About the Author
Molly Harper is the author of two popular series of paranormal romance, the Half-Moon Hollow series and the Naked Werewolf series. She also writes the Bluegrass ebook series of contemporary romance. A former humor columnist and newspaper reporter, she lives in Michigan with her family, where she is currently working on the next Southern Eclectic novel. Visit her on the web at MollyHarper.com.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Where the Wild Things Bite 1
Before you find yourself stranded in the woods with a cranky apex predator, ask yourself: Do I really want to go on a camping trip with a vampire? The answer is probably going to be no.
—Where the Wild Things Bite: A Survival Guide for Camping with the Undead
An evil transportation-hating monster had devoured my plane. And in its place, the monster had left a little, bite-size plane crumb behind.
I stood on the tarmac of the Louisville airport, staring in horror at the plane crumb as my purse, a brown leather tote bag, dangled from my fingers. This was not a momentous beginning to my trip to Half-Moon Hollow.
Despite the fact that I could see crowds of people milling around the airport through the windows, I felt oddly alone, vulnerable. A handful of planes were parked at nearby gates, but there were no luggage handlers, no flight staff. I’d never boarded from the tarmac before, and the short, rickety mobile staircase being pushed up against the side of the plane like a ladder used for gutter cleaning didn’t make me feel more confident in the climb.
When I’d booked my flight to westernmost Kentucky, I knew small planes were the only models capable of flying into Half-Moon Hollow’s one-gate airport. But I’d thought the plane would seat at least thirty people. The vessel in front of me would maybe hold a baker’s dozen, if someone sat on the pilot’s lap. There were only four windows besides the windshield, for God’s sake.
“This is the right plane, in case you’re wondering,” said a gruff voice, which was accompanied by a considerable whiff of wet tobacco.
I turned to find a florid, heavyset man in a pilot’s uniform standing behind me. His healthy head of wavy black hair was counterbalanced by a pitted, sallow complexion and undereye bags so heavy they should have been stored on the nearby luggage cart. A lifetime of drinking had thickened his features and left a network of tiny broken capillaries across his broad nose. Given the sweat stains on his uniform, I might have doubted his current sobriety, but I supposed it took considerable motor control to keep that large unlit cigar clamped between his teeth. His name tag read “Ernie.”
“That is not a plane,” I told Ernie. “That is what happens when planes have babies with go-karts.”
Snorting, he pushed past me toward the plane. The olfactory combination of old sweat and wet cigar made me take a step back from him. I was starting to suspect his pilot’s license might have been written in crayon.
“Well, if you don’t want to fly, there’s always a rental car,” the pilot snarked, climbing the stairs into the plane. “It’s about a four-hour drive, until you hit the gravel roads. You might make it before noon tomorrow.”
I frowned at Ernie the pilot’s broad back. If there was anything I hated more than flying, it was driving on unfamiliar, treacherous roads alone at night. Besides, there were too many things that could happen to the package between here and the Hollow. I could spill coffee on it while trying to stay awake. It could be stolen while I was stopped at a gas station. A window malfunction could result in the package being sucked out of the car on the highway. I needed to get it back to Jane as soon as humanly (or vampire-ly) possible. So driving was a nonstarter.
I gritted my teeth and breathed deeply through my nose, watching the way the sickly fluorescent outdoor lights played on the dimpled metal of the wings. The tiny, tiny wings.
The pilot stuck his head out of the plane door. “Plane’s not gonna get any bigger,” he growled at me around the cigar.
“Good point,” I muttered as I took the metal stairs. One-in-nine-million chance of dying in a commercial plane crash. One-in-nine-million chance. There had to be at least nine million and one other people flying commercial right now. One of them had to have worse luck than me . . . they were probably on a bigger plane, though.
Even though my cargo was completely legal, I still felt the need to look over my shoulder in an extremely obvious manner as I boarded. My superspy skills were supremely lacking. The looks that security gave me as I visibly twitched while sending my bag through the X-ray machine were bad enough. But I’d never hand-delivered an item to a customer before, especially an item of such high value. My bonding and insurance couldn’t possibly cover something that was considered priceless to the supernatural community at large. I just wanted to get it out of my hands and into those of my employer, Jane Jameson-Nightengale, as quickly as possible.
