Nightmusic 01 0 serenade, p.1
[Nightmusic 01.0] Serenade, page 1part #1 of Nightmusic Series
Nightmusic Trilogy, Book 1
Also by Heather MCKENZIE
Summer 2014, Kaya
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THIS book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Copyright ©2017 Heather McKenzie
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Cover Design by: Marya Heiman
Typography by: Courtney Knight
Editing by: Courtey Whittamore & Cynthia Shepp
For Haley, Emily and Joshua
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Also by Heather MCKENZIE
My lungs burned, sweat stung my eyes, and every muscle screamed, but running was an escape from my over-controlled life and the rush of adrenaline and fresh mountain air a drug I couldn’t get enough of. It kept me sane. It made me feel normal—or close to what I dreamed normal might be.
As my feet hit the trail, dewdrops fell from the canopy of trees and landed on my overheated skin. It was pure bliss out here in the woods. The only place where I could take my mind somewhere else and pretend I was far away from my home nestled in the midst of one of Canada’s most beautiful national parks. I wanted to daydream that I was free to go wherever I wished without bodyguards glued to my sides, but that wasn’t going to happen today; Oliver was unusually quiet, which meant something was wrong, and Stephan was wheezing as if he were about to die. And as much as I would have liked, I couldn’t pretend I didn’t care about either of them.
My male nanny since birth was red faced and stumbling. His husky frame was stuffed into the same spandex outfit he’d worn yesterday, and his hair was left in its natural state of salt-and-pepper curls. His lack of attention to his appearance was out of character, as was his inability to keep up with Oliver and me.
“Hey Stephan, should we stop for a bit?” I asked with a sideways glance, hoping I wasn’t offending his manliness by showing concern. “You’re scaring the wildlife.”
He tripped and almost fell. “No,” he said, coughing. “I’m… made of steel. Invincible.”
I’d heard that a million times. “Well, Superman, there must be kryptonite in your mismatched socks this morning,” I joked. “Really though, there’s no harm in resting for a minute or two.”
“No,” he snapped.
I told myself not to worry. He really was tough as nails. Like one of those rugged cowboys in a western movie who wore his scars like medals. All that was missing was the hat and chaps—thank goodness.
The trail opened up onto the white beach of Spring Lake. It had sparkling blue water so irresistible I couldn’t help but sprint toward it. I kicked off my sneakers, yanked my yoga pants up over my knees, and waded into water so clear you could drink it.
“Kaya, you’re going to get pneumonia. Get out of there,” Stephan nagged from the shore, still sounding winded.
“It’s fine. Really, it’s not that cold,” I lied.
Truthfully, the mountain-fed lake was just a hair over the freezing mark and had a good sting to it. Teeth chattering, I stood perfectly still, staring at my reflection in the crystal-clear water. My hair was too long and dark—the blue-black shade and green color of my eyes courtesy of my dad—and my body was too thin. My pale cheeks could use some color aside from the odd dusting of freckles across my nose, but that would mean wearing makeup, and that wasn’t my thing. I felt plain looking, if that was even a feeling, but I figured that was okay since I stood out enough just by being the daughter of Henry Lowen—one of the world’s wealthiest and most-hated men. My last name might as well have been a neon sign stuck to my forehead. Everyone knew about the billionaire’s daughter who was locked away in the creepy castle—I was a modern-day Rapunzel in the majestic resort-town of Banff Alberta.
I swirled a finger across the glass-like surface of the lake and my reflection disappeared along with a school of minnows circling my legs. I wanted to dive under with them and then swim as hard and fast as I could to the other side to explore the shoreline, alone, but the cold was turning me numb. Reluctantly, I waded back to the beach where Stephan had collapsed against a pile of driftwood, still catching his breath, and Oliver stood next to him holding out my shoes with an impatient look about him.
“Time to go,” he said.
The sun hit his broad shoulders just right, giving his skin a glow that was impossible to ignore. His glorious shape seemed as if he’d been sculpted from the hands of a master artist, and I’d never understood why someone as beautiful as him would take the job as a bodyguard.
