The Bite of Winter - Lauren Smith - E-Book

The Bite of Winter E-Book

Lauren Smith

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Beschreibung

A pair of alpha Irish vampires holiday is disrupted when they rescue a young woman who makes them believe in love again…


 


From their earliest days as young Irish vampires, Ian and Connor have shared everything, including women. What they won’t share is their hearts. At least until a cold night brings them a chance to nurse back to health more than stray kittens.


 


Connor swore never to let another mortal woman pay the price for loving him and Ian. He won’t risk more than a single night’s lustful conquest. That is until he sees…and kisses Zoey. With a heart of gold and a stubbornness to rival his own, she’s just the sort of woman to make him break his vow to keep his darkest desires restrained.


 


Ian didn’t ask for a holiday surprise, but he’s finally met the one person that makes Connor willing to take a chance again. And not just to make her their lustful plaything. This time, Ian sees a chance for love. He doesn’t realize that for Zoey, that’s the problem. She’s lost enough people over the years, and so have they.


 


But one bite sparks lust between the three of them that demands to be satisfied. Soon they’re caught in a holiday menage of historic proportions, one that will test their desire for the promise of forever.


 


Warning: This book contains two scorching-hot Irish vampires, one lady with plenty of pluck but zero luck, naughty lingerie, and enough Christmas cheer to redeem even the darkest creatures.

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The Bite of Winter

Love Bites Book 1

Lauren Smith

Contents

Copyright

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

His Little Vixen - Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Other Titles By Lauren Smith

About the Author

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2017 by Lauren Smith

Excerpt from His Little Vixen Copyright 2020 by Lauren Smith

Cover art by EDH Graphics

All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitutes unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

This Book was previously published in 2015 by Samhain Publishing and is now re-released by the Author.

The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

ISBN: 978-0-9962079-6-6 (e-book edition)

ISBN: 978-0-9962079-7-3 (print edition)

For my parents, Ken and Julie, who spend hours talking about writing and strategizing with me on how to make my dreams come true, even when they have to make sacrifices of their own. Thank you for everything you’ve given me, including the courage to fight for my dreams. For Jeanne and Angela who are two wonderful beta readers. You ladies rock!

Chapter 1

So hungry. God, I’d kill to eat.

Zoey Blake gazed longingly through the diner window. Families were nestled in red leather booths, plates of burgers and fries spread out like a feast. The light from the diner beckoned to her, promising warmth and comfort. It was everything she wanted, and everything she couldn’t have.

The harsh December wind cut through her thin flannel shirt and whipped her hair hard enough to sting her face. Hunger swelled up inside her like an empty balloon. A moan escaped her lips as she tried and failed to ignore the pain.

A little boy in one of the booths reached with chubby hands to grab his mother’s milkshake. He sucked for a long moment on the straw before pulling back, a grin of delight on his face. Zoey could imagine the thick creamy ice cream and the sweet tangy taste of a maraschino cherry.

One of the cooks left the grill and walked toward the entrance, wiping his hands on his greasy apron. When the door swung open, Christmas music exploded into the street. The happy sounds reminded Zoey that Christmas was only a few weeks away. She used to love Christmas: the songs, the presents, the food…her family. She shuddered and buried the painful memories deep inside her.

The cook glanced down the empty street outside the diner and caught sight of her.

“You coming in?” His gruff voice momentarily distracted her from the greasy smell of food.

Zoey gulped and took an instinctive step back, her hands clutching the only real possession she had left in the world. A black leather portfolio. She’d tucked it safely against her chest, the leather barely holding warmth to her body.

“Sorry, I…I can’t…” She couldn’t say the words. Can’t afford it.

Even after a year of living on the streets, shame still heated her cheeks. This time, she welcomed it. She was cold all the time, even in the summer. Her jacket had been stolen the winter before, leaving her painfully exposed.

The cook’s eyes hardened.

“Then get going. You’re scaring off paying customers.”

Of course she had to leave. Heaven forbid he toss her some of the burnt burgers or even some moldy buns. She’d have gladly taken them. Far worse food had ended up in her stomach when she’d been desperate.

With a shaky nod, Zoey backed away from the diner and eased into the shadows where the restaurant’s light couldn’t penetrate. She just wanted to disappear. No one would miss her. No one would care. Everyone she had a connection with was gone. And it was all her fault.

