Devourer of books with a preference for fiction. Quite good at competitive reading. Happily hoards books of all kinds. Gets stabby going too long without reading.
This novella is part of Bec McMaster's London Steampunk series. Some of the back story and world building for the story can be found in my review for Kiss of Steel, the first book in the series.
When former factory worker turned East End enforcer John "Rip" Doolan was nearly killed by a vampire attack, the only way to save his life was for his employer Blade to infect him with the craving virus (a sort of vampire light option). After six months, he is still struggling to control his blood lust. The last thing he wants to do is endanger his Esme, Blade's housekeeper, who previous to the vicious attack was his dearest friend.
Esme's heart nearly broke when John was almost killed, and she'd love for nothing more than to be his thrall, i.e his real live blood donor. While those infected with the craving virus can drink bottled blood or chilled blood from storage, they obviously prefer it straight from the vein, and the thralls get a near sexual thrill from the exchange. Esme, a widow who had become very close to John (she's the only person not to call him Rip) before his near-fatal attack, was hoping for a future with him and doesn't see why him suddenly having the craving virus should stop that.
John, of course, is pigheadedly protective and determined to keep his distance and the two keep having tense and unproductive encounters in between mostly avoiding one another until their employer, Blade, steps in and provides some Yuletide manipulation for the good of all.
There is also an action subplot involving a criminal gang called the Slashers, who kidnap women and children and drain them of blood, selling it to the Echelon, the vampiric nobility. As one of Blade's chief lieutenants, John is trying to track the Slashers down and Esme, of course, gets kidnapped as retaliation. Can John save his beloved before it's too late?
Reading this novella reminded me just how much fun the world Bec McMaster has created is. Both Esme and John were supporting characters in Kiss of Steel. You don't need to have read the first book in the series to understand the plot, but you'll have a greater understanding of the intricate world-building. It's a nice little romance, where the annoying misunderstandings of John avoiding Esme to protect her and both of them constantly saying the wrong thing or misinterpreting the words of the other may go on for a bit longer than I would have liked (I tend to find any romance where the problems could be solved just by the characters daring to speak honestly to each other), it's not a big flaw. Having now revisited McMaster's alternative Steampunk London, I will most assuredly return there later this reading year.