Excerpt from Christmas with a Bite
by Patricia A. Wolf
Copyright © 2014 by Patricia A. Wolf. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Mara Livingston would have preferred a serious kick in the girly parts over being married to Rob Wright. Her fairy-tale marriage had been nothing more than a craptastic joke. She glanced down at her hands on the steering wheel and shook her head. She eased the gleaming wedding ring off her finger and tossed it into the glove box. She didn’t want it anymore, didn’t want the bitter memories that came with it.
Then, like Cupid himself mocked her, Rob’s baseball tumbled out of the glove box onto the floor of the car. Another disgusting reminder. How easily he had fooled her, charmed her into believing whatever spewed from his lips. She twisted her hands on the wheel nervously, hating how he could still affect her while she was on her way out of his life forever.
She shook her head. It was regret, she told herself, regret that he was never the husband she needed.
The last few years had been the hardest of her life, she admitted, and even though she was glad to finally put things to rest with Rob, she couldn’t bring herself to forgive him. In fact, she couldn’t feel anything but irritated. If only she’d been able to pull off the blindfold earlier and see through his illusions. Then she wouldn’t be a thirty-year-old woman with a failed marriage and a failed career.
Love was for idiots, and Mara was the biggest idiot of all.
Now, two weeks before Christmas, to add to the misery, a freak Texas storm popped up, dumping snow and ice on the road just before she planned to drive home to Denver for the holiday. White-knuckled, Mara cruised down the highway, praying that she would make good time to her parents’ house.
Hard pellets of ice pelted the windshield. They already covered the road. And—lucky her—dozens of cars littered the side of the highway with bright yellow emergency lights flashing.
Her temples throbbed, and her breath caught in her throat as she found herself gliding sideways on the road, skidding and drifting over the top of the ice hiding in plain sight.
Once she steadied the vehicle, she noticed red and blue lights flickering ahead and the traffic began to slow.
“Great,” she sighed.
She tapped her fingers anxiously on the steering wheel until the jam crawled far enough ahead to reach an exit. Once off the highway, she plugged her parents’ address into her GPS and set off for what she hoped would be a shortcut.
For a long stretch, she didn’t see a single vehicle. Streetlights became fewer and farther between. Her stomach plummeted as she studied the dark ahead of her. The GPS was practically useless. She didn’t even know if the piece of crap was working right. Why would it lead her here?
The car began to slide, and the steering wheel jerked from her hands. She grappled with it, but before she could right herself, the car was out of control. As she whipped around, the world blurred, headlights illuminating spinning scenes. Panic squeezed her heart, and she tried to call up her father’s repeated instructions should she lose control like this.
“Let off the gas pedal,” he would say. She lifted her foot.
“Go with the drift.” But she couldn’t. She gripped the wheel fiercely, praying, but it didn’t help.
She felt herself scream as she slipped off the shoulder of the road and slammed up against a row of tightly- packed trees. The car sputtered and went dark. Only silence followed. For a moment, Mara wondered if she might be dead, but then the biting sting of cold settled over her and she smacked her hands on the steering wheel, letting her head fall back against the headrest. Tears stung the backs of her eyes. She was relieved to be alive and—it seemed— relatively uninjured, but she had wrecked her car. Like she needed one more disaster right now.
“Damn it,” she groaned.
She fished around for her cell phone and squinted at the bright screen. No reception. The phone and her GPS were ganging up on her.
“Does anything around here work?” She wanted to scream, have a tantrum, and throw something. But what was the point?
The windows slowly fogged as she sat in the useless, smashed, nonworking car. Its only purpose now was to keep the wind off of her. It would be brutal if she stepped outside. The chill amplified as she became very aware of her limited supplies. She had been in such a hurry to escape her life with Rob, she hadn’t bothered to pack many warm clothes. She had no blankets, water, or food.
Is my luck ever going to change?
She laughed. But it wasn’t a sound of joy ripping for her throat. “Maybe Texas doesn’t want me to leave,” she muttered, clenching her jaw as she contemplated her options.
It would be safest to sit in the car and wait out the storm. She could put on all the clothes she had at once to keep warm and pray that someone came by and noticed the wreck. Or she could get out and explore on foot. There had to be a town close by. She had come so far without seeing anyone, she’d bet anything a town was just up ahead. After all, Amarillo wasn’t exactly a deserted area.
