You know I’m trying to approach my Countdown to Christmas series touching on a variety of subgenres in the world of romance, and I realized I had no vampires. *gasp* Paranormal romance with vampires and werewolves is a huge subset of the fiction we all enjoy, so I had to have some representation, right?
I stumbled across the fact that, for a few years running, Silhouette Books produced a holiday anthology with a vampire focus, collecting novellas from well-known authors of category romance in this area and inserting a holiday season and some snow.
The spirit of Christmas is most assuredly not the focus, so don’t go looking to this anthology for that. This collection is more about hot, hot vampires finding that one person meant for them right around the holiday. Honestly, my favorite Christmas vampire story comes from the best vampire series ever, the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost. In the anthology, The Bite Before Christmas, Frost published “Home for the Holiday” where Cat and Bones try and have an ideal Christmas but circumstances throw a serious wrench in the works.
But if you haven’t read Jeaniene Frost (and for goodness sake, what are you waiting for?), then a collection like Holiday With a Vampire III can satisfy that craving at an affordable price and with no need for understanding complicated backstory or series’ arcs.
“Sundown” by Linda Winstead Jones
Interestingly enough, while Linda Winstead Jones is no stranger to paranormal romance, she had never written a vampire romance before this one. When speaking to her writing group about how she’d probably never do one, this story just sort of popped into her head…and stayed there. So she decided to write it down and here we are.
Abby is the owner of the Sundown Bar in Budding Corner, Alabama, a perfect town as it’s not too small nor too big. That’s helpful because as a four-hundred year old vampire, Abby needs a certain degree of anonymity. Because of her seniority and inherent power, other vampires are drawn to her and the bar for guidance. The city attracts the rogue vampires and the small towns have everyone in your business, so Budding Corner is just right.
Except for one particular human. Sexy detective Leo Stryker doesn’t seem to have the natural avoidance issues of the other humans who patronize the bar. He is drawn to the lovely Abby and keeps asking her out, unfazed by her stream of rejection. But when a patron is murdered, her throat ripped out and her body drained of blood, he has to question the last people who saw her alive, and they were all at the bar.
Abby is incensed that this murder happened on her turf, possibly by someone she knows. That it keeps throwing the temptation of Leo in her path is not helping her resist her craving for his blood and his body, not necessarily in that order. Taking him as a lover would endanger her control of the area as vampires see humans merely as pets with a short shelf life, but she can’t seem to stay away, even when she has wipe his mind after every encounter. Planting the suggestion that he should leave her alone doesn’t help, since he keeps coming back. But when whatever killed that girl puts Leo in its sights, Abby might not be fast enough to save the person who suddenly means more than her own life.
If this is Jones’ first vampire story, she would do well to try writing another – it was fantastic! I liked how vampire society existed right alongside humans but they didn’t realize its presence except to shy away from its members, a nice mammalian reminder that we are still animals who sense predators. Most convincing, though, was the cool and emotionally distant attitude of vampire toward humans. That seemed like a logical development when vampires knew humans were going to die (and that they might be the one to kill them). Leo breaks through Abby’s shell and you feel the pain every time they make a connection and she’s forced to wipe his mind. A terrific ending (and epilogue) that makes me cheer for the patrons of the Sundown Bar, wherever it may be located!
“Nothing Says Christmas Like a Vampire” (Secret Vampire Society #2) by Lisa Childs
Sienna Briggs is standing over her grandmother’s coffin right before Christmas, crying. She’s truly alone now, all her family dead, and trying to keep her promise to stay cheerful and celebrate the holiday but it feels impossible. When a handsome man with a familiar diamond-shaped scar on his chin sweeps in claiming she has to come with him so he can protect her, she thinks he’s a crazy con man attracted by the obituary in the paper. Until the memory of him, looking exactly as he is now, resurfaces. This man pulled her from the wreckage of the car accident that killed her parents when she was seven. She promptly faints into his arms.
Vampire Julian Vossimer knows what he’s doing is wrong, but he can’t help himself. He felt guilty he couldn’t do more to spare this woman pain twenty years ago when she was a child and now that she’s a gorgeous woman with a strong pull on him, he’s not about to let her be killed by his kind. Sienna doesn’t know that what she thought were drug-induced ravings during her grandmother’s last days was actually the truth. Julian’s powerful grandfather suspected Sienna’s grandmother of knowing about the secret society of vampires, but he couldn’t prove it until she was overheard in the nursing home by a planted spy. The grandmother died naturally, but now by law, Sienna must also.
