Undead and Undermined
All-new in the New York Times bestselling drop-dead funny series.
Vampire Queen Betsy Taylor thought she couldn't die. So what's she doing in the morgue? It could have something to do with a time- traveling trip she made, and a foe with a wicked agenda that could finally be the real death of Betsy-if she's not careful.
When the awful racket started up, when the coroner got ready to open my skull with what I later found out was a Stryker autopsy saw, I was fine with it.
No, more than that… it seemed like a really, really good idea. Not just a good idea for me. It would be great for everyone involved. And if you took the long view, it would be good for humanity. Because I'd had enough. Case closed, everybody out of the pool, time to shut off the lights and lock up, hit the trail, shake a leg, beat feet, get gone, get out.
I was out.
How sucky was it that I knew, knew the one thing worse than waking up on an embalming table was waking up inside a body bag? I did not ever want to know that. No one should know that.
Oh, and while we're compiling a list of things no one should know? No one should know that they grow upgrow old, anywayto torture their friends. That they either brought about (or didn't bother to prevent) a scary-ass nuclear winter apocalyptic event resulting in the very real possibility of freezing to death on the Fourth of July.
No one should know that, on the off chance they turn into an ancient evil vampire crone, they forget all sense of fun and, worse, fashion. Gray dresses! What the fuck?
So even though the buzzing whine of the saw felt like the coroner was already slicing me open, I laid still and did my impersonation of a corpse.
Hey, everybody's good at something.
Graham Benton lit a cigarette with trembling fingers. He did not smoke but had been able to score a butt and a lighter from a member of the I'm-Cutting-Back-I-Swear tribe. Graham did not smoke, had never smoked, but was determined to start immediately.
The door to the doctor's lounge wheezed open and Graham observed his attending, the extraordinarily hairy Dr. Carter (and didn't the two of them get shit, Dr. Benson and Dr. Carter? Like he needed another reason to hate NBC), practically tiptoe into the close, windowless, burnt-coffee-and-disinfectant-smelling room.
Carter's beard had recently been trimmed, so the ends merely brushed his throat instead of his nipples. His dark, curly chest hair was trying to burst through his scrubs shirt. He had begged permission to jettison the de rigueur lab coat and, after he'd proven to the other chief residents that his mat of body hair kept him adequately warm, they relented. Hairy Carter was perturbing enough; Sweaty Red-faced Hairy Carter was an abomination unto the Lord.
"Sooooo." Carter coughed. It sounded like a truck laboring uphill in the wrong gear. "Bad night, Dr. Benson?"
"It's the wee hours of the morning, Carey." This was a breach of etiquette; interns and residents did not call department heads by their first names without invitation. And Graham would never, ever ask. Nor would he ever think twice about breaking any etiquette guideline. His intelligence, drive, and skill were why he got away with it.
"'Bad night' isn't just dumb, Carey. And it isn't just inaccurate. It's dumb. And, yeah. I said that already." He sucked on the sullenly smoldering cigarette and thought, Millions of people smoke these things? Several times a day? For years? Voluntarily? I was right all along: 99.5% of the human race is comprised by idiots, and the other 0.05% by morons.
"Listen, we're all with you. Except for your new weird habit. I'm worried about you." Benson shook his head at the almost-extinguished cigarette. "And there's not a person in this department who doesn't sympathize."
He fingered his collar. The scrubs were soft from many washings. "Lie."
"There's at least one person in this department who sympathizes, probably."
"Gee whiz. I feel so much better. The steaming, fretful masses view me with pity. Or at least one does. Probably."
"You have to admit, it's not every day a patient wakes up in the middle of an"
Graham felt his teeth meet, and most of the cigarette fell out of his mouth, decapitated by his involuntarily chomp. "She didn't wake up, she was dead. She wasn't in a coma. She didn't have hypothermia. She was dead. There was nothing to wake up from."
