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Can Christmas Eve get any more fun? On her way to her family's home, Carol Prescott’s car slides into a ditch in a deserted area with no cell phone signal. The only available shelter is already occupied…by a vampire. To Michael Carpenter, Carol is the bait of a trap.

In an effort to hold onto his soul, Michael has resisted the urge to drink human blood for almost a century. Now he hovers between human and vampire. If he doesn’t drink from a human before the night ends, he’ll die. He’s desperately thirsty, but Michael has seen the soulless monsters vampires are and he prefers death. Carol is pure temptation to him, the Christmas present from hell…or is it from heaven?

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A Vampire's Christmas Carol

December 1, 2011

A Romantic Paranormal Novella
Originally Published in the Beneath A Christmas Moon anthology
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Chapter One

Carol Prescott clung to the steering wheel of the Neon. Her fingers wrapped it in a death grip as she stared through the windshield, trying to keep the car on the road and figure out where the hell she was. Even with her brights on, the headlights barely pierced the stormy darkness for more than twenty yards ahead.

The rain had changed to sleet a few miles beyond Greenville, creating icy patches on the roads. No doubt the weather had caused the accident that blocked both southbound lanes of the interstate, forcing her to exit and detour on small country roads. Traffic had been sparse on the highway. It dwindled to near nothing when she got off it. No surprise. Everyone else had traveled earlier.

Now, at nine-thirty on Christmas Eve, they were all safe and snug, partying with relatives, hanging stockings, toasting each other in front of a warm fire and trying to keep the children entertained or induce them to get to sleep. All the things she wanted to be doing at her parents’ house in Decatur. Would be doing by now if her boss hadn’t insisted he needed that last report done before she left. Instead she was still almost an hour and a half from Atlanta. She cursed him under her breath, again, then tightened her fingers on the wheel as the road curved around a bend and the tires nearly lost traction on the slick surface. God, she wanted to be finished with this trip.

A crossroads loomed ahead, with just a couple of local road markers. No indication of how to get back to the highway. She so needed to get a GPS navigation system. Put it on the shopping list. She reached for her cell phone, thinking it was time to call nine one one, then dropped it in disgust after a glance at the screen. No signal. Figured. There was a whole lot of nothing much in the area between Atlanta and Greenville. She needed a new cell service too. One with better coverage.

Carol guessed she was south of the highway, so she turned right on the theory that it should take her back toward the interstate. She needed a service station or even a house where she could ask directions, but for several miles she saw nothing but trees, lonely pastureland and a few silos off in the distance.

Panic set in after another few miles without even the sight of a house. She passed a couple of driveways that might have approached one, but given the weather, she didn’t want to risk a passage that might lead nowhere. Her heart pounded and her stomach twisted painfully as she debated her next move.

She’d almost driven past the side road that branched off when she noticed a light shining from down that way. Unfortunately, in her excitement at seeing that sign of life and civilization, she forgot road conditions for a moment and swung the wheel sharply to make the turn. The tires lost traction on the slick surface and the car began to skid sideways.

With dim memories of instructions she’d heard, she fought the urge to turn the other way and steered into the skid. It worked—sort of. She regained control, just not in time to keep the car from sliding into a ditch at the side of the road. Carol shut her eyes for a moment, fearing the car would overturn or ram into the enormous oak tree not far from the verge.

Neither happened, but the car did end up sitting at a rather peculiar angle, its left side lower than the right. The tires made an odd, scrunchy noise as they turned, but the car remained in place. She put her foot on the brake pedal, then switched gears, hoping to reverse out of the ditch.

The wheels spun and churned. The car lurched, but then stuck and refused to move any farther. Her heart jerked and beat faster as the danger of the situation penetrated.

The area was ominously quiet. Nothing stirred on the road. For a few minutes, she just sat, breathing hard, struggling against the panic. What to do? Wait for someone to come by and see her distress, maybe offer to help out? But she hadn’t seen another car for some time. Yell for help? It was doubtful anyone was close enough to hear.

The light that had distracted her still shone through the trees, almost dead ahead now, since the car had swerved to the right. Should she wait for help or get out and head for the light, hoping it was a dwelling and not just some sort of marker or warning?

No other cars had passed for quite a while. If she stayed, the gas would eventually run out and she’d begin to freeze. Better she check out the light. She could always come back to the car if it proved unhelpful.

Carol grabbed her coat from the back seat. Her tennis shoes weren’t ideal footwear for the weather, but at least she wasn’t wearing heels or her favorite mocs. She had a flashlight in the glove box and fresh batteries. When she got out, she took a moment to shine the light on the car’s wheels. The left front tire was deep in the ditch and had spun in the half-frozen mud. The right front tire wasn’t even touching the ground. She definitely wouldn’t be getting out of there without some help.

Her best bet was to find a place she could shelter and make a phone call, so she set off. With the sleet still coming down, she made slow progress along the narrow side road, drawn by the beacon of light, until she drew even with it. A paved driveway curved up toward its radiance, passing through a thick stand of trees. She almost broke down and cried when she realized the path led to a house and the yellow glow poured from several windows.

