Every Christmas Eve has its ritual.
In our house the rule was that my children could enjoy a midnight feast, if they were still awake at the witching hour. I checked my watch as I dried my hands on the bathroom towel; it was 11.55pm as I spied my two eldest creeping along the landing towards me.
I walked onto the landing and crouched down in front of them. Adam, my first born was now eight, tall and slender he was already forming the broad shoulders of a swimmer. Charlotte his sister had just turned six, and as the eldest woman of the house took her duties very seriously in looking after us all.
“What are you two doing up already?” I asked, tousling Adam’s hair and squeezing Charlotte’s nose between my fingers.
Charlotte pulled back, giggling. “We’re hungry daddy,” she said, barely above a whisper. My children had been taught from a young age to always keep their voices down when their daddy had a guest.
“Starving,” emphasised Adam, almost whining.
I laughed. “Starving, are you?” I poked them both playfully in the belly. “Like you’ve never been fed before, starving?”
They both looked at me, pleadingly.
Just then, I caught the sight of my youngest toddling along from behind them. Melody was almost two and a wobbly-walker. She dodged past her siblings, using them to steady herself before trying to get past me. I grabbed her around the waist and hoisted her scrabbling little body up into my arms, standing as I did so.
A father cannot have a favourite! That is a standard I refuse to compromise. I love all my children the same, and yet, there was something special about my little Melody. From the first time she opened her piercing blue eyes and looked up at me smiling, I felt the stabbing pain of anticipation all father’s must suffer the first time their daughter leaves the nest.
Naturally, I knew that that day was many years away, but regardless of how irrational it seemed, I missed her already.
As I gazed into her sweet little cherubic face, with her shoulder-length jet black hair perfectly framing it, again I felt my heart sink. Though her mother had been a rare beauty, I still found it incredible that such a perfectly formed little angel could have been produced from my loins.
Realising that her efforts were futile, Melody stopped struggling in my arms. She gazed at me with her heart-breaking blue eyes, and began to rub her little tummy in a clock-wise motion with her hand. This I knew was her way of telling me that she was hungry.
“Yum daddy,” she whispered, in her baby tone.
I kissed her gently on her nose and then gave her to her brother to hold. “Ok,” I said, “just let daddy see to his guest, then you can all eat.”
Their eyes lit up at my words. I laughed to myself; anyone would think that I starved them. I put a finger to my lips to remind them to be quiet, then crept down the stairs, taking care to avoid the fourth one from the bottom-as I had on the way up-due to the loud creak it made whenever anyone put any weight on it.
Behind me I heard the children settle on the top step to await my instruction. I glanced back to them and winked. Adam had his baby sister perched on the end of his knee, lovingly bouncing her up and down to keep her amused. Charlotte sat beside him, all three watching me closely.
I walked into the sitting room, and there snuggled up on the hearth rug in front of the fire was the woman I had picked up from the club earlier that evening. She stirred and moaned softly; pulling the duvet further up over her naked body.
In shifting the duvet, she uncovered her feet. Her perfectly pedicured toes peeked from underneath momentarily, before she unconsciously snatched them back into the warmth.
I stood over the fireplace and gazed down at her. She was indeed beautiful. Her long blond hair which earlier that evening looked as if she had just stepped out of a commercial, now cascaded over her high cheek bones in that tousled post-coital fashion so common after the event. But even so, it did not detract from her gorgeous features-what a stunner.
After a moment, I carefully I pulled back the duvet to uncover her naked form. Her perfect, unblemished skin shone radiantly in the glow of the firelight. There was a murmur of protest at the loss of heat from her cocoon, before she curled herself into the foetal position.
I knelt down beside her and gently began stroking her hair.
With a soft moan she turned her body towards me and through sleepy eyes smiled, warmly. Her lips parted slightly and she ran her tongue softly over them, moistening them just enough to cause a light sheen.
