In this extraordinary collection of holiday novellas, vampires turn to Angelina Ricci--vampire matchmaker extraordinaire--to help them find that special someone to curl up with under the mistletoe...
"All I Vant For Christmas"
Connor loves trimming the Christmas tree, baking gingerbread cookies, and hanging the mistletoe. But his vampire siblings won't help. His friend Angelina sends party planner Jillian to the rescue. But when Jillian, who's mortal, discovers she's decking the halls for a family of vampires, she must decide between running for her life--or putting Connor's mistletoe to good use...
"A Vampire in Her Stocking"
When Vivian learns that her secret crush Sean is terminally ill, she's heartbroken. Confiding in Angelina, Vivian refuses to turn Sean into a vampire. Deciding to play Santa, Angelina changes Sean and leaves him wrapped in a red bow on Vivian's doorstep...
"It's A Wonderful Bite"
Although Angelina is happy with her boyfriend Ian, she's ready for a commitment. After drinking eggnog and watching It's a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve, Angelina falls into a dream where she is mortal and Ian isn't interested in her. Talk about the nightmare before Christmas! But Santa must have checked his list twice because this Christmas Angelina's wishes are coming true...
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Kensington Publishing Corporation
October 04, 2011
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Excerpt from The Bite Before Christmas by Heidi Betts
Despite the size of Drake Manor, Connor Drake was pleased to realize that for once the house felt cozy and warm. A fire crackled in the dining room hearth. Soft classical music played in the background. And the mouthwatering scent of roasted turkey wafted from the kitchen.
It was going to be the best Thanksgiving ever--or at the very least, the best they'd celebrated in the last eighty or ninety years.
He sat at the head of the table, admiring the delicate china and sparkling silver place settings, the cornucopia centerpiece he'd purchased himself. It was a beautiful thing, and this time, it was all going to work.
He turned his head slightly at the sound of the housekeeper's voice, though he'd heard her coming long before she'd reached the entryway. "Yes, Yvette?"
"Dinner is ready. Shall we set the table?" With a nod, he climbed to his feet. "Yes, thank you. And fetch Liam and Maeve, as well."
Crossing the highly glossed hardwood floor, Connor left the dining room and headed for the cellar, where he kept a choice selection of wines. He hadn't chosen a bottle for dinner yet because he hadn't been sure what his mood would be.
Now, however, he was feeling upbeat and optimistic, which called for something with a rich, hearty bouquet. Something even older than he was.
Bottle in hand, he returned to the dining room and took his seat. While he'd been gone, his staff had made quick work of laying out steaming bowls of carmelized yams, buttered beans, cranberry relish and, of course, the pi�ce de r�sistance, a large turkey with crispy, dark brown skin and moist, piping hot filling stuffed inside. For dessert, he knew, there would be bread pudding and thick chocolate mousse. His stomach rumbled at the very thought, and he wasn't usually one to get overly excited about normal food.
Heavy, shuffling steps echoed down the stairs and across the marble foyer, breaking into his lustful, meal-related thoughts. A second later, his siblings--younger by nearly a dozen years each--appeared in the doorway.
As usual when in their presence, Connor gave a mental eye roll. Instead of being well-dressed and neatly groomed, as he was, they seemed to enjoy flaunting their idea of independence and shocking strangers with their wild appearances.
Liam, the older of the two by a short two and a half years, wore combat boots and ripped, faded jeans. His plain white T-shirt revealed a fresh set of brightly colored tattoos. On his right bicep, a red heart and dagger . . . on his left, a naked woman of the World War II pinup girl variety . . . and on the side of his neck, the word chaos in Old English block lettering.
In addition to the grunge-wear and body ink, Liam sported a fair amount of hardware--a small hoop in one brow, a stud at the side of his nose, and quarter-size stretchers in the lobes of his ears, making him look more like an African tribesman than the whitest white boy ever to walk on American soil. It was enough to make Connor lose his appetite.
And their lovely sister, Maeve, once a charming, delightful child, hadn't turned out much better. At the moment, her naturally dark hair was streaked with neon pink and blue and stuck up in places as though she'd just walked through a Category-Five hurricane. Something she'd apparently done intentionally, if the tiny ponytail holders at their base were any indication. She, too, had eyebrow, nose, and ear piercings, but at least her choice of jewelry was a bit more ordinary-- large round silver hoops at her ears that, if solid, could easily double as drink coasters, and an armful of silver bangle bracelets.