Unshed tears formed at the corners of her eyes, and a shiver from the cold rattled her spine so hard it hurt. Self-pity was not something she could indulge in. But it was hard to ignore her circumstances when she’d spent the last month calling a ragged sleeping bag under a highway overpass home. Food was harder to come by than a decent place to sleep. The homeless shelter was half a mile away and always filled up so fast they had to turn away most of the people who showed up. They served only two meals a day with small portions since their food bank supplies remained low.

Her stomach rumbled a protest. She had to stop thinking about food.

“Damn it.” She put her fist in her mouth, stumbling back into the alleyway next to the diner. The ache inside bent her over, and she wrapped her arms around her waist, hugging herself as she prayed the pain would begin to dull. Finally, it abated, briefly, and she leaned back against the brick wall of the alley, breathing slowly.

A soft scuffling was her only warning.

Zoey’s eyes flew open. A man in rags and a heavy overcoat lurched toward her. A knife glinted in one hand, the blade flashing when it caught the glow from the diner.

“Hands up!” The man’s rotten teeth barely showed behind his thick brown beard.

Terror seized Zoey, squeezing her lungs until she couldn’t breathe. Her hands shot into the air.

“Wha…what do you want?”

“Your purse. Hand it over!” he rasped, taking one step closer.

Fear hammered against her ribs until she felt nausea and bile push their way up her throat. “I—I don’t have one.” She still clutched her portfolio in one hand, her fingers stinging in the cold air.

“Give me your fucking money!” His black eyes gleamed in the dim light. He could have been any of the men she’d seen at the shelter earlier today, only they were sad and broken. This man was something else. Something evil lurked in his gaze and mirrored the spark of his blade inches from her face.

“I don’t have any. I have nothing…I’m sorry.” Her hands shook as she took a tiny step to the side, inching away from him. Her stomach, once so desperate for food, now clenched as she struggled to control her terror.

“Don’t lie to me! Give me what you’re holding!” Flecks of spittle shot from his chapped lips as he lunged for her portfolio.

“No!” She stepped back, dropping her hands to use the portfolio as a shield.

The man held his blade with one hand and snatched at the black leather book with the other. With a cry of panic, Zoey lost her grip and the portfolio fell to the ground. Pages and photographs scattered across the snow.

“You stupid bitch!” The man snarled and dived at her.

Zoey tried to shut her eyes, but instinct kept her lids wide open. Everything slowed down. The knife slipped between her ribs inch by painful inch. He pulled the blade back out, the cold metal sharp against her flesh as he thrust it in again. Her strangled scream was drowned out by a passing bus.

Her soul seemed to coil up tight before shooting out like a firecracker, leaving her body behind. All the work, the pain, the loss of the last two years was over. Every second she’d cried, every second she’d picked herself back up, none of it mattered anymore. Her attacker pulled the blade back out and cursed before he fled into the street.

Zoey crumpled to the ground, one hand over her side. All around her the pieces of her life, the bits she’d held on to were soaking into the soil along with her blood. Hot liquid oozed through her fingers, warming them. Pain lanced through her chest with every breath. The world spun as she slid onto her back. The night sky above was lit with a smattering of faint stars, like a handful of diamonds strewn over black velvet. Her eyes burned with tears. Blood continued to pump between her loosening fingertips as she grew too weak to keep any pressure on her wounds. A tear welled up, thick and heavy, and eased down the side of her face. The trail of moisture chilled beneath the passing breeze.

Ice dug into her shoulder blades, cold and unforgiving. Invisible rocks dropped onto her chest, and a rattling noise escaped her as she fought to breathe. Her toes were numb and her arms too heavy to move. Muted laughter from people passing on the street seemed so far away. Would they see her? Did they hear her scream? Would they save her? The chill stealing over her warned her it was too late.

Too late for everything she’d never had a chance to do. A life unlived, a heart unloved, a soul alone.

Suddenly, the world around her darkened as a shape blotted out the winking stars. Glowing eyes, the color a wintery green, met her own. They pulled at her with the power of a sorcerer’s spell. The sound of her favorite winter song, the “Carol of the Bells”, began to echo in the air around them.