She reached up and tried to pull me towards her. It was so hard to resist.
With practised skill I retrieved the carving knife from under the settee and with one swift movement I opened her throat!
Her eyes widened, her expression a mixture of terror and confusion.
She tried to speak, her mouth moving up and down without any words coming out. She tried to lift herself up from the floor, one hand covering the opening in her neck through which her blood was pumping, the other she used to try and push away at the ground to rise, but it was futile.
The arterial spray of her life’s blood peppered the stonework surrounding the fireplace, before eventually slowing down to a sporadic jet shooting from her gaping wound. She slumped back down as the last of her strength ebbed away, then lay motionless.
I watched her a moment longer, then pulled away the duvet completely. Surveying it I was pleased to note that it had almost escaped blood-free. The same could not be said for the hearth rug, which was now more red than its original white. That would have to go!
With the tip of my knife I slit her open from throat to groin, revealing her organs which were now bathed in what was left of her life’s blood.
I walked to the door and turned to look up at my babies. Their bright eyes burned eagerly as they stared down at me, licking their lips in anticipation.
“Come on little monsters,” I smiled. “It’s ready!”
Dinner is served!
Simon’s anticipation started to rise when he saw the sign:
Hill House - 1 mile
With one hand on the wheel of his customised MG, he fumbled in the side door pocket for a fresh-breath spray. He squirted two shots into his mouth, wincing at the strong flavour. He wanted to be sure he was at his best, just in case Serena answered the door herself………with a Christmas kiss!
He still couldn’t believe his luck that he had been invited to her Christmas party. She was without doubt the most stunningly beautiful woman he had ever met. And she fancied him. At least, she must do, otherwise why invite him to her exclusive party having only met him for the first time, earlier that evening?
To think, it was only due to a chance encounter by the lifts at work that evening, that his work colleague Sarah had had the opportunity to ask him to walk her through the back alley near their office, to her Cousin’s waiting car. Initially, he had been reluctant to comply. After all, it was Christmas Eve, and he was eager to meet his mates at the pub, before the crowds arrived.
Simon had never fancied Sarah-far too plain for an up and coming executive like him. But she did have the ear of the Managing Director. Since she had been elevated to the dizzy heights of being his Personal Assistant, Simon had ensured that he paid her a little more attention. Though not too much! He didn’t want her thinking he fancied her. Even so, he figured it couldn’t hurt to play the chivalrous hero, so long as it didn’t become a regular occurrence.
Simon feigned enthusiasm making small talk with her whilst waiting for her Cousin Serena to arrive. And when she finally did, Simon was nearly knocked off his feet-in more ways than one. The red Mini screeched around the kerb so fast that Simon had to leap out of the way before being struck. He was ready to give the driver a piece of his mind……until Serena climbed out from behind the wheel!
She was short, Simon estimated barely five feet, but she was earth-shatteringly gorgeous. Her long black hair was swept back behind her shoulders. Her complexion, pale as milk, contrasted perfectly with her ruby lips. Her eyes held a deep blue hue, and looked like sapphires dropped in the snow. Their gaze pierced his very soul. Beneath her waist-high leather jacket, Simon could just make out a low-cut crimson blouse, revealing just enough to be sexy without being cheap. Beneath the blouse she wore skin tight figure-hugging jeans, which were tucked into knee-high black boots.
Simon’s gaze followed Serena’s figure up and down. He heard himself gasp before he could stop it. When his eyes met her face again, she was smiling. Simon felt his face flush, he hated it when that happened, but it was too late. He hoped that in the dim light from the street lamp, Serena wouldn’t notice.
Sarah, standing right next to him, did notice.
“Simon, I’d like you to meet my cousin, Serena.”
Before Simon could regain his composure, Serena moved forward, her hand outstretched.
“Lovely to meet you Simon, I’m so sorry about that.” She indicated to her car over her shoulder. “One of these days I’m going to get into trouble for my driving.”