"Okay, Graham, but semantics won't"
"Flatline! Brain dead! Pupils fixed and dilated! Body temp falling… body temp almost room temp, do you get that? Guess what? People don't wake up from that! You want to guess why? Because when you're at room temp, you! Are! Dead!" He grabbed at his neck again, restlessly kneading the fabric.
"So, help me out here, are you saying she woke up then yelled, or yelled and then woke up?"
Graham slumped forward and rested his forehead on the cracked, pitted tabletop. "You've come here to kill me, haven't you? But you've gotta bug me to death to do it, right? Remember your oath, doctor, and summon the decency to make it quick."
Finally! This must be the slowest or sleepiest coroner in the history of forensic science. It was like he didn't know there were people in his morgue who had an agenda. I couldn't speak for the other dead guys in this chilly tomb, but I couldn't afford to loll around on an autopsy table all night. I wondered if he knew how selfish he was being. Just because I was dead didn't mean I wasn't in a hurry.
Bad enough I had given up on life/death and was resigned to permanent exile to… where do the souls of sadistic despots-in-training go after death-for-real? Hell?
Not for what they've done, but what they will do? Or do we still get to heaven because we didn't live long enough to bring about (or don't bother to prevent) the end of the world? Because we hadn't quite gotten the chance to turn on friends and family in order to save our own ass?
Wherever I was supposed to end up, I'd be there in a couple more minutes. Then this would be done. I'd be done.
(Oh where oh Elizabeth where oh my own where are you?)
I softly groaned, which was drowned out by the saw. I could shut my eyes (as I was) and I could clamp my hands over my ears (which I didn't dare), but couldn't shut my brain off. Couldn't block my husband's thoughts.
I had to, though. His life and my soul depended on it.
"Of course I remember everything." Graham pinched the bridge of his nose. He wore the expression of a man forced to tolerate exceptional stupidity. He looked like that a lot. "It was half an hour ago. I'm freaked out, not brain dead."
"Do you… do you mind going over it again?"
"Of course I mind, you hirsute moron."
"You start a lot of sentences with 'of course.'"
"I get asked a lot of dumbass questions, of course. Did you catch how I mixed it up that time? And to answer your silly-ass question, I should be focusing on psychologically blocking the last hour, but I'm sitting here, aren't I? I haven't even gotten to the weirdest part yet, you believe that?"
His chief gave him a manly clap on the shoulder. The pathologist winced and prayed his shoulder hadn't been dislocated. "I want you to know we all get why you decided to work with dead people. No one ever thought that was anything but a spectacular idea. I say again: spectacular! We're just worried you're going to be hauled away in screaming hysterics and come back determined to do a peds rotation."
"Pediatrics?" Fresh horror swept over him like a freezing bath. "Never! I will never stock suckers! And I will never give out stickers! I will never say, My how big you've grown!"
"You're getting shrill again, Graham."
He resisted the urge to bang his head on the table. "I hate everyone. But you most of all."
"And the world continues to turn," his boss said with maddening cheer. "Soooo… you're still gung ho for the pathology residency?"
"What are the odds of another patient coming to life under my knife?" Cripes, his neck itched. "Look: I want the rest of the day off. I want you to deal with Admin and then I want you to go away. When I finish eating this cigarette, I'm outta here. I'll be back tomorrow by shift change. There's nothing else to talk about."
"How goes the psychological blocking?"
"It goes shitty. I can remember everything. Everything that happened and everything she said."
"So she did talk to you. Y'know, that's the weirdest of all. That she could be lucid after"
"After what, coming back to life? Why wouldn't she be? You're not listening, Chief: she was dead. Not in a coma. Dead. I'm concerned, Benson. You don't seem to be getting this."
"I'm concerned, too," said his bosswho really was an okay guy once you got used to his perpetually sunny mood"but for different reasons."
"Weirdest night of my life, and I'm not a rookie, right? I've seen things; every path resident has. Shit, every doctor has. But the things she said, and then what she did, that was the weirdest of all, and I don't say that lightly."
