This Christmas story uses the characters and world from my latest WIP – Blood Cursed Rose (a Vampire Beauty and the Beast Retelling). I hope you enjoy!
The front door banged, rattling the study windows behind heavy drapes. Lola caught herself smoothing down her jacket, brushing over the pencil skirt that would never dare to get wrinkles. Her pulse thumped. She twisted her hands away and placed them flat on the table. Listening, but refusing to admit who she was listening for.
Cullen’s voice rumbled through the hall, his sister’s bubbly happiness rising around it. The damned dog barked and yipped. She closed her eyes at the sounds of claws scrabbling on the parquet floor. Horace’s voice rose, her loyal factotum attempting to remonstrate with the humans. A small smile tugged at the corners of her lips as silence fell, and she sank back in the deep leather chair.
The silence rolled up the stairs, heavy and expectant, broken by the snick of a latch. She tapped her nails on the desk. If it was important, Horace would come. A dark red ledger thumped as she dragged it open, the numbers fading under unseeing eyes. There was no need for her to go find out what was happening.
In her own house.
A giggle rose through the air, floating in the open window, and she pushed back her chair and strode to the door.
Her heels clattered on the wide wooden staircase. She slowed her stride until they sounded a strong measured tap instead.
Music came through the door of the library, and she stumbled to a stop. The library. How dare they!
She flung open the door and the horrific strains of jazzy Christmas tunes curled around her. Cullen stood in front of a massive tree, glittery snakes in his arms, and Annette rose on tip toes to hang a sparkling orb on a branch.
“What the devil is this?”
Wullie barked and ran at her jumping and licking. She hissed, baring her fangs, and he danced in a circle, wuffing again.
Horace appeared behind Wullie, his smile twisting and an unusual flush ridging his pallid cheeks. The reindeer horns on the normally dapper vampire’s head were ridiculous. Bells. The horns had bells. She refused to pay attention to Wullie sitting quivering in front of her, one paw raised, his eyes fixed on her jacket pocket.
A slow grin spread on Cullen’s face. “I think he’s expecting something.”
“That’s because he has more hair than brain.”
He raised one of those perfect eyebrows and his lip quirked. Heat flushed her cheekbones and Wullie whined.
“Fine.” Avoiding Cullen’s eyes, she dug into the pocket of her suit and pulled out a small piece of dried liver. “Traitor dog.” She tossed the treat down to the ecstatic terrier and strode towards the tree, ignoring Horace’s smothered smile even as her heart warmed to see it. He’d been sinking into the darkness, losing his clawed grip on eternity, and if the dog and silly sweet Annette could bring him out of it she’d do more than toss liver at Wullie each time she saw him.
“What do you think you’re doing with this forest in my library?”
Cullen stretched up an arm, draping a tinselled stream over bristly needles. She kept her eyes on his face, resisting the urge to watch his muscles shift under the thin sweater.
“Hardly a forest, Lola.”
“It’s my house, I’ll hyperbole if I want to. Explain this.” Her arm swept out to encompass the music, the tree, Horace helping Annette pick out baubles. Wait a minute. “Where’s Aden?”
A shadow flitted over Cullen’s face before he rearranged it into a blank calm. “Worried about the whereabouts of your hostage?”
She pushed away the spike of hurt in her chest. “No, just wondering how he managed to escape this madness.”
The door opened behind her and Aden’s heartbeat filled her ears. The sense of him sat at the base of her skull. She looked over her shoulder at the young man with the tray of some revolting looking drink.
“He didn’t escape. He was getting eggnog.”
Heat flushed her chest, a burning shame that made her press her lips together. It hadn’t been her fault. Aden cut a rose.
Horace appeared at her shoulder, his eyes pools of dark understanding in his pale face. He handed her a delicate glass orb, suspended by a crimson ribbon. “My advice? Join in, it’s a big tree and it’s not as awful as you think.”
She lifted the bauble. Cullen’s gaze burned a hole in her back as she stepped forward, her scalp prickled and the ornament slipped through her fingers. It tumbled to the floor, smashing against the wood. Annette gasped and Lola’s hand curled against her skirt. They thought she’d done it on purpose.
The music twisted around her in a taunting dance, winding through the scent of Annette’s nervousness behind her laughter, the rigid hostility rising off Cullen, and Aden’s sullen resentment. Bile rose at the back of her throat. Ridiculous. None of this was for her and they’d ruined her library.
She spun on her heel, ignoring Horace’s outstretched hand, and stalked through the door, down the hall, and straight to the small white door that led to the garden. Her heart pounded a rhythm in her chest matching each step. Fool. Idiot girl. Fool.