Simon took her pale soft hand in his. It was cold to the touch in the chilly night air. He glanced at the perfectly manicured red fingernails as he brought her hand towards his bent-over face.
“Enchanted,” he said, trying his best to sound sophisticated. He allowed his lips to linger for a moment against Serena’s perfect skin.
“Oh,” breathed Serena, glancing at her cousin. “You didn’t tell me you knew any real gentlemen.”
“Simon and I work together,” replied Sarah. “He’s destined for greatness, or so I’m led to believe.”
Serena gave Simon an approving glance. “Well, he certainly looks the part.” She turned back to her cousin. “Why haven’t you invited him to my Christmas party, you know I need an escort?”
Serena turned back to face Simon. Moving closer she casually brushed some imaginary hairs off his shoulder. Simon’s eyes followed her hand “And real gentlemen are so hard to find.”
When Simon looked back Serena was so close to him that he could almost feel their noses touching. He had to fight an irresistible urge to kiss her. She was so close that the movement would barely register, and the thought of what lay between those ruby red lips was driving him insane.
But with Sarah standing so close, he felt he had to resist.
His mind went into overdrive.
Was this a set-up?
If he took the bait and moved in for a kiss, would Serena push him away?
He imagined the two girls standing there, laughing at him for thinking, even for a second, that a rare beauty like Serena would even contemplate allowing a grubby urchin like him to kiss those luscious, pouting, ruby pathways to paradise.
Had Sarah cooked this little charade up with her Cousin as revenge for some past slight Simon had made against her?
His mind raced, but he could not fathom such an insult. But then, perhaps he hadn’t realised it at the time. After all, before Sarah had been made the MD’s PA, he had barely given her the time of day when they passed in the corridor.
The moment seemed to Simon to last an agonising lifetime.
They were so close, but he willed himself not to move forward.
If Serena moved closer, that would be a different matter……But she didn’t.
After a few more seconds, Serena stepped back.
He wasn’t positive, but Simon felt that he caught a glimpse of disappointment on her face.
The moment had passed, forever.
Serena smiled. “You will come, won’t you?”
“Oh, yes,” Simon stuttered. “I’d love to. Just say when and where.”
He was aware of how pathetically keen he sounded, but for the moment, he didn’t care. He took comfort in the fact that he would have plenty of time to regain his composure on the drive to Serena’s house.
Sarah removed a pen and paper from her handbag. Leaning on the roof of the car she began scribbling.
She passed the paper to Simon.
“You can’t miss it, straight up the Old Forge Road out of town, then straight on for three miles. At the fork in the road turn left, then follow the signs for Hill House.”
Sarah opened the passenger door. As she slid inside the car, she said “I’ve put my mobile on the back, in case you get lost.”
Simon surveyed the details on the paper Sarah had handed him.
“I’ll look forward to it,” said Serena, giving Simon a final once-over. “Don’t be too long, the fun starts at around nine.” She tilted her head slightly to one side, her long dark hair cascading over her shoulder and falling across her neck. “And I’ll need my date to be with me when I make my grand entrance.”
Serena turned back to her car.
Simon sprang forward, refusing to miss a chance. He placed his hand over Serena’s on the door handle.
“Please, allow me.”
Serena brushed his cheek with her lips.
“A real gentleman,” she sighed. “You’ll be a perfect addition to my little gathering.”
As the care drove away, Simon felt a stab in his chest, which remained with him still.
He raced home. Showered, changed into his best designer suit, and splashed on his most expensive cologne-the one he saved for when he felt confident he was on to a sure thing. He checked himself out at least a half a dozen times in the mirror, before finally leaving.
Sarah’s directions were pretty straight forward.
Simon checked the time on his car clock; it was 8:45pm.
It was early by his usual standards for attending parties, but Serena’s insistence that he be there to escort her “AS HER DATE”, meant he could not afford to be one second late.