Authors: Jeaniene Frost,Lynsay Sands
Tags: #Anthologies, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Adult, #Vampires
The Bite Before Christmas
Lynsay Sands & Jeaniene Frost
by Lynsay Sands
eddy woke up to find himself burrowed under the covers like a mole dug into the ground .Â .Â . and cold, which was unusual. He normally kicked off his blankets rather than burrowed, and he never woke up cold.
The heat must have gone off in the night, he realized. Tossing the blankets aside, he sat up and peered around the room. Stark sunlight was pouring through the window. It made it easy to see the cloud of mist that formed in front of his mouth with each exhalation.
Oh yeah, the heat was definitely off, he thought with a grimace and quickly slid out of bed. The carpet was cold underfoot as Teddy hurried up the hall. It opened into the main room at the end, a combination living room and kitchen/dining room. The left side was the carpeted living room area with a sofa, two chairs, a fireplace, and entertainment unit. The right side was a tiled kitchen and dining space.
Teddy's eyes automatically sought out the digital clock on the stove as he moved to the wall thermostat, but he paused when he saw its blank face. His eyes then shot to the DVD player on the television, but it, too, was blank. Teddy was pretty sure what was wrong, by this point, but couldn't resist flicking on the light switch at the end of the hall, just to be sure. He wasn't surprised when nothing happened. It wasn't just the heat that was off, but the power itself. There was no juice at all.
“Great,” he muttered with disgust and hurried back to the bedroom. It was cold in the cottage and likely to get colder, at least until the problem with the power was fixed, which meant he was wasting precious body heat standing around barefoot in his flannels. He needed to dress quickly, pull on his outerwear, and head somewhere warm to call Marguerite and find out whom he should contact about the power.
His suitcase sat on a chair in a corner of the bedroom he'd chosen. Teddy lifted the lid and grabbed the thickest pair of socks he'd packed, and then grabbed a second pair for good measure. He started to turn away, intending to sit on the bed to don the socks, but paused as his gaze slid out the window.
It had been dark when he'd arrived last night, and Teddy had marveled at how beautiful it all was as his headlights slid over the ice-encased branches of the trees and the deep snow on either side of the cleared driveway. It had all sparkled under his pickup's headlights like precious jewels. It wasn't such a grand sight now, he decided, as he peered at what had to be at least two feet of fresh snow on the driveway and yard. His pickup was now a small snow hill beside the cottage.
“Damn,” he breathed and then returned to the matter at hand as his brain revised what had to be done. Dress warmly, find a shovel, dig his truck out of the driveway, and then head to town to find someplace warm with coffee and food, where he could call Marguerite in comfort.
Or maybe he should try to call Marguerite first, Teddy thought as he finished with his socks and dragged on jeans and a sweater over his flannel pajamas. It was going to take a hell of a long time to dig his way out of the driveway. By that time, whoever was supposed to fix the power might be here if he called before starting.
Deciding that was the better plan, Teddy finished dressing and headed out into the kitchen to find his phone. He'd plugged it in to charge before going to bed last night. Unfortunately, the power must have gone out shortly after that, because the battery was even lower now than when he'd plugged it in. The warning that the battery needed recharging was all he could get before it shut itself off.
Muttering under his breath, Teddy shoved it in his pocket, dragged on his coat, scarf, and boots, then grabbed his gloves and opened the kitchen door. If he thought the cottage was cold, the mudroom was positively frigid, and Teddy grimaced as he stepped into it. He didn't slow, however, but tugged on his gloves, grabbed the shovel leaning against the wall, and headed outside.
The moment he stepped off the deck he was knee-deep in snow. Teddy trudged through the flaky snow to the driver's side of the pickup, leaned his shovel against the truck, and then brushed away the snow until he could find the door handle. He had some thought of starting the pickup, plugging his phone in the car charger, and turning on the heat and defrost so that the windows could thaw out while he shoveled the driveway. But he'd locked the truck's doors last night and the lock was now frozen .Â .Â . and the de-icer was in the glove compartment, where he'd tossed it while packing the vehicle for the trip. Not terribly bright of him to forget to bring it in last night, he acknowledged with a sigh.