I’m actually okay with the instant love at first sight (or sexual encounter) trope, particularly when one or both characters have paranormal qualities. There was an interesting backstory with Sienna’s grandmother rejecting Julian decades earlier because she knew (she had mind-reading abilities) that he was just fascinated with her beauty versus the man who actually loved her (Sienna’s grandfather). Julian has felt unworthy of love during his long existence with a string of distant relatives and other rejections, so when he falls head over heels – finally! – with Sienna, he doesn’t tell her, worried that she also will reject him. All Sienna hears is that the man she just slept with in a bone-melting way wants to marry her to protect her, but she is wearing her grandmother’s ring to remind her of her promise to only marry for love. While she’s fallen, it doesn’t seem like he has, and her trying to gain a little distance could result in both of their deaths.
A couple things. First, I happen to believe that if you had a secret society, you wouldn’t refer to it as “The Secret Vampire Society,” you’d come up with a better code name, but that’s clearly me. Childs, a well-known name in category paranormal, has an entire series built around the Secret Society of vampires and it’s very popular. This story is technically the second in the series (see above cover for the first), so if you enjoy it, you’ll have lots of other books to enjoy. I found the ending a little saccharine (and Sienna just gains her grandmother’s mind-reading ability all of a sudden?) but loved how Julian and Sienna had a happy ending after years of suffering.
Bonnie Vanak is also famous with vampire romance fans, but her stories have a bit of a twist. Her vampires live in a world alongside the Draicon, the werewolves who also have their own society and traditions, and the two are usually enemies.
Unless they are more, that is. Adrian is the powerful son of his vampire clan leader, but is serving the term of his banishment in a mansion in Maine until Christmas Eve, when his father and elders come to evaluate his worthiness to return to the clan and be the heir. But six unruly goblins who are his friends (they are hilarious!) give him an ugly doll for Christmas, an enchanted one who just happens to be the beautiful werewolf Adrian is still in love with, despite his best efforts not to be.
After Sarah is dunked in a pool in the dead of a Maine winter, her magical ability to transform kept at bay with a silver bracelet, the last person she expects to see is her vampire friend from all those years ago. Adrian makes it clear he feels horribly betrayed when she left him on that beach to fight her enemies, the Morphs (evil werewolves who have killed their own kind and taken on the ability to transform into any creature). He still doesn’t know what called her away or what happened afterward, and she’s horrified to discover that the vampires present at the battle did not help him fight the way she assumed they would. Instead those cold representatives of his race watched him get beaten and then left him in the sun to suffer permanent scarring until he begged for their help. That incident began the term of his banishment since he had broken their laws to help a werewolf.
Adrian doesn’t want to feel anything but distance seeing Sarah again but she’s even more lovely than ever, if thinner and clearly exhausted. He tries to let his anger fuel their interaction, but she was his best friend as well as the untouchable woman he was in love with. Discovering that her destined mate died long ago without her ever being with him jolts him into the awareness that she might possibly be within reach, even if just for one night. They cannot be together by the rules of both their kind, but this tie between them cannot be denied. When he discovers that she did not maliciously leave him, but in fact left for a horrifying but very good reason, he realizes what a hell her life has been the last decade while he was wallowing. When their mutual enemies resurface, they both have a chance to conquer what tore them apart, but it might not be enough to keep them together.
In the romance world it’s not uncommon for one of the hero/heroine pair to know that they’ve met the person destined for them, but for whatever reason (they are too young, circumstances aren’t right, blah, blah, blah) they can’t be together and they sleep with other people in an effort to ignore what they know deep in their heart. Major kudos to Adrian who knows that there is no one but Sarah for him the moment he meets her eleven years earlier, and who remains completely celibate since – even after he thinks she betrayed their friendship by leaving him on the sand on that beach. He doesn’t even kiss Sarah out of respect for her being promised to a mate!
Adrian was the perfect tortured vampire (is there any other kind?) and Sarah was so brave with everything she’d been through. Her injury at the hands of someone she loved and trusted was heartbreaking and finding out just how close that tie was broke my heart. While I felt the ending was a little tidy with two races putting aside some rather long-standing animosity, certainly there was an “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” vibe happening, so I’m willing to go along with it. I loved seeing them both happy after eleven years of suffering and hope they keep those awesome goblins around.
This anthology provided some solid vampire fare with a little injection of Christmas angst, enough to make your grateful for having a not-so-tortured holiday! With novellas from some famous authors in the paranormal category romance world, this is a nice way to sample the writing styles of women who can serve up many more books if you find yourself clicking with their view of the vampire world. While they might prefer red for a different reason, these sexy vampires are all ready to spread their version of holiday cheer. 🙂