"Far as I know, you've never said anything lightly."
"Including right now. She was completely dead one minute. And completely alive the next. What ifwhat if she had woken up when I cracked her sternum?" He could actually feel his mind trying to shy away from the image, distracting him by focusing on the woman's extraordinary good looks and charisma.
"She didn't, though." Benson coughed and shuffled his feet. He wasn't used to Graham wanting reassurance. And Graham wasn't used to needing it. "Everything's fine."
"This is my blood," he said quietly, touching the dark fabric. Path scrubs were dark brown, a superb choice for obvious reasons. His chief had made a natural assumption: the blood on his shirt was from the autopsy.
It was also an incorrect assumption.
"She bit me." He stared at the table. His irritation and panic and fright were subsiding into pissed off and horny. "She said she was sorry, after."
"She did what?"
"This is going to take much longer if you keep with all the dumb questions. Or did you need to look into getting a hearing aid? Can you hear me? Do you need a sign-language interpreter? Helloooooo?"
"You never mind my possible need for a hearing aid or sign language." Carter visibly relaxed. The irascible, touchy Graham was a known quantity. Not like the Graham of the last five minutes. "Tell the rest!"
So he did.
Don't answer him! And don't think.
Yeah, right. I could stop myself from telepathically answering the vampire king (who was the only person in existence with a telepathic ticket into my head, poor guy), but stop thinking about him? Suuure. Just like I could stop thinking about Manolo's new line or my near-continual thirst for blood.
Or the fact that, one day, I'll be a vicious, brittle tyrant more interested in raising zombies than saving my marriage… and my friends.
I didn't know how I'd gotten here. I didn't know what had happened to me. I had vague memories of some kind of argument… or was it an actual fight? Something about the devil… and my sister? Could that be right?
It probably wasn't right, dammit, and it didn't matter, either. I didn't know what had happened, and I was sticking with that story. And guess what? I didn't give a tin shit, either. My death was an excellent preventative for destroying the world.
(O my own Elizabeth where are you do not be hurt do not be hurt oh please please DO NOT BE HURT.)
I fought to keep my expression deadlike. I was an ordinary corpse in a room that was freezing. No shivering vampires here. Nobody sort of sentient on this table. (It had to be a table, something big and tall and made of steel… and freezing cold!)
If I let this happen to me, the world was safe. Better: Marc and Sinclair were safe.
Well. Safe from me, anyway. The king wouldn't be safe from all the vamps trying to fill the power vacuum once I was chopped up like a Cobb salad. But I couldn't think about that. I had to keep my focus; if I lived, the world was doomed. If I lived…
(WHERE ARE YOU? PLEASE PLEASE ANSWER, WHERE HAVE YOU GONE? WHO HAS TAKEN YOU? ELIZABETH, FIGHT THEM, FIGHT THEM FIGHT THEM UNTIL I CAN FIGHT THEM FOR YOU!)
That was good advice, actually. Fight them until he could fight them for me. (He was so gloriously, stupidly chauvinistic at times.) Good advice… too bad I couldn't apply it to my situation. How could I fight myself? Especially when I was so evil and had such terrible taste in clothes, and was ancient and yukky?
Well. Let's think about that for a second. How could I? Maybe that was the wrong question; maybe I should be asking, how couldn't I? Who better to save him from me… than me? Would hiding and dying really be the best course of action? Or would it make things easier for the Big Bads meddling in our lives?
Or would it merely make things easier for me? God knew I tended to take the low road when it came to confrontation. The Antichrist and I had that in common. Was that it? Was I really that… that dimly lazy? Was this going to come about because I didn't want to do the work?
Tell you what: if I knew Sinclair was letting himself get killed to help me, I'd kick him in his undead 'nads. I'd scream at him until my eyes crossed. I'd dunk his big stupid head down a well. And kick him in his undead 'nads! And I'd be right.
Just like Sinclair was right.