By the time she got to the door, she was soaked, shivering with cold and desperate for the warmth the light promised. She found no bell, but the door featured a heavy, iron knocker shaped like the head of an old man. Marley’s ghost? Wasn’t it on Christmas Eve that Scrooge had seen the face of his old partner in the knocker on his door?

Deciding she was getting punchy with exhaustion and cold, she raised the heavy iron bar of the knocker and banged it several times. Nothing happened, so she repeated the action. Finally, as she prepared for a third assault, the door creaked open. A man stood there, backlit by a lamp in the hall, leaving him almost entirely in shadow.

Her teeth chattered so hard it took an effort to get anything out. “Please, I’m stranded up the—“

“Did Antoine send you?” The aggressive tone as much as the words shocked her into taking a step backward.

“No, my car slid into a ditch.”

He ignored the response. “Tell him it won’t work.” The door closed in her face.

Carol stared at it for a moment, then lifted the knocker bar and began beating it against the base. She had to keep at it for several minutes before the door opened again.

“I need help. I’m freezing out here and my car’s in a ditch—“

“I can’t help you.” The man started to push the door closed again.

Carol stepped forward and stuck her foot in the opening to prevent it. “You have to. Please! I’m going to freeze to death if you don’t help me. Honest to God.” He flinched and she pressed the advantage. “At least let me come in and make a phone call. I assure you I’m harmless. I’m just freezing.”

“Phone lines are down,” he said.

“Hell. And my cell phone’s not getting a signal. Please, can I at least come in and get warm? I’m getting totally desperate. In fact, I’ll just keep banging on your door until you let me in or I collapse.”

He muttered something under his breath, then said to her, “It’s dangerous to come in. You take your life in your hands.”

“It’s dangerous out here too. I can’t imagine what could be so risky inside, but it’s got to be better than freezing to death out here.”

“Don’t be too sure.”

He didn’t stop her when she pushed past him to get inside.

“On your own head be it.” The door closed behind her with a resounding thud.

Blessed warmth settled like a cloak around her, though icy water dripped off her hair onto her face and ran down under her coat. She didn’t even want to think what she must look like. Her embarrassment got worse when he stepped back far enough to stand in the light pouring in from the next room. It left shadows across his face, but still she could see the outlines of features well enough to tell she faced a strikingly handsome man, no more than a few years older than her own twenty-six years. A frown tightened his sensual mouth. Cheeks and jaw were set in tense, hard lines.

She smiled at him and held out a hand. “I’m Carol Prescott. Thank you for letting me in.”

He shook his head. No answering smile touched his stern features, nor did he take her hand or reach toward her. “You’re a fool.” He said it softly, sounding more sad than angry.

“Not arguing. I should have turned around when it started sleeting. I could’ve found a hotel for the night. I wish I had.”

His expression didn’t change. The man stared hard at her, so she felt free to stare back. He was gorgeous. No other way to put it. Glossy black hair, cut neatly, topped a well-shaped head and set off big, deep blue eyes, a straight nose, sensual lips, lean jaw and a fabulous set of cheekbones. All that on top of six feet of lean, graceful, masculine muscle with broad shoulders and slim hips. Damn. And she looked like something a cat had dunked in the swamp before dragging in.

After a moment, he shook himself and said, “I’ll get you a towel. There’s a fire in the parlor if you care to go in and warm up.” He extended an arm toward the arch that led into the brightly lit room.

The fire crackled merrily in an enormous brick-lined fireplace. It pulled her toward it like a magnet. After shrugging out of her coat, Carol stood in front of it and held her hands out toward the flame. Warmth seeped into her icy fingers and crawled through her system. When she finally began to feel less shivery, other things struck her. Like how very quiet the house was. A distant hum showed the refrigerator was running, and the vague low rumble likely came from a furnace somewhere down below. The phone line might be out, but the electricity was running…unless he had a generator. An occasional snap from the fire and a creak from some settling piece of wood rounded out the sounds of the house. No other voices. Did he live in this big old house all by himself?

Why would a young man choose to sequester himself out here in the back of nowhere?

She glanced around the room, struck by its odd combination of old and new. The sofa, end tables, desk, heavy velvet drapes, lamps and pictures were clean and dust-free, but in styles that were fashionable maybe a century ago. The Oriental rug on the floor had worn well, but it too had an air of having been there a long, long time. The lamps looked new, however, and one stood beside a more modern leather recliner. Built-in shelves covered the entire far wall. In addition to an abundant collection of books, they held a wide-screen TV, a DVD-VCR machine and rows upon rows of DVDs and tapes.

Out in the hall, an old-fashioned grandfather clock bonged eleven times.

Her host returned to the room carrying a stack of towels. He made almost no sound when he moved, not even a squeak or tap of the leather loafers he wore. He handed her the towels.

She looked up at him, seeing him more clearly in the light of a nearby lamp. He was just as handsome as her first shadowy view had suggested. Maybe even more so. But he also looked thin and haggard, like someone fighting a long, wasting illness or someone who’d carried a heavy burden for a long time. Even with the warm firelight reflecting on it, his skin was very pale.

