Read The Bite Before Christmas Online

Authors: Jeaniene Frost,Lynsay Sands

Tags: #Anthologies, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Adult, #Vampires

The Bite Before Christmas (7 page)

BOOK: The Bite Before Christmas
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“Huh?” He raised his head to stare at her blankly.

“They're yoga pants, not tights,” she explained, nipping at his chin.

“Yoga?” Teddy echoed.

“Hmm.” Katricia grinned at his expression and then whispered, “I'm very flexible.”

“Damn,” Teddy breathed, staring into her face. “This is going to be the poorest showing I've given since I was an eager teenager.”

Katricia chuckled at his dismay and released his erection to slide her arms around his chest. “Then we'll just have to do it again and again. We have all night.”

She saw his eyes widen, and then took him by surprise and turned him suddenly onto his back so that she could rise up to straddle him, but he was suddenly gone.

Five

T
eddy grunted in pain and blinked his eyes open. He was still in his zipped-up sleeping bag, or mostly, his arm had escaped and he'd turned in his sleep and thumped it against the stone lip of the fireplace. It was the source of the pain radiating up his arm and what had woken him. Grimacing, he pulled the arm back into the sleeping bag and rubbed his wrist with his good hand, his eyes shooting to Katricia. She was still asleep on the couch, but her sleeping bag was undone and half off her.

He wondered briefly what was happening in the dream or if it had stopped with his waking, then tried to settle down to sleep again, eager to get back to it, but now that he was awake he was aware that the room was much colder than it had been when he'd fallen asleep. Frowning, Teddy glanced to the fire to see that it had burned down to embers while they slept. He almost ignored it and went back to sleep anyway, but recalling that Katricia was farther away from the fire and half-uncovered, he reluctantly sat up and then slid from the sleeping bag to feed more logs to the fire. There were only two logs left, he saw with a frown. He hadn't noticed earlier they were running low or he would have fetched in more wood before retiring.

Teddy placed both logs in the fire and poked at them a bit, then straightened and quickly pulled on his jeans and sweater over his flannels. He then started to head over and get his coat, but paused beside the couch long enough to cover up Katricia. Immortals weren't affected by cold like mortals, but they were still affected. The nanos would be using up blood at an accelerated rate to fight the cold and Katricia couldn't afford that. As confident as she'd been that, snow or no snow, her blood delivery would come, it hadn't shown yet.

Katricia stirred sleepily as he tugged the sleeping bag back into place over her, and Teddy paused to peer at her for a moment. The dream was still fresh and clear in his mind, but it suddenly occurred to him to wonder if that wasn't all it had been. Maybe he just wanted to believe they were life mates and it had really just been all his own dream and not a shared one.

The thought was alarming. When she'd said it was a shared dream and they were life mates, he'd been happy to believe it. In fact, he'd eagerly embraced the news, knowing it meant having what both Mabel and Elvi had found: a relationship of earthshaking passion, complete trust, and deep binding friendship and love.

Teddy was too pragmatic to believe he loved Katricia already. It had only been a day, but he was pretty sure he was firmly headed that way. The woman was just . . . Well, she was sassy as hell, smart as a whip, and had a killer sense of humor. He'd laughed more today during their snowball fight, card games, and talks than he'd laughed with any woman ever.

She was also sexy as sin. He hadn't been kidding in the dream when he'd said he'd been half-erect all day. Every time he'd looked at her, little Teddy had perked up like a happy dog's ears. And he wouldn't have been surprised to hear his tongue had been hanging out half the day like that same happy dog's tongue. He'd never encountered a female who affected him like she did. Even Elvi.

The admission was a big one for Teddy. He'd been half in love with Ellen “Elvi” Black since he was a boy. No other woman had been able to compare, in his mind. Until now . . . and that was why he'd brought such an abrupt end to their conversation when Katricia had asked if he meant he'd never found anyone he loved, or anyone he'd loved as much as Elvi. Because he'd almost admitted, “Until now.”