I'd save him. I'd save us, I'd save the world. I had no idea how, and I had no idea what it would cost me. But I had to do it. Not because there was no one else, although there wasn't. Because it was my job. Or did I think the queen of the undead thing, as lame as it had always seemed to me, was something I could do part-time, like picking up extra shifts at McDonalds?
"She bit you?"
"Yeah. And it was the first thing that made sense that whole hour. Get it? She was a vampire. Those things are true. The stories are all true. Except…" He frowned, remembering.
"Oh, I can't wait to hear your 'except.' Hit me. Please not literally."
"Except, she wore a cross around her neck. A little gold one. But everything else fit. She really was dead when they brought her in, and when the sun went down… came back. And she asked where she was. I could tell she was trying to be nice. I could tell…"
Benson raised his eyebrows in silent encouragement. Graham had never seen the jolly path chief so wide-eyed.
"I could tell she was trying not to scare me."
"How did she do that? How did she seem?"
Graham grinned for the first time that evening. "Angry and naked. And smokin' hot." He groaned and rested his forehead on the table. "It's so wrong that I'm thinking about a vampire's awesome rack right now."
The buzzing whine of the saw was still filling the air… I'd had all these thoughts in about a second and a half. And it was getting louder, so the saw was getting closer.
Playtime was over. Should I or shouldn't I was over. Boo-hoo, I'm going to destroy the world so time to lie down and be dead was over, over, over.
I opened my eyes and caught the doc's wrist about a millimeter and a half from my hair. "You can't have my brain," I told the pale (and getting paler) fellow. "I need it to save my husband. And you, too, in a way."
I saw his thumb spasm and the whine of the saw lessened and then stopped altogether, tapering off with a sort of metallic moan: BBBBZZZZZbbbbbzzzzbbbbzzzzzmmmm. His mouth opened but nothing came out. Just as well, really. I wasn't interested in a lengthy conversation.
"I also need some clothes," I continued, sitting up and crossing my legs, and using my other arm to shield my tits. Which was stupid; he'd already seen me naked. In fact, I'd been nakedly exposed since he unzipped the body bag, then unceremoniously dumped me onto this big shiny table. No sheets! They just flop the naked corpses onto the tables where they can ogle our dead nudity, the pervs. Law and Order lied to me!
Oh, and the toe tag? Hurt like a bitch! (Who'd have thought? It hurts when someone ties a wire around your big toe and then cinches it tight. Savages.)
The poor doc dropped the big shiny saw-thingy, and I caught it before it could break half the bones of his foot. Far from being reassured by my swift, toe-saving action, he went whiter (if possible; could paper get paler? Could marshmallow fluff? Mmm, marshmallow fluff…) and backed away.
"Sorry to scare you."
"Uh, I don't suppose you know how I got here?"
Still nothing, this time accompanied by so much head shaking, at first I thought he was having a seizure.
I thought: Better not get off the table and follow him across the room just yet. This was no time for the one who wasn't a corpse to get hysterical.
I tried again. "Do you maybe know where I am? Come on, you must know where I am. Think hard. Hey, I'll even give you a hint: it's where you are. Anything? Bueller? Bueller? Also, stop staring at my tits."
"Dead," he told me.
"Betsy Taylor." I stuck out my hand. "I'll be the corpse you're not cutting up today. Maybe you should sit down." Worried, I hopped off the table and steadied him. "Listen, I'm not dangerous or anything." This was a gigantic lie, but one told in a good cause. The poor guy really did look like he was going to plant a header right in the middle of my freezing steel table.
"You didn't wake up," he explained, "you couldn't because you're dead." The doc was slender and short, with wispy blond hair and bulging blue eyes. His voice was a surprising baritone… I would have expected him to sound more reedy in his terror. "You didn't wake up. You couldn't wake up. Because you're dead."
"No, I didn't. And yep, I am. But while I was waiting for you to get down to it, I had a better idea then letting you chop up my brain, so I sprang into action, all heroic and determined to right wrongs and stuff. Wasn't it cool?"
