Title: A Doleful Kind of Singing
Author: K. G. McAbee
Genre: Gothic Suspense
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 1
Ariela Harrington knows her brilliant father Cadmion couldn't have committed suicide in the icy waters of Loch Ness. So, being an independent young Victorian lady of some means, Ari and her servant Sophy proceed to Scotland to discover the truth, laughing when her guardian expressly forbids it. Near Loch Ness, Ari meets Carlie Douglas, an old friend of her father's who has much to tell her of Cadmion's last days. Then she meets Logan MacNiall, the laird who argued viciously with Cadmion, and on whose land her father's body was later found. Dangers threaten, lies are discovered, past wrongs see the light of day after decades, and Ariela begins to wonder if she dare trust anyone. Then the disappearances begin...
It was dark when she awoke, and her aching body was racked with uncontrollable shivers. She tried to open her eyes, but something pressed against the tender lids, imprisoning them in a heavy softness, like a ton of feathers.
She opened her mouth to ask what was happening, where she was, why it was so cold.
Only a soft, strangled grunt issued from her mouth, barely loud enough to hear herself. Like her eyes, her tongue was a prisoner, crushed against her teeth by some thick, greasy mass tasting like death. Bile rose in her throat, threatening to choke her, but she fought it down with a mighty effort.
She twisted her head to one side, trying to spit out the horrible substance before it could sicken her further, but it filled her entire mouth and, tongue immobile, she couldn't force it out. She reached a hand up to remove the nasty thing.
Another shock reverberated through her, sending a fresh surge of pain through her throbbing head. She lay still for a moment, waiting for the pain to die down while she examined this new discovery.
She could not move her arms. Twisting her head—thank God she could move something, she thought, or she would have gone mad—she tried to turn over, to sit up, but her legs refused to obey her command, even as her arms had done. Both legs and arms felt so cold and far away, crisscrossed with narrow bands of sharp, icy pain.
Blindfolded, she realized. Gagged. Trussed like a rabbit. Her arms and legs were confined, preventing any movement.
Preventing her escape.
In all her life, she had never felt so helpless, so dizzy, so sick...so frightened. Nothing of her body, save her head, none of her senses, save for taste and smell and hearing, appeared to belong to her pain-racked body at all.
Taste and smell and hearing. Well then, she would use what senses she could until she found out where she was. She sniffed the air blowing across her face, blessing it for its movement even as she tried to distinguish its components.
Smoke, acrid and bitter. Not the usual comforting odors of burning oak or alder, or the comforting reek of coal. No, this was a smell she could not identify. It called out to something deep inside her, something ancient and wild, so invasive it seemed to be a part of each individual cell of her being.
Ridiculous, she chided herself as she twisted her head again. It was just a particularly nasty smell of something burning. She tried to concentrate around the pounding within her.
Ah, she heard the crackling and popping of a nearby fire. Something burning, that was all. The rest, those other strange thoughts of an ancient wildness, were just images in her newly awakened mind still confused and drugged with dreams.
The last cup of tea…the one she had hoped would calm her nerves when she had been so anxious to be away, to be searching for what she was convinced was the answer to her quest. She had sipped the tea to be polite, to please her host who had been so kind to her. The taste of the strange brew had been pleasant, almost seductive, soothing her jangled nerves and calming her racing mind.
But then, she remembered, just after she had set down the empty cup, the tingling had begun in her hands and feet, a tingling that had heralded the beginning of the series of dreams...
A dream of being scooped up by rough hands and carried for an incredible distance, her vision dim, her hearing muffled. Of crossing water with the rhythmic splash of oars, the occasional muffled curse from a harsh voice, droplets of cold water splashing onto her burning face. A dream of being tossed onto an uncomfortable bed full of rocks, prickling twigs, and gritty sand.
Then nothingness as she fell into a great, black, soundless pit.
Until now when a faint semblance of consciousness had returned to her battered and tethered body.
She tried again to speak. Another muffled croak, barely audible over the crackling of the fire, was all she heard. She prodded the obstruction in her mouth with her captured tongue and the foulness nearly choked her. She fought not to swallow, not to allow the horrible, seeping bitterness to enter her. An intense fear rose in her, threatened to send her reeling back into the darkness of unconsciousness as she fought for a breath.
Air. She needed air. She lashed her head from side to side, the fear of choking, of suffocation, threatening to overwhelm her.
A rough hand seized her chin, yanked the stifling mass from her mouth.
"Now be still," a voice—surely she knew that voice?—hissed in her ear, "or I'll ram it down your throat."
As the sweet air rushed down to her straining lungs, she thought how wonderful it tasted, how delightful it was to breathe in the air wafting over her; indeed, merely to breathe at all. For a time, she did nothing but suck in the glorious, smoke-tinged currents.
But as her fear of smothering dissipated a fraction, the wondering returned in full force.
Where am I?
Who brought me here?
Why have I been tied?