“Damn.” His voice was rich and dark, a luscious baritone that made even her dying body tingle with lethargic awareness. He held one of her sketches, the white paper looked so sharp against the black sky. His eyes moved from her to the paper, some strange emotion she couldn’t read flashing in his gaze.

The man looking down at her had the face of an angel, all angles and lines. His strong jaw, proud nose and bewitching eyes were framed with a halo of black hair from his head as he bent over more to look at her. The epitome of beauty. So handsome that she shivered. She truly was dying, and an angel had come for her soul.

He knelt down next to her. “I can save you. I only need you to trust me. Can you trust me?”

She tried to speak, and although her lips moved, no sound came out. Finally, she managed a jerky nod. Something deep inside her responded to his eyes. They emanated with warmth and the promise of safety shone from their depths. She trusted him.

Her angel did something unexpected. He raised his wrist to his mouth, bit into it and then put it against her mouth. She tasted blood and jerked away from his bleeding skin. A heavy scowl pulled his dark brows down.

“Poor sweetheart, just drink.” The Irish lilt to his voice made her feel warm, despite the pain and the chill that threatened to consume her. Something about him, being so close…everything inside her seemed to stir to life in a way she hadn’t realized she could.

A hand cupped the back of her head and held her captive while his wrist pressed deeper between her parted lips. Zoey gasped as the blood poured into her mouth and she was forced to swallow. The hand behind her head lightly massaged her scalp, the sensation wonderful and soothing. She relaxed into his gentle touch.

The tang of blood still coated the insides of her mouth when he pulled his wrist away.

“Easy, love, easy. You’ll be okay now. I won’t let any harm come to you.” He cupped her face with his hands, his eyes fixed on hers, capturing her attention. “You will have no memory of tasting my blood. Only that you are safe, you are protected.”

“Safe,” she whispered. She had no memory to explain the oddly metallic taste in her mouth.

The man stroked her cheeks and nodded to himself before speaking again. “Would you let me take you home and care for you?” His earnest expression was so sharp that Zoey believed it. He wanted to help her.

“Y—yes.” It was the only word she got out before she lost control of her body. Her lashes started to fan up and down and then fresh pain hit her like a freight train. She was barely aware of the man picking her up in his arms.

The sky above whirled, and the lights from the stars formed silver circles, like a cosmic Spirograph. She clamped her eyes shut as the man who held her leapt forward. The wind rushed around them, and her long hair whipped around her face but Zoey was lost in the aches surging through her body in tidal waves.

A second, an hour, a month, she wasn’t sure when they stopped until she felt them grind to a halt. The pain faded, leaving her sore and bruised. She surrendered to exhaustion, hearing the man speak one last time as she let go.

“I want to keep you, little one. Keep you and never let you go.”

Ian Kennedy stared down at the little woman in his arms as he reached his home. She was so light and he knew she should weigh more than she did. A wee waif of a body in ragged clothes. Pity stirred in his chest like a feeble bird with injured wings.

The night was quiet in the small neighborhood where he lived. No one was watching as he slipped the key into the lock of his home and entered. A gray tabby cat lounged on the couch, watching him with silver eyes.

“Lizzy,” he greeted softly. The cat let out a soft purr, her tail twitching. She was one of three strays he’d rescued in recent years, much to the frustration of his friend Connor O’Shea.

Carrying the unconscious woman into his bedroom, he eased her down onto the comforter and placed a pillow beneath her head. He grit his teeth when he leaned too close to her and the irresistible scent of blood filled his senses.

But there was more than that. Even dirty and unwashed, the scent of living on the streets didn’t repel his senses as they usually did when he crossed paths with the homeless while he searched for hosts to feed from at night. A tingling ache filled his mouth, and with a low curse, he tried to stop the inevitable from happening. But he failed. Twin canine teeth extended down, ready to sink into the flesh of his prey. The flesh of the woman he’d just rescued.

Ian took a reluctant step back. Space, he needed some space or else he might give into his temptation to feed on her. She’d be out for a few hours still. He’d used his innate ability to affect her body’s responses to him and gently put her to sleep. It was one of the few benefits of being a vampire.

Vampire. The word still made him cringe, but there was no point in denying what he was. He’d been alive for a hundred and ninety-five years and the older he got, the stronger his abilities seemed to become. Not only could he sway the will of most humans, he also possessed a potent ability to draw his prey to him.

