This week’s theme is holidays. I just LOVE the fall holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Winter Solstice, New Years. *happy sigh* Be sure to visit all the other fab authors via the links after the excerpts. Enjoy!
Gift Wrap Optional
is the story of Melaniece and Michael, two lovers who’d had an opportunity to live happily ever after…until he decided to marry Melaniece’s best friend years ago. Now Michael is back and he’s decided that he is going to be Melaniece’s Christmas present, him…and his fangs.
EXCERPT from GIFT WRAP: OPTIONAL
By TJ Michaels, Copyright 2006
Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Available in trade paperback or eBook
Melaniece Matthews muttered to herself, carefully navigating the icy winding road leading up to the high country.
“Man, what a weird dream. Michael, a vampire?” The same strange dream plagued her at least twice a week for the past six months. They’d started immediately after she’d returned from a short trip home to California. It had been so good to see her friends and family after being away for eight years. And beyond lovely to see Michael Bannon again—the man she’d always loved. And, sigh, the man who’d seen her as just a great friend. Instead of marrying her, he’d hooked up with someone else, a woman named Janna. The end result? Six years of hell on earth for him. And now he haunted her in her sleep.
While Melaniece could admit she’d thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with him after so many years, she sure as hell wasn’t going to admit he’d been on her mind ever since. Her dream crept around the edges of her mind. “What if he is a vampire?” she smirked to herself, a sarcastically evil grin plastered across her lips. “That would explain why he ripped my heart out by marrying Janna. There’d certainly been plenty of blood to go around.”
Peering through the cold, clear windshield, Melaniece grimaced as her thoughts turned to her favorite holiday. Instead of the usual elation about Christmas, she was assailed with a mix of emotions she couldn’t quite nail down. There was the thrill of spending time with her children after a whole year of separation, chased by a longing for intimate companionship so acute she found herself on the verge of tears. Then, right there at the back of her mind was an elusive sense of naughty anticipation. But for what? A good lay? Not likely. She had no prospects and no interest in hunting for any. Michael’s handsome face popped into her head complete with fangs and a roguish grin, just like in her dream. Damn, she could practically feel the gorgeous, redheaded hunk making love with her as his incisors rasped over her skin. Yep, right there on the big sheepskin rug in front of the fireplace. Perfect spot.
“Hah, right!” she laughed with an unmistakable snort and waved the image away. But her breathing quickened in spite of a refusal to acknowledge the fine-assed man with fangs dancing around in her head. Give it a minute and her pulse would return to normal, right? Woo, she needed to turn off the heat. In spite of the freezing cold, the car was hot as hell. After a quick glance down at the console, she rolled her eyes up to the roof of the car. The damned heat wasn’t even turned on!
“Good grief, I’m hopeless,” she quietly grumbled. And it was all her dream man’s fault. Key word—dream. First off, she’d long given up hope in that quarter. Second, there was no such thing as vampires. So Michael was single again. Big deal. They’d had a great time reuniting in California six months ago. Who cared? None of it meant he wanted her now any more than he had eight years before.
With the car packed full of wrapped packages and luggage, Melaniece focused on the upcoming holiday. A glimpse at the pile of boxes in the backseat brought a small smile as she reminded herself this was a season to give generously to those you loved…and those who loved you back. And boy was she prepared to do just that.
Her children had spent the past year in an exchange program teaching English in Japan. It was amazingly expensive to live on the exotic little island. With most of their meager salaries going toward rent, groceries and train fare, the two had gone without some conveniences. When they returned to Minato-ku, a suburb of Tokyo, they’d sure as hell take lots of top-of-the-line goodies with them. Nothing but the best for her kids.
Christmas Day was fast approaching. She looked into the rearview mirror and spoke sharply to the woman reflected in the narrow glass.
“Okay you,” she said to herself. “No more goofy dreams, no more wasting time mooning over someone you can’t have and no more vampire nonsense. It’s Christmas and you’re gonna accept whatever Santa decides to give you. Got it?”
Got it. She popped a classic holiday CD into the player and hummed along with “Santa Baby”. With genuine laughter, Melaniece let Nat King Cole chase away her blues as she headed up the highway to her vacation home to meet her family. Up there among the snow-capped peaks, the long-toothed boogeyman was not allowed, no matter how yummy he looked in her sleep, damn it.
The sun had just dipped below the mountain peaks when Melaniece pulled into the garage. Snow had begun falling in fat, wet flakes and she was relieved to see a big, black SUV covered with a fresh dusting of the white stuff parked on the other side of the wide garage. She slammed her car into park thinking now was a good time to do a funky little happy dance—her children, Denise and Melvin, were already here.
The second she shut off the engine and popped the trunk, an excited and very loud female came hurtling out the door. A blur of what looked like a white sweatshirt covered with red Japanese kanji symbols and a pair of black pants practically tackled her before she’d cleared the car door.
“Hi, Mom!” Denise screeched.
Melaniece’s heart melted and a big grin tipped up the sides of her mouth. Awww, it was so nice to be loved by one’s children.
“Hi, sweet pea! It’s so good to see you. Where’s your brother?” Melaniece asked, trying to peek over her daughter’s shoulder toward the open door leading into the house.
