You could always tell when a vampire was irritated.
Malcolm’s icy gray eyes flashed and narrowed, and a muscle in his jaw clenched. It was all barely noticeable, of course, and only someone who’d been among vampires for a while would have been able to catch it.
Gavin Martello was that someone. One of his female coworkers at the gym—and a good personal friend of his—happened to be a vampire, and he’d been dating Malcolm for almost a full year now. He liked to think he’d gotten quite good at reading them, no matter how much they didn’t like it. It was a little vampire secret that they tried to hide their true feelings by not saying anything at all, and so Gavin had learned very fast how to pick up on their expressions.
Malcolm turned away from him, all grace and unearthly beauty. He walked into the kitchen of Gavin’s small home, and he went to the refrigerator, saying nothing.
“What’s that look for?” Gavin asked wearily, arms crossing. If Malcolm’s expression had been meant to quiet him, Malcolm was in for a surprise. He may have been a vampire, but Gavin didn’t scare easy. Besides, he knew that beneath the scary I’m-a-monster exterior, Mal could be quite the pussycat.
“You know, for being, like, a million years old, you’re not very good at lying.”
Malcolm didn’t say anything. He just kept rooting around in the refrigerator. Gavin got the idea that he wasn’t even really seeing anything in there, that he was just doing it to busy his hands. It was like he didn’t want to have to look at Gavin, and for some reason, this was really annoying.
With a little sigh, Gavin slipped past him and climbed up onto the counter next to the fridge. He swung his legs a little, furrowing his brow as he watched the vampire. What on Earth had grated on Malcolm’s nerves this time? What could possibly be wrong with him?
Christmas was on the way, and Gavin had just been telling him about the party his sister was throwing the next evening, Christmas Eve. He’d spent the day putting up his fake tree—by himself, mind you; he’d let Malcolm sleep in his little hidey-hole downstairs—and he’d gotten the living room all nice and decorated for the holiday. He normally put the tree up at least a good couple of weeks before Christmas, but he just hadn’t had time this year. Better late than never, he figured.
It would be his and Malcolm’s first Christmas together since they’d met at the beginning of the year, and Gavin was more than a little excited about it. He’d never had someone to celebrate with—somehow, he’d always been single on what he considered the most important holiday of the year. And to him, things couldn’t have been better. He had a man he loved, a party to go to, the Weather Channel had promised that it’d be a white Christmas, and he was making good money at the gym, which meant that he’d been able to buy good presents for everyone.
So why, when Malcolm had ventured up from the basement, did he have to go and mess it all up? Gavin hadn’t been expecting him to jump for joy at all the decorations that had gone up, but a little “Yeah, looks nice” would have gone a long way.
“Do I have to guess what’s wrong?” Gavin asked. “I can’t read your mind.”
“I just don’t care for this holiday. I don’t want to do anything for Christmas,” Malcolm said. His tone could only be described as stiff. Confrontational.
“What do you mean you don’t want to do anything?”
“Exactly what I said.” Malcolm spared him a glance, eyes stormy. “I don’t want to celebrate.”
This was said so simply that it left Gavin stumped. Sure, there were probably a lot of people who didn’t like Christmas, but he’d been so looking forward to it. It’d been his favorite holiday since childhood—the snow, the music, the break from school, the presents—it was hard for him to believe that there were people who didn’t like it. And his mother, with whom he’d been very close, had shared his feelings on the matter—it’d been their thing.
For the first time since he’d been planning the holiday, he suddenly remembered that Malcolm was a vampire.
“Oh, is it religious reasons?” He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of that sooner. Crosses and other Christian paraphernalia could hurt vampires, and they couldn’t walk on hallowed ground, and Christmas was very, well, Christ-related.
“No. Maybe I just fucking hate Christmas.”
“I’m over a hundred years old, Gavin. I’ve celebrated Christmas all over the world for as long as I’ve been around. It loses its charm after the first fifty years or so, believe me.”
“Oh. But I thought….”
“You thought you’d make all these plans and decide what we’re going to do before even consulting me?” Malcolm asked. When he put it like that, it did sound bad. But Gavin had been excited—he couldn’t help it. “Maybe if you’d asked first, you wouldn’t have wasted your time putting up all these stupid decorations.”
“Stupid?” Gavin echoed, his face heating in anger. Any bit of guilt he’d felt seconds before vanished.
“Christmas is useless. It’s an excuse for you humans to spend money and pretend to care about one another. It’s an artificial holiday, and I’ve always hated it.”
“Well, you don’t have to be such an asshole about it,” Gavin murmured.
Malcolm suddenly straightened, shutting the fridge a little harder than he normally might have. “Are there any more packs? I could have sworn I had some,” he said coolly.