“Not yet. Please.” I begged, dropping down to the soft sand.
My pink shoelace dangled between his massive fingers as his gaze shifted to Stephan then back to me. His deep brown eyes studied mine for a moment, and then with a heavy sigh, he shook his head. “Fine.”
Dropping down on the sand across from me, he took my frozen toes in his hands. I noticed his full lips were slightly pursed, and the concentration wrinkle on his forehead was a bit deeper than usual. “Is there something wrong?” I asked.
He tilted his head and arched an exquisite eyebrow. “Wrong with me? Why do you ask?”
“I guess because you seem a little withdrawn, and…” Should I say it? “Because I don’t hate you anymore.”
A crooked smile spread across his face. He looked at me with a thoughtful expression on his face. “Well, Kaya, I’m just—” He paused, as if searching my eyes for his words. “Hungry.”
There was something more on his mind than his stomach. I could see it. But it was probably best not to pry. Instead, I savored his gentle touch as he rubbed warmth back into my toes, giving me shivers that had nothing to do with being cold. I imagined my fingers running over his hands and forearms, then across the seams of his white T-shirt —it made such a striking contrast against his chocolate-colored skin. He was so…
What was wrong with me? I wasn’t supposed to be thinking that.
I closed my eyes and concentrated on the hum of the forest instead. The sun on my face. The breeze coming off the lake, and the smell of flowering trees in the air. It was heaven, far from the buzz of people and the confines of the estate. I was grateful the family doctor insisted these daily runs were important to my psyche because Dad would have preferred to keep me locked up day and night. Sometimes, I was sure Oliver felt the same—he was always so serious, so controlling, and so filled with worry every time I was out of the confines of my room. This kept my anxiety level on a constant upswing—which he always took great pleasure in trying to subdue.
The gentle movements of his hands gradually slowed my pulse, my nerves untangled, and my thoughts drifted to a faraway place. I basked in his heavenly touch… until a loud snapping sound came from the trees.
“What was that?” I yelped, jerking away with a now-pounding heart.
Oliver leapt to his feet just as three quick flashes of light burst from within the shadows of the trees. “Oh, it’s just them,” he said casually and brushed the sand off his shorts before sitting back down again, this time right next to me.
Them. Twenty or so armed guards. Hidden in the trees.
“Relax, Kaya. It’s okay,” he added, his massive hand reaching for mine.
How many times had he said that to me in the last year? And was everything okay? No. I had a group of men following my every move to protect me—to keep me alive. Things were never okay…
Absentmindedly, I touched my neck. I could still feel the scar that ran from my ear to my collarbone made from a knife that did more than just damage my skin. My sixteenth birthday was over a year ago, but it was as clear in my mind as yesterday. Oliver saved my life that day, using his body to shield mine. He would have died for me. And I wasn’t sure if that realization was why I’d started to like him, or if I’d decided I owed it to him.
He checked his watch and then tipped his face toward the sun. At that angle, I could freely stare at his profile. He looked far different from when I first met him. His hair used to be an unruly halo around his head and his body thin and lanky. I thought back to when I was seven and the estate was in lockdown. Stephan and Dad had rushed me to the basement gym where we waited among a hundred or so men who all seemed intimidating and tall. I was annoyed with the boy in a too-big uniform who had dark, piercing eyes that barely blinked. He kept staring at me as if I were a monster. I asked Dad about the men, why they were there, but I was mostly curious about the boy.
“They are guards in training. They’ll work here on the estate or at one of our companies someday. That one right there was plucked off the street not too long ago. He’s the youngest one we have. Probably only sixteen,” Dad had said. “His whole family was taken from him and the poor kid witnessed the whole thing. Tragic. Anyway, he is showing remarkable potential. Maybe he’ll be one of your guards in a few years.”
At the time, that thought had made me wiggly from my hair to my toes. “I don’t like him,” I said. “He’s gross and creepy.”
I remembered Dad zeroing in on Oliver’s unwavering gaze aimed in my direction, and my uncomfortable disgust because of it. There was a wicked look in Dad’s eyes when they returned to mine.