“I’m right here, Mom. How are you?” Melvin asked cheerfully. Long jean-clad legs carried him out to the garage and to Melaniece’s side. Six-feet-two inches of slender muscular male wrapped his arms around both sister and mom, engulfing them in a warm group hug.
Melaniece stepped back and grinned widely at her “babies”. At eighteen and twenty years old, they were mirror images of herself, with the exception of their dwarfing her modest five-feet-four inches. Long, dark locs covered their heads, apple pie cheeks sported dimples and they both flashed perfect, bright smiles. Their cocoa-colored skin and strong physiques were rounded out by stellar personalities. Beautiful and handsome described them to a tee.
Melaniece stepped back and shook her head in disbelief at Melvin. “Boy, are you ever gonna stop growing? I know you’ve grown at least a few good inches since I last saw you. And so good-looking, too! You know you get that from your mama, right?” she quipped. And there it was—the blush only a teasing mom could bring about in a grown son. It bloomed in his cheeks, turning his cocoa-colored skin a shade more reminiscent of a caramel-covered apple!
“And you should see all the girls that chase after him! And once I caught him and the neighbor…” Denise chimed in, ever the older sister.
“Mom!” Melvin implored.
“Okay, enough teasing your brother,” Melaniece chuckled, feeling happier than she had in…well, since her trip home to Michael, er, California. But she wouldn’t dwell on that. Or her goofy dream.
“Help me with my stuff?” Moving toward the already open trunk of her car, she turned to grab whatever was closest at hand and began to fill the arms of both Denise and Melvin with their Christmas gifts.
“Good lord, woman! What is all this?” Melvin asked, feigning a gasp under the weight of a particularly hefty box.
Melaniece didn’t answer, just smiled and handed over package after package until both their arms were loaded. Before she could reach for another one, Melvin said, “Go on in and relax. We’ll bring this stuff in. Dinner is already prepared.”
Melaniece felt her stomach tighten and rumble. Gosh, with all the packing, the long drive up, and preoccupation with her dreams—not to mention the constant low-grade arousal because of them—she’d completely forgotten about breakfast and lunch. Well, her stomach made it clear it was feeling neglected and the loud rumble was heard by all.
An aroma hit her nose the second she stepped over the threshold into the house. Shrimp, tomatoes, garlic…Old Bay Seasoning?
“Wooo! I smell it,” she cried happily. “Cajun food! Oh yeah! Uh-huh!” An awful rendition of the Electric Slide dance carried her on inside. She headed directly to the kitchen, not the least bit offended when her kids’ chuckles followed her. Yep, this was going to be one heck of a Christmas!
With dinner done and dishes cleared, Denise and Melvin decorated the seven-and-a-half-foot real pine Christmas tree they’d picked up in town earlier. An overstuffed Melaniece slid onto the floor in front of the fireplace and watched them at play. Her fingers sank into the thick pile of the sheepskin rug as she lay on her back and moaned with a lopsided smile plastered on her face. Dinner had been fabulous. Denise had made Shrimp Creole with Dirty Rice and Melvin had whipped up a peach cobbler made with homemade butter crust. Oh god, she was so full, all she could do was lie there, soak in the warmth of the fire and hope she didn’t explode. But hell, she’d die fat and happy.
When the doorbell sounded, she didn’t move from her warm spot on the floor. Besides, she had a good idea who it was and secretly wished the cockeyed nosy neighbor would just leave her customary Christmas cookies on the porch and leave.
“Get that, will you Denny?” Melaniece drawled sleepily, eyes half-closed. The soft footfalls of her daughter’s bare feet, the quiet click of the deadbolt and easy swish of the front door opening reached her ears. She waited to hear Denise’s “thank you for the gift, Mrs. Orley”. A few moments passed but the neighbor wasn’t calling out her customary holiday greeting, nor was Denise giving her usual Merry Christmas to whoever was at the door.
She definitely knew something was going on when the little hairs on the back of her neck joined her stomach in an out-of-the-blue spastic butterfly dance. Melaniece cracked open one eye and looked toward the door.
Two large suitcases sat in the middle of her now snow-covered foyer floor and Denise, who was doing a fabulous job of completely ignoring her, thus avoiding her stare of doom, helped a bundled, but familiar-looking, form out of a thick parka.
Melaniece glanced over at her son and froze. If the boy wanted her to believe nothing was out of the ordinary, his ear-splitting grin pretty much gave him away. But whatever it was, he wasn’t telling.
She watched layers of clothing fall away from the person. A jacket, sweater, snow pants and boots had been hiding a wide, solid-looking back, thick muscular thighs and an ass that couldn’t possibly belong to a mere mortal. Successfully swallowing the lump growing in her throat, Melaniece sat up, both mouth and eyes wide. Oh, lord! Had the kids ordered her a stripper? Woo, what a hunk!
The hunk turned to face her and snatched a knit cap off his disheveled head to reveal tastefully cut auburn hair, startling green eyes and sinfully full lips.
“Holy. Shit,” Melaniece whispered.
Michael Bannon walked into her living room, eyeing her like the cat who’d swallowed the canary…or in this case, the partridge in the pear tree.
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