Carol took a towel from him and began drying her hair.

He looked at the coat she’d hung on a corner of the mantel. “You can’t stay here. It’s too dangerous. You can take time to dry off and warm up, but then you’ve got to go.”

She’d thawed enough that irritation began to replace fear of freezing to death. “What’s so dangerous that I risk death by staying here? Is this the Bates motel or something? Does someone have the plague? Or do you have a crazy wife closeted upstairs?”

His lips quirked for a moment and almost made it to a grin before the austere expression took over again.

“Definitely no on the last one, but the others are too damn close.”

“Okay, is this twenty questions? Are you going to give me another clue?”

His eyes narrowed. “No. I’m going to tell you. But you’re not going to believe it.”

“So try me.”

“Okay. Here it is. I’m a vampire. A very hungry vampire.”

“Um, yeah. Right. And I’m a werewolf queen. Are you one of those LARP people?”

He looked surprised and then puzzled. “You’re a werewolf?” His expression changed to disgust. “You’re joking, yes? What’s a Larp?”

“No. Yes. And it’s a game. Live action role-playing. The kind where people play characters like vampires and werewolves and zombies and chase each other around.”

“People play at being vampires?” He sounded shocked.

“Well, yeah. What are you doing?”

“Not playing.” He stared at her a moment. “You don’t believe me. I hate to have to show you. I may not be able to control what happens next. If I don’t, though, you won’t believe me and you won’t be ready to defend yourself. Pay attention now and be ready to run.”

He drew a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. The muscles of his face tightened in either pain or concentration. For a moment his jaw worked in on odd rolling motion. The muscles of his face tightened up, changing something in his face to look threatening and dangerous.

When he opened his eyes, a different person—no, a different creature—looked out of them. Blood-red lights flickered in the depths, swallowing the blue color, and the remote expression changed to something fierce and hungry and menacing as his gaze focused on her. Then he opened his mouth and—

“Oh my God, are those fangs?” she asked. “Yikes! They’re either really good fakes or I’m getting seriously creeped out.”

He said nothing for a moment, but his eyes went wide and his tongue came out to swipe across his lips. His breathing grew louder. He took a step toward her, mouth open, leading with the fangs.

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Five Angels and a Recommended Read!
"Beneath a Christmas Moon is a remarkable anthology of paranormal suspense Christmas stories. Each of the three stories is unique and intriguing. I love each of them for their uniqueness and creativity. Not one of these stories is what you would expect in a Christmas anthology. I highly recommend this book....
Well, I didn’t expect to read a spooky Christmas story but that is just what Ms. McCullough has created! The story is one impossible situation after the other and someone is going to die. Whoa, not at all what I was expecting! Vampire’s Christmas Carol is exceptionally well done because not only are Carol and Michael faced with an impossible situation but they are also attracted to one another. So the surviving person may feel tremendous guilt and anguish at the loss of the other person. The characters of Carol and Michael are appealing, caring, and admirable souls and the reader will like them both. I couldn’t decide who to root for but knowing it was a Christmas story I was sure that there had to be a solution that would save them both. I believed that something would save them right up to the end of the story…and I can’t tell you what happens! This is a story you just have to read for yourself."
Reviewed by: Stephanie B.
Fallen Angels Reviews

5 Hearts, - Lifetime keeper!
"Beneath a Christmas Moon is an enchanting tales of heroes that have not had good luck lately and women that will not go away to be with their man. Three great stories that all have such a great story line it is hard not to like each one. They are all paranormal yet each one is different from the typical shape shifting and vampire story. Each one tells about love that they wish they can go through and a life they dreamt of having. I loved them all and any reader will enjoy each story."
-- Melinda, Night Owl Romance

"Although Karen McCullough's Vampire's Christmas Carol may have come last in this anthology it was the most memorable of the three: a true "Beauty and the Beast" tale featuring a vampire and a human. Carol Prescott, has an accident and is forced to spend the night at the home of Michael Carpenter. Unknown to Carol, this is Michael's last night: all he wants is to retain his dignity and die with some vestage of his fading humanity. They ultimately spend the time telling their life stories and getting to know each other while at the same time keeping Michael from succumbing to his vampiric nature. It is a wonderful story, beautifully written, made more poignant by the clock ticking on the time the characters have together. I highly recommend Vampire's Christmas Carol, and will certainly look for other selections from this author in the future."
~Reviewed by Mickey, Simply Romance Reviews

"Karen McCullough has taken a different approach to the current love of vampires in “Vampire’s Christmas Carol”. Her story is a wonderful look at someone who doesn’t want to be one, and who is willing to do anything to keep from becoming one. But, in true fate, or bad luck, might just have found his soul mate. I found this a wonderful suspense and emotion filled story.Beneath a Christmas Moon has it all for paranormal story lovers. You have vampires, shape shifters and ghosts all in one little package. All of the stories center around the power of the full moon, and this one happens to tie together the holiday season as well. I found all three stories to be very well written and intriguing in their own right. Whether it is Christmas of summer you will enjoy this anthology and want more from each of these authors."
-- Reviewed by Tanya for Joyfully Reviewed