“How should I know? I don’t drink the stuff.”
“You said you’d pick up more.”
“And I did. It’s not my fault you’re a glutton and sucked them all down,” Gavin said, rolling his eyes. “You don’t even need that much, do you? I mean, you can survive on, like, a drink a week.”
“You don’t need all those donuts, but you eat them anyway,” Malcolm said matter-of-factly.
To a lesser man, such a remark may have stung. But Gavin was at the gym regularly, both to work and to work out, and while he took care of his body, he’d also been blessed with a fast metabolism. So what if he ate a couple of sweets every now and then? He deserved them.
He hopped off the counter, and gave Malcolm a wide, sweeping bow. Malcolm arched his eyebrows skeptically, and Gavin said, “Allow me to run right out to the blood bank for your majesty. Never mind the fact that it’s snowing and I have to go all the way to Annapolis. Oh, it’s no big deal, really. I don’t care if it takes me an hour to get there. Even though you could probably fly there and save me all the trouble.”
Malcolm only deadpanned him, and Gavin didn’t blame him. Everyone and their mother knew that vampires couldn’t fly.
Gavin moved past him, grabbing his coat from the back of one of the dining room chairs. He shrugged it on in short, jerky motions, realizing how angry he was really feeling. It wasn’t often that he got mad at Malcolm—it wasn’t often that Malcolm acted like an insensitive jerk—but sometimes, it just got a little difficult being with someone like him.
First, there were the ungodly hours. After Malcolm had started staying with him, Gavin had had to completely switch up his routine. He’d once been a morning person, the sort of guy who considered the sun a near and dear friend. Ever since he and Malcolm had started dating though, he’d become a night owl.
Then there was the blood. Thank God for the blood banks that had been established for that very purpose, because the relationship may not have worked if Gavin had had to feed Malcolm all on his own. Gavin was muscular, but also rather thin, and the very few times Malcolm had fed from him, it had severely weakened him. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling—in fact, it was kind of nice—but Gavin did have a life outside of his boyfriend, and he needed to keep his strength up for it. Not to mention, he was afraid of the scars. He could count on one hand the number of times he’d let Malcolm feed on him, and he’d like to keep it that way.
And don’t even get him started on Malcolm’s attitude. Sometimes Malcolm went through what Gavin secretly referred to as “vampire PMS”—he could be sardonic, inconsiderate, and full to the brim of himself. During his vampire PMS, he sometimes got it into his head that the world revolved around him, and he acted like he was some sort of royalty. And that got old real fast.
It was simple: vampires could be dicks. Everyone knew that. And Gavin had been well aware of that going into the relationship. Really, he should have been expecting Malcolm’s attitude—it’d been a while since he’d gotten into one of his moods.
As Gavin was cutting through the living room to the front door, a sound like rushing wind met his ears, and Malcolm was suddenly in front of him, blocking his way. Gavin glowered. There was that too, that stupid unnatural speed that all vampires insisted on using whenever they got the opportunity. They could be real showoffs at times.
“Gavin, I’m sorry.” It was clear by Malcolm’s tone that he was only saying what he thought Gavin wanted to hear. He looked down at Gavin with those intense gray eyes, and Gavin wondered if he were trying to hypnotize him. He’d once asked Malcolm if that were possible, if vampires had that ability, but Malcolm had only laughed. To this day, Gavin didn’t know what that had meant.
Fortunately, if that had been what Malcolm was trying to do, it had no effect. “It’s fine, whatever,” Gavin said.
“You don’t have to go to Annapolis.”
“If I don’t, who will? For some reason, you and your bloodsucking kind are terrified of going inside blood banks. You know, they’re not going to kidnap and drain you or anything—that’s kind of the opposite of their goal.”
“No one has to go at all. You were right—I can survive without it.” Suddenly, the hints of a smirk played at his full lips. “And if it gets bad, maybe you would be so kind as to…?” He trailed off, his eyebrows rising suggestively. Any other time, Gavin might have gone along with it, and any other time, Gavin might have accepted this teasing remark as an apology.
But not this time. “No. I’d rather drive over thirty miles in the snow than let you anywhere near my veins, thanks,” he said curtly. “Besides, it’ll be nice to get away from your negativity and cynicism for a little while.”
“Get out of my way.”
Malcolm didn’t move. His expression was hard to read, but he almost looked confused. Like he couldn’t believe that Gavin hadn’t just merrily accepted his apology. That figured. Vampires always acted like they were so smart and so much more clever than humans. That was a joke.
Gavin rolled his eyes again. “Get out of my way or get out of my house.”
At the threat of having his invitation rescinded, Malcolm sidestepped out of the way. Gavin all but threw the door open, slammed into the storm door, and hurried out onto the stoop.
