Authors: Liz Jasper
|Underdead Mysteries |
by Liz Jasper
Copyright (c) Liz Jasper, 2008
All Rights Reserved
Cover Kimberly Van Meter
Original Editor Raelene Gorlinsky
eBook Creation by Book Looks Design
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.
PRAISE FOR UNDERDEAD
“Jo is terrific! An entertaining lighthearted romp!”
-Midwest Book Review
“Kept me on the edge of my seat anxious to find out more. I was thoroughly engaged from beginning to end. This is a great story to curl up with on a rainy day.
-Coffee Time Romance
“Hilariously funny…a page-turner extraordinaire”
had me grinning from the first line! Off-beat, charming, irreverent and so much fun to read I couldn’t put it down.”
- Mary Buckham, award-winning author of
Break Into Fiction
is certainly not your typical vampire story, it’s better… I guarantee
will have you laughing out loud, while keeping you in suspense right up until the end.”
-Two Lips Reviews
“Lighthearted mystery with a touch of the paranormal and a hint of romance is a recipe for a just about perfect read.”
“People of any age and from every walk of life will enjoy this intelligently written, humorous take of a normal girl’s entry into the paranormal.”
“This is a funny and fast-paced read that will delight anyone who has ever enjoyed a cozy mystery, a comedy, a romance, or a vampire novel.”
Writing a book can be a hard, lonely task. I was lucky to have family and friends who, with their unwavering support, made it a little easier.
Special thanks to my mother, for long phone calls that would have bored anyone else into a long, painful death
Thanks to my father for sending a ton of reference books—and then sending more.
Thanks to my early readers Marilyn and the Sisters-In-Crime Guppies, especially Mira and Pat.
Thanks SuperTuesdays who support every day of the week and then some: Mary, Ginger, Judythe, Kat, Jen, Sheila and Helen. Thanks Cindy, who sits in the back and giggles with me at all the conferences. Thanks to VV for validating right time, right place.
And last but definitely not least, huge thanks to my sisty ugler, Laura, for reading too many bits on too short notice and for getting
the jokes, even the bad ones. Those are for you.
To all the teachers I’ve ever had. Thank you.
I would have shot him then and there if I thought it would do any good, but Roger was such a troll the bullet would have bounced off his thick, ugly hide. Maybe poison…
Becky interrupted my pleasant daydream with a whack on my arm. “Okay, don’t turn around and look,” she said, “but a guy is staring at you. And he is
“How nice for him.”
All I needed to cap off this fabulous evening was Becky’s matchmaking. I knew her taste. He probably wore chains and had a Mohawk. Becky herself was dressed in what was best described as slightly toned-down punk, not exactly your typical high school chemistry teacher garb. It went with her spiky hair, which she wore bleached and dyed silver, though a red fringe had been added in honor of the holidays. I should mention that she is Korean, so the dye job isn’t exactly subtle. The headmaster turns a blind eye to this display of “personal expression” because she’s a first-rate teacher and, at twenty-seven, cheap.
Around us, hip twenty-somethings in denim and black sipped cappuccinos and talked knowledgeably about the band that was setting up in the bar area. But we weren’t sitting with them.
were at a long rectangular table in the back of the restaurant, where a small balding man in a hideous sweater was lecturing passionately about the insidious evil that was grade inflation. If I’d ever imagined a fate worse than death, this was it—the science department Christmas party.
Becky was staring over my shoulder and had started fanning herself vigorously with a dessert menu. “I mean really, really good-looking.”
“Pass,” I said from my slumped position. I seemed to have lost the will to sit up straight.
Becky tore her eyes away from the “hot man” long enough to look at me as if I were crazy.
“I’m off really good-looking men,” I said.
“Oh please. That’s such total bullshit.”
“I’m not kidding.” And I wasn’t, not really. “Extremely good-looking men are always horribly deficient in other areas—you know, like kindness, consideration… It’s like they get by on their looks and don’t develop a personality.” I threw my balled-up napkin on the table. “Either that or God put all their eggs in one basket—they’re hot but they’re stupid.” The last thing I needed after an evening of Roger, our pompous gasbag of a department chair, was to deal with another overblown ego.
“Ouch. Sounds like someone has some old boyfriend issues to work out.”
“Already have. Lesson learned—don’t date extremely hot men.”
Carol had stopped trying to make her sliver of chocolate cake last longer than Moses was lost in the desert, and was following our discussion interestedly from her position between us at the foot of the table. Unlike Becky, Carol looked like a high school science teacher. She was in her mid-thirties with long dark brown hair and the weight of a few too many faculty meeting doughnuts pooling about her waist.
Carol leaned forward. “You know, Jo has a point.” Her brown eyes glittered behind her sensible gold-rimmed glasses as she warmed to her topic. “They’ve done studies that show very good-looking people actually do not tend to be as well developed in other areas—uh…”
Her words shriveled and died under the heat of Becky’s glare. “Live a little, Jo! We didn’t pick this place for the food, you know.”
That explained why we were eating at this unexpectedly trendy club a few blocks outside the gentrified section of downtown Long Beach.
“I still can’t believe you talked him into this,” Becky said.
Carol gave her a stern look over the top of her glasses. “I told him it was rated one of the best restaurants in Long Beach, and it is. I just didn’t tell him what for.” Her pursed lips twitched and then widened into an evil grin that was the duplicate of Becky’s. It looked strange on her sweet face.
“In another hour, the Jungle Cranks will be playing, and this place will look like any other club,” Becky said with a dreamy smile. “Roger is going to pitch a fit when he sees it.”