Despite my fervent wish that the plane was secretly a TARDIS, it was not, in fact, bigger on the inside. And except for Ernie the pilot, it was completely empty. This was, after all, the last flight from Louisville to the Hollow for the night, which made it a risky proposition, layover-wise. From what Jane had told me, most Hollow residents didn’t want to risk being stuck overnight in Louisville, so they planned their connections for earlier in the day. But a client meeting had kept me in Atlanta until the last minute, so I’d booked a late flight. It worked better for me to land late anyway, since Jane, an oddly informal vampire who insisted that our relationship be on a first-name basis, would be meeting me at the airport. Pre-sundown pickup times didn’t work for her.
Though minuscule, the interior of the plane was comfortable enough, with its oatmeal-colored plastic walls, the smell of recently applied disinfectant, and its closely arranged seats. Though I clearly had my choice of spots, I took the time to find my assigned berth in the second row. I declined putting my tote bag in the tiny storage compartment at the front of the plane. Despite being the only passenger, I was uncomfortable with the idea of not being able to see my bag at all times. I turned, checking the distance from my seat to the door-slash-emergency exit. Studies showed that passengers were five times more likely to survive a crash if they sat within five rows of the emergency exits.
Unfortunately, this seat also put me directly under a vent for the air system, also known as the “dispenser of aerated bacteria.”
Even as I pulled an herbal immune-support chewable out of my bag, I knew I was being silly. The flight would only be an hour long. What were the chances of the plane crashing when it was only in the air for sixty minutes? And surely I wouldn’t have enough time to contract anything from Ernie’s tobacco-stained germs?
As if he could hear my thoughts, Ernie let loose a phlegmy, rattling cough that seemed to shake the windows. Slowly, I reached up and twisted the vent closed.
Besides, who knew what sort of antibiotic-resistant superbugs previous passengers had sneezed into the ventilation system on earlier flights? I didn’t care what the airline said about its amazing HEPA filters, I pulled the neck of my cardigan over my nose and pulled a pack of TSA-approved hand-sanitizing wipes from my bag. I swabbed down my armrests, the window, and—checking to make sure Ernie wasn’t watching—the vent cover.
And for some reason, while I was wiping down the safety-procedure card with a fresh towelette, the cruel, ironic bits of my brain were running through the list of famous people who had died in small-plane crashes. Ritchie Valens, John Denver, Aaliyah.
I flopped my head back against the seat, jamming my hair clip into my scalp. I was too tired for this. I’d spent almost two hours in Atlanta traffic just to get to the airport in time for this flight. I’d braved lengthy, draconian security checks. I missed my cozy little restored home in Dahlonega. I missed my home office and my thinking couch and my shelves of carefully preserved first-edition books. I promised myself that when I survived this trip, I would reward myself by retreating to my apartment for a week and bingeing on delivered Thai food and Netflix.
I curled forward and rested my head on my hands. My stomach churned, and my head felt all light and swirly. I was too tired to be this nervous. I’d taken my antianxiety meds in the ladies’ room in the airport, timing them carefully so I wouldn’t climb the walls of the plane from the moment it took off. Why weren’t they kicking in?
I heard footsteps on the metal ladder but did not raise my head. Whoever it was moved down the aisle and slide into the seat across from me.
Damn it, did that mean I wasn’t the only passenger on this flight? I was going to have to take another immunity booster. I thunked my forehead against the folding tray table. And then I remembered that University of Arizona study that found that up to sixty percent of the tray tables from the major airliners tested positive for MRSA. So I sat up. Surely headrest parasites were a better option than flesh-eating bacteria.
I didn’t move. Maybe if I didn’t move, he would think I was asleep and leave me alone. Was it beneath me to use possum tactics to avoid politely strained conversation?
“Hello in there?”
Augh. No. The new passenger was a talker, an insistent talker.
I was not one of those “we’re in this together for the next few hours, so we might as well be polite” passengers. I did not make polite small talk. I didn’t talk about what I did for a living or compare my “worst flight ever” experiences with my seatmate. And I definitely didn’t “share a cab” to my hotel with a near stranger, no matter how nice he was during beverage service. People who did that ended up on Dateline.
“Fear of flying?”
I ceased my forehead abuse long enough to look up at him. The other passenger smiled and quirked his eyebrows, the sort of gesture most people appreciated in a fellow traveler.
Oh, the new passenger was handsome, in that polished, self-aware manner that made women either melt in their seats or shrink into themselves in immediate distrust. Unfortunately for him, I fell into the second category.
