The Highlands #1
SING TO ME
With a wannabe dragon nagging her and a deadly enemy stalking her, Minnie might not even survive her summer in Seoul.
Minnie Kim's leaving Philo for the summer to vacation in Seoul, Korea with her parents. It’s the perfect opportunity to prove to them, especially her appa, that she’s the same girl she was before she became vampire—just with better stamina and faster reflexes.
Little does she know her dad has a plan of his own. His brother’s family is being haunted by the ghosts of their ancestors and he thinks perhaps Minnie, being mostly dead herself, can help put their ancestors to rest.
But of course nothing is ever as easy as it sounds and her restless ancestors are the least of Minnie’s problems. There’s an imugi greedily hoarding a pearl of power in her family’s garden and the pearl has attracted the unwanted attention of all kinds of nasties—including one enemy who would stop at nothing to destroy Minnie and everyone she loves.
Fiona MacDonald sped down the two-lane country road, glaring at the pines, aspen and purple mountain majesty. She wanted cityscape, not landscape. The frustration burned through her veins, but it was a thin veneer over the sorrow that would crush her if she let it.
Eight weeks ago, she was preparing for her debut with the Metropolitan Opera.
Six weeks ago, she’d been mugged and everything changed.
Four weeks ago, the opera company officially fired her.
Two weeks ago the neck brace came off, but she was still on a strict low-voice diet.
This morning she’d moved out of her tiny, roach-infested, and completely perfect apartment in downtown New York City, and boarded a plane for the Rocky Mountains.
And here she was, driving Colorado country roads riddled with potholes the size of the Ford Fiesta the rental company had given her. It had to be a conspiracy—she’d break an axle on the pitiful thing that was never meant to travel these country roads, and the rental place would steal a hefty repair fee from her insurance.
She gritted her teeth as the right wheel crashed into a crater she’d tried to avoid. Her bones ached. Her whole body ached. Her heart ached.
How could she return to life at Highlands Lodge after her glamorous—or what-should-have-been-glamorous—life in New York? How could she be a riding coach, a trail guide or a kennel keeper when she was born to be a performer? How could she return home after the way she’d left it six years ago?
She hadn’t been home once in all that time. Not for holidays, birthdays, or even to see her parents off to Scotland. Oh, she’d met them at JFK airport for their hour and fifteen minute layover—but that didn’t count and she knew it. They’d sat in a small, too-crowded airport café and tried to say everything, yet said nothing real at all. There wasn’t nearly enough time to discuss Fiona’s absence and the sadness it had caused her mom and dad, or the guilt she felt over it all.
She slowed as she passed the small, brick church she’d attended her whole life until the day she’d escaped to college. The sign on its side announced, “We may be small, but we’re mighty! See you Sunday!” and then “Choir practice Wednesday, 7pm.” Her throat constricted and the familiar burn began behind her eyes. It was just church choir—she’d never been much of a choir singer and she wasn’t about to start now. But the idea that she might not even be able to do that because of her injury…
The lodge was close now—too close. She couldn’t very well show up after six years all teary-eyed and blotchy. Her siblings would think she was sorry she’d left, and she hadn’t been. Still wasn’t.
They didn’t know about the attack, about her losing her job—they didn’t know any of it—and she wasn’t about to tell them. It was far too late to change things now. She’d made it abundantly clear years ago that she didn’t need her family; she couldn’t expect them to just forgive and forget.
When the dirt lot of the old run-down bar Rednecks appeared on her left, she angled for it and pulled in. Panic flooded her body with fire, and her mind reeled. Her chest constricted as if one of those man-eating snakes had wrapped itself around it. With trembling fingers, she managed to press the automatic window button in hopes the cool mountain air would make it into her lungs, but it was too late to help her now. Her vision grew dark as the panic attack entered DefCon 1 and memory overtook reality.
His hands squeezed her throat, his thumbs pressing on the fragile bones. She grabbed for him, trying to pry his fingers from her neck, but she couldn’t get a grip. She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think.