She was wearing a hot pink top with grommets and rhinestones that spelled out REAL VAMPIRES DON'T SPARKLE, as well as a pair of skintight black leggings and a black skirt so short it reached her . . . well, it reached an area that a brother should never even know his sister possessed. And on her feet--combat boots.
Combat boots, for crissake. On a girl. On Thanksgiving Day.
He shook his head. No matter how long he existed on this planet, he didn't think he would ever understand some of the strange things people decided were fashionable. For that matter, he might never understand his own siblings.
Which was partly the purpose of this dinner, and why it was so important that it go well. Judging by the expressions on Liam and Maeve's faces, however, that was going to be an uphill battle.
"Whazzup?" Liam slurred, his arrogant slouch, white- tipped black hair, and the flash of a silver ball on his tongue causing Connor's molars to clench.
"Yeah. What's the deal, big bro?" Maeve asked, snapping her gum, and Connor's teeth went from merely meeting tightly to grinding together like a pepper mill.
A deep breath and he was able to relax. Moderately.
"Please," he said slowly, "have a seat. It's Thanksgiving." He added as his brother and sister shuffled closer, "I thought it might be nice to have a quiet, traditional holiday meal together."
Liam dropped into his chair, sending the hand-carved wood creaking. Maeve sat a bit more gently, but looked no more enthused at the prospect of sharing a fancy meal than her brother.
Connor ignored the attitudes that wafted from them in waves and forced his mouth to curve into a hint of a smile as he pushed back his own chair and rose to move to the far end of the long banquet table. "Pass the potatoes around, if you will, please. I'll carve the turkey."
"This is so bogus," Liam complained as he grabbed a nearby bowl and noisily slapped a dollop of mashed potatoes on his plate. He added a portion to Connor's plate, as well, before passing the bowl to Maeve. "Why do we have to bother with this shit?"
"Watch your mouth," Connor snapped before he could remind himself that he was supposed to be keeping his temper today, overlooking the things about his two younger siblings that normally drove him straight in the direction of the nearest garlic press.
Taking a deep breath, he let it out again through flared nostrils and counted to ten while he continued to carve the bird on the platter in front of him. Then, slowly and evenly, he said, "It's Thanksgiving. An opportunity for families to spend a bit of quality time together."
From his peripheral vision, he saw them both roll their eyes.
One. Two. Three. Four . . .
"It won't kill either of you to sit and eat a nice meal with me for once in your lives."
Liam snickered, sending a glance across the table at a grinning Maeve.
"No, it won't kill us," he retorted, "but it sure as hell ain't necessary."
Maeve giggled, even as she piled her plate higher with holiday foods.
Connor's brows knit as he transferred thick slices of moist white meat to their three plates before moving back around the table to take his seat. He took a sip of wine, letting the liquid slide down his throat, wishing it could have a calming effect on his nerves the way it did with others.
"First," he said, after returning his glass to the table, "watch your mouth. Second, just because something isn't necessary doesn't mean it shouldn't be done occasionally. Now, the staff went to a lot of bother to prepare this meal, so let's enjoy it, shall we?"
For the next few moments, they ate in silence and relative peace. Or rather, Connor ate. Maeve and Liam poked and picked at their food, making faces at each other across the table.
That lasted for all of five minutes before Liam leaned back in his chair and put his booted feet up on the table, dangling a strip of turkey meat over his tipped-back head.
"I don't know about you, but I prefer O-neg over this corn-fed crap."
"I like B-pos," Maeve piped in, joining along in Liam's inappropriate teasing.
"Feet off the table," Connor barked, feeling his blood pressure rise. "And sit up straight. Show some respect, dammit!"
Frustration boiling up inside of him, he banged his fists on the table, only to have the heavy wooden object lift off the floor at the other end by a good six inches, then slam back down, rattling dishes and silverware.
"Watch your language," his siblings singsonged at the exact same time, as though their response to his outburst had been choreographed.
But then, it might as well have been. They'd had arguments like this a million times before. Sometimes it seemed to Connor that all they did was fight.
He thought they were flighty and immature. They thought he was stuffy and boring and--according to one recent accusation-- had a stick up his ass the size of a telephone pole.
All he wanted was for his family to be a family, but every time he tried to bring them closer, his attempts seemed to backfire and cause them to drift even further apart.
"Is it too much to ask that we sit down as a family and have a nice holiday dinner?" Irritation tinged every word, and Connor could feel his eyes heating, beginning to glow. A sure sign he was about to go feral.
"Yeah," Liam replied, dropping his feet to the floor and tossing down his fork so that it clattered against the china plate. "It is. It's bullshit, Con. We aren't human and we don't need food to survive, so why pretend we do?"