The door flung wide as she thrust her way out into the chilled air, inhaling the scent of the roses. The blooms shuddered and whispered and she tried to draw it in, tried to drive out the memory of delicate glass smashing at her feet. Cool earth met her knees as she sank down near the closest bed. Her hands pushed into the soil and she focused on breathing, on the life passing through the roses and the dirt and up her arms. Her fangs lengthened and she squeezed her eyes shut. Control. She could control it.
Aden’s heartbeat pounded at the base of her skull and she swallowed more bile. But it was Cullen’s face she’d run from.
The roses hushed and nodded and batted at her head.
After a long moment she pulled her hands from the dirt and shifted to sit, the pencil skirt smudged and marked with dirt. She regarded the toes of her stilettos and pretended she wasn’t listening for the strains of that awful music coming from the library.
The chill of the ground didn’t bother her as it seeped through her suit. A hot ball lodged in her chest.
After what seemed to be forever the music and laughter stopped. The light turned off in the library. Not until all the lights went out did she stand, catching her heel in the cobbles. She walked the opposite way to the library, toward the small red door on the other side of the mansion and the stairs to her room.
She sat curled on her bed, her head resting on her knees, watching the moon outside the window. Having humans in the house really disrupted her sleep patterns. She thought of reading but each word on the page reminded her of the travesty sitting in her library.
Christmas tree. Who brought a Christmas tree into a vampire’s house?
Cullen. With his smirk and his daring and his complete knowledge that she wouldn’t harm him. He’d brought his family first, then his annoyingly cute dog, and now a tree. She drew her knees tighter to her chest, sparking blue eyes playing in her mind. Having a hostage was supposed to be easier than this. They weren’t all supposed to move in and change things. Confusion twisted her thoughts, as it had done for the last two weeks.
With a huff, she stretched out her legs and hopped off the bed, reaching for the light switch. Colours twinkled outside and she paused, her heart catching. She padded to the window.
Floating out from the library window below were multihued flashes and flickers.
Christmas trees had lights.
A deep urge uncoiled deep inside her. Centuries of dark winters, of decrying the pagan rituals that turned into Christian holiday, sat heavy in her mind.
A Christmas tree with lights was in her house.
Right below her.
She should check it out.
Make sure it wasn’t going to set fire to the books.
She padded from her room in bare feet, grabbing a woollen cardigan to drape over her shoulders. The stairs creaked once and she froze, before reminding herself it was her house and she could walk where she wanted. She crept down the rest of the stairs.
Light danced through the library door in stealthy twinkles of bright colours. She bit her lip and tugged at the soft fleece of her sweatpants. With a tight flick of her fingers she summoned the darkness, arming herself in shadows instead of a suit. Each step into the library sent prickles running under her skin.
Looming and stinking of pine, the tree dominated the room. Ridiculously garish, it beckoned as much as it repelled. Her hand stole up her sleeve to her elbow and she cocked her head, but no sound other than the excited hush of the roses through the window casement disturbed the silence. The lights mesmerised her. Draped in chains around the tree, they both adorned and confined it. Her eyes dropped to the base and she caught her breath. Boxes with bows and ribbons and shiny paper perched under the lower branches.
Time flowed like sap. Wispy shadows drifted away as her hold on them loosened, her mind enraptured by the colour and the promise sitting at the end of the room.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Cullen’s voice by her ear made her jump, her foot caught in the long hem of her sweatpants. His hand grabbed her elbow, his touch burning like flame through the chunky wool.
A snappy retort pressed at the back of her teeth, driving to get out, to put distance between her and this glowing tree. She looked up at his face, the strong line of his jaw softened by the coloured lights, and swallowed the words.
“Yes.” she whispered.
A smile spread on his face, crinkling around his eyes, and her pulse hammered through her veins. His fingers slid down her arm, lingering over her hand.
“I realised we forgot something when we were decorating. The most important thing.”
His heartbeat fluttered in his throat and she drew taller, his nervousness giving her strength.
“So important it couldn’t wait til morning?”
He kept his eyes on hers, so blue, so fierce. His hand pulled a squashed piece of plant out of his pocket, the spiky leaves catching on the denim. “I didn’t think so, until I heard you come down the stairs. Then it was all I could think about.”
He stepped closer. “Mistletoe.” Her breath came faster, and the heat from his body set a flame in her own.
“Cullen, this isn’t a good idea.”
He held the mistletoe over her head, his other hand rising to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. “I know. And tomorrow no doubt I’ll remember you’re a beast and I’m a hunter, but tonight is Christmas Eve.”
Her thoughts whirled, freezing her in place. So many reasons humans were off limits. Good reasons. This man in particular. But the smell of him reminded her of a garden in summer, his soft eyes twinkled in the light from the tree, and she rose on her toes to kiss him anyway. As their lips met and his arms tightened around her, she pretended tomorrow didn’t matter. The whispered hush of the roses filled her head. Tonight she would steal a little moment of magic.