While the snow seemed to be coming down in bucketfuls, it was light and slow, and it didn’t seem to be sticking to the ground. Gavin sent a quick thanks up to the weather gods, praying that the flurries wouldn’t get worse before he returned. He buttoned up his peacoat as he made his way carefully down the brick steps.
“Gavin….” Malcolm was still inside, talking through the storm door. Gavin hadn’t quite gotten around to replacing the screen with the glass pane that he usually put up when the weather got colder. He suddenly wished he had. “Let me come with you.”
“Don’t test me right now.” Gavin turned to look up at the vampire. “And I swear to God, if you open that door to follow, I will stake you so fast you won’t know what hit you.”
“No you won’t.”
Gavin didn’t have it in him to argue. There wasn’t really any point—both he and Malcolm knew he was bluffing.
He ignored the feeling of Malcolm’s eyes burning into him as he walked down the driveway toward his car. As he slid into the driver’s seat, he realized he was grumbling wordlessly under his breath. He shook his head as he started the ignition, looking back at the house to see Malcolm still at the door.
Vampires were dicks. Why was Gavin surprised that Malcolm was a regular Ebenezer Scrooge?
So maybe Malcolm Travers was a jerk sometimes. He couldn’t help it.
It was just that sometimes, he didn’t feel like playing nice. He was a vampire, dammit. There was a reason why so many people had feared his kind over the years—why vampire stories had been particularly frightening in the past.
They were monsters.
But the vampires had decided to make their presence known in the world, and then all the vampire stories changed. Somehow, the monsters that had been the subject of terror to many became broody beauties who were just “misunderstood.” They were suddenly objects of attraction and desire to humans who, before, would have run for the hills screaming.
Not that Malcolm was saying he wanted to go on a murdering rampage and bathe in blood or anything—he just wanted people to remember what someone like him was capable of.
The more he thought about it, the more it seemed, even to himself, that he’d been trying to hurt Gavin’s feelings. That most certainly wasn’t the case—he loved Gavin. He loved everything about that hyperactive, fast-talking human, and there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for Gavin.
Except celebrate Christmas, apparently.
“Christ, I’m an asshole.”
Malcolm stepped away from the storm door finally, unaware of how long he’d been standing there, letting in cold air. As he was shutting the main door, it caught on the jamb and he had to force it. Then the house was silent—deathly silent. It was the sort of quiet that a vampire normally relished.
Now it was the sort of quiet that seemed to be scolding him.
He could have made it to Annapolis before Gavin. He could have left right then and there and run all the way there to meet his boyfriend. But Gavin was already mad enough—with reason—and Malcolm didn’t want to make it any worse. He couldn’t chance having his invitation into Gavin’s house revoked.
So instead, Malcolm went to the brown leather couch and sank onto it, stretching his legs out in front of him. He looked at the Christmas tree that had been set up when he’d come up from the basement—Gavin had put it up during the day while he’d been sleeping. It had been decorated masterfully, as though it was something that Gavin had put a lot of thought and effort into.
As though it was something that meant a great deal to him.
Malcolm felt like shit. The sight of the tree had at first annoyed him—he hated Christmas, he hated everything about it, bah humbug!—but now it shamed him. Did he really deserve someone like Gavin if this was how he was going to treat him? Someone so good and caring, so pure?
He sat there contemplating this until Gavin returned. When you were a vampire, sometimes time just flew by without you knowing it. Gavin had often referred to this as “standby mode,” and all vampires experienced it.
Gavin entered, cheeks flushed from the cold and brown, collar-length hair dotted with snowflakes. The coat he wore was a size too big for him, and it hid his lean frame and narrow shoulders, dwarfing him. He carried a blue plastic bag, and the sight of it made more guilt wash over Malcolm. It was almost humiliating.
He stood up just as Gavin pushed the door shut. Gavin didn’t even look his way as he tossed the bag at him, and if not for Malcolm’s vampire reflexes, he might not have caught it.
“There you go, your highness.”
“Gavin, I’m sorry.”
“Mmm,” Gavin grunted. He pulled his coat off and threw it over the back of the couch. And then, much to Malcolm’s astonishment, Gavin began taking down the decorations, starting with the tacky wreath that was covered in fake snow and had two plastic cardinals buried in the fake pine needles. He’d hung it neatly over the TV but now ripped it down as if it were nothing to him.
“What are you doing?” Malcolm asked on a sigh.
The human went to the plastic tote box that hadn’t yet been put away, the one with the word “X-mas” written on it in black Sharpie. He tossed the wreath into it. “What’s it look like?”
“Don’t do this.”