That just tells you how clueless Roger is. He probably didn’t even know there
restaurants outside of Denny’s. “I’d like to see Roger pitch a fit,” I said, beginning to look forward to the evening for the first time. I glanced at my watch and stifled a yawn; it was getting close to my normal bedtime. “I guess I could stay for another hour or so.”
“I’m beginning to think you may be beyond help,” Becky said.
Carol shook her head in silent agreement.
“Hey, what are you ganging up on me for?” I said.
Becky scowled. “Well, look at you. Tonight’s outfit’s not so bad—that skirt shows off your long legs and your sweater’s actually in fashion this year and not two sizes too big for you for once—but what’s with all the Dockers and Oxford shirts and little matching sweaters you wear to work? I mean you’re what, twenty-four?”
I hesitated and then corrected her. “Twenty-two.” I didn’t like to talk about my age. The last thing I needed was for my eighth-grade students to learn I had only nine years on them. My lips curved up in a sudden smile as I recalled that I was about to have two whole weeks away from them.
Becky’s scowl deepened. “You’re twenty-two,” she said. “You dress like a thirty-five-year-old soccer mom.”
“I do not! I just dress more conservatively than you do.”
“No, Becky’s right,” Carol said, eyeing my outfit. “What you’re wearing now really is much more age-appropriate. Not that I blame you.” She smiled. “I did the same thing when I was your age.”
I was trying to work out if she was on my side or Becky’s, when Becky attacked my hair. Literally. “Ouch!” I cried, slapping her hand away.
“And what’s with the granny bun all the time, for crying out loud?” She examined the bobby pin she’d taken from my hair as if it were a rare artifact. “I’d kill for hair like yours, and you hide it away.”
I glared at her and rubbed the tender spot on my scalp. “I wear it up because it gets in the way and tickles my face. But I’ll wear it down for you tonight. Happy?” I pulled out the rest of the pins and thick red-gold waves tumbled to the middle of my back. I pretended not to notice as midway up the table, Bob stopped talking sports with Kendra long enough to watch my unintentional imitation of a shampoo commercial. According to the students, Bob’s the reigning HTOC (Hot Teacher On Campus). I suppose he’s attractive, if you like the beefy football player type. I didn’t.
Becky said, “Let me take you shopping and then I’ll be happy.”
I held out my hand for my hairpin.
“All right.” She sighed and handed it back. “It’s Christmas. I’ll back off. For now. Will that do?”
“Fine.” I said it to keep the peace, but there was no way I was ever going shopping with her. My goal at work was to be inconspicuous. I didn’t think I’d help the cause by bearing my midriff or whatever was in fashion just now. As a five-foot-ten redhead, I had a hard enough time as it was. You can probably guess what my nickname was growing up. No, not Ariel of
The Little Mermaid
fame. Think more vegetable. And, though my mother says my eyes are a romantic green, they look like plain old hazel to me. So, in sum, giant, hazel-eyed carrot.
Becky reached for the nearly empty margarita pitcher and snuck a glance behind me as she topped off our glasses. “Hot man, still heating up the room, still checking you out.”
“Still not looking.” I slumped further in my chair
If I sank any lower, I’d be under the table. “Besides, what happened to waiting until Roger goes home before starting the real party?” I said, trying to put her off before she did something awful, like wave him over to join us.
Becky opened her mouth to object, but I cut her off. “I’m not about to willingly provide fodder for the Bayshore gossip hotline.” That at least was true. Schools are gossip pits without equal. If I showed any interest in a man, and I mean the
bit, the rumor mill would have us engaged by the time school started up again. It’s like that children’s game “telephone”. But instead of a phrase getting humorously distorted as it passes from person to person—Jo met a man; Jo met a can; Jo ate a can—the story gets cruelly embellished on each pass—Jo met a man; Jo and a man were holding hands; Jo and a man were making out in the parking lot; Jo and a man were buck-naked in the backseat of a Porsche having wild sex that’s banned in ten states.
“Really, Jo,” Carol said. “You shouldn’t let other people keep you from living your life. People are going to talk about you one way or another.” She twisted around in her chair to get a look at the mystery man for herself. Her eyes widened. “It might as well be for a good cause,” she said. Then she sighed. I stared at her. Carol? Happily married, motherly Carol, sighing over another man? Who was this guy? I looked doubtfully at the icy liquid in my glass and wondered sourly if they’d put something in the margaritas.
Then I caved.
Pretending I was checking out the band, I shifted around in my chair. “Hot” did not do the man justice. He was the most fabulous-looking man I’d ever seen, and that includes Johnny Depp as a pirate and Brad Pitt in
. He was leaning against a nearby wall, a still figure in black, as distinct as silence in a crowd. Most of the men in the place were dressed in black, but for them it was a statement, a uniform, a pick-up line. This man belonged in it.
Flickering lights from the dance floor slid over his chiseled features, briefly illuminating strong cheekbones before getting lost in the dark hollows below. He had one of those long, lean bodies, with just the right amount of muscle, and dark, slightly wavy hair that hung to his shoulders in a way that made my stomach lurch.
As if sensing my regard, he suddenly turned his head from the shadows and looked directly at me. I did an embarrassing deer-in-the-headlights thing and our eyes locked. His eyes were the most gorgeous blue I’d ever seen. I mean piercingly blue. Meltingly blue. A sharp desire to be closer to him slammed me like a wave.
With an effort, I turned back around, but I could feel his eyes burning into mine as acutely as if he were still in front of me.