“This just isn't your day,” Teddy muttered to himself as he turned to glance toward the road. The driveway was narrow and wound through the trees, which was great for privacy, but it was also long, which was terribly inconvenient now. It would take hours to shovel the way clear himself. Fortunately, he was hoping he wouldn't have to do more than clear off the pickup and a bit around it. Marguerite had said the county cleared the roads and there was a handyman who cleared the driveway and took care of other matters for the Willan sisters, who owned the cottage he was renting.
Hopefully, by the time the road was clear and this handy feller could get in to clear the driveway, the door lock would be thawed enough that he could get the door open. Teddy supposed the best thing he could do was fetch some firewood from the shed, start a fire in the cottage's fireplace, and warm up while he waited.
But some coffee would sure go nice with that fire, he thought and glanced toward the road again, wondering what the problem was with the power. Never one to sit around and wait on being rescued, Teddy started up the driveway. He'd just take a look and see what the situation was. If the road was clear, he'd go back, build a fire, and wait for the handyman to show up. If it wasn't .Â .Â . well, he hoped it was.
It seemed to take forever to make his way to the road. By the time he reached the end of the drive, Teddy was sweaty and panting. His knees were also acting up and complaining over the walk, something they wouldn't have done forty or even twenty years ago. Getting old kind of sucked, he thought grimly as he surveyed the road, noting that it hadn't been cleared yet. At least it hadn't been cleared all the way to the cottage. The road twisted out of sight just ten feet from where he stood.
Sighing, he considered what to do. His stomach was gnawing with hunger, his legs aching from trudging through the snow, his mouth was dry, and while he was hot and sweaty under his clothes, his face was beginning to burn with the cold. Teddy readjusted his scarf to give his face more protection against the low temperatures and then forced himself to continue on. Another ten feet, he told himself. He'd just walk to the bend, take a look up the road, and then head back to the cottage and build a fire.
Once he reached the bend, Teddy almost wished he hadn't made the effort. The sight of the white-coated road stretched out before him was a truly depressing thing. Not only wasn't it shoveled, but one look was enough to tell him that it wasn't likely to be for a while. Either there had been a fierce wind with the snow the night before, or the heavy snowfall had been too much for a couple of the older trees. Two had fallen that he could see: one just ten feet past the bend where he stood and another farther up the road. They would have to be shifted before the snow-removal vehicles could clear the road to his driveway.
They were also the reason the power was out, Teddy noted as he saw the downed lines the first tree had taken out. That wasn't going to be a fast fix. It was looking like he'd be without power for a bit .Â .Â . if he stayed, he thought with a sigh. Maybe once the trees were removed and the road was cleared, he should just turn around and start the six-hour trip back to Port Henry.
The thought was a depressing one. It was two days before Christmas, a time of year when Teddy tried to avoid Port Henry. It was why he was up here at the cottage in the first place. Back home, everyone knew he had no family to spend Christmas with and everyone invited him to theirs. If he was in town, he'd have to accept one of those invitations and then attend as the charity case, not really belonging but there out of the goodness of their hearts. The thought was a depressing one.
Shaking his head, he turned to start back only to pause as he spotted a figure in the trees on the other side of the driveway to his own cottage. The individual wore a bright red ski suit and stood as still as a stone, staring from the shadows of the trees. Bundled up as the person was, it was hard to tell for sure if it was a woman or a slender man or youth, but that didn't trouble him as much as the absolute stillness. There was something about it that made the hair on the back of his neck prickle nervously, and then the person pushed back the hood to reveal a fresh-faced young blonde with a bright smile.
“Hello. You must be my neighbor,” she greeted cheerfully, moving forward.
“Looks like,” Teddy agreed and felt a grin claim his own lips. As he moved to meet her halfway in the deep snow, he nodded toward the driveway they stood in front of. “I rented the Willan cottage here for the holidays.”
“And I'm in the one next door.” She jerked a gloved thumb back the way she'd come. “My cousin, Decker's.”