“You don’t want to celebrate, we won’t celebrate.” Gavin still hadn’t looked at him. He began gathering all of the little knickknacks that he’d set out—different Santa figurines and whatnot. There wasn’t anything gentle about the way he put them into the box.
“Don’t be so dramatic.”
Gavin ignored him. He moved on to the tree next, and had Malcolm been human, he may have cringed. Gavin started pulling down all the ornaments, tearing them from the fake branches to throw in the box as well.
Malcolm, dropping his bag of blood on the couch, moved forward. He bent to examine the contents of the box, and after a moment’s thought, he grabbed a few of the knickknacks. He set about putting them back up around the living room—maybe not in the same places that Gavin had had them, but he did his best. He didn’t know for sure what he was trying to accomplish, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
When Gavin realized what he was doing, however, he turned to Malcolm with an unhappy expression on his face. “Don’t,” he said angrily. “Put that down, you fanged bastard.”
Despite Gavin’s anger, Malcolm had to bite back a grin. While the term “fanged bastard” struck him as funny, there was also a small part of him that loved it when Gavin was mad. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, Malcolm couldn’t help the surge of lust it sent through him.
He could hear Gavin’s heart; it was pounding hard and fast in his anger. The sound of his blood rushing in his veins—normally a sound that Malcolm ignored, pushed into the background—was suddenly a huge turn-on. There was a delicious blush to Gavin’s olive skin, and his brown eyes glowed like furious coals.
Desire bloomed in Malcolm’s gut, spreading through him like wildfire. Gavin radiated heat and passion, and electricity sparked in the air around him. He was angry, but he was as beautiful as ever. Malcolm’s cock reacted almost instantly, growing hard and pressing against his jeans in mere moments.
That was another vampire thing, all right: their increased libido.
Gavin dropped the ornaments that he’d been cradling in his arms into the box, and it sounded to Malcolm like at least one may have broken. He put his hands on his hips, looking more comical than angry. Malcolm was finding it very difficult now not to smile.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Gavin said.
“I’m not in the mood.” Gavin wasn’t the least bit affected by the electricity in the air—or he was trying hard to seem oblivious.
Malcolm took a little step toward him, and Gavin moved away. Malcolm raised his eyebrows, his smirk growing. “Come on, Gavin, I’m sorry. I didn’t know this holiday meant so much to you. I’m an idiot, all right?”
After a long moment, Gavin’s arms relaxed and fell to his sides. His face remained tight, though. He frowned, blinked, and said, “I’m still not in the mood.”
Still smirking, Malcolm reached for him.
“Malcolm.” Gavin’s tone was one of warning.
And Malcolm took a step back now, smirk disappearing. He sighed. He may have been a monster, but when the boyfriend said no, it meant no.
“Don’t take all this stuff down, Gav.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
“Is there anything I can say to—?”
“No,” Gavin said firmly. “Now just stay out of my way until I’m finished.”
And so he did.
Malcolm didn’t know what to say—and there clearly wasn’t anything he could say—so he sat down on the couch, where he’d been when Gavin had entered, and he watched as Gavin took down all the decorations. For the most part, the human ignored him.
When it was all done, when the fake tree had been successfully torn apart and crammed back into its box, Gavin straightened and finally spared Malcolm a glance. He gestured to the grocery bag of blood packs. “You should get that into the fridge,” he said simply.
Gavin stared for a long moment, seeming to contemplate something. “I’m going to bed,” he said suddenly.
“But it’s so early—”
The door to Gavin’s bedroom shut loudly—not quite a slam, though Malcolm deserved no less—and Malcolm stared at the dark hall. He could have followed, he knew. He could have gone into Gavin’s room and refused to leave until the human listened to his apology, but what good would that have done? What kind of apology would it have been?
And besides, it would have only succeeded in making Gavin more angry.
So instead, Malcolm crept through the kitchen and down the basement stairs. He threw the bag of blood into the spare fridge that was only used to store his sustenance, and he made his way to the little hideaway under the stairs that was blocked off by a curtain.
Contrary to popular belief about vampires, they didn’t need coffins to sleep—just a good old bed where no daylight could reach them. He drew the curtain shut after he’d stepped into the cramped space, and he maneuvered easily through the dark until he reached the twin-sized bed, which he settled onto. It was still early, but he would have felt bad staying upstairs around Gavin—he would have felt wrong.
He lay there until the sun came up, wishing he was with Gavin instead. He couldn’t believe he’d been such an asshole to him.
Even when he’d been human, he’d never cared much for Christmas. Of course, he’d never thought to ask if Gavin enjoyed it. He hadn’t realized just how much fun Gavin found it to be until he’d heard him talking about it earlier. Unfortunately, Malcolm had been so blinded by his own selfishness that he hadn’t paid any attention.
He’d find a way to make it up to him.