Boston's soooo lucky! My horoscope didn't so much as hint at any of this today. Avoid situations with money, that's what I got. Thanks for nothing, universe."
"Isn't it dangerous to just . . . you know."
"Out ourselves as blood suckers?" Betsy teased.
"We're trying things different than the last guy. This is the information age, the twenty-first century, and it's time for vampires to actually live in the real world with the rest of the real world. Does that make sense?"
Madison and Jonas nodded; Fred did not.
"Just . . . take my word for it. A different way of running all things vampire was called for, so we're giving it a go. If it doesn't work, we can always go back to the skulking-in-dark-alleys, sleeping-in-coffins way of life. Yawn. And while we're throwing around personal questions, you're engaged, right?"
"Right." Fred glanced at Jonas, a little nervous. She hadn't planned on him showing up but he had. Now she could only hope he'd be so distracted by Madison's woes he wouldn't remember-
"Which reminds me."
Fred groaned and buried her head in her forearms.
"The other two reasons you're in town this week are to visit your mom, who actually misses you-weird, right? Yeah, but she's your mom, and just like with Cliff Clavin's mom on Cheers, nature dictates there be a bond."
"What's Cheers?" Madison ventured.
"Old TV show . . . The second reason you're in town is to meet with me and get more wedding stuff done. Now obviously Madison's little strange-men-tried-to-kill-me-and-will-stop-at-nothing-until-Fred's-dead-too thing comes first, but only just. So to answer your question, Fred's not only engaged (again), she's getting married in six months."
"Justice of the peace," Fred said, trying not to cave in to despair. "No cakes. No dresses. No churches. No pastors. A judge and a piece of paper. And then Legal's."
"No way." Jonas turned to Betsy. "She was gonna marry a prince. Artur of the Undersea Folk, right? And have a royal wedding-which she was letting me plan-before jetting off to the other side of the planet to live in the Caspian Sea, where she wondered why her Kindle wasn't working. And I was gonna get to plan a royal wedding! But noooo, she decides she's in love with a romance novelist-"
"No!" Betsy gasped, hanging onto Jonas's every (shrill) word.
"-dumps the prince-a perfectly nice guy, by the way-chucks all the old wedding plans, and thinks her mom and I are gonna let her do the justice-of-the-peace thing for fiancé number two."
"Maybe I'll get killed by the guys Madison ran into," Fred said, brightening. "Then no weddings."
"Wouldn't that be great? Dare to dream. But first things first. Madison's mom asked me to come, which I was fine with, since I'm a warm, cuddly, hands-on undead monarch. I've got a responsibility to my subjects, and also apparently their adopted daughters. So devoted to duty am I, I didn't hesitate after I realized where the John Fluevog store was."
Jonas's eyebrows arched into blond, horizontal parentheses. "Oh ho."
"Oh ho what?" Fred asked. "What is a Fluevog?"
Betsy's eyebrows were doing their own arching back at Jonas. "I'm betting you know where Newbury Street is, huh?"
Fred snorted. "It's his Graceland." Newbury Street was one of Boston's older streets, crammed with ever more expensive boutiques and restaurants. Wikipedia dubbed it one of the most expensive streets in the world, as it was strewn with shops for Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Chanel, and Armani, to name a few. It was beloved by locals as well as tourists. Fred wouldn't go there if someone stuck a gun in her ear.
"I would very much like to see John Fluevog's John Fluevog store. And we've been at this for hours, with no end in sight."
"So we should quit and go look at shoes?" Fred snapped. "Be serious."
"Shoes, wedding gowns, whatever." Jonas shrugged.
"Don't even joke about that!"
"I'd never, Fred. Also, John-John loves my toned blond ass."
"And that's relevant . . . how, exactly?" Why are you asking when you're afraid of the answer? Why are you asking someone who always answers your questions when you're afraid of the answer?
"Because I did him the favor of his life not even five years ago. But it's sorta confidential."
"Introduced him to his wife?" Betsy guessed.
"Took a bullet for him?" Fred ventured.
"Got him off marshmallow peeps?"
"Eww, no. I cured him of his dandruff with my own home brew, and he's in my debt forever, or until I decide to quit Aveda and design my own hair products, so he can pay me back by financing my independent shop."
In response to Betsy's puzzled expression, Fred added, "Jonas is a chemical engineer; he designs shampoos and lotions and other smelly stuff for Aveda and now has found the cure for dandruff in shoe designers."
Fred was pleased Betsy was impressed with her friend, then annoyed to be pleased.
"Are you single?" The vampire plunged ahead when he started to answer. "Because I've got the perfect guy for you. The perfect guy. Really cute, really smart-a doctor. Takes things like vampire roommates and the Antichrist popping over for smoothies totally in stride."
"I'm sorry, but-"
"The zombie thing? We're working on it. With it, I guess. Listen, he can't die because he is already. Dead, I mean. So you'll always have a date! Until you die."
"Wow, so, so tempting, but I have to plan Fred's wedding. Not just plan her wedding, Planning Fred's Wedding, Take Two. And then . . . what was it? Oh, right. Get married myself. To a woman. Who I love. Who's alive."
"Oh." Her face fell. "Well, congratulations, I guess."
Fred sighed. "How come the weird ones are always taken?"
Jonas gave Betsy's hand a quick pat. "Well, anyway. Even as late as it is, I might be able to arrange for a visiting vampire queen to check out the hippest shoe store in a five-hundred-mile radius at, say, midnight."
"Wait, now we're shoe shopping?" Fred snapped. "Forget it."
"Fine, we'll shop for wedding gowns instead. There's actually a gown shop right next to his store. What are the odds, I ask you? I'm getting chills. The gods want us to go to Newbury Street with our American Express cards tonight! That's what all this is for! And also, saving Madison from killers."
A long silence, broken by Fred's weary, "Fine. Shoes. God help me. But first, Madison, I need to see all the e-mails and online correspondence you had with the would-be killers. Which I probably should have thought to ask for first. And we should all get descriptions of the guys in question . . . the other thing I should have thought of first." Fred wished she could blame the vampire's brain snatch on how amateur her response had been, but the truth was Fred had shaken off Betsy's mojo hours ago. The problem was, too much had been thrown at her in too short a time. Another problem: they weren't cops. They had no lawful authority. They were in over their heads, and not by inches. By entire fathoms. Which reminded her . . .
"Is there a reason we're not giving full reports to the police and having them look into this? Yeah, our little group is made up of things like vampires and mermaids and chemical engineers and rich wards of ancient vamps-"
"Sounds like we could be out in the world solving crimes. I always wanted my own Mystery Machine," Jonas commented.
"-but we have no lawful authority. Do you know how to make a citizen's arrest? I don't."
Betsy shook her head. "If you tell the police even a tenth of the truth, they'll lock you up. You'll end up in a psych ward somewhere with a Valium drip."
"God, that'd be great." Fred sighed, and Madison nodded.
"Of course it would be great, but it doesn't get anything done. And it leaves poor Madison even more exposed."
"And we don't want Madison exposed," Jonas said. Then: "That was less lewd in my head, and more protective."
"So, what?" Betsy spread her hands. "We've gotta go somewhere, but we don't know where, and we've gotta do something, but we don't know what, and we've gotta find bad guys, but we don't know who. Hell, I barely know where I am; I don't know this part of the country at all. I took a cab from our hotel so I wouldn't have to pahk-"
"Don't," Jonas and Betsy warned in unison.
"-the cah in Hahvahd yahd." The vampire beamed. "Don't I sound legit? Like I've lived in Boston my whole life and for a while after my death? I sound wicked smaht!"
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