I set down the saw. Ohhhh, boy. I was sooo thirsty. Poor guy. Feeding right now radically increased my chances of getting the hell out of here and back to the mansion. Thus, I would feed right now.
"Listen, can I have some scrubs? Or my clothes? And maybe your car keys? And can I borrow your cell phone? Oh, hell, just give me everything you can get your hands on." I briskly clapped my hands in front of his face. "Dude! Ándele. That's Spanish for get your ass in gear, scrubs."
This is not the last Betsy book!
I don't normally start promotion for the current book by talking about the next one. But I just chugged a Coke to chase down a bunch of Tootsie Rolls, and I'm thrillin' so high on my sugar jones, I can't remember anything about Undermined .
Okay, that's not true. What is true is that you've driven me to it. This is just so typical of you, too. After all the things I've done for you! After all the books I've written for you even though I love writing more than I love gravy and would have done it anyway, you! Oh, sure, I've got a dream job and am paid to do what I would do for free because I'm incredibly lucky. Naturally you're gonna bring that up. (Memo to me: prevent editor from reading this page. Further memo to me: soothe agent after he has what is euphemistically called "a cardiac event"when he reads this page and realizes my editor has read this page.)
Now where…oh, right. Writing for free. No, wait…that's not it. Undead and Undermined is not the last Betsy book…that's where I was. And a good thing, too. Because it's not.
Longtime fans of the Betsy books know by now that something unpleasant happened at the end of the last one, Undead and Unfinished. (Readers new to the series should fret not; I try to explain the goings-on in the past books so newbies aren't entirely lost. Usually I'm not on a sugar high when I do this.) This brought me a torrent of reader mail, some of which was even positive. I didn't explain at the time that Unfinished was not the end of the series, and that was my fault. You were viciously blindsided! I, um, sort of thought the title was self-explanatory but in this, as in when I tried to make a hat out of sugar cubes and then went for a walk in a crow-infested cornfield, I was terribly terribly wrong.
Unfinished wasn't the end of the series. Neither is Undermined. The good news: you'll have more books to hate! (See? See the things I do for you?) The bad news: the Betsy books are a series. So, pretty deliberately, I try not to tie everything up at the end of each book. I leave things untied. I leave things so untied that they could flap in the wind, like shoelaces. Oooh, that was a good metaphor. Or was it a simile? Whichever it was, I'm on board.
Anyway! Although many things are resolved in this book, there are still a few shoelaces that have to be…yeah, I've had about enough of that metaphor. Or simile. Either way: I'm out!
I can break the bad news down for you into a couple of good chunks, though. Yes, some things are left unresolved in Undermined but will absolutely be resolved in Unstable. The good news is, I'm beyond a Disney girl. I think the Disney endings aren't happy enough. (I also think they have a huge hate-on for moms, but that's a topic for another day. Oh, Walt Disney, what did that woman do to you?) So things will, eventually, be worked out to my satisfaction. And maybe even yours! But mostly mine.
To take a break from the sarcasm slush above, I will in all seriousness say you readers have changed my life. When the first book in the series, Undead and Unwed, came out, I was working 50 hours a week as an office manager and squeezing in chapters between work and kids and work. Eleven Betsy books later, writing is my full-time job. And being a freelance writer is even more awesome than I ever, ever dreamed. It's a lot like having a job as a gravy tester. Even if you're testing scorched gravy…dude! It's gravy!
To put it another way: I didn't spend eleven books winning you guys over just to screw you in the end. How could I? Thanks to you guys, I'm a gravy tester! I mean, freelance writer.
So hop on board the (gravy) train (yeah, that's enough about gravy, I think) and you'll see what you'll see. Who knows? You might like the new scenery. That's my hope, anyway. And if you don't, my hope is that you'll let me know. I truly do love hearing from you guys either way. No, really. No. Really!
As always, I'm grateful for your time and attention. Now I gotta go. I'm weirdly thirsty for gravy, of all things.
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