That thought in his head had startled the hell out of Teddy in that moment. But he now realized that, as much as he'd loved Elvi, it seemed to him it had been a young boy's love, a sort of adoration, but without the gritty lust he felt for Katricia. If he'd felt half as hot for Elvi as he did for Katricia, he wouldn't have simply stood by and watched her marry her mortal husband, and then he wouldn't have set out to find her a vampire mate. He'd have been desperate to claim her for his own. Teddy had always thought he'd stood aside for Elvi's sake, that he'd not wanted to stand in the way of her happiness. But the fact of the matter was, he suspected she'd just been an ideal to him. The perfect, untouchable female. He didn't even think he'd wanted her for real. Not like he wanted Katricia, because while he'd stood aside for Elvi, he already knew he couldn't do that with Katricia. He couldn't and wouldn't stand aside for her to find happiness with someone else . . . which would be a problem if they weren't really life mates and it had really all just been wishful dreaming on his part.

Sighing, Teddy ran one hand wearily through his hair, then turned and moved into the kitchen to grab his coat and boots. Rather than risk waking Katricia, he took them with him and slid out into the icy vestibule. He pulled the door silently closed before quickly donning them, and then grabbed one of the flashlights and slipped outside.

It had been cold that day, but it was even worse in the dead of night. The snow crunched under foot, the wind hit his face like icy sandpaper, and the moisture in his nose froze before he'd taken half a dozen steps. They definitely needed the wood, he thought grimly, and once he got back inside, he should probably set his watch alarm to go off every couple of hours so he could feed the fire again. In this kind of weather, they could freeze to death if the fire went out. Chances were the cold would wake him, but if it didn't . . . well, he didn't even want to think about that.

The tarp crinkled stiffly when he pulled it back to get to the wood it protected. Teddy quickly scooped up as many logs as he could carry and started back toward the cottage. He was nearly to the deck when he spotted light through the leafless trees between the cottage and the lakeshore in front of it. Pausing, he eyed it for a minute, then changed direction and walked around in front of the deck, traveling several feet down the gentle incline to get a better look without the trees in the way.

A slow smile curved Teddy's lips when he was able to see it clearly. A cottage across the lake was lit up like a Christmas tree, light shining from every window. It wasn't the fact that they had power that made him smile, but that there was someone else on the lake. Tomorrow morning he could walk across the frozen lake and ask to use the phone to take care of the power problem if it wasn't already taken care of by then. He might even be able to beg a ride into town for better provisions to get them by until the road was clear and they could drive out.

A loud rustling in the trees behind and to the side of him caught his ear. Teddy stiffened, and then slowly turned his head to peer over his shoulder. He spotted the large, lumbering shape by the shed and recognized it at once as a bear. There were few animals in the woods that size but bears. Seeing one of them at this time of year, though, was a rarity indeed. Bears didn't hibernate, as most people thought, at least not a true hibernation with the metabolic depression and lower body temperature. They actually slept and could be roused. Last night's storm had probably wakened the creature. A tree falling nearby its den or . . . Well, it could be anything, but whatever the case, the beast was up and probably hungry.

Teddy didn't panic right away. He was downwind and in the shadow of the trees. The bear wasn't likely to see or smell him and would, no doubt, lumber on his way after a moment or two. He just had to wait out the beast . . . and maybe pray the animal didn't lumber in his direction, he thought grimly, and then glanced sharply to the cottage when the door suddenly opened.

“Teddy?” Katricia called, stepping out onto the deck in her coat and boots and peering toward the shed. “Do you need help?”

Panic seized Teddy then. He didn't even think; seeing the bear pause and turn slowly in Katricia's direction, he let all but one of the logs he carried drop and started forward, roaring, “Get back inside!”

Katricia turned his way with surprise, but Teddy's attention was on the bear, who had turned and was now facing them both. The beast hesitated, and for one moment, Teddy had hope that the bear would be scared off by the sudden activity and noise. But it was mid-winter and the animal was hungry enough that noise and motion wouldn't put him off when there was a meal to be had. The bear charged.

“Get inside!” Teddy repeated, raising his log as he ran. He continued to shout as he raced forward, log upraised, making as much noise and trying to make himself as big and threatening as he could. The bear didn't even slow. It was like a game of chicken, but at the last moment, Teddy stepped to the right toward the cottage and swung for the side of the bear's head with all his might. He connected, the impact vibrating up his arms, but he hadn't stepped far enough or fast enough and felt the claws of one paw tear into his chest and stomach. Gasping in pain, he swung again even as he stumbled back against the cottage wall, managing to whack the beast in the snout as the bear turned toward him. The bear roared in pain and fury and rose up on his hind legs. Teddy was pretty sure he was done for when the sudden blast of a gun exploded to his side.