Teddy looked curiously the way she'd gestured, able to make out a large cottage through the leafless trees. Glancing back to her, he smiled wryly. “Looks like we picked a bad time to be up here.”
She chuckled at the suggestion and shook her head. “A little snow never hurt anyone. They'll clear it away quick enough.”
“I'm not so sure,” Teddy said with a sigh. “There are a couple of trees down. One took out the power line. It'll be a while before they get that cleared up.”
“Damn,” the blonde breathed, her smile fading to be replaced with concern. “Someone was supposed to be bringing me .Â .Â . provisions,” she ended quietly.
“Then we're in the same boat,” Teddy said wryly. “I intended to stop at a grocery store on the way in myself, but I mucked about at the Bass Pro in Vaughan and then a couple of those antiques places on the way up and got here so late I decided to leave it until this morning. Not a bright idea as it turns out,” he admitted with a grimace and then shook his head and said, “Ah well, I'll get by. At least there's a fireplace and plenty of chopped wood. I won't freeze.”
The blonde's gaze shifted from his face to the road behind him and then she managed a smile, though he could still see the worry under the expression. “Well I have food stuff. You're welcome to it.”
Teddy raised his eyebrows. “I thought you had provisions coming in today?”
She glanced away, briefly, but when she turned back, the cheerful smile had returned. “Yes, of course. I have loads of dry and canned goods, but someone was to deliver fruits and vegetables and stuff today. As well as gas for the generator.”
“You have a generator?” Teddy asked with interest.
She nodded and then grimaced. “It's dead at the moment, though. They warned me there wasn't much gas in it but assured me more would be delivered today. I guess the generator must have kicked on when the power went off last night, but it died a few minutes ago. It's why I came out here. To watch for the delivery.” She glanced along the road. “But I'm guessing the delivery guy isn't getting through anytime soon.”
“No,” Teddy agreed with a frown of his own, wondering how long her cottage would stay warm without the generator running. Probably not long, he decided and was about to offer to share his fire when she turned back to him and smiled wryly.
“So I have food and no heat and you have heat and no food. Care to share?”
Teddy sensed the worry under her smile and wondered about it, but then realized the poor girl was pretty much stranded alone in the woods in the middle of nowhere with a complete stranger. She didn't know him from Adam. Any woman would be worried. He could be an axe murderer, for all she knew.
“That sounds a sensible idea, young lady. But I guess I'd best introduce myself properly then.” He held out one gloved hand. “My name is Theodore Brunswick. I'm police chief of a small town called Port Henry down south.”
She stared blankly for a moment and then her lips widened. “That's so sweet.”
Teddy blinked in confusion, not sure what the hell was sweet about his being police chief of Port Henry. It was a small town, butâ
“You're trying to reassure me I'm safe with you,” she explained. “That's really very sweet. Thank you.”
“Oh.” Teddy felt his face burning and knew it wasn't the cold air. He was blushing like a schoolboy, he realized with disgust and hoped to hell she put down any redness in his face to the cold. Retrieving his hand, he muttered, “Well, young women can't be too careful when they're on their own nowadays and I didn't want you worrying that I might be dangerous.”
“You're right, of course,” she said solemnly, and then pointed out cheerfully, “Of course, a rapist or serial killer would hardly introduce himself as one. In fact, claiming to be a cop would probably be the one thing most likely to lull a gal into feeling safe and give the creep an advantage.”
Teddy's eyes widened and he turned fretfully to glance toward his cottage, saying, “I have my badge in the cottage. I can show it to you and my gun andâ” He paused and glanced back as she began to chuckle.
“It's all right, I believe you,” she assured him with a grin. “Why don't you go get that fire started while I fetch us some food from my cottage?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Teddy muttered, feeling a bit off balance. There was just something about the girl .Â .Â . He watched her start away, envying the seeming ease with which she moved through the snow.
He raised his eyes to her face as she glanced back over her shoulder, noting the twinkle in her eyes and the naughty tilt to her grin. His voice was gruff as he said, “Call me Teddy.”