“Hang on!” A man’s voice shouted into her ear half a second before he lunged through the open window and pounded on her back. “Come on,” he growled, then yanked the door open.
Fiona squawked and her throat burned hotter. “Wha—” she tried, but the half-word was only a whisper. She couldn’t make herself heard over the crazy man’s pleas for her to breathe.
“It’s okay,” he crooned as he manhandled her out of the car.
She tried to hit him, reaching behind her awkwardly to land her fist on his shoulders and head.
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay.” He laid her on the cold gravel, then hovered over her. “Are you okay? Can you hear me?” His chestnut hair flopped over his forehead as she squinted up at him, trying to make sense of what was happening. His dark eyes searched hers for…what? Brain injury? Impending death?
She blinked, unable to form words. Her throat still felt too tight, too narrow to breathe. Then he laid a hand on her neck.
She whipped her hands up and pushed his away—just like she would have done to her attacker had she had the chance. Or acted fast enough. Or … something.
“What are you doing?” she demanded in a hoarse whisper, tugging at the silky scarf around her neck.
He rocked back onto his heels, pulling his hands to his thighs. His eyes showed too many emotions and seemed to see right inside of her. It was too much reality, too revealing. Too dangerous.
She scrambled back until she bumped against the car, got in, rolled up the windows and locked the doors. The man still sat there, crouched in the gravel. She threw the car into drive and peeled out of the lot. Driving was a bad idea. Her breath wheezed painfully through her throat and black spots crowded the edges of her vision. But she had to get away. Had to run. A part of her mind, the sensible, rational side, told her what he’d done was just a mistake, but her body still hummed in fight or flight mode.
“It’s okay,” she whispered, and her memory flashed, not to the attacker in New York, but to the man with the mellow voice who’d dragged her from her car.
Nix Elliot shielded his eyes from the spraying dirt and gravel, as the rental car sped away as if he’d just assaulted its driver. He’d only tried to help the woman. He’d saved her life, hadn’t he? Hadn’t she been choking?
He remembered the look of sheer outrage on her face when he finally got her on the ground. And how she seemed to be breathing just fine once he got a look at her. Thinking back on it, he couldn’t be sure what was wrong with her, just that something was.
He stood and brushed the dirt from his jeans. When the car pulled into his lot, he hadn’t thought much of it. His club was closed, but plenty of people used the lot as a place to check their map or make a call. It was different to see a rental car, though. And the woman behind the wheel had caught his attention. Golden hair pulled into a high ponytail, dark sunglasses emphasizing her high cheekbones and creamy skin.
Maybe his gaze had lingered a little longer than strictly necessary, but when her mouth had opened wide and her hands had come to her throat—was he so wrong in thinking she was choking? Two hands around your throat equals Help me! Right?
“You’re no hero, Romeo.” He kicked at the gravel at his feet. He hadn’t seen a woman as beautiful as this stranger since he’d moved to the tiny, backwoods town eight months ago. He hoped to find a good woman to settle down with, but that was a long way in the future—when he had made things right with God. He wasn’t ready for the effect she’d had on him. It had felt good to be needed—at least until he discovered he wasn’t helping at all.
But when he’d looked at her face, that smattering of freckles over her nose, lashes that swept over her cheeks like feathers…and that mouth; even pulled tight with whatever her inner struggle, that pouty lower lip had momentarily stunned him.
He shook his head and turned back to the club, trying to push everything about the experience out of his mind. If God was good—and He was, Nix knew—the woman was just passing through and he’d never see her again. That way he could pretend he’d never yanked her from that ridiculous clown car.
A pair of sad, brown eyes peered at him through the window of Variety’s front door. His bloodhound, Pops, peered at him. Judging him. Oh, sonny, he imagined Pops saying. Back in my day, gentlemen took the time to carefully lay a woman on his jacket. We didn’t just throw her onto the ground. His suspicion of Pop’s opinion was confirmed when he stepped inside, and instead of leading the way, as Pops usually did, he just sat there, his baleful gaze condemning him as he walked into the club. The most beautiful woman in these-here parts, and you scared her away.