Smokin' Seventeen:A Stephanie Plum Novel(6)

By: Janet Evanovich

“I wouldn’t mind some coffee cake,” Lula said. “I was just thinking coffee cake would be real tasty.”

My mother was in the kitchen ironing. Physically she’s a younger version of my Grandma Mazur, and physically I’m a younger version of my mother. Mentally and emotionally my mother is on her own. Lunacy seems to have skipped a generation and my mother is left to bear the burden of maintaining standards of decorum for the family. My grandmother and I are the loose cannons.

“So why’s there ironing going on?” Lula asked.

We all knew my mother ironed when she was upset. She ironed for days when my divorce went through.

Grandma cut a wide swath around my mother and set the coffeepot on the table. “Margaret Gooley’s daughter got engaged, and they already got the Polish National Hall for a November wedding.”

“And?” Lula asked.

“I graduated high school with her,” I said.

Lula sat at the table and cut herself a piece of coffee cake. “And?”

My mother pressed the iron into a pair of slacks with enough force to set a seam for the rest of its days. “I don’t know why everyone else’s daughter gets married but mine!” she said. “Is it too much to ask to have a happily married daughter?”

“I was married,” I said. “I didn’t like it.”

Grandma slathered butter on her piece of coffee cake. “He was a horse’s patoot.”

“You’ve been seeing Joseph Morelli for years now,” my mother said. “It’s the talk of the neighborhood. Why aren’t you at least engaged?”

That was an excellent question, and I didn’t have an answer. At least not an answer I wanted to say out loud. Truth is Morelli wasn’t the only man in my life. I was in love with two men. How screwed up is that?

“Yeah,” Lula said to me, “you need to make a decision about Morelli or someone else is gonna snatch him up. He’s a real hottie. And he’s got his own house and a dog and everything.”

I liked Morelli. I really did. And Lula was right. He was hot. And I thought he’d make a good husband … probably. And there were days when I suspected he might actually consider marrying me. Problem was just when I thought marrying Morelli held some appeal, Ranger would ooze into my mind like smoke under a closed door.

Ranger was not husband material. He was a heart-stopping handsome Latino, dark-skinned and dark-eyed. He was strong inside and out, an enigma who kept his life scars pretty much hidden.

“I need to bring Ziggy Glitch in for a reschedule,” I said to Grandma. “I thought maybe you could call him and get him to go with me.”

“I could do that, but you have to wait until it gets dark. He don’t go out during the day.” Grandma paused. “He’s got a condition.”

I nibbled on a piece of coffee cake. “What kind of condition? A medical condition?”

“Yeah, I guess it could be considered medical. He’s a vampire. If he goes out in the sun it could kill him. He could burn right up. Remember when Dorothy threw water on the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz, and the witch shriveled up? It’s sort of like that.”

Lula almost spit out her coffee. “Get outta here! Are you shitting me?”

“That’s why he never married,” Grandma said. “Soon as a woman saw his fangs she wouldn’t have anymore to do with him.”

“So when the cops said he was a biter they meant he was a biter,” Lula said.

Grandma topped off her coffee. “Yep. He’ll suck the blood right out of you. Every last drop.”

“That’s ridiculous,” my mother said. “He’s not a vampire. He’s a man with a dental problem and a personality disorder.”

“I guess that’s one of them politically correct points of view,” Lula said. “I don’t mind presenting things that way so long as I don’t get holes in my neck while I’m tryin’ not to offend some mother-suckin’ vampire. ’Scuse my French. And this is real good coffee cake. Is this Entenmann’s?”

“I didn’t see any fangs when he answered the door,” I told Grandma.

“Well, it’s daytime so maybe he was fixing to go to sleep, and he had his dentures in a cup,” Grandma said. “I don’t wear my dentures when I sleep.”