With THE BITE BEFORE CHRISTMAS coming out Tuesday of next week (September 28th—mark your calendars!), I’ve got one more exclusive sneak peek for you guys.
This time, it’s an excerpt from the third story in the collection, “It’s a Wonderful Bite.”
Oh, how I love this novella. Its heroine is Angelina, the vampire matchmaker extraordinaire who played a part in the previous two stories (“All I Vant for Christmas” & “A Vampire in Her Stocking”), & its hero is a tough, sexy vampire cop—or would that be cop vampire? ?:-) —who reminds me very much of sexy, masculine Jason Statham. Maybe because Jason was my inspiration from the very start. :inlove:
And also, I got to play around with the It’s a Wonderful Life concept in a world filled with vampire. So much fun!!!
So here it is, Excerpt #3 from THE BITE BEFORE CHRISTMAS:
Angelina woke up the next evening, expecting to find herself in her own house, in her own bed, wrapped in Ian’s arms, just as she’d been when she’d fallen asleep the morning before.
But when she opened her eyes, her vision immediately focused and twenty-twenty perfect, she didn’t see the delicate lace canopy of her bed at home. Instead, she was staring up at a dirty, no-longer-even-close-to-white ceiling. One of those pockmarked jobs with the removable panels like in schools and office buildings.
From there, her eyes slid to ugly, striped and peeling wallpaper in shades of buzzard barf brown, booger green, and mucus yellow. Upon further consideration, she decided “ugly” was too kind a term; it was truly hideous.
She knew without looking, and without taking into consideration the condition of the walls and ceiling, that whatever bed she was in, the mattress was lumpy and saggy, the sheets scratchy and cheap. She just prayed they were clean–though judging by the rest of the room, that was one prayer destined to go unanswered.
For a second, her eyes squeezed shut at the thought. Ick.
She started to sit up, opening them again, only to jerk back in startlement when she found another person—a man—sitting at the foot of the bed, pulling on his socks and shoes. He turned slightly, enough for her to see the side of his face, and she let out a relieved sigh.
It was Ian. Whew.
At the realization, her heart slowed its rapid beat and her pulse returned almost to normal. She wasn’t sure what they were doing in this cheap, grungy . . . motel room? . . . but if he was here with her, then she knew everything must be okay.
He stood and fastened the button of his jeans, tucking his shirt into the waistband. “You better get up and get dressed,” he told her. “We’ve only got the room for an hour.”
An hour? Ewww, they were in one of those disgusting rent-by-the-hour no-tell motels? Ewwwww.
She shivered, her skin literally crawling at the thought of all the bodies that had been in this room, on these sheets, doing all manner of ungodly acts. And what might be literally crawling in the sheets because of it!
With a sound of disgust, she leapt out of bed and reached for the pile of clothes on the floor only a few feet away. The carpet, too, was dirty and matted and . . . gah, she didn’t even want to be standing on it in bare feet, let alone climb into clothes that had been lying on the soiled fibers for the last fifty-odd minutes.
What in God’s name were they doing here? And how did they even get here, when the last thing she remembered was riding Ian like a hobby horse before falling quite comfortably asleep in her own much nicer, much cleaner, much more appealing bed.
She reached for the first item of clothing on the pile and shook it out. A white, sleeveless undershirt. Feminine only by its size and slightly tapered style.
This was supposed to be hers?
When was the last time she’d worn an undershirt? Umm . . . can you say never? Never in her life, either before her turning or after. Never, never, had she worn such a pedestrian garment.
So maybe these clothes weren’t hers.
A giant mental block as tall and wide as the Great Wall of China went up in her head, refusing to let her wander down the path of whose clothes they might be if they weren’t hers. Shudders.
Looking around the room, however, there were no other clothes that could be hers. No other personal items whatsoever.
Standing near the battered dresser and ancient, even more battered television set that rested atop, Ian crossed his arms and shot her an annoyed glance. “What are you waiting for? We’ve gotta get a move on.”
The man glaring at her might look like Ian Hart, but he sure didn’t sound like him. She couldn’t remember the last time Ian had been so short or annoyed with her. Maybe because he never had.
This was more confusing than the moment she’d awakened from a deep sleep full of bizarre, vivid dreams to discover she’d died and been raised again as a vampire. It had taken her weeks to get used to the idea, and to learn to function as a blood-drinking creature of the night. Yet that experience seemed like a walk in the park compared to this especially strange Twilight Zone episode.
Since she didn’t have much choice, she quickly shrugged into “her” clothes. Snug blue jeans, the white tank-style undershirt, and a plaid flannel button-down over that.
Really? Plaid? Flannel? Where was she going from here—lumberjack camp?
Apparently. Because her shoes were a pair of worn brown ankle boots.
“Don’t forget your piece,” Ian said, coming up beside her and handing her . . .
A gun. A big, black gun tucked inside a complicated holster.
What the hell was going on?!?
She didn’t own a gun. She didn’t like guns. She’d never even touched Ian’s gun in all the years he’d been carrying one.
But he was standing there, holding it out to her as though he expected her to take it. Then he handed her something else—a ponytail scrunchie.
“Remember to pull your hair back again, or someone will get suspicious.”
Who? Of what?
She had to get a grip and figure out what was going on.
“Just . . . give me one more minute,” she told him, her voice weak and scratchy, but as strong as she could make it at the moment. Then she darted past him and around the end of the bed, into the bathroom on the far side of the cramped room.