This seemed to be common to all his kind. The glamour, as he liked to call it, was something every vampire possessed to some degree. Something like a pheromone, it drew human prey to them, made their victims susceptible to suggestion, to desire. And with him, it created a false sense of adoration in women. Ian rarely left the house until much later in the night to avoid being around crowds. The glamour often resulted in chaos and strange behavior.

The hollow pit in his stomach reminded him he’d been on the hunt when he’d encountered the young woman being attacked. Feeding was a priority if he was to be around her without succumbing to temptation.

It was obvious she was malnourished and needed care. And more than anything, he wanted to care for her. Too many years had passed since he’d looked upon mortals as something other than…

Shutting his eyes a brief moment, he saw flashing dark eyes, heard a woman’s laugh. He’d known great love for a mortal once. Lara. His body had never felt so…human since he’d been turned. But when she’d been taken from him, he’d lost that sense of life and turned back into the predator he was.

Which is why it was so puzzling that in only an instant of seeing that woman attacked tonight, he’d needed to protect her. It was as though in her moments of terror and her dying breaths, she’d called to him—much as Lara had when he’d first met her.

With a regretful sigh at leaving the woman alone, Ian headed back outside, taking only one normal step before his body leapt into motion. The high speed of his travel, yet another one of his abilities, moved almost too fast for human sight to track. Within a minute he was in an alleyway across town, outside the diner where the woman had been wounded. The alley was empty but littered with papers. The papers from a leather portfolio lay inches from a pool of blood.

Ian knelt and began to gather the papers. Each was either a sketch or a photograph, each was captivating. He stood as he collected the binder and the last sketch. It was one of an old man, his face wrinkled, his hands gnarled as old oak tree roots clutching at a blanket as he sat on a park bench. Sadness, regret, loss of memory, all of these were locked deep into the old man’s eyes. Whoever had drawn this had captured that, emotions Ian had felt every day since he’d been turned into a monster.

Something inside his chest stung and he gasped. That was odd. He’d never needed to breath before, still didn’t, but his body had reacted as though it had. And the little prick of pain in his chest felt familiar, but he couldn’t be sure what it was. He thumbed through the other sketches and photographs before he tucked them safely into the black binder.

“We never intervene except to feed,” Connor’s voice from years ago came back to him. “The mortals must live out their lives and we cannot intercede.”

But Ian had done just that. Saved the woman from certain death. Why? He’d been moved before in the many years he’d existed like this, but there was something about her, the way she’d protected these pieces of paper as though they were her very life. The way she saw things, the details she evoked, had been a shock to his system. Jerking him out of the seemingly endless night and forcing him beneath a sun, one that didn’t burn. There was only warmth here, a craving for something he lost over a hundred years ago.

A woman that made him feel like that? After so long? That was a woman he had to save, even if only to understand why she affected him like this.

“Connor will bloody kill me when he finds out,” Ian muttered to himself. He glanced around. A skinny blonde-haired waitress suddenly exited the diner’s backdoor in the alley to throw a large black trash bag into the dumpster. She stilled when she saw him, her eyes first widening, then slowly turning almost slumberous.

The damnable glamour was already at work. He might as well feed while the opportunity presented itself.

“Hello,” she said, wiping her hands on her apron and taking a few steps toward him.

Ian tucked the portfolio into his coat and zipped it up to keep the book in place before he started toward the woman.

“Hey there, lassie,” he chuckled, hiding the hint of his fangs as they slid out. A wee bite was all he needed.

The river ran black, like water over obsidian, rushing away endlessly. Connor O’Shea leaned against the bridge railing watching the water. His fingertips clung to the stone, digging in hard enough that it would have ripped his skin apart if he’d been mortal. But he wasn’t mortal, hadn’t been for almost two centuries. Hunger beat at his insides, hunger for blood. It never ended, the urge to track and feed, to prey on humans, a constant reminder of what he no longer was.

Inside the pocket of his coat, his cell phone buzzed. He let out a low growl. It was probably Ian. The man never seemed to know when to leave him alone. Once, long ago, they’d been inseparable, as close as brothers. But they hadn’t been that way for many years. Something was missing. He knew it. Ever since they’d lost their beloved Lara more than eighty years ago, he’d felt his body, his cursed soul, reverting to its monster state. He was on that slippery slope toward darker urges and he dreaded to contemplate what would happen to him, or worse what he’d do, once he stopped caring about life entirely. The words of Nietzsche regarding staring into the abyss came to mind.