I did not dissolve at the sight of his high cheekbones. I didn’t coo over his luminous brown eyes or the dark goatee that defined his wide, sensual mouth. The collar of his blue V-necked T-shirt showed a downright lickable collarbone and the beginnings of well-defined pectoral muscles. I did not liquefy. In fact, my initial reaction was to trust him even less than I trusted Ernie.
OK, fine, I did feel these strange little bubbles rise up through my belly, like effervescent butterflies. But most of those butterflies were swatted down by the heavy hand of common sense.
So I might have been a bit more snappish than polite when I responded, “No, fear of awkward conversations before crashing.”
But my curt tone only seemed to make him grin, as if my irritation was amusing. It was a sincere grin, without an ounce of condescension, which made him even more handsome. Some tiny nerve inside me twinged, a counterintuitive flicker in my otherwise steady flow of neuroses. That little nerve made me wish, just for once, that I was the kind of woman who could start a conversation with a handsome stranger, approach some new experience—hell, try a new brand of detergent—without analyzing all of the possible ways it could go wrong.
While my mother had made it clear on more than one occasion that I was not “conventionally pretty,” I knew I wasn’t completely unfortunate-looking. My DNA had provided me with my father’s fine-boned features and my mother’s wide, full lips, though mine weren’t twisted into unhappy lines as often as hers. My eyes were large, the amber color of old whiskey, with an undeserved mischievous tilt. Altogether, my slightly mismatched features made for a pleasant face. And yet men like this, completely at ease with themselves, sent my dented ego into a spiraling tizzy whenever they came near. In other words, my counterintuitive nerve flicker was an idiot and needed to stay quiet.
The handsome new passenger’s smooth tones derailed my train of thought yet again. “It’s too bad the ride is so short. They don’t even have beverage service on this flight. You might have been able to take the edge off.”
“I’m not much of a drinker,” I told him, giving him a quick, jerky smile that felt like a cheek tremor. I nodded my head toward the back of the plane. “Besides, where would they put the beverage cart?”
“Oh, well, maybe I’ll be able to distract you,” he offered, the corner of his mouth lifting again.
The intimate way he said it, the way he was smiling at me, eyes lingering on my jeans-clad legs, sent a little shiver down my spine, despite the simultaneous warning Klaxons sounding in my head. I pulled my book out of my bag and placed it on the seat next to me, like a shield. It was a tactic I’d used before on the rare occasions when I used public transportation. People were far less likely to ask, “Hey, is that book any good?” when it was intimidating classic literature the size of a brick. And those who did interrupt to ask about the brick-sized book were put off by a prolonged bitch brow.
“And how are you going to do that?” I asked him, holding up the well-worn paperback. “You’ve got some very serious competition.”
Thank you, conversational gods, for not letting the phrase “stiff competition” leave my lips.
“Oh, I’m sure I could come up with a way to entertain you.”
And his smile was so full of naughty promise that the only response I could come up with was “Guh.”
The conversational gods abandoned me more quickly than I had hoped.
I blushed to the tips of my ears, but he seemed amused by it, so maybe a red face was considered charming on the Planet of the Narrowly Torsoed.
Given that I was from a very different planet—the home of ladies built like lanky twelve-year-old boys—I doubted very much that our definitions of “fun” matched up. Given the flawless delivery of what was a pretty obvious pickup line, he was clearly a practiced flirt. Men generally practiced this sort of skill at parties, clubs. My idea of a good time was a movie marathon with my best friend and assistant, Rachel, featuring at least five different actors playing Sherlock Holmes and then a debate about who did the best job. That’s right. Anna Whitfield, one-woman party.
“Do you consider Dante’s Inferno a little light travel reading?”
“It’s an old favorite,” I said, without looking up at him.
“Well, you’ve successfully intimidated me, so congratulations.”
I laughed softly, but before I could answer, the door slammed behind us, and the plane started to taxi. A small overhead speaker began to play prerecorded safety instructions, and I relaxed back into the seat. I pulled the safety instruction card from the seat pocket in front of me and began reading along.
“Really?” the stranger asked. I nodded, without looking at him, checking the emergency exit door for opening instructions. It looked like a case of “Pull the big red handle upward and left while trying to contain your terror.” Excellent.
I followed along, checking the location of the oxygen masks (there weren’t any) and running lights toward the emergency exit (also, no). They really needed to increase the amount of safety equipment required on tiny planes. Or at least make safety cards specific to tiny planes so passengers didn’t realize how much safety equipment they weren’t getting.
“You have flown before, yes?” the stranger aske...
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