"It is kind of stoopid," Maeve put in, abandoning her own meal and crossing her arms over her chest in a pouting show of unity with her youngest brother.
Before Connor had a chance to respond, Liam sent his chair flying and stalked from the room. "I'm out of here."
Maeve stood and rushed after him, leaving Connor to storm after them both.
"Maeve. Liam. Get back here!" But they were already racing up the wide, curved staircase, his cries falling on deaf ears.
"One meal. That's all I wanted!" he shouted after them, sending the delicate crystals of the overhead chandelier tinkling, and knowing it would make no difference whatsoever.
Slamming a fist against the dining room doorframe, he charged back to the table and dropped into his seat.
A beautiful meal, a feast fit for a king, and it was wasted on his spoiled, ungrateful siblings. Worse, he'd lost his own appetite--what little there had been of it to begin with.
Reaching for his wine, he downed what was left in the glass before grabbing the bottle and pouring another. Not that it made any difference.
So many attempts at establishing a bit of tradition within the runaway Drake family. So many failures. He honestly didn't know how much more patience he had in him . . . or how many more times he was even willing to try.
"Not just a failure," Connor intoned. "An epic failure. A failure of magnificent, colossal proportions. If a meteorite had chosen that moment to come crashing through the roof and flatten us all, I actually would have considered that more of a success than what I tried to pull off."
Angelina Ricci, matchmaker to the stars--or the stars of the vampire world, at any rate--gave a low, throaty chuckle and crossed her slim, silk-covered legs in the other direction, taking a sip from the cut-crystal goblet in her manicured hand.
With her straight, black, waist-length hair and sapphire- blue eyes, she was a strikingly beautiful woman gifted with poise and grace and a razor-sharp intellect.
In another lifetime, she and Connor had been lovers. They'd burned very hot for a very short time before both their heads had been turned by other attractions and other, more interesting recreations.
But they'd maintained a close and valued friendship, one that was still going strong to this day.
"I've told you before that Liam and Maeve are a different breed of vamp than you and I. They enjoy living on the edge, flaunting their immortality. They have no interest in traditions or in keeping their own counsel."
Connor gave a derisive snort before taking a swallow of the thick, warm liquid in his own glass. "In other words, my younger siblings are gifted with an overabundance of sheer stupidity."
Angelina smiled gently. "Not stupidity, merely . . . a disparity in personalities and belief systems. The troubles you're having with them are no different than those of any parents with their teenage children throughout history."
"Good God, aren't we all a little old for adolescent games and battles of will?"
"Apparently not," Angelina told him pointedly.
Implying, Connor was sure, that he was as guilty as his brother and sister of both.
"Don't you ever miss the comfortable, cozy feeling the holidays used to bring?" he asked quietly. "That sense of togetherness, the remembrance of what's truly important as the minutia of everyday life falls away."
"You forget, love, that I'm the old-fashioned type, just like you. I still celebrate the holidays, complete with all the trimmings."
Connor took a sip of his AB-negative, then gave a weary sigh. "Only a few weeks until Christmas. It's going to be the worst one yet, I expect."
"Not necessarily." Setting her glass on the table beside her large, brocade, wing-back chair, Angelina uncrossed her legs and leaned forward slightly. "I know someone," she told him. "A professional."
Working hard to hide his astonishment, he allowed only one dark brow to dart upward. "You're offering to send me a prostitute to cheer me up over the holidays?"
She threw her head back, her smoky laugh filling the entire library where they sat. "Don't be silly. There are other professions women can excel at these days, you know. I like to think I'm a perfect example of that."
Her lips twisted in the intimation of a pout, but he knew she was really amused.
"No, I know a professional event coordinator. She's very good, and I think she may be able to put together a Christmas event for you that won't have you praying for Halley's comet to strike you dead."
"If only that would do the job," he muttered beneath his breath.
"Let me talk to her. If she's available, I'll have her give you a call."
"Is she also a miracle worker? Because I'm afraid that's what it will take to convince Liam and Maeve to sit still through a four-course meal and not burst into flames at the sound of 'Jingle Bells.'"
"I don't know about that, but I do think she'll be able to give you the holiday you're wishing for, whether your brother and sister decide to behave themselves or not."
Despite Angelina's assurances, Connor didn't hold much hope that her prediction would come true. But then, what did he have to lose?
"Fine," he replied without inflection. Then, as he lifted his glass to his mouth to drink, he added, "But I think I might be better off with the hooker."