If only I could jump, let the water consume me and swallow me in its depths.

But it wouldn’t end things; he’d only wash up on shore somewhere and be that much hungrier.

He shook his head, trying to rid himself of the dark thoughts. In the distance, the city lights twinkled, heightened by a hint of merriness he sensed even from the many miles he was from home. Christmas time. A season he used to love. Now it filled him only with regret, with sorrow and longing…so much longing for a life he’d been robbed of. Being immortal was a curse. Time was frozen, like an old broken clock on a mantelpiece. The tiny metal arms never moved, never let time pass another second forward, and always reminded you that you did not work as you should. You did not belong.

I only want to move forward. So simple a wish, yet he knew it would not be a Christmas wish he’d ever be granted.

Santa doesn’t visit vampires. He chuckled, but it was a far from merry sound. If I saw Santa Claus, I’d likely take a bite out of the jolly old man.

His phone vibrated again and he pulled it out. Voicemail. He hated cell phones. The damn things were such a nuisance. All the chiming, the alerts, the notifications. He hit play and put it to his ear. The message was from Ian, garbled and cut out, but the main part of the message was clear. Ian had brought home a woman for Connor to feed on, but for some reason, Ian said the woman liked to be frightened as part of the excitement. Role-play. Bah. It didn’t sit well with Connor, but if the woman needed it to enjoy being fed on, well, he’d oblige her.

He stepped away from the bridge and turned his attention toward the city. Time to feed.

Chapter 2

Zoey was warm. So warm. When was the last time she hadn’t woken up to her own shivers? Weariness bled out of her, leaving only a pleasant sense of quiet, and she wondered if she was dead. There wasn’t any other way to explain the sudden change in her physical surroundings. She wasn’t in a hospital.

Forcing her eyelids open, it took her some time to adjust. She was lying on a massive, and incredibly soft, feather bed with a thick blanket wrapped warm and snug around her body. Like a human burrito. The thought made her giggle. She had to be dead. This had to be heaven. The last thing she remembered was the bright lights of the diner. Christmas bells ringing. The flash of a knife. Snarled words. Pain. Her heart pounded at an unsteady rhythm, and her breath quickened.

Breath? How was she breathing? And then it all came back. The man with the face of an angel and the voice of a sinner, the one who could tempt her to sell her soul for just one caress. Had he saved her? How?

Zoey’s hands started to shake as she remembered blood oozing from the wounds in her chest. Fearful, she tugged the blanket down and lifted her blood-stained shirt up. The skin was clear except for two small pink slashes between her ribs. Zoey pressed her fingertips down on the marks, testing them. They were sore, but they felt like an old injury, not something that would have killed her the night before.

Suddenly remembering she was in a strange place, she looked about the room, half hoping to find the man who’d brought her here. The bed was huge, its frame a dark wood, almost black. Despite the dimness, she could see the walls had lovely black and white photos of Paris and a few other places she thought she recognized. The crisp contrast of the photos was stunning and made her strangely homesick.

Before her life had fallen apart, she’d been studying photography. It had been her dream to live her life behind the lens, capturing moments for people. Weddings, baby showers, children’s sporting matches. She wanted to capture life in vibrant colors and a contrast of grays. Nothing would have made her happier than to take photos of the events that marked the milestones in people’s lives.

But that was gone, all gone. Her camera was likely still in some pawnshop collecting dust. Food and rent had been a priority, not her future. How long ago had that been? Zoey didn’t want to count, but it had to be somewhere around eight months.

She sat up, pushing her hair out of her eyes, and the memories out of her head. Had the handsome guy with the Irish accent brought her here? His whispered words came back to her, the promise to keep her safe and take care of her. She vaguely recalled him asking if he could bring her home, and she’d agreed. She didn’t think of herself as a weak person, but after everything she’d been through it was such a relief to think she might have help for the first time in forever.

She did feel safe. Wherever he’d taken her, she knew he wouldn’t let harm come to her. It was stupid to trust a stranger, but her gut had told her to, and she’d never ignored her instincts before.