Resigned, she grabbed her wallet and tucked it into her coat pocket. She opened the car door, thankful it was the passenger side pressed up against the trees, and stepped outside onto the frozen ground. Her sneakers crunched down into the snow. For a moment, the sound brought her back to her childhood.
Growing up in Colorado, she was familiar with snowy winters. She’d only moved to Dallas after college. Rob moved there with her. It was one reason she thought he was ready to commit.
Reality pulled her back to her senses. She had to stop thinking about him and deal with her current state of affairs instead. He was her past. He needed to stay there.
Thankfully, the snowfall had slowed and the soft glow of the clouds reflecting the moon gave her enough light to see.
In fact, it was almost peaceful. Her eyes locked in on what might be a driveway not far ahead. She sped up.
The crunching snow echoed around her. She paused, holding her breath. The sound continued. She wasn’t alone. Something else was lurking close by.
She scanned her surroundings, but didn’t see much but snow, bare trees, and shrubs. She shrugged. Maybe she was paranoid. She picked up her pace again. The cold press of the wind whipped across her face. Her shoes were soaked through and her toes were turning to ice. She wrapped her arms around herself, hugging tightly as she willed her feet to keep going. She’d only search for a few minutes, she decided. If she didn’t find any help by then, she’d go back to the car until someone passed by.
“Or until I turn into an icicle,” she mumbled.
She froze as a low growl sounded behind her.
Of all the dangers she imagined before leaving the car to find help, coming upon wild animals was not one of them. She turned slowly and locked eyes with a wolf. Its golden eyes sparkled. She could tell it had serious intentions of making her its late night snack.
Her heart pounded, and she held her breath. Keeping her eyes on the beast, she took a step backward. Then another creature emerged from behind a tree. This one stepped closer to her. She swallowed hard. Its teeth gleamed at her, taunting her with its unspoken plans.
She glanced around, afraid to take her eyes off the wolves for more than a moment, looking for a place she might escape the hungry animals. But the only spot she could hide would have been up a tree, and climbing with frozen, gloveless fingers was a joke.
I’ll be wolf chow for sure.
Then, as if two weren’t enough, another advanced from the darkness. Trembling from the cold and fear, she took another step back. The wolves began to advance. The first wolf, the smallest, looked at the others. They snarled at it, taking their eyes off Mara for an instant.This was her chance.
She turned on her numb heel and fled. The cold air scratched at her lungs, but soon she spotted what looked like a massive, two-story cabin tucked away in the middle of the woods. So that had been a driveway after all. A spark of hope took shape in her mind as she ran faster than she ever realized she could. Silently pleading for help, the bitter cold and gut-wrenching fear squeezed every muscle in her body like she was caught in a vice. She fought to move them.
The growling wolves were right on her heels. Cutting through the trees to make a straight shot to the cabin, she stumbled, falling over something buried beneath the snow. She yelped as her ankle gave way. She couldn’t gain her footing back, and she landed hard on the ground, smacking her head. Her vision blurred, and she felt her stomach ready to give way. She was going to die.
She couldn’t move. It was so cold. She let her eyes fall shut and waited for the wolves to claim her. But they didn’t come. Their snarls faded with the blowing wind. She pried her eyes open and blinked to see a large figure looming over her. Silvery eyes danced from within the darkness.
Conner Reese gazed down at Mara.
The woman who had haunted his dreams for nearly a decade was face down in the snow in front of his secret hideaway. After one dance at a wedding eight years before, he never expected to see her again.
The growling wolves were more important than his reminiscence, though. An intense need to protect the dark- haired woman overcame him. He stepped forward to face the beasts in challenge. He hissed like a snake and felt fire burn within his belly, blood pulsing through his veins as a primal rage clouded his mind.
Obviously fate brought her to his door tonight, and no wolf would take that away from him now.
He reached for a nearby branch and snapped it off the tree. It was thick as a baseball bat. He swung, hitting the closest wolf so hard it sailed across the snow, landing yards away. The second wolf hunched down, creeping forward with fangs piercing through the darkening night. He leapt, but Conner was quicker. The branch connected even more soundly than the first time. The wolf yelped as snapping bones echoed around him. It dropped onto the fresh snow, dead. The third wolf, the brightest one, fled. Dropping the branch, he knelt down and collected Mara into his arms.
It had been a long time since he held a woman. The softness of her curves and the sweet fragrance of her body were as maddening as he remembered. He closed his eyes, searching for the calm within the storm of his thoughts. How could this woman stir emotions in him so raw after such a long time? Why did he feel as if he’d known her for more than just one dance?
He stared down at her pale face, then examined her body. She wore a winter jacket that would have been fine in a tropical climate, but not in weather like this. She had to be frozen solid. He quickened his steps. He needed to get her warm and check her for injuries.
Pulling her closer, the palm of his hand rested alongside her soft breast. His body warmed. A tight lump formed at the back of his throat. He swallowed it down.
After kicking open the front door, he hurried inside and placed Mara on the cushioned leather chair beside the roaring fire he kept blazing every night. He didn’t use much electricity tucked away in the middle of nowhere, but he always had a fire to keep warm.
He stripped off her jacket, and her soaked shoes and socks. He would have undressed her completely if not for the simple fact that he was already having trouble keeping it together with her in his living room.
He rushed to his room and yanked the comforter from the bed, then returned and wrapped it around her for extra warmth. Then he retrieved a damp towel and dabbed at her brow. The scent of her blood stirred him as it soon soaked the cloth. He tossed it aside. He’d take care of the rest of the blood later. At least the wound didn’t look life threatening.
He pulled the ottoman closer and propped her legs up, noticing how swollen her ankle had already become. He placed a pillow underneath her foot, then went to the kitchen and threw some ice cubes into a plastic baggy. He made his way back to her with superhuman speed and delicately covered the tender area with the makeshift ice pack.
A wave of satisfaction flared inside him knowing he’d protected her and made her as comfortable as he could.
He leaned against the arm of the chair and watched her, guarding her like a treasure. The soft glow of the fire danced over her sun-warmed brown hair. A different style than he remembered. Still beautiful.
When Conner had last seen her, she wore it back in a tight bun for an elegant, sexy look. Now it flowed around her freely and bright. He preferred it this way. His fingers itched to caress the softness of those stands, curl it around his fist, haul her up against him to devour her mouth. She would taste exquisite. Her blood would taste exquisite.
He’d never forgiven himself for passing up the opportunity to taste her all those years ago. Now she, against all odds, appeared at his doorstep, states away from their homes. He’d come to these woods to escape the outside world, the one filled with bitter memories and resentment. She’d found him nonetheless.
Even his covenant didn’t know where to find him. That had been the idea. Vampires tended to live in larger cities. Easier to find food. They didn’t come to the outskirts of Amarillo. That was the main reason he’d chosen the place. He wanted to be alone.
But now a woman he desired in a raw, astonishing way was in his chair. So much for being alone.
No matter what he felt for her—had felt for her—his decision was made long ago. His last lover was dead, and in many ways, so was he. He couldn’t take that pain again. To keep Mara safe, to keep everyone safe, he would never share his secret again.
The prickle of emotions burned the back of his eyelids. He blinked and bit the inside of his cheek, finding comfort in the twinge of pain that distracted him. He wasn’t meant to love again. He was meant to be left alone. Forever.
Mara groaned and shifted her weight in the chair. Every muscle in his body tensed as he waited to see those hypnotic eyes staring back at him. Her tongue glided over the seam of her lips, and he couldn’t help but follow the pink tip. Her long neck stretched enticingly, veins thundering beneath the skin, perfect to drink…
He slid his tongue over the lengthening tips of his fangs. Craving more than her kiss, he shot over to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of blood from the hidden compartment at the back of the refrigerator, chugging it down as quickly as possible. He was not about to go stark raving thirsty with her trapped in his cabin.
Keep it together. She’ll be gone soon.
Once she was awake and he knew she was all right, he would help her get back on the road and send her as far away as he could. He could compel her to forget about him. Yes. That was exactly what he would do after she left. If she lingered longer than necessary, he didn’t think he could resist the temptations she offered.
Mara Livingston had to get away from him before he destroyed them both.