A Vampire for Christmas - By Michele Hauf
Thank you to my sister, Becky,
who happens to be my critique partner,
for pointing out the bad stuff without making me
feel…well, bad. Janna, Mandy and Kandis,
my beta readers, were willing to drop everything
on a moment’s notice. I seriously love you ladies.
Thank you to my editor, Margo Lipschultz, because
without her, this story wouldn’t have existed, and
thanks to the team at Harlequin Books for their
incredible support. My husband and two children
totally get the blue ribbon cool family award. And to
Alexis, Caridad and Michele, I am truly humbled.
“SO WHO ARE YOU planning to kill?”
Trace Westfalen didn’t glance over at the sound of his friend’s voice. Instead, he shoved his phone into an inner pocket of his suit, strode to the wet bar in the corner of the conference room and poured himself a straight shot of Jack. Without waiting for his fangs to fully retract, he drained it in one swallow.
“I wish,” he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “That would improve my mood substantially.”
Dominic Serrano shut the double doors and approached the bar, his boots thudding heavily on the hardwood floor. From his leather pants, black leather jacket and the brindmal coiled at his hip, Trace knew he must be heading out soon. As the leader of the Seattle field team of Guardians—vampires tasked with keeping the peace among their own kind and the existence of vampires a secret from humans—he wasn’t one to sit back and send others on duty out to take care of Darkblood scum. He led by action, not rhetoric. Trace really respected the guy for that.
Dom raised an eyebrow. “Council bullshit?”
“Yeah, you could say so.”
Normally a fairly patient man, Trace rarely lost his temper—necessary traits for a member of the Governing Council. Only that was the problem. He hadn’t been sworn in yet and the vote, scheduled for next week, had been postponed again. His family had held a seat on the Council almost from its inception centuries ago and the transfer from parent to child was usually just a formality. He gripped the edge of the counter, fighting to control his growing impatience.
“Pour me one,” Dom said, holding out a glass. “Not too much, though. I’m on the clock tonight.” After Trace filled it, Dom sat in one of the high-backed chairs and took a sip. “I feel for you, man, I really do. I’ve had my share of run-ins with them. No offense, but they often have their heads up their asses.”
Trace laughed bitterly. “No offense taken.”
“Want to hit the streets as a Guardian tonight, for old times’ sake? Take your mind off what you’re dealing with? Might do you some good to work off some of that excess energy.” Dom crossed his legs and the leather creaked. “Believe me, wailing on DBs or other vampire riffraff can be very therapeutic.”
“Yeah, don’t I know it.” After his father had passed away last year, Trace had resigned as a Guardian with the Agency, the Council’s enforcement division, and moved to the Seattle area to take over his father’s seat. He’d been in limbo ever since, doing mundane tasks but having no real power. Tonight’s update to the Council using the field office’s secure video feed basically amounted to busywork. They’d been dicking with him, dragging their feet, coming up with one excuse after another for why they couldn’t take the vote. Although he knew they were slow to make changes, he was starting to get a really bad feeling about this.
“And it’s very tempting, but—” Trace pointed to his Ferragamo loafers and Armani suit “—do I look like a guy who’s ready to kick some Darkblood ass tonight?”
“That can be easily remedied. We’ve got whatever you might need. We’ve even got things you didn’t know you needed.” Dom leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head, clearly unaffected by Trace’s foul mood.
He couldn’t believe how calm and easygoing his friend seemed. When the two of them had worked as Guardians out of the Southeast’s Perdido Bay Region, Dom’s temper had been of Richter scale proportions. In fact, he’d gotten kicked out of the region and sent to the Seattle field office to chill out, which was where he’d ended up meeting a woman and falling in love. Guess it was true that everything happened for a reason, because marriage and fatherhood seemed to agree with the guy.
“Boots, leathers, weapons, guns,” Dom continued. “In thirty minutes, we’ll have you outfitted and ready to go. What do you say?”
Looking at Dom’s