“What’s going on in that crazy head of yours?” Oliver asked, bringing me back to the lake, the blue sky, and his molasses-colored irises.
“Just thinking that I could stay here all day.”
“Not you?” I asked, drawing a daisy in the sand with a twig.
“Nope. There are no pancakes out here.”
“Ah. The almighty pancake. It rules your life, doesn’t it?’ I teased.
“We all know exactly what rules my life.”
Of course, he was referring to me. “Aren’t you lucky then?” I asked.
He grinned as if he did feel lucky, which was completely ludicrous. “Do you want to run the long way back?” he asked, brushing over what was about to be an awkward moment.
I always wanted to push myself to the limit—to run as hard as I could or work out until I puked. The sore muscles were confirmation that I had done something—that I was alive in my otherwise-numb life. But Stephan, now resting against some driftwood and oblivious to the world, seemed a bit too pale for another hour and a half of running. The dark shadows under his eyes were darker than usual, and, once in a while, a cough erupted from his chest. Maybe he’d caught a bug from the maid yesterday; she’d been sneezing and spewing germs all over the place.
“I think Stephan’s sick. We should call for a car to meet us up at the highway.”
Oliver wasn’t listening. He’d leapt to his feet and had his hand to his earpiece. Stephan had also sprung to life and was now staring down the beach on high alert.
“What?” I asked, getting ready to run. My anxiety kicked into overdrive and I imagined the worst, envisioning my sixteenth birthday all over again.
Stephan pointed down the beach to where a small, dark shape was moving low to the ground. “Three cubs. Momma bear is in the trees. We’ll have to cut the running short today.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. It was just bears and they couldn’t give a rat’s ass about me. One of the little fuzz balls scurried to the water’s edge and gave it a sniff. Moments later, a sibling joined, smaller but braver. He put all four paws in and then playfully romped in and out of the water. They were so happy and free. I envied them.
“Cute little things, aren’t they?” Stephan said, now at my side and reaching protectively for my hand. His eyes were bright, cheeks pink again, and I wound my fingers through his, grateful as always for his affection. There was no warmth from my dad, ever, and Oliver would only be completely smothering if I let him.
“Their fuzzy ‘lil bear butts look like your face,” I teased, giving Stephan’s greying beard a playful tug.
“You’re such a brat.”
I smiled up at his gruff face and noticed something shifting behind him. The light changed among the massive evergreens, bushes swayed, and before I could say anything, two men in head-to-toe camouflage popped out of the shadows.
Stephan clutched his chest. “Why do you guys always have to sneak up like that?” he said with a gasp.
“We have orders to escort Miss Lowen back to the estate,” said a very clean-shaven man. A ‘Lowen Security’ badge was sewn to his jacket, and his expression was so serious I had to laugh. He reminded me of Oliver when he first became my guard. I’d teased him about the stupid outfits he wore until they were replaced with cargo shorts and T-shirts. Although Oliver’s uniform had changed, his serious expression hadn’t.
The three of us followed the guards, crashing and stomping up the old logging road toward the highway like a stampede of drunken teenagers. This was supposed to keep mama bear away, but it was hilarious. My giggles got worse every tim
But my giddiness dissolved when, sandwiched between Oliver and Stephan in the back seat of the limo, the Bow Springs Estate’s towering spires came into view. They poked up into the sky like the mountains themselves, a structural marvel that was impossible to miss.
Home sweet home.
Built 150 years ago on the edge of an impressive cliff, it looked like a castle. On the east side, a massive jagged rock face dropped down to meet the Bow River, and on the South side miles of forest stretched up the side of a mountain to snow-covered peaks. The valley sprawled out in front, sloping gradually down toward Banff and miles of winding trails and pristine lakes. It had been a hotel when my grandfather owned it and gave it to my parents as a wedding gift. Dad closed it shortly after Mom’s death and made it our private residence. Now the priceless art, crystal chandeliers, stained glass windows, and immaculate gardens were hidden from the public eye, just like me.
by Heather McKenzie have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes