Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Release Day Blitz: Rise of the Melody by Wendy Higgins

 

I am so excited that RISE OF THE MELODY by Wendy Higgins is available now and that I get to share the news!

If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book, be sure to check out all the details below.

This blitz also includes a giveaway for a signed copy of the book & swag courtesy of Wendy & Rockstar Book Tours. So if you’d like a chance to win, check out the giveaway info below.

 

About The Book:

Title: RISE OF THE MELODY

Author: Wendy Higgins

Pub. Date: March 5, 2024

Publisher: Wendy Higgins

Formats:  Paperback, eBook

Pages: 290

Find it: Goodreadshttps://books2read.com/RISE-OF-THE-MELODY 

From the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the YA paranormal Sweet Evil series comes a modern fantasy romance of mystery with Celtic and Gaelic mythology.

Seventeen-year-old Colette “Letty” MacIntyre has everything going for her: a great life with her Aunt Lorna in Brooklyn, a promising singing career, and enough distractions to forget the tragic disappearance of her parents. She’s banking on a bright future in the city until strange things begin to happen. People are suddenly having peculiar reactions to her singing voice, and a giant wolfhound starts following her like a lost puppy. But the cherry on top is when the mayor of her long-forgotten birthplace, Shehan, a mountainous island off the craggy northern coast of Maine, shows up on her doorstep with an impossible revelation. The Gaelic folklore she grew up hearing is real. Letty is the last land siren on Earth…and he needs her help.

An escaped kelpie—a monstrous water horse—is terrorizing Shehan, and Letty’s voice is the only thing that can stop it. Despite the shock at learning her heritage, Letty returns to the island, which is filled with as much mystery as it is fog. She wants answers to her parents’ disappearance as well as a chance to prove herself. But in a race of mighty druids and formidable Scottish witches, Letty’s power is an anomaly, feared and reviled by the mystic community. Her lineage must be kept secret. It becomes even harder to fulfil these tasks when a new enemy threatens her—an alluring, powerful druid boy filled with darkness who would just as soon kill her as kiss her.

Will her deadly melody be enough to save the town and herself?

 

Excerpt:

Chapter One: Death of the Dress

I tipped my chin from side to side with my hand, feeling the satisfying cracks in my neck before shaking out my arms and meeting my instructor’s eyes. Mr. Goneley smirked with amusement as he sat at the piano in his office at my high school. I ignored the occasional muted blare of car horns from the city streets outside.

He adjusted his glasses. “Ready, Letty?”

I nodded and exhaled, though I wasn’t nervous, exactly. I’d had many in-person auditions and recitals in my life, and recently with college applications. I adjusted my silken blue choir gown. Normally I’d wear all black to match my eyeliner, nails, and dyed black hair. No black lips, though. Red all the way. And I wore my long hair in a series of intricate braids that the camera would probably not be able to capture. Oh, well.

“You’ve got this,” Mr. Goneley said. I granted him a smile. He’d helped me a lot, pushing me to apply to all the nearby musical schools for next year. This tape was for the final round of auditions with Manhattan School of Music, but Mr. Goneley had contacts in the theater world and had encouraged me to get a side job in a local theater this summer, despite my aunt’s insistence against it. A foot in the door. We’d use this video for that, as well.

“Here we go. Three, two….” He silently mouthed one as he pressed the record button on my propped phone and began to play. I closed my eyes and let everything else fall away except the notes floating up. It was a haunting, Gaelic inspired tune that I’d written myself to match my voice perfectly—smokey and breathy, yet rich. My voice was attuned to the slow, deep melody of long-ago ancestors, the hardships I could barely fathom.

Through the night, my fire bright

I wait for my sailor, nigh

I sit in the breeze, but my soul does not ease

As I wait for my lover, nigh

When I opened my eyes, I looked into the camera, willing it to hear every nuance. My arms moved of their own accord with the emotion of the song. As the notes rang from my throat a strange sensation came over me, like heat razing my skin. I’d never felt anything like that before while singing—a slight burn and tingle that only strengthened as I lost myself to the music. A sense of command filled me, and I embraced it.

Three weeks he’s been gone as I stare at the dawn

Awaiting my sailor, nigh

Powerful. That’s what I felt. Holy crap. Like I could do absolutely anything in that moment. Was the camera getting this?  

The sky has gone black, the thunder does crack

As I wait for my lover, nigh

It was that moment when I noticed Mr. Goneley sweating, moisture beading along his hairline and lip. It had been abnormally hot today in New York City for May, but not that hot. The AC was pumping overhead, yet he was grimacing. I closed my eyes again to force myself to concentrate on the rumble of reverberations in my throat.

When Mr. Goneley flubbed a note, I opened my eyes and wondered if he’d stop, but he kept going for another few seconds before pulling away from the keys and staring at me. His eyes looked blank and lost as he made a strange noise at the back of his throat. I wanted to scream in disappointment because that had been the best I’d ever sang in my entire life! Would I be able to do that again on the second take? He finally broke the weird stare and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, slumping. 

“Mr. G?” I said. “Are you okay?” 

“I…did you change anything?” he asked in a croaky voice.

“What?”

He shook his head and rubbed his chest with the heel of his hand. “With the song? I don’t know. Your voice is…” He cleared his throat and looked at me funny. “Different.”

“No,” I told him. “It was the same, but it did feel kind of different. Like, stronger. Did it sound bad?”

Again, his head shook back and forth, almost as if in confusion. “I’m not sure how to explain it. I think it must be me. I’m not feeling well all of a sudden.” He blinked up at me as his eyes began to clear, a nervous sounding chuckle escaping him. “I’m so sorry about this, but do you mind rescheduling?”

“Yeah,” I said, regret washing over me. “No problem. I hope you feel better.”

There was a strange, awkward tension in the room as I gathered my things and Mr. Goneley gave me a wide berth to leave. 

I swung my bag over my shoulder and walked quickly out of the school building, my purple boots hitting hard with each step on the Brooklyn sidewalks. A giant bird swooped down from the ledge of a window and I jumped, cursing as its wings lifted my hair for a second. Was that an eagle? I watched it dart skyward and tried to shake off the startled feeling. I didn’t have many wildlife encounters here in Brooklyn, other than pigeons and the occasional rat. I absently weaved through people, speed walking. Sweat ran down my back, probably soaking into the satiny material. 

Had I been singing too loud? It hadn’t felt like it. It felt like the best singing of my life, but clearly it had been terrible based on the bizarre look he gave me. Was I losing my touch? Panic flared because singing was my everything. The only thing I was good at. And even though Aunt Lorna had been begging me for years to focus on some other line of work, something more stable, I had to chase this dream. But what if I got home and watched the video and it was awful? If my singing had felt that good, but actually been horrible…oh, Gaia. I didn’t know what I’d do. 

I cut through a small park, the grass squishy under the soles of my boots. Usually there were couples picnicking on blankets and kids running around chasing bubbles, but it was barren. It was never this empty on beautiful afternoons, even during the week. Weird.

A burn of heat flashed across my skin as something huge and hairy stepped out from behind a crop of tall bushes, sending my heart into an erratic race. I stopped so fast at the massive sight that I tripped over my own feet and landed on my hands and knees. My head whipped up and I froze, holding my breath for a long beat before gasping.

A dog loomed over me. The largest dog I’d ever seen. Its face was long like an Irish hound with a shaggy dark body that appeared oddly greenish. I blinked. It was as round as a Saint Bernard, as tall as a small cow, and its silky tail twitched back and forth behind it. We stared at each other. Every fiber of my body wanted to run, but my mind screamed at me not to move. This giant mutt could, no doubt, take me down and maul my face with very little effort.

I glanced down and saw it was clearly male. With a hard swallow I whispered, “Good boy.”

He sniffed the air and lowered his head, stepping toward me almost cautiously. 

My survival instinct screamed to run but I stiffened every muscle. Don’t move, Letty.

The dog slowly sat and then lay before me, its huge paws inches from my hands, like it expected something from me. My heart rate began to slow enough to give me the nerve to move into a sitting position. I never took my eyes off him.

“Are you lost?” I whispered, feeling foolish talking to a dog. “Where’s your owner?” I searched around, but there was no one.

The dog huffed through its nose. Then he lifted a heavy paw and plopped it on my booted foot.

I couldn’t help but smile, though my insides still shook. “Okay. So, you’re friendly?” I let out a deep breath. When I climbed slowly to my feet, he did too. His head came to my chest. He definitely outweighed me, and I was no waif. 

My eyes scanned the park now. Literally nobody. Maybe if we walked around we’d find his owner. Taking slow steps, I began to loop the park, and the dog followed me. We passed a few people on the sidewalks now, who all took one look at the dog and steered clear. 

One woman scowled. “You need to have that thing on a leash! It’s the law!” 

“He’s not mine,” I tried to explain, but she scurried away.

After fifteen minutes of this, my need to get home and talk to Aunt Lorna was overpowering my need to find the dog’s owner. If I wasn’t in the middle of this singing crisis, I would have taken him to a veterinarian to check for a chip, but I didn’t have time for this. And the SPCA was all the way across town. New York was full of do-gooders who would happily take care of him. Right? Yeah….

“I’m sorry, boy,” I said to the dog, feeling silly that I needed to explain myself. “I have to go. Just stay right here until your owner comes back, okay? Or some nice person helps you.”

He cocked his head. Guilt was a stone in my gut as I turned and speed-walked away from him. Thirty seconds later his pitter-pattering paws and clickety-clacking claws sounded loudly behind me. I spun and held out my palm. “Oh, no you don’t. Stay. Stay.”

He wasn’t a very good listener. The dang dog followed me the whole five blocks to the shop. Ugh, Aunt Lorna was going to freak. Granted, she had four cats that lived at her work, but they added to the atmosphere of her witchy apothecary and gem shop. We’d never had an animal in our apartment. I stopped in front of Aunt Lorna’s shop, Moonlight Apothecary and Dispensary, which we lived two stories above. 

I caught sight of my reflection in the glass. My gown was officially ruined with the rip and grass stains from when I’d fallen. I’d had to save money to buy it for the state treble choir competition. 

Every single person eyed the dog warily as they passed. 

“Okay,” I told him. “You need to go. Go back to the park and find your people. Go on, shoo.” He sat and I sighed. He was going to scare customers away. I rolled my eyes and wished him luck as I went inside, certain he’d finally leave once I was gone.

Incense tickled my nose, and the gentle sounds of delta waves playing overhead immediately relaxed me. Stepping into the shop always transported me from overwhelming city into a fantastical, meditative space. I took a moment to peer around at the shelves of homemade vials of oils, soaps, and sage bunches. Displays of authentic crystals with a giant rose quartz in the center. Salt lamps. Potted plants hanging from the ceiling with their long vines spidering out like jungle fingers. A table of incenses dipped by my aunt and me. This shop was our sanctuary.

All around the room were cool framed pictures of drawings—depictions of Faerie queens and creatures from Celtic and Gaelic mythology that I’d grown up hearing about. Sea maidens and forest nymphs. Brownie house spirits. Selkies and kelpies, and of course Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. 

“Is that you, Letty?” my aunt called from the back room.

“Yes, it’s me.”

“Good news!” she hollered. “I found someone to watch the shop next week while I go to your graduation.”

“Cool,” I said, my mind still stuck on Mr. Goneley.

Aunt Lorna bustled in, and her pretty face lit up when she saw me. She pushed dirty blond curls out of her eyes and adjusted the quartz necklace around her neck. She often acted like a little old lady, but she wasn’t. She was just wise for her thirty-something years.

“What’s the matter?” Her gentle Scottish lilt from a childhood in the Highlands calmed me for a moment. Then the memory of Mr. Goneley assaulted me again and I cringed. She swished over in her long skirt, the bangles clinking on her wrists. Her eyebrows crashed together as she looked me over. “Why do you look like that? What happened to your dress? And you’re sweating—my gods, were you attacked?”

“No,” I tried to calm her as I reached up and felt my knotted, long locks. “Not exactly. It’s a long story. Something weird happened while I was singing.” At this, she went still, and her face shuttered closed, her lips pursing like they always did when it came to my singing. 

“What happened, Letty?” Gods, she didn’t need to look so severe.

“I’m not really sure,” I admitted. “But I got it on tape.”

I shouldn’t tell her all of this, considering how much she wanted me to find a different career path, but she was the only person I could talk to. I pulled out my phone with a shaking hand and started the video. When my voice first began, she sucked in a breath. And then her eyebrows crinkled. Her head began a small shake, and she took the phone from my hand to watch more closely. I crossed my arms, feeling nauseated as I recalled Mr. Goneley’s reaction. But my voice did sound great. Not to brag. It hadn’t been just a great performance in my mind. 

When it ended, Aunt Lorna’s lips were pressed tightly together as she passed the phone back to me. “I know you enjoy singing, Letty. And it’s been a wonderful hobby to have growing up—”

My heart dropped. “Auntie, don’t—”

“Enough!” She raised her voice over mine. “This is a fool’s errand! This path will be filled with heartache.” She seemed to struggle for words before saying, “Do you really want to be just another New York starving artist working as a waitress and facing disappointment after disappointment?”

My breath caught in my lungs. “Why don’t you believe I can do it?”

“It’s not that I don’t believe in you. It’s just unnecessary hardship, Letty! You can help me run this business, or any business. You’ve got an eye for detail and math. You’re smart.” 

Ugh, this again!

“I would be miserable!” I insisted. “And I’m more than happy to help you with the shop, but that’s your dream, not mine. I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but I’m going to sing, Aunt Lorna. It’s my gift.”

“I don’t think it’s what your parents would have wanted,” she blurted.

Her face turned ashen as my stomach twisted and burned with acid. My parents had disappeared on a whale-watching excursion when I was four. We rarely spoke of them. Her eyes looked full of both panic and shame.

“That’s not fair,” I whispered, my voice trembling. “You can’t know that.”

I watched, as if in slow motion, as my aunt’s face pinched in pain and she grabbed her temples, her knees buckling.

“Auntie!” I dropped my phone and grasped her upper arms, leading her to a velvet armchair to sit. She breathed heavily, a small whimper escaping. She’d suffered from headaches and migraines since I could remember, but this one looked more severe than normal. “You need to see a doctor. What if something’s really wrong?” I’d lost too much sleep worrying about brain tumors, but as usual, Aunt Lorna shook her head.

“No doctors. I’ve got it under control.”

I gritted my teeth in frustration. Yes, she was the most talented herbalist possibly ever, especially in the western world. People traveled to Moonlight Apothecary from all over to get her tinctures and homeopathic healing herbal mixtures when modern medicines and clinical chemicals didn’t work. I’d seen her work miracles like a modern-day witch doctor. She was a genius, but herbs could only go so far. If she would get an MRI at least we could know what the real problem was.

“I’m okay.” She sat taller and her forehead smoothed. “I’m sorry.” She met my eyes and there was regret there. “I shouldn’t have brought up your parents.”

I nodded, at a loss for words. Her erratic behavior and headaches were scaring me lately. My aunt had always been eccentric and special. I’d come to think of her as this magical sort of being, though I knew how unhinged that sounded. But I’d seen strange things as a child. Whenever I asked for explanations, Aunt Lorna always had some logical reason for the things I’d witnessed her do when she thought I wasn’t looking. A book sliding across the table to her waiting hand. One of her potions turning bright green, then bubbling down to a muddy brown as she chanted in Gaelic—literal miracles of near-death to life from her potions. Multiple candle wicks blowing out at the same time when there was zero air movement in the room. 

It had been a while since anything like that happened, so I chalked it up to fuzzy memories and childish wonderings.

After a moment, Aunt Lorna touched the ornate cuff on my wrist that she’d given me, turning it as if inspecting it. The underneath was a layer of salt, sulfur, and agate fused together and embedded onto dried fish leather. On the top was a layer of ammolite gemstone plating—iridescent red and green that looked like dragon scales. The cuff was said to provide protection and ward against evil. When she’d put it on me years ago, she’d spoken a line of Scots Gaelic as she sealed it shut with a glue substance. She was funny like that. Old pagan superstitions from when she’d grown up in the highlands of Scotland. To me, her Gaelic phrases sounded like spells, which would be apropos considering the amount of rare mystical texts and spell books she sold here. It was because of her that I said weird things like “gods” and “Gaia,” aka Mother Nature, the creator of faeries in folklore.

A sound came from the shop’s door.

Jeebus!” Aunt Lorna’s scream had both of us jumping. Her hands gripped the arms of the chair, and I followed her eyes. The giant dog stood there taking up the entire doorway staring at us through the glass. He had that greenish tint again. Had he rolled in moss or something gross?

Coo Shee!” she yelled. I’d never heard my aunt sound so terrified before. “Letty, hide!”

“Aunt Lorna, it’s okay!” I stood and motioned to the door. “It’s just a stray dog I found on my way home today. I know he’s scary looking but he’s actually really good and sweet.”

Suddenly the dog was pushing open the shop door with his body, and Aunt Lorna screamed again, grabbing me. We did a silly tug-of-war where she tried to pull me into the back room and I yanked back, trying to reassure her that everything was okay. The dog got close to us and sat down staring at us in that intent way of his. All four cats, which had been quietly resting in their various places, suddenly began a ruckus of hissing and screaming in a flurry of orange and black as they ran, scuttling and sliding along the tiled floor until they escaped through the doorway of dangling beads to the back room. The dog watched them with a tilted head, and I swore he appeared amused. 

“Good boy,” I said. “See, Auntie?” He took up a lot of space in her small shop.

She was gripping me hard, breathing erratically as she stared at it. “I’ve never…I’ve only heard…Gaia above. Did it—I mean, has he…barked?”

“What?” I thought about it. “No, he hasn’t made a sound the whole time I’ve been with him.”

She nodded and I saw her throat bob with a hard swallow. “That’s good. Very good then.” Slowly, she began to relax, still staring him down.

I told her the whole story. “He’s sort of attached himself to me. I don’t know why. I’m going to take some pictures of him and post them online. I’m sure his owners will be looking for him. Wouldn’t you think?”

Aunt Lorna never lost the look of worry. She pinched her upper nose and closed her eyes for a long moment of quiet.

“I’ve got some calls to make and things to do. I think I’ll close the shop an hour early today. Please….” She eyed the dog, then me. “Be careful. If he barks, run immediately.”

I laughed and she glared hard. “Run because of a bark?”

“I’m not messing about, Letty! Swear you’ll run.”

“Okay, I will.” My aunt often had these intuitive moments. I’d learned not to question them because her hunches were always right. 

She bustled away into her back room, swishing through the beads with a rustle of clinks, and I knew she must have been discombobulated because she didn’t even make our afternoon tea. It was a staple every single day after school. I hoped she would be okay.

“Come on, boy,” I said. “Let’s go to the corner drug store and get you a leash and collar. I’ll take you up to the apartment.” He was probably hungry, and I was dying to get this stupid dress off. I’d need to find something to feed him—eggs maybe?—and take a few pictures to post online. Our landlord would go berserk and charge us if he caught sight of the dog, so I hoped its owner was found soon.

The hound followed me outside, all the way to the store, and back to the side door with narrow stairs leading up to our apartments. I felt safe with the dog at my side. For the first time ever I didn’t look back and forth to make sure nobody was hiding or acting shady nearby. I didn’t even have my safety whistle in my hand.

What a strange afternoon. I mean, the dog was awesome, but my aunt’s reaction to him had been over-the-top. She’d been stressing me out about a lot of things lately. I sighed as we walked. Tomorrow was a new day. I already couldn’t wait to go to bed tonight and put it all behind me.

 

Chapter Two: Hair Crime

I woke up the next morning overheated but so comfortable. I couldn’t remember snuggling with anybody or anything in my entire life, but here I was pressed against this warm, firm, furry thing in my twin bed. Blinking, I raised my head and saw the dog and I were at a diagonal, his straight legs sticking off the bed. 

The dog groaned and stretched, then pressed even harder into my side, pushing me into the wall. Wait, what was he doing on the bed? I didn’t remember him climbing up. I’d checked him over for fleas and ticks yesterday, and thankfully he was clean, but still.

What had Aunt Lorna said when she saw him yesterday? CooShee? Probably some old Gaelic curse word I’d never heard her say before.

“CooShee?” I tried out the word for myself.

The dog raised his head and looked at me. I smiled at the sight of his fur pressed upward on his sleeping side. “Let’s take you out and check online to see if your owner has claimed you.”

I went into the bathroom and dressed quickly in a black baby doll dress and thigh-high black stockings with my boots. When I opened my phone to check, there were absolutely no people claiming to own the dog, but dozens of comments on his size and people trying to guess his breed. 

“Oh, look,” I said. “A few people have said they’re willing to take you if your owner doesn’t come forward.” 

A quick, deep growl sounded from the dog’s throat, and I swear he turned his head and gave me a mean side-eye. It was the first sound I’d heard him make. I snorted with amusement. Sometimes it felt like he could understand me. I scratched behind his shaggy ear and patted his back so he’d move out of the doorway. “Come on, let’s go outside.” Maybe we would see Aunt Lorna. She took long walks every morning before heading to the shop.

Before leaving I checked my lipstick and eyeliner. I clicked on the leash and grabbed my oversized black sunglasses, then led him down the narrow stairs. We walked several blocks down to the small park, ignoring stares and people craning their necks, even taking pictures. From the corner of my eye I saw a squirrel dash from the ground toward a tree, and the dog yanked away from me.

“CooShee!” I called, but there was no stopping him. He moved quick and with a grace I didn’t think possible for such a huge creature. I gasped and covered my mouth as he snatched the squirrel mid-run up the tree, shook his head violently, and gave a great crunch. “No!” I covered my face but could still hear two more sickening crunches. Then some lip smacking.

“Oh, my God!” said someone behind me. I turned to see a guy videoing the whole thing on his phone. Oh, great. I ran over and grasped the useless leash tightly until the guy stopped and left.

“CooShee, come on,” I urged as he licked his paw now. “That was disgusting. We have to go.” Poor little tree rat. The dog seemed quite satisfied with himself, trotting next to me with his head up. 

“I was going to feed you, you know,” I mumbled. “Savage.”

On the walk back to the apartment I thought about yesterday with Mr. Goneley and a sick feeling overcame me. I couldn’t help but feel like it wasn’t a coincidence that he’d acted so strangely when I’d had that peculiar feeling go through me while singing…. I shook my head. 

I needed to get back so I could work my shift at Moonlight Apothecary. Aunt Lorna’s local supplier had given her containers of fresh cut cannabis varieties, which she would dry and process in her back room. “The lab,” I called it. She made her own homemade gummy mixture with cute molds in the shape of leaves and flowers. Yep, it was CBD gummy day. She did mild mixtures to help people relax and sleep, and full-blown edibles to help people…not sleep. Medicinal and recreational. Her skills ran the gamut. We couldn’t keep them on the shelves longer than two days.

I tried to leave CooShee in the apartment, but he wasn’t having it. He was glued to my side and literally threw himself into the door crack every time I tried to close it. Aunt Lorna was going to hate this, but the dog was coming to work with me. 

“You have to relax,” I told him as we went down the stairs. “I mean it. Lay by my side and don’t move. No scaring customers or I’ll put you in the back room.”

I walked into the store and Aunt Lorna’s eyes widened. “Absolutely not!” she whisper-yelled as CooShee pushed in right behind me. Customers turned and gaped. The cats hissed and ran, knocking over a display of crystals. I cringed as she rushed over to fix it.

“He’ll be so good!” I promised, moving toward the register. Just as I told him to do, he lay at my feet and let out a little huff. “See?” I smiled at Aunt Lorna, who stared at him with distrust before shaking her head, defeated.

“We need to talk after work,” she said quietly, not meeting my eye. 

“Okay,” I answered, my stomach tightening. Something was up, though I couldn’t begin to put the pieces together. Aunt Lorna had been strange lately, almost secretive, though I couldn’t fathom what in the world she could possibly have going on.

She disappeared into the back where I imagined her with her curls pulled up and her stained apron covering her blouse. I eyed CooShee and held out my hand. To my shock, he raised his and set it in mine. A grin split my face. He’d been taught to shake! Or give a high five. I didn’t know what to call it, but it was cool. I shook his paw and let it fall. A thought came to me that I hoped his owner never came forward, but I pushed it away. I couldn’t keep him. Tiny shop. Tiny apartment. Huge dog who attacked and ate rodents at the park. No, I couldn’t get attached.

The day flew by because we were so busy. Close to closing time I got a text from a girl from school, Tessy, asking if I wanted to hit the new club tonight called Churs. Apparently, that was how people in New Zealand said Cheers, and the owners were Kiwis. I didn’t know Tessy very well. We were acquaintances, a group of misfits with fake IDs. I couldn’t help but be flattered at the invite, so I agreed.  

* * *

On the subway ride over I’d been lucky enough to get a seat and was scrolling on my phone when a news headline caught my eye. I abruptly sat up straight. OMG…I held my breath as I read: “Body Found in Third Missing Person Case on Shehan Island.” 

Shehan Island. 

Oh, my gods. That’s where I was born in Maine. A chill zipped through me, and all the other passengers on the train seemed to disappear as I read. 

Three hikers have been reported missing from Benn Shehan National Park in the past two months on Shehan Island. Today, the body twenty-five-year-old Shannon Baltrove was found. A coroner report lists the cause of death as drowning but she had markings on her leg that prove she may have been dragged by an animal prior to being in the water. Shehan Island has no known natural predators. However, this is not the island’s first mysterious disappearances. Thirteen years ago, a group of seven people went missing at sea after leaving from Shehan’s port on a whale watching excursion.

My phone slipped from my jittery hand into my lap as my fingers covered my mouth. I felt ill.

Through the pounding of my heart in my ears, I heard the doors to the train hiss open and glanced up in a fog. I barely registered that it was my stop, fumbling to grab my phone and jumping up at the last moment. I rushed through the people to jump off just in time. My heart was still hammering when the doors closed. It took a moment to drag my mind out of where it had been moments before. Great Gaia. I swear, that island was cursed. Despite being a warm spring night, I was cold.

“Letty!” Tessy and two friends were waiting by the dingy stairs. Seeing them shook me out of the icky haze enough to force my legs to move. I raised my chin and joined them, heading up the steps in our chunky heels.

Don’t think about that article, I told myself. Don’t think about any of that unexplainable weird stuff. I needed a fun night to get my mind off it all.

The four of us girls might have stood out in a normal town with our kohl-lined eyes, various piercings, ripped fish net stockings, and rainbow assortments of hair, but in New York City nobody was shocked by anything. I didn’t necessarily care about being different…I just didn’t want to be noticed.

At age fifteen I became uncomfortable with the attention I started getting, mostly from older men. I’d developed quickly, becoming curvy. My hair was long and wavy, like a mix of gold and bronze down my back. Though my face was roundish with a spattering of freckles that I thought made me look younger, men looked at me in a way I didn’t want to be looked at. And don’t get me started on the comments about my “sultry” voice….

The alternative, dark style didn’t scare away everyone, but it kept the worst of the unwanted attention at bay.

Inside the club, I went to scout out possible seats while my three companions used their fake IDs to get drinks. I didn’t drink. I was here for the music—the louder the better. There were two suede sofas facing each other but one guy was sitting there. He looked harmless enough, like a college kid or maybe a tourist.

“Is anyone sitting with you?” I asked, shouting over the music. “We have four.”

He stared at me a long moment and I wondered if he heard me over the high volume. Then he spoke and a shiver went down my spine.

“Aye, lass. You can nick these seats from my mates; I won’t mind a bit.”

Scottish? Uuugh. My absolute weakness. I wasn’t proud of how foolish it made me. I sat right next to him and for a moment we stared at one another. He suddenly looked ten times hotter than he had at first. Had he ever worn a kilt? What were the plaid colors for his family line? I imagined his light brown hair blowing in the highland breeze by the sea. 

See? So dumb!

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Luis. What’s your name, love?”

“Letty.”

“That’s lovely.”

Don’t giggle, Letty, you idiot.

“I have to say,” he told me. “Your voice is…bloody spectacular.”

I would normally want to roll my eyes but found myself smiling and thanking him, knowing it was extra raspy and velvety when I had to shout over the music. I asked questions about what he did and where exactly he was from just so I could hear him talk more. I’d never been shy with boys, and though I’d never been with a guy, I loved kissing. 

Kissing was my favorite.

By the time my friends joined us, I wasn’t proud to admit I was practically in his lap and we were, indeed, kissing. I barely noticed when his friends joined us as well. It was Luis and I kissing, my red lipstick around his mouth, while our friends drank and laughed and ignored us.  

I pulled back just enough to ask, “When will you go back to visit Scotland again?” He was a student but his parents were still in Edinburgh.

“I reckon Christmas.” Every vowel sounded like a sexy mouthful, and he rolled his “r”s so beautifully. I dug my fingers into his hair and pulled him in for another kiss.

We eventually made our way to the dance floor where I shamelessly danced close against him. Back on the couches, he exclaimed, “To the motherland!” as he raised a creamy shooter.

His drunkest friend stumbled forward. “Luis, bruh, are you still doing that fake-ass accent?”

Luis’s widened eyes darted to mine, his shot frozen mid-air. I went stiff as his friend’s words hit me.

“Uh,” said Luis. 

“Uh,” I repeated. Holy crap.

Everyone went still, our group in major contrast to the movement all around us. Everyone’s head turned to me. This is where I should’ve gotten mad. I waited for anger and indignance to rise but found only reluctant fascination.

“You’re not Scottish?”

He rubbed his face and muttered in a boring American voice, “I’m sorry. I just got flustered when you talked to me.”

I let out a laugh straight from my belly. “That is literally the best accent I’ve ever heard, and I know my way around a Scot’s accent!” Everyone began to laugh, relief apparent. 

“Really?” he asked sheepishly. “I’m an acting student and I’m taking accent classes.” Of course he was. 

“He’s really good,” another one of his ‘mates’ said. “You should hear his South African!”

“That’s a tough one,” Luis claimed, finally taking his shooter. He leaned in as if to kiss me again, and I placed a hand on his chest, shaking my head. All of our friends died laughing then, his friends slapping him on the back. He grabbed the drunk one who’d ratted him out and pulled him down into a headlock.

A new song came on that I’d been obsessed with and I screamed, “I love this song!” Tessy and I jumped up and down as we sang the words at the top of our lungs. But a few seconds into our singing, she became still and stood before me with her head tilted. Her eyes unfocused and her mouth went slack. I sang on for a few more notes before asking, “Are you okay?”

To my shock, our entire group was gathered around us, staring blankly. At me. My stomach turned. I stepped back, an eerie chill going through me at their glazed eyes, like Mr. Goneley’s had been. I glanced down to make sure I didn’t have a boob hanging out or something.

“What?” I yelled, barking out a nervous laugh. 

Tessy blinked and gave her head a shake. “Wow. You…you’re super hot tonight.”

I laughed and gave her a playful whap on her arm with the back of my hand. “Okay. Whatever.”

But she kept looking at me in that intense way, same as the others. They all began to squirm a little, shifting around like they were coming back to their senses. Luis grabbed the back of his neck and chuckled. Then the others laughed. It was all hecka weird and I felt like I’d done something wrong but couldn’t figure out what.

I was about to say it was time for me to leave when a scream from somewhere in the club curdled my blood. Other shouts and yells began to ring out and we all turned toward the entrance expecting the worst. Everybody in the club seemed to go on alert and the energy level maximized, people ready to run for their lives in a panic. But alas, the crowd parted and in walked a giant freaking animal.

CooShee. 

I leapt to my feet as people scrambled away, some screaming and others asking what the hell he was.

“Shit,” I mumbled to my group. “I have to go. That’s…my dog.” Not really, of course, but it was too much to explain.

He had the stupid leash in his mouth and gave a tail wag when he saw me. How did he find me? Chur was in Manhattan and I’d left him at home in Brooklyn! My heart pounded as I attached his leash and gave him a tug toward the doors. People stared, some with their phones out. I kept my head down.

“No pets allowed!” A man in a suit with a New Zealand accent ran alongside me.

“I know, sorry,” I said, hurrying out. “We’re leaving.”

Once outside, I jogged us down to the corner and stopped, staring down at him. The dog sat and cocked his head at me.

“No, no, no,” I said. “Don’t try to be cute. How did you find me? I took the subway here! Is your nose that good?” I shook my head, baffled. “You can’t just walk into public places like that—”

CooShee abruptly turned, staring hard toward the dark corner of the building with a narrow alleyway. I went still. He didn’t growl, but a strip of hair down his back stood up, his hackles. Was he about to attack someone? I’d seen him kill enough for one day, thanks very much. I gripped his leash tighter and tried to calm him as I reached into my pocket and grasped my pepper spray.

“It’s okay, boy. Let’s just….” My voice trailed off as a form began to clarify in the darkness. It appeared to be a guy, tall with nice shoulders, his longish, dark hair hiding half of his face. He wore black jeans, black boots, and a long-sleeved navy shirt. Something about him set my nerves on edge. I could only see one of his eyes, light in color, the other hidden by his hair, but as he took another step toward me, my skin razed with a strange heat.

“Listen,” I warned him, motioning to the dog. “You should back off. I can’t control him. He’s not mine, exactly. Just step away and we’ll leave.” But when I glanced down at CooShee, his hackles had gone down and he seemed unbothered now. The guy’s lip quirked up for a split second.

“I’m no’ afraid of the creature.” His r’s rolled languidly. 

Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Freaking Scottish? What were the odds?

“No’ that creature, anyhow,” he said.

I shook my head, confused. “What’s that supposed to mean?” What other ‘creature’ was here?

His one visible eye narrowed as if was the one being a smartass.

“Did fake accent guy tell you to mess with me?” It sort of just popped out of my mouth and I immediately felt stupid. How would they have had time to coordinate this?

The guy took another step forward and swished the long waves from his face. I sucked in a gasp and held it. Under all that thick hair was a brutally handsome face, all sharp angles with light eyes. I looked down expecting the dog to growl at this stranger, but instead he sat down! What a worthless guard dog! Why was this guy talking to me anyway? I felt…off. Like I wanted to run, but also move closer to see him better. The opposing instincts freaked me out.

 

 

 

About Wendy Higgins:


Wendy Higgins is a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of young adult and adult genre romance, including fantasy, paranormal, Sci-Fi, mythology, and contemporary. She is a former high school English teacher who now writes full time, and lives in Virginia Beach with her daughter, son, and tiny doggies.

Wendy earned a bachelor's degree in Creative Writing from George Mason University and a master's from Radford University.

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