Giving herself strict orders not to look too closely at her surroundings, she stood in front of the sink and studied her reflection as best she could in the cloudy, dirt-flecked mirror.
She looked like herself. Same long, straight black hair. Same dark blue eyes, glittering back at her now like hard, multifaceted sapphires. The clothes obviously belonged to Lesbian Barbie, but she wasn’t having an out-of-her-body-and-into-someone-else’s experience.
So it must be a dream. A really lousy, unamusing dream, but a dream she knew exactly how to wake up from.
Pulling her hair back, away from her face, she fixed it into a sleek ponytail with the fabric band Ian had given her. Then she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders . . . and pinched herself.
She felt it, but it didn’t particularly hurt. Worse, it didn’t change anything. She was still standing in the grungy bathroom in her uber-casual log-splitting attire.
Okay, well, she was a vampire, so she didn’t feel pain the way normal people did. Closing her eyes, she picked a more tender spot—the soft skin on the inside of her upper arm—and both pinched and twisted. Hard.
Tears came to her eyes, but it didn’t change her nightmare circumstances.
“Ang!” Ian called from the other room. “Let’s go.”
She didn’t know what the big hurry was, but she couldn’t leave until she’d figured out what was going on. Or preferably woke up from this god-awful nightmare.
Catching sight of a silver clasp on the shoulder holster Ian had handed her before she’d escaped to the Powder Room of the Damned, she grabbed it and did the only thing she could think of that would wake her up!
She shoved up the sleeve her shirt and scraped the sharpest edge along the underside of her forearm as hard as she could. Sharp pain shot through her entire body, making her gasp.
Blood pooled along the cut mark before slowly running over the curve of her arm and dripping into the scratched porcelain of the sink basin.
Okay, so the blood was no surprise; vampires were filled with the stuff. But such a tiny pinprick shouldn’t hurt this much.
Granted, it wasn’t a severed limb; she wasn’t going to die from the wound, and the pain was already beginning to ebb. But it shouldn’t have felt like that at all. A cut like she’d just given herself should have registered as no more than a mosquito bite on her pain level radar.
On top of that, she hadn’t woken up. The pain she shouldn’t have felt in the first place hadn’t sent her spiraling out of this nightmare and back into her nice, warm, comfortable reality.
Lifting her arm to her mouth, she licked the long cut to seal it. But the blood against her tongue didn’t taste quite the same as usual. Oh, it tasted like blood, but it didn’t burst in her mouth like an exceptionally fine wine. Didn’t turn her warm and tingly as it slid down her throat.
And when she lifted her head to look at her arm . . . the slice was still there. Still open and red and . . . bleeding again.
Shit. Vampire saliva contained healing enzymes; it was how they kept victims . . . er, donors . . . from bleeding out or sped up the healing of their own wounds. The cut should have been nothing more than a tiny pink scratch by now, but instead it was fresh and ouchy and flowing.
What the hell did that mean? Had she lost her mojo? Had she contracted some kind of bizarre vampire disease no one had ever heard about that slowed her healing or zapped her powers?
Or was this her new reality? Was she really here, in this motel room, in these clothes, living a life she wasn’t sure she knew anything about?
Maybe she just needed to give it time, let it—whatever it was—play itself out.
Grabbing a wad of toilet paper from the roll on the back of the commode, she staunched the flow of blood on her arm. Wiped it away, tossed the tissue, grabbed another small bunch to tuck against the cut like a gauze pad. Then she yanked her sleeve back down and buttoned the cuff.
Before Ian could yell for her—or at her—again, she shrugged into the shoulder holster he’d given her. She only knew how because she’d seen him do it so many times, but the straps and weight of the gun still felt awkward and uncomfortable against her body, like a too-small bra she really wanted to toss in the fire–and not to make a political statement.
Well, what could she do? This was apparently her new persona: Paulina Bunyon, P.I. Or undercover cop. Or rent-by-the-hour hooker for the nearest lumber camp.
Since she didn’t know what else to do, she left the bathroom, her heart pounding in her chest as she shrugged into the navy blue parka Ian tossed her. Not a coat she would ever choose for herself, that was for sure, at least not outside of her usual space/time continuum.
He opened the motel room door, ready to step out, only to have a wide shaft of sunlight pour in.
Angelina shrieked and threw herself back, out of the way, rolling across the rumpled bed and landing on the floor on the other side, with the mattress & box spring acting as a shield. Her hands were lifted instinctively to cover her face and protect her exposed flesh, but also because she couldn’t bear to see Ian catching fire and dying right before her eyes.
Only he wasn’t screaming. She didn’t hear the tell-tale sounds of popping and sizzling or him thrashing about, trying to stifle the flames that were licking at his flesh.
Lowering her arms, she poked her head up over the edge of the bed to find Ian . . . fine. Healthy. Nowhere close to being a crispy critter or pile of barbecue ashes. He was staring at her like she’d just sprouted horns and a set of bony wings from her shoulder blades, but was otherwise unharmed.
“What in Christ’s name is wrong with you?” he snapped, both his brows and mouth pulled down in a scowl.
The question wasn’t what was wrong with her but what was wrong with him. How could he be standing in a shaft of pure daylight and not be sizzling like a juicy steak on the grill?
Could it be because, in this reality, he wasn’t a vampire?
It seemed too outrageous a possibility, but what other explanation could there be?
And if he wasn’t a vampire, then . . .
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