Startled, Teddy turned to find Katricia rushing down the stairs, his gun in hand, and pointing at the air as she loosed another bullet. He stared at her blankly, wondering how she'd got inside, grabbed his gun, and got back so fast, but then recalled immortals had incredible speed. He turned to peer back toward the bear, relieved to see the large back end of the beast disappearing into the trees. Apparently, the combination of his log and the gun was enough to make him decide against pursuing this meal.

“Are you all right?” Katricia was in front of him, the moonlight enough to reveal the concern on her face. “I smell blood. Did he get you?”

Teddy clutched the log in his hands, teeth gritting as he became aware of the burning in his chest, but merely shook his head. “Don't worry about it, I'm fine,” he lied and turned away to move slowly toward the logs he'd dropped.

“Teddy, your coat's ripped,” Katricia said, following. “Let me see—”

“I'm fine,” he growled, waving her away. “We need to get the wood and get inside in case he changes his mind and comes back. You can look at it then.”

Katricia hesitated, but then hurried past the stairs and the end of the deck to quickly gather up the logs he'd dropped to go after the bear. Teddy was relieved not to have to do it himself. Now that the panic was over, the adrenaline was beginning to seep out of him and he was starting to feel weak and shaky.

Leaving her to it, he stopped at the stairs and pressed the log he carried to his chest to free his other hand to hold the rail. He started up the four short steps, frowning at how much effort it took. By the last step, it was like climbing Mount Everest, and he was swaying, his hold on the rail the only thing keeping him upright.

“Teddy?” The concern in Katricia's voice made him straighten and force himself to take the two steps to the cottage door. He managed to pull it open and stagger inside. He even made it to the open inner door to the cottage, but then he was suddenly on his knees and slumping against the door frame, both arms now hugging the log to his chest, instinctively pressing it tight against the pain beginning to radiate there.

“Teddy!”

He heard the crash of the wood hitting the vestibule floor behind him and then Katricia was catching him under the arms. The log slipped from his hold and dropped to the floor as she lifted him to his feet from behind and propelled him out of the doorway and inside. The damned woman was practically carrying him like he weighed no more than a child, he thought with disgust as she moved him to a kitchen chair and set him in it. These immortal women could really be hard on a man's ego.

“Let me see.” She moved around in front of him and tried to pluck his arms away from his chest, but he merely turned away on the seat with annoyance.

“Get the wood and close the door first. You're letting all the heat out,” Teddy muttered.

Cursing, Katricia hurried to do as he said. The moment she did, he sagged back in the chair and let his arms drop away so he could peer down at himself. The only light in the room was the fire in the fireplace. The two logs he'd put on before going outside were now burning merrily, but it didn't really cast much light on the situation this far away. Still, he could make out enough to know he'd taken a serious injury. He could see the wound was long, tearing through his heavy winter coat at the right side of his upper chest and shooting down at a diagonal to his left hip. The animal's claws had shredded through the cloth, insulation, and even the zipper . . . and, no doubt, his skin as well. He could see the sheen of blood in the dim light and was now aware of the dampness down his stomach and legs. His jeans were wet with his own blood, and liquid was trickling down his legs. Christ, he was bleeding badly, he thought with concern. And it was beginning to hurt like hell now.

“Let me see.” Katricia was there again, turning the whole chair to face her, and this time Teddy didn't try to stop her.

Her reaction on first seeing the wound was a bit alarming. Immortals had better night vision than mortals, and he had no doubt she could see in this light as easily as if it were daylight. The dismay and horror on her face as she bent to look at his chest and stomach wasn't encouraging, and then she was suddenly all activity and curses as she quickly set about removing his coat.

“Why the hell did you do it?”

That frustrated mutter caught his ear as Katricia finished with his coat and started on his sweater, simply ripping the tattered material to the sides.

Opening eyes he hadn't realized he'd closed, Teddy frowned at the top of her head and asked with confusion, “Do what?”

“Attack the damned bear,” she snapped, now rending the shredded flannel top of his pajamas open as well.

“I was trying to save you,” he muttered, swallowing when he saw that his skin was torn just as the material had been. It looked damned deep, too. Four gouges running diagonally from chest to hip like long ditches in his body.

BOOK: The Bite Before Christmas
6.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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