A Vampire for Christmas - By Michele Hauf Page 0,1

brindmal, a bullwhiplike rope entwined with silver threads designed to weaken their enemies, Trace flexed his fingers. God, he’d totally love to grab his favorite weapon, a dual-tipped scorpion knife designed to slash multiple attackers, and put it to good use tonight.

It had been a long time since he’d charcoaled a DB. Pierced the heart muscle with a blade of silver and watched the body curl in on itself and turn to ash. It was pretty satisfying knowing you’d eliminated a threat to the vampire race’s peaceful, yet secret existence alongside humans. Unfortunately, Guardians hadn’t yet succeeded in eliminating the threat completely—if they ever would. The Darkblood Alliance believed they belonged at the top of the food chain, feeding from and killing humans, not comingling with them. To profit from their depravity and expand their influence, they harvested human blood and sold it on the vampire black market to fringe elements of their society. Sweet, the rarest of all blood types, was extremely addictive and went for the highest price. Trace had to admit, frying one of these bastards tonight would be very therapeutic.

As he reached for the bottle again, a vague unease skimmed along his nerve endings. He tried to take a deep breath but it felt like something was coiled around his lungs, slowly choking him. He loosened his tie but that didn’t help. Glancing around the conference room, he was struck anew by the fact that the field offices were located far beneath the city streets with no exterior windows. The walls seemed to be closing in, pressing against his chest, making him wish he was anywhere but here.

Fresh air. That’s what I need.

“Thanks, but I’ve got a long drive back to the estate.” He rapped his knuckles on the back of Dom’s chair as he passed. “I’ll catch you later.”

Now that his job here was done, he couldn’t get out of the field office fast enough. Within minutes, he’d climbed into the black BMW X4 and roared out of the garage. But instead of jumping onto the freeway and beginning his drive home, he found himself heading to a part of town he hadn’t visited in a long time. Despite the winter chill, he rolled down the windows and inhaled deeply.

Finally, he was able to breathe again.

CHARLOTTE GRANT had made a serious mistake by not inviting another friend along tonight, but there wasn’t much she could do about that now.

She stood outside the Wonder Bar and watched as Kari hung on the arm of a guy she’d met less than an hour ago and disappeared around the corner without so much as a wave back.

“Live and learn,” Charlotte muttered to herself as she dug out her car keys, automatically sticking a finger through the loop on her pepper spray. No doubt she’d let the location of the club sway her decision to go with Kari.

She’d always loved this part of the city, with its eclectic mix of shops and galleries situated on one of the hills overlooking Elliott Bay. Especially at this time of the year, when the air had a bite to it and held the promise of snow. Her breath fogged in front of her face. She imagined how nice it would be to stroll along the sidewalk with someone special as they looked at all of the holiday window displays. His hand would be warm, or maybe his arm would be around her shoulders. His laugh would be infectious. If she tried really hard, she could almost smell his cologne. Sandalwood maybe? No, an evergreen smell, she decided. Like a Christmas tree.

She sighed and shook her head to get rid of those silly thoughts. As if she’d expected to meet someone like that at the club tonight.

“Want me to call you a cab?” A bouncer the size of a refrigerator held the door open for a large group of people leaving the noisy club. “Looks like your friend ditched you.”

“Yeah, she pretty much did,” Charlotte agreed.

Kari wasn’t known for giving a crap about anyone but herself. And Charlotte should’ve known better. Especially when a hot guy was involved. Although this particular guy’s hotness was debatable. He was much older and had the physique of someone who spent all his time behind a computer. The only way he’d have a six-pack was if he’d added it on Photoshop.

The bouncer cleared his throat, yanking Charlotte from her thoughts.

“I’m fine, though, thanks. My car’s not far away.” She pointed down the street. “I can just about